Traditional Hymns vs. Contemporary Praise Choruses


HymnalRecently a college classmate friend of mine and I were discussing the positives and negatives of traditional worship and contemporary worship. Our conversation reminded me of this story:

Old Farmer Joe went to the big city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.

“Well,” said the farmer. “It was good. They did something different, though. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”

“Praise choruses?” she asked. “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re OK,” said the farmer. “They’re sort of like hymns, only different.”

“What’s the difference?” said his wife.

“Well,” said the farmer, “If I said, ‘the cows are in the corn,’ that would be a hymn. But if I were to say to you,

‘Martha, Martha, Martha, O Martha, Martha, Martha,
The cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the black and white cows,
The COWS, COWS, COWS are in the CORN, CORN, CORN!
They’re in the corn, they’re in the corn, they’re in the CORN, CORN, CORN!’

….and if I were to repeat the whole thing four or five times, then that would be a praise chorus.”

The next weekend his nephew, a young Christian from the big city, came to visit his Uncle Joe and Aunt Martha. He attended their local church in the small town. When he went home his mother asked him how it was.

“Well,” he said, “it was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of praise choruses.”

“Hymns?” asked his mother. “What are those?”

The young man said, “Well, it’s like this. If Uncle Joe were to say to Aunt Martha, ‘the cows are in the corn,’ then that would be a praise chorus. But if he were to say:

‘Oh Martha, dear Martha, oh hear thou my cry; inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
Turn thou thine whole wondrous ear by and by, to the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.
Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight,
Have broken free from their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night,

They all my mild Chilliwak sweet corn have eschewed!’

And if he were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change in the last verse, then that would be a hymn.”

Seriously, folks, this exaggerated illustration is obviously overstated. The ongoing conversation regarding personal preferences in worship style or format could be summarized in many ways, not the least of which is simply this: So long as the words are Christ centered, biblically based and faith strengthening, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

My contention has always been simple. If we’re going to do traditional worship, let’s pick hymns that are easily and joyfully sung. If we’re going to do contemporary worship, let’s pick songs or praise choruses that are easily and joyfully sung, especially by groups and not just by soloists.

In both cases the objective is to aid and assist worshipers in singing praises from their hearts to our great and gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen? Amen!

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