What your church gave up when it gave up hymnals

 What Your Church Gave Up When It Gave Up Hymnals — Expository Parenting Ministries

Recommended by a friend... 

I really enjoyed this article and thought it offered some food for thought to confessional Lutherans. The article starts out talking about the development of contemporary worship and the so-called 'worship wars.' We Lutherans may be tempted to pride at this point. 

To the best of my knowledge no WELS parish uses smoke machines and each one has at least a basic Gospel message. But the extreme deviations in other denominations - whether in contemporary worship or social views - gives us cover to deviate ever so slightly and maintain the cloak of orthodoxy. In worship, we can decide to worship from a bulletin - so convenient for our guests - or implement screens, child care during worship (shudder), Pastors in skinny jeans and Pastors with a guitar slung around their back. Maybe your Pastor retained vestments, but under the cover of extreme Liberal churches that are accepting of LGBTQ+ lifestyles and abortion, he chooses not to preach against those things lauded by society content in thinking 'my flock knows better' and 'we don't want to scare off guests' and 'we'll cover that in Bible Basics class'. The problem is these small 1 degree deviations in the great battleship that is the Church will lead to large deviations in ten or a hundred years.

Losing hymnals is one of those seemingly minor deviations (in the minds of some) whose error will compound. I'd like to consider a few of his points in a Lutheran context:

His first three points "A Connection to Church History," "An Immunity to Theological Fads," and "A Guard against Shallow Music" are good ones but are contingent on the hymnal committee if you are comitted to recycling hymnals every three years. The hymnal comittee may be invested in thinning out our connections to church history by incorporating theological fads and shallow music (Ten Thousand Reasons, anyone?). 

His fourth and fifth point "A Teaching Guide to Music Literacy" and "An Audible Expression of Unity in Diversity" are spot on:

"projectors are to songs what microwaves are to meals"

Quick and dirty, a screen will provide a bare minimum for hymnody, but when are we ever commended for doing the least we can do?

His sixth point "A Technologically Impervious Medium of Communication" is what resonates most with me. The sanctuary is not just a fancy word, it means what it says - the sanctuary is a refuge from the attacks of the world. Screens bring the liturgy of the world into our sanctuary. Our lives are dominated by screens. The Church should be a refuge, an ark, a safe place from the demands of this world. This is why church architecture matters. (There was an excellent presentation of church architecture by Pr. Siepert at the 2023 Return to Wittenberg conference, I highly recommend listening to his presentation)  As you enter the sanctuary you are supposed to leave the outside world behind. Many churches, particularly older ones, have a baptismal font at the entrance which you might stumble into - a friendly reminder: "Dude. remember your Baptism. Leave the liturgy of the world behind." Then you find your way to your pew, a common seating for your brothers and sisters in Christ, and remember the brotherhood you share. You look up to the altar and see the steps ascending to the altar - the most holy place, which is no longer divided from you - and your Savior hanging from the cross. Remembering your baptism once again you were crucified and buried with Christ, and much like the firstfruits of the Faith you too will rise one day, glorified. 

In a modern church often the take is much different. There is no baptismal font to slow you down. You were probably handed a coffee by a barista and you sit down in padded individual chairs, bringing the world and your cell phone with you. Along with the individual seats you get individual cups for communion (twice a month, at best) and tune out to yet another screen. The liturgy of the Church has been recast into the liturgy of the world.

And yes, none of these things are in themself sinful. True enough. But they all in various ways deny that the body really matters. It's a soft Gnosticism, perhaps. And while individual things may not be sin, the aggregation, if done in such a matter as to weaken our confession, or to be 'seeker-sensitive' and fit in with the world - may very well be sin.

Finally, for those that follow The Science (TM), we know people who learn off screens retain less than those who learn off paper. A book offers contextualization a screen cannot. I can pause in the liturgy while the congregation moves on. I have spatial recognition of where this hymn is and that hymn is. All of those contextualizations give the brain reference points and anchors to more thoroughly incorporate that information, improving our ability to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest." 

Finally, he correctly identifies in point 7 the utility of a hymnal in the family life. When our church upgraded to CW21 at my church we bought into the full digital package (in fact, in my congregation we picked the number of hymnals to purchase based on the price break we would get on the digital package - an economical decision, indeed) and encouraged members to buy hymnals - but never trained them how to use it. When I browse through WELS Congregational Services resources, I don't see anything on how families are to utilize the hymnal. A big miss, in my opinion.

A great thought-provoking article.