Great Stuff — Difficulties of the LCMS Visited on LSB and CPH

From Gottesdienst Online, by Rev. David Petersen

Our lives on this side of glory are full of compromise and darkness. None of us has perfect practice even as none of us are free of regret.

LSB has strengths. If a pastor is well-trained and discerning and has deep support in his congregation, he can choose to use only the strongest things. But because it was borne in our turbulent times, and was designed to not rock the boat, the hymnal is chock full of weaknesses. To be sure, weakness is not the same thing as heresy, even as chocolate pudding is not the same thing as poison. There is room in a healthy diet for chocolate pudding. Sometimes it helps the medicine go down. So, also, a wise pastor might indulge his congregation in some of LSB’s weakest stuff for the sake of helping them swallow some of the better stuff.

That is sometimes necessary because the best stuff is not easy to add if a congregation doesn’t already love it. It is almost always more difficult, less television jingle-like. It wears far better, over time, of course, but many people show up tired on Sunday morning. They don’t want to work at learning things, especially hymns. The weak stuff is shallow. If it isn’t already well-loved and known because it is being sung at every funeral in town and is on all the Christian broadcasts, it is very easy. It doesn’t wear well, over time, but like an annoying pop song, it is catchy at first. They are designed along the lines of ear worms and they are also, by design, meant to feel modern.

This is simply the reality of the compromises LSB made. Let no one judge the faithful men who sweated much blood over these decisions. Much was sacrificed to make room for the weakest things so that the hymnal would be immediately usable to our weakest congregations and not require them to change their Sunday services. It was a hugely profitable compromise. At last report, even though prices have gone up recently on the hymnal and the Catechism seems to be going up by the day, CPH was sitting on over 30 million dollars. I think that was mostly made on the hymnal, but I don’t actually know that. I don’t even know if we’re allowed to know. I don’t know if CPH reports its finances to synod members of not. I’d guess not.

Sadly, CPH, and the synodical president, fear giving away the Catechism despite that nest egg and the huge salaries paid to the top CPH executives. I have to admit that even as I don’t know how CPH managed to stockpile $30 million, I am not a business man. I am pastor. There aren’t any pastors in top positions at CPH. Maybe that is because pastors would make the Catechism free to the world and that would in fact somehow ruin CPH. I can’t imagine that it would, but, again, I don’t have any business training or experience. Maybe the Catehism, at $14 a pop, is holding up the whole thing. Still, for me, since I love the Catechism as second only to the Bible, I would actually say that the demise of CPH is a price I’d gladly pay to give the world the Catechism.

But as I’ve suggested before, why can’t the synod underwrite CPH? The executive salaries could be reduced to something less competitive with Zondervan and more in keeping with LCMS parishes and they could be freed of the need to make such a huge profit on hymnals and catechisms? No one has yet explained to me why synodical subsidy for this wouldn’t work.

I am glad for a few things that CPH does. I am not glad for everything it does. I wish it would stop its constant push for contemporary worship. I’ve been told, casually, that they have to do this also for a profit. If we lost CPH, I would surely miss the valuable work that is being done with Gerhard and Luther. Still, to actually put the Catechism out there, to make it available to the world, that would be worth even losing the good work CPH does and losing CPH’s weaker stuff, like the LSB Service Builder’s built-in liturgy editor, Creative Worship, and the vapid VBS songs might actually help us. Am I wrong in seeing all of the problems, both in what they push, and in their refusal to free the Catechism and the high prices of the hymnal, as driven by their need for profit? I am not trying to take pot shots here. I think this is not only the kindest explanation but that is accurate as well.

In any case, whatever the wisest course is with regard to pricing or controlling the Catechism, we certainly don’t serve the church well by pretending that LSB isn’t full of weaknesses forced upon it by the political necessities of its time, that everything in it is good and usable, or even that it is the only source for the LC-MS. In that line, I received the following note from one of our elders this morning regarding the Luther hymn “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold.” Note that Psalm 12, which inspired Luther’s text, didn’t make the cut either. LSB just wasn’t big enough for the whole Psalter.

So what is a faithful pastor to do? It depends largely on the history, circumstances, and abilities of the congregation, the cooperation (or sabotaging) of the musicians, and the good will (or lack thereof) of the congregation. LSB has done us many favors. There are things that very helpful, particularly in the Agenda. But having LSB also open us up to a whole of host of the weakest hymns and several settings and “liturgies” that rather unfortunate. Working with LSB means the pastor has to really work and sometimes he has to suffer the decisions that the hymnal committee has made. It is part of the sad state of our synod and the tyranny we simply suffer. In our case, we are able to print the hymn below from TLH and sing it as part of our Sunday Services. We can’t avoid the weakest hymns at funerals all the time but we are able to keep them out of Sundays. At to this particular hymn, even apart from its history, I think we need it today more than ever. It is worth it to us to print it. But without it in the hymnal many will find it hard to add, if they are even aware of it.

The elder writes:

I thought of you while I was working on my dissertation this week.  A while ago, we sang TLH 260: “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold” in Bible study.  It’s all about teachers of bad doctrine, and you said something about how you never hear the hymn sung at synodical gatherings – no wonder it didn’t make it into LW or LSB.

Anyway, I was reading Joseph Herl’s Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism, and he recounts this from one of the church orders on pp.89-90.

“In 1527 a visiting preacher from Magdeburg, in his first and only sermon in Braunschweig, extolled the saving virtue of good works; whereupon: ‘a citizen by the name of Hennig Rischau began and said in a loud voice: “Father, you’re lying!” He then just as loudly began to sing the twelfth psalm, which Dr. Luther had just recently set in thought-provoking German verse as “Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein”‘ (the above-mentioned TLH 260)…  In 1529 in Lübeck and 1530 in Lüneburg congregations distrupted the sermons by singing, seemingly spontaneously, Luther’s ‘Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein’. This hymn seems to have been so ubiquitous as a protest song that it, rather than the better-known ‘Ein feste Burg,’ deserves the epithet ‘battle hymn of the reformation’.”

“O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold” TLH 260
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546

  1. O Lord, look down from heaven, behold
    And let Thy pity waken:
    How few are we within Thy Fold,
    Thy saints by men forsaken!
    True faith seems quenched on every hand,
    Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
    Dark times have us o’ertaken.

  2. With fraud which they themselves invent
    Thy truth they have confounded;
    Their hearts are not with one consent
    On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
    While they parade with outward show,
    They lead the people to and fro,
    In error’s maze astounded.

  3. May God root out all heresy
    And of false teachers rid us
    Who proudly say: “Now, where is he
    That shall our speech forbid us?
    By right or might we shall prevail;
    What we determine cannot fail;
    We own no lord and master.”

  4. Therefore saith God, “I must arise,
    The poor My help are needing;
    To Me ascend My people’s cries,
    And I have heard their pleading.
    For them My saving Word shall fight
    And fearlessly and sharply smite,
    The poor with might defending.”

  5. As silver tried by fire is pure
    From all adulteration,
    So through God’s Word shall men endure
    Each trial and temptation.
    Its light beams brighter through the cross,
    And, purified from human dross,
    It shines through every nation.

  6. Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
    This evil generation;
    And from the error of their way
    Keep Thine own congregation.
    The wicked everywhere abound
    And would Thy little flock confound;
    But Thou art our Salvation.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — Difficulties of the LCMS Visited on LSB and CPH — 40 Comments

  1. I believe that the word “catholic” should be returned to the Ecumenical Creeds in the LSB. We have no right to replace the word “catholic” with the word “Christian” in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. The laity simply need to be educated as to what the word “catholic” means.

  2. The Synod permits, key word permits, CPH to be run chiefly as a stand alone business, responsible to its elected board of directors. While faithful church workers and laypersons, many directors do not have significant outside business experience, so the board relies chiefly on staff for day-to-day business decisions. Which it should.

    However, it is somewhat awkward that in this day of dime pinching, top personnel at the House make (salaries, insurance, bonuses) make over a quarter of a million dollars each, while the top clergy person, at least a few years ago, made somewhere in the neighborhood of $180,0000 a year. This doesn’t include other key “director” positions at CPH, many of which pay six-figure salaries.

    Perhaps the Synod would benefit by publishing the annual salaries, insurance, and bonuses of all key personnel at all synodical agencies, including the International Center, LCEF, LWML, ILL, and all RSOs. Then, perhaps, congregations and especially laypeople would have a better grasp of how their offering dollars are handled in our denomination, and whether they are getting their money’s worth.

    This information could be published in The Reporter, just as the synodical President’s salary is every year.

    Nothing wrong with transparency.

  3. @Nicholas #1
    I believe “Christian” rather than “catholic” predates the LSB quite a bit. In fact, I believe it has been used throughout the history of the LCMS (you’ll notice it as far back as TLH, 1941) due to the fact that it is a literal translation of the original German version of the creed, which at the time of the Reformation did not have separate words for “Christian” and “catholic.” At least, that’s what I was told.

    @Robert #2
    Absolutely. Transparency is always good.

    Personally, I’m quite a fan of CPH because I love the doctrine of the materials I get from them. Coming in to the LCMS from the SBC, the publisher there (Lifeway) cares NOTHING for doctrine, but just pushes whatever the winds of cultural change says will sell. The type of products carried in Evangelical bookstores is downright shameful, pushing smiley celebrities over serious theologians to the point of exclusivity. To see the type of doctrinal and confessional resources provided by a denominational publishing house like ours is nothing short of refreshing. I’m sure it has its shortcomings, and those should not be ignored or rationalized, but let’s keep it in perspective: They are far and away better than any other publishing house I know of.

  4. @Nicholas #3
    I’m not suggesting cutting, raising, etc. That’s beyond my pay grade.

    Given that salary figures are already “public information,” however, I am suggesting that we make them truly public. Publish them.

    Parish pastors and other called workers are comfortable with their salaries being made known far and wide within congregations and schools; other church workers should likewise be comfortable with such an arrangement.

  5. @Miguel #4

    There is a Lifeway bookstore near where I live, and they sell every heretical thing from T.D. Jakes to Marcus Borg.

    Lifeway itself publishes material written by Erwin McManus, which of course is sold in their bookstores.

  6. The Catechism issue I believe is a symptom of a deeper problem.

    The old guard of the movie, TV, music and publishing industries have had a very difficult time adapting to the change that the Internet has ushered in. CPH too has fallen into this pattern as well. They seem to cling to copyright, they price books like Luther’s works out of reach of most people their desktop software is incredibly expensive, especially for small parishes and their mobile apps show signs of terrible craftsmanship. I am a computer programmer and I, frankly, find their software, both desktop and mobile, to be an embarrassing reflection on the synod.

    And so, I have deep concerns about where CPH will be unless they take a hard look at how they do many things in the face of the changes coming to the publishing industry as a whole. I am critical because I want them to succeed, I believe they have some of highest caliber content in the Christian publishing industry and I have friends that work there. Frankly, I’m surprised of how much great content they were able to push out during the Kieschnick years.

  7. @Nicholas #5
    Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Steve Furtick, and a whole host of other junk that doesn’t remotely resemble the historic faith, even marginalizing the more notable theologians of their own tradition because they do not care about doctrine. Doctrine doesn’t sell. Self help does. Appealing to the fallen desires of sinful man really does. Come get your Jesus fix and it’s like playing country music backwards!

    What’s left when you remove the Christ from the Christian bookstore?

  8. “the [LSB] hymnal is chock full of weaknesses”

    Any chance that associated with this claim is a link to a chock full of specifics?

  9. Self help sells for a reason. A lot of the folks here are guys and may not be so attracted to these books. I am guessing guys aren’t much interested in the self-help Oprah type books in the regular bookstore either. However, if you do go into the self help section of a regular bookstore, 95% of the books are patently anti-Christian. Christians go to the Christian bookstore for self-help books because they want a self help book that isn’t entirely and philosophically anti-Christian. Christian book publishers need to expand to have books on other topics that are written by and for Christians, so that you don’t have to get your advice on how to quit smoking, quit porn, fix your relationship with your mother, etc., from an author who will give you advice that you cannot and should not take.

  10. @Carl Vehse #8
    My thoughts exactly. I find it an endless vault of treasures, and I challenge anyone to name a better current option on the market. Perfect? No, but since TLH, I’m convinced it’s the best in the English language (and my collection of hymnals has 75+ unique titles). But I’m just swimming in a sea of endless goodness as a honeymoon phase convert. Perhaps there are weakness more apparent to seasoned Lutherans that may begin to grate on me after time. But I’m just not seeing it now. Do I want to?

  11. I share many of the concerns cataloged here but as the author of the post clearly states, let’s remember that the editors of LSB and all who worked on it are owed a great debt of gratitude from us. I have no problem saying that the LSB is possibly the best hynnal ever published.

    Unlike the author of the post, our parish uses probably 95 – 98% of LSB. Some of the more fluffy stuff and the international stuff we use sparingly but we have found places in the liturgy where they fit.

    As far as all the good stuff published by CPH during the Kieschnick years, the person who gets the most credit for that is Paul McCain.

    Sidebar – I really appreciate your comments Miguel. You have a great perspective for the rest of us having come to the LCMS recently out of Evangelicalism. Your new found love of the liturgy is contagious. Thanks!

  12. Between our four weekend services, mid-week services and day school chapels, we sing all of the services several times in a church year. (The service of Prayer and Preaching gets the least work out but we still use it on occassion.) We have found LSB to provide enough variety that no one can possibly claim that the liturgy is dead, dry, or boring.

    Continuity is also important. Often, we use a given service for a given church season.

    Speaking of TLH, I am finding that LSB Divine Service Setting Three (the old TLH service) is a favorite not only of old-timers like me who sang it as a child but also the 20-somethings who are just learning it. It is a beautiful service.

  13. @Pastor Tim Rossow #11

    The credit, Tim, for the fine materials coming out of CPH during the Kieschnick years really needs to go to the editors, designers, and marketers–indeed the entire staff–who put these products together.

    One man doesn’t do it all, as that one man readily will admit.

  14. Back to the post… I think that “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold” TLH 260 is an awesome hymn! I pray it often in my devotional time.


  15. Does LCMS have the authority structures in place to enact these sorts of recommendations? Perhaps a more hierarchical church structure would permit the kind of control that is being advocated for here.

  16. Robert,

    Agreed. I am more aware of the leadership and vision provided by McCain than the work at the next level that you speak of. There is no doubt that one man does not do it all but as you know there were all those people in place before he came and as far as I can tell he was the spark behind the “maroon” revolution at CPH (catechism, Treasury…, etc.).

    (Sorry Clint – back to our previously scheduled programming.)

  17. An episcopist polity was tried with Martin Stephan. It didn’t work out so well.

    As was noted then – “Episcopy tried; people died.”

  18. If not for CPH, and perhaps Rev. McCain, we might have had to use the ELCA’s edition of the Book of Concord, which was forcibly gender-neutralized and otherwise corrupted in several ways. It was edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, the latter being one of the ELCA’s leading apologists for homosexuality. See this article and the following comments:

    I wonder why Robert Kolb, an LCMS Lutheran and professor at St. Louis, would have worked on such a project. CPH’s edition of the BOC is far superior.

  19. @Pastor Tim Rossow #12
    It’s been somewhat of a push for me to get us up to roughly 60-70% LSB material when it comes to music, but thankfully our liturgies are nearly 90% LSB. We also stick with the same setting by season, I find it breeds familiarity which in turn helps increase participation. Many find the Service Builder’s flexibility to be a detriment because it allows to much editing. We don’t have the software, but I find the flexibility of the various Divine Services to be quite useful. Being able to mix and match musical settings has made it much easier to integrate the music of the liturgy into services using contemporary instrumentation.

    @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #14
    One thing about Lutheranism that has always perplexed me is how little we use hymns of this genre. I believe Luther himself was the first to paraphrase Psalms metrically, and while we do have a selection of them in LSB, I find it surprising we do not make greater use of these gems. The Reformed really major on these, to a fault even, but I suppose that since we can simply chant the text of the Psalms directly, we have less need for loose paraphrases.

  20. @Miguel #10
    No, but since TLH, ….

    Save your TLH, folks.

    And maybe a copy of the latest Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal, complete with the Augsburg Confession, as our hymnals (in German) were, (and our pewsitters were better educated Lutherans!)

  21. Carl Vehse :
    “the [LSB] hymnal is chock full of weaknesses”
    Any chance that associated with this claim is a link to a chock full of specifics?

    Pastor Petersen wrote a blog post back in 2006 critiquing LSB.

    Click here:

    (((MODERATOR: I’ve modified the link above to include the username/password.)))

  22. Another hymnal that is worthy of examination and comparison is the WELS’s “Christian Worship” hymnal. CW is a schizophrenic mess, trying very hard to be both traditional and modern, multicultural and homogenous, historical and “relevant”. Its adoption in the mid ’90s was a turning point for many in WELS. Financially, Christian Worship essentially served as a bailout for Northwestern Publishing House. Having worshipped using both LSB and CW, I find the LCMS hymnal is far superior to the WELS hymnal. While both have their faults, LSB is less politically correct, more reverent, and more distinctly Lutheran.


  23. @Carl Vehse #17
    An episcopist polity was tried with Martin Stephan. It didn’t work out so well.
    As was noted then – “Episcopy tried; people died.”

    True, Carl, but we seem to have 35 ‘cardinal wannabes’ and no pope.
    And Lutheranism is dying in the Lutheran church. (Or is it being killed off?)

    Pastor Fiene put it better than I could.
    [Google Lutheran Satire, YouTube, ULC]

    The best way to prove that liturgical Lutheranism can’t survive in today’s world, is to destroy it wherever it has. (Apologies to Pastor Fiene to the extent that I misquoted)

  24. @Nicholas #23
    That link is not accessible.

    Clink the link Pastor Osbun gave.
    Type in as “username” the name of the church, lower case, first word only
    Take the server’s advice for the password.

    It worked for me.

  25. @Joel Dusek #24

    Using both CW and LSB (visiting my parents), I find CW to be fine. There are some items I like in LSB that I would like in CW (Biblical ref. to liturgical parts, etc.). I also like 4 part musical notation in liturgical notation. Much of the CW Occasional Service addition is helpful as well. There is room for improvement in both. Having come from the TLH in my youth, it is too easy to be critical of CW. I sure like using CW pg 15 liturgy as opposed to pg 26, 38. But that is my experience in THL to some extent.

  26. —–and what about TFBF-Urban Songbook-non Lutheran elders-sexual immorality L and H and more known by many dp’s and bod’s———————-and these leaders and lackey pastors do NOTHING to clean up the mess with the WORD—–just ignore pastors and members who faithfully call upon the ordained to apply the Law and then the Gospel,but these boys just golf-so it seemsd then comes the threats to the faithful who dare speak up about these and a few women usurping the power

  27. @Rev. Josh Osbun #29
    I forgot that they had put that security protocol in place.

    1. the link you posted is directly available now.
    2. the site was not as direct as you are; that is why I wasn’t.

  28. @Nicholas #1
    Back to the word “catholic”: It is my understanding that the word “Christian” came into the English usage from German–pre-Reformation. The word “christliche” was used in some places and “katholische” in others.

    Can anyone who knows this history more thoroughly shed light on it for us?

  29. Found a brief reference: “In his translation, Luther substituted ‘Christian’ for ‘catholic’ in the Third Article. He regarded the two expressions as equivalent in substance, as appears from the Smalcald Articles, where he identifies these terms . . . The form, ‘I believe a holy Christian Church,’ however, is met with even before Luther’s time.” (F. Bente, Concordia Triglotta, p. 12)

    The definitive history on this question would probably be found in Albrecht Peters’ Commentary on Luther’s Small Catechism recently translated by CPH, which unfortunately I don’t have a copy of yet:

    It certainly was not improper, as asserted above, for Luther and those who followed him to make this translation from Latin to vernacular languages such as German or English. I personally am grateful Lutheran Service Book did not make this change. I believe to make such a change at this point would be theoretically justifiable but from a practical standpoint misleading and confusing–sort of like changing “was made man” to “became fully human.”

  30. land some of our congregations are working to replace Lutheran hymns and worship with TFBF and such and some/many districts and leadership are doing nothing————-and of course much immorality and such are being excused we our LCMS leaders are informed by several.We are waiting for Godly action and correction

  31. Pastor Ted Crandall :

    Rev. Josh Osbun :

    Nicholas :@Rev. Josh Osbun #23 That link is not accessible.

    username: redeemerpassword: cyberstonesSorry about that. I forgot that they had put that security protocol in place.

    I would have though Pastor Rossow would have taken that brazen one already…

    Pr. David Petersen has been blogging longer than Pr. Rossow. It is a reference to David’s sling stones.

    I miss reading the old Cyberstones blog, but he’s still around on the Gottesdienst Magazine Online Blog.

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