If I were the Devil, by Pr. Klemet Preus

If I were the devil I would try to get people to stop singing hymns. What a great idea, if I were the devil. It seems like such a benign idea. That’s what makes it so diabolically clever. It’s not really awful like fornication or murder. And if I were successful I would make the lives of Christians less beautiful, which if you’re the devil is an added bonus. Beauty comes from God and has a type of self-corrective force within itself. Take away beautiful hymns and you take away a bit of beauty and you win twice. You make people less joyful and they aren’t exactly sure why. But especially I would try to get people to stop singing hymns because such a strategy would disarm them of the weapons they use to fight against me (the devil).


If I were the devil I would convince people that the traditional Lutheran hymns actually get in the way of an evangelistic worship service. These hymns can’t touch the lives of people and give them a palpable sense of God’s presence. That’s would I’d get them to believe. Think about it. Get the people to stop singing hymns. Make them believe that hymns are too difficult, boring and old fashioned. Make them think that hymns are not in the heart language of the culture. Make them think that the old Lutheran hymns are just too, well, too German. Aren’t the Germans the ones who started the world wars and aren’t most movie villains afflicted with broad German accents? Didn’t the wicked warden in “Shaw shank Redemption” whistle the tune to “A mighty Fortress” when he went about his work. And he was really bad. No German hymns for us.  


Then Christians will trade in their hymns for shallow ditties or, better, a praise band which stylizes its music so much that people really can’t participate at all. They’ll think they’re actually doing God a service.


Christopher Boyd Brown says, “The Lutheran hymnals unhesitatingly affirmed the prerogative of the laity to apply the comfort of God’s Word to themselves and their families, and not a few writers, both clergy and laymen averred that such lay use of the hymns might well be of at least as much spiritual help as the pastor’s sermon.” [1]


Brown also says, “By means of hymns, the laity…were able, even in the absence of Lutheran clergy, to appropriate the Lutheran understanding of the Bible for themselves, to comfort themselves and others in time of need, to instruct their children, and to sustain their Evangelical faith and identify in the face of opposition and persecution.” [2]


Don’t you see? By taking away hymns and getting the people to stop singing them I could hurt the people in three ways


First I could make them defenseless against the Baptistic, Methodistic, American Evangelical forces which permeate the culture. Heavens, the culture’s mine. Why shouldn’t the churches be too? If somehow I could get a congregation to call a pastor who was weak on Lutheran doctrine, the people would not have the hymns to correct him when he strays. And I know I could trust such a pastor not to reintroduce the hymns.


Second, if I could get people to stop singing hymns then I would be trashing the Lutheran emphasis on the Royal Priesthood since Lutheran laymen have always taught each other and themselves with Lutheran hymns. Hymns would no longer teach and laymen would no longer be teachers. Parents would no longer catechize their kids by teaching them hymns.


Third, I have been working for over 2000 years to afflict the church with boring pastors and boring sermons. When God reformed the church through the Lutherans, not only did preaching improve, but the Lutherans also almost single-handedly restored to the church a rich hymnody. That way if the pastors still preached bad sermons at least the people got a mini-sermon in the hymns. And they could whistle the sermon all week long. But, if I can get the people to stop singing hymns then I can concentrate more fully on making the sermons dull. And I make it more difficult for the sermons which are comprehensible to be reinforced by hymns.

But how do I get those Lutherans to get rid of such a wonderful God given and God pleasing blessing? I’ve got it. I’ll use the pastors. I’ll send them to Fuller Seminary and other Church growth centers. I’ll get them to read and heed George Barna, David Luecke and Kent Hunter. Oh, Sweet, Satanic, Irony. The first Lutheran pastors gave God’s people hymns so that they would not have to depend solely on the pastors. I’ll use the pastors to take away the same hymns so the people must rely solely on the pastors.


Then I’ll have ’em. And then watch me work, if I were the devil.    

[1] Christopher Boyd Brown, Singing the Gospel (Harvard University Press 2005) 24.

[2] Ibid. 23-30.

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