The Bee Explains: Hymns Vs. Modern Worship

Kicking off around the same time the Beatles sprang up on the international music scene, the worship wars were a bloody conflict, claiming millions of lives as traditional music proponents clashed with those supporting the use of modern music in the church. Any time you sing a song in church today, you are standing on the shoulders of the musicians who gave their lives for your right to sing “Oceans” every Sunday. Honor their sacrifice.

Those of you who are unaware of the deadly worship wars of the 1950s, you can join us as we explain the intricate nuances of both sides of the conflict.

ORIGINS

Hymns: When Jesus gave Christianity’s first altar call just after the Sermon on the Mount, He had Judas (not Iscariot) play a few dozen choruses from “Just As I Am” on the organ. From that moment, traditional music advocates have pushed for the continuation of this grand biblical tradition. Since the organ is the only instrument mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, it is considered a sacred tenet of the faith, and ought only to be used to play chosen hymns.

Modern worship: A kid named Chad at a Calvary Chapel youth camp smuggled his electric guitar in one year and led the kids in an emotional chorus of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.” The experience was so moving, it launched an entire movement of believers and churches that play modern, grunge-inspired worship songs instead of the biblically prescribed hymns. Thanks, Chad!

DEFINITIONS

Hymns: A hymn is a song that’s typically broken up into four or five verses, but no one ever sings the second verse. Hymns usually use lots of words no one knows the meaning of anymore, like “interposed” and “Ebenezer.” What the heck’s an Ebenezer, people? Why are we singing about the Scrooges? Above all, each hymn must fully articulate a point of doctrine as well as a systematic theology book might, without ever once pricking the singer’s emotions, since he doesn’t know what the words mean anyway.

Modern worship: Modern worship songs tend to be written only by qualified theologians. Haha, just kidding. They’re written by high schoolers, scribbled down on the back of napkins at night clubs when the inspiration strikes. CCLI rules also dictate that the modern worship song must contain one bridge repeated as many times as necessary to evoke the desired emotional response, but may have no more than four words in the entire song. It’s a delicate balancing act.

IN PRACTICE

Hymns: Lots of conservative churches still sing hymns, while the really spiritual sing Psalms exclusively. Either way, you dust off the ol’ hymnal each week and start belting out those tunes off-key. Pretend like you can read the music and actually know what the funny little top hat music symbol means. Just make sure never to display any emotion. Please keep your hands and arms at your sides at all times, just like at Disneyland.

Modern worship: Many churches have embraced modern worship as a way to creatively express their love for the most holy God and break away from stale liturgy by singing the same five songs every Sunday. Songs are typically sung with passion, emotion, tongues, clapping, dancing, jumping up and down, and epileptic seizures.

FAMOUS MUSICIANS

Hymns: A bunch of dead white guys and also Keith & Kristyn Getty.

Modern worship: Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Hillsong, Evanescence, Hoobastank.

BIBLICAL SUPPORT

Hymns: Okay, so the Bible doesn’t come out and say we can only sing songs written 250 years ago or more, but come on—it’s the obvious interpretation. Besides, it’s not like there’s a whole book of the Bible filled with songs that repeat themselves, display a wide range of human emotions, and even include groovy selah interludes. Nope.

Modern worship: David danced naked before the Lord, and that’s definitely a prescriptive passage, so go nuts! Woooooooo!!! There’s also nothing in the Bible about making sure your lyrics reflect theological realities, so write your songs about hurricanes, tornadoes, black holes, whatever—no need to ensure your metaphors make sense and call the listener to a deeper understanding of Almighty God. Praise the Lord!