Why God Doesn’t Like Hymns

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HymnsMusic that pleases God is not contingent on what we sing. It is, instead, pleasing to God because of the character and attitude of those who sing it.

The psalmist points out that God takes pleasure in the praise of His people through music…”Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:3-4). Zephaniah wrote, “the Lord our God is with us and rejoices over us with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

If the Father takes pleasure in our praise and also sings over us, then are there certain musical genres He takes more pleasure in or likes to sing over us more than others? Can we assume God can’t stand modern worship songs or hymns just because we can’t stand them? Even though we may not actually verbally affirm those assumptions, our worship actions and attitudes often convey that egoism.

Scripture speaks to the issue of worship that is or isn’t pleasing to God on several occasions. The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Amos criticized music that is ego driven when he wrote, “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want” (Amos 5:21-23 The Message).

The book of Isaiah indicates which songs God doesn’t prefer when the author writes, “The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).

We will never worship in spirit and truth when we only see worship with linear eyes through the lens of our favorite music; when we claim to know what God likes because he likes what we know; when we assume my favorite worship music is also God’s favorite worship music; or when we believe relevant worship began and will end with the music of my generation.

May the words of Paul be our prayer as we sing our hymns and modern worship songs together, “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ – the Message – have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God” (Colossians 3:15-16 The Message)!

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22 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John Boyd on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Let’s agree that God’s Word is true. Then we know that He looks on the heart, and that His Spirit translates the clumsy attempts of His children to worship Him into a sweet smelling aroma in which He delights. It’s really not about the style of music, or even the instrumentation…all of that is fluff about which the lost people or the missing-in-action church members rail over. It’s about honest attempts to be vessels of praise. I believe that even the praise comes from the Father, but is only received back by Him when echoed through the adoring hearts of His children. In other words, we can’t truly praise one whom we do not know…and likewise, He can’t receive praise from one with whom His Spirit does not resonate! We (Worship leaders) all seek that moment when our congregations truly “get it”…they become so overwhelmed by God’s presence among them that they are no longer chained to their personal preferences but are lost in the sweet release of complete surrender to His Spirit. I submit that this only can happen when people enter the sanctuary with a heightened expectation, longing to meet with God heart-to-heart! In that moment music takes a backseat to the real purpose of corporate worship…the chains come off and our hearts explode – not out of brokenness, but out of sheer delight in His presence!

  2. Posted by Doug Irving on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Provocative title that will surely raise a few eyebrows. The truth within notwithstanding, the title makes this post feel like a bait and switch.

  3. Posted by Mark Burnett on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks for this reminder David. Certainly, worshiping with pure hearts is essential to pleasing God.

    To argue another perspective, though, who are we to say that God does not actually prefer a particular type of music? Your argument is that we can’t say He prefers something on the basis of our own preference, but could He not prefer something without regard to our preference? Surely God has artistic preference, or what do we make of the beauty God designed for Solomon’s Temple? Not just any art would do apparently.

    I believe that God cares deeply about how we approach him in worship (private and corporate); surely this isn’t limited to only the condition of our hearts, but also in our manner and forms for worship. It is true that God hates vain worship, as you pointed out with the scripture references in your post; it was not the form that God took issue with, but the people’s hearts. But this doesn’t inherently mean that God is entirely unconcerned with form, only that form without substance is vain. Certainly there are forms with which God did take issue (the golden calf comes to mind), which lends support to the premise that God cares about form in addition to the condition of the heart.

    All this to say, I would argue that just because God doesn’t explicitly say in scripture what type of music he likes or dislikes doesn’t give us the liberty to say with confidence that any type of music is acceptable to him in worship. Can I say with confidence that God prefers a particular style of music? No, but who are we to “know” that he doesn’t? That notwithstanding, I do think I could say with confidence that some musics are simply not adequate, and therefore not appropriate, to carry the great weight of biblical truth in our worship to God. God leaves it to us to make discerning judgments, but just as soon as we do, we certainly should acknowledge that we could be wrong. So just as I would say that one cannot simply state that God doesn’t care about the music we use for worship, I would also say that we can’t know exactly to what extent he does care about the same.

    For me, I believe he does care, which leads me to exercise caution and sometimes restraint in my selections rather than an “anything goes” practice. For those who believe God doesn’t care about the music, my hope is that they would feel the weight of responsibility that they have in making their selections, and do so with much prayer and conviction of the Spirit.

    Respectfully,

    Mark Burnett

  4. Posted by David Manner on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Outstanding critical and challenging thinking, Mark. I appreciate your heart for worship. I definitely agree that not anything goes and since we don’t know for sure we should pray over every element of worship before considering its use.

  5. Posted by Hearts, Not Songs | Worship Links on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    [...] The wars over the style of musical worship were always misguided, and the intro to Why God Doesn’t Like Hymns by David Manner sums it perfectly: [...]

  6. Posted by Kelly Cook on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    The writer certainly grabbed my attention with his title. Having gone from a church that sung hymns and newer songs to only the new songs has been hard for me. I sang in church choirs for about 30-40 years. Hymns were rich and deep with their lyrics, while most new songs seem so short and shallow. Seems like we’ve dumb down music for the masses.

    I appreciate the article and it’s points. Very interesting and thought provoking. I think the other comments are very helpful and appropriate also, esp. Mark Burnett’s.

  7. Posted by Lyle Milligan on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    While I usually don’t like to wade into this type discussion … (I feel others are WAY more educated than me on music theory / forms / etc) … I wish to make an observation … the “worship wars” we seem to have experienced (at least since I’ve been in ministry since the late 60′s – and I believe are as old as Heaven itself) have to do with taste and “culture” … I’ve been part of “tape burnings” and record smashes … and even taught “The Big Beat – A Rock Blast” in the 70′s … What I’ve come to learn is we REALLY need to be careful when we “speak for God” and His “preferences” … WE (American churches) are HIGHLY influenced by what I consider “western” composers and musicians … from Contemporary to Bach … while in Scriptures the examples David and others gave would have been “Eastern” in style and cultural influences … My son lives in S. Africa and ministers in 11 countries … and observes MANY different worship styles (some I’m sure I’d be uncomfortable with … what about the “underground church” in other parts of our world where oriental or mid eastern influences are prevalent … I HAVE to agree it’s the heart GOD is interested in … but if we are to share HIS message with those in our culture then we (IMHO) NEED to make sure we are the “best” we can be as musicians AND leaders. Starting with our OWN relationship with the Father through the Son by the leading of the Holy Spirit. I am not suggesting we learn “eastern songs” but I am suggesting we don’t limit God to Western preferences. IF your church loves and worships with Hymns … so be it … IF it has decided to go 110% “contemporary” like a church I worked with in FL … then GO FOR IT … just be sure it’s what GOD wants for YOUR ministry. Currently I serve where we have a “top 25″ early service and a VERY traditional 11 morning service … we have people in BOTH who worship fervently and I believe GOD is pleased in either service that our HEARTS are turned toward Him. I, personally, am able to worship in BOTH settings and I believe, again, the attitude of the heart is the MOST important. WHEW … enof of THAT from me! Thank you for challenging our thinking David!

  8. Posted by David Manner on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks for wading in Lyle. Excellent commentary. Maybe you should consider wading in more often.

  9. Posted by Margaret Chavis on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    I agree with Davis that Lyle should wade in whenever the Holy Spirit leads. I agree with the points made and scripture quoted in the comments as well as in the main document. Styles change, but not the heart of God. He asks us to worship Him in psalms and hymns and in spiritual songs… that about covers it. I may not enjoy a particular song, style or group, but who am I to say that someone isn’t ‘worshipping’ in that particular genre, service or with that particular artist or group. What I prefer is not the only way to worship through music. If I don’t prefer it, I can simply go somewhere else, not purchase the CD or change stations. Thanks, David, for putting this into perspective.

  10. Posted by Charles on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Good article, though the title could have been more thoughtfully phrased.

  11. Posted by Pastor John on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Interesting thoughts and a fresh perspective. Your title caught my attention and made me think of some people that I’ve heard say just the opposite but you point to the heart attitude behind our worship.

  12. Posted by Jennifer F on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    I agree with Lyle, I have friends in Africa that sing and worship totally different than I do and in ways that don’t know if I would feel comfortable unless the Holy Spirit was leading me to. I believe that as long as we are praising God in a respectful manner then it would be acceptable to the Lord.

  13. Posted by Rod on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    I have been in worship ministry since 1982. I grew up in and served in primarily Baptist denomination churches. Much has changed over these 3 decades regarding worship music in churches – MUCH! Unfortunately the discussion regarding worship music in the church has not. I say “unfortunately” because I fear many of us in the west continue to deny what the more core issues are regarding worship. We always tend to default to preference which brings with it division. Division within the evangelical Church is a plague and we tend to divide over even the smallest of things. Our lack of love for unity is what must be a stench in the nostrils of God – not whether we use an organ or an electric guitar. We have fallen for Satan’s lies and deception and we are weaker for it. It is my opinion that worship must start with the realization that JESUS is the means and subject and object of worship. WE are not the means, nor the subject and certainly not the object – but we act like it. Hebrews is probably the text to guide us toward faithful NT worship with an eye on OT worship. “Therefore, brothers since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:19-25. Jesus, by His work on the cross and His perpetual priestly work in heaven and his purifying work in our lives, are the means to enter the presence of God in worship. It has nothing to do with our performance or works. This is what the Gospel tells us as well. There is great freedom in this! This is awesome news! Our work in worship is to think (believe) and act in faith, hope, assurance, love toward Father, Son and Holy Spirit and toward each other. This does not mean a worship setting is a free-for-all. Worship texts should have Biblical, clear, thoughtful messages concerning God and the things of God that encourage and challenge worshippers. Worship music should have order and structure that provide a way for worshippers to participate. I’ve probably come off as some egotistical know-it-all. If I have, I am sorry. I am in the middle of it now in the church I serve. 25 years ago the church I now serve chose a “contemporary” style of music as a cornerstone style. Contemporary music has changed a lot over 2 decades (I’ve been here for 10 years). I have tried to stay current, but now this congregation is 25 years older and we are back to the same old war – they want the contemporary they knew, not the contemporary that is now. Sheesh. Perhaps we did not base our musical preference on the foundations found in Scripture and now our church is having to deal with that. Maybe. But maybe we could be a stronger church, having more influence and impact in our community, if we hold loosely the things that are preferential and hold tightly to the things that are essential. I pray we (including myself) will learn what the Lord may be teaching us and be more Christ-like for it. Sorry this is way too long.

  14. Posted by Sharon Joyner on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    I am on fb under Sharon Leighton Joyner. I don’t know the website address offhand.

    While I agree with you on the content you posted, I also think that as worship leaders, we have to be sensitive to those whom we lead into a spirit of worship. If we have a mixed congregation, we need to use songs which can be enjoyed by all age groups and styles with words that are worshipful and glorifying to God. In my case, I lead worship in an all Senior Citizen congregation in a mobile home park clubhouse. Though I occasionally use contemporary worship, I am careful that they are easy to follow and have a good message that complements the sermon content. I do a lot of the old hymns, too. Thing is I’m learning that not everyone knows ALL of the old hymns regardless of their age level. So in this case I need to make sure the songs are not to difficult and are worshipful to everyone. So, I believe that God is glorified and worship happens when we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading overall. Amen?

  15. Posted by Todd H. on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Sharon,

    Thanks very much for your post. You said, “So, I believe that God is glorified and worship happens when we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading overall. Amen?”

    OK, I can go with that, I think. I just wish I could find a church that fully met my needs.

    I was a member of worship teams for six years and recorded some music of my own. But I’ve been away from worship teams for several years and now, speaking as someone “out there in the congregation”, I pray that I would be introduced to worship sessions accessible to me, that (while they already have wonderful Christian pastors and staff) fully meet *my* current worship needs.

    You have more personal, relational experience with reaching out to the congregation, since you’re on a worship team and you have experience with various age groups. On the other hand, I’ve been “in the congregation” — for quite some time. With people of all ages. And thus, I can’t speak as much to “leading” as I can to “following.”

    I just wonder if it’s my own fault that I still find myself seeking a church that already has wonderful Christian pastors and members, fully meets *my* personal worship session needs.

    Some of them are my very best friends. And that’s an extra reason that I often feel really sad that I don’t understand the worship.

  16. Posted by Josh on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Title caught my attention and kinda ticked me off, but the article has no points to support that title. You can’t cheat and get the benefits of a catchy or controversial title, but back off in the content. Tis not logical. You never told in the article Why God doesn’t like hymns. You said we can worship with hymns and modern worship songs.

    Maybe I should write an article about why God doesn’t like contemporary worship and then just give a bunch of cliche content about how we should sing all songs with the right heart, whatever style, blah, blah, blah.

  17. Posted by David Manner on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Josh,

    You are correct in that the title is provocative. And to respond to your last paragraph the title could just as easily been “Why God Doesn’t Like Modern Worship Music.” The point, however, is that anything or anyone we worship that is not God, is displeasing to God. That includes what or how we sing…Hymns or Modern Worship Songs. If Modern Worship Songs become our idol by assuming that worship can’t occur unless we sing those songs and won’t occur when we sing hymns, then it would stand to reason that God would be displeased because “we are coming near to God with our mouths, but our hearts are far from Him.”

    So to answer your comment. According to the article Why God Doesn’t Like Hymns (or Modern Worship Songs) Pleasing God is not contingent on what we sing but on the condition of our heart. God Doesn’t Like Hymns when we assume God can’t stand Modern Worship Songs because we can’t stand them. God Doesn’t Like Hymns when we are more focused on how we sing than we are on doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. And God doesn’t like Hymns or Modern Worship Songs if how we sing causes division in the body and we don’t allow the peace of Christ to keep us in tune with each other.

  18. Posted by Bob Pentecost on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    David,

    You blog might better have been titled and subtitled “Why God Doesn’t Like…Anything We Choose to Use to Worship Him IF It is Focused on Anyone or Anything Other Than God”. I know it’s a lengthy one but doesn’t it sum up your point?

    I’ve been in the ministry of music since Columbus discovered America (almost) and have seen it all…the pendulum swing from one side to the other stop in the middle and then swing again.

    I have tried to do what was do-able wherever I was with whoever God provided to help and yet challenge the congregation to venture into “new territory” without quenching the Spirit of their spirit.

    There always will be those in the congregation who do not or will not be led like that as well as those in the congregation who want to go further beyond into “new territory” and go more quickly than the rest and thus the Music/Worship Wars.

    Thank God that when all of God’s children get to their eternal reward and worship God – not any one of us will be deciding or in charge. “…for the former things are passed away.”

    Bob

  19. Posted by David Manner on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Exactly Bob. Well stated. You nailed it!

  20. Posted by Ron Page on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    As usual I enjoy reading anything my friend David writes. Growing up predominately in Southern Baptist churches it can sometime be difficult to pull away from old habits. However I have often felt that many of the old hymns were sung out of habit and not from the heart. Some of the old hymns have been changed to be more heart felt and not just sung as rote.
    I will admit that some old hymn changes don’t set well with me as I Love to sing the bass line and the new arrangements do not lend to the old bass line. Granted that is just being selfish. But other changes or additions allow a more worshipful praise to God. One such song is Amazing Grace. the addition of “My chains are gone I’ve been set Free” speaks volumes as to what God’s amazing grace has done for us.
    I still Love to sing “count your blessings” because too often we forget even the smallest of blessings that God pours out to us. I am excited about the direction our music ministry is moving at our church. Although I do miss singing in the choir.
    I do think we have to take caution that our congregations don’t become spectators, just watching and listening to the praise teams. It then can come across as a performance and not a time of worshipful praise for everyone. I have visited some churches that sadly came across as a performance and I did not feel a part of the Worship experience.

  21. Posted by David Manner on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    Great thoughts, Ron. You have always been a deep thinker so I appreciate your comments and your willingness to sacrifice your preferences for the good of the body. I agree that we need caution so that we don’t become passive spectators. Always good to hear from you.

  22. Posted by Craig Collins on 22.06.14 at 2:01 pm

    David,

    If you and/or your readers are interested, for a more in-depth look at this issue from a spiritual, theological, musical and historical perspective, I invite your readers and you to read, “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns” by T. David Gordon. It’s available at Amazon.com and its resellers for less than $10.

    Especially in light of news that many congregation members in large mega churches are no longer singing in worship, I think it very safe to say that God not only DOES like hymns, but prefers them.

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