from “Lutheran Hymnody: Orthodoxy in Song” by Pr. Chad L. Bird
Criteria #3: A Lutheran hymn is not experiential or sentimental (theology of glory), but objective and sturdy (theology of the cross). The theology of the Lutheran church is a theology of the cross. This means not only that we preach Christ crucified, but that the crucifix is the lens through which we view all of God’s dealings with us. In the sacrifice of the body of Jesus, God was hiding Himself in order that He might reveal Himself through what seemed most ungodly or “ungod-like”. God revealed His glory, His love, and His will to save within what the human mind rejected as offensive or unbecoming of divinity. And so St. Paul says,
For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God [. . .] God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. (1 Cor 1:18, 27-29).
The cross thus shapes the sacramental and liturgical life of the church as well. The plain, ordinary, earthly elements of water, bread, and wine are the masks behind which Christ is present. Human words spoken by a common man are the vehicles of the Spirit’s work. These are the means of the cross, the bearers of divine gifts which come from outside man and enter into him by objective channels. Because God is so hidden and unseen in this, faith is required to believe and receive that which God is proffering.
The theology of glory, however, turns its gaze away from the outside-of-me Gospel and Sacraments, to the inner experience of the Spirit or the outward manifestations of God’s might or sovereignty. The theology of glory looks for God where man assumes God should be found, not where He has promised to be. The glory-theologian thus treasures supposed experiences of God, where he “feels” the divine presence. His conversion-experience replaces the objectivity of Holy Baptism and the whispering of the inner “still, quiet voice of God” trumps the public preaching of the Gospel.
How does a glory-theologian speak of worship and the purpose of hymnody within that context? Here is how Kirk Hadaway defines a worship service and its goals:
A worship service is a dynamic mix of congregational singing, prayer, choir anthems, announcements, ritual, testimony, liturgy, solos, instrumentals, organ music, a sermon, an offering, Scripture reading, sitting, standing, and interacting with persons seated nearby. Some churches may add to this mix other elements such as a children’s sermon, drama, clapping and swaying to the music, “passing the peace,” a processional, a recessional, and so forth. The nature of this content, and its quality affects the character of worship in terms of meaning, enjoyment, boredom, excitement, morale, and whether one feels they have encountered God in the experience. 9
There is a complete absence here of the divine work of God in His Word and Sacraments to bestow upon sinners the gifts of Jesus Christ. The “worship service” is a hodgepodge of primarily human activities designed to help the worshiper feel they have encountered God in the experience. Ostensibly, the more meaning, enjoyment, excitement, and morale the service generates, the more successful the worship-leaders are. Hymnody within this mix cannot but serve subjective ends.
Examples of glory-theology are widespread in the hymns included in The Other Songbook. The centrality of feelings is accented in “The Bond of Love” (#260) and “Sometimes Alleluia” (#188).
We are one in the bond of love;
We are one in the bond of love.
We have joined our spirit with the Spirit of God;
We are one in the bond of love.Let us sing now, ev’ry one;
Let us feel His love begun.
Let us join our hands, that the world will know
We are one in the bond of love.
Chorus: Sometimes, “Alleluia,”
sometimes, “Praise the Lord.”
Sometimes gently singing,
Our hearts in one accord
Oh let us let our voices,
Look toward the sky and start to sing;
Oh let us feel His presence,
Let the sound of praises fill the air;
Oh let our joy be unconfined
, Let us sing with freedom unrestrained;
Oh let the Spirit overflow,
As we are filled from head to toe.