My Jesus I Love Thee (in Defense of Old Church Songs)Posted: May 18, 2020 Filed under: Monday Morning Music 8 Comments
I have written previously in defense of the inclusion of old songs in our worship sets (see “Why Sing Old-Timey Hymns” and “Old Treasures as Well as New”).
I was looking for the right song for us to sing as we shared Communion together yesterday (over live stream), and the Spirit led me to this old hymn I remember singing in church growing up, “My Jesus I Love Thee.” I like its emphasis on the cross and its emphasis on the present moment. And what a present moment we are in right now!
I made a comment about the inclusion of old songs (this was already an old song when I first heard it!) on the live stream (see this video here). It might be helpful for you to think about if you are involved in planning the worship of your congregation. I often get feedback from the congregation about how easy it is to participate with older hymns, and even with newer songs I write (those that are for congregational use), I strive to emulate the simplicity of melody of songs like this one that make it easy for even average singers to participate with, rather than melodies that show off my vocal abilities.*
I love the new songs we are hearing in Christian churches too, but we have to recognize that our music culture is a performance-oriented one and even the music of the church can be driven by record sales of performing artists rather than community participation, heritage, and body-life of the church. (Dr. David Gordon has written much more about this.)
Do you have a thought about this? Please leave a comment if so! I love hearing from y’all.
*I must say it does help me as a congregational songwriter that I’m not a particularly gifted singer, but for an example of songs I write where I’m singing higher or not-as-simple melodies, see my alt-pop project “Ties to the Light.” Some familiar only with my church music have even wondered if it was really me singing on some of those songs!
Intro to the congregation on live stream for the singing of the hymn:
I love and greatly miss the old hymns. We never do any of them any more. They resonate for me and speak toy soul. I enjoy the new, but am glad to hear you advocate for the older ones to have a place.
Amen thanks for the comment Katie!
While I don’t have anything against more contemporary songs, other than preference, I do believe they have some unintended consequences. Many of them are not written with harmony in mind and I think our congregations may slowing be losing the ability or interest to sing in parts – particularly among the upcoming generations. Secondly, but more importantly, one of our rich heritages has been the ability to worship powerfully in song in small groups. Sadly, our ability to do this is a shadow of what it once was. People are too dependent on projected lyrics and no longer know these old songs by heart. The newer songs they never had memorized in the first place and many can’t be easily sung without the instrumental accompaniment. I see this especially in early worship where I have to lead a song or two. I am no song leader and so I have limited number I can lead, and those who attend neither bring a song book nor remember a large selection of hymns. The result is a very limited ability to really worship in song in that setting. Another example would be the occasional House Church meeting or devotional. I remember powerful singing in such situations, but not any more. Freedom to worship spontaneously in song in small groups is being lost. Just something to think about. Thanks for your post!
Thanks for your comment Ed! I struggle with where to pitch some of the newer contemporary songs, especially ones that have big vocal jump for the chorus (to make it more dramatic). If you don’t do the jump you often end up with the chorus lower than the verse, which can be OK (like in Cornerstone) but is still not ideal. Anyway, my thing is let’s just use all of it, as long as we still have simple stuff for baptisms, house churches, small gatherings, etc.
AMEN Brian ! Let’s have more old with the new! I find that the more modern songs are great so far as lyrics, but the melody is forgettable. I am looking for those songs that are bouncing around in your head the rest of the day. Yes, some of yours do that, Brian. But a hundred old ones are so simple and do that too. Like the old time rock and roll, lets not abandon the old time singing! Thanks for reminding us. Stan Morehead
Thanks for the comment, Stan!
I have learned over the years that there are many types of music that move disciples in different ways and at times has even been a source of contention for some. We have to continue to be willing to adapt and be flexible in this area but for me I love the old hymns and am moved by them. Thanks for your article and thoughts on this topic.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment!