The study of Hymnology is the gathering of knowledge about hymns. In order to gain this knowledge about hymns you must learn the sacred lyrics, and the stories behind the songs, which includes a knowledge of the persons that composed them. If you know the person, the time they occupied and the affiliations they attached themselves to, you can often understand why some particular choices of expression appear in the hymns they composed.
There are all sorts of divisions of hymnology that a person might study. A person could study the hymnology common to a particular religious group, region, or period of time. But for the average Christian such endeavors would be a waste of time. What then would be a useful endeavor into the study of hymnology for the average Christian? The answer to that should be plainly obvious. Knowledge of the songs that you sing along with the congregation with which you worship is the most valuable because then the hymns you know can become more of a spiritual force in your life. Learning the history of persons and times that brought the hymns into being allows you to sing the songs better because you appreciate them more. When we sing with understanding we experience greater joy in the song and that joy communicates itself to those who stand to benefit from hearing it.
The music leader and the pastor have particular need for knowledge of the songs that are sung within the boundaries of the church they serve. Their need stems from a need to use music as part of the worship experience of the church, and to prepare the way for the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to be applied in the preaching of God's Word. First of all they need this knowledge for their own appreciation of congregational singing. The Christian faith is a singing faith. It is a faith that is not the faith of a mere onlooker, but the faith of a participant. This is only a reasonable conclusion since Christianity itself is participatory. People have to make willing and personal commitments of themselves to Christ, and the singing of songs of faith repeats and reinforces that commitment.
It as a fundamental precept that the singing of hymns by the congregation reflects the church's spiritual vitality and their response to God's grace. I would propose to the student of hymnology that the increase tendency for the singing service of churches to be dominated by solos and choirs is an indicator of a church's tendency to become a spectator congregation assembly. If we are to say that hymn singing reflects the vitality of the church, then we must also consider that the lack of hymn singing reflects a lack of vitality. I am not saying that there is not a place for solos and choirs, I am saying that worship is a participatory experience that requires a level of participation that solos and choirs do not necessarily cater to. Choirs reach their greatest usefulness in the contribution to the training of voices and to special observances when music such as cantatas and so forth are called for. Solos are particularly useful in setting the tone of a service when a special piece of music is used to compliment the particular preaching of the Word that will occur on the occasion. But the greatest regular lifting and focusing of hearts on the holy occurs in the free and robust outpouring of praise coming from the congregation joined together in song.
Since every great period of revival can demonstrate a corresponding increase in congregational singing as a matter of historical fact, it follows that the church that would experience revival must promote congregational singing with a select choice of music that exalts God and demonstrates man's need of utter abandonment to the Lord's will and way in their lives.
Overlooked in much of the dialogue in the field of hymnology is the doctrine attached to song. Congregations in Protestant and Baptist churches frequently sing music garnered from all about Christendom. This means that sometimes congregations are singing music that is contrary to the doctrinal beliefs being proclaimed in their teaching. It is important to understand the backgrounds of the composers and the belief system they held to in order to highlight the need to be thoughtful about what is being promoted in their music. Some favorite music in churches would be rejected if the people actually considered the doctrine being expressed in the lyrics. It has been well said that the power of God's music lies not in the beat but in the Words. For that reason it is my belief that any course in Hymnology must give attention to the theology behind the words being sung.
In conclusion to this lecture period, I want to make one last point concerning the study of hymnology. The study of the writers of lyrics and the manner in which they come together with the composers of the music is often a demonstration of the sovereignty of God in the matter. We can also say the same about how the life experiences of the writers work together to form the words in the writers breast. It is my contention that the writing of music like the preaching of the word is a demonstration of the working of the Holy Spirit of God in the people He has set aside for such purposes. Though neither of these things rise to the level of inspiration that we find in Holy Scripture, the manner of inspiration gives us an insight into how God might have worked to breath the Word into those He used to give us that divine text that is the written revelation of the Words of life.