Tag Archives: hymns

The rape of the Lutheran chorale -or- How LSB is subtly robbing you of your heritage

I wasn’t going to write this post, because I realized that it might commit me to writing something every week here, and I’m not sure I can handle that kind of pressure.

But then it happened again. I noticed a yuge difference between the chief hymn as sung in church from LSB and the chief hymn as sung at home from TLH. Last week, Trinity 5. This one was a doozy. I thought to myself, “This one is a doozy.” It dawned on me that there was a better way forward than my usual routine of taking pictures of offending verses from LSB and texting them to my friends with messages like “WHAT THE HELL?!” and “ARE YOU SERIOUS??”—yeah, an even better way forward than that, if you can believe it.

If I do end up writing a series, I guess this post will be the pilot episode. So pardon me if I go long on this one.

Last week, which among the churches of God is called Trinity 5 or the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, the chief hymn was “Come, Follow Me, The Savior Spake,” by Johann Scheffler. Yes, it is true that Scheffler became a papist later in life, but that’s a crap attempt at poisoning the well (heh, no pun was intended there, but Luther would be proud). You people still sing “The Infant Priest” even though Chad Bird became a serial adulterer. I know that you think becoming a Roman Catholic is worse, because you’re Lutherans, but seriously, don’t go there.

Here are the TLH and LSB versions side by side. Note verse 5:

TLH 421

LSB 688

1 Come, follow Me, the Savior spake,
All in My way abiding;
Deny yourselves, the world forsake,
Obey My call and guiding.
Oh, bear the cross, whate’er betide,
Take my example for your guide.

2 I am the Light, I light the way,
A godly life displaying;
I bid you walk as in the day,
I keep your feet from straying.
I am the way, and well I show
How you must sojourn here below.

3 My heart bounds in lowliness,
My soul with love is glowing,
And gracious words My lips express,
With meekness overflowing.
My heart, My mind, My strength, My all,
To God I yield, on Him I call.

4 I teach you how to shun and flee
What harms your soul’s salvation,
Your heart from every guile to free,
From sin and its temptation.
I am the refuge of the soul
And lead you to your heavenly goal.

5 Then let us follow Christ, our Lord,
And take the cross appointed
And, firmly clinging to His Word,
In suffering be undaunted.
For who bears not the battle’s strain
The crown of life shall not obtain.

Amen.

1 “Come, follow Me,” the Savior spake,
“All in My way abiding;
Deny yourselves, the world forsake,
Obey My call and guiding.
O bear the cross, whate’er betide,
Take my example for your guide.

2 “I am the Light, I light the way,
A godly life displaying;
I bid you walk as in the day;
I keep your feet from straying.
I am the way, and well I show
How you must sojourn here below.

3 “My heart abounds in lowliness,
My soul with love is glowing;
And gracious words My lips express,
With meekness overflowing.
My heart, My mind, My strength, My all,
To God I yield, on Him I call.

4 “I teach you how to shun and flee
What harms your soul’s salvation,
Your heart from ev’ry guile to free,
From sin and its temptation.
I am the refuge of the soul
And lead you to your heav’nly goal.”

5 Then let us follow Christ, our Lord,
And take the cross appointed
And, firmly clinging to His Word,
In suff’ring be undaunted.
For those who bear the battle’s strain
The crown of heav’nly life obtain.

 

Thanks, LSB, for helping us “keep it positive.” I guess all hymns need to end with a happy Gospel thought, too. Definitely wouldn’t want people to think that those who do not take up their cross and follow Christ might not enter heaven, even though the Bible says so:

Matthew 10:38: “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me.”

Luke 9:23-25: “And [Jesus] said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.

And just so there’s no doubt, LSB’s translation is unfaithful:

Modern Lutherans believe that Scripture is “perspicuous” until some perspicuous passage threatens one of their cherished antinomian beliefs. That’s generally how it goes. So they do things like edit the hymnal, sometimes subtly, sometimes grossly— as future installments will show (dang it, I guess that sounds kind of committed).

With few exceptions, the versions of our great Lutheran chorales which appear in LSB have been just gutted. Maybe you don’t think that’s a fair metaphor. Fine. Those that are not gutted are often critically maimed in small but significant ways. If someone cuts your pinky-toes off, you can’t walk. Yeah, great, no one gave you the Braveheart treatment, but how do you like being a cripple?

Why have our trusted LCMS theologians and “liturgical experts” done this to our hymns?

One reason is that our synod is severely infected with antinomianism. Some would say at the “highest levels.” I have a friend who left the LCMS for the WELS because, at least in his mind, the LCMS is full of “Fordeians” (a reference to the ELCA theologian Gerhard Forde) “at the highest levels.” (I’m not confident about my recollection of the full quote, but those were definitely the last four words.) He couldn’t stomach it anymore. That’s his take. I still wish he would’ve stayed, but like Bill Clinton, I feel his pain (this is the only way that I’m like Bill Clinton). There can be no doubt about it: the LSB’s rape of our great Lutheran hymns manifests an antinomian agenda. Sometimes it’s blatant, as with today’s example. Sometimes it’s more subtle. Later installments (dang, more commitment talk there) will bear witness to this, but I’ll say this for now: LSB’s obsessive stripping away of male pronouns and references to “man,” “mankind, and “men” should trouble you. And it’s all over the place. Feminism is a revolt against the order of creation, for which “patriarchy” is a perfectly good synonym. It is pure antinomianism.

A second reason: Beauty is confusing, apparently, and you’re stupid and wouldn’t benefit from encountering it, apparently, nor could you come to appreciate it. So LSB’s squad of “editors” just flattened the poetic contours of beautiful hymn-verses into Midwestern Nice so that you never have to worry about feeling awe or wonder stirring in your breast. It’s safer that way. You’ll “understand” it better. Snip snip. I’m glad that a hymnal committee didn’t decide what version of Shakespeare we all get to read. Can you imagine what these people would do to Romeo And Juliet? “Romeo, Romeo, huh, that sure is a funny name!”

The arrogance of these lyrical alterations is just astounding. Who are these people that they think they are free to hack away things that don’t fit their little procrustean beds-o’-the-moment? The great Lutheran hymnographers of old are dead and can’t protest the butchery of their work. All of this is like Chesterton’s fable of the gate: two men walk down a country lane and come upon a gate. The first says, “I don’t understand why this is here. Let’s tear it down.” The other says, “I don’t understand why this is here. We’d better not touch it.” To me the analogy is obvious, so I’m not going to bother spelling it out. I will say, though, that I would love to see the edits that our Lutheran fathers would make to our hymns. How would we like that? Probably not one bit. But because we are arrogant and ungrateful children, we have no problem turning the tables.

Whatever the intentions of LSB’s hymn-wrecking crew might have been, this is all objectively insidious: this is how tradition—good tradition, which is the act of passing down good things to the next generation—dies. It’s like the memory hole in George Orwell’s 1984. In today’s LCMS, converts and millennials—anyone who’s grown up only knowing LSB, basically—are effectively cut off from their heritage, and they don’t even know it. In fact, they—and the synod-o-crats who all seem to love the LSB—adopt an air of superiority around anyone who expresses frustration with it. Unless that person is Pastor Mark Preus. It’s really hard to adopt an air of superiority around Mark Preus. Not only is he ten times smarter than you (on the topic of Lutheran hymns and probably plenty of others), but he also looks like he could take a bite out of a truck bumper while singing “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.” Just stand down.

I’m not against new hymns, in theory. Yes, the LSB includes some good newer hymns that weren’t written when TLH first came out, but, really…not that many, when you think about it. And I’d give up every single one of the supposedly great new hymns in LSB if I could have all of Gerhardt’s hymns in their place—unmaimed and with the guts still in. Again, I’m not judging the intentions of (all of) the men who worked on LSB. I’m sure some of them had great intentions. But it’s a bad book. Containing good hymns does not make a hymnal good. A camel is a horse built by a committee. With each passing year, I think more people in the LCMS realize that the LSB’s horse costume is falling apart and the hump is poking through. We’re not going to whoop ass on the Apache while riding this steed.

But I’m going to try to be fair. If there’s a genuine improvement in LSB’s version of a hymn, or even if they just leave it a lone, I will certainly note this and give credit where credit is due. But that’s small comfort, and it’s not going to change the overall verdict, which has already been set by a jury way larger than one autistic guy on a gripe blog. Way larger. It includes those who are dead. (Didn’t Chesterton say something about that, too? Tradition is the democracy of the dead?)

That’s all I’ve got to say for now. If you want to follow along with this project, or work ahead of me, or if the concept of a chief hymn is new to you, consult this list. Look up the same hymns in TLH that are given for LSB.

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