Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Thematic lectionary. . .

While perusing the WELS blog on the progress of their new hymnal (set to be introduced in 2021 or 28 years after Christian Worship, I came across an interesting discussion of the lectionary and its revision.  While the Wisconsin Synod is very small (a little over 300,000 members), it seems to have read the signs of the times well in its consideration of the current lectionary and how best to revise it.  A thematic approach to the pericopes and, indeed, to the overall worship service, is currently in vogue not only in Wisconsin but nearly everywhere.

While it might seem to be a vast improvement over the three year lectionary, I am not so sure about this direction.  In essence, the proposal is to remove every vestige of the lectio continua and to choose readings that coordinate more obviously.  In other words, the Gospel will drive the choices of the lessons, the revision of the collects, and all the other propers. It is not hard to see the benefit of structuring the propers in this way.  After all, we live in a sound bite world in which everything important can be said in 140 characters.  Why not revise the lectionary so that all three readings can be summarized by a single tweet, the theme reduced to a common thread so blunt and clear that nearly everyone can figure it out.  If only it were possible to control the preacher and the sermon in this way so that the whole of the changeable parts of the Divine Service could be said in one short, pithy phrase.

The WELS blog updating the state of the new hymnal put it this way:  Thematic Sundays are a chief feature of the new lectionary. For example, rather than a series of continual readings through an epistle, the second reading will fit the theme for each Sunday.  Again, I get the point and can even see some justification for it all but in the end I find it all a little too neat and tidy -- a little too controlling.  It is as if we want to tame God's Word by giving it a thematic structure, sort of a modern version of the old Nave's Topical Bible for the lectionary crowd.  It will certainly make for easy work in preparing the homily when the pericopes all speak with one voice a common and obvious theme. 
Perhaps the next thing will be to work up a thematic treatment of the well.

Perhaps you are surprised that I should be so concerned since I do believe that the lectionary ought to be driven by the Gospel reading and I do see the value in seamless approach to Sunday morning.  But I fear we have taken it too far and taken the work away from those preparing the sermon and planning the service as if they were inept or unconcerned about it.  The truth is that while there is a thematic thread already (and in the historic series that preceded the changes), there is not one exclusive theme.  Indeed, there is a richness of options inherent in the structure of the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings that cannot be reduced to a simple thematic phrase -- nor should it be.  So I am concerned about what this penchant for unity will do to the church at worship and to the faithful as they head home from Sunday morning.  I am inclined to say that it should not be so easy or so obvious.  I am not trying to be smug about the efforts of our relatives in Wisconsin.  I am raising a larger question about the direction of this liturgical progress and the shape of our future as revision and change come to the lectionary.  I wonder if there are others who agree.


Anonymous said...

The WELS is in decline and has only 147,000 persons in worship on any given Sunday. They have always felt a need to be idiosyncratic with their texts, for instance, eliminating Luther's Catechetical instructions for making the sign of the cross, using the de novo "fully human" in their translation of the Creed and a really quirky hymnal "Christian Worship" which thankfully is being replaced. I'm not surprised by this announcement of a WELS "take" on the lectionary.

Anonymous said...

The Wisconsin Synod lives on Fantasy Island when it comes to working
on practical matters with other Lutheran denominations like the LCMS.

They see military chaplains as a violation of the separation of church
and state.

Women are not allowed to vote in congregational meetings.

They oppose membership in Boy Scouts due to its oath.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 10:18 -- Opposing membership in the Boy Scouts is a good thing since it has lost its way.

When I was a member of the LCMS (quite a few years ago), women were not allowed to vote on anything. Has this changed? I'd be really amazed to learn that it has.

Sean said...

I don't have an issue with a thematic organization for the lectionary or pericope. I think this could be a useful tool in the hands of a pastor. That being said, I think it would be a mistake to make this the only allowable means. I tend to like what the LCMS has done in this regard (offering both the one year lectionary and three year lectionary as options) and think that WELS could do the same. There is something to be said for having a unified message within the divine service, but there is also something to be said for preaching the whole counsel of God. Both have their place in the use of the Church.

Anonymous said...

Many churches in the WELS are adopting a “sermon series” type approach to preaching. So if I am understanding this correctly, this type of lectionary would fit that kind of mold.

Anonymous said...

Wisconsin seems to be even more sectarian than Missouri.

Anonymous said...

I remain unsure what to think of the WELS. Some say it is more sectarian than Missouri. The WELS is smaller, stricter, and is much more centralized than the congregational polity of the LCMS, so I don't understand why there would be discord. They appear much more unified regarding the adoption of non-denominational worship and study materials.

I do sense a general bitterness about them that I cannot quite pin down. WELS people often lament publicly about the demise of the Synodical Conference 51+ years ago. The problem is that most non-WELS people do not know that what the "Synodical Conference" was. If all Lutheran church bodies in the USA are experiencing declining membership, would a revived Synodical Conference even matter?

Will the new WELS lectionary use the 2011 NIV bible or the new WELS bible translation?