One of the biggest complaints I get from people (not that I get a lot) is that we don’t sing enough hymns. I completely disagree. We sing a lot of hymns. I believe the real issue is that people don’t understand what a hymn truly is. Colossians 3:16 says “Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” Now what people typically think, is that praise songs are considered psalms, songs from a hymnal are considered hymns, and they have no idea what to do with spiritual songs. But is that really what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote those words? I don’t think so.
When Paul says to sing “psalms” what I truly believe he meant was that we are to sing psalms from the book of Psalms. Before it was named the book of Psalms it was simply known as the “Book of Praises” because almost every psalm contains some note of praise to God. These psalms were set to the accompaniment of stringed instruments and served as the Temple Hymnbook. And even though we don’t have the original music for how these psalms sounded, I do believe that we still sing psalms in our churches. The words of the book of Psalms are littered throughout the Baptist Hymnal and in our modern praise and worship songs. Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (a Baptist Hymnal classic) is based on Psalm 46. Chris Tomlin’s “Forever” (a very popular Praise and Worship song) comes straight from Psalm 136. So, I believe we as the “Church” are still singing psalms.
Next let’s look at “hymns”. Most church goers believe that hymns are only found in hymnals. But is that biblical? The word hymn in the Greek means “praise”. So is it not just a song of praise? If that’s so, then almost every song we sing during our congregational worship time is a hymn, whether it’s found in a hymnal or not. But really, that makes sense. For instance, the Baptist Hymnal is updated every 10 years or so. Some songs are added and some songs are removed. Are the new songs now considered hymns? Are the songs that have been removed no longer considered hymns? What about the songs that were originally considered “praise songs” but have been included in more recent editions of the hymnal? Are they now hymns even though they were once praise songs? I believe they are all hymns.
Finally, let’s look at “spiritual songs”. Most people don’t know what to do with this classification of song. I’ve heard this described as many different things by many different preachers, but I don’t know that any of them ever got it right. Instead of doing any research, they just try to take the Christian musical styles of the day and turn one of them into the category of “spiritual songs”. I believe what this really means is that these songs should be inspired by the Spirit of God. So, if this is the definition, then songs from a hymnal, modern praise and worship songs, even songs from Christian radio would be included in this list.
Ultimately, I believe that all of the songs we sing in church should fall into one or more of these categories. Most probably fall into all 3. But really, I believe the key to understanding Colossians 3:16 is found in the last 2 words “thankful hearts”. That’s the key to truly worshipping. Regardless of whether it’s a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song, we are to worship God with thankful hearts. And if we do that, then song types just won’t be an issue.