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Songs Through the Centuries: The Power of Hymns

A secular or a skeptic might say, “well, it’s nice you had such a pleasant evening together.” People of faith know better about the power of hymns. Musicians of faith know very well what I’m describing. There is a reason God’s people have sung the poetry of our faith ever since faith began—the beautiful reality of shared truth, conviction, and hope. There is a tangible bond when people of faith speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and songs of the Spirit—a reality that we truly are surrounded by the promised great cloud of witnesses (who are probably singing with us); that the music we make even within the limitation of our little human experience is somehow hardwired into the “music of the spheres.”

Such is the power of hymns—the spiritual meat of the sung Christian Tradition. Such is the potential for true Christian fellowship when the hymns inspire us to be authentic with one another, and vulnerable to one another in our shared journey of faith. There’s a lesson here. The authenticity that is returning to the worship and witness of many living congregations who are rediscovering the power of hymns can’t come fast enough. Watching younger followers of Jesus eagerly engage with biblical and theological realities that shaped and strengthened their ancestors is both thrilling and heartwarming.

Bringing it Home

In full disclosure, members of the choir aren’t the only people at First Pres who love to sing. We have a congregation who, by and large, can and will sing just about anything you put in front of them—acapella in parts is thrilling around here, as are voices with many different combinations of instruments. We speak the language of music well. But that’s mostly as part of corporate worship. The opportunity to set some additional time apart, to gather in a home, to “member” and “re-member” the faith we have received, and to sing, unscheduled, as the Holy Spirit inspires, is an extraordinary experience in 21st century North America—a precious blessing to those who sing and to those who hear.


This article on the power of hymns originally appeared at Reformed Worship, and is used by the author’s kind permission.

Rev. Dr. Paul Detterman is an author, composer, and conference speaker who is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, Illinois, and a blogger at reformedworship.org. He is a former associate for worship on the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (USA).