A reason for the new WELS hymnal project

I’ve been looking for a stated reason why we are making a new hymnal. I’ve been afraid that the primary reason was simply to create something new, a generally bad reason for almost anything, but especially bad applied to the public worship of God’s people. However, in the March 2014 WELS Connection Close-up, there is a lot more background on the hymnal project, including an interesting quote from Rev. Bryan Gerlach, the director of the Commission on Worship for the WELS:

“The goal of a new hymnal 30 years after Christian Worship allows for several benefits. It provides for earlier and wider usage of excellent new hymns, addresses beneficial worship trends, consolidates WELS’ primary worship resources into one book, and contributes to unity within the WELS.”

There is a lot of latitude within the statement, but at least it can indeed be taken positively. Outstanding questions I notice are:

  • What “excellent new hymns”? There are indeed great new hymns, but wasn’t this addressed by the supplement?
  • What “beneficial worship trends”? I’m excited to see a focus on rediscovering music throughout the service, especially in the form of chant. Some of what I saw at the 2011 WELS Conference on Worship and the Arts was very exciting. Is this the direction? Or are we going in the negative direction of continuing to walk as close as we can to the precipice of “contemporary worship” without thinking we’ve fallen?
  • Wouldn’t consolidating WELS primary worship resources into one book be achieved by publishing a Hymnal+Supplement? I’m a little worried that this is a pipe dream, given that the church I attend hasn’t even purchased pew supplements. We rarely even open the hymnals anymore, opting to reprint the bulletin each week. (A necessity when the liturgy rarely is verbatim CW/S/OS.)
  • “Contribute to unity in the WELS…” I’m somewhat cynical here. Unless we are actually willing to address difficult questions of practice and doctrine when people disagree, there is no way we will achieve unity. See the ongoing NIV2011 debacle for an example. Those who are trying to create a mishmash “blended” worship experience will not be constrained by a new liturgy. Those who are trying to go full bore CoWo are (hopefully) going to find nothing in a new hymnal project. Those who want a strong, solid, confessional, historic liturgy will hopefully find a wonderful resource in the new hymnal, but I’m only mildly optimistic about this happening. How does this contribute to unity?

One encouraging quote from the director of the new hymnal project, Rev. Michael Schultz:

“This project is predominately about continuing to make excellent worship resources available to the congregations of our synod. With the expectation in our day and age that these resources will be digital and downloadable device-ready, the technology aspect of the project will certainly be receiving our attention. We do recognize, however, that before worrying about the method of media delivery, we have a higher concern about the integrity of the materials — that they are faithful to God’s Word and that they proclaim Christ as Savior and King.”

Nitpick: Proclaim Christ crucified. I’m sure that he meant this, but it is so incredibly easy to fall into the Theology of Glory trap that so much of modern “worship” falls into, we should be very specific. Worship is about bringing God’s gifts to His people. In the process of which, they proclaim Christ as Savior and King. I fear that we often go off base by reversing this.

I am encouraged that although technology seems to be a focus, they place a higher emphasis on the “integrity of the materials”.

The Worship Conference this summer will be interesting. I’m hopeful that the new hymnal will be a massive improvement over the existing one — and there are definite places the existing one falls short — and pray that we don’t fall into the trap of trying to please everyone at once.

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