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Tear It Out of the Hymnal!

January 29th, 2011
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I get a lot of interesting communications from across the Missouri Synod here at Concordia Publishing House, on a wide variety of topics and issues. Just when I think I’ve seen or heard it all, I see something that I’ve never seen before. That happened again recently. A pastor gave us a lot of feeback and input on a wide variety of resources. He told us he has been in the ministry for twenty-five years. He commented on Lutheran Service Book and declared that only 40% of the hymns in it are “singable.” Ok. But it got more interesting. He said he likes some of the liturgies in it, but not others. Then he said, and this is a direct quote: “Some of it is not so good, DS II.  I told my secretary to tear it out of the hymnals.”

Hmmmmm….a pastor directing his secretary to “tear it out of the hymnals.” Really?

The older I get, and that seems to be happening more quickly than before, I am struck, over and over and over again, but how far removed we are from the spirit of our fathers when it comes to respecting the collective will of the Church when it comes to matters of adiaphora. The principle that what has neither been commanded, nor forbidden, is therefore free has been horribly abused among us to mean now, “Whatever is adiaphora doesn’t matter and you can do whatever you want with it.”

At the time of the Reformation the idea was that although we have freedom, we also have obligations to one another, therefore, I’m not free to thumb my nose at the church’s collective will in matters such as this. And so, here we have a pastor directing a parish secretary to deface the church’s hymnal because he, the pastor, in his vast and infinite wisdom, decides he doesn’t like Divine Service II, therefore, he, the pastor, has the right to take his congregation’s hymnals and tear a chunk out of them.

Am I wrong in my thinking here? Or does this perfectly illustrate a problem that is pandemic among us?

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  1. Meoip
    January 29th, 2011 at 05:59 | #1

    I’d say it illustrates the depth to which individuals elevate themselves above the needs, desires, wants, and purpose of the group. This frustrates me not because his assessment is wrong (many of the hymns are not singable, and some of the liturgy are lacking) but because his actions are a grand waste of money. Eventually he will retire and the new pastor will need the missing hymns and liturgy and he will be forced to buy new books of worship or continue censoring the liturgy. One is a grande waste of money the other a disservice to the culture of the church.

  2. January 29th, 2011 at 07:19 | #2

    A hymnal is a tool we use to sing, read, and pray the Word of God into our hearts, minds, and souls. I consider it akin to defacing an altar.

    There ARE things that I would leave out of the next hymnal, but I wouldn’t rip it out of a current hymnal. The pastor is free to ignore things he feels do not serve the Gospel in the best way.

    Finally, because something isn’t “singable” is no cause to remove it. It’s OK for music to challenge the singer a little bit. Think of how many uninitiated people wouldn’t sing “Thy Strong Word” because of triplets or five flats.

  3. January 29th, 2011 at 07:20 | #3

    Four flats, I’m sorry. :)

  4. Rev. J Douthwaite
    January 29th, 2011 at 08:11 | #4

    Yes, some hymns are hard to sing. But I have found that when the time is taken to teach these hymns, they often become some of the most dearly loved hymns for my people. I think very few are unsingable or unteachable.

    As for DS 2, my organists do complain that it is the hardest of all the liturgies to play (I’m not sure why). But to be charitable to my brother, I took his instruction to “tear it out” as hyperbole, and that he didn’t really have in mind the defacing of the church’s hymnals.

  5. Steve Foxx
    January 29th, 2011 at 08:46 | #5

    Pastor M,
    We have individually set ourselves up as so much more than we really are. We have taught and bought into the psychology that it is really all about us, we are our own truth, our own god, we decide that another does not deserve to live and develop within us because it’s not convenient for us. That has infected even those of us who do believe and have faith because we are all sinners.

    Lord have mercy!

  6. Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
    January 29th, 2011 at 09:45 | #6

    I hope this same technique is not applied to those passages in the Bible that are not doable.

  7. Craig
    January 29th, 2011 at 13:37 | #7

    Pastor McCain,
    I see how this pastor’s comments are upsetting to you. You ask “Am I wrong in my thinking here? Or does this perfectly illustrate a problem that is pandemic among us?” I think that you are right and it is pandemic. I even remember a Luther Blogger who over and over complained about the LBS’s No Alleluia’s in Lent. He went so far as to call it “stupid”. Here is an idea….All LMCS parishes should use the LSB and if anyone is so wise and knowing as to suggest changes they should write the LCMS Commission on Worship and suggest it to them. Until we have a new hymnal we should be silent and use our excellent hymnal. The LSB should be used as a protection against “new ideas” on worship. If a pastor doesn’t like a particular DS, well that’s just too bad. Do it anyway. That is one of the beauties of the rotation of the DS’s. If there is a DS that is not your favorite, don’t worry, you will be on to another one in a few more weeks. So Pastors please put you egos on hold, may need divine intervention for that, and be thankful that you have the best tools for delivering Christ to your people.

  8. Weedon
    January 29th, 2011 at 15:19 | #8

    Sadly foolish. We dare not forget that the humility that submits to others is itself a catholic virtue, every bit as much as a responsible use of freedom is a catholic virtue. I’d suggest that within our Church’s hymnal we have a wonderful resource that can be a blessing to any parish and that while I wouldn’t have had everything in it that landed in it, given my druthers, I am thankful that the Church is not captive to Weedon’s druthers. Or to any other single pastor or layman’s druthers.

  9. January 29th, 2011 at 16:23 | #9

    You are spot on.

    Treating the rest of the Body of Christ with esteem, love, respect, value and dignity is not a matter of adiaphora. Encouraging one another and lifting up brothers and sisters in the faith is not a matter of freedom or indifference. Bearing one another’s burdens is specifically commanded. If you feel that parts of the hymnal constitute a horrible burden that has been placed upon you, I respectfully submit that you should joyfully bear it and gladly count your sufferings as a participation in Christ.

    The church worked hard on that hymnal and we should not be about “destructive criticism” (literally in this case.) I scarecly believe that anyone would treat a hymnal worse than they would a library book or their child’s refrigerator art.

    Rev. Ehrhard’s comment was the first thing I thought of when I read this. :P

  10. January 29th, 2011 at 18:31 | #10

    I have spoken at almost every district meeting and each time worship comes up that most pastors, myself included at one time are forsworn, when it comes to our abiding by the Synod’s Constitution to use only “doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school.” Because each pastor has decided that he alone can judge the doctrine. Lord have mercy.

  11. January 29th, 2011 at 19:39 | #11

    I tore out Individual Confession and Absolution, the Small Catechism, the communion liturgies, and all the other popery. Now my church is rolling in the dough because I don’t ever forgive their sins and they’re hoping that if they put enough in the plate I’ll start.

    Oh, wait, that was just a nightmare I had one night after reading too much Samuel Simon Schmucker.

  12. Scott Jensen
    January 29th, 2011 at 20:57 | #12

    Tearing anything out of the hymnal is just plain extreme. The LSB is more than just a song book. It’s not scripture, but still a very useful book. Any pastor that feels that strongly about the hymnal should write his own ideas down on paper and submit them to CPH and/or synod for review. Whatever problems he’s seeing at his own congregation are likely at other congregations as well and could be addressed together.

  13. Pastor Steven Schlund
    January 29th, 2011 at 21:08 | #13

    Paul, I would support you, both in your frustration and analysis.

    There has never been a hymnal in which all the hymns are easy to sing or in which all liturgies are used with equal success. So, if that pastor was hoping to go back to a time when such a hymnal existed or look forward to a time when such a hymnal will exist, he is sadly mistaken.

    What HAS changed (as you pointed out) is people’s attitude toward hymns, liturgies, and worship in general. Personal taste outranks almost every other consideration in the choice of worship materials. There seems to be no desire to learn new materials so that someone might come to enjoy more hymns and liturgies. There also seems to be no desire to allow for the fact that someone else might enjoy different hymns and liturgies than I do. Simply tear them out if I (or “we” as a congregation) don’t like them.

    I’ve served a strong rural parish and have come to learn that they didn’t always like their pastor or some of the hymns. But they respected the Office of the Holy Ministry and recognized that worship didn’t start and end with them. They were part of a larger group – the Holy Christian Church. So, they accepted and even endured things which they might not have personally liked. Today, that attitude seems almost non-existent.

    Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur…and I’m not even all that old.

  14. jim in indiana
    January 30th, 2011 at 19:19 | #14

    Scott Jensen :
    It’s not scripture, but . . . .

    But 95% (I’m guessing) is direct from scripture, and even referenced where applicable!

  15. Crysten Sanchez
    January 30th, 2011 at 19:26 | #15

    We received the Lord’s gifts with DSII today. Loved every minute of it.

  16. John
    January 30th, 2011 at 20:51 | #16

    I love all the variety of hymns in the LSB. Sometimes it is a challenge to sight read a hymn for the first time, and in my case, with my deep voice, I like to sing the bass part instead of the melody when available.

    One thing I would nitpick – there are too many hymns where only the melody is shown. I think 4-part singing should be encouraged.


  17. January 30th, 2011 at 22:09 | #17



    If memory serves, the one-part melody line for hymns was decided upon so that the variety of hymns and additional content in the LSB could be made available in a single binding. The four-part stanzas take up more page space so they were sacrificed for the sake of space. The four-part portions are available in the accompaniment books for those with the expertise and talent to sing in four parts.

    I agree that chorale singing would be great and should be encouraged, but classical musical literacy rates are very low… even in many liturgical churches. It is a tragic loss for American congregations. I would suggest that there would have to be much more than a synodical encouragement to sing in 4-parts for congregations; the musical culture of the country would have to roll back at least 100 years. It really is a shame. :(

  18. January 30th, 2011 at 23:13 | #18

    @Crysten Sanchez
    Crysten, I also thought of this when enjoying DSII today! And Rev. McCain, my 7 year old stopped playing with her sisters and jumped up to sing “Thank the Lord” because it is one of her favorites. (Although the Sanctus from DSIV is my kids absolute favorite!) I’m just thankful the liturgy lets them participate in worship.

  19. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    January 31st, 2011 at 18:19 | #19

    I personally perfer the music of DSII to DSI, but my attempt to introduce it to my congregation was quite a miserable failure. I thought that since they’d been using DS (or the old DS II setting 1) for twenty years or so it would have been a breeze. The organists didn’t like playing it and most of the congregation didn’t like singing it. I think the real issue was the commonality between DS I and II. The words are identical, and the music is similar enough that it will cause those who do not read music to struggle to the point of discouragement with it. By comparision introducing DS IV was as easy and pain free as I thought DS II would have been. However, it is entirely possible that the reason they struggled with it was the way that I taught it, and that someone else might succeed where I have failed.

    Going so far as to deface a congregation’s hymnals is short sighted and presumptious. One need only page through “The Lutheran Hymnal,” “Lutheran Worship” “The Evangelical Lutheran Song-Book,” the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal” etc. to find hymns that one would find hard to sing, or that would challenge a congregation at first glance. What you do is take the time to introduce them, through your choir, by having your organist play the tunes as pre-and post service music, and by simply walking the congregation through them, and then repeating this until they’re second nature (which is to say what every LSB workshop I ever attended or conducted said to do). It is folly to think that all the hymns of LSB or any other should be instantly accessable. Some are very easy, some are a challenge. Conquering those challenges is what makes our hymnal interesting and why it is much enjoyed by many.

  20. Randy Keyes
    February 1st, 2011 at 15:08 | #20

    What’s a hymnal?

    Aw, just playin’ with ya! We use those to prop open the doors. ;) (As one who spear-headed the effort to get the LSB in our church last year, I am jesting.)

    It’s far easier to be extreme than to seek an uneasy balance. It’s easier to either blindly follow a pope (Roman Catholic) or to throw away anything that might seem only external and belonging to the pope (Baptist), than it is to prayerfully, exegetically, seek the truth wherever it leads (Lutheran-usually). This is most certainly true.

  21. Matt Jamison
    February 2nd, 2011 at 12:13 | #21

    I completely agree with your call for humility and charity toward others in the church in these matters.

    One quibble, however: the “collective will” of the church can still be very wrong, when measured according to the unchanging standard of scripture and confession. One need only think of the violation of AC XIV that was approved by the LCMS convention in Wichita. I know how you feel about this Pr. McCain.

    Every hymnal that I’ve seen in the Lutheran Church has been the output of a very human committee. Therefore, many treasures of the church are retained, along with some embarrassments. Every hymnal has had its problems, refer to the “Page 5″ debacle.

    What we do not have is the counsel of future generations who will inherit our work in the church. Will Stephan Starke stand alongside Paul Gerhardt 200 years from now? We have no way to know. While Starke has passionate fans and detractors among his contemporaries, things will look different when all the current players are dead and the music is remembered or forgotten on its own merits.

    I think the LSB is wonderful but flawed, just like its predecessors. But I am deeply grateful to all those who worked so hard on its compilation and production and I’m in no position to pass judgment on people who understand the issues much better than I do.

  22. February 7th, 2011 at 13:38 | #22


    What is meant by “collective will of the synod”? Where would a guy go to find out what is?

    And, regarding the “spirit of our fathers,” I’d rather you pointed us to their words. I’d love to see the words from Walther (or Luther) talking about respecting the collective will.


    • February 7th, 2011 at 15:26 | #23

      “Collective will” – when the Synod in convention adopts and approves a hymnal. Walther and Luther — you can search my blog for lots of quotes from them on the fact that we must surrender our freedom in matters of adiaphora, for the sake of our fellowship in Christ. So, in other words, to be blunt about it, any pastor who presumes to order his secretary simply to tear a liturgy out of the Synod’s hymnal is a knucklehead. [I'm using technical theological language here].

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