Thursday, July 17, 2014
The Wrong Time to Publish a Hymnal
The Common Service of 1888 was not enough for Lutheran unity. So it was deemed worthy to invite other Lutherans (even those who had just finished the Service Book and Hymnal in 1958) to join us in this brave new endeavor. In an uncharacteristic show of ecumenism, the LCMS invited and the ALC and LCA agreed it was a good thing to publish a common hymnal. It was time. But it was the wrong time. Lutheranism was changing all around us.
The Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship was spitting out transitional books on everything worshipful for the cooperating churches to chew on but things were also at work moving the cooperating bodies further and further apart. The fellowship between the ALC and LCMS would take a weird turn when the ALC would join the LCA in ordaining women. Missouri exploded off the AELC and its internal structures imploded as a Seminary got way ahead of the folks in the pew and was called to task for it. Missouri's culture of a collegial clergy and intermarriage of historic families could not prevent a nasty schism. It was time. But it was the wrong time. Rome was also radically reinventing its Sunday morning self.
The lectionary, the vocabulary of the Mass, celebrants versus populum, stark modern architecture, missalettes, the vernacular, and a memory of church music erased -- all of these were the in the koolaid being drunk in Rome and sipped in Lutheran churches as well. All of a sudden there was a pristine epoch of liturgical history to shoot for (early church) and a predisposition against the culture of the liturgy (the snobbery of the modern). It could not help but impact what Lutherans were doing half a world away.
So Lutheran Book of Worship was born in 1978. All in all it turned out better than it might have considering some of the strangeness of liturgical explorations done during its gestation period. But it did mark a distinctive break with our past -- so distinct that Missouri had trouble accepting it. Not in the least of it was the loss of a hymn tradition at the same time as a liturgical tradition. It was time. But it was the wrong time. The Common Service of 1988 pretty much had us all on the same page as Lutherans but a period of liturgical exploration, the advent of the photo copier, and the coming dawn of desktop publishing and the personal computer would mean that the Common Service of 1888 was an uncommon moment of unity in an increasingly fractured Lutheran liturgical world.
In the end, we find ourselves now at a strange juncture. Conservatives in the ELCA and folks in the NALC hold on to LBW as if it were Gideon's fleece. The rest of the ELCA has left the LBW in the dust with a new book (Evangelical Lutheran Worship) that is neither evangelical (Gospel centered) nor Lutheran. It is instead a political book putting into liturgical and hymnal language the feminist views of man, God, sex, power, etc... Instead of a common service, CLW has 10 different orders. Missouri tested the waters with a Hymnal Supplement in 1998 and found a consensus that produced a radically different book from the ELCA -- Lutheran Service Book in 2006. It worked with the history of LW and TLH and magically merged them into a book that nearly everyone in Missouri adopted. Not perfect but good enough to bring us to the same book (those who were using a book, anyway). It was time. It was the wrong time. But God worked within the parameters of all our distress, confusion, and division to bring us a good book, a Lutheran book, a book to fit the rural culture of Nebraska, the alien setting of a Lutheran in Tennessee, the urban haunts of New York and Los Angeles, and the techno strangeness of Seattle.
It was the wrong time to publish a hymnal. Evangelical Lutheran Hymnbook came before WWI. The Lutheran Hymnal came as WWII consumed us all. LW came after a split in the LCMS and at the dawn of private liturgical practice. LSB came when people were not so sure anyone would need or use a book like that again. It was time. God worked in it and used each effort in different cause and purpose.
The only thing left to do is to figure out a way to get those who want nothing of a book to use this book (LSB) so that Lutherans who say they value liturgy, tradition, custom, and rubric might actually try to look like they are related to each other after all.... But that is fodder for another post. . .