Our Hymns Did Not Come From Bars

  • I Timothy 4:7 “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.”
  • II Timothy 2:16 “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”
  • II Timothy 2:23 “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.”

I have heard statements similar to this frequently through the years, “It is okay to have Christian music copy secular music and styles. A number of our hymns originated in bars!” This is not true. Our hymns did not come from bars. As proof, the following statement was found in Foundation magazine, December 2002, written by Dean McIntyre of the United Methodist Church. Please note that the UMC is not considered a bastion of clean, Christian music. Most in the UMC have accepted wrong CCM and Southern gospel syncopation for decades. (Independent Baptist David Cloud also writes on this topic on his Way of Life website.)

“Did the Wesleys really use drinking song tunes for their hymns? This drinking tune myth pervades our denomination and has attained the status of truth in many people’s minds, including pastors, musicians, professors, writers, students, and our general laity.

Of particular importance is the distinction between the use of secular music as hymn tunes–a practice that the Wesleys did occasionally use–and the use of drinking tunes or saloon songs as hymn tunes–a practice that they did not use.

The Wesleys did not use tavern or drinking songs to carry their texts. Their theology as well as their sense of aesthetics would have made such an occurrence unthinkable. There are no such examples in their collections. There are no suggestions or recommendations that others do so in any of their writings.

The oft-repeated legend results from some poor, misinformed person who confused the medieval literary bar form, also sometimes known as bar tune, with tavern song. Once spoken out of ignorance, the confused version took on a life of its own and seemingly grows with each repetition.

The legend is now repeated by those who advocate this very practice in the church’s worship and music today. They use the “fact” that the Wesleys did it as justification for their argument that we should also do it. I want to argue that those who wish to commend this practice to the church should not be allowed to appeal to an historical inaccuracy or lie as their justification. They should be able to argue the position on its own merits.”

In conclusion, as seen from our texts in I and II Timothy, Paul warned that such “fables” are “foolish” (as proven by the unknown individual’s ignorance of “bar form”), “vain babblings” (again, speaking of matters the individual did not understand), and “profane” (trying to connect holy hymns to bars). Paul “hit the nail on the head” when he stated that such “wives’ fables” will “increase unto more ungodliness” (To this day, many use “bar” hymns as an excuse for worldly Christian music.) and that these untruths would “gender strifes.” We should “refuse”, “avoid”, and “shun” these lies and “exercise” ourselves “rather unto godliness.”