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Think Long and Hard

—before buying new ELCA hymnal

by Pastor Scott Grorud (Reclaim Resources committee member)

News: June 5, 2006

This fall, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is publishing a new hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. A promotional pack for the new hymnal recently was sent to all ELCA churches. Besides sample hymns and liturgies, it included bulletin inserts, newsletter articles, offering envelopes and other material to promote and raise money for the purchase of the new hymnal. photo of Pastor Grorud The overall tone of the kit was one of breathless anticipation and a sense of inevitability about purchasing it for our churches.

There are, however, many reasons to think long and hard before investing any church’s offerings in this new hymnal. It is telling, for example, that the new ELCA hymnal’s planning guide says that the hymnal’s title is “rich with meaning and purpose for the church today.” Yet, the paragraph on “evangelical” speaks mostly of how easy the hymnal will be to use and the paragraph on “Lutheran” describes only the diversity of sources and resources included in it. Neither paragraph explains or applies the actual meaning of those important terms, which is curious indeed.

It is also a concern that relatively few ELCA members have seen the final content of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. The 2005 Churchwide Assembly approved only the process leading to the new hymnal. The book itself was not available for review at the time. Final texts for the hymnal were not made available until after the Church Council meeting in November, but unless one knows where to look for them on the ELCA web site, they are not easily found. A small sample booklet was included in the preview kit, but it is not possible to view the entire contents and apparently won’t be possible until October. It seems unwise to begin raising money for a hymnal that has not been fully and carefully examined.

A more important reason to question the purchase of the new hymnal is that it introduces practices that are not consistent with Lutheran theology and worship. For example, a new communion service offers a rite of thanksgiving for baptism as an alternative to confession and forgiveness of sin, but includes not a word about either sin or repentance. It reflects a theology of baptism that is far removed from the confessional call to drown our sinful selves daily in repentance and rise to new life in Christ.

Some of the Psalms in the new ELCA hymnal have been recast significantly, largely to avoid masculine language for God. Psalms that were written as declarations of what God has done have been “re-translated” into second-person prayers addressed to God, which significantly changes their meaning and purpose. Some hymns and the second article of the Apostles’ Creed have also been altered for the same purpose. The latter change is particularly harmful, because it disconnects the second article from the first, undermining the Trinity in service to a feminist ideology.

The emphasis on eucharistic prayers, included even in the proposed service of the Word, reveals how the direction of worship has been changing in recent worship resources, starting already in the Service Book and Hymnal and continuing with each new hymnal and supplement. More and more, liturgies emphasize our offering of thanks and praise to God, rather than God’s Word coming to us to justify the ungodly.

Since the new ELCA liturgies were first proposed, some of the most egregious elements, such as blessing the water in the baptismal service and a gender-neutral marriage service, have been removed in response to criticism. Unfortunately, some of what remains is still deeply troublesome, but not as obvious to see.

There is, fortunately, a good alternative to the ELCA’s Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Reclaim Resources, which began as a WordAlone hymnal task force, but is now separately incorporated, is producing worship resources that are solidly Lutheran and confessional. A preview booklet was distributed at the WordAlone convention this spring and was very well received. This summer, Reclaim will publish a larger, introductory edition with the full Holy Communion service, orders for baptism, weddings and funerals and nearly 50 classic and contemporary hymns that teach the faith. This edition could stand alongside the Lutheran Book of Worship as a supplement.

Meanwhile, Reclaim Resources continues working to publish a full hymnal as soon as possible. For more information, see

Write to:

  • Reclaim Resources
  • P.O. Box 8202
  • St. Paul, MN 55108

...Or call toll free at 800-590-6001.

If your church suddenly begins raising money for “the new hymnal,” ask your pastor or worship committee the pertinent questions. Is anyone going to examine it before mass quantities are purchased? Do you know the liturgical, theological and ideological principles that drive it? Is this the wisest use of the church’s money at this time? Have other worship resources been considered? Does Evangelical Lutheran Worship faithfully uphold confessional Lutheran convictions about worship and how God works through his Word? Answering those questions should create a profound reluctance to invest in this hymnal.