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.

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