Pastor's Blog

For years our church has used one of the most popular hymnals in evangelicalism called, somewhat uncreatively, The Hymnal, published in 1986.  So it contains nothing written in the past 34 years.  I went through The Hymnal and categorized the hymns based on dates of origin.  Out of 602 hymns, there were:

276 hymns & choruses from the 20th century  (46%)
229 hymns from the 1800’s (19th century) -- the Civil War era  (38%)
62 hymns from the 1700’s (18th century) -- America’s founding  (10%)
12 hymns from the 1600’s (17th century) -- the Puritans  (2%)
8 hymns from the 1500’s (16th century) -- the Reformation  (1%)

The remaining three percent (15 hymns) were of unknown date, though I do know that one of them had roots back in the second century.

I have been at Mountain View since 1982, and if you exclude the Christmas carols, patriotic songs, and three traditional Easter hymns, I count about 177 hymns that we have sung in all that time.  Most of those we may have sung only once or twice – either because they weren’t familiar or the congregation didn’t seem to like them so our musicians didn’t do them again.  So in all of that time we used about 29% of The Hymnal.

Of those 177 that we have sung, I count about 140 with which we are comfortably familiar, which means that our repertoire of hymns and choruses is about 23% of The Hymnal.

Of those 140 familiar hymns that we know and love, the bulk of them were written between 1900 and 1945.  We hardly use anything written between 1945 – 1970.  There are several popular choruses and praise songs written in the 1970’s and 1980’s that we use.

Of the hymns older than 1900 . . .
We know and love a few hymns composed by Fanny Crosby (late 1800’s - early 1900’s).
From the 1700’s we enjoy and use a little cluster of hymns by Isaac Watts and by John and Charles Wesley.  Of course everyone knows and loves Amazing Grace from the late-1700’s.
And there is always “A Mighty Fortress” by Martin Luther from the 1500’s. 

Why am I cataloguing this information?  Because one of the complaints of my fellow traditionalists is that we are losing the rich heritage of the traditional hymns by using contemporary Christian music.  But the simple fact is that that is the way church music works.  Our hymnals don’t preserve an ancient tradition.  Most of the hymns aren't even old.  NONE of the music from before 1500 was familiar enough or popular enough to survive (apart from a traditional Gloria Patri – and who uses that in evangelical churches?).  Only 13% of the hymnal – 82 hymns from between 1500 and 1800 were loved enough to be preserved in The Hymnal of 1986.  And we don’t sing or know most of them, and many times, after we sing them, we know why we don’t know or sing them!

Every time publishing houses come out with a new edition of a hymnal, they eliminate older hymns that have fallen out of use.  They have fallen out of use because people no longer have use for them!  They are replaced with newer songs that people enjoy and use. 

I say all of this to provide some perspective to us traditionalists.  We often overstate our case and wring our hands about how great the old music is, and how awful it is that we don't use it any longer.  But the fact is that the best of the old music survives and continues to be with us.  The cream rises to the top and gets passed down to the next generation.  

It’s just the way people are when it comes to music – church music or otherwise.  The rich tradition of the church’s hymnody remains with us;  there just isn’t as much worthwhile enough to pass down as we may think there is.

 

 

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