Friday, August 10, 2012

How I came to love the Lutheran Service Book

Three years ago I would have never seen myself where I am today, doing what I do.  I say this not necessarily because I have gone so far so much as what I am doing now is so different.  I play organ and lead music for a (mostly) liturgical Lutheran congregation where the traditions of the ancient church inform our current practice.  ...just two years ago I was  "worship leader" at a Southern Baptist church where we played all the latest music from the CCM charts.  Did I get hit on the head?  This post does not totally chronicle my discovery of the ancient tradition of Christianity and my journey into the liturgical church so much as it describes how the Lutheran Service Book, specifically, was instrumental in pushing me down the Wittenburg trail.

My love for the Lutheran liturgy came about through quite a strange journey.  Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk, a Southern Baptist, R.I.P.) brought the Lutheran Service Book to my attention had the highest praise for it.  When Bill Cwirla included an excerpt of "I Bind Unto Myself Today" recorded at "Higher Things" on his program (the God Whisperers), I knew I had to get a copy.  I was familiar with "St. Patrick's Breastplate" through my use of the Book of Common Prayer, and I thought that hymn was by far the best musical setting of that prayer I had ever heard (and I've heard many).  That and Starke's metrical paraphrase of the Te Deum (set to Thaxted) alone were worth the price of the leather gift edition.

I was working for a Southern Baptist church at the time, and when I received my copy I remember reading through it thinking, "How awesome would it be to be making music for services who pulled from THIS book as the primary source?"  It just had a special allure to me that no other hymnal in my collection (+75) did.

Part of what makes a hymn, song, or canticle of good quality is a natural ability to transcend its original musical  genre.  As I read through the LSB service settings, I realized that all of them could be led by a guitar if necessary.  This book is connected to the church of ages past, without doing it in a way that necessarily alienates the younger generations of today.  It can be made to speak their language without altering its content.

There's just something different about Lutheran hymnody.  I was using the PCA's "Trinity Hymnal" for my private and family devotions at the time, but it was just too sterile and full of pietistic gospel songs.  The LSB songs were much more deeply spiritual:  they voice lament, prepare you for death, and direct your focus to the cross where you can leave your troubles in the hands of a gracious Savior, as you learn to trust Him more.  They brought me hope and comfort through the trying year I spent working for a Baptist church knowing I no longer believed their doctrine.  

The LCMS congregation I now serve had gotten somewhat away form a strict adherence to the Divine Service, though they did purchase the LSB and do a "by the book" service once a month or so.  Now we follow the order of the Divine Service nearly every week (though we sometimes mix and match the musical settings), and I've heard mostly positive feedback from the congregation.  This stuff speaks to people's souls, much more than their favorite musical style or idiomatic preferences.  I can't begin to describe what a blessing it is to be in a church that allows me to use this material.  N.T. Wright advises, "If you're picking music for worship, pick music from more than one century."  In some places, more than one decade would be progress.  The "evangelical circus" is subjected to such dogmatic chronological snobbery, but I truly feel as if I have finally escaped the "beauty pageant" of its trendy methodology.  

One of the other things I like best about being a Lutheran is being able to sing all this deep poetry in minor key, which the LSB is chock full of.  Evangelical Power Pop Praise is completely void of a repertoire for expressing some of the darker emotions we face as Christian disciples, preferring to drown them out in a torrent of sugary sap.  The ancient chorales, however, are something you can sing honestly.  No more "I Surrender All" with a big phony grin trying to convince everyone that this time I really mean it.  Rather, as Lutherans we celebrate that Christ surrendered all for us, as in hymn #544, "O Love, How Deep."  

As I finish more of my "10 reasons I converted to Lutheranism" series, I will describe more of how the appeal of the fine arts and serious choral music hooked me on Augsburg theology.  As I told a friend of mine who was a Presbyterian church planter, I guess I was just predestined to be a Lutheran.

I finish this with two videos displaying the music mentioned above.  The first is a church singing the "Te Deum," or, "We Praise You and Acknowledge You," (found at LSB 941) and the second is a Reformed church singing "O Love, How Deep" (LSB 544).  Enjoy!


  1. A few years ago, my daughters where spending spring break with my folks. They went to church at the SBC my parents were attending at that time (and one they had been members for many years). The church has gone from the blue SBC hymnal to CCM which meant that my mother is no longer playing the organ.

    After the worship,my youngest daughter, then 11 at the time, asked if they ever sing hymns anymore. My mother said they didn't sing much and she missed the hymns.

    My parents are now attending churches that use hymns as part of worship.

    1. There's just something about singing them older songs. If they are still around, its likely because they were the best of their generation. It can be hard to tell which of the current trends has any staying power, especially when so much of it seems so low quality. As I explore our hymnal, I constantly discovering new favorites, most of which are several hundred years old. I can't imagine being a part of a church that did not value this.

  2. This is awesome! I came from more reformed SBC churches that slanted Sovereign Grace in the worship, but nothing has grown my soul like the traditional liturgy at our LCMS church. I especially love how the structure reinforces the gospel while limiting the excesses of ego and personal soap-box that revivalist traditions seem to nurture.

    1. I like and have used some of the Sovereign Grace music ideas (and Glad too), but the Divine Service has a depth to it that no "set list" can outdo. There's a reason why one is disposable, and the other is ancient. Yup, the tradition of the ancient church is definitely constricting, but in the best of all possible ways. It provides a balance that protects against many evils, including ego, personality, trendiness, manufactured excitement, etc... While constantly pointing us towards Christ.

  3. I believe that I was at the service when this was recorded-Higher Things conference in Grand Rapids a couple of summers ago! Looking forward to more robust singing at Higher Things, Purdue this a "Hymn Sing" with HT it isn't unusual to hear high school youth requesting the very songs you mention...HIGH SCHOOL YOUTH!! and as far as the Te Deum, esp. when Chris Loemker is at the organ the kids beg for it....Glad someone captured this!