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In Praise of Hymnals

iMonk has begun what looks to be a lengthy series on “The Evangelical Liturgy.” His latest installment, among other things, sings the praises of the lowly hymnal:

The hymnal is a crucially important evangelical worship resource. While it can be supplemented, it should never be replaced. The education of a congregation to use and appreciate the resources in a hymnal will be the single post ecumenically broad, historically deep and theologically enriching experience most church members will have. There is more diversity, tradition, theology, church history and content in a good hymnal than almost any single book that you can put in the hands of a congregation. The hymnal represents and captures the journey of the church throughout history, and joins the worshiping congregation to the church around the world and throughout all time.

We are nothing short of idiots for getting rid of them, and I choose that word carefully. Who in the world decided that we would throw out two thousands years of worship because it didn’t fit in with our current plan to sound like the secular music of the last 40 years? Good grief, what a demolition job this has been. I know a lot of young people “like” the new music, but we have a responsibility to those who came before us, not to prefer or like what they did as much as they did, but to use it with respect and honor for the value that is in it. Handing the entire musical and lyrical heritage of two millenia of Christianity over to a “worship leader” to be eradicated in favor of contemporary music only is insane.

As a child, I spent hours in the hymnal during church. I learned vast amounts. Had the pastors and worship leaders used the resources of the hymnal wisely, it would have been even more enriching for me.

I’m looking forward to the arrival of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, a project several members of my church (involved in the School of Music at Mercer University) are deeply involved in. It promises to be a truly ecumenical resource of older and newer music, from Christians all around the world (including a few hymns with original Spanish lyrics included!), from every era of Christian history, and from a great variety of denominational traditions.

I have also been assured that responsive readings and litanies will be correctly differentiated. We’ll see. 😉



  1. YES! Not to mention wasting paper to print a long “worship folder” or getting a crook in the neck to look at a screen [meanwhile unable to look at the altar or cross at the same time.] Plus the tendency to have too much praise music during the service, so that there is little quiet time for contemplation of God.


  2. Terri says:

    I enjoy “contemporary worship” as much as the next person, but I agree that there’s a limit. We didn’t have to throw out the baby to refresh the bathwater.


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