Many of the hymns in church hymnals today were written by John or Charles Wesley or by Martin Luther. Many people have called them the fathers of modern church music, but did they just take the popular songs of the time and put new words to them? That may be true only according to folklore and it still remains the popular belief even to this day. In researching this a little further, I discovered that the reason for this popular belief is that hymn writers set out to write songs for the church that the common man (and woman) could sing. They wanted their songs to be easy to learn and remember.
Much of the church music at the time was considered “High Church,” not something that the everyday man could easily sing along with (think opera music). The hymn writers of the 18th and 19th century wanted people to sing God’s Word and internalize His truth in a way that was easy to remember and had some sort of repetition and rhyme similar to the popular music of the day. It would be easy to make the mistaken assumption that they just used the bar room songs and changed the words since their songs were similar in style and rhythm. There were, however, some writers that did use traditional folk melodies popular at the time, one of which was William Booth, who wrote many of the Salvation Army songs. He is the one who was first quoted saying, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” These songs, however, may or may not have been sung in bars or music halls, but they were the cultural folk songs that people had grown up singing.
So, wherever the melodies originated from might be interesting to some from a historical perspective but it has very little to do with true spirituality. Well-meaning people have argued over which styles of music are more acceptable to God. If you are from the South, then of course country music might be the “right” music; if you are from Detroit, it is probably soul music; If from the West Coast, it could be surf music, If from the UK, British Rock; and on and on goes the arguments for what God “sanctions.”
Leaving all that aside, which I consider pure nonsense, it is interesting that well-known songs usually have some reference to the Bible. Even Mick Jagger seems to have come to the same conclusion as Solomon: “Can’t get no satisfaction”– Eccl, 1:2 “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
Maybe in the end we should just enjoy the creativity that God has given us and enjoy the music that moves our feet and soul, realizing there is a message in everything if we are really listening.