12 February 2009

On Hymnals and Humility

[I posted substantially what follows on a list I'm on; I offer here for further discussion in a wider audience if any care to comment.]

The Church Catholic is not the Missouri Synod and the Missouri Synod is not the Church Catholic; that is true. But the Missouri Synod (for good or ill) is my current jurisdiction within the Church Catholic.

"Submit to one another" the Apostle enjoined. He did not enjoin this merely for those we are always in agreement with (for then there is no submission in the strict sense of the word), but precisely to those we might disagree with. I'm not speaking of doctrinal disagreement, but of those areas that are truly in the realm of adiaphora (I use that word in its proper sense - not as it is bandied about today). We haven't bishops to submit to, but if I had a bishop and he mandated what I thought was a silly practice, I'd be sure to tell him so, but would also do it. We don't have bishops, but we do have a committee that struggled with the charge given it to produce a hymnal and
liturgy that was truly catholic and truly evangelical. This resulted in some compromises; indeed some practices that in my opinion leave much to be desired.

I'm glad there's stuff in the book that *I* am not in favor of; it helps me to die to myself. So what if I don't like X and happen to know that X is not the best of the catholic tradition? A more important part of the catholic
tradition which we Lutherans are in desperate need of recapturing is the humility that submits to someone besides ourselves. I'm not talking about submission in false teaching or in heterodox practice; I mean submission in what I - as a liturgical scholar (to give myself those airs) - know to be "inferior." It's downright healthy for that prideful "expert" to be crucified and to accept for the sake of unity in the Synod the shape of the liturgy we have been given. Is it perfect as Weedon would have it? By no means. But all the better.

My confidence is that the committee that worked to put it together finally did not compromise the Lutheran Confession at any point, and thus even when I don't like, I will silently endure without offering my critique of how it could be so much better. At least when I'm having a good day... ;)


Rev. Jim Roemke said...

Excellent and wise advise which I try to live by myself. For that reason we purposely do all the Divine Services. Everyone in my small congregation has their favorite and we have all learned to submit to each other in brotherly love with those services we are not fond of. Thank you again for this pastoral and wise advise. Would that we all die to ourselves to live in the freedom of Christ.

Jim Wagner said...

As an ELCA pastor struggling with the ELW, I am deeply touched by your post. I have urged my parish to remain with LBW because I have serious doubts about some of the wording of the ELW liturgies.

Where is the dividing line?

Jim Wagner

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

An excellent post - but don't sell yourself sort. You have an altar, you confirm - you're a bishop.

And Rev. Wagner - I would suggest that the dividing line is between poor choices and false doctrine. If something is permissible but just foolish, that's one thing. If it's wrong - then we must follow God rather than man.

dakotapastor said...

Excellent post. In a consumerist culture, which presumes to make judgments concerning everything, constantly tempting us to critique everything around us, even the Divine Service, it's true that we should rather die to ourselves, and have the humility to simply receive what we are given. Better to enjoy the hymnal as the gift that it is, than criticize it.

William Weedon said...

Thanks, all.

Jim W, I agree with Eric. The boundary line is truth. And in your shoes, I think I'd stick with LBW also.

Eric, I meant bishop not in some sense of succession or anything like that, but of a superintendent, a visitor, a la Chemnitz.

Tapani Simojoki said...

I meant bishop not in some sense of succession or anything like that, but of a superintendent, a visitor, a la Chemnitz.

You mean a District President, don't you?

On a more serious note (or maybe I was serious), your post is a timely and important comment, especially for a besserwisser like me, who is simultaneously pleased and quite disappointed with the LSB. After all, the second half of AC VII (AC VII.3) is among the most frequently abused in many Lutheran circles.

Fr. Carlos said...

Great post! It may be out of line for an Anglican priest to comment on Lutheran hymnals, but it’s worth the risk of displaying my ignorance. The Lutheran tradition has something that other liturgical traditions don’t, and that is the Book of Concord. Traditions like mine have is the Book of Common Prayer, change it and you change the faith, therefore we must use extreme caution in revising it. However, since you have the BoC, you can risk having a range of liturgies because you still have a place to go to settle an issue when a given doctrine is challenged. Nevertheless, the beauty of your point is that bowing the knee here or there liturgically (so long as the doctrine remains intact) helps curb our pride, especially when we’re right, and thus helps to shape us for the worship of a Lord other than ourselves- awesome!

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Jim W, if I were in your shoes I would stick with LBW for the reasons given by Eric. Also for the reasons of simplicity, there are far too many options in ELW.
I am wondering though, is LBW still an officially accepted reasource for worship within the ELCA? That is, do you have a choice, can you use LBW, SB&H or are you required to use ELW?

PMagness said...

Well said, Pastor Weedon! I sometimes make a parallel point with hymnody, echoing Marva Dawn's assertion that "the old need to learn the songs of the young; the young need to learn the songs of the old." Certainly, we should not be singing false doctrine, but too often orthodox Christians are are "ultra-conservative" rather than "confessional" when it comes to our attitudes about music. And I say this as a liturgical and hymnological conservative: one who believes the "songs of the old" should be more numerous in our repertoire than "songs of the young."

I expand this observation to include what I call the "nine genres of congregational song" in North American churches. As much as one may prefer chorales or Anglo-Methodist hymnody, it is a good discpline for the reason you cite regarding liturgical orders and settings for such folks to sing some psalter tunes or modern hymnody. Or for folks who perfer folk hymns to sing some "Glory & Praise" music. Or for folks who love 'spirituals' to sing plainchant.

All human music stands under eschaton. Some musics are better than others; some are more useful in some contexts than others. But none are truly the 'holy sound' to which all should be sung.

Jim Wagner said...

I think any of the previously approved hymnals of the church are still approved in the ELCA, including LBW, SBH, or even the old CSB or ALH.

If I am wrong someone can correct me.

Jim Huffman said...

What's the relevance of lex ordandi, lex credendi in the context of this discussion?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

A beautiful, biblical approach. Too bad it can only be applied to stuff that doesn't really matter...

William Weedon said...


I think the good Anglican father's words were essentially correct. The Lutheran lex credendi is fixed; the Lutheran lex orandi not in the same way, though there are parameters beyond which it cannot go without ceasing to be Lutheran at all.


To recognize that something is an adiaphoron is not to render it unimportant; it is to recognize that it is not essential. But our lives are filled with many important things that are not essential. Humility, of course, is something our God regards as essential - the very form of salvation itself. May He have mercy on my prideful soul!

Past Elder said...

The surest and quickest way to change a lex credendi is to change its lex orandi.

We can say "have been given to us". That's passive voice. Who is the agent, the one who gave them to us? That's the one with the power, that's the one to whom you allow power in accepting what they give.

Including the power to change your lex credendi without even directly trying.

William Weedon said...


The tradition in Lutheranism to which we are heirs has had a two fold tension:

The prizing and prioritizing of the shape of the Lutheran lex orandi at the time of the Reformation and in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The recognition of all that is TRUE as essentially being ours.

Cantor up above was writing about the interplay of these. Perhaps unique to much of Christendom, Lutheranism's lex orandi is above all enshrined in her HYMNS, and this is where the battle of the two tensions above play out. We even speak of our "kernlieder" - the "core hymns" that reign in our liturgical treasurehouse.

A parish that uses what you term the Vatican II liturgies of LSB will be and remain Lutheran when those liturgies employ a rich measure of the kernlieder. The thing I think Jim MIGHT have been driving at was the point at which the second parameter above allows the all but total neglect of the kernlieder and adopts solely those hymns that are true in their own right and yet not the key part of our liturgical heritage will result in a shift in Lutheran theology itself - that I would agree with you on, Terry.

When it comes to hymnody, it's Orwell time: All hymns are equal, but some hymns are more equal than others. At least when it comes to the Lutheran lex orandi...

William Weedon said...

Examples of what I'm getting at above:

Dear Christians, One and All
Salvation Unto Us Has Come
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast
O Lord, We Praise Thee
Jesus, Priceless Treasure
All Who Believe and Are Baptized
Savior of the Nations
Awake My Heart With Gladness

True, but not specifically Lutheran:
Just as I Am
Amazing Grace
What a Friend
Give thanks with a Joyful Heart
The Church's One Foundation
Holy, Holy, Holy

When a Lutheran parish over time subsists on the second category of hymns and loses touch with that primary category, what results is a distinct shift from Lutheran to "generic Protestant."

Past Elder said...

Certainly I have no argument against the great hymns.

That said, the "other side" advances much the same argument -- we can use all things (that seem to us) good as long as we supply the kerninhalt or core content of Lutheranism.

I do not believe the right hymns will save a liturgy designed to serve a message other than that of those right hymns any more than they will save non-liturgical services likewise designed to serve a message other than ours.

The Confessions are clear that the intent is no break with the "usual ceremonies". No new order. The intent of the novus ordo, and its calendar and lectionary, is a break with the liturgy, and its preaching tradition, and it is no accident that it has, since its inception not in the tradition of the church but 1960s Rome, become the common property of heterodox liturgical churches generally.

We rightly are concerned about the drift, which has been a challenge for some time now, of Lutheranism into generic Protestant. We should now understand that we face an equal danger of drifing into generic Catholic.

Not to be confused with catholic!

Doorman-Priest said...

"But the Missouri Synod (for good or ill) is my current jurisdiction within the Church Catholic."

Sounds of pennies dropping on this side of the Atlantic.