In the end, the Gospel Song form must be evaluated. Is it appropriate for the Christian worship service? When one considers the “Sankeys” and compares them to those that the church had been already using, perhaps the best conclusions may be reached. David Breed, in his The History and Use of Hymns and Hymn Tunes, provides what may be the most scathing attack on the gospel song.1 He found several elements of the Gospel Song objectionable, including: the solo, chorus, imitation of the fugue-tune, its loose and prosaic structure, its “dissociation of old standard hymns” from their “stately tunes,” and that the inordinate number of the songs “settled into a mannerism.”2
In the end, a good deal of the Gospel Songs faded into history, even among fundamentalist circles, mostly because their intrinsically popular nature became terribly “passe.” And, to be fair, some of the Gospel Songs may be appropriate for use in worship today. It is not the point of this series of posts to develop a canon of which songs are good and which songs are bad. Fundamentalism has nonetheless done itself great damage in including so many of these songs in their worship. The real danger of these songs now is the same danger in these songs when they first came out. Many Gospel Songs are not appropriate in worshipping of the Lord Jesus Christ. They subtly provoke irreligious affections for God and a distorted view of the Christian life. The Gospel Song form, once wildly relevant, is now terribly irrelevant, and must be abandoned, and not for this reason alone.
Finally, fundamentalists and evangelicals alike must abandon the idea of Gospel Songs. Relevance lies not changing musical styles to meet the whims of popular culture, or walking in stride with the frenzied patterns of consumer appetites. The power of the gospel is found in God himself, and His ability to save souls by His grace and the work of his Holy Spirit, even in an age of increasing secularization. The decadence seen in the Gospel Songs has now further plummeted into the depths of triviality and entertainment-oriented offerings. And so, as the church continues to change more and more of its methods in an attempt to win the lost, one fears that the message may be changing too.
1(Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, Co., 1903). Breed relates the following story and particularly cutting comment: “Curwen reports that Mr. Sankey said to him in London, ‘I am no musician; indeed, I am no singer,’ and there was no reason for Curwen to disagree with him.”