You may have noticed by now that I am an avid student of Lutheran hymnody. So as soon as I heard that Augsburg Fortress was putting out a new hymnal, titled Evangelical Lutheran Worship, I ordered the accompanist's edition ("service music and hymns"). I wanted to be sure that I could play every thing on the piano or organ and really know how it all goes.
I have it all in my "shopping" mailbox in Outlook. October 26, 2006, I ordered the accompanist edition of ELW ($55.00). It was due to be released in November, about the same time as the Missouri Synod's Lutheran Service Book, which I received promptly in November. ELW, however, didn't arrive until early January.
What did the accompanist edition ("service music and hymns") turn out to be? Well, not what I expected. It was a huge, hardcover binder containing two thick, spiral-bound bundles of large-format paper printed "landscape style." When it's wide open, you get a 4-page spread of "service music and hymns." It's big, clunky, heavy, and unwieldy. It takes up the whole music rack on the organ all by itself. AND it started with at number 151 with "service music" (a variety of musical settings of parts of the liturgy). There was no order of service. I couldn't believe it. My first thought was: "How the heck is the organist supposed to follow the service if they didn't put it in the organist's edition of the book?!" My second thought was: "Maybe they don't do orders of service any more."
With that sobering thought, I ordered two copies of the "pew edition" of ELW on January 5, 2007. Twenty bucks a pop. One, actually, is for my Pop, who suggested that I order it for him while I was ranting and raving about what a crummy piece of work the ELW accompanist's edition was. Today, March 2, 2007, I finally got my copy, and Pop's copy too, of the pew edition.
First observation: Augsburg Fortress's service isn't worth the papal bull that Luther burnt. It should never take two months or more for a newly-released hymnal to be delivered. Never!
Second observation: Now that I've opened up ELW's pew edition, I find out that there are, indeed, orders of service. Not only that, but they contain musical settings (starting with no. 100) that aren't in the accompanist's edition. And what's more, the accompaniment isn't in the pew edition. Where in perdition am I supposed to get the accompaniment for these pieces? Am I actually supposed to buy a third book in order to be able to play everything in ELW? And if (God forbid) I should ever play the organ at a church that uses this book, how am I supposed to play the hymns and liturgy? No organ in the world has room on its music stand to balance so many big, thick books at one time. No organist should be expected to have the energy and available real estate to be continually moving one book on and the other book off the music stand.
Third observation: To the extent that I have perused these hideously laid-out books, they are full of brand-new, unfamiliar, musically challenging (in some cases, nearly virtuosic) pieces of music that will put even highly skilled musicians to the test -- leave alone Mom & Pop Pewsitter. And an unusual percentage of it -- enough to set the tone for the whole book -- is either contemporary-Christian-sounding, or African-American spirtual-type stuff, or tokens of "cultural diversity" complete with lyrics in some other language which have no reason to be in an English-speaking church's hymnal (just as churches that don't speak English have no reason to use this book, even though it has one or two hymns in their language). Musically, it doesn't sound in the least like a Lutheran hymnal.
If Augsburg Fortress had set out to destroy the ELCA's culture of hymnal use, liturgically-structured worship, and congregational hymn singing, they couldn't have produced a more effective tool for the task. This will be the death of any last semblance of Lutheran worship in the ELCA.
And confidentially, between you and me, I wouldn't look for deliverance from that little "Reclaim" rump group. I've seen the introductory edition of their hymnal, and although it has aspirations to be "conservative," it's no nearer to being Lutheran than ELW. An insider told me that the three-dozen-or-so hymns in the book were selected with the help of a poll, in which members of the ELCA were asked to name their favorite hymns. The result is a hit parade of old-time, sentimental "gospel hymns" out of mainstream, American evangelicalism. Gracia Grindal's essay for what makes a hymn "Lutheran" contains toxic levels of Gospel Reductionism, and even the liturgy (which, my insider proudly tells me, is a repristination of something the General Synod published in the 1800s) goes so far in the opposite direction (moralistic Pietism) that it frankly takes the Gospel away and turns even the absolution into strident, condemning Law.
I gave my "insider" an earful about this, but he defended it on the grounds of some erudite theory that somehow never took substance in my mind. Mainly he just said, "Big deal. It's not as bad as ELW, which is re-establishing the Sacrifice of the Mass." I think we were talking past each other on this. Sad to say, I don't think the conservatives in the ELCA "get" Lutheranism any more than the liberals do. The right-wing repristinators of Reclaim consider it enough to revert to settings of 100+ years ago, even when their church at that time was difficult to distinguish from any other American Protestants. The high-church lefties want to raise up the solemnity of the liturgy but, in the process, the Gospel gets buried under canonical prayers and sacerdotalist mumbo-jumbo. The low-church lefties want to set the church on fire with hip, Christian-radio-type music that, in the final analysis, does little more than warm up the audience for either a presentation on how to live better lives or, as in some churches I have visited, an infomercial on why you should give more money to the church.
The teaching of God in Scripture, and the working of God in the sacraments, hardly comes into it. And that is really no surprise. For all of the groups I have just described have two things in common. First, whether or not they know the distinction between Law and Gospel (which I seriously doubt), Gospel is not central to their message. And second, whether or not they believe in the accuracy or the inerrancy of Scripture (which many of them clearly don't), they have never given a moment's thought to the efficacy and living power of God's Word.
If the Gospel of forgiveness of sins had been the engine that drove the Reclaim people, and if they had trusted in God's Word to do what it says, they would have had an absolution that declared sins forgiven and left it out there to do its work. If they believed the Lord's Supper was primarily Gospel (a message of God's forgiveness and blessing in edible and drinkable form), the high-church libs wouldn't have felt compelled to drag Lutheranism back into the Dark Ages of sacrificial theology, and if they had believed in the power of Christ's Words ("This is my body") they would not have felt a need to hedge them with ritualistic prayers invoking His presence. And if the happy-clappy libs believed in the Gospel and the power therein, they would not be so desperate to introduce measures to make the message effective (as if we can improve on God's Word and sacrament); and their message would be one of deliverance from sin and death, not simply self-improvement or capital fundraising.
Beware the three-headed monster! I'm not talking about these three groups, however. Theologically, the monster afflicting them is the very single-minded monster of uncertainty. On the right as well as the lift, on the high church end as well as the low church end, the ELCA demonstrates what comes of a lack of understanding of the distinction between Law and Gospel, and of the nature & character of God's Word. These are the fundamental distinctives of Lutheran theology, and they don't have it. And these are also the source of the fundamental blessing of being a Lutheran: the full and complete assurance of God's forgiveness and salvation. Reclaim's "absolution" doesn't give it. ELW's Canon of the Mass (furnished by the "high church libs" who apparently controlled the liturgical portion of the book) doesn't give it. And the low church slobs who inspired the hymn selection of both books - and I don't care if it's old-fashioned sentimentalism or newfangled touchy-feeliness, it all comes to the same thing - don't offer much "Thus sayeth the Lord" substance at all. Pity the poor people of the ELCA. Either they aren't convicted of their sin and so God's forgiveness does not appeal to them, or they are left in a torment of guilt and uncertainty from which their Divine Service no longer delivers them.
But when I said "beware the three-headed monster," I really meant Augsburg Fortress. Because if you want a copy of the ELW hymnal you can hold in your hand and flip through, you need the pew edition ($20); plus, if you want to be able to play the hymns on a piano, you need the accompanist edition (service music and hymns, $55); and if you want to be able to play the liturgy, you need another accompanist edition (liturgies, also $55). And since it takes 2-3 months to get each book, and no one seems to care enough about helping you to explain why you need all these books just to be able to play what, in the good old days, you could get all in one book (or at most 2), you could end up spending not only $130 (plus tax, shipping and handling) but also over 6 months getting the books you need. After which the problem remains - where am I going to put these fat-keister books when I'm not playing them? Heck, where am I going to put them when I am playing them???
CPH should know about this. ELW and Augsburg Fortress have furnished a wonderful testimony to how fortunate we are in Concordia Publishing House and the Lutheran Service Book. If more people in the LCMS saw ELW, they would probably be even more eager to buy LSB. And if people in the ELCA saw LSB and compared the two books, Augsburg Fortress would probably have a very bad year. And welcome to it.
IMAGES: ELW pew edition; ELW accompaniment edition (service music & hymns) - notice the format, which is horrendously unwieldy compared to LSB's hymn accompaniment edition; Reclaim; LSB