Christianity without the Atonement

The committee preparing a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA) has thrown out a popular praise song, “In Christ Alone,” not just because it refers to the “wrath” of God, as originally reported, but because of the word “satisfied.”  That is, because it says the wrath of God was satisfied in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  What was objectionable is the doctrine of the atonement.  (See Abby Stocker, writing for Christianity Today, and follow her links, which show how this bedrock teaching of the Christian faith has become controversial lately, even among many ostensible “evangelicals.”)

What is the point of Christianity without the atonement?  It becomes turned into another religion.  I suppose the attraction is that it gives us another religion of law, which people somehow prefer to a religion that says they are sinners in need of forgiveness and, yes, atonement.  Jesus becomes the example we have to emulate, though surely those who are honest will have to admit that this is an even higher standard that they fail to live up to.

At any rate, after the jump I quote Timothy George on the controversy, who, though he focuses on “wrath” rather than “satisfaction,” makes some excellent points as he puts the controversy in the context of church history.  I also appreciate his account of how hymns have been tinkered with.  See, for example, the Mormon Tabernacle choir version of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and what the Unitarians have done to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” [Read more...]

“For All the Saints”

Happy All Saints’ Day!  All Christians are saints–sinners, but also saints–and this is a day to celebrate the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints,  as it extends through time and space, in this moment and in eternity.  This includes your loved ones who died in the Christian faith and who now exult in Heaven.

Sometimes I find that when I sing a hymn, I rush past all of the poetry.  So let’s contemplate the lyrics from this classic hymn by William W. How (1823-1897):

1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

7. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Alleluia! Alleluia!

8. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

via “For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest”.

The St. Ambrose Hymn Writing Contest

Who says conservative Lutherans don’t like contemporary Christian music in church?  We do.  It’s just that we want the contemporary Christian music to be, you know, hymns, as opposed to pop ditties.  And we do need new hymns.  Towards addressing that need, I am happy to announce that some twenty-somethings in our congregation, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, Virginia, have organized a major hymn-writing competition.  They have raised a $1,000 prize and have arranged for publication.  For details and for just learning about what the big deal is about hymns, check out the website:  St. Ambrose Hymn Writing Contest.

Here are the parameters of the contest:

The Challenge:

Many of the Gospel readings throughout the historic Church Year lack hymns which properly exposit their true sense. It is the purpose of this contest to provide profound and artistic hymns for such unaddressed pericopes (that is, a set of readings given for a certain day). Therefore, the challange of this contest is as follows: to compose a hymn which discerns and declares the meaning of the chosen lectionary texts and properly expresses the congregational response to the work of our Lord in the Word.

The Texts:

The hymn should concern itself with the following texts, with a focus on the gospel reading:

Zephaniah 1:7-16
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

The Prize:

The winner of the contest shall be awarded $1,000. The winning hymn will be publised by Liturgy Solutions, which will be granted first right-of-refusal to the hymn upon acceptance of the prize money.   The author/composer royalty to be paid by Liturgy Solutions will be 50% of all receipts from sales and any other profitable uses of the hymn (public performance for profit, radio broadcast, etc.).”

So the texts the hymn is supposed to elucidate deal with the Day of the Lord, Jesus coming back like a thief in the night, and the Parable of the Talents.

Yes, I have been asked to be one of the judges, but I will show no favoritism to the tunes of Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, or other artists that I can go on and on about on this blog.  (Well, if Bob Dylan enters the contest with a lectionary hymn, he might have an edge with me.)

But, seriously, you can use an existing hymn tune, if you like, or you can compose your own.  The words will be key.  You know those numbers at the bottom of each page in a hymnbook?  7.7.7., 8.6.8.6, 10.10.10.10.  Those are the number of syllables in each line.  That’s important to know in writing words to go with a particular tune.

Anyway, enter!  Try it.  You need not be Lutheran to win.  There is a thousand dollar prize!  The deadline is December 1.  Maybe your hymn too will be sung in future centuries.

Giving Luther a hit record

A while back ago we blogged about that YouTube video of Lyle Lovett and other members of his LCMS congregation reciting the Nicene Creed.  Someone observed that on his latest album,  Release Me, he does a straight-up recording of Luther’s hymn “Keep Us Steadfast“:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

All of this gave Aaron Lewis a bright idea:

I was reading your post recently about Lyle Lovett’s rendition of Lord Keep Us Steadfast on his new album.
Why don’t you launch a campaign to help a song by Luther reach the top of the pop charts? We could start by having you encourage your readers to call radio stations and request that they play the song (it is on a major label so most stations should have the album). People can suggest others do the same on their facebook page/twitter &etc.
What do you think???

 I think it’s not very likely that the readership of this blog, however massive and well-connected, could pull that off, but, hey, I’m willing to try.  And we can all at the very least buy the track for 99 cents at Amazon or for $1.29 at iTunes, thus bidding up its prominence.  (Go to one of those sites to sample the recording.)  Though I myself, a big fan of Lovett and his alt country repristination of Western Swing, want the whole album.

With the liturgy, “you never need words for joy”

Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz points us to the role of the liturgy–including the Psalms and the classic hymns of praise–in the life of J. R. R. Tolkien.  This is from a letter to his son, Christopher:

“If you don’t do so already, make a habit of the ‘praises’. I use them much (in Latin): the Gloria Patri, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Laudate Dominum; the Laudete Pueri Dominum (of which I am specially fond), one of the Sunday psalms; and the Magnificat; also the Litany of Loretto (with the prayer Sub tuum praesidium). If you have these by heart you never need words for joy.”

via E-nklings: Tolkien on the Liturgy.

HT:  Mary Moerbe

Luther’s bar tunes

Luther used bar tunes in his hymns, right?  So we too can use the pop music of the entertainment industry for our church songs, right?  Once again, as I have explained before, a “bar tune” in music history is NOT a song that was sung in our kind of “bars”!  Peter Berg explain:

Luther did not use bar songs but rather his own creations and the musical heritage of the church catholic. The term bar refers to the type of staff notation used in medieval musical composing.  . . .

The musical notation was simply a repeat sign, known in Luther’s day as a “bar”. Yes, believe it or not, some wacky American Lutherans saw Luther’s reference to “barred music” in German and changed the repeat sign into a pub!  Why did Luther write positively about “bar(red) music”?  Because it describes the musical form A A B.  He thought that the repetition of the music of the first phrase would help in learning, and then the B phrase would give the balance of variety.  Hence, many chorales are written in this way.  The reason “bars” were used for notating this form was  used to save ink & paper.  Today we simply call these “repeat signs”.  You see this even in 19th and early 20th-century hymnals: the music for the first line ends with a repeat sign, and then the second verse of the first stanza is written in.

Example:

First line of music (A)

Salvation unto us has come, by God’s free grace and favor (repeat sign)

Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never.

SECOND line of music (B)

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Did Luther Endorse “Bar” Music for the Church? by Phillip Magness.


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