Now back for a month or so from the 67th Convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, I noted something that had a tinge of sadness to it – something that should have been an occasion for joy. As is probably customary with many church bodies who have church-wide assembles of one sort or another, from time to time the assembly is called to ring and sing. In the end the hymn we chose to sing was only one, one not German or Norwegian, or Slovak but English. The hymn is the Common Doxology sung to Old 100th.
This is not a particularly Lutheran hymn (well, really only one stanza) nor does it flow out of the ethnic heritage of the many Lutheran homelands. It is a generic Christian hymn (hence the word common – although its tune has some variety to confuse us and some have raised an issue about how modern or not the language is (to reflect such concerns as feminism as well as varieties of gender identity).
What saddens me is not the hymn (who could be sad about that) but about the fact that a room full of Lutherans cannot be counted upon to know more than this most common hymn and only one stanza at that. There was a time when we could have been asked to sing any one of dozens of hymns from our hymnal and heritage and it would have been met with a resounding response among people who knew the text and tune by heart. Now, not even the battle hymn of the Reformation, A Mighty Fortress, is known broadly enough or well enough to be sung without text and music. Do you sense that there is something wrong with this picture? It hit me like a ton of bricks. We Lutherans no longer know our hymns well enough to sing the many great and wonderful hymns of our history and heritage – at least not without words and a melody to prompt us.
We do not sing from a common hymnal the same sturdy hymns of old often enough or outside of Sunday morning enough to know our own heritage. We might be able to sing a stanza or two of Amazing Grace without words or music but we no longer know Luther’s great catechism hymns or the royalty of chorales (Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying and O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright), nor any other of the hymns of the faith ancient or modern. We do not sing as many hymns or as many stanzas of those hymns and we do not sing hymns at home as we once did. So the decision was made to go with what people know and it appears they know the Common Doxology best of all.
So I would plead with us to relearn our heritage, refresh our voices in the great hymns of old, and make these historic hymns our own again – not simply for the sake of some variety in convention singing but for the sake of our children and ourselves.