How Lutheran Hymns Lost Their Monopoly in the Missouri Synod
This is an opinion piece. I might be completely wrong in my assessment. Here is my opinion.
First, two definitions are necessary. By “traditional Lutheran hymns” I refer to all hymns in Lutheran Service Book. By “contemporary Christian songs” I refer to songs composed over the last 30 years by non-denominational churches, played with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboard.
Traditional Lutheran hymns no longer hold a monopoly on hymnody in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. They are only one option. My hunch is that they are not commonly sung in at least 50% of synodical congregations. I would like to see the statistics.
My question is this: How did this happen? I think the answer is not really theological. It is a sociological answer, a this-worldly explanation. In the United States, Protestant churches—by which I mean non-Roman Catholic—are competing with each other. Drive around any metro. You drive by some type of church every six blocks. Americans are church shoppers and church hoppers. We don’t have a state church. In this country “church” is forced into a consumer system, a free-market system, a capitalistic system with buyers and sellers. Every congregation is more or less forced to “sell” itself and everything it is about to American consumers. You need people to pay the bills. There is no way around that. We do not live in a state church context. As a result, every congregation and pastor must attract American “worship consumers.” This means that the musical tastes of the “worship consumers” will determine the worship resources. What worship hymns and songs are sung will pretty much be determined by the lay people and their wants.
And here is the point. Average Americans are not into 16-19th-century classical hymns. Why? I don’t hear the lay people complaining about the theology of these hymns, complaining that such-and-such hymn teaches the genus maiestaticum. No, they are complaining about the sound, the notes, the rhythm, the beat, the music. Less than 5% of the American population listens to classical music, and probably more like 1%. Americans listen to soft-rock, new country, jazz, rhythm and blues, and a host of other sounds but not classical music. The average American could not tell you the first thing about “Baaatch” or “Beeeth-oven.” And “Contemporary Christian music” is very popular in the U.S. So the rank and file want today’s musical sound.
However, instead of investing in a large effort to raise up today’s hymn composers who will compose hymns with today’s sound, with a sound that average Americans would find attractive, Missouri Synod officially adopted a different strategy. It put out Lutheran Service Book and wants all synodical churches to use LSB. Well, trying to shove German chorales down the throats of today’s Americans simply will not fly. As a result, congregations and pastors look to other sources for their worship songs and hymns. That means they look to “Contemporary Christian music.” But with that choice there is a huge downside. The problem with “Contemporary Christian music” is precisely their words and theology. Those worship songs rarely extol baptism or the Lord’s Supper. They rarely extol the gospel narrative. In fact, those worship songs rarely express a verse-to-verse narrative about the saving work of God in Christ. They do not publish songs for the different seasons of the church year. The wording of those “Contemporary Christian songs” is no match for the strong theological wording of the hymns in LSB.
I myself like LSB. I grew up on these kinds of hymns. My mother was a traditional Lutheran church organist for over 70 years. But that traditional Lutheran hymnic sound is just not popular among today’s Americans. The theology and the words have nothing to do with their distaste. It is the music. And music is completely cultural. It is like language. Orthodox theology can be expressed in different languages and in different kinds of music. The musical instruments of ancient Israel included hand-held harps, hand-held drums, various types of pipes, shofars, and other instruments.
My overall assessment is this: the Missouri Synod basically shot itself in the foot. Most Americans cannot embrace the musical sound of 16-19th-centuries Lutheran hymns. The only way forward is for every generation to raise up hymn composers who can put strong theological wording to the musical sound of today and tomorrow. And if copyright laws permit, put traditional Lutheran hymn-wording to different musical sounds. True theology comes from the Holy Scriptures. Types of music vary from age-to-age and place-to-place.
Damian Snyder August 10, 2021
Well said, Dr. Raabe. Our congregation uses LSB as well as other resources that contain theologically orthodox hymns, songs, etc. but employ modern rhythms, musical phrasing, etc. Perhaps the fluidity of music through the ages and between cultures is one of the reasons that God gave us the book of Psalms without any musical notation attached! Just the words which can be sung to many kinds of musical styles.
Steve Ronald Brummett August 10, 2021
You are correct. You are completely wrong in your assessment. People learn what they are taught. If you teach a child from youth the traditions, liturgies, and hymns of their fathers, that is what they will learn and appreciate. My own family is a good example. My children do not listen to today’s popular music of their peers, but the classic rock, metal, opera, and hymnody of the own father’s taste. Why? Because that is what they grew up with. Stop assuming the ignorance of people, and teach them.
Thomas Lock August 10, 2021
Well said, good sir (Rev. Brummett)
Delwyn Xavier Campbell, Sr. August 10, 2021
How old are your children? What do they listen to when they are NOT in your presence? You know, at school, the Boys and girls club, etc? Why do you think FLAME has struck such a chord? I’m not saying that we should throw out the LSB, but you need to take your head out of the sand, because your kids are listening to what’s out there, just not in front of YOU, unless they are still under the age of 10.
Derek August 10, 2021
That’s short sighted. Personally I grew up on the traditional liturgies but frankly I don’t enjoy them at all. Kids may choose to adopt the musical tastes of their parents but unless you are raising robots they may well not. God made each of us gloriously different. Those differences is not a negative. I am proud that my kids have grown into strong, independent people with their own likes and dislikes. Not just miniature versions of me.
Karl Rovey August 10, 2021
As someone in this thread has mentioned Flame, it should be noted that he doesn’t view his style of music as suitable for worship services.
Natasha Bowlds August 11, 2021
But if our mission field extends beyond our own children, we should also be considering what is useful in sharing the Gospel via music in our communities correct? If my congregation sits in a diverse area with immigrants from African and Hispanic countries, as well as German Lutherans and other white and black Americans, it stands to reason that we could so easily learn from each other different styles and validate the cultures of so many – including people with no historical Christian roots. By only offering one style of music we could unintentionally be sending the message that if you weren’t taught those hymns in that style from your youth, then you aren’t welcome in the Kingdom of God. And I don’t believe that’s the message we want to send or teach.
Darryl March 12, 2023
Your statement is completely wrong and why you see all these other non denominational churches full of people being taught false doctrines . I think it’s truly sad that the church can’t change the music to the words . My grandson said it sounds like a scary movie and I agree on some of the music .
Guillaume Williams August 10, 2021
Dr. Raabe I think you are correct in your opinion that we need Lutheran song writers/musicians that can compose sound Lutheran Theologically strong songs with music that represents music that appeals to the modern ear. It need not necessarily be rock and roll or pop music per se but certainly music that lends itself to using guitars, drums perhaps, electric instruments. It would have a chorus between verses or even every several verses. IOW, not organ music, though I bet Ray Charles or Stevey Wonder could do some magic that’s pleasing to modern ears on a pipe organ.
But I disagree that we shot ourselves in the foot with LSB. What do need is some hymnal supplements that have the hymns and spiritual songs like I mentioned above. I believe several pastors and church musicians have been accomplishing this if but piecemeal and while I can’t remember who did it, I think one pastor has written a guitar hymnal based on the lectionaries.
Mark Squire August 10, 2021
This is a very well thought out and accurate assessment. Thank you!
Tom Fields September 22, 2021
I think there is another approach to try: update the music. I am not a musician but I have heard this done with some familiar songs like Amazing Grace, It is Well With My Soul, O Sacred Head Now Wounded’s melody. If I had an extra sock full of money I would hire some contemporary musicians to go through the hymnal and try some new versions of the melodies there. Perhaps changing the rhythms, the harmonies, the chord progressions, the tempi, orchestration, and so on would make some familiar hymns attractive to the modern ear. What could a contemporary music arranger do? I mean a professional, someone who is able to make a living in the music industry (like I said it would take some dollars). Has anyone tried this? I wish someone would.
Rev. Tom Chryst August 10, 2021
This also seems to assume that style and substance can be entirely divorced. They cannot. Not every style of music is appropriate for church music, even if many Americans like it. What is commonly called “contemporary” today carries a lot of baggage – quite apart from the words.
Kyle August 10, 2021
There are so many discussion points in your piece. So many complex issues… I will try to keep things simple, but i am not sure if i will succeed. First I have been an LCMS member since 1985. I and my wife are Lutherans who like, what i call, modern Christian music, and we and attend an LCMS church that uses it. I don’t hate hymns, in fact there are some great hymns that I love to sing in a more modern form. Let me point out some things you are right on: 1. I agree that more and more modern people have taken a liking to the Christian Contemporary genre, and if asked would say that they like it better than old hymns. (As evidenced by the number of churches using it instead of old style hymns.) 2. You have some valid points about church shopping and the need to attract people. 3. Not many people prefer classical music as their main type of music. 4. Old hymns have great theology. However…Points that i would make: 1. Music that uses drums, guitars, and keyboards is ingrained into our modern life from little on up. It is not surprising that when people learned that Christian music could be made in that way, they embraced it. My wife and I liked CCM (christian contemporary music) when we were teenagers and into adulthood, but we still mostly listened to rock and country. As CCM progressed and we got a radio station by us that played it, we mostly switched our daily listening to CCM. We also tried to offer it to our kids as a healthier music choice as they grew up. 2. I don’t think the consumer nature of churches and the those who shop for it, is a big reason for the rise of modern christian music. I think, as i said in point 1, that people are naturally embracing a new thing, and like that it is similar to their existing music tastes. 3. While i understand why hymn writers have tried to pack songs with theologically correct doctrines, i don’t think a worship service needs to have the singing of doctrine to be a God-pleasing and edifying experience. (Of course, singing doctrine to a tune is not wrong, just not necessary, and i know there are plenty who would disagree, i have heard from them over the years) Don’t get me wrong on one part, though, i do believe that Pastors and elders should examine their song choices and either make little changes to lyrics or weed some out if there are big problems. If this message regarding modern Christian music is the message you want to convey, i can’t disagree, however it seems that you and many others are calling people to return to the old ways. (old ways aren’t necessarily bad, but i would say it will prove to be an uphill battle) As a partaker and proponent of modern Christian music, I have a couple of things that get me going. One is people acting like this new kind of music should not be allowed in a proper worship setting. Another is saying that the new modern Christian music is repetitive and shallow. If you are thinking, yeah, than let me say this. I would think that adults should have learned at some point in their younger life that sterotypes are not helpful in a debate or discussion. I and thousands of others like modern Christian music, and think it can be done well in a worship setting. The fact that in all the years this new type of music has been rising to prominence, that the LCMS keeps printing it same old fashioned hymn books is what bothers me the most. The church needs to be willing to change. (how much is up for debate) At some point in the last 20 years couldn’t the LCMS have made a song book with modern songs to help churches incorporate new types of worship into their practices? Lots to think about…
Susan August 11, 2021
Kyle, I would be interested to hear your definition of “worship,” what it is and what it’s for.
Kyle August 17, 2021
I am not a pastor or quite frankly, anything special within the LCMS. (other than a long time LCMS member who plays guitar in front of church on Sundays) As you might have guessed, I am a person who prefers a more modern type of worship with modern worship music. Just to clarify something, if you like the traditional type of service with hymns, by all means attend a church still doing it. In fact, I believe that if people in my church started asking for an LSB based service, I think our pastor should accommodate. Honestly, I am not sure if my definition of worship even matters. I think it matters much more how my Pastor and our elders understand worship in our context. However, I will say a few things. By and large, I like the core elements of a Lutheran worship service. I have been to other types of churches, and don’t like how they leave out valuable parts of a worship service such as forgiveness of sins and creeds. Myself and other ‘modern worship’ people simply want something different than the 1980’s divine service days that I came to learn and do in my youth. (when I do go to a traditional church, I am amazed how it is basically the same as the 1980’s) My current church basically does Lutheran worship, but without some of the old ways. (like chanting, singing pieces and parts from the hymn book, etc…) For what it’s worth, it has been my observation that when Churches modernize the service in certain ways, they have the opportunity to minister to more people, and maybe in new ways that the divine service didn’t offer. (some people may have an aversion to the old divine service, while others may only come if different music is used) I am passionate about the changes I advocate, but as I said before, I will never say that the LCMS should stop doing worship the traditional way. I only want a modern approach to be accepted and respected. I think there are lot of Lutheran members who think that God can be known and understood only through a traditional, hymn-based church service, which often times has a “mechanical” feel. What I advocate is to fend off people simply going through the motions. I want what we do in a worship service to lead people closer to God and to affect them in a way, that assists in tuning their hearts closer to the ways of God. My hope is that participants would be confronted with the incredible love of God, the message of His son’s saving work, and with healing they maybe didn’t know they needed. I think that worship of God should be a range of things, from emotional, to difficult, to hospital like healing, and even fluid and engaging. These are things I get from my church which does modern Lutheran worship.
Darryl March 12, 2023
I totally agree with you .
David August 10, 2021
16th century German chorales were never popular in mainstream America from its colonial beginnings. The difference was that years ago Lutheran families raised their children with Lutheran music. The children and young families of my congregation love Lutheran music. Pop music is also difficult to learn and especially to sing as a group, because it is soloistic by nature. That’s why congregational singing is dead in the secular world. Any song requires some teaching. And while no form of music is expressly commanded or forbidden in Scripture, and certainly culture must be taken into account, there are some forms that are more conducive toward congregational, gospel-centered, catechetical singing, and others which tend to be more soloistic, individual-centered, and entertainment-based. We remain evangelistic at the core, using what best teaches and communicates the gospel. There is room for Christian freedom there. The LSB actually makes use of a variety of tunes, old and new, many of which are not modeled after the 16th century rhythmic chorale. I enjoy blues, rock, and other forms of music. But simply copying the styles of the day which were formed and are used for very different contexts than the Divine Service is not wise. I can remember my unbelieving high school friends in Seattle making fun of Christian music which copied heavy metal and grunge. They did so because they knew what message and context for which those styles were composed. The Christian message just didn’t fit. Drugs, sex, and rebellion did. Christians were mimicking it and doing a poor job. They actually had more respect for liturgical Christianity! Now I know you aren’t necessarily advocating for any form of music for the Divine Service. My point is that simply looking at what styles most people listen to isn’t the answer. It also quickly dates itself as preferences change and doesn’t give the people something which will endure to the next generation. What can be sung for someone on their death bed? What songs will be known and loved by multiple generations? What best teaches and proclaims our theology and is congregational by nature? That is what I want to sing in church. You are right, music is cultural. The Christian message is counter-cultural. The music should reflect the message.
Alan Creek August 10, 2021
Well put! AMEN!
Kenneth Howes August 10, 2021
What I’ve seen is that the contemporary worship is really something foisted on the church by my own Boomer generation. As you hear most of the “praise songs” in a 70’s folk-rock style, that should tell all. Most of the younger people I know prefer the older hymns–and generally make a point of making it to communion services. Religion is about something–and SOMEONE–greater than we. The praise music sacrifices the awe that goes with the older hymns. In the meantime, there are some really excellent contemporary songs. The work of Stephen Starke is amazing. One contemporary song that I actually used to use in my services as the Agnus Dei during Lent and Easter is “The Lamb”, written by one of our professors at Concordia-Bronxville.
The other trap is that most (not all) of the available contemporary praise music is of Baptist and Pentecostal origin, reflecting their emphases and sometimes even the errors in the teaching of those groups.
Micah Schmidt August 10, 2021
I agree that the standing of hymnody (and especially liturgy) in the LCMS is not ideal.
Thinking historically, from Luther and Rhau in the 1500s to Prætorius and Schütz in the 1600s, to Bach in the 1700s, to Mendelssohn in the 1800s, to Distler in the 1900s, the best Lutheran composers have always worked to wed the musical tradition of the past with new techniques in their efforts to musically interpret God’s Word. (learned that in “Musica Christi” by Marion Lars Hendrickson). I’m not sure what it would look like, but it seems like something of a “traditional yet contemporary” effort might be in order.
Thank you for posting this.
Jim Kerner August 10, 2021
Since I’ve retired I’ve gotten to visit more LC-MS churches. I believe the problem is that too many organists just don’t know how to play Lutheran hymnody (or any other hymnody either). They play it s—l—o—w; they play in a monotone (no change in pace or emphasis). I once heard Wynton Marsalis explain synchopation using Luther’s edition of “A Mighty Fortress”. He did it respectfully and did it for a purpose. If only our church musicians cared enough to listen to how our hymns should be played! I think that many of the people on the LSB committee were trained church musicians; they know how to play. Unfortunately, most organists in churches are not trained. Yes, we shot ourselves in the foot, but not necessarily by using “classical style” music, but by forgetting that the vast majority of our churches do not have church trained musicians.
Rev. Dr. John M. Ramey August 10, 2021
Dr. Raabe’s analysis of the situation is “spot-on.” The musical tastes and listening habits of 21st Century Americans run counter to the traditional liturgical and hymnodic rhythms and voicings. I, too, have been raised on traditional hymns and liturgy; but I was also raised with additional songs and hymns from various traditions that gave them a feel that was “uplifting” in comparison. The theology of the hymnody is truly a blessing to the church, but it’s lost because of its musical “awkwardness” for most people. There is nothing wrong with transposing the traditional into a new rhythm or sound – especially if it connects with the modern ear and opens the door to sharing the truth.
Derek August 10, 2021
Sometimes I worry for the LCMS. Sometimes I think we are so caught up in forcefully maintaining the man made “traditions” of our church that we lose focus on its purpose. If we raise our kids on traditional hymns then by golly they will grow to like them. Maybe. But isn’t a big part of our purpose reaching the lost? Paul instructs us: “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” Now some churches today take that to mean they should compromise their theology to reach people. I believe that is a mistake. But the Jesus I know would not turn away his lost sheep because of their preference for certain musical styles. Music has always been a way to praise God. Does anyone seriously believe that God cares what instruments are used to praise him? Ensuring the chosen songs are consistent with our theology is a responsibility of the called staff just like all other aspects of worship including their message. If the songs chosen are in line with our theology then we should celebrate them with joy. And perhaps we will save some.
Robert August 10, 2021
How many organists are going to be available as time goes on?
Karl Rovey August 10, 2021
That is a valid concern. I’m a relatively new DPM. When I was at Concordia, Nebraska as a student, we only had about 25 organ students (when in the past, every student was required to achieve organ proficiency). At the same time, the practice organs were getting nearly as much use as when they had to schedule over 150 students for practice time. I would suggest that the playing quality is greater while the quantity of students is greatly decreased.
Now, as to a solution to a potential quantity issue, I suggest that DPMs offer lessons (should they play organ) and encourage congregation members to learn more about the organ and take organ lessons. Make congregants aware of the opportunity for those under 30 to have a year of free membership in the AGO (American Guild of Organists) this year. Be involved in the music programs in the community. Play recitals (and don’t be afraid to use easier music that still sounds good). Take the time to figure out how to get everything out of the organ(s) you play regularly.
Unfortunately due to Covid, I haven’t had a normal year yet and haven’t been able to fully follow through on my own suggestions in the previous paragraph.
K. Kepler August 26, 2021
Robert, not many. I am an AGO organist, age 70. I’ve been playing church organs since the 1960s as a teenager. The AGO membership is about half of what it used to be, and the “Special” category (ages 65 and above) recently became the largest. I see more unplayed organs in churches than organists without jobs — though doubtless there are some. However, churches don’t do much to move our careers forward. One church I served decided my hourly pay should be the same as the custodian. Another “balanced their budget” about half of the time by freezing salaries; the buying power of my wages dropped 20% in 15 years. I have had clergy tell me how to play each piece before the service began. Dare I add, probably a third of male organists are gay. It’s not an inviting world. I made it through life as an organist, but not many of today’s Generation Z will. I see two tracks: one, some churches will be serious about their organs and musicians and will honor them accordingly; two, other churches will dump their organs and go contemporary and think they have found the solution.
Steve Brummett August 10, 2021
Delwyn, since you know nothing about me, I will excuse your tone and your assumptions. I know what my teens listen to because I am around them. Your assumptions betray your bias. Therefore perhaps you might consider the 8th commandment before you comment. As for Flame, I love his music. Why you chose to bring him in I don’t know. But he even states his music is not created for the Divine Service.
Delwyn Xavier Campbell, Sr. August 11, 2021
I thank you for your graciousness, although I have made no assumptions; I only asked questions. I did make some suggestions to consider, because I also have children, one of whom is now an adult, and when he was younger, he hated Hip-Hop. Now that he actively works as a music teacher, he is not only familiar with Hip-Hop, but with a whole lot of other music genres, and he actively listens to all of them. I had no bias, because, as you pointed out, I do not know you at all, just as you do not know me at all. I brought him in because, in a recent interview with Rev. Dr. Steve Schave, many people commented about FLAME’s music, expressing fears of his songs being brought into the Divine SErvice, an idea that both he and I found amusing (we are friendly associates).
Steve Brummett August 10, 2021
Derek, your assumptions are also inappropriate. My children are not mini-me’s. The point is that children learn what they are taught. If you raise a child around abuse they learn that. I you raise them around love they learn that. You also might do well to consider the 8th commandment before you comment, trusting that the individual to whom you are speaking knows more about his situation than you.
Derek August 11, 2021
Steve, I made no assumptions about your children. In fact I quite clearly left open the possibly that children may or may not follow that path. The fact that your children have grown to love the music of their parents is wonderful. My point was only that not all children will, even if “taught” the old hymns. I’m not sure why you are so sensitive as nothing was directed at you personally and I am certain that you can point to nothing in what I wrote that makes any assumptions about you or your children. No one is attacking you or bearing any form of false witness. The idea of raising mini-me’s has nothing to do with you or your children, but rather the idea that the only acceptable path is the one paved by their parents. Music is a beautiful form of expression and different people will naturally have different preferences.
JoAnne Fox August 10, 2021
Thank you for your thoughtful essay. The hymns that Martin Luther wrote in the 1500’s *were* contemporary, in the 1500’s. Todays Christian artists, and hopefully also some of our Pastors, are often offering the same theology in a format “contemporary” to the 2020’s. I personally often find the hymns of the LSB difficult to follow, and distracting from worship in their language – when an unknown and archaic word or phrase crops up that becomes my focus. Our purpose as LCMS should not be to do everything exactly the way it was done 150 years ago (just in English), but to extend the message of Grace thru Faith, learned through the Word to as many people as we can. As long as the underlying theology is right, what difference does it make if the instruments accompanying a song/hymn are organs, flutes, guitars or synthesizers?? It’s been nearly 15years ago that some contemporary Christian songs were evaluated for congruence with LCMS teachings – many were found to comply. Make them part of LCMS heritage now.
Karl Rovey August 10, 2021
These suggestions (uniquely Lutheran hymns in theology with a modern/contemporary sound) have been tried by the synod and were a complete non-starter. The texts and music written for the project never saw widespread use. Why? The general answer was that the congregations using contemporary worship wanted music that would be on the radio, on the top CCLI lists, etc. In order to get a song on those lists, you have to be ambiguous and discard theology that is uniquely Lutheran. The lyrics can’t contain theology objectionable to other denominations. I don’t know if you’ve checked lately, but a lot of Lutheran Theology is objectionable to other denominations. Just about every other denomination rejects our view on baptism and the Lord’s Supper for example. As such, you will never get a song espousing the Lutheran views on baptism, communion, confession, etc on those lists because they will have no appeal outside the Lutheran Church. So what do we do instead? Take our worship and music and do it to the best of our abilities. This means organists need to learn to fully utilize the organ at their congregations. Encourage instrumentalists in the congregation to use their abilities in church. We could also have performances of famous works of sacred music written by Lutheran composers outside of our normal services. After all, theologically liberal denominations can pack their churches for performances of famous works by Lutheran composers despite rejecting the theology espoused in those works. Why can’t we do the same (speaking of presenting such concerts with one difference, we believe the theology espoused in those works). Where this is beyond the abilities or resources of a congregation, try pairing up with other congregations in your circuit, district, etc or presenting simpler works according to the resources available.
Delwyn Xavier Campbell, Sr. August 11, 2021
One of the things that I have noticed, from my own experiences, is that CCM music tries to become as popular in the general market as Gospel music is in the Urban market. There is a difference between the two genres though, which reflects a difference in culture. Gospel music plays on pretty much all urban radio stations, from classic R&B to Hip Hop. CCM does not play on Top 40 stations on Sundays. Gospel music includes both groups and choirs, so it is possible to hear a song on the radio that CAN BE USED on Sunday. CCM consists of soloists and groups, none of which can be effectually used on Sundays other than as a special music segment. The closest thing within CCM would be some of the songs from the “Jesus Music era” by Keith Green and some others, not Carman, who is more like Kirk Franklin is today, and some of the Calvary Chapel music (Maranatha Singers).
John C Wohlrabe Jr August 11, 2021
Karl and Steve have stated my thoughts on this issue very well. I would ask Dr. Raabe why the Church must compete with the market place of contemporary society, when the message of the Gospel runs counter to so much of what is being put forth in that market place, including contemporary Christian music? The message of the Lutheran Church should be the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes all Scriptural doctrines connected to that central message of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Our liturgy and music should support that message as well. That is why since 1847 our LCMS constitution has maintained “Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbook, and catechisms in church and school” (Article VI.4). We should be catechizing our members, young and old, regarding the reason for this instead of seeking to embrace that which is heterodox in order to try and attract or keep people in the pews. It is that pure Gospel message that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). As an aside, I believe that Dr. Gene Veith has stated very well the advantages for using a doctrinally pure hymnal like the Lutheran Service Book: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2021/08/the-advantage-of-using-hymnals/.
Tom Koenig August 11, 2021
Very well said.
Guillaume Williams August 11, 2021
Then there is this: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2021/08/the-advantage-of-using-hymnals/?fbclid=IwAR3_VVhSG3X9V45fsGGT4uomzTN67ukxKaETuDvClF6j0TIwjtBwp2Wsies
Jim Wright August 11, 2021
There’s a noteworthy effort called “The Hymnal Project” https://www.thehymnalproject.com/ that has put modern settings on great hymns in a rendering that average people might identify with. They are done with piano and voice. However, if you want people to really sing, there’s nothing like a lalented organist. So many sounds and volumes are possible, phrasing the music to emphasize the meaning. Most of our churches don’t have easy access to these people. Since they have devoted their life to the music of the church, they need to be supported vocationally. The seminaries have made an effort to offer continuing education to non professional organists, which we applaud.
Delwyn Xavier Campbell, Sr. August 13, 2021
I don’t know, Jim. One of the churches where I serve, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, has no musician at all. They sing songs from “Lead Me Guide Me” and “The Lutheran Hymnal.” Most of the songs are sung in 3-part harmony by the congregation. My wife visited there last Sunday, and she was struck by how beautifully they sang.
The other church where I serve, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, has a musician who plays for other churches in addition to us. For several years, he was the organist for the Gary (IN) Diocese Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Holy Angels. He plays quite well and sings enthusiastically as he plays. We have excellent acoustics as well, so it is easy to hear him. The St. John’s congregation chants and sings the melody lines of the hymns in the LSB or This Far By Faith, but no harmonies.
I think that the Good Shepherd congregants, because they have been without music support for so long, learned how to sound good without it, while the St. JOhn’s congregants have gotten so accustomed to Bro. Thompson, they would feel naked without him. Both congregations were doing what they do before I came to Gary, so they were well-established in their singing. I would say that the biggest difference between the two is that the Good Shepherd congregants are VERY familiar with their hymnody, while the St. John’s congregants are not as familiar with theirs. Sometimes their music director selects songs that the congregation seems to not know at all, based upon what I hear in the singing.
Hand G Springer August 11, 2021
Right on Brother Paul
Doug August 11, 2021
As one who first learned German and Latin in Kindergarten choir (have to keep the Omas and Opas happy on Weihnachtsabend — and it’s not “egg shells” – yes, Mr. Wegehaupt) and who continued to sing in choir, including The Kappella at Concordia Teachers’ College – RF, and who was given many years of first piano and then organ lessons (only to finally be told at RF that I would never be a good organist, stick to choir – THANK YOU, Prof. Zeddes!), I would remark and as one raised on the page 5, 15 hymnal. And who remembers, fondly, the Chicago Folk Mass of the late 1960s/early 70s as one of the first liturgies that was both contemporary and fairly theologically sound (still like the setting for The Lord’s Prayer)
The old 5, 15 hymnal was very choir and 4-part harmony congregational singing and not a bit (okay often a lot) of a bear to play the hymns on the organ.
The replacement service books were much more organist friendly, pretty much ditching 4-part harmony for playability, the congregation now just doing melody. This was not a good move IMHO.
It is possible to have “contemporary” hymns and even full liturgies that are “contemporary” – but there seems to be a dearth of people creating them.
And yes, old hymn texts and melodies can be reset to a more modern expression. During this long lockdown and living now in an area with an LCMS church nearby, I’ve been streaming my old congregation from back in Brooklyn. Calypso rules very often. The same familiar texts, the same familiar main melody, all reset to have a modern beat and musical expression be it calypso, R&B, country, or so some other style all played usually from the MIDI keyboard or sometimes a tape. The organ sits unused and that is sad but indicative of what has been mentioned before: a dearth of people skilled in playing the organ.
It is true: children learn what they are taught early on (hey, there’s a Bible verse about that!). So, if we want them to enjoy “traditional” hymnody, they we have to expose them early on. If we want them to enjoy “classical” music (now isn’t that a laugh — all if was “contemporary”, nay even “scandalous” at times when first written – classical now only because it is O L D — hello, Beatles are now “classic” too!)
Me thinks this is much ado about nothing.
Are people in the pews? Hope so.
Are the Law and Gospel rightly and fully proclaimed with the accompanying confession & absolution?
Is the Eucharist rightly celebrated?
The “forms” change.
The Word remains eternal.
And as a wise apostle said “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings”. Let the music flow as in whatever form needed for the sake of the gospel to save souls.
Bethany August 12, 2021
I think a larger problem is that kids are often tacitly taught that church (and the music that is part of it) is something to just get through for an hour or two on Sunday instead of something valuable in itself. We hand the little ones snacks and crayons and toys, and then we send them to the cry room if that is insufficient, but we’ll sing along with them in the car and dance with them in the kitchen to whatever is on the radio/Spotify. If we teach them to be bored with the Divine Service but enjoy everything else, is it any wonder that so few young people enjoy the traditional Lutheran hymns anymore?
What if, instead of trying to make church music keep up with what is popular, we accustomed ourselves and our children to them? I have a toddler. He listens to the usual kid songs (Old MacDonald is our jam right now). He also knows all the words to at least two Bon Jovi songs, some Alan Jackson, and a decent number of traditional Irish songs. He also knows all ten verses of Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice; Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word; and Come Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain. With resources out there like Lutheran Public Radio and other streaming services, he’s as comfortable with hymns as he is with anything else. Kids learn what they’re taught and pick up what they’re exposed to, so teach them to appreciate beauty and truth, and expose them to all their faith has to offer both at church and at home.
David August 12, 2021
God Bless you Dr. Raabe! Thank you
Frieda G. August 22, 2021
I believe there might be a difference between contemporary and more modern sounding songs to either sing or listen to for a special time or for a sermon the pastor is delivering. Why does a liturgical service have to be always done with an organ just because it has been done that way for the last 100 years? Most older inward churches just cant seem to open up to much of anything new or even anything theologically correct, if it is different from what they have done for many years.. Also, they seem to at times, get their traditions mixed up with their theology. People should know the difference as practice can and has changed over time but the right God pleasing teachings of their faith should remain and they should know what they are and why they believe them.
Karen Bushy October 12, 2021
Lots of very long, well-thought-out answers. Mine is shorter. As a life-long LCMS member (80 years) I think the answer to updating our beautiful, deeply meaningful church music is more simple than complex. I’ve heard more than a few organists who seem to think that playing the hymn at a tempo so ponderously slow as to be agonizing! No, I’m not saying to make it like a rock concert, but just pick up the tempo – at least a little bit!!! For about 20 years I attended a large church where the organist did exactly that, and he had everyone loudly and lustily singing all of the hymns! The other thing he did? Lowered the key, just a bit…..most hymns are written with the pitch too high for the men of the congregation (and we women with low voices!) to join in…….Lower the pitch, pick up the pace, and let us enjoy all of the treasured old hymns of the church!!!!
Mike Fieberkorn November 29, 2021
Funny thing, nobody complains about the hymns we sing on Christmas Eve and Day… thoughts? Is this a “taste” issue, or a “formation” issue? I’m not saying taste is unimportant, but formation in the faith is entirely lacking, hence these consumers of Christianity have simply never learned to love hymns, so they can only love what the culture is teaching them to love. We are in the predicament now, that is for sure. You can’ “redo” formation that never happened.
Bryan January 6, 2022
Hymnody is not lost.
I use Nathan Drakes resources extensively and it has been a tremendous blessing for me. As one moving from CCM to hymnody my perspective is that it is a tragedy not to be making modern arrangements of ancient hymns for the purpose of praise, catechesis, and evangelism.
Bryan January 6, 2022
FYI: Huge Flame fan here. His EP “Christ for You” has brought me great assurance and a passion for the Eucharist.
Brent March 23, 2022
So…..church is some popularity contest now? What an absurd way to look at this. The FACT is that in most cases contemporary worship is a dying act of a dying church.
Igor Skrastins March 25, 2022
Opinions are like belly buttons. Everybody has one. Yours is no better than any one else’s.
Dr. Mark Laverty July 13, 2022
This is hogwash, and astounding coming from a seminary professor. I keep reading stuff like: “The musical tastes and listening habits of 21st Century Americans run counter to the traditional liturgical and hymnodic rhythms and voicings.” Awww, the poor babies. The horror of traditional hymns and liturgy! 21st Century Americans want a wittle pampering. Hogwash.
I’d like to see the statistics and research that produced this statement. I’m sure the tastes and habits of 21st Century Americans are ‘all over the map’! And if you use this logic, we’ll have to change our abortion stance, our condemnation of homosexuality and cohabitation and transgenderism, etc., because the “tastes and habits of the almighty 21st Century Modern Americans run counter” to traditional LCMS beliefs.
No. Lutheran hymnody and liturgy is THE best, most expedient and reverent way to proclaim the Gospel. It has been for 500 YEARS!!
Preaching and teaching and Divine Services are not created according what Modern 21st Century Americans want. It’s based on Scripture and what best serves God and preaches the Gospel. Moreover, musicians should NOT be IN FRONT of the sanctuary. THAT is a DISTRACTION from Christ. Musicians belong in the back, out of sight. “Shot itself in the foot.” Indeed. And all the outstanding theologians, pastors, musicians, teachers, composers, etc., are idiots who don’t know what they’re doing. Hogwash. The LSB is an outstanding and formidable gift of the Lord to the Church for clear proclamation of the Gospel.
Aaron David Carlson July 19, 2022
My congregation (St. John’s Seward, NE) uses a lot of blended styles, a lot of Getty (CCM) music, some Fortress Press Mid-20th Century sound (LBW/LW), and of course the usual suspects from TLH/LSB… but all pieces are done with either organ or piano and typically accompanied with university choir.
I think it depends on how it’s done. But I agree that worship music should transcend the ages.
Frieda Griser July 27, 2022
I think the my synod Lutheran church being more conservative is on the right tract, but some of them are living in the past, thinking it is the right and only way. Music is a great motivator and the sound of music moves people in their worship service. Words are important but so is the sound of music, and those sounds should make one happy in a world that needs Christ more that one may realize. In the world in witch we live today. We live in the 21st century not the 16th through the 18th. If the Missouri synod wants to help its people as it has in the past, please know that your pastors need some American (new) Christian songs to sing from their synod.
Dale Gust September 2, 2022