Some Thoughts on the Hymnody of Lutheran Book of Worship: Context, Issues, and Legacy

By Schalk, Carl | Currents in Theology and Mission, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Some Thoughts on the Hymnody of Lutheran Book of Worship: Context, Issues, and Legacy


Schalk, Carl, Currents in Theology and Mission


It is a common observation that of the three books that historically have been most influential in developing and nourishing Lutheran piety--Bible, catechism, and hymnal--it is the hymnal that, for many, has been of most lasting influence. Bibles may go unread and catechisms set aside as a regular part of Christian education, but it is the hymnal, it can be argued with some justification, that, encountered on a regular basis Sunday after Sunday, has had the most significant effect on the piety of American Lutherans.

It is appropriate, therefore, to describe the context in which the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) took shape and the procedures that shaped the content of the hymn portion of the book, and to assess the impact and legacy of its hymnody on the piety of American Lutherans.

The LBW was the end product of the invitation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), extended in 1965, to all Lutherans in America to join together in the production of common worship resources. The 1965 resolution of the LCMS convention clearly envisioned liturgical and hymnic materials "under a single cover." (1) As far as hymnody was concerned, the wording of the resolution of 1965 envisioned "a common core of hymn texts and musical settings" and "a variant selection of hymns, if necessary...." (2) The following year the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) was formed, consisting of eight members from the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), seven members each from the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the LCMS, and one each from the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (SELC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCC). Its Statement of Purpose described the ultimate goal of the ILCW: "the production of a new, common liturgy and hymnal for the participating churches." The work of the Commission was delegated to four standing committees--on Liturgical Texts, Liturgical Music, Hymn Texts, and Hymn Music. Membership of these four committees was apportioned among the participating church bodies. (3)

Uniting a variety of pieties

The major challenge of the hymn committees was to fashion a collection of hymns that would be acceptable to the wide variety of Lutheran pieties represented in the groups involved in its preparation. The partners in this new venture brought to the table the books they were presently using. The LCA and the ALC brought the Service Book and Hymnal (SBH, 1958), at the time of the formation of the ILCW in use for only a few years; the LCMS brought The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH, 1941) and, a few years later, Worship Supplement (WS, 1969), the fruit of the work it had already done on its unilateral revision of TLH.

Neither SBH or TLH was without its critics. By the early 1960s there had already developed "serious internal criticism of the SBH," then only a few years old, much of it apparently directed toward its hymnody. (4) TLH, in use for almost a quarter of a century, had its own faultfinders whose disapproval was especially directed to the musical settings of the hymns and liturgy.

Both the SBH and TLH, at the time they appeared, were the latest in a number of hymnals produced as a result of the consolidation of various smaller Lutheran bodies, a consolidation that had begun already in the latter part of the nineteenth century. (5) But, for the most part, the previous Lutheran hymn collections in the first part of the twentieth century--such as The Lutheran Hymnary (1913), the Common Service Book and Hymnal (CSB, 1917), the American Lutheran Hymnal (1930), TLH (1941), and even the SBH (1958)--brought together groups of Lutherans of largely similar ethnic backgrounds, pieties, or ideologies. While there were, of course, disagreements among those who participated in shaping these earlier hymnals, those who came together to produce them came with largely similar backgrounds and assumptions as to the general contents of the books they were preparing.

Nevertheless, even some who participated in the preparing of these earlier hymnals were dissatisfied with the final results.

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