Are modern hymns a paradox?
In our 21st century world, when you say you love hymns, you know perfectly well that the most “modern” thing anybody pictures is maybe a hundred-year-old gospel song. (Are gospel songs hymns?—totally too long a question to answer here!!!)
Hymns and history are closely linked. But the truth of the matter is, the church is still writing—and singing—new hymns today. Let’s take a look at a few of them!
A Dark and Silent World
by Lucy A. Martin
This vivid Creation hymn is one of very, very few contemporary compositions that would probably trick me into believing it was at least a century old, if I saw it without a date. Full of rich imagery and poignant vocabulary—and paired with Haydn’s 1798 tune “Benjamin”—this piece just might be the ultimate reply to the charge that the age of hymnary is past.
You can listen to Oasis Chorale’s recording below.
A Dark and Silent World by Lucy A. Martin
If you own a copy of Hymns of the Church, you will find it as #104. If you do not, and would still like to see a copy of the words, follow this link, click on “view album liner,” and scroll down to page 3. A bit complicated—but worth the effort!
The Church of Christ Cannot Be Bound
by Adam M. L. Tice
This is an entirely new hymn to me, although it has been around for a decade and a half. It is built around Menno Simon’s classic quote:
“For true evangelical faith…cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it…clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.” (Menno Simons, Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing, 1539)
Tice’s hymn is a challenge to the church of today, to take their faith beyond their church’s “walls of wood and stone” and put God’s love into practice in the world around us.
You will find a full music score and recording below:
The Church of Christ Cannot Be Bound by Adam M. L. Tice
For those of you who don’t enjoy reading off a music score, the text alone can be found here.
O Church Arise
by Keith Getty, et al.
Is O Church Arise a hymn? If you want a good conversation starter at a church potluck, give that question a try!
O Church Arise is unquestionably “contemporary”—particularly from the musical side of things. On the other hand, it is structured like a classic four-stanza hymn. It possesses the depth of thought and rich, Biblically-inspired word-pictures that characterize many of our classic English hymns.
O Church Arise has been called “hymn-like.” I think I would go a step further, and say that it is a hymn absolutely. It is a modern hymn, that is reflected in slightly less-formal language, and an emphasis on emotional power. But it is still a hymn—one that, while being distinctly the product of the 21st century, has all the elements of timelessness to make it a classic.
I’m linking to the Hal Leonard score below, since (call it personal preference if you like!) I very much prefer their orchestral setting to the original one.
O Church Arise by Keith Getty et al.
You can see the full lyrics and score in the video, or take a look at the words on their own here.
Good and Great Modern Hymns Do Exist!
Yes, the church is writing modern hymns. Actually, when you think about it, the church has always been writing modern hymns. Every hymn has been modern in its infancy. It’s just that some have lived to grow old, and grey-headed, and reverenced, and beloved, with the passage of time. Some have even lived so long that we feel as if they have attained a measure of immortality. Perhaps, in a certain sense, they have.
But even after 2000 years—even with millions of hymns and hymn-tunes on the table—the church has failed to overstock the market.
The world still needs modern hymns! Are you going to be part of the project?
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