Hymns And Contemporary Christian Music: Who Do We Sing To?

About eight years ago, as part of the bride price to engage my fiancee (now my wife); I was required to buy her a bible and a hymn book. She has family roots in the Anglican church of Ghana, so the preferred hymn book was an Anglican hymn book. We were all Charismatics then (I am no more), so to us, the hymn book was a mere formality; something to fulfil the requirements of a bride price. But about six years into our marriage, the hymn book has actually become useful to me as I have had to refer to it many times. Just recently, about three years ago, I became convinced of Calvinism/ Reformed Theology and that meant a total overhauling of many beliefs I held as a Christian. One of the many changes involved music − the use of hymns in worship. Growing up in a charismatic denomination, hymns were rare. They are not a part of a usual charismatic worship service. You only hear hymns sang during weddings or funerals.

However, having attended a public high hymnschool − Ghana National College − hymns were a part of our Sunday worship so that gave me a fair appreciation of hymns. Charles Wesley’s  “Head of Thy Church Truimphant” is one of my favourite dating back to my senior high education:

Head of Thy Church Triumphant
We joyfully adore thee;
Till Thou appear, Thy members here
Shall sing like those in glory
We lift our hearts and voices
With blest anticipation
And cry aloud, and give to God
The praise of our salvation

Now, over these few years of denominational switch, I have come to have a greater appreciation for hymns over contemporary music. The obvious characteristics of hymns to me are their doctrinal depth and biblical soundness. Many contemporary Christian music pale in comparison to hymns. Hymns span generations. They are rich in biblical doctrine. Hymns make much of what God has done for us through Christ. They celebrate God−His love, His grace, His mercy, His benevolence, His Sovereignty, His redemptive work and many more attributes of the God head. In contrast, many of today’s Christian music is self-centered, self-exalting and self-glorifying. The lyrics of much of contemporary Christian music are evident of what people believe spilling over into what they sing. Take a look at this very popular Christian music by Sinach:

We are a chosen generation
Called forth to show His excellence
All I require for life God has given me
I know who I am

I know who God says I am
What He says I am
Where He says I am
I know who I am

I’m walking in power
I’m walking in miracle
I live a life of favour
‘cause I know who I am

I am holy
I am righteous oh oh
I am so rich
I am beautiful

Take a look at me now I’m a wonder
It doesn’t matter what you see now
What you see is glory
I know who I am

Do you see the height of self-glorification? “Take a look at me now I’m a wonder”. I dare say there is nothing God glorifying about this music. This music takes the focus off God and places it on self. It exults and hallows self. Compare this music with some of the very common hymns we sing and the difference is clear:

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see

-John Newton

I must admit there are biblical and doctrinally sound contemporary music out there. However, very often, much of contemporary Christian music, awes too much about self and stealing the glory that belongs to God alone. In our music and in the choice of music we listen to as Christians, John The Baptist’s words will be a great source of gospel truth: “He must increase, I must decrease”. It is not about us. It is about God and His work of redemption through Christ. Our music must reflect this or else we will be involved in entertainment and singing about how good we are which will dim the light of grace working through us. You are not a wonder. Christ is. Don’t take a look at me. I am not a wonder. Take a look at Christ, He is a Wonder.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die

-Augustus Toplady



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