We must take note also of a most deplorable tendency of our times, namely, that of preferring the shallow modern “Gospel anthem” to the classical hymns of our Church. The reference is both to the text and to the tunes in use in many churches. On all sides the criticism is heard that the old Lutheran hymns are “too heavy, too doctrinal; that our age does not understand them.” Strange that the Lutherans of four centuries and of countless languages could understand and appreciate them, even as late as a generation ago! Is the present generation less intelligent or merely more frivolous? (Paul E. Kretzmann, Magazin für evang.-luth. Homiletik und Pastoraltheologie [June 1929], pp. 216-217)
It has been said by those inside and outside Lutheranism that the Reformation was sung as much as it was preached or taught. We would do well not to forget how singing the faith embeds the doctrine or teaching of the faith into our hearts and minds. This is no less true for youth than it is for old age.
I find it interesting that in Luther's day the youth were confirmed and communed at a much earlier age than the eighth grade or freshman age of my own youth and much of our current LCMS practice. The children of Luther's day did not have the benefit of a universal system of public school education to teach them to read and write, cheap and accessible published books and materials to teach them, and a host of technological tools to use in the classroom. Yet somehow they learned the faith, went to private confession, and came to the Lord's table and to their place as confirmed members at a younger age than our children tend to do today.
I find it interesting the modern complaint that the great Lutheran chorales and hymns as too heavy, too difficult to sing, too doctrinal, and too long. We are told that the kids cannot sing or get anything out of those hymns (and perhaps it is true of the adults, as well). How is it that nearly five hundred years ago, without benefit of a universal system of public education and without the abundant presence of music in their lives like we have today, these children learned, sang, and grew in the faith through the use of the great Lutheran chorales and hymns? Were these children smarter than our kids today? Were they more apt musically or theologically to sing the music and to understand the doctrine inherent in these hymns?
I believe that we are selling our kids short. We have already decided for them that there is nothing for them in the liturgy or the hymnal. We have already taught them to expect to hear the music of the radio or mpe player in Church on Sunday morning. We have already taught them that feelings are more important than truth and that personal taste is the primary criteria for what we sing or do on Sunday morning. We have made these choices for them and we have sold them short. We have told them lies about what they can learn, what they can sing, and what needs to be present in the music of the liturgy and then we are surprised when they turn up their noses at the hymnal. It is not their fault. It is our fault. We have sold them short, discounted their intelligence, their capability, and their wisdom.
Too much of what is dumbed down in the liturgy and hymnody of Sunday morning is because the parents have decided what their kids can learn, what they will like, and what will be effective teaching and nurturing them in the faith. We as adults in Church should repent of the way we have sold short our youth, made poor decisions on their behalf using them as excuses or justifications for those bad choices, and then criticized them when they fit into the stereotype we have have created. It is time to stop. If not for their sake, at least for ours...
We dull their senses with the baby talk of Sunday school, catechism, hymn, liturgy, and children's sermons. We act as if they are incapable when, in reality, we boomers and the like are using our kids and grandkids to justify our personal preference for entertainment that is both shallow and trite. We are pushing them out the door by deciding not to emphasize catechesis, by putting down what happens on Sunday morning, by allowing them to make decisions that are reserved for parents, and by using them to justify our own doubts, fears, and personal taste for what we think the Church should be and do. I think it is high time we stopped selling our kids short. They are smart. They are capable of far deeper levels of learning and comprehension than we have allowed. They watch what happens on Sunday morning. They learn by memorizing familiar texts and melodies (not by a constant parade of new things). They want to learn. They want to participate. Maybe we should give them a chance!