Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ask Not For Whom...

Pr. William Weedon wrote the following, regarding the LCMS's fascination with contemporary, consumerist Evangelicalism:

How'd it happen?... Doesn't make the least bit of sense of to me at all. I don't understand why anyone would prefer to sing "Shine Jesus Shine" to "Lord, let at last Thine Angels Come." Maybe it came about when Lutherans forgot that our joyful task is to prepare people to die the blessed death instead of vainly teaching them to live their best life now? A shift from the true treasures of the Church to methods of coping with the present?
As we've been singing the "Lutheran Standards' the past few years I've noticed something extraordinary about the hymns written in the 17th century and beyond. Many include stanzas of the following stripe:
Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr'ham's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glroious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend
And I will praise Thee without end.
("Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart," M. Schalling, 1532-1608
Text: Public Domain)
Or take this one:
Yea, when the world shall perish
With all its pride and pow’r,
Whatever worldlings cherish
Shall vanish in that hour.
But though in death they make
The deepest grave our cover
When there our sleep is over,
Our God will us awake.
("From God Shall Naught Divide Me", Ludwig Helmbold, 1532–1598
Text: Public Domain)
And this one:
Let us also die with Jesus.
His death from the second death,
From our soul’s destruction, frees us,
Quickens us with life’s glad breath.
Let us mortify, while living,
Flesh and blood and die to sin;
And the grave that shuts us in
Shall but prove the gate to heaven.
Jesus, here I die to Thee
There to live eternally.
("LetUs Ever Walk with Jesus," Sigismund von Birken, 1626-81
Text: Public Domain)
All these texts speak frankly about the grave--and not just any grave, but the grave of the singer. Contrast this with about any hymn written in the last century. Hardly any of those address the stark reality of what is coming in our lives. I'm sure there are historical and sociological reasons for this. We know that mortality rates have decreased significantly since the 15th and 16th Centuries and life expectancies have increased.

Yet death is the final enemy we will all face. But we deny this, it seems, in more contemporary hymns and praise songs. Death is not an issue for whatever reason. And when death is no longer on the table, all we have is this life, making the most of it--or as Pr. Weedon writes, making it the best now.

This impacts modern evangelism and missions as well. If remaining faithful to Christ until death, indeed, attaining salvation after my last breath is not the priority for life and for Christian living, then why are we here? Well, to make more Christians, it seems!

While we can be sure that God is loving and merciful and desires our salvation, indeed, that Christ has atoned for our sin, this world and our lives are uncertain. It is possible to fall away, and the grave beckons with irresistible force. When we recognize this, the present comes into clear focus: the present purpose of our life is to glorify God in faith and in our deaths.


  1. William Weedon said...

    I was struck in Matins this morning with how this very thought was expressed in Ecclesiastes (7:4):

    The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

  2. George said...

    When we remember that we are mortal & that to dust we shall return, it certainly gives us a clarifying perspective on life.

    I used that thought in premarriage counselling last night, reminding a couple that their most important relationship in life will not be their marriage to each other, not that it's unimportant, but that it will end when death comes. Their most important relationship is with the Triune God & it will last forever, despite death.

  3. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    Did I mention that my wife wanted to have "Who Knows When Death My Overtake Me" sung at our wedding?

  4. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    These modern "hymns" are more popular than the traditional ones because they are more stimulating, physically and emotionally. People enjoy stimulation. And that's what a lot of "contemporary worship" is about.

    It certainly isn't about spiritual stimulation, and come to think of it, not intellectual, either. It's mindless catering to the body.