I went to a church the other day and it was not much different than a rock concert. Might I say, it was a very well done rock concert. Electric guitars, drums in their own sound area, smoke, lights, and two or three people singing the latest in contemporary worship music. There was a part of me that enjoyed it and another part of me which sighed. Another church I attended had a mixture of some of the classic hymns along with some contemporary worship. No smoke. No flashing lights. But the sigh was still there. It just had a different sound. It was lacking something.

There is hardly a place you can go anymore and hear the classic hymns of the faith sung in a classic way. Nine out of ten times, churches have quietly changed their tune. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against contemporary worship music. In fact, I really like it. But more and more the great hymns of the faith are being ushered out. Now, even when they are played, their sound is contemporary. It is not really the same. The best way I can express it is that hymns are epic and epic songs need an epic sound. 

I like the word “epic.” It fits when it comes to the great hymns of the faith. Hymns are epic as God is epic. Hymns played in a traditional way, with the traditional sound, are even more epic.

I don’t wish to beat this thing to death. I am 37 years-old. I just caught the tail-end of the transition to contemporary music. Think of this as an opinion piece rather than an informed theological argument. I am not saying that God is more pleased when we play hymns. I am not saying that this is the “right” way to worship. I am just saying that there is a defense that can be made for hymns.

Hymns enter the church into a saga. While I think church can and does take these kind of things to far, there is something to be said for tradition. When I attended an Eastern Orthodox church not too long ago I remember thinking about all the things that they did wrong to the detriment of the Gospel. However, there is something that I believe they get right: they allow people to experience the church. No, not the building they are in or even their congregation, but the historic church. Because of their liturgy, which goes back thousands of years, they join hands with all the saints of the past.  Other traditions do this as well in their own respective ways. This is one aspect of the value that the great hymns of the faith sung and played in a classical way have. Of course most of them don’t go back to the earliest church. In fact, most only go back a few hundred years. But when we sing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” (pipe organ, trumpet, choir and all), their is a sense in which we take the hand of Martin Luther and the reformers expressing our solidarity with them.

I know I have said in the past that I don’t like the organ. Really, I don’t like to sing with it. It drains me. However, I do love to hear it. It is not simply that it has a classic feel, but that it has an historic feel. Big difference here. The same thing with the choir. Not a quartet. A choir. People everywhere are going retro with everything. Retro cars. Retro shoes. Retro movies. Retro restaurants. Why? Because in our fast-paced, technology-doubling-every-four-years, society we are losing ourselves. We no longer feel our heritage as it has disappeared out the rear-view mirror a long time ago. Now we are groping for something to hold on to. Something that reminds informs us of who we are. Why do you think so many church goers are exiting the back door of pop-Evangelicalism in search of something with ties—real ties—to the past?

This type of stuff is simply hard to replicate.

The classic hymns also have wonderful theology. You know I was going here. Please don’t hear me saying that contemporary praise does not have good theology. So much of it does. But classic hymns are classic for a reason. They have stood the test of time and the test of a thousand theologians. Though “It is Well With My Soul” only goes back one-hundred and fifty years, its theological depth combined with the historic circumstance into which it was written make it epic.

For me, there is a time for songs with great theological depth and there is a time for songs that are outbursts of praise and petition. There is a time for everything (didn’t someone already say that?). But let us not forget the value, educational and doxological, of the more didactic hymns.

I am not saying that we should jettison everything contemporary with a self-righteous smug on our face. Don’t sing only hymns. In fact, if you were to only sing hymns, it would detract from what I am saying. We need to respect the overwhelming power of hymns. Too many of them would be exhausting. Just as I don’t want to hear multiple sermons every Sunday (I would end up forgetting them all), I don’t want to hear too many hymns. I would be happy with just one hymn that came across as an epic performance that gave us pause, caused us to joined hands with the historic church, and was rich enough for us to reflect on for days. “And Can it Be” would be fine this week. For the rest of the time, let’s sing the catching worship stuff.

Am I the only one who likes the classic hymns sung in a classic way?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    74 replies to "In Defense of Hymns (Performed in a Classic Way)"

    • mbaker

      “Mannn…why can’t you be an Calvinist!?! Life is just not fair sometimes ”

      But, despite that awful deviation on my part, I’m sure we can agree on some things at least 🙂

    • Lucian

      There, there, my addicted little friend… say no more… I feel your pain… here, I have just the right fix for you… 🙂

    • Richard

      Hi Mbaker,

      I’m sure we will agree on more things than not!! But….now I have to go help a friend and I don’t have time to fully respond to your great posts (Gee, this guilt is making me feel more Arminian 🙂 You seem to already understand–and forgive–my sense of humor, so I’m comfortable with “this”. I really do have something I want to run by you in response to your posts, but I’ll have to do it later. Only time for this much: Worship, for me, is not so much about God’s glory as it is about His love. Nuff said. Gotta run. Sorry….

    • Ed Kratz

      Considering this discussion, I thought that this was really funny:

    • Richard

      Hi Mbaker,

      I wrote you a response, but it turned out to be wayyy too long. You had some great questions, and I don’t want to leave any of them out of my answer. But…please repeat, if necessary.

      1. My short definition of God: The Eternal I AM is unimaginable glory (just look at a Dogwood tree) wrapped within incomprehensible Love.
      2. Many of you “A” people 🙂 seem to be more concerned in worship with God’s glory than with His love. After all, “giving” God glory during worship is something that feels good to us and looks good to those watching and listening (Maybe one can even “win” rewards or crowns—whatever they are:) by “giving” God glory. But, appreciating God’s love is all about Him–and it’s impossible to earn it or control it, because, ironically, His love is all about us.
      Sooo, for this “C” person :), community worship is about receiving God’s love, not in giving Him glory…or anything (Yeah…just try to do that) Read John 17:1-5 and THEN John 3:16. One explains the other. It’s–i.e., Life–is all about His love for us (especially His love for Me! From the 1st line of Genesis to the last word of Rev. It’s all about God’s love—that’s why we even have a Bible. His love.
      3. Sorry for the ranting–sometimes I can’t help myself. But, of course, it’s your fault 🙂
      4. You’ll probably have more questions/comments for me–and I’m anxious to hear them.
      5. I have many–perhaps too many–Arminian friends–who think they understand worship 🙂 🙂 Just don’t tell them they’re wrong–I certainly won’t! 🙂
      6. If you’re offended by my sense of humor, I truly apologize—well, kind of 🙂
      7. When I discuss God’s love (especially how His glory is wrapped in His love) I get a little carried away. Did you notice??
      8. Ok…Way too long. But I did warn you.
      9. Oh, Oh…once again, worship for me is more about appreciating and thanking Him for His love within fellowship with like-loving Christians than it is about singing praises…

    • mbaker


      Sorry to disappoint you again, 🙂 but I lean toward a compatibilistic point of view more. ( I know, I know, us incorrigable Southern Baptist rebels!)

      I found your definition in #10 somewhat close to mine though. I just think praise and worship are two different things. Praise is saying good things, showing our admiration, etc; and we can do that with anyone. Songs of praise should reflect both the glory and the love of God for his people. I think that’s why the great hymns have lasted over the generations. And some of our own modern favorites like Breathe, and Rise Again.

      What passes for worship in our churches nowadays is not worship IMHO, however. Sure it is thankfulness and praise of what God has done, generally for us, but it is not about who He is and all He wants from us as his children. Notice we call the music that appeals to us worshipping, but we don’t consider whether how we conduct our lives appears worshipful to God, looking down on us. Worshiping God is much more than singing or even what we sing, it’s a 24-7 lifestyle. That doesn’t mean we have to run around singing and yelling PTL every few minutes, (and with my voice, I’d be arrested) but we should live our lives dedicated to Him, rather than being so self absorbed in our particular religious preferences.

      RE:#6 – I think that’s the first time in my life I’ve ever heard a “C” apologize to an Armianian, even kind of. That’s progress. Glory Be! 🙂

    • mbaker


      Re: #55. Loved it!

    • Richard

      Hi Mbaker,

      Again, sorry, computer problems here. I sent a post a minute ago–literally a minute ago–that…didn’t post. I’ll just cut to the chase: I think it would be impossible for you to disappoint me. Hey…A compatibilist leaning, committed SBC “A” person? You live as dangerously as I do! Perhaps I’m just a bit more courageous 🙂 I agree with almost everything you’ve written. And so very well said!

      As to my #6: We “C” people apologize quite often–We just don’t hold on to the guilt afterward. 🙂

    • Dave Z

      @From the Balcony.

      I did not mean to imply the articles were demeaning, while I disagree with the conclusions, I felt the writers were gracious. It was your posts that I felt were demeaning.

      Perhaps you don’t realize it, but terms and phrases such as irrelevant evangelicalism, plastic worship, lack of content, etc., are, in fact demeaning and derogatory. And smug. Then you attempted to dismiss my comments by assuming I was young and lacking in experience and understanding, whereas you had plenty of both. Then you said you had learned from God, again implying that I had not. Do you really think I over-reacted?

      OK, one more try to get an answer to my recurring question, which you have so far avoided. I’ll make this as simple as I can. (I don’t mean to be sarcastic, I’d just like an answer) As easy as A, B, C, or D.

      Regarding You Are in Control, please choose one of the following.
      I dislike:
      A. The Verse, taken from the 23rd Psalm
      B. The Bridge, a quote of Romans 8:28
      C. The Chorus, a refrain proclaiming God’s sovereignty.

      or maybe:
      D. I retract my denigrating comments about that particular song.

    • mbaker

      Dave Z,

      How about we get off particular personalities, both ways, and get back to the topic of interest instead? Although you both have valid points, you would be doing a much greater service to rest of us on this blog that way.

      Thanks, and God bless.

    • Richard


      One thought you posted earlier: “….[I] just think praise and worship are two different things. Praise is saying good things, showing our admiration, etc; and we can do that with anyone.” I understand what you mean, but…doesn’t it seem that our most beautiful, intimate worship of God is during those times (in secret “closet” stuff) when we are compelled—compelled—by something dragging us (the Holy Spirit, I assume) to praise God for His love? (No singing, of course 🙂 Isn’t that when worship genuinely attends our life? In short, I see little or no difference between my sincere praise of Him for His love, and my worship of Him for His love.
      I’m just say’n 🙂

    • mbaker


      Good point. But here’s the way I see the difference: In praise we get to decide what we think is appropriate, in worship that’s God decision as to what He thinks is appropriate. Being the egostical beings we all are as human beings, I don’t think we often see there’s a difference. Not saying those who don’t are egostitcal, just that it is our overall human innate selfish natures that keep from worshipping God as He deserves.

    • From The Balcony

      Dave – it is difficult to reason with someone as defensive as you come across in your posts. I never said you were young — because you told me your age. I even said -“I am around your age.” (See post 29 – perhaps you didn’t read it?)

      It is possible some confusion arose because my posts went to the spam box multiple times and Lisa had to resurrect them – after which time I was very frustrated with the multiple attempts to answer you and was ready to abort P & P for good!

      I said – I had learned from God. Me. What I learn has nothing to do with you — nor does it imply that you have not learned. It is a mere explanation of what I have learned, which is substantial given my experience. For me. Me. And there are many who agree with me. Yet – you became defensive.

      You called my posts demeaning. I tried to explain (post 35) that I was not trying to be demeaning to anyone. Perhaps you didn’t read that? Or perhaps you read it and still chose not to believe my words, which were truthful. That kind of attitude is not one conducive to dialogue….sadly.

      My posts merely reflect my personal experience as a worship leader. My experiences. My valid experiences.

      As to your question about individual music, it would be nice to dialogue kindly about this, but in every post you have put here responding to me, your words have been full of sarcasm. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better just to move on when people enjoy picking a fight instead of honestly dialoguing. Frankly? No way would I want to be on your worship team with this kind of attitude.

      So worship leader to worship leader — we will just simply disagree. Your idea of worship conflicts with mine. It’s that simple. End of story.

    • Richard

      I understand and completely agree with your take on egotism. But…sorry, I still don’t see the difference between praise and worship, because I also don’t understand what difference it could possibly make to God, to the “I AM”. I worship God in many different ways—usually because He nudges me to do so—out of His love for me, not because He needs more glory, praise, worship or love. It’s just, from my perspective, all about His love for me (us)–and from His eternal perspective, I assume, that’s why He wants my praise and worship: The love relationship it builds–for my sake. Maybe it’s just one of those agree to disagree thingys.

    • Dave Z

      Final post to From the Balcony,

      I did read post 29, but it was post 27 where you tried to play the experience card.

      Three times I have directly asked that you identify the problem with a song you mentioned. I did so in an effort to avoid generalities and deal with something specific. Three times you avoided the issue.

      You’re right, there is no hope of a productive discussion when you will not answer direct questions.

      I’m done.

    • Lisie

      I agree completely. I grew up in a church that sang hymns in a classic way, and I sung in the choir from third grade until I graduated high school. (Needless to stay, I started in the kids choir). When I went to college, I couldn’t find a church that sang hymns, and I definitely went through withdrawal.

      In the poll, I listed my preference as “hymns only,” but it’s actually more like “classically done hymns, with an occasional good contemporary song thrown in”.

    • Ron Wolf

      Good read Michael. Was on my mind this week as well. I have a real heart for music and singing. Not real good at either but I love to sing unto the Lord! I love to worship him with the guitar. The sad part I assume (not that it is this way) music worship today seems more like a concert. It’s about what they wear (popular), what songs are a hit (popular), what ever it takes to get people into the Church Building. Question is, are we compromising anything here to get people in to hear God’s word? Is God still being Glorified the same as if it were Hymn’s? The bigger question I have is, Are we still worshipping Him with all of our heart and is it directed all to Him? Blessings my Friend!

    • Laurie Duffy

      Rewriting (lyrics) of hymns is a HUGE pet peave of mine. 🙂 It is commonplace in the semi-Reformed “Bible Church” circuit in which I find myself currently. They also sing a number of new (but well-written and theologically sound) pieces written by the “Pettys” (sp?) and from “Sovereign Grace Ministries” (which is a Charismatic but Calvinistic demonination-that works OK since most songs are not about speaking in tongues! 😉
      I miss, as you seems to say, singing classic hymns in their common tunes. Tunes we all group singing in the way that it gave a commonality to us all. It connected me with others in other places and times as well. Now, even when we sing Toplady’s “Rock of Ages” as written – it is to a new tune that I have to learn. At other times, the tune is the same but the words are “tweaked” here and there.
      It makes me very sad and leaves me a sense of loss – that, that part of my church-going experience is dying. I miss opening the hymnal and following along (and sharing the page with the stranger next to me), closing my eyes on parts because I know them by heart, etc.

    • kathy

      Laurie: Come to the URCNA — you will sing them in all of their former glory. 🙂

    • Pete

      I agree with the historic feel. My church sings traditional hymns like 75% of the time, and it’s awesome. All done to only a piano. That said, ya, it has a historic feel and is awesome, and that’s coming from someone who LOVES modern Christian music, whether for worship or edification.

    • Jennifer

      I am 40. I can’t stand the way my church only sings traditional hymns in the traditional way, with the wheezing organ and tinny warbly high-pitched voices. I would switch churches, but my kids love the Youth program.
      Boring. Outdated. Makes me feel like I am visiting a nursing home.

    • John G.

      I didn’t read ALL of the above, so if I repeat please forgive me.
      I am also of the hymn fan club. I want my worship time to be distinct from my radio time. I’m not sure if this is relevant but I am a composer and painter who values excellence in art and mourns its exchange in so many areas for accessibility.
      I have a problem with the whole performance model in church. The historical church in the vast majority of instances intentionally hid the singers and musicians. We put them onstage in the front. This changes the congregation into an audience, from a worship model to a performance/consumer model. Vertical to horizontal. I don’t think it matters what the intent is – our culture and environment trumps any humble intent and takes us straight into the commodity zone.
      I think having the musicians on stage is just plain wrong. Go ahead and ask your worship leader to consider playing in back or behind the curtain and see what he/she says. There’s usually some reason why this “won’t work”, and it usually involves a basic lack of desire to overcome the obstacles.
      I’m not questioning anyone’s heart – I wouldn’t dare – but the fact that the musicians follow the culture’s model of performance (and in some cases, style) is proof to me of something lost, and something wrong.

    • Trinity

      WOW, the pictures are great! I felt like I could just pick that ring up right out of the photograph, it was like 3D, so tempting. Your page here turned out so nice Janie, very beautiful! Mike and Charlene are made for each other, they make a great couple and you captured the LOVE they share in your phpoagroths. I am so glad I was there to get in your way, I mean share the excitement! Lucky me to be gaining such a wonderful daughter in law in Charlene, we all love her! Awesome job Janie!

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