Inverting John 3:30

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A Critique of Evangelical Lutheran Worship

by

The Rev. Ronald F. Marshall

Pastor of First Lutheran Church of West Seattle

November 2006

 “For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God.”  1 Peter 4:17

 

The Thesis

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW), the new ELCA worship book, published in October 2006, is a big book. It’s over 1200 pages long – some 200 pages longer than the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) which it is supposed to replace.

Now this large size creates an immediate problem. How is one to know whether or not to adopt ELW? How is one to know whether or not ELW is better than LBW? How can one sufficiently and quickly digest the many pages of ELW in order to make a fair comparison between the two books? No clear answer is in sight – except, perhaps, to wait for months and months until all of ELW has been carefully considered. But this matter of selecting a worship book is too important to put off that long.

            In this critique of ELW I offer another way around this problem. I’m proposing that there’s a key to ELW that helps us size it up – one that can be known without first having to digest every word and every musical note on every one of its many pages.

My suggestion is – as odd as it may sound – that this key is found on just two of its pages. These two pages show how the texts of this new worship book invert John 3:30. My thesis, then, is that the unspoken goal of this book is to do just that – to invert John 3:30. To substantiate this rather simple and daring thesis, I will of course have to refer to many other pages of ELW. But the thesis itself remains quite simple.

Now in this verse from St. John’s Gospel – which, by the way, Martin Luther thought was “the one, fine, true, and chief gospel” (Luther’s Works 35:362) – St. John the Baptist speaks out. He, the Forerunner of Jesus Christ, says of the Savior, “He must increase but I must decrease.”

These sacred words in John 3:30 tell us that we should glorify and exalt Christ to the highest and secondly whittle down our own pride, glory, honor and self-image. The ramifications from this verse for Christian living – as one might imagine – are huge. They’re also startling and unsettling. This verse pushes us to deny and even hate ourselves (Luke 9:23, 14:26) so that we can magnify the Lord Jesus (Luke 1:46)! And if we don’t do the former, then the latter will never happen (John 12:25). It’s axiomatic. That is, one is locked tightly in with the other. Only if we deny ourselves will we be able truly to magnify the Lord Jesus.

Luther further elaborates this verse saying that Christ is everything and we are “nothing” (LW 48:288). For Holy Scriptures say, and rightly so, that “the majesty of God is supreme; [and] we are completely worthless” (LW 16:16-17). That’s the existential upshot of John 3:30 and it must be honored throughout the church in every time and every place.

            Now when John 3:30 is inverted, it is forced to say the opposite of this. Now it says that we, not Christ, must increase; and Christ, not us, must decrease. Its promoters think that this inversion helps tone down the exclusivity of Christ and alleviate the wretchedness of the human condition. That’s the justification for this inversion.

            Because this inversion is so massive it should have been openly debated before being implemented so we could have seen if it’s widely endorsed in our church or not.

 

Revisionists

Others have been more open about so revising our Christian faith. Eric Elnes, for instance, has written The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity (Jossey-Bass, 2006). It too inverts John 3:30. Elnes, a United Church of Christ pastor, holds that Christ can be our salvation without denying “the legitimacy of other paths” to God. This move decreases Christ’s majesty by limiting the extent of his saving power. Elnes also maintains the importance of self-love (contra John 12:25; Luke 14:26; 2 Timothy 3:2-5). By so doing he increases our value well beyond that of being only “unworthy servants” (contra Luke 17:10). In these revisions Elnes is quite forthright. He doesn’t sneak around, trying to pull the wool over our eyes like ELW does.

And like unto Elnes, Marcus J. Borg’s The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering the Life of Faith (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) and John Shelby Spong’s Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A New Reformation of the Church’s Faith and Practice (Harper-SanFrancisco, 1999) also are quite open about inverting John 3:30.

I don’t agree with these three revisionists, but I respect them far more than I do this surreptitious new worship book. Revisionists like this aren’t strange to Lutherans. They have been around for a long time – perhaps ever since the notorious David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1872) “introduced Hegel’s concept of myth into theological work” [The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, ed. J. Bodensieck (Augsburg, 1965) 3:2269], or Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1888) argued in his seminal work, The Essence of Christianity (1841; Harpers, 1957) that every person is “in and by itself infinite – has its God, its highest conceivable being, in itself” (p. 7).

These Lutheran dons have been read and argued over for years. And there’s a point to that, e.g., the sharpening of theological refinement and the like. But when revisionist ideas are sneaked into a Lutheran worship book, that is an entirely different matter. This is much more serious. And that’s because these revisions more directly affect the handing over in worship of the faith once delivered to the saints of old (Jude 1:3). Therefore such revisions to our worship life must be taken on more directly.

 

The Compline Confession

Now the first key page for my thesis is in the Compline liturgy (ELW 321). For the confession it has the words, “I confess… that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed.” This is a change from the original, which says, “I confess… that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own most grievous fault” (LBW 155).

            This more strident formulation, from the 16th century Latin, mea maxima culpa, “by my most grievous fault,” is kept, however, for the Ash Wednesday liturgy (ELW 252). Apparently it’s okay to use it once a year, just as long as it’s not used daily in the Compline liturgy. And why is that? Is this more strident formulation too hard for daily use? And are our daily faults really not that grievous?

The emphatic answer to both of these questions is No! The truth is that our daily sins are altogether terrible. Even if we only break one of the commandments, we have broken them all (James 2:10)! This remarkable Biblical teaching makes things nearly as bad as possible – blasphemy, murder, adultery and stealing all being wrapped up into one when I tell but one little white lie!

So it’s not a stretch to say I am but a “body of death,” day in and day out (Romans 7:24). Nor that the few good things we do are actually only filthy rags through and through (Isaiah 64:6)! So no slack can be cut for us sinners. No, not any.

The fact that ELW lowers the bar anyway in order to cut us some slack, is a clear sign there’s something rotten in Denmark . This new worship book doesn’t apparently want us to decrease in glory as we should – following John 3:30. It doesn’t want our sins to become “sinful beyond measure,” as the law demands that they be (Romans 7:13). It wants us rather to “take our ease” – even if it means going against our Lord himself (à la Luke 12:19)!

            Also in this vein, ELW follows With One Voice: A Lutheran Resource for Worship (1995) in making optional the general confession, which says, “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves” (WOV 11). In the LBW it was the only form provided (pp. 56, 77, 98). But not any more. In ELW it is even slightly changed to read, “we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves” (ELW 95, 117, 212). But even under this revision it still remains only an option.

            This new version – changing bondage into captive – is softer. Bondage is more foreboding. What is captive may spawn captivating possibilities – semantically at least, and perhaps even in actuality. But bondage is bondage – is bondage. There’s a deadening tone to it that captivity lacks. There’s also – if I may say so – sexually perverse overtones in the word “bondage.” That word is used to describe sado-masochistic sexual perversions. As such the word “bondage” is clearly more enslaving – as indeed the Bible says it is (John 8:34; Romans 6:16, 7:18, 23; Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:19).

            Making this tough confession optional diminishes its importance. Eventually it’s reduced status leads to its elimination – as the ELCA already has done on pages 24-25 of its less well known, African-American hymnal, This Far By Faith (1999). This is all quite unconscionable. It’s an example of letting the camel’s nose in the tent.

            So the first key to ELW is that it’s soft on sin. Human wretchedness is waylaid – directly in opposition to John 3:30 which is rather supposed to knock us off our high horses. Lost in ELW is the Lutheran conviction that we all have “an inborn wicked stamp, an interior uncleanness of heart [that is] a deep, wicked, abominable, bottomless, inscrutable, and inexpressible corruption” of our entire nature [The Book of Concord, ed. Tappert (Fortress, 1959) p. 510].

But make no mistake about it. Sin isn’t denied in ELW – rather it’s the horrifying depth of sin that’s compromised.

 

Doane’s Hymn

My other key page is hymn 758, “You Are the Way.” The words in the first verse of this beloved hymn by George Doane are changed to read:

 

You are the way; to you alone

from sin and death we flee;

all those who search for God, you find

and by your grace set free.

 

This is a catastrophic change made to the version which reads (LBW 464):

 

You are the way; through you alone

Can we the Father find;

In you, O Christ, has God revealed

His heart, his will, his mind!

 

What this LBW version built up and elevated in Christ – in honor of John 3:30 – ELW has shamefully torn down. No longer does ELW follow John 14:6 that faith in Jesus is the only way to the saving grace of God. Rather than saying with the LBW, “through you alone can we the Father find,” ELW reverses the verse to say “all those who search for God, you find”! No longer is this hymn about faith finding the unique Savior, Jesus Christ. Now it stresses a savior who finds and gathers up all religious seekers into one grand global mix.

Jesus, then, for instance, brings good followers of Hinduism into his fold simply by virtue of their interest in the divine – whatever their own wishes and ideas make of it. It doesn’t matter that in Hinduism their god, Brahman, isn’t the Holy Trinity. It doesn’t matter that Acts 14:15 says in order to find the one true living God we must first turn away from vain things.

This makes this ELW version clearly heretical! It’s Matthew Fox’s cosmic Christ who is found in all religions whether Jesus’ name is honored or not [The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (Harper & Row, 1988) pp. 151, 244]. The cosmic Christ is manifest in all who honestly seek after the divine – whether or not Christ is named by them as Lord (contra Romans 10:9-10). On this view, Christ’s saving sacrifice is surpassed by our devout religious yearnings. This is a complete reversal of John 3:30. Now it is we who are to increase and Christ who is to decrease!

            It is true that the LBW took the original 1824 version of Doane’s hymn and revised it. Here is the original version of that first verse from hymn 199 in Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861, 1982):

 

Thou art the Way: by thee alone

From sin and death we flee;

And he who would the Father seek

Must seek him, Lord, by thee.

 

Clearly you can see how the ELW version retrieves some of the original text in the second line. But contrary to the LBW text, the ELW version still goes well beyond the original – twisting it into a universalistic hymn which it obviously isn’t. The original says what ELW denies, viz., that “he who would the Father seek must seek him, Lord, by thee.” Christ is clearly the sole means of salvation in the original version of this hymn – something the ELW version altogether erases.

            So the ELW version turns “You Are the Way” into a universalistic hymn. Universalism holds there are many ways to be saved – so that everyone will be saved. It insists that faith in Christ Jesus, the only Son of God, isn’t the only way of salvation. But why would Lutherans want their new worship book to be universalistic? The Bible condemns universalism – most clearly in John 3:16, 36, 14:6; Acts 4:12; and 1 John 5:9-12. And so do the Lutheran Confessions, which say that only Christ can save us from the wrath of God and alone gets us back into the good graces of God (BC, pp. 136, 561). For we “cannot find peace before God except by faith alone” in Christ, who is “the propitiator through whom we have access to the Father” (BC, p. 137). So why would ELW espouse such a faithless, faulty view that denies these classic Christian truths?

            The short answer is that universalism is faddish. It sounds urbane and sophisticated. It looks more open-minded than the tightly drawn words of Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. Universalism, it is believed, will help increase the waning membership of the ELCA by erasing the offensive particularity of Christianity. (For more on universalism see my “For Christians Only,” under publications at www.flcws.org.)

            This universalistic penchant also explains why Luther’s hymn, “To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord” (LBW 79), was cut from ELW. Its second to last verse reads:

 

But woe to those who cast aside

This grace so freely given;

They shall in sin and shame abide

And to despair be driven.

For born in sin, their works must fail,

Their striving saves them never;

Their pious acts do not avail,

And they are lost forever,

Eternal death their portion.

 

Salvation is only found in faith in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. Luther’s hymn says just that is no uncertain terms. No doubt that’s why it was unworthy of this new counterfeit Lutheran worship book. So the second key to ELW is the diminishing of Jesus Christ – in direct opposition to John 3:30 which instead calls us to exalt him.

Now how serious are these two key mistakes? How serious is it that ELW twice scuttles John 3:30? Are ELW’s positive traits sufficiently off-setting? Does it matter enough, for instance, that “Lo, How a Rose Is Growing” (LBW 58) is finally brought back in this new book to its original, superior version, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (ELW 272)? Does it also matter enough that ELW didn’t go ahead with its proposed change to “Away in a Manger” (ELW 278) to have it read “our crying he takes” for the traditional “no crying he makes”?

Or does it matter that some great hymns are taken over from LBW unchanged, e.g., “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (ELW 803; LBW 482), “Chief of Sinners Though I Be” (ELW 609; LBW 306), “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer” (ELW 618; LBW 343), “O Jesus, I Have Promised” (ELW 810; LBW 503), “Come Down, O Love Divine” (ELW 804; LBW 508), and “Lord of Our Life” (ELW 766; LBW 366)?

Does it matter enough that there are some fine new hymns included, e.g., “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” (ELW 265), “O Spirit of Life” (ELW 405), “Give Thanks for Saints” (ELW 428), “O Light, Whose Splendor Thrills” (ELW 563), “As Saints of Old” (ELW 695), “All My Hope on God Is Founded” (ELW 757), “O Christ the Same” (ELW 760), “Thine the Amen, Thine the Praise” (ELW 826), and “O God Beyond All Praising” (ELW 880)? These hymns have good solid texts and fine tunes wedded to them. But can these few gems offset the inverting of John 3:30 in ELW? It doesn’t look like it, but there’s more in ELW to investigate first.

 

The Creeds

By twice scuttling John 3:30, it’s no surprise that ELW takes on the creeds as well. First it gives up the LBW version that Jesus in the incarnation was “made man.” ELW instead has the creed say Jesus “became truly human” (ELW 104 and passim).

            Its defense (ELW, Desk Edition, p. 20) is that the original text of the creed has the general word for humanity, anthropos, and not the specific word for male, aner [J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3rd Edition (Longman, 1972) p. 216]. So according to ELW the creed should read human rather than man. Apparently feminist philological wisdom has finally set straight this centuries-old patriarchal deceit.

But the problem, once again, is the Holy Scriptures. Aner is used for Jesus in John 1:30, Acts 2:22 and 17:31. It is also inferred in 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Acts 13:38. So the creed should read along with the Bible that in the incarnation Jesus was made man and not some sexless, androgynous, truly human freak.

            Jesus after all wasn’t some sort of exalted humanoid because of his fully divine nature. He was fully human, but not truly so. He wasn’t in some paradisiacal state – being Adam redivivus before the Fall. Nor was he a heavenly man – free of all sin in the world to come. Saying Jesus is the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45) doesn’t make him so. It instead means, as Luther wrote, that Christ is able to “bestow another life” upon all who believe in him (LW 28:192).

We mustn’t forget that Jesus became sin – taking on our sinful human flesh (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24). This was so even though he himself never committed any of the sins that afflicted him (Hebrews 4:15). But even still there was nothing pleasant in him to see (Isaiah 53:2-3)! Surely he was no romantic movie star or bulging athlete or angelic mighty-man.

            All this matters if our salvation is to remain secure – for our sins were paid for only if they in fact were embedded painfully in Jesus’ marred body (1 Peter 2:24). Saying he’s some truly human or angelic creature denies all of this and undercuts the salvation of the world. So switching “was made man” to “became truly human” is no tempest in a teapot. It’s no semantic game or feminist tweak. As St. Athanasius (295-373) argued long ago, the incarnation matters so because it underpins the crucifixion. For the Word “assumed a human body, expressly in order that” Christ might save us by his death [The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (Macmillan, 1946) p. 17].

 

The Filioque

Furthermore, ELW says that the creedal line, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” is optional. It can be replaced with the shorter, “who proceeds from the Father,” leaving out “and the Son [filioque].” The footnote says this is allowable because the longer form was “a later addition” (ELH 104, 126 and passim). Indeed the longer form was first introduced into the Latin text of the Nicene Creed [325] “at the Council of Toledo in 589…. It is not found in any Greek manuscripts but reflects the Western understanding of the persons of the Trinity. First introduced by Tertullian [160-220], this view was championed by Augustine [354-430]” [The Book of Concord, eds. Kolb & Wengert (Augsburg Fortress, 2000) p. 23, n. 28]. Pope Leo III (d. 816) tried to suppress the longer form while still “approving the doctrine” expressed in the longer form [The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1958) p. 504].

            The Western understanding of the persons of the Trinity holds that the Spirit is “the bond between Father and Son,” and so the longer form is preferred since it expresses that bond having the Spirit proceed from both the Father and the Son [Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, 5 vols. (University of Chicago, 1971-1989) II:197]. The Western view also honors John 14:26, 15:26 and 20:22 which says the Spirit comes from the Son as well.

This alteration in ELW is unprecedented in Lutheran history and invalidates our Confessions which don’t allow for this shorter option (BC, p. 19). The Athanasian Creed, from the late 5th century, also includes the longer form (BC, p. 20) and was included in the LBW (pp. 54-55) but cut from ELW. Thinking that using the shorter form would be hospitable when worshipping with Eastern Orthodox Christians (ELW, Desk Edition, p. 20) is silly and demeans the depth of their objection. “Even if an irenic Easterner were persuaded by Western logic to acknowledge the theological correctness of the Filioque, the unilateral insertion of the formula into the creed [remains] a grave scandal…. Thus the formal and procedural objection to the Filioque was a decisive one for the Greeks all by itself” (Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, II:192)!

 

Other Hymn Texts

ELW also ruins the words to the great Reformation hymn, “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” (ELW 590). In it the second and third verses are badly damaged. Verse two in LBW 297 says:

 

Theirs was a false, misleading dream

Who thought God’s law was given

That sinners might themselves redeem

And by their works gain heaven.

The Law is but a mirror bright

To bring the inbred sin to light

That lurks within our nature.

 

This glorious text is changed in ELW to say:

 

What God did in the law demand

no one could keep unfailing;

great woe arose on ev’ry hand,

and sin grew all prevailing.

Because the law must be fulfilled,

Christ came as God in mercy willed,

for us the law obeying.

 

This revision guts the LBW version. Our attempts to save ourselves aren’t noted. We are not condemned for trying to do so, calling that a false dream. The true use of the law – as a mirror to expose our hidden sin – is not distinguished from its false use as a way for us to try to save ourselves. And sin is no longer seen as horrifically embedded in our nature. All of these changes reduce the severity of sin and make us look better than we truly are.

            Things aren’t any better for the third verse. In LBW 297 it says:

 

And yet the Law fulfilled must be,

Or we were lost forever;

Therefore God sent his Son that he

Might us from death deliver.

He all the Law for us fulfilled,

And thus his Father’s anger stilled

Which over us impended.

 

This glorious text is also butchered in ELW. Its revision has it say:

 

Since Christ has full atonement made

and brought to us salvation,

we will rejoice, we will be glad

and build on this foundation.

Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead;

baptized into your death, I’m freed;

your life is mine forever.

 

Lost in this revision is that we’re freed in Christ from death and the anger of God. This weakens salvation by not stating clearly what it does for us. Lost also is the holiness of God’s law which demands compliance – the “just requirement of the law” (Romans 8:4). Finally the fear of the Lord is undercut by taking out that God’s anger was hanging over us – terrifying us (John 3:36; Romans 5:9; Hebrews 10:30-31). All these changes shrink Jesus by reducing the threat from which he saves us. For the smaller our problems are, the smaller our savior needs to be.

            So, for instance, if we were to sing that “God created… all things perfect” (ELW 738) (contra Genesis 1:31), then there wouldn’t be any launching pad for corruption. For perfect creatures don’t and can’t sin. And all talk of a savior would also be useless. For if we are constitutionally perfect, then there would be no need of a savior of any magnitude.

            Moving on, we see more damage. In Luther’s glorious Easter hymn, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” (ELW 370), the second verse is mangled badly. The original reads (LBW 134):

 

It was a strange and dreadful strife

When life and death contended;

The victory remained with life,

The reign of death was ended.

Holy Scripture plainly says

That death is swallowed up by death,

Its sting is lost forever. Hallelujah!

 

This is a revision of the text in Luther’s Works 53:257 which reads:

 

That was a right wondrous strife

When Death in Life’s grip wallowed:

Off victorious came Life,

Death he has quite upswallowed.

The Scripture has published that –

How one Death the other ate.

Thus Death is become a laughter. Alleluia!

 

In opposition to this wonderful witness, revised in LBW, ELW changes this verse to read:

 

Our Savior Jesus, God’s own Son,

here in our stead descended;

the knot of sin has been undone,

the claim of death is ended.

Christ has crushed the pow’r of hell;

now there is naught but death’s gray shell –

its sting is lost forever. Hallelujah!

 

The ELW version loses both the strife in Christ’s victory and the plain testimony of Holy Scriptures. Most marked is the second lapse – the attack on the clarity of the Bible. For if the text is clear, then our creative, human imaginations need not be employed to get the Bible to say what we want it to say (à la 2 Timothy 4:3, contra 2 Peter 1:20)! This attack on imaginative freedom is lamentably contrary to the designs of ELW.

            The last line in the refrain to “Lamb of God, Pure and Sinless” (ELW 357) is also butchered. In the original (LBW 111) it reads, “You died our guilt to banish, that none in sin need perish!” In the revision it reads, “from sin’s grasp you have torn us, from gloom to hope have born us.”

The ELW version collapses the two thoughts of the original line into one. Its single point now is simple restoration – the transition from gloom to hope. Avoided at all costs is the prospect of perishing because of the guilt for the sins which we have committed. So the harrowing nature of the line in the original is all but lost. This lets us all off the hook much too easily, and so ELW must be chided.

            We see the same unjustifiable erasure of harrowing possibilities in the wondrous hymn, “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus” (ELW 802). In the original last verse (LBW 487), the last line, we sing, “Jesus, if I faithful be; life eternal grant to me.” But in the ELW rewrite that little word “if” is taken out and it reads instead, “Jesus, let me faithful be; life eternal grant to me.”

But this is a hymn primarily about discipleship – and so it stresses our life with God. Note the third verse, which is preserved exactly from LBW in ELW, and reads, “Let us mortify all passion that would lead us into sin.” That line is what the word if hangs on at the end of the hymn. So this hymn asks of us if we will mortify all passion (as in Galatians 5:17 and Romans 13:10). The pressure is on. But it isn’t blasphemous. We do indeed need to take on the yoke of purity, but not heroically (Matthew 11:28). And so in the LBW version, which is excised from ELW, we immediately sing after the challenge is laid down, “then by grace we all may win.” There you have it – the burden of mortifying all passion is light and easy because of the grace of God that gives us the power to obey (as in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

            This same combination of grace and discipleship is in Pastor V. Masillamony”s (1858-1932) hymn (LBW 529). There we sing that God “will seek and find you though you try to evade his searching.” What a strong testimony to the grace of divine election! But then it adds that we are to surrender to the Master Christ, singing, “His the cup, so dare it. His the yoke, so bear it. His the sword, so wear it. His the load, so bear it.” Now these lines on discipleship are equally powerful. What a shame ELW cut this hymn.

            Note also that the first verse of “All Glory Be to God on High” (ELW 410) is watered down by excising from the original (LBW 166) the explanation of God’s good will to all. The essential line that’s dropped is “Whatever Satan’s host may try, God foils their dark endeavor.” There is wonderful gravitas in this line. Taking it out cheapens this beloved hymn. It also upgrades the human condition by reducing the ghastliness of our foes.

In the last verse of “Jesus Priceless Treasure” (ELW 775), the essential nature of faith is stripped from the text. In the original (LBW 457) it says,

 

Those who love the Father,

Though the storms may gather,

Still have peace within.

 

This abiding witness is replaced in ELW with

 

God, who dearly loves us,

from all trial saves us,

gives sweet peace within.

 

This rewrite trashes “received by faith” in the classic verse, Romans 3:25. It also drowns out the “fear and trembling” that empowers Philippians 2:12-13. It does so by dumping the conditional phrase, “those who love the Father.”

            In the hymn “O Christ, Our Hope” (ELW 604), the fifth verse in the original (LBW 300) is dropped which says, “our only glory may it be to glory in the Lord!” This resounding theme of finding the Lord Jesus to be our only source of glory (Galatians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 1:30, 10:31), is as needed now as it was during Biblical times. If you doubt that, simply thumb through the popular psychology best seller by Wayne W. Dyer, Your Sacred Self (1995), and the theological monograph by Donald Capps, The Depleted Self (1993).

            This same high regard for personal, humanistic glory is attacked mercilessly yet beautifully in Martin H. Franzmann’s (1907-1976) hymn, “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” (LBW 396). This attack also securely proclaims that our glory should only be in the Lord Jesus Christ. It makes this point with the most penetrating of insights. In the second and third verses of this hymn we sing these words to Jan O Bender’s stirring tune, Wittenberg New:

 

In blind revolt we would not see

That rebel wills wrought death and night.

We seized and used in fear and spite

Your wondrous gift of liberty.

We walled us in this house of doom,

Where death had royal scope and room,

Until your servant, Prince of Peace,

Broke down its walls for our release.

 

You came into our hall of death,

O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,

To drink for us the deep despair

That strangled our reluctant breath.

How beautiful the feet that trod

The road to bring good news from God!

How beautiful the feet that bring

Good tidings of our saving king!

 

This graphic, painful description of our sinfulness and its glorious reversal is unsurpassed in modern hymnody. What a shameful and sad fact that ELW cut it out.

            This hymn shows the importance of good new hymns. It also shows that if one is against ELW, that doesn’t mean that all new hymns are bad. I have myself commissioned a new hymn in 2004 that is magnificent. To hear it, go to The Cowper-Schalk Hymn at www.flcws.org. Also see from 2002, “Lord, We Will Remember Thee” (CPH 98-3748).

            And then there is the great Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) – “perhaps the greatest Lutheran hymnwriter” [Philip H. Pfatteicher, Festivals and Commemorations: Handbook to the Calendar in LBW (Augsburg, 1980) p. 404]. His wonderful Advent hymn, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You” (ELW 241) is mercilessly marred by cutting the second and last verses from the LBW 23 version. Worst by far is axing the last verse which says:

 

He comes to judge the nations,

A terror to his foes,

A light of consolations

And blessed hope for those

Who love the Lord’s appearing.

O glorious Sun, now come,

Send forth your beams so cheering

And guide us safely home.

 

This verse is a wonderful hymnic elaboration of the Advent lesson, Matthew 3:12, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” It’s that eternal burning that ELW runs away from. So, no doubt, Gerhardt’s opening two lines in that last verse made ELW gag. But it regained its composure long enough to take the scissors to LBW 23. As a result it also snipped out Matthew 3:12 which was there underneath Gerhardt’s classic Lutheran hymn. Shame on ELW!

            ELW also ruins the Advent hymn, “Savior of the Nations Come” (ELW 263). The first verse is changed to avoid the final phrase, “praise the perfect Son of God” (LBW 28). The second verse is changed to avoid having to say that Christ’s birth went against “human… worth.” The third verse is changed to avoid saying that Mary was a virgin “undefiled.” While all these changes are unjustifiable, the worst change is the exclusion of the fifth verse which say Christ “leaves heaven; traveling where dull hellfires burn.” This refers to 1 Peter 3:18-20 where Christ’s salvation is described as a descent into hell. It shows how strenuous Christ’s efforts were to save us and how perilous our lost state was. Taking out this verse greatly diminishes Christianity in this once weighty hymn.

            Another Advent hymn ELW ruins is Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” (ELW 435). It replaces its two unnerving middle verses which read (LBW 27):

 

Ev’ry eye shall now behold him

Robed in glorious majesty;

Those who set at nought and sold him,

Pierced and nailed him to the tree,

Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,

Shall their true Messiah see.

 

Those dear tokens of his Passion

Still his dazzling body bears,

Cause of endless exultation

To his ransomed worshippers.

With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture

Gaze we on those glorious scars!

 

Taking out these two verses clearly guts this hymn of its glory. The first of these two verses magnificently underscores that we are only saved by faith and that if we do not believe “the wrath of God rests on us” (John 3:36). And the second one helps us praise faithfully and passionately the beatific vision in Revelation 5:6, “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.” The fact that ELW has so damaged this hymn shows its makers are but wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Only wolves would so fiercely and perversely (Acts 20:29-30) butcher these blessed, majestic words.

            ELW also damages the beloved text of “If You But Trust in God to Guide You” (ELW 769). In verse two it changes “futile weeping” (LBW 453) to ”anxious weeping.” This change misses the hopelessness in our despair. The third verse reads in the original:

 

In patient trust await his leisure

In cheerful hope, with heart content,

To take whatev’r your Father’s pleasure

And all-discerning love has sent;

Doubt not your inmost wants are known

To him who chose you for his own.

 

This glorious verse is mangled to read in the ELW version:

 

The Lord our restless hearts is holding;

in peace and quietness content.

We rest in God’s good will unfolding,

what wisdom from on high has sent.

God, who has chosen us by grace,

knows very well the fears we face.

 

This rewrite misses the struggle in the Christian life in learning to abide by God’s will. Restless hearts and fears miss the pathos in “doubt not,” “patient trust” and “cheerful hope.” Trust and hope can be anything but patient and cheerful – and often are just that during our trials.

The ELW version also dampens the sovereignty of God’s will for us. We have no control over God’s will and that breeds discontent in us – even though we know God loves us. So “we rest in…” is much too placid. “To take whatev’r your Father’s pleasure…” stresses far better our utter helplessness before God.

            And the last line in the last verse reads, “God never will forsake in need the soul that trust in him indeed.” ELW changes this to read, “This is our confidence indeed: God never fails in time of need.” But this rewrite is a lie. It turns the hymn on its head at the very end. For truly, God only protects those who believe in him, since “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6). Saying our belief is that God will care for everybody willy-nilly is to rob faith of its power. It makes it useless – quite unable to move mountains as it’s designed to do (Matthew 17:20)! And it leaves the unbeliever little to mourn over (contra Matthew 7:26-27, 25:41-45). It also makes a mockery of the little word “if” in the title of this beloved hymn.

            This same depth is in the hymn, “They Cast Their Nets” (LBW 449). It too testifies to the struggle of the Christian life. The great line in this hymn comes at the end when we sing:

 

The peace of God, it is no peace,

But strife closed in the sod.

Yet, let us pray for but one thing:

The marv’lous peace of God,

The marv’lous peace of God.

 

Surely such a peace – that’s closed in the sod! – is unlike what the world gives (John 14:27). And no doubt that’s largely why it passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). ELW should’ve never dumped this Biblically astute hymn new in the LBW.

 

Excursus: Judging Worship Books

            Throughout this analysis of hymns, I have dwelt on the texts and not the tunes, due to Luther’s convictions. It is true that he cared deeply about hymn tunes, maintaining that they needed to be corrected, developed and refined before being used in church (LW 53:324). But he also insisted that the Christian message finally depends mostly on the Word being accurately stated. “The Word, the Word, the Word,” he said, it all “depends on the Word” (LW 40:212, 214). And the same is true for all faithful doctrine which is properly built upon that very Word (LW 43:281)! Luther nicely combined these convictions in his famous line, that “next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise” (LW 53:323). We are to praise good music for the way it can elevate the Word.

            Furthermore, when dwelling on the texts I have also been quite picky in places – and I will continue being so in the remainder of this critique. For that’s the nature of the beast. As Luther again insisted, in spiritual matters it’s not right to have to suffer even “one hairsbreadth” of deviation from what the “proper function” of a Christian concept or office should be (LW 44:93)! Here exactitude is the name of the game.

But this is not so in everything we do. Luther didn’t think this sort of fine-combed scrutiny applied in temporal matters, for instance. There he thought that God “too slightly regarded” matters “to resist, disobey, or become quarrelsome” (LW 44:93). But again, in matters spiritual, all such cantankerousness was in good order. In fact, when quarreling over these minute details concerning sin and salvation, Luther even thought it justifiable to be “impetuous hotheads,…. and headstrong asses” (LW 23:330)!

 

The Psalms

Returning to our analysis, it’s noteworthy that all 150 Psalms are included in the pew edition of ELW – which is a first for a Lutheran worship book. But ELW didn’t simply take over the complete Psalter from LBW, Desk Edition. It instead again made changes.

            For instance, Psalm 23, as printed in LBW, begins:

 

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down

in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

 

ELW has it read instead:

 

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not be in want.

The Lord makes me lie down

in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

 

The only change here is replacing the male pronoun “he” with the noun “the Lord.” This can only be driven by some radical feminist agenda that doesn’t want God to be construed in male terms for fear of alienating women and sympathetic men. But by so doing it mistranslates the verse and also makes it sound silly.

First it makes it sound silly. My daughter, for instance, says of me, “Ron is my dad and he lends me his car.” She doesn’t say, “Ron is my dad and Ron lends me his car.” That could leave us wondering if there was some other Ron – say a maternal uncle, for instance – who lends her the car. When this silliness applies to God, dangerous implications follow regarding our ability to pass on the faith [Robert W. Jenson, “The Father, He…” in Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism, ed. Alvin F. Kinmel, Jr. (Eerdmans, 1992) p. 99].

            But why dig in on this male pronoun anyway? This book also does that with the preface to the Great Thanksgiving (ELW 107, 129, 144, 152, 161, 172, 180, 190, 199, 206). In the LBW we say: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give him thanks and praise.” This last line in changed in ELW to read instead: “It is right to give our thanks and praise.” Here the male pronoun “him” is replaced with the plural possessive “our.” But in this revision the way for idolatry is opened up! It wrongly says it is right for us to offer up our praise to whomever we choose. The original, however, says only that it is right to give God praise – and to no other. The best version rightly blocks the way to idolatry – even though the original Latin only has dignum et iustus est [Herman Wegman, Christian Worship in East and West (1976; Pueblo, 1985) p. 133].

            But even so, ELW makes no positive gains. It still lets the Lord’s Prayer stand with it original male opening line, “Our Father…” (ELW 112, 134, 145, 154, 163, 173, 182, 191, 201, 208, 221, 242, 255, 264, 283, 290, 305, 318, 326, 746-747). And it doesn’t go the way of The United Church of Christ and make alternative creeds available which begin with “I believe in God, the Father-Mother almighty” [The New Century Hymnal (Pilgrim, 1995) 882, 884]. So fiddling with a male pronoun here and there seems pointless. So does including the new hymn, supposedly on the Holy Trinity, to our mothering God, mothering Christ and mothering Spirit (ELW 735).

            And this revision of Psalm 23 is also a mistranslation. The third line doesn’t repeat the noun as ELW says it does [see Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (1978; Augsburg, 1988) pp. 303-307]. Playing fast and loose with the text for ideological reason isn’t justifiable – or at least not so without some open debate beforehand on the issue. Sneaking it in is simply irresponsible.

            This ELW revision also goes against the other major English translations (Revised Standard Version, 1952; New International Version, 1973; New King James Version, 1979; New Revised Standard Version, 1989; and Revised English Bible, 1989), including the new Jewish translation, Tanakh (1989). All of them use the male pronoun.

            Now if ELW justifies these revisions because it believes it knows of an enlightened deity that is above all gender designations, then why doesn’t it also change Psalm 131? Why doesn’t it change the line, “like a child upon its mother’s breast,” to, perhaps, “like a child within its parent’s arms”? Would it become literal at this point and say the original text demands the female images? To do so, however, would be to use a double-standard! And furthermore, why accentuate this female image in the psalm prayer having it say, “Lord Jesus,… teach us to live in… humility,… holding us with a mother’s embrace”? Why substitute this for the LBW prayer, “let the Father’s compassion embrace all…”? Why not drop all the gender references?

            Psalm 136 is also poorly revised. In order to avoid the refrain with its prominent male pronoun, “His mercy endures forever,” ELW inserts the word “God” into all 26 of its refrains. This runs into the same silliness and danger noted with Psalm 23 – as well as it also being a mistranslation since the word “God” doesn’t appear over and over again in the Hebrew text [see Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150: A Commentary (1978; Augsburg, 1989) pp. 495-499]. The exact same problems obtain with the ELW version of Psalm 115:3.

            In Psalm 51:17 a “contrite” heart is replaced in ELW with a “troubled” one. But this is too vague. A troubled soul flails around in every direction. But not a contrite heart. It’s convicted of its wrong. It is “penitent and pleading” (Kraus, Psalms 1-59, p. 506). Switching these two words softens sin and what is required for there to be any forgiveness of sin.

            In Psalm 130, the pivotal verse 4, “For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared,” is changed to read, “in order that you may be feared.” The issue here is whether or not our reaction or God’s plan is central. Translating the logical connector as “therefore” puts the stress on us as it should. For indeed it is because of our sinfulness that we fear God’s forgiveness – not because he makes us afraid. Once again, then, ELW de-emphasizes our sinfulness.

            On Psalm 130 Martin Luther said there’s the reaction of faith to forgiveness which is hope, and the reaction of sin which is fear (LW 14:191). Therefore

 

God deals strangely with His children. He blesses them with contradictory and disharmonious things, for hope and despair are opposites. Yet His children must hope in despair; for fear is nothing else than the beginning of despair, and hope is the beginning of recovery. And these two things, direct opposites by nature, must be in us, because in us two natures are opposed to each other, the old man and the new. The old man must fear, despair, and perish; the new man must hope, be raised up, and stand…. Hope, which forms the new man, grows in the midst of fear that cuts down the old Adam.

 

In Psalm 130 – which for good reason was called in Latin the great De Profundis [Service Book and Hymnal (Augsburg, 1958) p. 207] – the battle between our fear of and hope in God’s forgiveness, is lost in this ELW revision. That does nothing for us who are trying to measure up to the “good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12)!

            In Psalm 139, the ELW revision misses the chance to get the verb in verse 10 straight. It translates it as “holds… fast.” But that’s too mild. The same verb is translated as “seized” in Psalm 48:6. And that’s more like it. So ELW should have been consistent and translated the verb the same way in Psalm 139:10.

Then the overpowering nature of God that is expressed throughout this psalm could have been manifested consistently. Then we could have heard that in the face of God’s “all-penetrating reality, all human possibilities are bound to fail, and what is impossible with men sets no limit to the divine reality” [Artur Weiser, The Psalms (1959; Westminster, 1962) p. 804]. Then the words of Amos 9:2-3 could have been clearly echoed in Psalm 139:

 

Though they dig into Sheol,

from there shall my hand take them;

though they climb up to heaven,

from there I will bring them down.

Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel ,

from there I will search out and take them; and

though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,

there I will command the serpent,

and it shall bite them.

            With this corrected translation, we can then also see Psalm 139:10 in Jonah (Jonah 1:17, 2:10, 4:8) and St. Paul (Acts 9:3-9). For in both these figures, they are fleeing from God and he seizes them violently. It is that tripping-up that the ELW translation misses. Its exalted view of people simply disallows it – a view that should have been abandoned from the beginning.

            Finally ELW erratically translates the word for king. It lets it stand as “king” in Psalms 24, 44, 47, 48 74, 84, 89, 93, 98, 99 and 145. But it comes up with substitutes (e.g., ruler, sovereign) in Psalms 10, 68, 95, 97 and 149. Now why is this so? Perhaps because it agrees that “God the King no longer fits” in a world of “chance and change,” nor does it properly express the “passionate love” God has for us [Brian Wren, What Language Shall I Borrow? God-Talk in Worship (Crossroads, 1989) pp. 126, 234].

But if this is the explanation, then these changes to the word “king” should have been debated first. For Wren’s views on these matters are contestable. Not everyone agrees with him. And since the burden of proof lies with the innovator, it was wrong for ELW to sneak in these changes. But once again ELW has gone its own merry way – throwing all caution to the wind and “letting the devil take the hindmost.”

 

The Psalm Prayers

ELW also goes after the Psalm prayers in the LBW Minister’s Desk Edition. For those who use the daily office regularly, these prayers are well known. So changing them is no small matter. In some ways these changes matter more than what ELW does to the Sunday liturgies. Unlike the Sunday liturgies, these prayers affect our daily lives.

            A fair number of these changes are slight and of little importance (e.g. Psalms 8, 12, 52, 62, 67, 76, 77, 80, 87, 89, 94, 98, 106, 110, 113, 120, 122, 123, 134, 135, 140, 145, and 147). And some of these prayers haven’t been changed at all (Psalms 65, 70, 115, 136 and 148). But others have been radically altered.

            For Psalm 5, the LBW version says God hates evil and abhors lies. This comes from verse 5 which says God hates sinners. This is a chilling Biblical testimony, which is mostly denied in our time, but, which, nevertheless, is repeated in Psalms 11:5 and 95:10; Proverbs 6:15-19; Leviticus 26:30; Job 16:9; Jeremiah 12:8 and Hosea 9:15. However these holy words don’t faze ELW. It won’t even let stand the popular mantra in the LBW prayer for Psalm 109 which says, “teach us to despise hatred and not those who hate, to detest sin and not the sinner.” ELW nevertheless gladly replaces it with the weak line, “turn us from hatred and evil.” There’s no righteous indignation or wrath allowed here – either on our part or with God.

            This same denial of God’s wrath is in the prayer for Psalm 58. ELW drops the line from the LBW version that God could be our “severe judge” on the last day if not for faith in Jesus Christ. This denial is also in the prayer for Psalm 97. The LBW version reads, “God our king, you… rain terror upon your enemies.” True indeed. Check out Genesis 19:24 and Luke 13:1-5. The ELW version drops all reference to such terror due to the wrath of God. Too bad for us, since ignorance isn’t bliss.

            We see the same in Psalm 116. There the line in LBW reads: “through… your Son you have freed us from the bonds of death and the anguish of separation from you.” In ELW it’s chopped down to read: “you have freed us from the bonds of sin and death.” But these are not equivalent. The shorter ELW version avoids the possibility of separation from God –due perhaps to an unjustified exuberance over the inseparability noted in Romans 8:39. But this verse has to be combined with the “exclusion from God” testified to in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. This second verse follows when there’s no faith in Christ – that’s how much faith in him matters. The first follows when there’s faith in Christ – and so it ends saying “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And so this change is quite distressing.

            For Psalm 20, the LBW version says “Lord God, who accepted the perfect sacrifice of your Son upon the cross.” This ties into verse 3, which reads, “accept your burnt sacrifice.” The ELW prayer drops all reference to Jesus’ death as a sacrifice to God. This violates Ephesians 5:2 and Hebrews 9:14. It probably does so out of fear of admitting that God’s wrath is so great that it needs assuaging.

            We see the same squeamishness in the prayer for Psalm 32. The LBW text reads, “Lord God, you desired to keep from us your wrath and so did not spare your holy servant Jesus Christ, who was wounded for our sins.” This ties into verse 8, “You are my hiding place.” This rejected prayer gives honor to Romans 5:9 which says we are saved from the wrath of God by Jesus’ blood.

A similar line is dropped from the LBW prayer for Psalm 49, which reads, “Lord Jesus,… teach us to… have confidence in your blood, poured out as the price of our redemption.” It is replaced with the generic line, “you have ransomed our life from death.” This version misses Martin Luther’s warning that salvation doesn’t come just through faith in Jesus, but rather through “faith in his blood” [Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. J. N. Lenker, 8 vols. (1909; Baker, 1988) 6:163]. Luther derives this warning from Romans 3:35 (see also Ephesians 1:7 and 1 Peter 1:19).

            The same blunder is in the prayer for Psalm 56. ELW drops the opening sentence from the LBW version, which reads, “Lord Jesus Christ, victim for our sins, you trusted in your Father’s protection and kept silent when you were tormented.”

            This exaltation of the blood sacrifice of Christ is also lost in the prayer for Psalm 73. In the LBW version we read, by Jesus’ “death the penalty for sin was changed into glory.” This comes directly from Hebrews 2:14, that through death Jesus destroyed death. It is triggered by Psalm 73:26, “though my flesh… should waste away, God is… my portion forever.” All of these denials are ghastly.

            The wonderful contrast in the LBW prayer for Psalm 37 is cut from ELW too. It reads, “teach us to put our trust in the Father and to seek his kingdom rather than to imitate the powerful or envy the rich.” The prayer for Psalm 71 is also weakened. In the LBW version, we read, “Lord God,… help us to follow your will in both good and bad times.” That punch is lost in the ELW version which only says “help us to follow your will… under all circumstances.” Knowing that God sometimes wills that we suffer through actual bad times is the valuable insight we have in Job 1:21 and 2:10, and also in Hebrews 12: 5-17. This weakened prayer is so dangerous because it leaves those who pray it in an equally weakened state. It doesn’t help us acquire the powerful character promised in the famous Romans 5:3-5 which calls us to rejoice in our sufferings.

 

The Easter Vigil

ELW also makes dramatic changes to the LBW Easter Vigil liturgy. In the Exsultet or Easter Proclamation it makes two major changes.

In the first it takes the line “praise… Jesus… who paid for us the debt of Adam to the eternal Father,… and redeemed us from the bondage to the ancient sin” (LBW, Desk Edition, p. 144) and changes it to say “praise… Jesus… who by his precious blood, redeemed us from bondage to the ancient sin” (ELW, Desk Edition, p. 646). In this change paying the debt is dropped as well as saying that the ransom was paid to God.

These changes greatly obscure the value of Jesus’ sacrifice for sinners. This is very dangerous because it is just this ghastly death that “draws” us to him (John 12:32). What you would think would drive people away is actually what pulls them in! Seeing how much Jesus endured for us softens our hearts and opens our minds. Our infested wicked hearts (Mark 7:21-23) miraculously become “honest and good” ones (Luke 8:15). So this change in ELW boomerangs. It does the opposite of what it was intended to do.

            These changes also obscure that the ransom was paid to God (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:14), since it was his wrath that needed calming (John 3:36; Romans 2:5, 5:9). Indeed, in “justification our business is with God; his wrath must be stilled” (BC, p. 138). But this is a much too violent view of God for many urbane, educated Christians to bear. So ELW accommodates them with this change. But then Jesus’ sacrifice loses its rationale. If God’s rage doesn’t need assuaging, then why does Jesus die painfully and ignobly – forsaken by God (Mark 15:34)? If he dies to show us how bad we are for killing him, that wretchedness could more easily be seen in genocide and child sacrifices which are legion and ubiquitous. As Martin Luther pointed out in his beloved Galatians commentary, our reconciliation to God must include his reconciliation to us too if there is to be any hope for sinners (LW 26:325). This is shamefully dropped in this ELW revision.

            But there’s more. ELW also drops from that same Easter Proclamation these words (LBW, Desk Edition, pp. 144-145):

   

For it would have profited us nothing to be born

    had we not also been redeemed.

Oh, how wonderful the condescension of your lovingkindness!

Oh, how inestimable the goodness of your love,

    that to redeem a slave you delivered up your Son!

O necessary sin of Adam that is wiped away by the death of Christ!

O happy fault that was worthy to have so great a Redeemer!

 

            These words are unbelievably glorious, but, according to ELW, they deserve to be cut! By losing them we lose a profound witness to the Biblical testimony in John 3:3-6, Philippians 2:7-8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Mark 2:17 and Hebrews 2:14. How so?

            In the first lines our physical birth is demeaned. But that’s what John 3:3-6 does. It says “unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God…. for that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” In the second sentence God’s incarnation is alarmingly seen as a humiliation. But that’s what Philippians 2:7-8 says, viz., “Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,… and he humbled himself.”

            In the third sentence God is the one who makes his only Son suffer. But this is just what 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, viz., “for our sake God made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become righteous.” And 1 John 4:10 further clarifies this by saying Jesus thereby had to become a “sacrifice for sin.” And the last two sentences shockingly say there was something unexpectedly good in sinning. But this is what Mark 2:17 means when Jesus says that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

            How sad it is that all these magnificent proclamations have been silenced and in the Easter Vigil Proclamation – of all places! It takes your breath away.

 

Conclusion

ELW is promoted as a replacement for LBW. It’s supposedly a better book than the LBW is because it has more liturgical options, a complete Psalter and many new and improved hymns. But it’s hard to see how these changes give it the leg up.

            I have tried to show in this critique that there are so many serious flaws in the texts of ELW that it cannot possibly be a better book. When LBW replaced the Service Book and Hymnal (1958) in 1978, the gains were clear and compelling – especially in the movement away from archaic, Elizabethan English. But in 2006, LBW doesn’t have as many deficiencies as SBH had in 1978. So if it ain’t broke, I say, then don’t fix it!

Given all the mistakes I’ve listed in ELW, it can never be adopted as the chief liturgical resource for any ELCA parish. A few of it hymns are quite good and could safely be used to enrich our worship. I have drawn attention to a few, such as ELW 265, 405, 428, 563, 695, 757, 760, 826 and 880. But be careful. ELW can’t be trusted. Every word in every hymn must be scrutinized before being used. Little changes are inserted without any flags to identify them. So leave no stone unturned. Note, for instance, the change of “all newborn soldiers of the Crucified,” (LBW 377) to “all newborn servants” (ELW 660). So much for our “warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18) and “armor” (Ephesians 6:13-17)! Note too that “For All the Saints” (ELW 422) has verse 3 (LBW 174) on soldiers cut out!

And given the gravity of the flaws I’ve identified in ELW, it would be easy to follow Luther in another time and place and simply shout out, “This is heresy! Exterminate it! Consign it to hell-fire!” (LW 22:469) – and be done with it. Certainly if I’m right about the inversion of John 3:30 in ELW, then we should probably share unabashedly in Luther’s pique.

But if we still hanker after a new worship book, we might do better looking over the new Missouri Synod Lutheran book, just out this year too, called Lutheran Service Book. It appears to be free of many of the mistakes I’ve noted in this critique.

All this means that at the very least we should be skeptical of ELW. Yet even this more circumscribed disdain may seem for some still to be too cranky. But such skepticism isn’t really over the top. It actually is part of our Christian life together. In Johann B. Frystein’s (1671-1718) fine hymn, “Rise, My Soul, to Watch and Pray” (LBW 443), we learn about just such a critical, discerning posture – especially in its second verse. Carry that verse with you whenever you peruse ELW. And be sure to ask yourself as you read through this new ELCA worship book why this fine hymn was cut from it. Could it have been that it cut too close to the bone? Here then is that contentious verse:

 

Watch against the world that frowns

Darkly to dismay you;

Watch when it your wishes crowns,

Smiling to betray you.

Watch and see, you are free

From false friends who charm you

While they seek to harm you.

   

“A vulture is over the house of the Lord.”          Hosea 8:1

 

Copyright © 2006 Ronald F. Marshall

 

       

 
   

 

Evangelical Lutheran Worship and Universalism

By Pastor Marshall

 

The hymns in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) (2006) leave much to be desired. There are indeed some wonderful new ones (Hymns 265, 405, 428, 563, 695, 757, 760, 826, 880). But because ELW has damaged so many of the dearly beloved older hymns with its reckless revisions, this new hymnal cannot be recommended.

 

For instance, in “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” (590), sin and salvation are softened in verses 2 and 3. In “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus” (802), the “if” in the last verse is changed to “let,” thereby deflating discipleship. In “All Glory Be to God on High” (410) the gravitas in the first verse is lost by dropping the line, “Whatever Satan’s host may try, God foils their dark endeavor.” In “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You” (241), the last verse is cut from the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) (1978) version (Hymn 23) with its chilling judgment against the nations. In “Lo! He Comes with Cloud Descending” (435), the two middle verses from LBW 27 are eliminated, thereby minimizing the sacrifice of Christ. And finally the profound hymns, “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” (LBW 396), by the astute Lutheran, Martin Franzmann (1907-1976), and Luther’s “To Jordon Came the Christ, Our Lord” (LBW 79) are simply dropped altogether from ELW.

 

In all of these revisions, Christ is diminished. This is most clearly seen in the rewriting of George Doane’s hymn, “You are the Way” (758). The words in the first verse of this beloved hymn are changed to read:

 

You are the way; to you alone

from sin and death we flee;

all those who search for God, you find

and by your grace set free.

 

This is a catastrophic change from LBW 464 which reads:

 

You are the way; through you alone

Can we the Father find;

In you, O Christ, has God revealed

His heart, his will, his mind!

 

What this LBW version built up and elevated in Christ, ELW has shamefully torn down. No longer does ELW follow John 14:6 that faith in Jesus is the only way to the saving grace of God. Rather than saying with the LBW, “through you alone can we the Father find,” ELW reverses the verse to say “all those who search for God, you find”! No longer is this hymn about faith finding the unique Savior, Jesus Christ. Now it stresses a savior who finds and gathers up all religious seekers into one grand religious stew.

 

Jesus, then, for instance, brings good followers of Hinduism into the fold simply by virtue of their interest in the divine – whatever their own wishes and ideas of God may be. It doesn’t matter that in Hinduism their god, Brahman, isn’t the Holy Trinity. It doesn’t matter that Acts 14:15 says in order to find the one true loving God we must turn away from vain things.

 

This makes this ELW version heretical. It’s Matthew Fox’s cosmic Christ who is found in all religions whether Jesus’ name is honored or not [The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (Harper & Row, 1988) pp. 151, 244]. The cosmic Christ is manifest in all who honestly seek after the divine – whether or not Christ is named by them as Lord (contra Romans 10:9-10). On this view, Christ’s saving sacrifice is surpassed by our devout religious yearnings. This is a complete reversal of John 3:30 which says that Christ is to increase and we are to decrease. Now it is we who are to increase and Christ who is to decrease!

 

It is true that the LBW took the original 1824 version of Doane’s hymn and revised it. Here is the original version of that first verse from hymn 199 in Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861, 1982):

 

Thou art the Way: by thee alone

From sin and death we flee;

And he who would the Father seek

Must seek him, Lord, by thee.

 

Clearly you can see how the ELW version retrieves some of the original text in the second line. But contrary to the LBW text, the ELW version still goes well beyond the original, twisting it into a universalistic hymn which it obviously isn’t. The original says what ELW denies, viz., that “he who would the Father seek must seek him, Lord, by thee.” Christ is clearly the sole means of salvation in the original version of this hymn – something the ELW version eliminates altogether.

 

So the ELW version turns “You Are the Way” into a universalistic hymn. Universalism holds there are many ways to be saved – so that everyone will be saved. It insists that faith in Christ Jesus, the only Son of God, isn’t the only way of salvation. But why would Lutherans want their new worship book to be universalistic? The Bible condemns universalism – most clearly in John 3:16, 36, 14:6; Acts 4:12; and 1 John 5:9-12. And so do the Lutheran Confessions, which say that only Christ can save us from the wrath of God and alone get us back into the good graces of God [The Book of Concord, ed. T. Tappert (Fortress, 1959), pp. 136, 561]. For we “cannot find peace before God except by faith alone” in Christ, who is “the propitiator through whom we have access to the Father” (BC, p. 137). So why would ELW espouse such a faithless, faulty view that denies these classic Christian truths?

 

The short answer is that universalism is faddish. It sounds urbane and sophisticated. It looks more open-minded than the tightly drawn words of Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. Universalism, it is believed, will help increase the waning membership of the ELCA by erasing the offensive particularity of Christianity. (For more on universalism see my “For Christians Only,” under publications at www.flcws.org.) Michael B. Aune, Academic Dean of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, writes in “Liturgy and Theology: Rethinking the Relationship” [Worship 81 (January 2007) 46-68, p. 60 n. 50], that the promotional liturgical materials which preceded ELW grant “little place… to Christ, his person and redemptive work.” It therefore is not so surprising that we see the same diminishment of Christ in the hymns of ELW itself, especially in George Doane’s gem, “You Are the Way.”

 

 [Reprinted from Cross Accent: Journal of the Association of

Lutheran Church Musicians, 2007, Volume 15, Number 2, pp. 3-4.]

 

 

 
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