Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Wrong Time to Publish a Hymnal

The 1960s awakened Missouri to the fact that our hymnal was well past the age of majority and if it were a person could vote, drink, marry, etc...  So we decided it was time to begin a process to update our old book.  Our previous update had lasted nearly 30 years (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnbook of 1912 being the predecessor of The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941).  It was time.  But it was the wrong time.  The world was changing all around us in the mid-1960s and no one was sure where or how things would settle out.  But we pressed on.

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. . .


Anonymous said...

One of the problems/benefits of the Lutheran practice of combining the Service Book with the Hymnal is that you cannot revise one without throwing the other open revision. Thus you cannot add new hymns without opening the door to revising the service.

Many of you will know the Latin saying, "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi." It means, the Law of Praying is the Law of Believing.

Thus, if the service is changed (modified/inclusive language, modified Lord's Prayer, modified Creed, omission of various parts, etc.) we are changing what we say we believe. To people for whom faith is important, who actually believe what they confess on Sunday Morning, this matters much. To those who don't pay any attention to what is said on Sunday Morning, it makes no difference at all.

In the end, this is why I left the Lutheran Church to become a Continuing Anglican. We still have the BCP 1928, unchanged in 86 years.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Anonymous said...

Thre is no way to get pastors/people in the LCMS to use the service book unless they first become Confessional Lutherans. There are too many that are anti/non-Confessional who use screens, projectors, Hawaiian shirts, no pulpit, bands, etc. Unless people have Confessional doctrinal convictions there will never be good practice. That's the sad reality of the divisions and chaos that exist now in LCMS on Sunday mornings in our services.

Anonymous said...

In the middle ages, churches conveyed ideas via stained glass. In the 21st century, churches have projectors. We live in a functionally illiterate culture. Fewer people in our society have an interest in reading compared to 20 years ago. Fewer people today have an interest in books. A hymnal is thus viewed as a dry encyclopedia full of arcane religious terms that no one under the age of 40 understands. It is just another book.

Once praise bands and projectors are introduced, they never go away. How can a Confessional Lutheran church remain Confessional in this era of technology. Why should a projector and a praise band automatically mean that we need to sing awful "Jesus is my bearded girlfriend" songs such as Amazing Love?

Why do LCMS Lutheran small groups like to read awful books by authors such as Beth Moore. What can she, John Ortberg, Rick Warren, and others teach me about Lutheran theology. Why happens when the pastor decides to do an entire sermon series based on one of those evangelical books.

I thought that Matt Harrison was supposed to usher in a rebirth of Confessional Lutheranism. I guess not. I do, however, enjoy watching him travel the globe to meet with other Lutheran leaders.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1:

The saddest thing of all is that LCMSers are theologically divided and most are completely unaware of it.

Anonymous said...

On the contrary, Matt Harrison is doing the difficult work to make sure that confessional Lutheranism is not just a term but the actual practice of our church. If he were not, there would not be so many District Presidents upset with him. But we have gone many years away from confessional Lutheranism and it will take many years to begin to get us back. Do not grow impatient. The ones who want this rushed are people who want schism. If that is what you want, you will end up with costly seminaries, colleges, and a mission program that neither side will be able to support. Are those who want the confessional agenda rushed ready to ditch all of this? I hope not...

Anonymous said...

Well, if most of the district presidents are upset with Matt Harrison, then may he remain president for life! My only hope is that the transformation of the LCMS back toward confessional Lutheranism will allow the LCMS to grow once more.

Unknown said...

Quoting Anonymous #2:
"Why should a projector and a praise band automatically mean that we need to sing awful "Jesus is my bearded girlfriend" songs such as Amazing Love?"
Answer: It does not. Current technology and communications methods can be used with confessional Lutheranism.
Our congregation does just that.