You lose touch with those who went before you. A hymnal embodies the witness in song of the saints who went before you. The hymns collected through the ages are generally the best of the best. They have been vetted for content and proven by usage so that they represent the best of the past. No one is suggesting that we not add to the body of hymns we have received from those who went before us but great hymns are not revealed by their popularity in the moment. The hymnal adds to the body of our hymnody carefully and only after a hymn has been judged worthy both in the faith it sings and its ability to be sung. A new hymnal is produced every generation or so and this prevents the songs of the people from becoming captive to one generation. Do you want to be judged by one snapshot moment of your life? Should we judge the faith and worship by such a moment captured in time? It is good thing to learn the songs of the saints before you put pen to paper to write your own. Ditch the hymnal and it is much more likely (almost universal) that you will exchange the witness of the saints before for the newest and most popular in the moment.
You lose the ability to memorize the songs. The screen has no memory. Those who are captive to the screen have the memory of the screen. We know plenty of new songs through the screen -- songs that have not yet made it into print and published into a book -- but we lose our familiarity with the songs of faith we know. Remember those movies when people were lost on some desert island? They tried to remember the sacred texts of old and kept repeating them as they thought they went but without books they were left with a mishmash of things remembered. Our memories are corrupted and emptied unless we refresh our memories and nothing does that more powerfully than reading (singing) from a book. How many of us can keep the great hymns in our memory without regularly singing them or reading them from the pages of a hymnal? PowerPoint screens are great for a visual image but hard on our ability to know and recall the hymns of old and the songs of the moment.
You lose the ability to sing and the desire to sing. Contemporary Christian music is sung best by the band and its song leader. Unlike the metrical hymns of old, CCM is filled with accidentals and suspended rhythms and begs us to listen more than it compels us to sing. Add to this the fact that schools do not teach us to sing as they once did and we find ourselves as people in the pew without the ability and lacking the desire to add our voices to those bellowing at us through the giant speakers that accompany those giant screens. Volume has become the substitute for knowing the lyrics and melody. We hear the background more than we hear the voices. We feel the beat more than we sing the words. The use of screens in combination with CCM begs the congregation not to join in but to clap along or sway to the rhythm of the song. Churches have become concert halls and the music of those churches has become entertainment.
You lose the ability to carry the songs of faith with you. Without WiFi or music on our phones, the songs of our faith are absent from where we are throughout the week. Perhaps that is why it is so gosh darned important that we have data on those smarphones and free WiFi wherever we sip our Starbucks or eat our scones. Though hymnals tend to be found in neat little racks on the back of pews, books are portable and do not require much technology. Plus we do not need bluetooth speakers to share them. Hymnals are made to be shared. At home, in the classroom, in the hospital room, and wherever else we do. Perhaps the greatest loss we suffer due to screens is that the hymnal no longer informs or shapes the common devotional life of the family. Whether Lutheran or Pentecostal, the home was once a place where the faith was sung together and one of the most profound means to passing on the faith to our children was singing from a hymnal at home.
Argue with me if you want but the sad truth is that Lutheran screens are dominated not with the great hymns of old but with the newest of worship songs. The ability and desire to sing has waned as music in worship has become more for a spectator group than a participating congregation. The faith that once shaped us through our hymnals and informed our devotional lives at home is now informed and defined by the popular Christian artists of the sound track or radio. Like the tendency for contemporary worship to abandon the rich and deep body of Scripture that surrounds us in liturgy, readings, and sermon and replace it with a theme text, CCM in worship has become a theme song that feeds us with little samples while the 20 course meals of the hymns with that many stanzas fed us for a lifetime.