Friday, July 10, 2015

A new hymnal?

Reading over snippets of the WELS BORAM (dontcha just love initials -- Wisconsin Synod Book of Convention Resolutions and Memorials) I discovered that they are on track to publish a new hymnal in conjunction with their 2017 celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran hymnal published after the Reformation.  Now there is a surprise!

The long-range plan adopted at the 2011 synod convention stipulated that, in the years leading up to 2017, the Conference of Presidents and Northwestern Publishing House would “put plans in motion to publish a new hymnal by the 500th anniversary of the first Lutheran hymnal (1524).” This plan for developing our synod’s next hymnal was also in harmony with the 1993 Joint Hymnal Committee’s desire that Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal would serve as our synod’s hymnal for approximately 30 years.

Funny how little WELS (about 1/6th the size of Missouri) is chugging along on their plan to replace their Christian Worship hymnal published in 1993 with a new one in place for 2024.  They presumed that any hymnal has roughly a 30 year life span -- not only in terms of content, I would imagine, but also in durability! I guess they will have to get their act in gear to make that date since our age of copyright and sample testing means long lead times.  My point is this, there are some in Missouri and even in the ELCA who suggest that hymnals are dinosaurs -- out dated and outmoded by modern technology.  But WELS is working on a new hymnal seemingly oblivious to the fact that some in other bodies have described a hymnal and liturgy book as an antique and backward looking idea of where the church should be and where it should go.

Though I am not a big fan of Christian Worship, I applaud WELS for their intention and expect they will probably make the deadline and the vast majority of their parishes will adopt this hymnal (that is how it went with CW after it was published).  Not surprisingly, this includes debates about which hymns, what kind of music (CCM), and lay leadership.  For example:  Perhaps the area where the sharpest disagreement occurs is over whether our worship should be more “traditional” or more “contemporary.” This disagreement certainly isn’t new and doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It also isn’t a surprise that those terms are often used in different ways by different people, are often misunderstood, and rarely help groups of people have beneficial discussions about worship.  Yet, within this diversity debate, there is also a consistent idea:  In other words, what everyone is pleading for—or at least ought to be pleading for—is timeless worship.

Timeless worship does not mean no new hymnals, no new hymns, and no changes in liturgical practice.  In fact, timeless worship means neither being confined to a particular moment in history (repristination) while at the same time not being enslaved to the present moment either.  Though there are those who are sure that no new hymnal is either needed or in the cards for Missouri, I expect that we will also come around and find that as our LSB approaches its 10th anniversary we may well want to begin thinking about a worthy successor to sustain the idea of timeless worship.  Few are happy about this (either in terms of cost or work involved to put it together), but Missouri waited too long to replace TLH (largely dictated by things beyond the control of the Commission on Worship), and took a long time to do LSB right (it came along 24 years after LW).  In order to do it right again, we will have to begin thinking about it.


David Gray said...

Our two local churches still use TLH. I'm not sure why it needed to be replaced in the first place.

Dr.D said...

There is a Latin phrase that is key to why we should not be constantly changing hymnals/prayerbooks: "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi." The law of praying is the law of believing. This is a great truth, and in this context, it tells us that when you change the service, you change the faith. If we want to believe that we are constant in faith, then we must necessarily be constant in the form of our worship.

This does not mean we cannot add a new hymn now and then. It does mean that we cannot put the whole service up for grabs as usual when a new hymnal comes out.


alec said...

@David Gray, you are fortunate to have churches and pastors who respect and use The Lutheran Hymnal. It is a treasure.

What seems to be ignored in most discussions of hymnals and worship is the question of content. There is a marked difference between the average time-honored Lutheran hymn as found in TLH and many newer hymns. When you sing Stricken, smitten and afflicted you are worshiping God with your mind as well as your emotions. The words are Scriptural. They are not shallow, nor ecumenical in the contemporary sense, which means we must ignore doctrine for the sake of Christian unity.

Dr. D said it right.