Grace in the Arts: Toward Singing With The Understanding A Discussion of the Gospel Hymn—Part 1 -- By: Frances A. Mosher

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 05:1 (Spring 1992)
Article: Grace in the Arts: Toward Singing With The Understanding A Discussion of the Gospel Hymn—Part 1
Author: Frances A. Mosher


Grace in the Arts:
Toward Singing With
The Understanding
A Discussion of the Gospel Hymn—Part 1

Frances A. Mosher

Pianist, Christ Congregation
Dallas, Texas

I. Introduction

Some standard hymnals are divided into topical sections such as “Worship,” “Gospel Testimony,” “Praise,” or “Invitation.” However, selections in a hymnal might also be divided according to historical, literary, and/or musical type and style. A particular type of congregational song known as the “gospel hymn” or “gospel song” (the two terms are used interchangeably) was first associated, not with traditional church worship, but with the mass revival meetings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The term “gospel” in connection with this body of hymnody does not mean that all hymns in this category have the Gospel, per se, as their main theme or topic; gospel hymns treat a variety of topics. Their kinship lies in other common features.

Since its introduction, the gospel hymn has “gained a substantial place in the congregational singing of fundamentalist churches as well as in a number of America’s evangelical denominations…”1 Indeed, in many such churches, songs of this type are used for a large percentage of the congregational singing. A survey of three standard hymnals currently used by church groups generally considered fundamental showed that a third or more of the selections in each book consisted of gospel hymns or their close relatives.

In light of its wide use in many Bible-believing churches, a consideration of the gospel hymn’s history and characteristics as well

as the doctrinal soundness of representative examples could aid us in singing both “with the spirit and with the understanding,” as we are encouraged to do by 1 Cor 14:15.

II. History and Background

“The gospel hymn is a distinctively American phenomenon. It developed out of the camp meeting songs of the early decades of the nineteenth century.”2 “The need for hymns simple and contagious enough to appeal to unlettered frontier folk brought into being a simplified folk hymn.”3 By the latter half of the 1800’s, these “folk hymns” had become so popular that they were adopted and further developed as a common feature of the urban revival movement.

During the Civil War the [YMCA] carried these hymns into the army and the Soldiers’ ...

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