The Importance of Hymns in the Congregational Church " Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." Colossians 3:16 (NIV) The Congregational Church is not a new religion in the United States today. This early denomination dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, a time in which England was involved in a revolt against the Established Church. This congregational way held new principles and views than the beliefs of the English church, many so radical that the followers were called Independents or Separatists. I have been raised in the Congregational Church, and it is truly a wonderful opportunity for me to describe here the practices and beliefs of the place where my faith was nurtured, and also incorporate the significance that hymns have played in my worship experiences.The central understanding in Congregationalism is that each local congregation is self-governing, which necessitates the full autonomy of the local congregation in matters of faith and doctrine as well as in other matters of governance. It acknowledges no authority outside of the local congregation, neither bishop nor presbytery. The Congregational Church is reluctant to give binding authority to creeds, for this is the ground on which they broke free from in early England. Preaching is extremely important, for the Word in Scripture is thought of as the constitutive of the Church. Ministry also derives its authority from the Word, and in my own church is a very vital part of our mission. Baptism and The Lord's Supper are practiced, although there is still an argument present on the baptism of infants. Church meetings, such as my church's Annual Meeting, are key, as all church members have the right and responsibility to participate in decisions. Another significant aspect of the Congregational Church is the singing of hymns in the worship service. Hymns, psalms and spiritual songs all date back to the Bible, and they prove to be a serious part of Congregational worship and reverence of God(Johansson 126). Hymns were sung regularly by God's people for inspiration, guidance, and expressing praise and devotion to God. This premise is confirmed by the more than two hundred references to singing all throughout the Bible, by the Jews, the New Testament Christians and the early church(Ashton 92). In my church we always sing at least two hymns every service, one usually relating to the theme of the sermon. The hymn is concerned first with rational content artistically revealed so that its performance would have an emotional impact based on a concrete objective worth. The hymn's particular balance between reason and emotion makes it unsurpassed as a vehicle for praise, adoration, exhortation, education and narration. Many of us that have been exposed to hymn singing in church have groaned more than once when a is announced. We tend to think that the music and lyrics are so outdated and old-fashioned. These were words that our great- grandparents may have sung, and this fact turns many off. Yet, as part of the Congregational faith, it is important to not focus on how boring the songs are, for we are singing them to God(Syndor 17). The hymn has many spiritual merits that I was not even aware of before I researched for this paper. One of the main reasons that I chose this topic was because I have always been the one to complain in church of the necessity for these ancient songs. As I looked over the values of hymns in my general, I could see where they became incorporated into my own church and its distinct worship service. To begin, hymns allow Christians to express their feelings and ideas. The individual Christian in worship holds converse with his or her Creator and with the rest of the worshipers. Therefore, many complex feelings and ideas are developed in a true worship experience. Personally, a well-known line of Charles Wesley says " O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise" illustrates this point for me. The Christian singing these lines can show a joy in the faith that they have in Christ. Emotions may be better understood and accepted if they are first vocalized in a hymn(Syndor 18). Another way in which hymns are important in the Congregational Church is that through their singing, Christians can tell others what they believe. Many people are attracted to music because of the love and beauty is at the heart of us all. When texts that portray the message of the Gospel are sung with a real emotion, the effect on the listeners is amazing. John Calvin once said in his 1542 psalter: " In truth we know by experience that song has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal." This statement is very true, and proves that hymns can be a strong witness tool. My cousin Emily from Ottawa once visited my church on a Sunday morning and she was very impressed with the manner and praise in which the hymns were sung. This opened up the doors for me to talk to her about the Gospel. Hymns are not merely old songs that are collecting dust in a pew, but they are alive and active in the Church. Fellowship is a very important aspect of the Congregational church that I have grown up in and hymns can also serve as a means to bind the members in closer association. When a group of Christians sings with energy, thinks and feels the same ideas and emotions during the act of common praise, it becomes evident that each is drawn closer in spirit and brotherhood. Hymns do not isolate individuals, but become more fully the members of the body of Christ. Writer Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that: "It is the voice of the Church that is heard in singing together. It is not you that sings, it is the Church that is heard in singing together." This community of spirit that is felt helps to give the whole church a joy that reaches down into the soul and pulls at the hearts of all. So often, as Christians, do we forget about the basic principles of our faith. Yet, through hymn singing Christians may experience a knowledge of the fundamentals of their beliefs. Writer Albert van den Heuvel once said: "It is the hymns, repeated over and over again, which form the container of much of our faith." This point is so clear if we open up a hymnal and read through all of the many songs that we see. Even one of the most well known hymns ever that proclaims "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me", reflects back to the subject of the grace of God that saves us as Christians. This is what our whole faith is based on, the wonderful redemption granted to us through Christ. Many times in his sermons, my pastor has used the words of a hymn to illustrate a story or to strengthen a point. They are educational tools that are forgotten in an age that wants to do away with hymns all together. Basically, hymns show the interrelatedness among the theological beliefs of the Christian faith while reviewing the great doctrines of Scripture. Christians ask the Lord to "give us this day our daily bread" in the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Yet, they do not realize that an important role of the hymn is to sustain the Christian in daily life. As Christians recall the words of memorized hymns they find their spirits strengthened and revived. I know that when I am in need of a reminder of God's strength in my life I can look at the words of another hymn I hold close to my heart, "Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!" These words remind me that God is so sanctified and worthy of my praise, and that He alone is Almighty. These little stanzas can pop up even in an out of church setting, because of the emphasis placed on the singing of hymns in church. After the sermon is preached at the worship service of my church, the final hymn is sung as the pastor comes down from the pulpit. It is no coincidence that the hymn usually relates to the message of the sermon, and that it is sung just before we exit. I have found that the final hymn sung is a bit of daily bread for me as I go about my ways the rest of the day. Many Sundays I find myself humming and singing the verses of that hymn for the rest of the day, and even through the week. I did not even realize this before, as I simply sang the words set before me, and paid no attention to their meaning for my life(Syndor 18). Hymns were an important part of the early church, as Paul instructed the people of Corinth to "sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs" to God. Today in many church settings the hymn is still of great importance, while in others it has been replaced with more modern selections. Yet I truly believe that the hymns have made an impact in my life in the Congregational Church, resulting in a stronger faith. It is important to remember that good hymns are well suited to Christian worship because they center on God rather than on self. One of the greatest contributions that the hymn has made is that they flesh out biblical material in a passionate form, causing the congregation to be carried into a setting where truth becomes stimulated(Johansson 127). The Congregational Church has been my home for eighteen years now, and I feel very comfortable in this setting where my faith was founded. I think that in my own life hymns have played a very important role in my spiritual education process, as well as giving me a sense of fellowship with those around me. Congregationalism has the living Christ as the center of every congregation. In order to worship Him in a context of holiness and purity, we must focus on Him alone. The hymns sung in the church all ow for this to become a reality, as they proclaim the message of Christ and reach the mission of the Congregational Church, to place Christ alone at the center of everything. Many people may still believe that hymns are a waste of time, but in the Congregational Church environment, they are still greatly revered, and used for worship. My whole spiritual life can be we grounded in these closing words, from one of my all time favorite hymns, "He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow ways." The use of hymns in the worship of Christ allows me to be jubilant as I proclaim that my Savior lives in me today. Without the backing of these words, and the fellowship that they create, the congregational Church would probably not be as strong as it is today. Next time you are in a church setting that emphasizes the singing of hymns, do not grumble for the benefits and importance of them are far greater than the downfalls.
Bibliography Ashton, Joseph N.. Music in Worship. Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1943. Johansson, Calvin M.. Discipling Music Ministry. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1992. Snydor, James Rawlings. Hymns and Their Uses. Carol Stream: Agape, 1982. www.infoplease.com for information on the church history background