Gospel Songs & Hymns: What’s the Difference?

Resource Type: Articles

Can you give an overview of the difference between gospel songs and hymns?

The texts of hymns should cover the full range of Gospel truth and experience. This means that serious thought must given to achieving a realistic balance in worship between hymns and gospel songs.

Gospels songs are generally defined as songs with a refrain, written during the past two centuries. Growing out of camp meetings and mass revivals, these songs focus on “getting saved” and celebrating newfound freedom in Christ. They served the purpose of the meetings that inspired them.

However, the gospel songs generally do not express deep thought about discipleship, the Lordship of Christ, obedience, cross-bearing, suffering, nonresistance, separation from the world, the Kingdom of God, and other Christian realities well represented in Mennonite hymnals of the past. These distinctively Anabaptist themes are found in the great hymns of the church.

Therefore, unless songs are chosen with vigilance, our descendants will sing only about a few aspects of their Christian experience. We must strive for a hymnody that nurtures a rich knowledge of God and a full range of Christian experience. Let’s give our people music that gathers up the best in all 2000 years of Christian song and nurtures a faith equipped with truth for all of life.

John D. Martin

John has been an active promoter of quality church music for more than 40 years. This has prompted him to compile a new hymnal, Hymns of the Church, that carries on a tradition of excellence. He serves primarily as instructor of congregational music classes. John resides at Chambersburg, PA with his wife Patricia. His 4 children are Anne (married to Craig Martin, with 4 grandchildren: Carter, Edward, Charlotte, and Elizabeth), Heather (married to Brandon Byler, with 1 grandaughter: Kaitlyn and 1 grandson: Hudson), Candace (married to Heinrich Schander, with 1 grandson: Camden), and Spencer. His son Geoffrey (2006 SCMC student) died at age 18 in an automobile accident. John holds BS degrees in both elementary education and library science.
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