Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Unsinging the Reformation...

Christopher Boyd Brown says the Reformation came about as much by the singing of Reformation hymns as it did through Reformation writings and preaching and teaching.  Joseph Herl suggests that the image of the volks kirche spontaneously breaking out in song is a bit more romance than fact.  Either way, both are agreed that the Lutheran hymn was key to the Reformation -- both in its initial form with Luther's own hymn texts and tunes and in the later periods when the Reformation faith was under duress.  I am not here to argue this point.  It is a given.  The faith proclaimed from pulpit and written into confession had its counterpart in the hymns sung in the congregation and at home.  Even in areas where Rome and Wittenberg took turns as dominant religious expression, the Reformation chorale remained even after the papal mass had been brought back.

My point is just the opposite.  The Reformation that came (at least in part with song) can easily be dispatched by song (or the lack of Reformation hymnody).  Here I am not arguing that Lutherans must sing only those hymns written by Lutherans or Lutherans of a particular time or even hymns only approved by Lutherans.  I am suggesting that by the wholesale disenfranchisement of the Reformation hymn and replacing it with whatever (generic hymns, revivalist hymns, Gospel hymns, non-descript modern hymnody, or the many versions of praise or contemporary Christian music) we are distancing ourselves from our own identity.  We are far too willing to exchange whatever music is "in" at the moment or appeals to our taste for the sturdy hymns of old which speak faith, tell the story of Jesus, and give us the opportunity to sing back to God what He has spoken to us.

I have written before about the impact the right soundtrack has to a movie and to the faith.  I have written before of the covenant we made in the LCMS to use only doctrinally pure hymnals, hymns, liturgies, and agendas.  I have written before of the deep and profound character of the Lutheran chorales both as models and examples of the noblest song of all.  I am not repeating myself (well, I am, but...) as much as I am reminding us that we continue to have a problem which has been our problem for a long time.

You might find it interesting that Paul Glasoe of St. Olaf College wrote an article in the Jan. 6, 1931, Lutheran Herald wondering if we were “singing ourselves out of the Lutheran church” by not teaching children the Lutheran chorales.  His opinion created a firestorm of replies.  Even in the 1930s our people were itching to listen to, learn, and sing the songs they were hearing in the local Methodist or other Protestant churches.  We may not be opening the Methodist hymnal anymore, but we Lutherans are opening the songbooks of other churches and closing our own.  Ask a room full of Lutherans what their favorite hymn is and you might get more information than what you bargained for...

Over at Gottesdienst online a couple of contemporary songs were shown -- one of which was a Christian one and the other not at all.  Of course, the point was that the non-Christian song said more than the Christian one.  The author of the "Jesus, You are my BFF and I love You and love singing to You" song was not just another CCM author.  The Texas District borrowed her to serve as worship leader for an official District event.  Apparently there was not even a Lutheran CCM person as good at writing and singing love songs to Jesus as you could borrow from the local non-denominational mega church.  If you watch the video you can see the twenty-something guys melting as she sings (but melting for who?).  You tell me what will do more to strengthen Lutheran identity, encourage Lutheran confidence, promote Lutheran witness, and equip Lutheran worship and outreach:

The more i seek you,
the more i find you
The more i find you, the more I love you

I wanna sit at your feet
drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breath, here your heart beat
This love is so deep, it's more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace, it's overwhelming
Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,
    With exultation springing,
And with united heart and voice
    And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How His right arm the vict’ry won.
    What price our ransom cost Him!

Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay;
    Death brooded darkly o’er me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
    In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
    So firmly sin possessed me.

My own good works all came to naught,
    No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against God’s judgment fought,
    Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share;
    The pangs of hell I suffered.

But God had seen my wretched state
    Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great,
    He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart;
He did not choose the easy part
    But gave His dearest treasure.

God said to His belov├Ęd Son:
    “It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
    And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
    May live with You forever.”

The Son obeyed His Father’s will,
    Was born of virgin mother;
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
    He came to be my brother.
His royal pow’r disguised He bore;
A servant’s form, like mine, He wore
    To lead the devil captive.

To me He said: “Stay close to Me,
    I am your rock and castle.
Your ransom I Myself will be;
    For you I strive and wrestle.
For I am yours, and you are Mine,
And where I am you may remain;
    The foe shall not divide us.

“Though he will shed My precious blood,
    Me of My life bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good;
    Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the vict’ry win;
My innocence shall bear your sin,
    And you are blest forever.

“Now to My Father I depart,
    From earth to heav’n ascending,
And, heavn’ly wisdom to impart,
    The Holy Spirit sending;
In trouble He will comfort you
And teach you always to be true
    And into truth shall guide you.

“What I on earth have done and taught
    Guide all your life and teaching;
So shall the kingdom’s work be wrought
    And honored in your preaching.
But watch lest foes with base alloy
The heav’nly treasure should destroy;
    This final word I leave you.”

BTW..... In case you don't know Kari Jobe, you can catch her singing the song HERE.


Mary Hines said...

If I cannot distinguish between a secular love song and a song of praise to our Lord, the song does not belong in worship. A hymn (or song) must declare the praises of what GOD has done, not how I feel at this particular moment. That is not to say we can't update melodies. But words are very, very important

Sue WIlson said...

I'm somewhat surprised that your blog is included in a listing of "moderate" LCMS blogs. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that under a listing of blogs this one would fit under the list of "Genuinely Lutheran," or perhaps better simply "Lutheran".

Thank you for your words, Pr. Peters. This post, in particular, really resonates. It's an excellent reason for taking youth to Higher Things.

I've got an argument on my hands though. One of the young ladies says the best Christian song is the Magnificat from Evening Prayer. Others contend for, "God's Own Child I Gladly Say It." Oh well, I guess we'll just have to keep singing both on a regular basis.

Pr. John Rutz

Anonymous said...

A hymn or praise song can be judged
by a simple criterion: Is it Christ
centered or Man centered ? A Christ
centered hymn proclaims the cross
and resurrection for our salvation.
A Man centered hymn focuses on human
emotions and the need to feel better.

Anonymous said...

"I would have thought that under a listing of blogs this one would fit under the list of "Genuinely Lutheran," or perhaps better simply "Lutheran""
Pastor Rutz, I AGREE!
This is an excellent post Pastor Peters. Keep them coming!

Anonymous said...

In case you haven't seen this:

Praise Song Cruncher, by Rev. Brian Wolfmueller

Rev. Allen Yount said...

If you haven't already, check this out: