After years of careful development, our synod now has a new hymnal. Someone may well ask the question, “Why a new hymnal? What is wrong with the one that we’re using now?”
It’s important to note first of all that our synod has used a variety of hymnals throughout its history. The earliest ones were brought from Germany by immigrants. Since those immigrants came from different parts of Germany, there were considerable differences in the hymnals congregations used. In 1870 the synod produced its first hymnal, Evang.-Lutherisches Gesangbuch (Evangelical Lutheran Songbook), which contained hymn texts but no musical scores. It was not widely adopted because it contained a number of hymns with questionable texts. To satisfy these concerns, it was revised two years later, keeping the same name.
In the early 1900s, as more English-speaking people joined the synod, a small English hymnal, Church Hymnal, was published. It contained only 115 English-language hymns. It was our synod’s first foray into providing English resources for worship.
Sensing worship materials produced by our synod should be expanded, some leaders encouraged the synod to approach the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and suggest a joint hymnal project. The result of a decade of work was The Lutheran Hymnal, which was quickly adopted by most WELS congregations. Published in 1941, it remained in use for more than 50 years until the appearance of our current hymnal, Christian Worship, in 1993.
“Why a new hymnal?” History provides a variety of answers. The first hymnals were produced in response to the wide variety of hymnals in use and were intended to bring about a degree of consistency from congregation to congregation. Some hymnals were introduced because of perceived weaknesses in previous hymnals. The 1941 hymnal came about because English had become the language of worship in our congregations and there was a need for a quality English-language hymnal. The 1993 hymnal was prompted partly because new translations of the Bible, such as the NIV, were increasingly being used in congregational worship and for personal Bible reading. In addition, new hymns and worship resources were continually being produced, some of which deserved to be included in our regular worship.
The synod’s new hymnal, which has retained the name Christian Worship, is intended to be a resource for the times in which we regularly gather with our fellow Christians to hear God’s Word, to receive the sacrament, to sing God’s praises, and to enjoy the blessings of fellowship. It incorporates many new hymns that have been written since the introduction of our last hymnal. It offers variety and freshness in the orders of service in our worship. It will offer resources that preserve our rich heritage as a confessional Lutheran liturgical church. Like hymnals that have gone before, it will be a tool that will be used by our members in their home devotions individually or with their families.
Congregations will make their own decisions whether or not to use the new hymnal. It’s my prayer that they do. I believe that it will be a rich resource that will keep us unified in our worship and will be a blessing to all who use it.
Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 108, Number 8
Issue: August 2021