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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Squandering the Treasure



By Larry Beane

One of the official publications of one of our LCMS Districts reports that a retired pastor has just been given an honorary doctorate from one of the Concordia universities owing to the fact that under his leadership, his congregation's music "transitioned from the emphasis on traditional music and added a more Gospel oriented genre."

Speaking as an adult convert to Lutheran Christianity from a different tradition, I will unequivocally state my own opinion that there is nothing more "Gospel oriented" than the traditional hymnody from our Lutheran tradition.  But my opinion pales with the historical and cultural importance of that of Rosa Young, the heroic 20th century black Lutheran who founded many Lutheran churches here in the South following the emancipation of the former slaves.  Miss Young wrote concerning our traditional Lutheran hymnody:

“Those words of praise to Jesus and the sweet German melodies made a lasting impression upon my heart. I thought then, and still think to this day, that the Lutheran melodies are the sweetest in the world. Give me my Lutheran melodies.”  

This contrasted with the non-Lutheran hymnody that she described thus: 

“They praise noise; they applaud and approve noise. If one wishes to succeed…he must be noisy. The more noise he makes, the more quickly he will succeed. One has to be a real novelist, keeping something new before them all the time.” 

And again she praises traditional Lutheran worship as a "quiet, decent, orderly service" that causes the "Word of God [to be] sown in their hearts.”

The Lutheran Church is often called "The Singing Church" and Lutheran hymns are known for their theological rigor and their unequivocally Evangelical and Christocentric nature.  Our hymns are nothing other than the Gospel set to music - and that is our tradition from the ancient Gregorian chants, our 16th century chorales, and our modern hymns from within our formidable tradition.

In fact, our musical tradition is one of the greatest treasures that we have in our churches.  Invariably, churches that deviate from that traditional hymnody veer off into the shallowness, legalism, and self-centeredness of pop ditties at best, and heresy and false doctrine at their worst.

But we are now seeing our university system rewarding this abandonment of the most Gospel-oriented hymnody in Christendom with honorary doctorates, and an official organ of our church body calling this kind of thing a "more Gospel oriented genre" than "traditional music."

What a sad betrayal of the legacy of Rosa Young.

For more information about this remarkable Lutheran, see this post by the Rev. Walter Otten, as well as Miss Young's autobiographical Light in the Dark Belt.