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From Andy Johnston

A HISTORY OF HYMNS

What is a hymn? The Greek word “hymnos” means “a song of praise.” During the Middle Ages around 7 BC, these songs of praise were written in Gregorian chant to the Greek gods. Gregorian chant, otherwise known as plainsong, was simply singing the hymn melody, unaccompanied. In our culture, we often say, “I just love those old hymns.” It is so important to know that hymns are not just songs that are in our 1991 Baptist hymn book. The rich history of how the hymn originated and how far it has come is incredible.

In the 16th Century, Martin Luther, the influential German Theologian strongly encouraged congregational singing. During these days, the printing press was now available and allowed people access to hundreds of hymns.  It has often been said that hymns originated from bar songs. This is a false statement. There was a time when hymns were not wanted and were not popular. Martin Luther wanted the secular culture, to participate, so he gathered easy to sing melodies such as folk songs, existing chants, and well-known tunes, and set hymn words to them. 

Isaac Watts was another influence of hymns. Between 1674 and 1748, Isaac began creating hundreds of new hymns which moved people away from simply singing Old Testament psalms and inspired people to sing from the heart. Watts has been described as “the liberator of English hymnody.” 

During this same period, brothers John and Charles Wesley were very influential in hymnody. During this Methodist movement, the Wesley’s wrote simple rhythms and singable melodies to help congregational singing. They wrote many of our most well-known hymns that are still very popular today. 

In the 19th century, a new style of hymnody was created called “gospel.” These songs would typically have a strong lead vocal line and exciting harmonies. 

We have now reached the 20th and 21st century. New hymn writers and approaches have exploded. Old texts have been refreshed by new tunes and lots more contemporary hymns have sprung up. Instrumentation within these songs is more prevalent and the music is freer.  

Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:18-19 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” 

The moral of the story is, there is no right or wrong way to sing a song of praise in the church. Throughout history, a new way of singing “songs of praise”, such as hymns, gospel, or contemporary have all been criticized by those who were used to singing songs a certain way. Tradition influences all generations. Some influences are positive, and others are negative. I pray we embrace every style of singing with an open mind and are reminded to sing and make a melody to the Lord with your heart, whichever the style.  

In His service, 

Pastor Andy Johnston 

 

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