Thursday, April 25, 2013

Squandering the Treasure



By Larry Beane

One of the official publications of one of our LCMS Districts reports that a retired pastor has just been given an honorary doctorate from one of the Concordia universities owing to the fact that under his leadership, his congregation's music "transitioned from the emphasis on traditional music and added a more Gospel oriented genre."

Speaking as an adult convert to Lutheran Christianity from a different tradition, I will unequivocally state my own opinion that there is nothing more "Gospel oriented" than the traditional hymnody from our Lutheran tradition.  But my opinion pales with the historical and cultural importance of that of Rosa Young, the heroic 20th century black Lutheran who founded many Lutheran churches here in the South following the emancipation of the former slaves.  Miss Young wrote concerning our traditional Lutheran hymnody:

“Those words of praise to Jesus and the sweet German melodies made a lasting impression upon my heart. I thought then, and still think to this day, that the Lutheran melodies are the sweetest in the world. Give me my Lutheran melodies.”  

This contrasted with the non-Lutheran hymnody that she described thus: 

“They praise noise; they applaud and approve noise. If one wishes to succeed…he must be noisy. The more noise he makes, the more quickly he will succeed. One has to be a real novelist, keeping something new before them all the time.” 

And again she praises traditional Lutheran worship as a "quiet, decent, orderly service" that causes the "Word of God [to be] sown in their hearts.”

The Lutheran Church is often called "The Singing Church" and Lutheran hymns are known for their theological rigor and their unequivocally Evangelical and Christocentric nature.  Our hymns are nothing other than the Gospel set to music - and that is our tradition from the ancient Gregorian chants, our 16th century chorales, and our modern hymns from within our formidable tradition.

In fact, our musical tradition is one of the greatest treasures that we have in our churches.  Invariably, churches that deviate from that traditional hymnody veer off into the shallowness, legalism, and self-centeredness of pop ditties at best, and heresy and false doctrine at their worst.

But we are now seeing our university system rewarding this abandonment of the most Gospel-oriented hymnody in Christendom with honorary doctorates, and an official organ of our church body calling this kind of thing a "more Gospel oriented genre" than "traditional music."

What a sad betrayal of the legacy of Rosa Young.

For more information about this remarkable Lutheran, see this post by the Rev. Walter Otten, as well as Miss Young's autobiographical Light in the Dark Belt.




35 comments:

  1. Perhaps another one of our universities or seminaries can give an honorary doctorate to some pastor who, despite enormous pressure from the CCM aficionados at his church, maintains the use of Lutheran hymnody.

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  2. Rosa Young's testimony is remarkable on many levels. Her voice is sometimes presented by others as "alone" or "unique" when, in fact when one reads the history of Black Lutherans, it is most mainstream for the first 100 years.

    FWIW, from a former member of the Board for Black Ministry Services

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  3. Dear Father John, thanks for weighing in - the difference between reality and perception is stunning at times. You were certainly in a position to know.

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  4. Dear Vergillius, now that would be a sight to see! maybe a sign of the impending parousia! :-)

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  5. Perhaps one of the Concordias can be inspired to change its moniker to Notre Rosa: distinctive, untraditional, and ... given the changing demographics of the United States ... more in keeping with academic fixations about the virtues of "transitioning."

    Especially if you happen to be a Darwinian academic, of course, but here I digress ... since like a golden dome or a BCS trophy, no such beast exists within a Concordia.

    While waiting for the guffaws to die down, I wish to thank Fr. Beane for his fascinating spotlight on Lutheran history and our oft-neglected saints. I now eagerly look forward to raising song together with the stalwart Miss Young, someday, in that "decent" and "orderly" worship of angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. Surely Miss Young already knows that such a joyous occasion can only be "quiet" amongst those pouting for their "more Gospel-oriented genre." But frankly, from all available reports (e.g., Rev 19), it does look like falling prostrate before God the Crucified, together with a lot of alleluias, is going to be the ordo of the day.

    The victory is ours and Rosa Young's, in so many ways.

    Your (unworthy)n servant,
    Herr Doktor



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  6. As Bugs Bunny often said, "What a bunch of maroons."

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  7. When I read that quote ""transitioned from the emphasis on traditional music and added a more Gospel oriented genre" I wanted to hit the "play" button on the commercial of the man listening to a little girl describe turning into a wearwolf.

    "Um..what?"

    Good grief!!!

    Father Beane, no doubt you intended to provide links to the two fantastic hymn collections produced by your favorite publishing house.

    Here, let me help:

    Heirs of the Reformation
    https://www.cph.org/p-6305-heirs-of-the-reformation-cd.aspx?SearchTerm=heirs%20of%20the%20Reformation

    Heirs of the Reformation is the most extensive recording of Lutheran Orthodox hymnody in English.

    And there is, of course, the ONLY complete recording of ALL of Luther's hymns, in English, available on this CD collection:

    Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants, Truth
    https://www.cph.org/p-6291-martin-luther-hymns-ballads-chants-truth-cd.aspx?SearchTerm=ballads%20chants%20truth


    Your friendly publisher,
    PTM

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  8. My mom read this post and told me that she knew Rosa Young when she worked in Selma, AL. She worked for the Southern District Office for a few years.

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  9. Dear Paul (McC): I did provide the one link (Heirs) and I appreciate the link to the Luther hymns as well. Good stuff.

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  10. Dear Paul (B): that's really cool. I didn't know you had a Southern genealogy of sorts! You need to come visit us in the cotton belt for some barbecue! :-)

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  11. Well, my mother moved down there from North Dakota. But it'd still be great to come down for a visit.

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  12. Larry, I was born and raised about three hours west of ya'll, a true Florida Cracker.

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  13. Dear Paul (McC): And it is almost time to hit that beautiful white sand!

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  14. One of the official publications of one of our LCMS Districts reports that a retired pastor has just been given an honorary doctorate from one of the Concordia universities owing to the fact that under his leadership, his congregation's music "transitioned from the emphasis on traditional music and added a more Gospel oriented genre."

    What District publication? What Concordia? What retired pastor? What kind of honorary doctorate?

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    1. Dear Carl, do the specifics really matter?

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  15. Rev. Beane: "Dear Carl, do the specifics really matter?"

    Yes, indeed! That opening paragraph initiates a discussion about Lutheran hymnology (and Rosa Young). However the article then concludes with this directed accusation of betrayal: "But we are now seeing our university system rewarding this abandonment of the most Gospel-oriented hymnody in Christendom with honorary doctorates, and an official organ of our church body calling this kind of thing a 'more Gospel oriented genre' than 'traditional music.'"

    To make such an condemnation of an unidentified Concordia university giving an unidentified honorary doctorate to an unidentified retired pastor as reported in an unidentified District publication soils the reputation of other Concordia universities, retired pastors, and Districts who did not participate in or tout such a honorary doctorate of betrayal.

    Unless the university awarded the honorary doctorate in a secret classified ceremony, like the awards the CIA gives to its agents for successful missions, which can never be revealed, the specifics of the opening paragraph should indeed be readily available to the public, including Missouri Synod Lutherans.

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  16. Dear Carl:

    I disagree.

    If I said a person from New York City committed an brutal armed robbery, it doesn't cast aspersions on every inhabitant of the Big Apple.

    The problem here is that there is a prevalent attitude in our synod against traditional hymnody in favor of non-traditionally Lutheran genres. Whether this occurred in California or Maine, Texas or North Dakota, whether the honorary degree was awarded to a man named Bill, Ted, George, or Ringo doesn't really matter. And what kind of honorary doctorate is also irrelevant (is there really any difference between specific honorary doctorates?).

    I want to discuss the *issue.* This incident is not an anomaly. It could have happened in almost any district at almost any Concordia - which is the point. It's a bigger issue than any one school, one incident, one district, or one individual. It's not a problem that can be fixed by shaming one district, calling out one school, or holding up any individual for negative attention. That would not address the problem. It is a synod-wide cultural issue.

    If anyone is intent on discovering the specifics, they can probably be found with a few clicks on the keyboard. My purpose in writing about it is to discuss the bigger picture and hopefully find ways to address this at a higher level than social or political pressure.

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  17. And what kind of honorary doctorate is also irrelevant (is there really any difference between specific honorary doctorates?)."

    First, "irrelevant" is your word, not mine. And second, yes, there are different types of honorary doctorates.

    "I want to discuss the *issue.*"

    Fine. But when you issue an accusation of "betrayal" you have gone from the *issue* to the *specifics* of those you accuse. And you make another unidentified accusation of betrayal, "This incident is not an anomaly," although you insert the weasel phrase, "could have happened" in the next sentence regarding other Concordia universities or districts.

    "My purpose in writing about it is to discuss the bigger picture"

    But nowhere in your article do you actually discuss the bigger picture that this is "not an anomaly" or that "It is a synod-wide cultural issue." You open with unidentified specifics, you discuss Lutheran hymnology and Rosa Young, and you close with a specific accusation of betrayal.

    Is it really that difficult for you to simply identify the District publication (or a link to it) where readers may go to get the information?

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    1. [W]hen you issue an accusation of "betrayal" you have gone from the *issue* to the *specifics* of those you accuse. -- Mr. Vehse

      Yes, but are we rascals really prepared to declare that He (Mt 26:21) was in the wrong, or playing mind-games, by making those gathered around Him sweat it out a bit (Mt 26:22)? Of course not. As it turns out, the lack of *specifics* was quite appropriate and captured what was coming down with splendidly divine wryness. The fact is that the "faithful" all betrayed Him, in one way or another. The issue at hand, the issue necessitating the cross, was bigger than any one individual who came to host Satanic desires. A focus on a single individual would not have addressed the problem ("All ye shall be offended because of Me this night...;" cf. Mt 26:31). It's a human-wide problem, whether we are speaking of individuals, societies, cultures, or even Concordias. I dare say, a betrayal of Lord Christ, that dark night, "could have happened" through any one of us breathing oxygen today, had the realized opportunity of ignominy presented itself.

      Wait, though ... this is obviously a weasel phrase, and as one lacking a furry tail, I heartily encourage the dear reader to change that "could" to the ringingly decisive "would." But relax, those of the all-inclusive fellowship of "us," I'm naming no names. Neither did Rev. Fr. Beane. For that matter, neither did Christ (cf. Mt 26:25). And let it be appreciated fully from Scripture, too, that the Master never said that those not dipping their hands with Him in the dish would not betray Him; or would never decide to find Him entirely forgettable, in the presence of His enemies; or would never find His Presence unworthy of an acknowledging nod, bow or a genuflection ... be it at Calvary, or at the Lutheran Gottesdienst. He never said such, and some Lutheran ushers have bragged about never bowing.

      As for putting a hand in a dish with Him, well, for certain ushers that would be less an issue of betrayal than one of courting the unsanitary.

      Maybe it's the contemporary culture.

      Your (unworthy) servant,
      Herr Doktor

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  18. Dear Carl:

    Well, since I'm the author, I define the intent.

    My intent is not to accuse any individual of anything (nobody broke any laws, rules, or anything of the sort) - rather it is to express disagreement. It is to demonstrate how this kind of attitude toward traditional hymnody (which is indeed a betrayal of our heritage) is so "uncontroversial" in our circles as to be cited approvingly in one of our district's official organs.

    The fact that no individual broke any bylaws notwithstanding, don't you find that kind of shocking? That's my point.

    Carl, I fully understand that you would have written a very different article. And you have the right to do just that. Maybe you should sleuth out the source, the district, the pastor, and the Concordia - and do an expose of the individuals involved and publish it somewhere else (all very easy to do in this day and age of the internet).

    That was simply not the point of my article. As the author, that is my prerogative.

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  19. Rev. Beane: "The fact that no individual broke any bylaws notwithstanding, don't you find that kind of shocking?"

    I would be glad to answer that question, if it were the case that (per Luther) "where the sin is quite public so that the judge and everybody know it, you can without any sin avoid him and let him go, because he has brought himself into disgrace, and you may also publicly testify concerning him."

    However, for me and others who do not have the specifics, we must, instead listen to Luther's words, "God therefore would have it prohibited, that any one speak evil of another even though he be guilty, and the latter know it right well; much less if he do not know it, and have it only from hearsay.... False witness, then, is everything which cannot be properly proved. Therefore, what is not manifest upon sufficient evidence no one shall make public or declare for truth; and, in short, whatever is secret should be allowed to remain secret, or, at any rate, should be secretly reproved, as we shall hear."

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  20. Dear Carl:

    The pastor did not sin by not using Lutheran hymnody. The Concordia did not sin by offering an honorary doctorate. The District did not sin by publishing the article. But I believe that the actions of all of them - with the best of intentions notwithstanding - are indicative of an unhealthy cultural phenomenon in our midst.

    There is a difference between calling someone to repentance for sinning and expressing disapproval of their actions.

    The Luther quote is not applicable. But to be frank, I find your rather aggressive "dishing for dirt" here as validation of my decision not to provide a link. The solution to an outbreak of witchcraft is not witch-hunts and burning people at the stake. The solution is prayer, catechesis, apologetics, and in this case, actively promoting liturgy and traditional hymnody.

    You will not get gossip and a witch hunt from me. I believe I have made myself clear on this matter. I appreciate that you disagree with me - and that's fine. But I would hope that we agree that traditional Lutheran hymnody is a great strength of our Lutheran tradition in proclaiming the Gospel, and that the modern tendency to gainsay traditional hymnody in favor of watered-down emotionalism does not serve the Gospel anywhere near as well as traditional Lutheran hymnody. Hopefully we can agree to agree on that matter!

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  21. My fourth post contained no requests for specifics, since you had previously made it clear you would not provide any specifics. Instead my post simply answered another question you asked me.

    But yet my earlier requests for specifics you compare to "witch-hunts and burning people at the stake." At the same time in the same sentence you likewise compare the betrayal of a university's awarding an honorary doctorate to a pastor for not using Lutheran hymnody as "witchcraft."

    If it is "witchcraft", how can it not be sin? If the betrayal is not witchcraft (or a sin), how can a request for specifics be "witch-hunting"?

    If you don't want to provide specifics, then say so, as you eventually did. But it is not a "sin" for me to ask for specifics, nor to answer a question of why it really matters, about a claim that I can now only treat as gossip.

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  22. Does anyone other than Carl not understand that the term "witch-hunt" is a figure of speech?

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    1. Loud and clear here, unless one is found to weigh the same as a duck...

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  23. Larry, I for one thought you were very serious about hunting witches and burning people at the stake.

    As for getting back to Pensacola...we have not been back since the big blow out a few years ago, must get back down to the Redneck Riviera.

    : )

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    1. Dear Paul, my parish is, after all, called (wait for it...)

      SALEM!

      ;-)

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  24. I do have a question in regard to this matter. I believe it has to do with this post, but if it doesn't, please accept my apologies. I was just wondering, not arguing for or anything of that nature, just curiosity, would it be so wrong if we were to take the tradition of Lutheran hymnody, the wonderful Christology, Law and Gospel, and put Lutheran, Christological, Law/Gospel words to contemporary settings. I do love the traditional Lutheran hymnody, but could this be something worth looking into. The Emeritus Pastor left a book in the office called, "Evangelical Style, Lutheran Substance." I haven't looked at it, so maybe this question is already answered, but would it be worthwhile, maybe heal some wounds from the arguments over worship that continue today and reach out to our neighbors who do not share these views. Actually devote time and put quality musicians to this and remove the mysticism, the repetition, and the distinctly 80's tunes. Have contemporary worship, but still have it be Lutheran. I'm just curious about this and any feedback I could get would be helpful.

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    1. “Deviations from traditional, liturgical worship and ceremony are deviations from the Lutheran confessions themselves” — Are the Confessions Prescriptive or Descriptive? – Pr. Larry Beane: http://www.gottesdienst.org/5236.html?entryId=f844a1d9d11f989876f9747f75b3cf95

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    2. “The holy Fathers… instituted traditions for the sake of good order and tranquility in the church.” (Ap XV:13)

      “No one will create disorder by unnecessary innovation.” (LC I:85)

      “We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify…. We can truthfully claim that in our churches, the public liturgy is more decent than in theirs, and if you look at it correctly we are more faithful to the canons than our opponents are. In our circles…the children chant the Psalms in order to learn.” (Ap XV:38-40)

      “Nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic.” (AC Conclusion 5)

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    3. Those who wish to deviate from traditionalism must either: 1) Renounce their “quia” subscriptions (often by an appeal to “show me where that is in the Bible”), 2) Claim the confessions are no longer relevant, usually by way of a form of “gospel reductionism” and the emergency situation that people are dying without Jesus, 3) Argue that Christian liberty exempts them from such passages (usually by playing Formula of Concord X over and against these other passages instead of harmonizing it with them), or 4) Put forth the proposition that the Lutheran confessions are “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive.” — Are the Confessions Prescriptive or Descriptive? – Pr. Larry Beane

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    4. "I was just wondering, not arguing for or anything of that nature, just curiosity, would it be so wrong if we were to take the tradition of Lutheran hymnody, the wonderful Christology, Law and Gospel, and put Lutheran, Christological, Law/Gospel words to contemporary settings."

      I don't think if it would be wrong, but I think it would be at least distracting to see the Fifth Evangelist, Herr Bach, doffing his wig for Malibu shades and a billed ballcap turned to the rear.

      To consider a secular example: Rodin's "Thinker," adorned with a hoodie (or maybe with cargo shorts, for the squeamish), is going to gain something, perhaps even a community's recognition for a moment or two (the contemporary being so relentlessly fleeting); but what are the losses attending the gain? And would Rodin approve? Does he get a vote? Isn't it his statue, too? Or is he just, well, very dead and very conveniently invisible, like that host of heaven which shares our Sanctus?

      Again, the hoodied "Thinker" may not be so evil; but it may be ... forgive the clinical usage ... certifiably so nuts.

      Isn't it enough to be in the world? Why do we Lutherans, the spear-point of the Church Militant, feel so desperate to be part of the world, or given to following it, or have our sublime transcendence bound to it? Why do we choose not to be the salt which preserves and stings that which it lands on, and instead pine for passing gas?

      We are all Lot's wife, increasingly now. Pleasures beckon and hold fast our sensibilities; so we become a frozen salt, a monument to "giving in."

      Your (unworthy) servant,
      Herr Doktor

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    5. Thank you all for the feedback. This site has been a blessing for questions like this very often in my life and ministry. God's blessings to you all!

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