There are many great classical hymns from the past, even from the early church. The best hymns are those written before the Second Great Awakening (early 19th century), when afterward, hymns became sentimental (“In the Garden”), romantic (“In Moments Like These” … I sing a love song to Jesus), revivalistic (“Since Jesus Came into My Heart”), self-focused (“I Surrender All”), and wearisome because of repetitive choruses (“Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “When Peace, Like a River”). Many of these “traditional” hymns are also theologically erratic because they were written by Arminians (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley, “To God Be the Glory,” Fanny Crosby), Unitarians (“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” Edmund Sears), or Catholics (“Silent Night,” Joseph Mohr).
This theological erosion of worship music is even worse when “contemporary” music arrived in most evangelical churches. These songs were written by mostly Biblically- and theologically-illiterate young men and women, even those in their early teens! Moreover, these writers are mostly Pentecostals and Charismatics, and so the words often contradict Reformed doctrines and encourage wrong worship practices. The erosion of worship music from bad to worse since man-made hymns started has no end in sight.
That’s why Article 39 of the Church Order of the United Reformed Churches in North America says, “The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches. Hymns which faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity may be sung, provided they are approved by the Consistory” (emphasis added). In singing metrical Psalms, we can be sure that we are singing the Word of God. In contrast, when we sing man-composed hymns, especially those from the early 19th century to the present, we have to carefully sort them out as to their faithfulness to Scripture.
What about instruments? Why do we allow only piano and organ in our worship services? Instruments in the worship service have one function: to aid the congregation in singing. As seen in many evangelical churches – like music – the use of various instruments is a slippery slope. When they start adding instruments, such as guitars, drums, trumpets, saxophone, etc., there is no end to the instruments that are added. The result is worship that has become entertainment. Israel had many instruments, but in temple worship, God commanded only four instruments can be used: cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets (2 Chr 29:25-26). So the early church and the Reformation churches did not use instruments in worship because they considered using instruments as an obsolete Old Testament practice.
Therefore, the church has gone from Psalm-singing only from the early church, to hymns and Psalms in the medieval church, back to Psalm-singing only in the Reformation church, to mostly hymns from the early 1800s, to “contemporary” songs with worship bands from the 1960s. What’s next?