A while back I wrote about the use of secular music in church (see blog “Is this Controversial?”) and it raised a few more questions. In my blog I mentioned that I do not believe that we should be rewriting the lyrics to popular or secular songs to change them to “Christian” songs, but that we should be creative enough to use the gifts God has given us to come up with our own songs.

This statement not only sparked a small conversation on our Facebook page, but also in our own house. One of our Facebook followers mentioned the that many of the hymns we sing in church were taken from bar tunes of the time. This is something I have grown up hearing and have even used this argument myself defending the use of certain types of songs or music in the church today. I wanted to make sure that what I had been hearing all my life was actually the truth so I set out to do some research in order to defend my belief. What I have found has helped me better understand the history of church music and also help me discover the story behind the music.

Many of the hymns in our hymnals today were written by John or Charles Wesley or by Martin Luther. Many people have called them the fathers of modern church music, but did they just take the popular songs of the time and put new words to them? The answer I have found is a resounding “NO!” “What?!? How can this be?!? I have spent most of my life making the argument that they did and now I am finding out this is all not true?” These were my first thoughts. Then I continued reading and discovered that the reason for this popular belief. These hymn writers set out to write songs for the church that the common man (and woman) could sing. They wanted their songs to be easy to learn and remember. You see, much of the church music at the time was considered “High Church,” not something that the everyday man could easily sing along with (think opera music). The hymn writers of the 18th and 19th century wanted people to sing God's Word and internalize His truth in a way that was easy to remember and had some sort of repetition and rhyme similar to the popular music of the day. It would be easy to make the assumption that they just used the bar room songs and changed the words since their songs were similar in style and rhythm.

There were, however, some writers that did use traditional folk melodies popular at the time, one of which was William Booth, who wrote many of the Salvation Army songs. He is the one who was first quoted saying, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” These songs, however, were also not songs sung in bars or music halls, they were the cultural folk songs that people had grown up singing.

So after all these years here is what I take away from this conversation:

  1. Don't believe something just because everybody says it's true. Do your own research, dig, study and come up with your own opinions. You may be surprised to find out the real truth!

  2. Hymns were not written using the melodies of bar songs at the time. Yes, they were written in the same style or format, but neither of the Wesley brothers nor Luther used songs that were already written and then changed the words.

  3. God made us creative beings. He wants us to grow, develop, create & recreate, and use the gifts He has given us to bring Him glory! He gave us a HUGE imagination and wants us to use it!

  4. Like I stated in my previous blog, I am not against using secular music in a church service as long as it has a purpose. I do, however, think that we shouldn't be taking a popular song, changing the words and turning it into a worship or "Christian" song.

I would love to hear what you think about this! I want to know what some of your favorite songs are, please leave them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Thanks for hanging out with me today!  

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AuthorJustin Graves