A Brief History of Hymnals in the LC-MS

The Lord be with you

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod was established in 1847 by immigrants from Germany. The new denomination was named “The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States.” The name was shortened to The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in 1947 (the 100th anniversary of the denomination).

The immigrants came from different parts of Germany and, not surprisingly, brought with them the hymnals of their home congregations. It was common to find three, four or even five different hymnals in a congregation. The words sometimes didn’t agree, as hymn texts were modified over time. Even before the Missouri Synod was formed, Pastor Walther realized his congregation would be well served if they all used the same hymnal. So, with the approval and support of his congregation, he and several other area German Lutheran H1 Kirchengesangbuch fuer Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinden ungeaenderter Augburgischer Confessionpastors put together the Kirchengesangbuch fuer Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinden ungeaenderter Augburgischer Confession, which was published in 1847. It was, obviously, in German. That was the language they used in their worship services. It had 437 hymns, a selection of prayers, antiphons, the Preface, Luther’s Small Catechism, and the Augsburg Confession. While this hymnal was started before the Missouri Synod was founded, the St. Louis congregation handed it over to the Missouri Synod in 1862. This remains the only German Lutheran hymnal published by the Missouri Synod. The next hymnal would be in English.

It had to happen. In a country where English was the dominant language and with a denomination that prized reaching out with the Gospel, the members of the LC-MS began to speak English and to share the Gospel with those who didn’t know German. The need was felt for an English language hymnal. There were several limited attempts.

Walther, the first president of the LC-MS, encourage English speakers to use the small English hymnal-Hymn Book for the use of Evangelical Lutheran Schools and Congregations, published in 1897. This was actually a Norwegian hymnal translated into English by an LC-MS teacher. It had 130 hymns and ten doxologies. Soon other English hymnals began to appear, their titles making it clear what their intended purpose was: Lutheran Hymns: For the Use of English Lutheran Missions (1882) containing 18 hymns texts and 15 melodies, and Hymns of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: For the Use of English Lutheran Missions (1886) containing 33 hymns and melodies. A larger collection entitled Hymns for Evangelical Lutheran Missions (1905) contained 199 hymns without music together with some liturgical orders.

H2 Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-BookThe first major effort toward an English hymn book was the work of August Crull (the same teacher that translated the Norwegian hymnal). It was presented to the English Lutheran Conference of Missouri and published in Baltimore as the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book (1889). The English Conference merged with the LC-MS in 1911 and gave their hymnal to Missouri. A music edition of this collection was prepared and appeared as the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book (1912). (The only difference in the name of the hymnals is the addition of a hyphen.) It became the first official English hymnal of the Missouri Synod. The Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book had 567 hymns, one order of Sunday morning worship (which included communion), 17 doxologies, a selection from the Psalms, Matins, Vespers, Introits, prayers, the preface, a daily lectionary, a limited liturgical calendar, and more. This hymnal was later often referred to as the “old green hymnal” after the color of its binding. When I became a pastor in 1987 I was told of at least one congregation that still used it.

In 1929 the Synod authorized a revision of the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book with the hope that it might become the English hymn book for the Synodical Conference. (The Synodical Conference was an association of Lutheran synods that professed a complete adherence to the Lutheran Confessions and doctrinal unity. It was founded in 1872 and was dissolved in 1967 over doctrinal disagreements.) The following year (1930) an inter-synodical committee beganH3 The Lutheran Hymnal work culminating in the publication of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), a collection which, the title page indicated, was “Authorized by the Synods Constituting the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America.” Initially bound in blue, it was popularly known as the “blue hymnal.” However it was then offered in red binding so people began to call it or TLH (or the “red hymnal”).

TLH had 660 hymns, various liturgical canticles set to music, two Sunday morning services (one with Communion and one without), a selection of psalms, prayers, an expanded liturgical calendar, Matins, Vespers, daily lectionary, and so on. One of the innovations of TLH was the inclusion of the word “Amen” at the end of each hymn. This was done to make it easier to sing “Amen” when the pastor thought it appropriate, as when a hymn is thought of as a prayer. The practical result, however, was Amen being sung at the end of every hymn. When I graduated from the seminary a third of the LC-MS congregations still used this hymnal. Some still do.

H4 Worship Supplement 69Time marched on and there were more than a few differences between the America of 1941 and the America of the 1960s. The need for updating liturgical and hymnic materials in TLH was felt. The result was the publication of Worship Supplement (1969) which made available new materials in the interim between The Lutheran Hymnal and the projected joint hymnal for all Lutherans, work on which had begun in 1966. The Worship Supplement provided three settings for the Sunday morning worship service (all with the Lord’s Supper), one with new music, “new” terminology (like “The Holy Eucharist” for Communion services), the long-absent Prayer of Thanksgiving in its Communion services, a new musical setting for Matins, new spoken services (like three settings for a service of Prayer and Preaching and more of the Canonical Hours) and 93 hymns. “Amen” was included at the end of the hymns when the committee felt it was appropriate.

H5 Lutheran Book of WorshipIn 1965 the Missouri Synod had invited all Lutherans in America to join together in the production of common worship materials, an invitation ultimately accepted by the great majority of Lutherans in America. It was hoped that a single Lutheran hymn book for all Lutherans in America would result. One of the hopes was to draw these denominations closer together. The Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship was formed in 1966 to carry out this project. After over a decade of work they published the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW)(1978). Unhappy over the forthcoming results, the Missouri Synod pulled out in 1977 and, one year after its publication of LBW, determined to publish its own revision of the Lutheran Book of Worship, appearing three years later as Lutheran Worship (1982).

It has been said that the “blue ribbon” task force that examined LBW found “a phenomenal amount of Biblical and theological error” in it. I personally have not examined the book that closely and the only specific concern I’ve ever heard mentioned is the inclusion of the Words of Institution (the Verba) in the Eucharist Prayer, thus making it appear (to at least some) that the Lord’s Supper was our work instead of the gift of God. When I graduated from the seminary a handful of congregations in the LC-MS used LBW. This was the second effort to bring unity through a common hymnal (TLH being the first), and both failed because true unity, at least in Confessional Lutheranism, is found in doctrine.

H6 Lutheran WorshipThe Missouri Synod published Lutheran Worship in 1982. It was basically a modified LBW. This hymnal never achieved the wide acceptance that was achieved by the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book or TLH. When I graduated from the seminary not quite 60% of LC-MS churches used LW (though the 40% that used other resources tended to be smaller congregations so more than 60% of the members of the LC-MS did use LW). The complaints about LW stemmed more from style than substance. Language was updated, thus changing many well-loved hymns. For example, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” was changed to “My Faith Looks Trustingly.” The music to the morning service found in TLH was slightly altered (along with those pesky “Thees”), constantly throwing people off. Some well-known hymns were given new hymn tunes. LW also removed all Amens at the end of the hymns, but included a special section with notation for Amens which a pastor could use. (Few, however, did.)

Lutheran Worship includes orders for Holy Communion entitled Divine Service I (the revised and updated version of the old TLH services), Divine Service II (two settings, very similar to liturgies included in the LBW), and Divine Service III (a brief outline of a service based on Martin Luther’s German Mass). Each of these services contains Rubrics (instructions) on what modifications can be made if the Lord’s Supper is not being offered. The term “Divine Service” seems to be a modification of the term “Divine Liturgy,” commonly used in Eastern Orthodox congregations. However I’ve heard some say that it is a translation of the German, haupt Gottestdienst. [Haupt means head, major or chief. Gottestdienst combines the word “God” and the word “service.”] LW also includes orders for Matins, Vespers, Compline, and other services (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the Bidding Prayer, the Litany, etc.). It also has an expanded liturgical calendar but many of the old Latin names for Sundays were changed, introduced a three year Sunday lectionary and included an Old Testament lesson for most Sundays, a daily Lectionary that took you through the entire Bible, Luther’s Small Catechism, and selected Psalms. The bulk of the hymnal consists of 11 canticles and chants, 491 hymns, and 18 spiritual songs. In my opinion, the return of the Small Catechism (which is not in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, TLH, or LBW but was in Kirchengesangbuch fuer Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinden ungeaenderter Augburgischer Confession) is a real blessing. I’d like to see the Augsburg Confession return as well. I also really like the addition of an Old Testament lesson.

H7 Hymnal Supplement 98Fifteen years after the publication of Lutheran Worship, the Synod began the process of preparing a hymnal supplement which appeared in 1998 (Hymnal Supplement 98). It had a new setting for the Divine Service (no non-communion option), new settings for Evening and Responsive Prayer, a format of Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families, chanting settings for eleven Psalms, 105 hymns and eight “Canticles and Service Music” selections. Shortly after the publication of Hymnal Supplement 98 the Synod’s Commission on Worship announced its intention to begin work toward the publication of a new hymnal to serve yet another generation of worshippers. Many selections from HS98 found their way into the new hymnal. One setting, Evening Prayer, did not, which disappointed me. Everyone in my congregation at the time really liked it. However I’ve been told there were copyright issues. Such is our modern world. Long gone are the days reflected in the Preface of TLH, “… we freely offer for the use of others all original contributions of translations made by the committee as such or by its individual members.”

In 2006 the Lutheran Service Book was published and was met with great acceptance. In just four years 75 to 80% of the Missouri Synod’s congregations were using it. It is also now used by a number of ELCA congregations. I think one of the reasons for its acceptance is the idea of letting old things be old and new things be new. So, for example, the Morning Service with Communion in TLH (page 15) is basically Divine Service, Setting Three. The big difference is that the notes for the pastor to chant his part are now included. The “Thees” and “Thous” in old hymns were returned. However the new hymns all use contemporary pronouns.

Once again the liturgical calendar was expanded. There are nowH8 Lutheran Service Book five settings for the Divine Service (each can be modified to be a non-communion service), Matins, Vespers, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline, Service of Prayer and Preaching, and a host of other occasional services, prayers for all sorts of things, a daily lectionary, a large selection of Psalms, and the Small Catechism. Something found in earlier hymnals but missing in LSB (and I miss it) are the propers for each Sunday. I’m sure it was simply a decision based on not making the hymnal too large. A unique feature is the numbering. The hymnal opens with the Psalms, this is followed by the liturgies and other material. As there are 150 Psalms, the liturgies begin on page 151, right after the Psalms. The Small Catechism (the last item before the hymns) ends on page 330 and is followed by the hymns. The first hymn is numbered 331. So there is one numbering system throughout the hymnal. There are 593 hymns, 17 Biblical Canticles and twenty-two Liturgical Music pieces. It closes with three “Nation and National Songs” that can be used on patriotic days, giving you over 600 hymns, canticles and songs to sing.

The number of services you might find being used in an LC-MS congregation on any given Sunday has obviously grown: the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, one communion service and Matins when communion is not offered; The Lutheran Hymnal, one communion service and, on non-communion Sundays, either Matins or the Order of Morning Service without Communion; Lutheran Worship, four Communion services (each which can be modified into non-Communion services) or two straight non-Communion services, Matins and Morning Prayer; Lutheran Service Book: five Communion services (each which can be modified into non-Communion services), and three straight non-Communion services, Matins, Morning Prayer and the Service of Prayer and Preaching. The practical result of this growth is that, unless someone is a member of a congregation that systematically and deliberately teaches the eight services, LC-MS visitors in an LC-MS congregation using the same hymnal as their home congregation, can still be using a service they are unfamiliar with. This growth is to be expected, I guess, as the producers of the hymnal don’t want to abandon worship services treasured by the laity and have become familiar with in earlier hymnals.

One might discover a hymn they loved in a past hymnal has not made it into the new hymnal. This is not a reflection on the theology of the hymn, or the music. With all the excellent hymns, both historic and modern to choose from, the Commission on Worship simply had to make some hard choices to keep the hymnal to a size most could hold.

Finally, as excellent as LSB seems to be, only time will tell if its new offerings will continue to be used by future generation. For example, the Post-Communion Canticle “Thank the Lord” has the line “Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and proudly bear His name.” In doing a quick search for the words “pride” and “proud” in the Bible I could find only seven passages that have some sort of a positive association (Romans 15:17; Philippians 2:16; Psalm 47:4; Isaiah 4:2; Amos 8:7; 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 7:4) and a whole host that have a negative association. Perhaps future generations will change the line to read “and humbly bear his name.” The value of pride is, after all, such a contemporary value. In the past it was identified as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

But, speaking of future generations, one could ask when we might expect yet another new hymnal? Those in the know suggest efforts will probably begin somewhere around 2040 to 2050. In other words, I will never have to update this post.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert