Singing Our Way to Hell (Part One)

 

a commentary by Peter M. Berg

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Roman Catholic contemporary of the early Lutheran confessors was said to have quipped that the Lutherans, with their robust hymns, were singing their way straight to hell. Although a bit of over-zealous Roman polemic, this dig reveals that the Lutheran Church was recognized from early on as "the singing church." This 16th century observation, though originally off the mark, has turned out to be quite prophetic. Today, if many Lutherans aren't singing their way to hell, they certainly are singing things that sound like hell, and countless other Christians covering the denominational gambit are doing the same. This downward digression is not just a modern phenomenon. One of this author's favorite whipping boys, Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) should not have to take the rap for this unfortunate situation. In spite of CCM's unfortunate melding of commercial pop music and Christian lyrics, and its negative impact upon the church, it is not the culprit when it comes to the entree of bad music into the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Many generations of Lutherans have been steeped in a stew of good and bad church music, with the stew becoming increasingly nutritionless. In spite of the prodigious efforts of worship committees, church musicians, publishers, and theologians the state of hymnody and church music in Lutheranism is, at best, uneven, at worst, in sad shape. The efforts of these experts in their harmonic conclaves are simply not filtering down to the local parish. In many cases this is unfortunate, in others fortuitous, for even the experts are promoting things which are uneven in quality.

 

Nothing So Unlike the Church than the Church

 

Martin Luther's great esteem for music is well known. Only theology was accorded a greater status than music in his estimation, with the latter always in the service of the former. Indeed, theology and church music should not be looked upon as two separate disciplines, but rather as the one being the heightened expression of the other. If the Word is best heard (coming to us as gift from the outside, extra nos), if preaching is the gospel given a voice, if chanting and singing are elevated forms of speech, then the sung text and its accompaniment truly become the vox evangelii! Before anyone charges the author with the heretical idea that the Word needs supercharging, let the reader be reminded that the synergy between the Word, voice, singing, and hearing is one of the mysteria of the faith. As Carl Schalk has observed, "There was no contradiction between speech and music because 'to say and sing' was, for Luther, a single concept resulting from the inevitable eruption of joyful song in the heart and life of the redeemed." 1 Luther himself was an accomplished musician and had a deep insight into matters pertaining to worship. Just consider his knowledgeable, balanced, and pastoral approach to the worship life of the church recorded in volume 53 of the American Edition of his works. However, the reformer has suffered at the hands of some who bear his name and who would promote their own non-Lutheran agenda. Although there was a closer connection between church and secular music in the Middle Ages than there is today, the notion that Luther readily employed secular tunes for his hymnody, an idea uncritically floated by some who promote the CCM agenda, is a myth that has long ago been revealed to be historically untrue. Luther's cautious, yet masterful, use of music and his attention to textual detail in hymn and liturgy speak volumes to an age when caution in this regard seems to have been cast to the wind.

 

 

 

If Luther could lament that there was often nothing so unlike the church than the church, present-day confessional Lutherans could very well say that there is often nothing so unlike the Lutheran Church than the Lutheran Church. While the blessed reformer is still much praised, he is little read, and little understood, especially when it comes to the vital matter of worship. In his book Music in Early Lutheranism - Shaping the Tradition (1524-1672) Carl Schalk notes that it is not only Luther who has suffered neglect. Precursors to J.S. Bach from Johann Walter to Heinrich Schuetz have suffered the same fate, when in fact they still have much to say to today's church, some of which has never been heard. Schalk comments on this neglect, "But perhaps most important of all, it may be a silent testimony to the degree to which we in our day have moved away from the theological and liturgical understandings, motivations, and foundations which helped to shape Lutheran music in the 16th and 17th centuries." 2

 

Worship Wars

 

This lack of historical perspective and discernment, when it comes to the worship of the church, has resulted in much trouble. The Lutheran Church the world over is in the midst of what have been called the "worship wars." This is much more than questions about different "styles" of music and worship. This is about theology, or to put it in a slightly different way, this is about two different theologies and the forms of worship which emanate from these theologies. The first is in the continuum of western catholicism, Luther, the early confessors, Harms, Loehe, and Lochner. In spite of this continuum, this is a theology of worship which was never fully articulated in textbook fashion, and perhaps one of the reasons why this bequest from the past was not handed down entirely intact. The second theology is that which comes from the radical Reformation, the theology of John Calvin and Jacob Arminius.13 The first theology is Christological, incarnational, kerygmatic, sacramental, and as a consequence of all this, it is liturgical. It is evangelical in the truest sense of the word. Here the law is in the service of the gospel. The forgiveness of sins in Christ is its supreme glory, and this gift is kerygmatically and sacramentally given out, with carefully chosen texts and accompanied by the best of music. At its best it is marked by true catholicity and objectiveness. It values beauty and the arts. It kept the best of the music of its catholic past and created its own music, a creation which has remained unparalleled to this day. Yet, its value of beauty and the arts goes beyond aesthetics, for this theology is anchored in the Theology of the Cross, and therefore, it is real-life theology, touching the aching soul of the Church and the clement heart of God. In spite of the accolades accorded African-American church music, no music sings the blues and soars to the heights like the Lutheran chorale.

 

In contrast, the second theology concerns itself with the glory and the sovereignty of God. Here the gospel is in the service of the law.4 In this scheme man's obedience is added to the fiducia cordis. Since the gospel is vitiated either by Calvinistic particularism or Arminian decision theology, the sacraments themselves are rendered useless, for in this view there is no objective comfort in that which comes from the outside, only that which comes from within. Yet, although this theology is non-sacramental, it is not without its ersatz sacraments, with testimonials and emotionalism serving as a means of grace. In this regard, emotive music also becomes sacramental in nature. Sacramentally starved, people in this theological scheme need the Theology of Glory in both experience and in songs, and songs which are designed to manipulate the emotions. This tradition's denial of the Real Presence and its iconoclasm have meant a very low view of the Liturgy (the Anglican Church being an exception, but this having more to do with politics than theology). This tradition's search for what it saw as authentic primitive Christianity (an unrecoverable holy grail) meant that some churches in this tradition have no connection with the liturgical and musical developments of both the past and later periods. However, having stated all this, the differences between Lutheranism and the Protestant left are more theoretical than real, for Lutheranism has never quite escaped the tentacles of this second theology, and this is particularly true of the Wisconsin Synod, with its pietistic roots. This means that we are ill prepared for "the worship wars." Indeed, coming from the background we’ve come from, possessing a deficient theology when it comes to the concept of adiaphora, living as we do in an Evangelical world, we are truly ill equipped.

 

Not the Dough but the Do-Re-Mi 

 

The battles over hymnody and worship have divided Lutheran parishes and church bodies, and they can get quite heated. The questions which we are facing are serious and have far-reaching consequences. For instance: Does CCM have any place in the Lutheran Church? How does the Lutheran Church keep young people musically interested? Does gospel music have a role to play in inner-city Lutheran congregations? How does the church blend older and newer music; and by what criteria does it judge both? These are not just questions for academics, for the laity is also engaged in the debate. The average Joe and Jane in the pew, especially if they are older and are served by a confessional pastor, ask, "Why can't we sing the old Lutheran favorites?" Unfortunately, these "old Lutheran favorites" are often neither very old, nor Lutheran, nor very favorable. Just the same, those who pay the pew tax also want to have their say in this vital matter. Since these fights over music can generate considerable heat, those folks who believe that the church is best served by perpetual ecclesiastical happiness and joviality have indignantly brushed aside these debates as useless internecine squabbles about mere musical taste. These folks know how to trump the rest of the deck with the adiaphora card: "Who cares? The Bible hasn't set down any rules. The church has more important things to do. Besides, it's all a matter of personal taste."

 

Indeed, in many cases this is exactly what it is about - taste; or we might say whose bad taste or lack of discernment will prevail. More to the point: Which era of Reformed/ Methodistic music do you prefer? The music debate in most Lutheran parishes and synods cannot be properly engaged because the opposing proponents are actually on the same side, even if they don't know it. One group advocates the Christian contemporary music of the 20th and 21st centuries, with its over-worked soft-rock sound, and the other group favors the Christian contemporary music of 17th through 19th English hymnody, with its toothsome tunes. Since both types of music are weighed down with Reformed/Methodistic theology and other freight, we say, "A pox on both your houses." Though this issue is seen as a mere matter of taste in the minds of most, it is in reality an issue of utmost importance for the Lutheran Church. The unfortunate disconnect between doctrine, "styles of worship", and music (as if any of these can be neutral) has lulled many into a state of unawareness.5 In August the Wisconsin Synod will meet in convention. Some see this as a watershed meeting. This time around there will be much hand wringing over messy finances, and perhaps a little finger pointing. Yet, in spite of all this the synodical budget is in reality a non-issue. History will prove that the real issues which face the WELS, and Lutheranism in general, are the very things which this journal, and others like it, have brought and will bring to the table, and hymnody and church music are very much a part of it all. In other words, in the final analysis it will not be about the dough, but rather about the do-re-mi. If we have all the money in the world what good will it do if we merely finance the spread of a mild confessionalism accompanied by sappy tunes, and a "confessionalism" which inoculates people to the real thing. 

 

If the reader has gathered so far that this author believes that CCM is an inappropriate medium for a confessional Lutheran Church, and that the way for CCM was paved by unfortunate amounts of Reformed/Methodistic hymnody contained in most English-language Lutheran hymnals (Yes, this also includes TLH), then the reader has drawn the right conclusion. However, isn't it conventional WELS wisdom that while the text of a hymn or a choir piece is important, that the matter of the tune is pretty much up for grabs, since music is generally viewed as a neutral component. Yes, this is conventional WELS wisdom. However, it is not very wise. In the end, the tune, which accompanies the text, is not neutral. It's also an accepted axiom in our midst that the gospel seeks her own forms. While this is so, we must also remember that what is true of the gospel is also true of all of the other gospels which are out there. What people believe determines what they do in their worship services: the rites they write, and the type of music they choose. Here theology carries the freight, whether people are aware of it or not, and whether those who create music know it or not. Textually and musically the hymns of the Baptist church will sound different than those used in a confessional Lutheran church. The hymns of these two traditions reflect the antithetical theological emphases of these churches. Both traditions instinctively realize that music is not neutral; indeed, each understands that music is a power, and that it can be used to carry forward that tradition's own particular agenda, with music attuned and fitted to that theological agenda. Here the Lex credendi of a church shapes its practice of prayer and song (lex orandi). After all, orthodoxy is "right praise."

 

Does that mean that only Lutherans can write and compose good hymn texts and music? Not at all. Good music comes from many different eras of church history and from many different traditions. However, the best music comes out of those traditions having a high Christology, a rich sacramentality, and a high view of the Liturgy and Church Year. Yet for all of the diversity of the products of these artists, there is a commonality between them. O Lord of Light, Who Made the Stars (9th cen.), Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying (16th cen.), and Where Shepherds Lately Knelt (20th cen.), though musically distinct from each other, all fit well within the context of liturgical and sacramental churches, while the gospel hymn, Blessed Assurance, is left wandering in the cow pasture. In regard to our own context, why do the hymns of the great Lutheran poets and composers read and sound intrinsically different from the prodigious output of a composer like Fanny Crosby and her ilk, and yet, for the considerable diversity of the Lutheran product, still remain within the same general locale? The difference, we assert, is theology.

 

What is the agenda, for instance, of a Baptist church of the Arminian persuasion? Isn't it to bring about the conversion decision and the subsequent life of obedience? Since this theology is not grounded in divine monergism and in the sacraments (the extra nos), it is man-centered. It focuses on man's decision for Christ, his "walk with the Lord", evidences of God's goodness in the awesomeness of nature, and in the providential happenings in an individual's life (e.g. “I know God cares! I came out of the car wreck unscathed.”). In short, it's about the Theology of Glory. Since one cannot go to the sacraments for assurance (again, extra nos), one turns inward. Emotional upness and good fortune become the signs of God's grace, not Word and Sacrament. Therefore happiness and upbeatness become the real thing, with the unpleasantries of Original Sin, bearing the Cross, the hiddeness of God, etc. avoided. Take up the hymnals of various Christian traditions and each tradition will sing its own theology, with text and tune in harmony, and that's what we would expect. In all of this music is very much in the mix. If the agenda is upbeatness and the Theology of Glory, then the music we ought to expect will be emotive, saccharine, triumphalistic, toe-tapping, and sometimes just plain sappy. Indeed, in this genre the text all too often becomes subservient to the tune, with the tune often being the most memorable thing. Contrast this to the Lutheran chorale with its objectivity and with its tunes in service of rich texts. "Shine, Jesus, Shine" and "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come" are both textually and musically in different ballparks, and neither is able to cross over to the other's field of play.

 

Sappy

 

How often in the hymnody of the Reformed/ Methodistic/Gospel/CCM genre (they are a continuum!) do you hear of the Theology of the Cross, the hiddeness of God, incarnational theology, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion, Original Sin, preachments of the Law, the Unio Mystica, and elusions to Old Testament typology? In contrast consider Christ lag in Todesbanden in the newly printed Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (#343). Masterful!6 Unfortunately, English-language Lutheran hymnals have allowed too large an infusion of music from the Protestant left. This is true of TLH, and certainly true of Christian Worship, in spite of the excellent liturgical section of the former. While the Church Year sections of these and other Lutheran hymnals are generally top-flight, one finds unfortunate inclusions in those sections of the hymnal that deal with Sanctification (is that any surprise?). A few examples: How can a confessional Lutheran tolerate, let alone sing, Amazing Grace? The huge popularity of the hymn cannot be the reason; indeed, that should send up warning flags. Its message about grace and sin is undefined, which ought to remind us to live by the dictum that "the gospel assumed is the gospel denied." If a Jew can sing this hymn without offense, then it ought to be offensive to Christians.7 One wearies of the old saw, "Well, it could be understood correctly." We don't tolerate that when it comes to instructions on a drug vial or the writing of a will, why do we put up with it when it comes to theology? How can O Lord, We Praise You share the same cover with Take the World, but Give Me Jesus? These two hymns spring up from different soils. What fellowship hath Of the Father's Love Begotten and How Great Thou Art? It's a sad state of affairs when a congregation can lustily sing On Eagles' Wings, with its trendy tune, but grouses when it has to sing a chorale. Beautiful Savior, this author's childhood favorite, shows that Baptists haven't cornered the market on dripping sentimentality, and it is typical of pietistic songs which spend more time talking about what I do for the Savior than what the Savior does for me. The greatest praise of God is not to do things for Him, but let Him save and serve us, especially in the Eucharist.  Be still and do nothing! That’s the great eucharist or thanksgiving.

 

One could go on and on with examples of weak hymnody. Shortly after the publication of CW I read through every hymn text and listened to all of the tunes which were unfamiliar. It's my untutored estimation there were at least two dozen hymns unworthy of a Lutheran hymnal. This is not surprising, for hymnals, unlike Scripture, are products of human committees and not divine inspiration. Just the same, the official imprimatur of a church body does not necessarily insure quality, and I am sure that many on the CW committee, who winced at some of the inclusions, would agree.

 

Further Reformed and Arminian inroads have been made by the appearance of hymnal supplements. Several Lutheran publishing houses have produced these songbooks. The WELS version is entitled Let All the People Praise You. The work sometimes goes by the acronym LAPPY, though one astute laywoman suggested SAPPY. Like most of these compilations it is a collection of the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are a few things to delight, but many things about which one scratches the head. The perennial favorite of Billy Graham crusades, The Old Rugged Cross, is included. The tune is one better suited for a Baptist altar call, rather than for a church which has the Eucharist at the center of its worship, and which has as its altar call infants being carried to the font. The text offers a very good statement of the blood atonement, but it also exemplifies the Protestant disconnect between the atonement and the atoned, for there is no witness to the means of grace. As Dr. Luther has noted, while salvation was won at the cross, it is not delivered at the cross. We don't time travel to Calvary, rather Calvary is brought forward to us kergymatically and sacramentally.8 The appellation for the songs in these collections is "Spiritual Songs," a Trojan horse if there ever was one.

 

Good hymns will be Christ/gospel centered, wedded to the Church Year and/or doctrinal themes, emphasize Word and sacraments, speak frankly about the Theology of the Cross, and will possess tunes that serve the text and will not drag with them the sentimentality of the Protestant left. While not every hymn will have all these positive qualities, at least some of these qualities ought to be present. Some hymns on any given Sunday will be stronger than some of their mates; however, the Mass can only stand so many so-so songs.

 

Then there are the "We're Do'in Something" hymns. Onward Christian Soldiers, and its newer counterpart Lift High the Cross, do get one in the marching mood (and we Germans love to march), and they make you feel like you're doing something. The texts of hymns like these, while not saying too much, are sometimes passable. However, one is grateful that Sir Arthur Sullivan is better known for operettas than hymns. Tunes and texts like these bring to mind the Salvation Army and not the feeling one gets when listening to an organ prelude at the Thomaskirke in Leipzig. In addition, one should not fail to see the ironies which abound in the word pictures of such hymns. It's a nice thought to march about with the cross of Jesus, as indeed we ought in our mission endeavors, but, egad, don't suggest a liturgical expression of this thought, and certainly don't purchase a processional crucifix for your church! Of course, one cannot leave out the WELS theme song God's Word is Our Great Heritage (or is it the snappier Come to the WELS?) Here we're really do'in something worth do'in, as in, "We keep its teachings pure..." But isn't that a bit pretentious? In view of this, one has to love Kierkegaard's assessment of the author of the hymn's text, Nikolai Grundtvig. He said of his fellow countryman, "He was a boisterous man."  Ja, sure, we keep its teaching pure!

 

Hillbilly Lutheranism

 

A few years ago, while attending a non-WELS worship conference (shame, shame), a LCMS pastor got into my face when he heard I was in the WELS ministerium. While on vacation he had visited a WELS church somewhere in the South. It was the obligatory "non-communion Sunday." He claimed that there was little law or gospel in the sermon, and the hymns were as Baptist as can be. He left before the service was over, turning to look back at the church’s sign, half expecting to see the name "Baptist." Anecdotal, I know, but one would not be surprised if the tale were true. I had a similar experience while attending a recent church anniversary. Apart from a Bach organ prelude and one decent hymn, nothing else was distinguishable from an evangelical fellowship. One of the choir pieces had several little ones in front of me up and groov'in. Are we morphing into a kind of hillbilly Lutheranism? When St. Paul said that he was all things to all men, he did not mean that Lutherans ought to become Baptists for the sake of Baptists. As Hermann Sasse once said, "The best thing that the Lutheran Church can be for the world is the Lutheran Church." The wholesale protestantization of some Lutheran parishes is not what the framers of Augustana VII had in mind when they said, satis est.

 

The vaunted unity of the WELS is now cracking. When a family moves away from its adventurous WELS congregation, which has been dabbling in church growth methods, and has no choice but to transfer to a liturgically and confessionally sensitive parish, one can imagine their angst that their new church is not like the Evangelical Presbyterian clone back in Two Shuts, Wisconsin. This is particularly so when their new pastor challenges what has become axiomatic in our circles, "All this liturgy stuff is just a matter of adiaphora." (Ah, adiaphora, the great escape hatch for liberal and conservative Lutherans!) Although the editors of the MM have been accused of rowing across the Tiber, it's ironic to observe that many Lutherans are doing the very thing they accuse Romanists of doing, "The Synod said it, my church does it, it's what I'm used to and comfortable with. Don't tell me it’s questionable or wrong, I don't want to hear about it, AND PUT THAT BIG THICK BOOK BACK ON THE SHELF!"

 

Of course charges of extremism have and will be leveled against those who advocate what is being written here, but who is more leftward leaning than the WELS? The CLC? The Lutheran Brethren? In view of this, one must ask, how far will the lean go? Several years ago a joke making the rounds in confessional Lutheran circles went like this: What's the difference between the WELS and the ELCA? Answer: 15 years. Perhaps the Evangelical Presbyterian Church would be a better foil than the ELCA in this bit of doggerel.

 

This article proposes that English language Lutheran hymnals have been unduly influenced by hymns of the English Reformation. The ready availability of English texts for German and Scandinavian Lutherans in North America certainly accounts for a part of this, but one cannot discount a lack of discernment and the specter of Pietism as well. We need to remember that the English Reformation was a Reformed/Methodistic movement. Also, the explosion of English hymnody coincided with the sentimentalizing of music in general, not leaving English hymnody untouched. This is not to say that all in the way of hymnody that came from that "island of shop keepers" is unfit for our church. While the Anglican Church was a political compromise, amounting to "Catholic Lite", it did retain much of the taste of its past, even though there was 98% less Roman guilt. We think of the Christmas gems of both pre and post-Reformation England. There are notable exceptions to the rule in the 17th-20th centuries, with the marriage of the William How text to the Ralph Vaughan Williams tune in For All the Saints, being a classic. Nonetheless, the English Reformation sprang from a different soil than did its contemporary on the continent, and cross-pollination notwithstanding, the plants all too often look, smell, and produce differently.

 

The issue at hand is not new music versus old music, but rather, which music is appropriate for an incarnational/sacramental/liturgical church in which the Real Presence is the centerpiece of its theology. The author has tried to make the point that much music from the past and present is inappropriate. However, many do not sense the incongruity of some musical forms of expression and the Lutheran worship ethic. Our God is an Awesome God, a CCM standard, or the little ditty Pass It On are about as incongruous in a Lutheran service as are white sweat socks with a black tux on one's wedding day, or as out of place as the ubiquitous white (or black), WELS V-neck academic gown and the Western Rite.

 

What Now?

 

The treasury of excellent Christian music is rich and deep, so there is no need to go to poisoned water holes and broken cisterns. Contemporary Lutheran hymnals have plenty of examples of good hymnody. There are the core hymns in the Church Year section and those in the sections devoted to Justification and the sacraments. There are Luther's catechism hymns. These sections comprise most of the Lutheran chorale. The other sections, though sometimes weaker in strength, also have notable texts and tunes. There are the additions of old classics (whether text or tune), which are new to our generation. Consider Christian Worship 31, 40, 58, 96, 141, 160, 179, 202, 552, 554, just to mention a few. Then there are new creations, written with an ear for Lutheran theology and the western, catholic tradition. Consider Christian Worship 54, 97, 122, 219, 248, 265, 276, 280, 315, 544, to cite a handful. One is thankful for the texts and tunes of people like Martin Franzmann, Carl Schalk, Jaroslav Vajda, and Wisconsin men like Kurt Eggert and James Tiefel (see CW 89).  Then there are the even newer creations, which will certainly be considered for hymnals yet to be published. To mention just one example, I think of the hymnody of Prof. Chad Bird. Incidentally, Prof. Bird's booklet, Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (available through Gottesdienst) is a must read for every pastor, organist, and choir director.

 

In the past, those who have made the argument against the incursions of Protestant music into the Lutheran Church have been accused of arrogant elitism, and of being members of a Music Gestapo. Martin Franzmann, who heard a similar charge, confronted it head-on: "The fact that there is an amazing agreement on the part of hymnodists and musicians in all parts of the church as to what constitutes a good hymn counts for little with these critics. The hymnodist's passion for perfection is viewed with suspicion, as a sort of snobbery, and usually countered with, 'I don't know much about it, but I know what I like.' That is really the ultimate snobbery. To pit my piping, squeaking little ego against all the good gifts God has given to His church! It is worse than snobbery; it is ingratitude. It is as though God led us out into His great, wide world and showed us ripe, waving fields of grain and said to us, 'Here is bread, and all for you.' It is as though God had shown us cattle on a thousand hills and said to us, 'Here is milk and cheese and butter and meat for you' and we replied, 'No thanks! It is not to my taste. I'd rather go to a messy, dusty, fly-infested country fair and eat cotton candy.'"9 Confessional pastors have heard it over and over, "I know what I like!" Indeed, here is the ultimate arrogance and egotism, and here self-interest supplants the best interests of the Church.  God spare us this fate. §

 

 

When the author wrote this article in July 2003 he was senior pastor of Saint Peter Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Plymouth, Michigan (WELS). He currently serves Our Savior parish in Chicago (LCMS).

________________________________________________________

 

1 Carl Schalk, Music In Early Lutheranism - Shaping the Tradition (1524-1672) Concordia Academic Press, St. Louis, 2001, p 16.

2 Ibid, p 12.

3 The author is somewhat free in labeling the traditions of the Protestant left, using designations such as Calvinistic, Arminian, Reformed, Methodistic, Baptist, Protestant, etc.

4 See "Let's Kick Calvin Out of Our Pulpits", Motley Magpie, Vol 1, No.1, for the author's critique of the Reformed Law/Gospel/Law paradigm, one all too evident in some WELS preaching.

5 Consider this observation by the Rev. John Parlow in a sermon dated June 22, 2003, "I believe these worship wars ultimately have nothing to do with music and everything to do with one of the devil's favorite weapons he uses against the church. Too many of our statements about the crisis in the American church, and specifically the concern of our own church body, center on the superficial arena of style of worship and neglect to go to the core issues itself." We remind Rev. Parlow that a previous generation of Lutherans saw through the duplicity of a Calvinistic inspired agenda, foisted upon them, which altered the Verba by adding the words, "Jesus said..." Most considered the change "superficial" - it was not. Furthermore, we ask the good reverend if he has read Prof. Marquart's dismantling of church-growthism in his masterful "Church Growth" as Mission Paradigm, A Lutheran Assessment. If he has not, MM will send him a copy free of charge. It should be noted that the Commission on Worship's offer to make a presentation at the last Church and Change gathering was declined. But, if you wish a stance antithetical to that taken by the MM see the on-line sermons of Rev. Parlow at http://www.stmark-greenbay.org. 

6 How did CW miss the three excellent stanzas of this hymn included in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELS), especially the wonderfully Eucharistic 7th stanza? The ELH might well be the best of the current crop of Lutheran hymnals, and that in itself should be considered a minor miracle, considering the size of the church body and hymnal committee, which produced it. 

7 Upon returning from a WELS men's rally (the WELS version of Promise Keepers?), one member exulted that they sang "the old favorites" like Amazing Grace." In his mind the official imprimatur for crappy hymnody was given because the president of the synod spoke at the gathering. The Rev. Brian Gerlach, the knowledgeable administrator of the Commission on Worship, noted that the Commission had not been involved in planning the worship for the gathering. Obviously those who did the planning knew what their audience wanted:  Schmaltz!

8 An example of this is found in CW #89. This fine hymn with suitable tune could have been improved had it added a 7th stanza about the Sacrament of Baptism. In this regard see CW 88 where Luther did not miss the opportunity. One of the MM editors has spotted a tendency in CW to desacramentalize some hymns in comparison to their treatment in other Lutheran hymnals. An article about this might be forthcoming.

9 Richard N. Brinkley, Thy Strong Word - The Enduring Legacy of Martin Franzmann CPH, St. Louis, 1993, p 36.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letters to the Editor

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a letter the above article (and its second installment) generated and our response

 

The Reverend Mark Porinsky writes,

 

I'm not sure I have any right to write (hmmm...right to write?? How about "write to right the rite"), seeing as how I'm too cheap to pay the subscription price of your publication. But when editor Pete authoritatively declares "Stairway to Heaven" the best rock song ever - well, he might be right. There are definitely other contenders, though none I can think of by the Beatles or the Stones. Oh well, De gustibus non disputand 'est (sic), as we adiaphora guys always say.

 

8MM  Geez, Mark, you and my brother, always with the Latin. I think you guys do that just to look smart. (For the sake of our readers it should be noted that though Pastor Porinsky is cheap, he is a friend and an Israelite in whom there is no guile.)(Editor-in chief note to brother, Futue te ipsum et caballum tuum!  Note to my old classmate, pay up, chump!)

 

Rev. Porinksy continues,

 

Music is a difficult subject. I'm sure I would acknowledge a wider range of music appropriate for worship than Pastor Berg, and a much wider range yet for conveying the Gospel message outside the context of worship. Still, I agree there are musical genres that simply can't be wed to the Gospel message. I think, for example, of jazz, polka, the show tune genre, and - here I'm in agreement with Pastor Berg - I've said several times in the past decade, "My God isn't a soft rock kind of guy." I believe there are types of harder rock which could convey both the gravity and the joy of our message, nor would I rule out rap, though I would recoil from using either in public worship.

 

8MM The fact that both you and I would recoil at the use of rap music in worship stems from our Lutheran ethic. It simply isn't appropriate anytime, anywhere. Does a non-formal, non-public worship setting mean that we accept what is inappropriate? I think not. Also, attempting to get the gospel out via a medium which might be attractive to the unchurched is nothing more than bait and switch and leaves the church open to the valid criticism, "Why is this music appropriate on every other occasion except on Sunday?"

 

 

Rev. Porinsky questions whether the inclusion of Jaroslav Vajda's "Where Shepherds Lately Knelt" among commendable contemporary hymns is justified. He writes,

 

 ...it certainly presents a mystical, if not an existential, scene at the manger, where, in what might be a hallucinogen-induced stupor, a vision of Isaiah is conjured up. I guess the defense would be, "It is, of course, the means of grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, which put the author, and those who sing his song, in such a spiritual proximity to Bethlehem." And I agree, it can certainly be understood that way. So can "Blessed Assurance." But surely this could not satisfy anyone who adheres to the dictum that the message must be so clear that it cannot be misunderstood. My point here is that, if we insist on this standard (i.e., too clear to be misunderstood) in hymnody, we will be deleting far more than "Amazing Grace" and "Blessed Assurance."

 

8MM As I stated in my article, on any given Sunday some hymns will be stronger than others. I'll concede that Vajda's hymn is a bit mystical, but at least he points us to the impending death of Christ, which is not the case with "Amazing Grace." Musically his hymn is also within the continuum of western catholicism, something which is not the case with the two hymns which you offered as examples. We don't need hillbilly Lutheranism. Besides, it's a Christmas hymn and one is allowed an annual Yuletide dispensation to sing (with a wink) things nostalgic such as "Away in the Manger" with its Docetic Christ ("no crying he makes").

 

Rev. Porinksy concludes,

 

I'm honestly grieved that Lutherans choose to revive the term "mass." At the very least the term carries an awful lot of baggage. Whether it was used in the Confessions or afterward is beside the point; the point is, this is not Scandinavia and this is not Luther's Germany. In today's context (after generations of disuse) the term "mass" can never be a neutral term. Not only can it be misunderstood; it can hardly fail to be misunderstood. The laity will always associate it with Roman Catholicism ("that dragon's tail")......What have we gained if we employ the word "mass" to flush out the Crypto-Calvinists, only to find ourselves identified - at least in people's minds - with the church of the Antichrist? Further, what have we gained when we flush out not only the Crypto-Calvinists, but also many true Lutherans whose sensitive consciences are offended by a term which the Bible does not insist on or even use?

 

8MM The offense of which you speak is due to our failure to properly catechize our people, not due to the use of words found in those writings to which you and I pledged ourselves. What other confessional terms should we surrender because we haven't adequately catechized our people? The people whom I serve, some well-read in our confessions, are not offended by the use of the word Mass. However, you raised an important point when you spoke about our context. What is our context, and what is the historical trend of Lutheranism? We live in an Evangelical world. Even Rome has been affected, as one of my friends notes, The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Protestant denomination in America. While one occasionally hears of Lutheran pastors "poping", this is not the case with Lutheranism in general. From Melanchthon on to the present day every Lutheran has a little Baptist in his heart screaming to get out. While we peer over the walls in one direction crying, "The Antichrist is coming!" (as indeed he is), we've left the backdoor open to the Zwinglians. I know, because I'm still one of them (one more reason for private absolution). (PMB) §