Thursday, June 21, 2018

Criteria for Hymn Selection: Theology

By Rev. Joel Brondos

“Theology must sing.”
Martin Franzmann

The first Lutheran cantor, Johann Walter, maintained in the 16th century that music is “wrapped up and locked up in theology, so that he who desires, pursues, and studies theology at the same time lays hold of the art of music, even though he may fail to see, feel, or understand this.”

The Lutheran Confessions even use the text of a well-known hymn to emphasize a doctrinal point (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article I:23, “They teach that what is sung in our churches, ‘Through Adam’s fall is all corrupt . . .”).

Centuries later, the first president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, wrote concerning the hymn selection process for the 1847 Kirchengesangbuch:

“In the selection of the adopted hymns the chief consideration was that they be pure in doctrine; that they have found almost universal acceptance within the orthodox German Lutheran Church and have thus received the almost unanimous testimony that they had come forth from the true spirit (of Lutheranism); that they express not so much the changing circumstances of individual persons but rather contain the language of the whole church.” Hymns selected for this new hymnal follow in this tradition.

In our own day, Robin Leaver has expressed it this way: “For the people of our churches, theology is largely formed by the hymns they sing,” (“Renewal in Hymnody,” Lutheran Quarterly, no. 6 [Winter 1992], 367).

The hymnody of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod is part and parcel with its theology. That which we believe, teach, and confess finds concrete expression through the hymns which we sing.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Paul Ministering in Corinth

Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

Paul preaches Christ in Thessalonica. His opponents gather a mob and set the city in an uproar. They attack the house of a man named Jason, where Paul was staying. At the end of the affair it is Jason, Paul, and the other brethren who are arrested and must post bond. Paul preaches Christ in Berea. The reception is a little better there; but when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul in Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Paul preaches Christ in Athens. He wasn’t physically attacked by an angry mob but, when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, some were converted, and some said they wanted to hear more. Paul departed from among them.

In Corinth, the scene appears set to play out as it did in the other places. Paul preaches Christ in Corinth. He was compelled by the Spirit to do so, Scripture says, and he testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” This time, however, the risen Jesus tells Paul not to be afraid. He should keep speaking, “...for I am with you, and no one will attack or hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” And Paul does, for a year and a half. And the Jews bring Paul to the judgment seat of proconsul Gallio. They hope Gallio will assume Paul is advocating illegal religion and acting treasonously by telling people to pledge their allegiance to a king other than Caesar. They charge Paul with persuading men to worship God contrary to the law. Gallio wants no part of this religious dispute. He tells them to handle it amongst themselves and clears the court. Paul is saved; the one who takes the beating is Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue. The church steadily grows and becomes more firmly established through the bold proclamation of Christ crucified for our sins and risen from the dead; God the Holy Spirit, working as He wills, makes Christians in the face of ferocious opposition through His means of the external word of God.

Paul wasn’t surprised or disheartened when he was mocked, beaten, stoned, and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Scripture tells us he was compelled to preach by the Holy Spirit. He knew what the reaction would be. We also should know what the reaction of the pagan world will be to us as well. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came to His own and His own did not receive Him. Jesus taught His disciples that He was sending them out as sheep among wolves; that they would be delivered up to councils; that they would be scourged; that they would be brought before kings and governors for His sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. Jesus’ disciples, we included, will be hated by all for His name’s sake; but he who endures to the end will be saved.[1] The world hates us because it hated Jesus before us, and no student is above his master. They hate us because of the message we proclaim: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day; that by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death. This message is foolishness to those who are perishing. The carnal mind cannot understand spiritual things.

Being dead in our transgression, we must be made alive by the working of God, through water and the Word. Being dead we must be born from above by water and the spirit. And even though the world may mock us, reject us, and even react violently toward us, we continue to bring them the Gospel, the message of the cross. It isn’t through the elegant turning of a phrase that God makes Christians out of non-Christians, as we see from Paul’s example; Christians are made through the preaching of the Gospel. We must not be afraid to boldly proclaim that Gospel to those around us, according to our vocation. It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.[2]

[1] Matthew 10:16-26
[2] Romans 1:16

Criteria for Hymn Selection: “Sing praises with understanding” (Psalm 47:7b)

By Rev. Joel Brondos

This series is offered for consideration as objective criteria to address subjective concerns used in the process of selecting hymns for use in hymnals and services.
 “The Lord is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2; Psalm 118:14; Isaiah 12:2)

Where there is salvation, there is singing.

Singing springs forth from the lips of people who have been delivered from sin, death, the devil, the world and their own flesh. As Luther wrote in his preface to the Babst hymnal in 1545:

"For God has cheered our hearts and minds through his dear Son, whom he gave for us to redeem us from sin, death and the devil. He who believes this earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it so that others also may come and hear it. And whoever does not want to sing and speak of it shows that he does not believe and that he does not belong under the new and joyful testament, but under the old, lazy, and tedious testament." (AE 53:332-33)

Similarly, Robin Leaver writes,

"Music is the accompanying counterpoint to the Divine message and in all the mighty acts of God, music is never very far away. From eternity to eternity, from creation to judgment, from Genesis to Revelation, the sound of music is to be heard.” Even the heavens, the sea, mountain and forest break into singing." (1 Chron. 16:32-33; Is. 44:23)

For Lutherans, hymn singing is the corporate confession of God’s work in Christ. It is not primarily a clergy-manipulated attempt to elicit certain emotions from people. It is not essentially a human-centered effort obey a sovereign God who demands utmost praise according to His divine Law. The hymns, psalms and spiritual songs of God’s people are rather sung confessions of the works and gifts of Him who has obtained such deliverance as declared by the Holy Scriptures.

The Word of God begets the song of the Church.

Hymns recall and recount the promises and works of Jesus Christ among people who know their sin and their need before a righteous God. In this way, people learn to love hymns not for the sake of their melody, rhythm, childhood memories or sentimental phrases, but rather because they are people who cling to the saving work of God in Christ which is expressed in the hymns.