Initial Thoughts on the New WELS Hymnal by Rev. Nathan Higgins

Through its Northwestern Publishing House, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is on track to publish a new hymnal in Advent of 2021. This project has been in the works at least since 2013, when a committee began meeting for the development of a new hymnal. The project is said to include two main books for the pew, a Hymnal Pew Edition and a Psalter Pew Edition, as well as 15 to 17 books and 3 digital products (https://wels.net/hymnal-project-continues-to-move-forward/). According to a blog post from Mike Marquardt on welshymnal.com, it was “The Beginning of the End” as, back in November, “a draft of the new hymnal was turned over to Northwestern Publishing House for copyediting” (http://www.welshymnal.com/blog/beginning-end). A 64-page preview booklet was slated to be released at the January 2020 WELS Leadership Conference in Chicago.

As an outsider to the Wisconsin Synod (I am a Missouri Synod pastor,) my familiarity with the WELS hymnal project and its contents is negligible. As one who has a modest hymnal collection (and owns a copy of Wisconsin’s 1993 Christian Worship, as well as the 1996 ELS Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary,) I do have an interest in what this new project will produce.

The WELS’ 1993 hymnal introduced several problematic peculiarities into ‘Christian worship’. It followed both the LCMS’s Lutheran Worship and the ELCA’s Lutheran Book of Worship in its use of the phrase, “And also with you,” to replace The Lutheran Hymnal’s “And with thy spirit” (Et cum spiritu tuo) in the salutation. More troubling was Christian Worship’s rendering of the Nicene Creed’s “homo factus est” as “and became fully human” (CW, p.18).

Among the elements that are being added to the liturgy, the following were announced at the head of their “The Service” preview page (https://www.christianworship.com/preview/service):

1. A text of “Lord, Have Mercy” that “traces its origins to the Eastern church’s Litany of Peace”.

2. Responses after the readings (“The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.”)

3. Praying the Prayer of the Church prior to the Offering, and inviting the Congregation to be seated for this prayer.

4. A “Prayer of Thanksgiving,” which is more commonly known as a eucharistic prayer, which was said to have been introduced into the Wisconsin Synod in its Christian Worship: Supplement.

As I said, being an outsider to the Wisconsin Synod, I am little more than a casual observer in these matters. I will be particularly interested to see what is produced in the area of hymnody, where they are saying that one-third of their 650+ hymns will be new, or “new to us,” not having previously been included in Christian Worship (1993) or the Christian Worship: Supplement (https://www.christianworship.com/resources/qa).

7 thoughts on “Initial Thoughts on the New WELS Hymnal by Rev. Nathan Higgins

  1. Here’s a few other items of interest about this new hymnal:
    First, at the recent WELS Lutheran Leadership Conference in a session on the hymnal that was live streamed, they stated that of the new hymns 20 would be Getty songs, and another 40 would be contemporary.

    Second, they will also include old texts with new musical settings. These old texts may either be new to the hymnal or ones that were already in the 1993 hymnal ( but now with a different musical setting).

    Third, as far as I’m aware, they’re using the NIV2011 for the psalter and other biblical language.

    Finally, they will keep the response as “and also with you.” But I have no idea about the language of the creed.

  2. >>More troubling was Christian Worship’s rendering of the Nicene Creed’s “homo factus est” as “and became fully human”

    It is sad to see the mental gymnastics done by our WELS brothers to defend this. Yes, I understand in a cultural vacuum it is a theoretically objective translation of the original. But we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world where the masculine humanity of Jesus is being more and more attacked, for example the blasphemous “Christa” female crucifix that was installed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City exactly at the time Christian Worship was produced. In such a context, a totally unnecessary change that to average ears seems in English to likewise call into question the masculinity of Jesus was extremely misguided.

  3. 2. Responses after the readings (“The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.”)

    While vacationing this year, I visited a WELS congregation for the first time.
    After the first reading the pastor said, “This is the Word of the Lord.”
    I automatically say, loudly, “Thanks —-” before realizing I was the only one responding.
    I didn’t know they didn’t normally do that.

    I got a good chuckle out of that hehe.

  4. At the onset, the new Christian Worship: Hymnal appears to be a good middle ground between ELW and LSB. Without knowing if CW:H will refer to Jesus as “fully human” or “made man,” the style, artwork, and layout are in the realm of the modern looking ELW, while LSB mirrors a traditional and even dated look. The creme colored (yellowed appearance?) pages don’t help. There is no doubt that CW:H will contain hymns and other content that unabashedly proclaim “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” much as its counterpart in Missouri, while ELW allows for alternate interpretations. Two of the three main liturgies in CW:H will contain music new to the WELS. ELW also contains new liturgical music, while LSB remained closer to the tried and true of past LCMS hymnals. In short, CW:H seems to have collated many strengths from both ELW and LSB.

  5. From what I gather from the website, it does appear NIV11 has been used. Once the hymnal sampler is released we will know for sure. If that is the case, despite the other strengths of the hymnal, I do believe that some congregations may choose not to utilize it based on the NIV11. Mine for one voted not to use NIV11 back in 2012.

  6. As a Catholic reading this seeking to understand Lutheranism more fully, it’s interesting that Lutheran groups followed the rather poor (and recognized by the Catholic Bishops of the United States as poor) translations of “Dominus Vobiscum” “Et cum Spiritu Tuo”, in the Novus Ordo Missae, as “The Lord be with you” “And also with you,” having now been updated and replaced with “The Lord be with you” “And with your spirit”. This is much closer to the Tridentine Mass formula which is the same as that of the New Mass, since the official texts promulgated by Rome are still in Latin. It is regretable that you have followed in our erroneous footsteps, and just as sad that you haven’t followed us in correcting our errors. In so far as I can, I apologize on behalf of my Church for leading you astray, even in so minor a transgression, and I hope it is rectified soon in your churches, as it has been in ours.

  7. I came across a Lutheran service which used “The Lord be with you.” followed by, “And with you, his servant.” I agree that, “And with your spirit.” is preferable, but I wonder how others here feel about “… his servant.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.