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God’s love: Our song forever – Part 9

There is a great amount of benefit in hearing and singing the gospel-rich heritage hymns of Lutheranism, even those that “sound strange” and are “hard to sing.”

Michael D. Schultz

There’s a storage box in my basement that contains my high school and college football jerseys. My dear wife has inquired a number of times about whether or not we are still going to keep that box of old stuff. Each time she has been lovingly informed that we will hold onto the contents of that box as long as I am still breathing air.

There’s a group of hymns that seemingly fall into the same category: 1) been around a long time; 2) not seeing much use; 3) holding onto them may seem rather questionable. They typically come from 16th- or 17th-century Lutheranism. Examples from Christian Worship (CW) would be Luther’s “In the Midst of Earthly Life” (CW 534) or Gerhardt’s “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises” (CW 253). They are sometimes nicknamed “heritage hymns.” Some have wondered if we should preserve them under that name in a hymn category of their own. Others wonder, “Are we really going to print them, again, in the next book?”

Fact check

Among the things people sometimes say about these “old Lutheran hymns” is that they are “too sad-sounding,” “too strange-sounding,” or just “too hard to sing.” There may be some truth to these statements, but it isn’t necessarily the whole truth.

“Sad-sounding”—Of 192 German chorales in Christian Worship, only 45 are in a minor or minor-sounding key. Music in a minor key can certainly be appropriate for serious themes such as contrition and cross-bearing, but it is not sad by definition. “What Child Is This” (CW 67) and “The King of Glory Comes” (CW 363) are both in a minor key, and we probably wouldn’t call them sad.

“Strange-sounding”—Our 21st-century American ears sense that something’s different when hearing the music of “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (CW 410). Of 192 German chorales in Christian Worship, 24 use what is known as modal music (as do some Star Wars themes and any number of Beatles songs). With its different scale of tones, it’s not what we’re accustomed to listening to, to say nothing of singing. And yet we do! Just not consistently. “What Wondrous Love Is This?” (CW 120) and “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart” (CW 269) are both written in the same musical mode, but WELS congregations sing “Wondrous Love” 12 times more frequently than “Peace and Joy.”

“Hard to sing”—In a side-by-side comparison, musicians would conclude that the melody of “Evening and Morning” (CW 430) should be noticeably easier to sing than that of “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” (CW 206). Yet WELS congregations sing “Wake, Awake” 20 times more often than “Evening and Morning.” You may have never sung or even heard of “Evening and Morning.”

Tenure

In the hymnal in which I write all my notes, “Wake, Awake” has a note that says, “TT 1599.” That’s shorthand for “this text and tune have been paired together since 1599.” For “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (CW 38), it says, “TT 1539.” You do the math.

Our next hymnal will include a good number of hymns written and composed in the 21st century, but something has to be said for a melody and a text that have been sung together for more than two centuries before the United States became a nation. If 20, even if 40, of the seldom-sung heritage hymns appeared in the next hymnal, there will still be 600 others to choose from if worship planners wish to bypass the “not easy” ones. What has to be said, though, is that such hymns have demonstrated their worth.

The heart of the matter

Songwriter Harlan Howard is quoted as saying, “All you need to write a country song is three chords and the truth.” That will always be at least half true of these classic Lutheran hymns. They will have the truth of the gospel, but seldom will they be a three-chord song. The composers were craftsmen, well-trained in their musical trade. The authors treated rich biblical themes that were not always in the shallow end of the pool. Stashing these hymns away in their own nostalgic hymn category—perhaps to be used on special occasions, perhaps not—falls short of what they deserve. What W.G. Polack (author of The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal) said of one of the more difficult heritage hymns really applies to all of the musically challenging ones: “The congregation that masters this tune possesses a treasure of which it will never grow weary.”

While I’ve enjoyed hearing it on the radio, I’m guessing people may not be singing Blake Shelton’s “I’ll Name the Dogs” three hundred years from now. But something good happens when worship leaders and musicians lay out plans, invest the time, and do the work of teaching the congregation solid Christian hymns that have already lasted that long. And that’s what’s most true of the “not easy” hymns—they need to be taught.

Even the chorale has to be taught to people before they can appreciate the lessons it teaches. A fundamental understanding of the chorale, as the sung word of God and a confession of faith in music and poetry, can only exist in the realm of theory unless the people are encouraged to learn and sing chorales in practice (“The Chorale: Transcending Time and Culture,” Robin Leaver).

There’s no great benefit in pulling those old football jerseys of mine out of storage, even if I still plan to keep them. There is, however, a boatload of benefit in hearing and singing the gospel-rich heritage hymns of Lutheranism. While more frequent use of them does not make the pastor who selects them or the congregation that sings them any more Lutheran, we encourage leaders to take up the task of teaching them because we have no plans to be the hymnal project that lets them go. They are one slice of many hymn resources we are working to make available.

When it’s time to roll one out one of these heritage hymns, remember to: 1) use announcements, articles, and classes to educate people about its upcoming use in worship; 2) let children or adult choirs learn it and teach it to the congregation; 3) sing the same one several weeks in a row to give people a chance to learn it.


Michael Schultz, project director of the WELS Hymnal Project, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


This is the final article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.  


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. be included in the new hymnal. The WELS Hymnal Project has indicated online which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the list and, if you want, choose hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To take part in the process, visit welshymnal.comThe deadline is May 1.


Respectfully making room

When it’s time to introduce those older hymns, Christian Worship: Handbook is one resource for interesting information about these hymns’ backgrounds, authors, and composers. For example, consider the fascinating story behind CW 574. Access the story by going to Christian Worship: Handbook, p. 581, or visiting welshymnal.com.

 


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Author: Michael D. Schultz
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s love: Our song forever – Part 8

We are a “singing church.” We look to new and old hymns to encourage us to sing God’s truths.

Jonathan P. Bauer

“The people barely sing along.” “The congregation sings poorly during the service.” “The pastor complains of low participation by the congregation in singing.”

Have statements like these ever been heard in your congregation? You might even assume that they come from the lips of 21st-century lifelong Lutherans who are saddened by the fact that congregational singing isn’t what it used to be.

But these laments came out of church visitation programs conducted in Germany during the decades following the Reformation. Some of them describe congregational singing well over a century after the Reformation began.

Yes, Luther said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, p. 323). His efforts to put the gospel back on the lips of the people is one of the reasons the Lutheran church is often referred to as “the singing church.” But for the first hundred-plus years, the Lutheran church’s journey to earning that title apparently got off to a pretty rough start.

Serving new treasures

From the beginning, Luther’s efforts to restore congregational singing included the production of new hymns. In a one-year span from 1523 to 1524, Luther wrote 24 hymns. Some of them found their way into the first Lutheran hymnals, which were published in 1524.

This sudden production of new hymns is understandable. Luther and the other Reformers wanted the theology of Scripture to be implanted deeply into the hearts of the people. But it was not easy. One might wonder why they didn’t stop since it was difficult to get people to sing these hymns.

We can be thankful that they didn’t. Luther and the others continued to write new hymns. As a result, we celebrate the Reformation singing “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon” (Christian Worship [CW] 200:1, written by Luther in 1528 or 1529).

New songs appeared even after Luther’s death. As a result, we confront our own mortality singing, “Lord, let at last your angels come; to Abram’s bosom bear me home that I may die unfearing” (CW 434:3, written by Martin Schalling around 1567).

As the years went by, new songs helped Christians sing God’s truth. We remember our Savior’s passion singing, “A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, our guilt and evil bearing, and, laden with the sins of earth, none else the burden sharing. Goes patient on, grows weak and faint, to slaughter led without complaint” (CW 100:1, written 100 years after Luther by Paul Gerhardt and first published in 1648). In addition, we approach the Lord’s table for Holy Communion singing, “He who craves a precious treasure neither cost nor pain will measure, but the priceless gifts of heaven God to us has freely given” (CW 311:3, written by Johann Franck and first published in 1649).

And we have new songs to sing from our own time. We take up the task Jesus has given his church singing, “Preach you the Word and plant it home to those who like or like it not, the Word that shall endure and stand when flow’rs and mortals are forgot” (CW 544:1, written by Martin Franzmannn and first sung in 1973). We also exit God’s house on Sunday singing, “Go, my children, sins forgiven, at peace and pure. Here you learned how much I love you, what I can cure” (CW 332:2, written by Jaroslav Vajda in 1983).

Our Lutheran forebears put into practice what Jesus said to his disciples: “Every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52).

Hymns are one way to teach. We have old hymns that teach God’s truths and new melodies and words too. We will use the old hymns, but the Holy Spirit will continue to move God’s people to create new hymns to praise God and teach his truth as he has always done. The musical feast will have such variety.

Serving them well

If the early Lutherans encountered frustration for more than a century as they strove to promote congregational singing, we ought not expect things to be different today. Odds are every person reading this article has experienced the frustration of trying to use a new treasure brought out of the storeroom of Christian hymnody.

Let’s assume that our synod’s next hymnal has 200 “new” hymns. Those 200 new hymns don’t need to all be served to God’s people within the first year. Our church body’s next hymnal presents us with the opportunity to bring out new treasures to God’s people for an entire generation.

In the last few years I’ve experienced the joy of doing so. More than 20 years after Christian Worship was published, I’ve still been able to give people an opportunity to sing new treasures, not because the treasures themselves are new but because they are new to people. I’ve enjoyed listening to my youngest walk around the house singing, “A mighty fortress is our God, a . . .” (she doesn’t have the second line down quite yet). I’ve enjoyed watching my congregation acquire a taste for treasures like “Lord, When Your Glory I Shall See” (CW 219), by no means easy to sing the first time around.

Learning our next hymnal’s new hymns isn’t a race. It’s a feast. Let’s sit back, slow down, and savor every bite.


Jonathan Bauer, a member of the Communications Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project, is pastor at Good News, Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.


This is the eighth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.  


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.


Respectfully making room

What exactly does it mean that our next hymnal will have 200 or more new hymns? “New” means a variety of different things. In some cases, it simply means it’s new to us. It might be a hymn that has been around for many years but is finding its way into our hymnody for the first time. It might be a hymn from previously-used resources like The Lutheran Hymnal.

In other cases, new will mean repackaged or repurposed. It might mean that the translation was altered or different stanzas selected. It might mean that the text was paired with a different tune.

In other cases, new will mean new. There will be recently written hymns from today’s batch of talented hymnwriters God has raised up for his church.

A taste for some of these new hymns will come almost immediately. A taste for others will take time to acquire. In both cases, our prayer is that future generations will agree that a great many of them are treasures.


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Author: Jonathan P. Bauer
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s love: Our song forever – Part 7

We want our tunes to carry Christ-centered texts. They need to touch not only our emotions but also our minds.  

Aaron L. Christie 

It was the season for high school musicals. The long months of winter rehearsals were finally at an end. The curtains cracked open for a packed house to a production of The King and IAfter three hours of sights and sounds, the senses were most certainly satiated—or saturated! 

One of the songs that always received thunderous applause was “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” Governess Leonowens whistled her happy tune to her son Louis when they arrived in Siam fearful of their future in a new home in an exotic country. The lyrics aren’t exactly Shakespeare, but the tune certainly is sunny.   

Thirty years later, I can still hear the whistling. 

More than a tin-whistle hymnody 

When it comes to the tunes and harmonic settings of the hymns in Christian Worship (CW), people haven’t always whistled for joy. As it turns out, one person’s “whistler” is another person’s “groaner.” The Hymnal Committee has received significant feedback on the musical elements of the project. Some comments come from trained musicians with significant experience. Other comments come from brothers and sisters without musical training. Their comments often involve the difficulty of some hymn tunes.  

On the other hand, even if the thought is rarely stated, each comment also comes with a personal preference attached. There are 375,000 WELS members who know what they like and like what they know. And here we face a musical temptation. We need to be wary of stopping with what we like and know. Worse yet, we need to be careful of projecting our preferences on a denomination of people. 

Dr. Martin Franzmann pokes this tendency in the eye: “Another argument might be called the ‘tin whistle’ argument. Its essence is something like this: ‘After all, a man can make music on a tin whistle to the glory of God, and God will be pleased to hear it.’ True, true, true—if God has given him nothing but a tin whistle; but God has given us so infinitely much more. When He has given us all the instruments under heaven with which to sing His praises, then the tin whistle is no longer humility but a perverse sort of pride” (Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, p. 92).  What is true about tin whistles and trumpets is also true about the notes that those instruments play. 

God has given WELS much more than a tin-whistle hymnody. He’s given us two thousand years of singing the Savior’s story! What does Christian music sound like? It sounds like Gregorian chant (“Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel,” CW 23, the most sung hymn in WELS according to surveys!), the folk music of Europe (CW 369) and America (CW 379), the cathedrals of England (CW 594), and the mission chapels of Africa (Christian Worship: Supplement 719). It sounds like the chorales of Luther (CW 200). Our music is as old as the Psalms and as recent as tunes and settings composed this year. In short, the Holy Spirit does not create Christian monotones!  

Music to bring Christ-centered texts 

Unlike Governess Leonowens, it is not enough for confessional Lutherans to whistle happy tunes to convince themselves that they aren’t afraid. Instead, we want our tunes to carry Christ-centered texts that drive out fear. Our tunes need to touch not only our emotions but also our minds. Lutheran tunes are often less, so that hymn texts may be more.  

This ministerial view of music is at least as old as the ancient church father St. Augustine: “Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer” (Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of the Enlightenment, p. 49). 

In other words, is this a piece of music that carries the gospel to my heart and thereby leads me to the heart of Jesus, or does it lead me to the music? Both are emotional experiences. Only one, however, is a Christian worship experience. Music must be content to remain the text’s servant, never the text’s master. 

Tunes that touch the heart 

Our tunes are also meant to serve hymn singers. This does not mean that every tune will be immediately accessibleWhy? Because music that is immediately accessible often makes for music that is quickly expendable. No one had to teach children born in the ’60s and ’70s the theme song of Gilligan’s Island. Its music is immediately accessible. We had to work a bit, however, to learn the melody of the National Anthem. Thirty years from now, the National Anthem will still be taught and sung. The theme song of Gilligan’s Island will remain a childhood curiosity and most likely be forgotten.  

Our tunes also serve singers by giving sound to the entire panoply of human emotions. We grieve over our sins (CW 305) and rejoice in God’s forgiveness in Christ (CW 390). We struggle with the ever-present difficulties in life (CW 444) and rejoice that in Christ we have the ultimate victory (CW 428). There are times in life when we are called on to stand up for Jesus (CW 474) and fight the good fight of faith (CW 457). There are other times where it is best to be still and know that our Lord is God (CW 415). Some tunes are happy, others sad; some tunes lead to grieving, others to rejoicing. Why? Because all of these emotions—and many more—are felt by the family of believers this side of heaven. Tunes that are only and always light and happy can lead to a Leonowens-esque view of the Christian life—all happy, all the time. The book of Psalms puts the whole spectrum of human emotions on our hearts and lips.  

Thank God that Lutheran music is never an exercise in “whistling past the graveyard.” Instead, we sing the gospel of the One who conquered the graveyard. Our music is never an effort in happy-sounding self-deception; instead, it serves as a vehicle for the gospel. God has blessed us with so many wonderful sounds through the centuries. Our century and our new hymnal will be no exception! 


Aaron Christie, chairman of the Hymnody Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project, is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.  


 This is the seventh article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.  


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.


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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Aaron L. Christie
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s love: Our song forever – Part 6

With the long-lasting impact hymns can have, throwing some lines together or using “any old text” just won’t do. 

Michael D. Schultz 

Thinking I’m not the most charming conversationalist to begin with, it was doubly challenging for me to visit Betty at her home once a month. A stroke had taken away a fair amount of her ability to speak, but then a subsequent series of mini-strokes robbed her of what little speech she had left. Delivering the devotion and saying the prayer were easy; it was the small talk that was challenging. It wasn’t like having a conversation with myself; it actually was. 

Until, one December, I sang a Christmas hymn with Betty. There was no doubt that she had learned the one about the herald angels singing. Her face lit up; she knew every word. I could hear her singing the words of the hymn far more clearly than any spoken response she had made in recent years. “God and sinners reconciled! Glory to the newborn King!”  

As surprising to me as that particular case was, I know it’s not all that uncommon. Hundreds of pastors tell dozens of similar anecdotes of elderly Christians clearly recalling hymns they learned decades earlier. But will there continue to be those kinds of stories, and if so, what will be the hymn lines that those aging Christians recall? 

Hymns tell the story 

From the home of an elderly shut-in, the scene changes to a large body of water in Egypt. What if you had just stepped onto the other side of the Red Sea without getting your feet wet? If Egyptians who were intent on killing you were instead washing up dead on the shore and God was fully responsible for your deliverance, what might you say? What might you sing? “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:1). You might sing about what God had just done for you. You might sing it over and over again until you knew it by heart.  

Good hymn texts tell that story, the story of God’s deliverance through Christ. Like Christ-centered, law-gospel sermons that are fresh and energetic, good hymn texts tell the story of God’s love for the unlovable, and they come at it from every scriptural angle imaginable. They speak of how the Father sent his only Son to take our place, how Christ suffered indescribable agony to purchase us, how Christ rose to take the sting out of our death. They tell of how the Spirit preaches forgiveness and faith in Christ into our hearts through Bible truth, how he pours those blessings over us in Baptism, how he feeds those blessings to us with our Savior’s body and blood. 

Hymns that do that are going to last. They are going to be published in one Lutheran hymnal after another. And, with God being gracious to us, over and over again we and our descendants are going to sing about “the wonders God has done, How his right arm the vict’ry won. How dearly it has cost him!” (Christian Worship [CW] 377:1). 

In a memorable way 

Christian recording artist Fernando Ortega wrote: “It’s easy to write a chorus that says, ‘God, you are a holy God. I need your grace to see me through. I need your mercy to make me new. Let me live each day for you.’ I just made that up in 2 minutes and there’s nothing wrong with it. It would fit easily and competitively among the hundreds of worship songs that are available to choose from.” 

Ortega went on to compare his quickly written chorus to a well-crafted, Christian hymn (“Come Down, O Love Divine”), which he described as “timeless.”  

But how does the hymnal committee determine which hymns will become timeless? We try to do that through comparative evaluations—thousands of comparative evaluations.  

There’s a reason Betty still knew that Christmas hymn. I can remember the comfortable smile on her face when I read her the Luke 2 Christmas account. The Christmas hymn, however, also included rhyme and meter and music. The combination made the truths of the incarnation all the more memorable for her. Hearing and singing that hymn in her childhood home and in the Lutheran congregation of her youth had anchored it in her heart.  

With the long-lasting impact hymns can have, throwing some lines together or using “any old text” just won’t do. Which lines would you want, would I want, would we want to usher us into old age, to remain in our brains when our brains may be losing track of other less memorable, less important things?  

Out of hundreds, here are a couple that have made a deep impression on me: 

“When he shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne” (TLH 370:4; CW 382:4; ________). 

“And then from death awaken me That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my Fount of grace” (TLH 429:3; CW 434:3; ________). 

I’ve quoted the texts as I first learned them in The Lutheran Hymnal, but also with their Christian Worship citations. The blank space represents our next hymnal. There are, of course, plenty of things to sing about other than death and resurrection and judgment day, but none more important. Betty never had her eyes set on living in an oceanside mansion with an infinity pool that looked out over a dazzling sunset every evening. Her eyes were aimed at the mansions in the house of her heavenly Father, where she is today, free from the limitations of a stroke-riddled body and brimming with joy. She is, in fact, standing on the shore that’s far better than the far shore of the Red Sea, the shore where the saints in heaven raise the hymn of how God has delivered them from every enemy. She’s singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (Revelation 15:3). 

The examples above are the kinds of texts that are worth singing, worth learning, worth preserving. In many cases, they are hymns from centuries past and have already appeared in hundreds of hymnals. In some cases, they are from this century and are just starting to show up in a handful of hymnals. In every case, we are taking a close look at the words, making sure that they faithfully and accurately reference God’s gracious deliverance in Christ and that they do so in a well-crafted way. We want such texts to make a lifelong impression in the hearts and minds of God’s people, right down to our own youngest children and a generation yet unborn. 


Michael Schultz, project director of the WELS Hymnal Project, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.  


This is the sixth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.  


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Michael D. Schultz
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s love: Our song forever – Part 5

The church is made up of people from many different backgrounds. Our worship should reflect our unity. 

Jonathan P. Bauer 

A man walked into a Target™ store demanding to speak with the manager. He wasn’t happy. In his hand, he clutched an ad that had recently arrived at his mailbox. It was full of pictures of smiling babies and included coupons for maternity clothes, cribs, and newborn onesies. “My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school! Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?” 

The store manager apologized profusely. A few days later, he called the man to apologize again. This time, however, the man owed the manager the apology. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out she’s due in August.” 

How did Target know that the young girl was pregnant before her dad did? For that matter, why is the ad delivered to your mailbox different from the one delivered to your neighbor’s? It’s simple. Data from every purchase a person makes at Target is added to his or her customer profile. Age and potential needs are part of the profile Target uses to predict what the customer is most likely to purchase, not just in the present but even in the future. Target then tailors its advertising to that customer accordingly. 

This little story is just one of many examples of targeted marketing. Companies don’t just advertise to customers in general. They advertise specific things to specific people. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Companies don’t need every customer to buy the same thing. They just want every customer to buy something. 

Compare your relationship with a big box retailer to your relationship to Christ’s church. When it comes to the church, you are not the customer of a company. Rather, you are a member of a body (see Romans chapter 12, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, and Ephesians chapter 4, for example). Christians have an important relationship not only to Christ but also to other Christians. In the church, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, are joined as one. 

Celebrating unity in our worship 

One of the primary places where this wonderful unity can be seen is in public worship. Christian Worship: Manual puts it this way: “At public worship believers of all ages, shapes and sizes join to offer God their mutual response of faith” (p. 10). 

In the church in Corinth we find a New Testament example of public worship dividing the body of Christ rather than uniting it. In response, Paul wrote, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). 

The church is a body. Public worship celebrates that. And yet, consumerism is the air we breathe. As a result, the same kind of targeted marketing practiced by Target can easily drive our decisions about worship. It might sound something like this: “In order to (insert any number of noble goals), we need more (insert any number of different types of hymns).”  

The noble goals being pursued could include: articulation of the truth, preservation of Lutheran heritage, retention of youth, or connection with the lost, The types of hymns we think will help us accomplish those goals could include: new hymns or old hymns; hymns with fresh, upbeat tunes or hymns with sturdy, time-tested tunes; hymns that come out of our primarily western European roots or hymns that come from cultures around the globe; hymns that have distinctly Lutheran origins or hymns from broader Christianity; hymns that are full of doctrine or hymns that are full of emotion.  

The Hymnody Committee’s top priority is to publish hymns that are “centered in Christ” and “in harmony with the scriptural faith as confessed in the Lutheran Book of Concord” (from the adopted list of criteria for hymns). If the church really is a body of members that span centuries, continents, and cultures, then an appropriate corresponding variety in our hymnody should take care of itself. 

Capitalizing on unity in our mission 

But what about those noble goals mentioned above? One can certainly argue that specific types of hymns can help or hinder a specific facet of our mission as churches. However, none of those noble goals can be accomplished by hymnody alone. Every facet of our mission as Christians takes diligent, ongoing work. A specific type of hymn is not the silver bullet for any of them. 

And so, whatever might be gained by the predominant use of a specific type of hymn in service to a specific goal, we must also consider what stands to be lost. If different demographic groups in the church have a body of hymnody tailored specifically to whatever characteristics define them, we lose the characteristics that define others and we sacrifice the unity that is so important to the body of Christ. 

Unity is one of the things that makes the Christian church distinct and identifies it to the world as something divine. On the night before he died, Jesus prayed to his Father that all believers “may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22, 23). 

A proper approach to variety in our hymnody will assuredly mean that none of us has only a set of hymns that is exactly what suits us best always. Instead, it means that all of us will have something far better. 


Jonathan Bauer, chairman of the Communications Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project, is pastor at Good News, Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. 


This is the fifth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches. 


Respectfully making room 

Pastor Kurt Eggert, the project director for Christian Worship, wrote: “The Lutheran church is ecumenical in its selection of hymns and other worship materials. Whatever is scripturally sound and true, poetically and musically worthy, and edifying for the faith of worshipers may be drawn on for use in our hymnal. For this principle, we can thank Luther himself.” 

So how much variety is there in our current body of hymnody? Christian Worship contains 340 hymns from various English sources and 283 translations: German, 208; Latin, 36; Danish, 18; Norwegian, 8; Swedish, 5, Greek, 2; Italian, 2; French, Czech, Bohemian, and Welsh, 1 each. Anyone familiar with Christian Worship: Supplement knows that it intentionally expanded that variety even more.  

How our synod’s next hymnal will compare remains to be seen. But the goal of providing a body of hymnody that serves the whole body of Christ remains the same. 


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Author: Jonathan P. Bauer
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s love: Our song forever – Part 4

Luther’s key musical reform of the church was that his hymns literally put the words and teaching of the gospel on people’s lips.

Aaron L. Christie

Luther’s Small Catechism is a witness to the fact that the Lutheran Reformation was primarily a reform of the church’s teaching. Millions of illiterate people were in desperate need of Scripture’s teaching. Luther’s solution was the Small Catechism—careful summaries of biblical truth that could be easily memorized. Lutheran boys and girls have been asking “What does this mean?” ever since. 

In his Large Catechism, Luther provides us with a window into the purpose of his hymns: “When these parts have been well learned, one may assign them also some psalms or hymns, based on these subjects, to supplement and confirm their knowledge. Thus young people will be led into the Scriptures and make progress every day” (Preface, 25). In short, the songs were to be intimately connected with the student’s biblical learning. Based upon Luther’s advice, Lutheran pastors and teachers have been assigning their students memory work from the hymnal ever since.  

A little over a year after Luther’s catechisms came off the presses, the Lutheran territories of Germany presented a confession of their faith before the emperor in the city of Augsburg on June 25, 1530. This confession opens the same window on a Lutheran view of the hymn’s role in worship: “Moreover, no noticeable changes have been made in the public celebration of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung alongside the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people” (Augsburg Confession XXIV:2,3, emphasis added). 

This is most certainly true: Luther and our early Lutheran fathers firmly believed in teaching hymnody. 

Practically speaking, how did this play out in the Reformation of worship? For a man who grew up dreading the fire of purgatory and praying to saints, it is simply astounding how conservative Luther was in the reform of the church’s worship. Luther didn’t opt for an ax to hack down everything; instead he picked up the surgeon’s scalpel. He used a steady theological hand in reforming the service. Most of his changes removed praying to the saints and references that made the Lord’s Supper a sacrifice for sins. 

Another significant reform was the people’s role in worship. For the average worshiper in the Middle Ages, worship was a “spectator’s sport”—something that the priest did at the altar rather than something engaged in from the pew. If the common people sang, the songs usually retold the legends of the saints rather of the story of the Savior. Luther’s key musical reform of the church was that his hymns literally put the words and teaching of the gospel on people’s lips.  

Luther’s key musical insight for the church also happens to be the Scripture’s key insight. In many Scripture references, we can easily find the saints praising God by proclaiming the gospel in song. This leads us to another key Lutheran emphasis: The truths of the gospel are more than a body of facts we can recite. The truths of the gospel are God’s saving power (Romans 1:16)! Through their hymns, Lutheran Christians proclaim the saving power of Christ! 

Now take a moment to peruse Luther’s hymns in our hymnal. Luther’s poetry may be vigorous and engaging, but rarely, if ever, does Luther get personal, expressing what he thinks, feels, or does. Instead, Luther’s hymns teach the Scriptures. They were deliberately penned to place the words and doctrines of Scripture on people’s lips and hearts. That’s why anti-reform voices in Luther’s day would often quip that Luther’s hymns had damned more souls than all his sermons combined! 

Some of Luther’s hymns simply put the psalms into verse and rhyme: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Christian Worship [CW] 200/01); “If God Had Not Been on Our Side” (CW 202); “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven” (CW 205); and “May God Bestow on Us His Grace” (CW 574). Through them, the songs of Israel’s temple became the songs of Wittenberg’s shopkeepers. 

Several of Luther’s hymns were based on the songs of the liturgy or Scripture’s canticles: “Kyrie, God Father in Heaven Above” (CW 266); “All Glory Be to God Alone” (CW 262); “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old” (CW 267); and “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart” (CW 269). Through them, the ancient songs of the church became the song of peasants and maids. 

An important group of hymns show us that Luther knew how to take his own advice to “assign them also some psalms or hymns.” Luther’s so-called “Catechism Hymns” serve as a musical supplement to the catechism: “The Ten Commandments Are the Law” (CW 285); “We All Believe in One True God” (CW 271); “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above” (CW 410); “To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord” (CW 88); “From Depths of Woe I Cry to You” (CW 305); “Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior” (CW 313); and “O Lord, We Praise You” (CW 317). Through these hymns the doctrines of Scripture became the song of school boys and girls. They serve as a musical answer to “What does this mean?” 

A final group of many other hymns brings the saving story of Christ to the people. “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (CW 377) and “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (CW 38) are two prime examples. Through these hymns the eternal gospel goes to work in time and space, converting human hearts to faith and confirming the faith of the converted. 

The Reformation of the church was born of an academic debate over the role of indulgences in repentance. The Reformation not only survived, but it grew and thrived because it deliberately placed the preaching, teaching, and singing of the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of the home, the classroom, the pulpit, and the hymnal. Our Lutheran fathers learned these scriptural lessons with care. And we well have fared! 

Hymns that teaches us the gospel: It is pure privilege to sing them. We need to sing them. The world needs us to sing them. 


Aaron Christie, the chairman of the Hymnody Committee, is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconisn.


This is the fourth article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.

 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Aaron L. Christie
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s love: Our song forever – Part 3

True Confessions of a Congregational Hymn Picker

Jonathan P. Bauer

I have a confession to make. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the hymns I don’t pick.

Let me explain. As a pastor who picks the hymns that the congregation sings, there have been plenty of times when I’ve heard comments about a hymn I did pick for a service. It’s much less frequent, however, to hear a comment about a hymn I didn’t pick. I’ve learned to expect, “Pastor, that’s one of my favorites!” as well as, “Pastor, I can’t stand that one!” I don’t expect, “Pastor, Pentecost 8 of Year A would have been the perfect opportunity to sing this one!” And yet, even though people rarely comment on the hymns left unsung, those are the ones I sometimes think about most.

If you’ve ever been involved in picking hymns, you know that for every hymn that finds a spot in the service there are a dozen you considered that didn’t. It’s not as if those dozen are clunkers. They are Christ-centered, gospel-proclaiming, scripture-teaching hymns. And yet, for one reason or another, they don’t find their way into the service. They are the hymns of omission, if you will. And a while back, I stopped feeling guilty about them.

Picking Practically vs. Pastorally

When I first started picking hymns, there were all kinds of factors I took into account. Some were textual. I would look for hymns that best-captured the specific gospel truth found in the service’s assigned readings. I might pick a hymn based on a single word or phrase that used language from the day’s sermon text.

Other factors were musical. I would pick hymns that people would find easy and enjoyable to sing. I would consider the musical resources we had available so that the hymn might involve a choir or instrumentalists.

More recently, however, my approach has changed. I haven’t stopped thinking about the factors mentioned above. But I’ve started taking more careful stock of the total number of hymns I pick and the frequency with which pick them. I haven’t stopped asking, “Which hymns work best in this specific service?” But I’ve starting asking more frequently, “What is the overall body of hymnody that the congregation knows well?”

Now I view picking hymns as much more of a pastoral task. This subtle change in approach has been most noticeable in one specific way. I find myself intentionally picking fewer hymns more frequently as opposed to more hymns less frequently.

Why sing fewer hymns?

Why the change? I wish I could take a little more credit for it. However, it was much more something that happened to me rather than the other way around. More and more

I saw firsthand the profound effect that well-learned and well-loved hymns can have in the lives of God’s people.

If you’re one of the many young people in our congregations, it may seem as though your pastor struggles to communicate the gospel in a way that addresses the specific challenges you face. He’s likely as aware of that struggle as you are. As you face temptation, confront peer pressure, or battle to develop a Christ-centered identity, he’d love it if you remembered everything he ever told you in a children’s sermon or a confirmation class. But even though that’s unlikely, he’d be thrilled to know that the words close at hand as you face the challenges of youth include those of a hymn like “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It.”

If you’re new to Christianity or Lutheranism specifically, your pastor knows that you may struggle with specific questions about the Bible or carry theological baggage from your past. He would love to think that his twelve-week Bible Information Class will answer every single question and transform you into a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran. But even though that’s unlikely, he’s thrilled knowing that sola gratia, sola fide, and sola scriptura are planted deeper in your heart every time you sing a hymn like “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.”

If you’re nearing the end of your earthly pilgrimage, your pastor knows that death is called the last enemy for a reason. He would love to think that in those last moments you would cling for comfort to something you heard in one of his sermons. But even though that’s unlikely, he’d be thrilled to know that the words running through your head as you stand at the doorstep of glory are the words of a hymn like “Jesus Your Blood and Righteousness.”

Are we giving our hymns the opportunity to do what they are so uniquely capable of doing? Hymns have a unique ability to take precious gospel truths and smuggle them deep into the human mind and heart. Hymns can take those truths and accomplish two equally-important and seemingly-contradictory goals. They can lock those truths away in a secure, impenetrable vault. At the same time, they can make those truths readily available to be summoned forth when needed most. That is, of course, assuming we allow them to.

Let’s do a little math. If, in a given year, a congregation sings 260 different hymns (only one-third of what’s in our current hymnal and supplement), do you know how many times they’d sing each one? Assuming four hymns per service and sixty-five unique services a year, they’d sing each of those 260 hymns only once.

Is singing a hymn once a year enough? Will the three-year-old who can’t read yet come to know any of them? Will any of their words pop into the teen’s mind as he endures bullying at school? Will any of them occur to the husband who’s being lured by the temptations of pornography? Will any of them be inaudibly mouthed by the ninety-year-old with dementia in hospice care?

If I showed you the list of hymns we don’t sing at my congregation, you might be shocked. There are some good ones on that list. Some classics even. But I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the hymns we don’t sing. Rather, I rejoice in the unique blessings that come from the ones we do sing – and the frequency with which we sing them.


Jonathan Bauer, chairman of the Communications Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project, is pastor at Good News, Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.


This is the third article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.


Author’s note: There’s a supplementary blog article on welshymnal.com for some practical ideas on singing hymns more frequently.


RESPECTFULLY MAKING ROOM

Like Christian Worship, our church body’s next hymnal will again put 600+ hymns in front of God’s people. Those responsible for selecting those hymns would be the first to admit that not all hymns are created equal. Some have richer gospel imagery than others. Some have more doctrinal content than others. Some elicit more emotion than others.

Valid arguments will be made about why a specific hymn that was included should have been excluded and vice versa. There will be some that you would want sung at your funeral. There will be others that you prefer never to have to hear again. All 600+ hymns won’t equally satisfy the specific standards you set for hymns. The point is that they don’t need to.

Rather, we hope that the 600+ hymns offered in this hymnal provide an opportunity for every congregation to find a rich and full subset that makes up its unique diet of hymnody. We pray that those hymns – learned and loved well – would serve God’s people with the precious gospel both in large, established congregations and new mission starts, both in the rural heartland and on the urban coasts, both in life’s highs and life’s lows, from the early years of their youth all the way to their dying breath.


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Author: Jonathan P. Bauer
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s love: Our song forever – Part 2

Emotional pull or gospel content? How should we balance the two when choosing hymns?

Aaron L. Christie

It was my first year in the ministry, and I had the job of directing the choir. The music the church used was almost always tucked safely between the covers of the “new” hymnal. In an early effort to broaden our musical bandwidth, I picked “Soon and Very Soon” for Christ the King Sunday. I did my best to improvise a gospel-style accompaniment on the piano. As we practiced, a few members began to sway back and forth to the beat. I sat at the piano thinking, “This is going pretty well! I can’t wait to do ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ on Christmas!”

One comment came after the service, “Pastor, I almost felt like clapping!” That started me thinking: Why didn’t they feel like clapping for “A Mighty Fortress” a month earlier? One dear member suggested, “If we do more music like that, things will really get moving around here!” But was a Baptist-beat the musical cure for an ailing church that had just dismissed her pastor because of doctrinal differences?

Welcome to the difficult and unforgiving world of musical styles and personal preferences!

Luther’s path

What music to choose? There are times when worship planners—and even hymnal committees—would like to wish the entire topic away. The WELS Hymnal Project has received some feedback on the texts of our hymns and liturgies—what to use and what to lose. And everyone, it seems, has a comment or two when it comes to their musical preferences.

Why is that? Because music has the ability to touch human emotions. Luther recognized music’s emotional pull: “For if you want to revive the sad, startle the jovial, encourage the despairing, humble the conceited, pacify the raving, mollify the hate-filled—and who is able to enumerate all the lords of the human heart, I mean the emotions of the heart and the urges which incite a man to all virtues and vices?—what can you find that is more efficacious than music?” (What Luther Says, #3103). Other reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli were suspicious of music’s power to touch emotions. Calvin severely curtailed the use of music in worship. Zwingli went so far as to ban it from the service.

Luther took a different path. Because music is part of God’s creation, he recognized and embraced music’s ability to touch human emotions. Yet in public worship, he did not make “emotional pull” a musical prerequisite. The hymns he penned were not designed first to enable emotional expression. That purpose would be assigned to music centuries later in the tent revivals on the American frontier. Instead, Luther’s hymns were designed to put the gospel of Christ on the lips of Christ’s people. In other words, Luther’s hymns were never written to promote toe-tapping, but to enable truth telling. For Luther, content was key. And Christ is the key to Luther’s content.

Christ is key

This careful balance between music’s ability to touch emotions and music’s ability to carry Christ to the Christian can already be spotted in the title of the first Lutheran hymnal almost five hundred years ago: “Several Christian Songs, Hymns of Praise and Psalms, in Accordance with the Pure Word of God, from Holy Scripture, Produced by Various Highly Learned Individuals, for Singing in the Church, as in Part Is Already the Practice in Wittenberg.”

These first Lutheran hymns were so Christ-centered in their content, so pure in their doctrine, so biblical in their approach, and so polished in their poetry, that four of these original eight hymns are still with us today. “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (Christian Worship [CW] 377) sings the heart and core of the gospel. “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” (CW 390) pulses with the careful distinction between law and gospel. Even if someone had never opened a Bible, they could still come face to face with Jesus and their justification through these hymns. This was no accident. Luther writes: “For such songs are a sort of Bible for the uncultivated, and even for the learned. See how the pious are set on fire through these songs!” [ref.].

Does this mean that every hymn needs to be a “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice”? Does every hymn need to sing about the sacraments in order to be in a Lutheran hymnal? The quick answer is no. Some hymns are, by design, more of an emotional reponse to the gospel rather than a teacher of the gospel. God’s grace really is amazing (CW 379) and our Savior really is beautiful (CW 369). Some hymns are, intentionally, a commentary on God’s creation or the believer’s sanctification. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (CW 234) with hearts that yearn for the Spirit’s presence and gifts (CW 181).

But we also need to be careful. God’s grace is much more than amazing. Specifically, God’s grace is rooted in the redemption that is ours in Christ (CW 117). Our Savior is beautiful, but his beauty is seen fully in the Word and sacraments (CW 311). We are a part of God’s creation, but even more wonderfully, in Christ, we are a new creation (CW 471). Christ is the “center of gravity” in our current hymnal. Christ will remain the center of gravity in our new hymnal.


Aaron Christie, the chairman of the Hymnody Committee, is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconisn.


This is the second article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.


RESPECTFULLY MAKING ROOM

Because textual content is key, the first thing the Hymnody Committee did was sit down and agree upon a set of core principles that would guide our picking and panning. Here they are:

Hymns considered for inclusion in the successor volume of Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal should . . .

1. Be centered in Christ.

2. Be in harmony with the scriptural faith as confessed in the Lutheran Book of Concord.

3. Be rooted in the church year with its emphases on the life of Christ and the Christian’s life in Christ.

4. Be drawn from classic Lutheran sources and deliberately inclusive of the church’s broader song (including so-called international or global music.)

5. Be superlative examples of their genre in regard to both textual content and musical craft.

6. Be accessible and meaningful for God’s people at worship in both public and private settings.

7. Be useful for those who preach and teach the faith.

8. Be parts of a body (corpus) of hymns that will find wide acceptance by the vast majority of our fellowship.

Your Hymnody Committee is doing its best to follow the careful path that Luther blazed. We recognize and appreciate the emotional pull of music. But even more, we hope to deliver a hymnbook packed with hymns that preach, teach, and proclaim Christ crucified to a generation yet unborn. The Lord requires nothing less. God’s people deserve nothing less.

In short: Some of our new hymns will be toe tappers, but the entire hymnal will be a truth teller!


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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Author: Aaron L. Christie
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s love: Our song forever

Letting God’s forgiving love in Christ be proclaimed, heard, and sung is an important part of choosing hymns for new worship resources.

Michael D. Schultz

On a shelf in the new synod archives are 16 cardboard boxes containing all the paper files of the Christian Worship (CW) hymnal project. Tucked away in one or two of those boxes are the handwritten correspondences that flooded the project director’s office after the publication of the dreaded cut list—the list of hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) that would not appear in Christian Worship. Some of those letters were rather “expressive.” Yet all those letters were effective. About a dozen hymns that had been on death row were given a stay of execution and, in fact, new life in the new hymnal.

Members of the current hymnal project are taking us through that same process once again. Where do we start? We started with nearly four years of multiple-level reviews designed to let the best hymns of CW and Christian Worship: Supplement (CWS) rise to the top. Included in these reviews have been a national survey of favorite hymns for adults and students, the collection of hymn usage statistics around the country, and the rating of hymns by two separate committees.

Choosing 450 to 500 CW/CWS hymns to appear in our next hymnal will make room for 150 to 200 hymns that are new to us. We make room for new hymns, mindful of the following:

FINDING NEW TREASURES.
Some hymns wear out, while others simply don’t catch on. Letting go of approximately 25 to 30 percent of CW/CWS hymns gives us the opportunity to see what new treasures the Lord will provide. And he does provide new treasures. “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (CW 373) and “Salvation unto Us Has Come” (CW 390) appeared in the first Lutheran hymnal in 1523. The publication of TLH placed on our lips the hymns “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus” and “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage.” In 1993 CW gave us the communion hymn “Here, O My Lord, I See You Face to Face” (CW 315) and allowed us to sing Psalm 115 in the striking words of “Not unto Us” (CW 392).

Time will tell which hymns from a new hymnal will become the texts and tunes that we treasure. We make room for them because we know that the Holy Spirit keeps giving to the church gifts that spring from the gospel. As he does, it’s a bit of a misnomer for us to work toward a “final hymn list;” hymn lists will never remain static.

CLEAR PROCLAMATIONS.
We understand that not everyone will be ecstatic about changes in a new hymnal. So we invite feedback on the list we are publishing (see below). As CW was taking shape, Kurt Eggert, CW project director, wrote: “From time to time it may be desirable or even necessary to incorporate changes in our liturgical forms, language or music in order that God’s truth be more clearly communicated to the worshipers or that the faith of the believers be more meaningfully expressed.”

CHRIST’S COMPELLING LOVE.
There is one changeless truth that drives everything about our hymnal project, including the selection of hymns: letting God’s forgiving love in Christ be proclaimed, heard, and sung.

We are convinced that pulling together the best hymns of CW and CWS and spending several years searching for the best other hymns that can be found will result in worship resources that build up the faith of God’s people. By God’s good grace that happens as singers sing and worshipers hear, “My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more” (CWS 760:2).


Michael Schultz, project director of the WELS Hymnal Project, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


This is the first article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.


RESPECTFULLY MAKING ROOM

“O King and Father, kind and dread,
Give us this day our daily bread;
Forgive us, who have learned to bless
Our enemies, all trespasses;
Spare us temptation; let us be
From Satan set forever free” (Christian Worship 407:2).

The hymn “O Lord, You Have in Your Pure Grace” is not currently slated to appear in our next hymnal. Lutheran pastor, professor, and poet Martin Franzmann intentionally wrote this shorter version of Luther’s Lord’s Prayer in the hope that it would be sung more frequently. But the third and fourth lines of Franzmann’s second stanza present the singer with a textual challenge: “Forgive us, who have learned to bless our enemies, all trespasses.” The fourth line, when sung by itself comes out as “our enemies, all trespasses,” which is not impossible to follow, but not easy either.

One could certainly not find any fault with the text of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. Nor has the slight textual difficulty mentioned above landed this hymn on the cut list. But a combination of things has led to the proposal to cut CW 407:

1) The tune has been overused (six times in TLH and five times in CW).
2) The committee voted 14-1 to cut it.
3) It has very low statistical usage (bottom 100 out of 711).
4) The hymn did not appear in the last two hymnals of the author’s own church body.
5) CW is the only recent hymnal in which it appears.

Simply put, this version of a sung Lord’s Prayer has not gained sufficient traction to continue in the next book.

The Prayer section of our new hymnal will need some new entries. Should it be approved, this hymn by author Chad Bird may serve well in that section.

“Jesus, advocate on high,
Sacrificed on Calv’ry’s altar,
Through your priestly blood we cry:
Hear our prayers, though they may falter;
Place them on your Father’s throne As your own.”

The reasons make a good case for its inclusion:

1) Its statistical usage in another Lutheran hymnal is high.
2) It would bring back a tune familiar from TLH which did not appear in CW (TLH 539).
3) It reminds us that when our prayers come to our Father in Jesus’ name, it is as though our Father views our prayers as Jesus’ own prayer.


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Author: Michael D. Schultz
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017

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