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Pastoral Perspective: Hymns or Choruses Controversy

Praise and Worship is an essential activity in assembling as the body of Christ. Yet, Praise and Worship seems to be an area that can cause some of the most significant division in a church.

The debates range about should we sing hymns or choruses, controversy about the style of music, and even what instruments are acceptable in the church.

In the post, I will share my pastoral perspective and thoughts on some of these controversies, where I stand, and what we do in our church.

Before I start, it is essential to be reminded of a couple of things:

First, the primary focus of Praise and Worship is God. While it will bring pleasure and blessing to us, the attention should not be on our satisfaction or preferences. Praise and Worship is to God and for Him. The primary focus must be bringing honour and pleasing God.

Second, we see in scripture the expression of variety. Paul encouraged the church in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” We need to use good hymns, choruses, and spiritual songs. We see variety in the expression of the gospels; there are four gospels, not one. Each gospel brings a different rich perspective of the good news. Related to this also comes the perspective of a fresh expression of Praise and Worship unto God. God is working in us daily. His Spirit is ministering to us constantly. In this, there should be a continual fresh outpouring of a new song in praise, worship, and thanksgiving unto God. Think about some of these passages concerning this.

Psalm 40:3 - He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God; many will see it, and fear, and will trust in the Lord.

Psalm 149:1 - Praise the Lord! Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise in the assembly of the godly ones.

Third, a church is multi-generational, with individuals from all different backgrounds. Yes, as the first point says, the focus is upon God, but focusing upon God also includes organizing the service to minister to the whole of His body. In the church I pastor, we ensure that we have at least one hymn on the worship list. We also try to have one children's song we sing as a congregation. The idea is to minister to the entire body. Maturity in our relationship with God should mean that we honour God by honouring others. It also means that whether we sing a children's song, or modern chorus, or a hymn, we should be able to express our love and worship to God.

hymn and chorus debate controversy


Now let's look at some of the criticisms of modern choruses. What is interesting is that many of the controversies of today are not so new.

In the early 1700s, Thomas Symmes was writing new music hymns. Here are some of the criticisms he experienced and recorded. Do they sound familiar?

  • “It’s not as melodious as the usual way!”

  • “There are so many new tunes, we shall never be done learning

  • them.”

  • “It’s a gadget to get money.”

Another argument against today's praise music is that it sounds too much like what is in the world. Many forget that some of our old hymns were written by putting words to the music of the day. The hymn writer and preacher George Whitefield was well known for this.

Some hymns were written to correct what they thought was heresy or in direct competition with other hymns and songwriters. There was a lot of ego in some of these writers. Some of these theologians and music writers, such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Wesley, had enormous feuds and did not like each other. They even promoted open division between their groups.


Some of the criticisms of today's choruses arise because of scrutiny into the songwriter, their mistakes, beliefs, and general life. This is fine, but what would happen if we examined the lives of some of the esteemed hymn writers?

Here are some examples:

ISAAC WATTS - writer of Joy to the World, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed

Isaac Watts did not believe in the Trinity. He thought of Christ as a glorified angel. He believed the archangel Michael and Jesus were the same.

JOHN WESLEY - writer of Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

He believed in Ghosts. John Wesley thought, as the Roman Catholics, that Mary was a continuous virgin.

GEORGE BENNARD - writer of the Old Rugged Cross.

This song was not accepted in some Christian circles because it contained components of modern musical elements. Talking about money, Bennard sold his piece for $500. Its copyright was renewed years later for $5,000.

Think if we applied this scrutiny of music to what we believe. The birth of the reformation and its founder Martin Luther should be completely ignored. Luther was extremely and violently anti-Semitic. If we do it in the music, we must do it all teaching and all these old theologians we admire.


Another criticism of some modern choruses is that some don't use the name, Jesus. But we forget that the name of Jesus is not found in many hymns.

Think of these classics:

  • Great Is Thy Faithfulness

  • Amazing Grace

  • I Sing The Mighty Power of God

  • Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

We don't question these hymns because the context and the content give us a clear understanding of who we are singing about and to whom. This is the same with many of the modern choruses. Why is the chorus, I Love You Lord accepted, but How Great is Our God receives criticism when neither mentioned the name of Jesus? Yet, How Great Is Our God references the "Name above all names," which can only refer to Jesus.


Some say that modern music is too complex and not simple, like hymns. Having played music in the church for over 30 years, I know this is false. Most choruses are built on 4 to 6 chord patterns which are repetitive and often predictable. They are pretty easy to learn and play. Take the hymn, Crown Him With Many Crowns, it has seven chords in the first line alone, and there are 16 chord patterns in the entire song. As well, hymn chords are not necessarily repetitive or predictable like choruses.


Of course, we must evaluate what we do in the church and actions to bring correction are required. However, a fair evaluation must be applied equally to hymns and modern choruses. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case.

It is clear that this controversy is not new, and it will probably never end. That is because people are often more concerned with their preferences rather than why or whom they have gathered to honour in Praise and Worship. I hope this post challenges those who read it to have a more balanced perspective on this.

Help us reach more people, please share this post with others. Thanks!


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