Just like Americans visiting Australia, although the language is familiar, yet it is foreign. Hymns for the uninitiated may share the familiar language as our modern worship songs, yet they still sound foreign. In our every day parlance, for example, we no longer use obsolete expressions often found in hymns such as "what timorous worms we mortals are." Or do we really share the same nuance of meaning as our forbearers when we sing "sunshine makes the heart so gay." Further, many often argue that hymns are not personal. This is not to say that hymns are not emotional. Rather, they understand emotions in a different category as us post moderns. While we understand love, for instance, as a personal affection between us and God, ancient hymnists understand love not in such individualistic fashion. Rather, they see love more as a collective response of the entire congregation to God. Nevertheless, over the life of the church, attempts have been made to puts hymns in the fiery furnace. But like Daniel's three friends, hymns always come out unscathed. A decade ago, hymns were frown by many youngsters as not cool and severely archaic. But pick up the latest record by some of the most popular worship artists today --- be it the latest by Darlene Zschech or Hillsong Live or Chris Tomlin or Ghost Ship or Lisa Page Brooks --- you will at least a hymn or two.
Integrity Music, one of the most forward thinking Christian imprint, has just released a stunning collection of hymns "In Christ Alone: 25 of Today's Most Powerful Hymns." Featuring a star-studded list of today's most influential list of worship leaders including Darlene Zschech, Rend Collective Experiment, Kari Jobe, Gateway Worship, Israel Houghton and the New Breed, Paul Baloche and Robin Mark, it is hard to fault in terms of who appears on this collection. Although these individual cuts have been garnered from the artists' individual albums, it is good to have them all in one collection. Yet, not all the hymns here are marshalled from the ancient vaults of the church. Some of the more recent written ones, this includes Israel Houghton's "Jesus at the Center," Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons" and Gateway Worship's "O the Blood."
So, what is so alluring about hymns that they have become such an indispensable part of our worship? First, hymns were traditionally the Bible of the populace. In pre-industrial Europe, illiteracy was prevalent. This means the every person on the street could not read the Bible for themselves. Thus, hymns served the pedagogical function of educating the unlearned about God and his truth. Take "Just as I Am" (performed here by Israel Houghton) as an example. In a matter of a few verses, we are taught the doctrines of sin, election, salvation not by works but by grace, and sanctification in ways so palatable that you don't even need much of an education to understand. While it took theologians pouring through scholarly tomes in order to articulate the mystery that Jesus is both fully man as well as fully God, "Fairest (Fairest Lord Jesus)" here performed by New Life Worship brings this truth out effortlessly. Even on newer hymns like Travis Cottrell's take of Darlene Zschech's "Worthy is the Lamb," " we find the complex Biblical themes of Christ's suffering and his victory explained in such memorable ways that you don't need a seminary degree to be impacted.
Second, hymns never lose its power because structurally hymns are made up of stanzas, each with the same line length, rhyme and rhythm. Thus, because of such rigidity, hymn writers need to work harder making sure the words fit and come alive within the stanzas. As a result, more thought is put into writing a hymn than an average song. Gateway Worship's take of the traditional "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" is a stellar example. The images used in this hymn ("flaming tongues" and "streams of mercy") are so colorful and vivid that they set our imaginations wild with worship. Notice also how Paul Baloche in "Your Name" (here performed gorgeously by Zschech) uses different images from the Bible just to bring out the reliability of the Lord's name. Therefore, hymns are like the Cathedrals of yore, they are by themselves works of art. But through their artistry, hymns help channel our hearts and minds to the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this collection "In Christ Alone: 25 of Today's Most Powerful Hymns" avails for us many such moments of worship.