Article: Psalms and Hymns and Pietist Songs: A Look At Early Lutheran Hymnals in America

Christians throughout the centuries have always highly valued liturgy and hymnody. St. Paul encourages the Colossian Christians to continue “teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.”[i] It is hard even to conceive of a Christianity which would be devoid of the gift of song. Singing was certainly important for St. Paul and it is certainly important for North American Lutherans. Popular stories abound of pilgrims on ships coming over to America with Bibles and hymnals in tow. This is of course no truer for Lutherans than it is for the Puritans aboard the Mayflower. The Lutheran immigrants had their own hymnals and valued them. Interestingly, St. Prosper of Aquitaine’s rule, popularly paraphrased as lex orandi, lex credenda—the law of prayer is the law of faith—, is applicable to those North American Lutherans as well. What did St Prosper intend by this saying? He means to convey that how Christians worship, pray, and sing reflects what they believe, teach, and confess. Or, as put more eloquently in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the Church believes as she prays.”[ii] So it should not come as a surprise that a major difference in hymnals might truly reflect differing confessions and beliefs. This paper seeks to demonstrate that this difference of beliefs can be seen in the different hymnals used among Lutherans in North America. To examine such a claim this paper will consider two hymnals. The first hymnal to be considered is from the late eighteenth century: Henry Melchior Muhlenberg’s Erbauliche Liedersammlung and its adaptation into English by John Christopher Kunze. Another hymnal from the nineteenth century, C. F. W. Walther’s Kirchengesangbuch, will be considered and evaluated. Inquiry will be made into their hymnody and, if applicable, their liturgy. The historical and theological background of these hymnals will be discussed. Special note will be made of the influence of Halle Pietism on Muhlenberg and Kunze, and the confessional revival on Walther.

Muhlenberg and Kunze’s Hymals

In the middle of the eighteenth century there were only several dozen Lutheran congregations in colonial America. These several dozen congregations were served by nearly a dozen pastors. As they had been doing for some time, the Lutherans in North America were dependent upon Europe. They continued to rely upon the European Lutheran churches to support them and supply them with ministers. After almost 100 years in North America, Lutherans remained disorganized and in dire need.[iii] This situation only became worse in the early to mid-eighteenth century as tens of thousands of Lutheran immigrants poured into America. As one might imagine, the burden of supplying pastors to the colonies was too much for the mother-church in Europe to bear.[iv] Up to this point, the Lutherans who had immigrated brought their own Bibles, Small Catechisms, and whatever hymnals were at use in their homeland.[v] Besides their books, the Lutheran immigrants brought with them something else of importance: Pietism.

Pietism may be described as an “experiential-expressive” reaction to a perceived overly intellectual, dead orthodoxy.[vi] Lindberg defines Pietism as, “a Bible-Centered movement concerned for holy living that flows from the regenerate heart.”[vii] This renewal movement set its focus on a true conversion and the interior life of a Christian.[viii] One’s own experiences became the major reference point for Pietism[ix]  This “religion of the heart” is a subjective emphasis on the “personal elements of the Christian faith.”[x] Justification took a back seat to the strong emphasis on the “new creature” and the fruits of rebirth.[xi]  This movement is largely conceived to have begun with Phillip Jacob Spener (d. 1705) and continues onward into the eighteenth century.[xii] August Hermann Francke (d. 1727) was able to help institutionalize Pietism by this role in the University of Halle.[xiii] Halle became a centre of the international missional programme of Pietism.[xiv] One of the distinctive features of Halle Pietism was the stress upon a sudden life changing conversion, along with true repentance and improvement of life.[xv] This “inner crisis” is created by the preaching of the law and leads a person to decide to break with the world and receive faith and forgiveness.[xvi]   These were part of Halle Pietism’s subjective inward looking programme.[xvii] The emphasis upon a certain religious experience of true conversion also led to a strong ethical, sometimes moralistic focus.[xviii] Halle Pietism was focused on “stringent self-examination and the suppression of natural affections.”[xix] Dancing, card playing, going to theatre were all viewed as sinful.[xx] Their goal in all this was “a deeper and genuine Christian faith.”[xxi]

St. Prosper’s rule mentioned earlier certainly applies here. Pietism’s change in theological emphasis is reflected in a change in hymnody.  Instead of Bekenntnisslieder (confessional hymns), the Pietists wrote and preferred Erbauungslieder (devotional hymns). Not all the devotional hymns were Pietistic per se. The hymns of Paul Gerhardt had a strong devotional quality to them, while he remained quite Orthodox. [xxii] Many of these devotional hymns were written after the Thirty Years War, and had as their goal the consolation of those who had suffered.[xxiii] During the early eighteenth century, many of these devotional hymns were written by the Pietists.[xxiv] These hymns were not all bad either. Sometimes their devotional quality made “significant contributions to the church’s song.” However, sometimes this stress on devotional hymnody sometimes “degenerated into irreverent sentimentalism.”[xxv] The rhythmic sixteenth century Reformation chorales with their striking melodies were rejected in favour of hymns which used melodied influenced by a more artistic and operatic style. The emphasis on subjective personal experience being reflected in newer hymns, the number of genuine Lutheran hymns available in the eighteenth century was not very high, and correspondingly, the hymnals were not worth much.[xxvi] The most influential of these hymnals was the Freylinghausen Gesangbuch published in Halle. This hymnal contained over 1500 hymns. This is the hymnal which many of the Lutheran immigrants brought with them.[xxvii]

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was one such immigrant. He was born in Hanover in 1711. He graduated from the University of Göttingen in 1738, and was a pastor and school teacher at an orphanage in Halle for a short time.  It was in Halle where Muhlenberg became acquainted with the form of Pietism in vogue there. Muhlenberg wanted to be a missionary, and Gotthilf August Franke, August Hermann Franke’s son, persuaded him to go and serve as pastor in Pennsylvania in 1741.[xxviii] Muhlenberg received the Halle Hymnal at his ordination from G. A. Franke’s wife, and he brought it with him to the New World. His journals indicate frequent use of the Halle Hymnal once in America.[xxix] Muhlenberg can be described as a “churchly Pietist.” He was committed to the Lutheran Confessions, the Liturgy, and a sacramental approach to the Christian life. However, he was also influenced by Gotthilf August Franke and the Halle Pietism he had encountered.[xxx] In 1748 Muhlenberg had managed to establish the first Lutheran Synod in America, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania.[xxxi] Seeing the multiplicity of European hymnals at use, Muhlenberg wanted a German Hymnal for Lutherans in the North America. “He constantly expressed the hope that the day would come when all Lutheran congregations in America would be united and use the same liturgy and hymnal.”[xxxii] However, this new Synod required much attention from him and it was not until he retired from leadership was he able to spearhead the work of the hymnal. Erbauliche Liedersammlung was published in 1786, the year before Muhlenberg died.[xxxiii]

In 1748, Muhlenberg provided the pastors of the Pennsylvania Ministerium with a liturgy. This liturgy was not printed, but was in use for almost forty years before being included in Erbauliche Liedersammlung.[xxxiv] Given his association with Halle Pietism and the primitive conditions in Colonial America, it is surprising that Muhlenberg thought about creating a standardized liturgy at all.[xxxv] The liturgy itself was adapted from the liturgy of the Savoy Church in London.[xxxvi] That congregation was established in London in 1692. The liturgy they used was translated and adapted from the liturgy at use in Holland since 1567.[xxxvii] While this liturgy was the only one they had on hand, they relied primarily upon their memory of the liturgies they were familiar with in Germany.[xxxviii] Luther Reed describes this liturgy’s roots: “The liturgy in general represented the historic, conservative type of service found in the Saxon, north German, and Scandinavian Lutheran churches.”[xxxix] When one examines the liturgy, it appears to be influenced by Luther’s Deutsche Messe, and indeed, reference is made to Luther’s work.[xl] As one would expect in an adaptation of the Deutsche Messe, the hymn Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr is sung for the Gloria.[xli] Although not sung, the hymn Wir glauben all an einen Gott is spoken by the pastor in place of the Credo.[xlii] However adaptation becomes apparent. The Kyrie which is spoken at the end of a general confession and does not appear to be based on the expected hymn Kyrie, Gott Vater.[xliii] The Sanctus also is spoken as an additional part of the Preface Dialogue and is not linked to the hymn Jesaia, dem Propheten, das geschah.[xliv] The Introit, and Gradual, Hosanna, Benedictus Qui Venit, Pax, Agnus Dei, Nunc Dimittis, and Benedicamus are omitted altogether.[xlv] Another interesting insertion is the “Confession of Sins” which begins the service. Muhlenberg had nothing from the London Service or the four Agendas to warrant this insertion. It has been suggested that perhaps he was familiar with the Book of Common Prayer’s Confession at the beginning of Morning Prayer.[xlvi] There was no chanting because it was too “papistical”.[xlvii] With so much omission and modification, one is curious as to the basis for Reed’s summary, “This first American liturgy, therefore, was the historic Lutheran order with minor features which show Muhlenberg’s own taste and judgement.” It might be better to say, given the evidence, that Muhlenberg’s pietism influenced his “own taste and judgement” to modify the historic Lutheran orders to a great extent.

Muhlenberg’s pietism can be detected with certain phrases in the liturgy which display the emphasis on a true experience of genuine repentance. In the general confession, Muhlenberg’s liturgy has the people saying, “I do sincerely repent, in deep sorrow, for these my sins, and with my whole heart.”[xlviii] While at first glance it might seem to be a good and orthodox statement, the use of the adverbs “sincerely” and the two adjectives “deep” and “whole”, allows for doubt to creep in. It is not enough to repent or have sorrow in pietism. On the contrary, one must sincerely repent with deep sorrow and with the whole heart.  Similarly, in the exhortation to communion, the potential communicants are told not to come to the altar unless they have “the experience of sincere repentance and faith”.[xlix] An experience of repentance is one of the main features of Halle Pietism.  Additionally, the sermon was limited to forty-five minutes, and the prayers and collects were to be said from whatever available hymnal had the prayers and collects in them.[l] After the publication of the hymnal itself, the prayers and collects were contained therein.[li]

Muhlenberg’s hymnal included 750 hymns.  What is more, the book followed the structure of the Halle Hymnal.[lii] Of the 750 hymns included in the hymnal, 534 were taken from the Halle Hymnal. Schalk describes the importance of the Halle hymnbook well: “Thus, the Halle hymnbook provided both the pattern for the arrangement of the hymnal as well as the source for the bulk of the hymnody itself.”[liii] Of these hymns, the available hymns of Luther and Gerhardt were also included.[liv] By the inclusion of not only a bulk of the Pietistic hymnals, but also of “ancient and medieval hymns”, Muhlenberg’s Erbauliche Liedersammlung, sought to be concerned with both orthodoxy and pietism.[lv]

With Muhlenberg in Pennsylvania, the Erbauliche Liedersammlung met the needs of the large numbers of German-speaking Lutherans. However, the needs of the growing groups of English-speaking Lutherans needed to be met as well, especially in New York. To meet this need, the liturgy of Erbauliche Liedersammlung also contained English forms of Baptism and Marriage, adapted wholesale from The Book of Common Prayer.[lvi] The Book of Common Prayer was also invariably adopted by Lutheran groups who had decided to switch to English.[lvii] However, the first Lutheran English hymnal in North America was produced by John Christopher Kunze. Kunze, like Muhlenberg, was also born in Saxony. Also like Muhlenberg, he was associated with Halle, having been educated there under G. A. Franke.[lviii] Kunze was an associate pastor with Muhlenberg at two congregations in Pennsylvania. In fact, he married one of Muhlenberg’s daughters, Margaretta Henrietta.  Kunze’s deep concern for “the development of an English-speaking Lutheranism” was met with resistance in the Pennsylvania Ministerium.[lix] Some, “worried that the transition to English would be the death of Lutheranism in America.”[lx] When he was called to the New York City congregation in 1784, he accepted.[lxi] He shortly thereafter organized the New York Ministerium in 1786.[lxii] No real disagreement or disunity existed between the New York Ministerium and the Pennsylvania Ministerium, but the separation came as a realization that the distance was too great.[lxiii]

In 1795 with the help of George Strebeck, his assistant in the New York congregation who also happened to have better English, Kunze published A Hymn and Prayer-Book: For the use of such Lutheran Churches as use the English Language.[lxiv] The hymnal contained 240 hymns, Liturgy, Catechism, Augsburg Confession, Order of Salvation, and miscellanea.[lxv] Like Muhlenberg, Kunze’s hymnal displays both traditionally orthodox and pietistic influences.  The liturgy was the one used in Muhlenberg’s hymnal and it was translated by Strebeck into English.[lxvi] The Pietistic flavour of this specific “Confession of Sins” can be seen in the use of the phrase, “making now a fresh dedication of myself to thee, with a sincere promise through the assistance of thy holy spirit to live more holy and obedient unto thee.”[lxvii] Also, a section from the “Questions to Communicants” give away traces of Pietism. The minister asks if they “really know, acknowledge, and confess” that they are sinners. They are then asked if they “believe from the heart” that Jesus came to save sinners and if they are “truly desirous to be freed” from their sins. Thirdly they are asked if they are “firmly resolved to surrender yourself from this present period to the Holy Ghost and his operations, so that in the future you do not sin purposely and voluntarily.” Then comes the confession and absolution which begin Muhlenberg’s liturgy, followed later by the “Exhortation to Communion.”[lxviii] What is noticeably missing from Kunze’s liturgy is any of the Ordinary of the Mass. There is no Gloria in Excelsis nor any Credo. A very small Kyrie has been added to the “Confession of Sins,” following Muhlenberg’s liturgy. The Sanctus has been added to the Preface Dialogue but missing are the Hosanna and Benedictus Qui Venit, also following Muhlenberg.  So, in summary, missing from Kunze’s liturgy are the Introit, Gradual, Gloria, Credo, the Proper Preface, Hosanna, Benedictus Qui Venit, Pax, Agnus Dei, Nunc Dimittis, and Benedicamus. While the collects and a written prayer of the Church were retained, there was a strong dose of ex tempore prayers.[lxix] What is left? Two confessions of sins, most of the dialogue, the appointed readings, the collects and ex tempore prayers, the hymns, the Preface, two exhortations to communion, and the Benediction. This truly is not much of a Mass nor does it follow Luther or Lutheran Agendas particularly well.[lxx] In effect, what is present here can be likened unto a plain bun without any hamburger or condiments. All one is left with in this liturgy is a “Mass” gutted of any actual substance.

However, the inclusion of fresh translations of the Augsburg Confession and the Small Catechism also point towards a more traditional side to Kunze as well. Of the 240 hymns, 144 were fresh and awkward translations of German hymns.[lxxi] The translations were therefore “very unsatisfactory.” The remaining 150 songs were taken from the Psalmodia Germanica, a project which translated over 120 German hymns into English for the Lutherans in London.[lxxii]  Also used were a collection of Moravian hymns from London, and the hymns of Watts, Wesley, and Newton.[lxxiii] A few hymns were composed by Kunze and Strebeck themselves. However, their English composition was also quite terrible.[lxxiv] The presence of not only Moravian but also of Methodist and Reformed hymns shows the extent to which Halle Pietism had influenced Kunze and the American Lutherans up to this point. One is again at a loss concerning Schalk’s summary, “In spite of its awkward and inelegant translations . . . the hymnal Kunze produced was a remarkable example of a Lutheran hymnbook that, from many points of view, was unequalled for almost three-quarters of a century.”[lxxv] In fact Kunze’s hymnal gutted more of the Ordinary of the Mass than did Muhlenberg and used a greater proportion of Pietistic hymnody.

A year after the publication of Kunze’s hymnal, Strebeck became pastor of a new English church planted from Kunze’s New York City congregation. That very same year, Strebeck subsequently led the very first English Lutheran congregation out of the Lutheran Church and straight into arms of the Protestant Episcopal Church.[lxxvi] Not long after that, Muhlenberg’s grandson left the Lutheran Church and joined the Episcopal priesthood. And so, lex orandi, lex credendi, the influence of pietism coupled with the abandonment of the historic Lutheran liturgy tended to lead directly out of the Lutheran Church for untold numbers of Lutherans.[lxxvii]

Walther’s Hymnal

As has been noted, the liturgy and hymnody of the eighteenth century American Lutherans were influenced by the subjective and experiential makeup of Halle Pietism.[lxxviii] As such, they tended to dismiss the “more objective, didactic, or narrative hymnody” of the sixteenth century composers.[lxxix] Lutheran identity and theological distinctives had been deemphasized by pietism.[lxxx] Besides pietism, Enlightenment Rationalism had also begun to infect the hymnody with an increasing number of hymns being brought into subjection to the judge of human reason.[lxxxi] Unionism, with its end goal of uniting the Protestant denominations, also deemphasized hymnody which had a strong confessional flavour to it.[lxxxii] Despite all these, in nineteenth century Germany confessional Lutheranism experienced a revival.[lxxxiii] Influenced by Romanticism, some in Germany sought to restore Lutheranism’s beliefs and practices to their confessional roots.[lxxxiv] One such leader, Claus Harms, published his own ninety-five theses for the three hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.[lxxxv] Part of his reaction to pietism, rationalism, and unionism concerned the Church’s music. Harms sought among other things, “to recapture the musical vitality of that age through the restoration of the original rhythmic forms of the chorale melodies,” which was cited as a major cause of the widespread decline in congregational singing.[lxxxvi] This confessional revival consisted of “a blending of scholastic orthodoxy and pietistic individualism.”[lxxxvii]

Political forces in Germany also fanned the flames of this confessional revival. The rulers of Prussia sought to unify Germany by annexing the smaller territories of northern and central Germany. The Reformed Prussian ruling family also desired to unite the Reformed and Lutheran churches. In 1821 this desire was about to be realized when the king, Frederick William III of the Prussian Union, attempted to impose a single liturgy on all Protestant Churches in his realm. However, this newly imposed Unionism was strongly opposed in Germany and several independent Lutheran church bodies were formed. Some, like Martin Stephan, C. F. W. Walther, and Johannes Grabau decided that the time to leave unionistic Germany was at hand. They emigrated to America, and with them came the confessional revival.[lxxxviii]  Schalk summarizes the impact these events had upon the American Lutherans: “The hymnals of the Lutheran groups in America clearly reflect this developing awareness of the need to recapture the confessional heritage of the hymnody of the early Reformation.”[lxxxix]

Fleeing the imposed unionism of the Prussian Union, in 1839 Bishop Martin Stephan, Pastor C. F. W. Walther, and around 600 other Saxon immigrants came arrived in St. Louis, Missouri. In a series of unfortunate events, Martin Stephan was deposed and young Walther was thrust into leadership.[xc] However, the same problem which plagued Muhlenberg also plagued Walther’s Saxon immigrants: a wide variety of hymnals were in use among them. Walther saw the opportunity to act in line with the principles of the confessional revival, and make the Lutheran Church’s hymnody to be more confessional once more.[xci] In 1845, Walther brought up the need for a more confessional hymnal to his congregation. After being approved by the congregation, the hymnal appeared two years later.[xcii]  There were 437 hymns along “with a selection of prayers, antiphons, the Preface, Luther’s Small Catechism, and the Augsburg Confession.”[xciii]

What were Walther’s criteria for hymn selection? Walther’s “chief consideration” was that the hymns have pure doctrine.  Second, Walther wanted to make sure the hymns used had universal acceptance in “the orthodox German Lutheran Church” and that they truly expressed the spirit of Lutheranism. Finally, they were not just to be in rhyme or prose, but to be true works of Christian poetry for the whole church.[xciv] The reason for such a stance can be seen in Walther’s evaluation of other hymnals. Hymnals published before and after Walther’s hymnal were charged with dropping many of the core Reformation hymns. What is more, of the core Reformation hymns these other hymnals retained, they were modified severely by omitting crucial theological stanzas. Of the other hymns which were included, a great many were written with pietism, rationalism, or unionism in mind.[xcv] To sing songs which contradicted the theology of the Confessions was de facto to deny the Confessions.[xcvi] This for Confessional Lutherans was simply unacceptable. Schalk point out that this application of the confessional revival to hymnody represents, “a return to the normative core of Lutheran Reformation hymnody,” and a “turning away from the pietistic and rationalistic hymns of the preceding centuries.”[xcvii]

One could argue that Walther’s concern for pure doctrine is less than genuine. The reason for such a claim would come from the number of pietistic hymns included in his hymnal. It is important to note that Walther, “did not exclude his members’ personal experiences, but sought to direct them back to God’s word and its comfort in Jesus Christ, as their indispensable interpretive lens.”[xcviii] While indeed pietistic hymns were included, Walther was not willing to discount personal experience. Instead those personal experiences were used in a ministerial not magisterial manner as with pietism. Several classical themes of pietism can be seen in his selection of hymns. The hymns by Scheffler show “the believer’s ardent desire for union with Christ.”[xcix] An example of this can be seen in a hymn written by Scheffler, number 250 in Walther’s Hymnal,

Jesus, Savior, come to me;

Let me ever be with Thee.

Come and nevermore depart,

Thou who reignest in my heart.[c]


Another example of a pietistic theme in the hymnody can be seen in “an emphasis on internal resources in dealing with spiritual struggles.”[ci] This can be seen in the second stanza of a hymn by Freystein, number 279 in Walther’s Hymnal,

But first rouse thee and awake

From secure indiff’rence;

Else will follow in its wake

Woe without deliv’rance.

O beware! / Soul, take care!

Death in sins might find thee

Ere thou look behind thee.[cii]


These hymns, despite their pietism, can be read in an Evangelical and Confessional manner.[ciii] A full ten percent of the hymns in the Missouri Synod’s first English hymnal, The Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book, are pietistic hymns which come from Walther’s Hymnal.[civ] However, this suggests two things. First, “that not every hymn text in a confessional Lutheran hymnal had to be written by a confessional Lutheran, and it thus tacitly gave permission to consider the inclusion of non-Lutheran texts in such a collection.”[cv] Secondly, the pietistic hymns which were included emphasize human spiritual experience. This allows for the inclusion of other hymns “that might proclaim similar themes and emphases.”[cvi] Thus, the inclusion of pietistic hymns prepared the way for hymnody from other traditions to be appropriated by Lutherans where they could be read in line with the Lutheran Confessions.[cvii]

Besides the concern that lyrics of the hymnody be “pure in doctrine”, Walther was also concerned about the actual form of the music. Several “musical, architectural, theological, practical” developments since the Reformation had led to a modification of the original tunes of the Lutheran Chorales. Instead of the original more syncopated, rhythmic tunes, the chorales were re-set to isometric versions of the same melodies where “the notes of a hymn proceed largely with equal time values.”[cviii] Walther made it his mission to restore the original, rhythmic chorale tunes. For those not used to the rhythmic forms of these chorales, practice sessions were held.[cix] This was such an important point, that articles in Der Lutheraner appeared, “extolling the virtues of the rhythmic chorale” and “underscor[ing] the importance of rhythmic singing and promot[ing] its place in public worship.”[cx] Synodical conventions even resolved to defend and encourage the use of the original rhythmic chorale melodies.[cxi] Several chorale books were used and new ones published to encourage this return.[cxii] That this effort was indeed a success can be seen in the number of congregations which adopted the repristinated style and bequeathed it to English language hymnals.[cxiii]

What was the reason for this emphasis upon simple notes on a page? It was the conviction that the theological point of the original Reformation Chorale was best communicated when wedded to its originally intended rhythmic tune.[cxiv] As laudable as this position may appear, to argue that the original rhythmic tune is inherently better suited to the text is to ignore the elephant in the room. That elephant in the room is the proper noun associated with the word “chorale”. That proper noun is not “Lutheran” it is “Johann Sebastian Bach.” “For many, the Bach-chorale epitomizes the whole German Lutheran chorale tradition.” [cxv] But why is this the case? One author notes,

Martin Luther originated the Lutheran Chorale; Johann Sebastian Bach crowned it with glory. In the two centuries between Luther and Bach, many of the hymn tunes underwent considerable change, as illustrated by the two versions of “A Mighty Fortress”. The pietistic versions of the chorale tunes that Bach inherited were generally isometric (made up of one basic note value) with numerous passing tones. These Bach clothed with richness of harmonic color, [sic] a profusion of nonharmonic tones, and a depth of emotion unequalled in the works of others.[cxvi]

The isometric tunes which Walther hated so much were the very tunes which Bach masterfully arranged in his Cantatas and Organ Preludes. While isometric versions of the chorales sometimes sounded dreadful, that certainly cannot be said of Bach’s harmonisations which are regarded as masterpieces of music.[cxvii] In fact, it is Bach’s arrangement and harmonisations of the Lutheran Chorales, in their isometric form, which “were basic to the restoration of the chorale tradition that took place in the second half of the nineteenth century.”[cxviii] Other Lutherans have also noted Bach’s greatness in this regard. Paul E. Kretzmann exclaimed,

Need anything be said at this time about Johann Sebastian Bach, who is the great master of Lutheran music, having caught the spirit of the Lutheran chorale as no other man before or since, giving us the harmonizations [sic] and transcriptions of the great tunes of the Lutheran Church which fairly cause their contents to become alive before our eyes and to unfold to us their understanding?[cxix]

Thus, if the music needs to reflect the pure doctrine of the text, then none has done a better job than Bach and his isometric harmonisations: “The chorale was the staff of Bach’s life, the rock-foundation of his art, the incense of his devoted homage to his Creator.”[cxx] Therefore, if isometric harmonisations, like those of Bach, can more than adequately catch the essence of the pure doctrine in a chorale, then Walther is attempting to virtually dogmatize what boils down to a matter of taste. De gustibus non est disputandum.[cxxi]


Muhlenberg’s hymnal represents a noble desire to give the Lutheran immigrants in North America one hymnal. However, the influence of Halle Pietism upon Muhlenberg and Kunze is visible in both their hymnody and liturgy. Here the negative side of the lex orandi, lex credendi becomes manifest. The inclusion of so many unorthodox hymns from the Halle Hymnal along with the gradual gutting of the substance of the Divine Service led many Lutherans to make the journey to other denominations.

Walther’s hymnal represents a concerted effort to submit the hymnody of the Church to the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions. In so doing, he does not totally discount the subjective emphasis of pietist hymnody, but takes the best hymns and understands them in the light of the Confessions. Along with the return to hymnody which expresses the pure doctrine of the Confessions, Walther promoted a return to the original rhythmic tunes which had virtually been lost. While the isometric tunes used by the pietists were dreadfully boring, Bach’s tunes were certainly not. Walther was certainly correct in noting that tunes must reflect appropriately the Words which they are conveying. In this matter, the original rhythmic tunes indeed did a much better job than the pietistic isometric tunes. However, Bach’s harmonisations of the isometric tunes also convey the pure doctrine of the text in a sublime manner. Thus, in some respects, Walther’s concerns are a matter of personal taste.

In all this, it is clear that the lex orandi, lex credendi, was important to Walther. How we worship must reflect our Lutheran heritage and especially its Confessions. He passed on this concern in the English-speaking hymnals of the Missouri Synod. The desire expressed by Muhlenberg to have one hymnal for all Lutherans is indeed a laudable and noble goal. However, just as Pietism influenced Muhlenberg, so too today Lutherans in America remain divided because of influence from numerous other theological trends. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has their own hymnal, as does the Missouri Synod. As we have seen, this difference of hymnals might also reflect a divergence in approach to matters of the Faith. Walther’s concern to make sure hymnody and worship remain subject to the Lutheran Confessions and reflect the theology contained therein is a needed cure.  In order to agree upon and have a united hymnody and liturgy, the theological content of the Lutheran Confessions must be agreed upon. Otherwise, as Pietism coloured Muhlenberg, so too, ideas contrary to the Lutheran Confessions will continue to influence the hymnody and worship of Lutherans in North America and gradually lead more and more people to abandon the pure teachings of the orthodox Lutheran Church.

[i] The Holy Bible, The Revised Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907), Col 3:16.

[ii]  Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), CCC 1124.

[iii] Mark Granquist, Lutherans in America: A New History, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2015), 71-72.

[iv] Carl F. Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land: Lutheran Hymnals in America, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1995), 39.

[v] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 111.

[vi] Carter Lindberg, ed., The Pietist Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, (Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishers, 2004), 1. Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 40.

[vii] Lindberg, The Pietist Theologians, 4.

[viii] Lindberg, The Pietist Theologians, 2.

[ix] Lindberg, The Pietist Theologians, 8.

[x] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 21.

[xi] Lindberg, The Pietist Theologians, 8.

[xii] Lindberg, The Pietist Theologians, 2.

[xiii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 22.

[xiv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 40.

[xv] Bengt Hägglund, History of Theology, Fourth Revised Ed., trans. Gene J. Jund, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 330.

[xvi] Hägglund, History of Theology, 330.

[xvii] Lindberg, The Pietist Theologians, 9.

[xviii] Lindberg, The Pietist Theologians, 12.

[xix] Hägglund, History of Theology, 331.

[xx] Hägglund, History of Theology, 331.

[xxi] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 22.

[xxii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 40.

[xxiii] John D. Vieker, “A ‘Voluminous Treasury’: The German Roots of Missouri Synod Hymnody,” in Dona Gratis Donata: Essays in Honor of Norman Nagel on the Occasion of his Ninetieth Birthday, ed. J. Bart Day, Jon D. Vieker, and Albert B. Collver III, by , (Manchester, MO: The Nagel Festschrift Committee, 2015), 273.

[xxiv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 40.

[xxv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 41.

[xxvi] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 41.

[xxvii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 41-42.

[xxviii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 72.

[xxix] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 44.

[xxx] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 44. Granquist, Lutherans in America, 77.

[xxxi] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 76.

[xxxii] Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy: A Study of the Common Liturgy of the Lutheran Church in America, Revised ed., (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1947), 164.

[xxxiii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 135.

[xxxiv] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 135.

[xxxv] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 163.

[xxxvi] Richard C. Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity in America, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 33.

[xxxvii] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 166.

[xxxviii] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 166.

[xxxix] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 167.

[xl] Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity, 37. For the order of the Deutsche Messe see Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 77.

[xli] Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity, 34.

[xlii] Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity, 35.

[xliii] Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity, 34.

[xliv] Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity, 37.

[xlv] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 167-168.

[xlvi] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 167.

[xlvii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 80.

[xlviii] Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity, 34. Emphasis mine.

[xlix] Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity, 37. Emphasis mine.

[l] Wolf, Documents of Lutheran Unity, 35.

[li] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 167.

[lii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 45.

[liii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 47.

[liv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 45.

[lv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 47, 48.

[lvi] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 168.

[lvii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 127.

[lviii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 57.

[lix] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 57.

[lx] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 127.

[lxi] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 120.

[lxii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 57-58.

[lxiii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 120.

[lxiv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 58-59.

[lxv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 58. John C. Kunze, Hymn and Prayer-Book: For the use of such Lutheran Churches as use the English Language, (New York: Hurtin and Commardinger, 1795), contents.

[lxvi] Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 174. Carl F. Schalk, Source Documents in American Lutheran Hymnody, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1996), 31.

[lxvii] Kunze, Hymn and Prayer-Book, 2.

[lxviii] Kunze, Hymn and Prayer-Book, 11-13.

[lxix] Kunze, Hymn and Prayer-Book, 6.

[lxx] See Luther’s Formula Missae and the consensus of the Church Orders as outlined in Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 73, 107.

[lxxi] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 58. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 174.

[lxxii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 54.

[lxxiii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 58. Schalk, Source Documents, 32 n. 5.

[lxxiv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 59.

[lxxv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 59.

[lxxvi] Schalk, Source Documents, 32-33 n. 10.

[lxxvii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 127-128.

[lxxviii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 121.

[lxxix] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 121.

[lxxx] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 29.

[lxxxi] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 122.

[lxxxii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 122.

[lxxxiii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 29.

[lxxxiv] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 29.

[lxxxv] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 29.

[lxxxvi] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 122.

[lxxxvii] E. Clifford Nelson, ed., The Lutherans in North America (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 150.

[lxxxviii] Granquist, Lutherans in America, 29.

[lxxxix] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 124.

[xc] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 128.

[xci] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 128-129.

[xcii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 128-129.

[xciii] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 129.

[xciv] Schalk, God’s Song in a New Land, 129.

[xcv] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1965),  20.

[xcvi] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 21.

[xcvii] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 15.

[xcviii] John D. Vieker, “A ‘Voluminous Treasury’: The German Roots of Missouri Synod Hymnody.” In Dona Gratis Donata: Essays in Honor of Norman Nagel on the Occasion of his Ninetieth Birthday, edited by J. Bart Day, Jon D. Vieker, and Albert B. Collver III, 232–74. (Manchester, MO: The Nagel Festschrift Committee, 2015), 269.

[xcix] Vieker, A Voluminous Treasury, 270.

[c] Matthew Carver, ed., Walther’s Hymnal: Church Hymnbook for Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2012), 196.

[ci] Vieker, A Voluminous Treasury, 270.

[cii] Carver, Walther’s Hymnal, 222.

[ciii] Vieker, A Voluminous Treasury, 270.

[civ] Vieker, A Voluminous Treasury, 270.

[cv] Vieker, A Voluminous Treasury, 273-274.

[cvi] Vieker, A Voluminous Treasury, 274.

[cvii] Vieker, A Voluminous Treasury, 270.

[cviii] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 25.

[cix] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 28.

[cx] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 28.

[cxi] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 30.

[cxii] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 31-35.

[cxiii] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 31, 38.

[cxiv] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 31.

[cxv] Robin A. Leaver, “The Chorale: Transcending Time and Culture,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 56, no. 2-3, (April-July 1992), 126.

[cxvi] Kristen L. Forman, The New Century Hymnal Companion: A Guide to the Hymns, (Berea, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 1998), 79.

[cxvii] Schalk, The Roots of Hymnody, 25.

[cxviii] Robin A. Leaver, “The Chorale: Transcending Time and Culture,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 56, no. 2-3, (April-July 1992), 126.

[cxix] Paul E Kretzmann, “The Spirit of the Lutheran Chorale,” Concordia Theological Monthly 1, no. 7 (July 1930), 511.

[cxx] Charles Sanford Terry, quoted in 101 Chorales Harmonized by Johann Sebastian Bach, Walter E. Buszin, ed., (Miami: Belwin-Mills Publishing Corp, 1952), 2.

[cxxi] This Latin maxim can be translated into English as “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.” It usually refers to, “advice to terminate a dispute when it has been resolved into a difference of tastes, presumably because there is no further room for rational persuasion.” George J. Stigler, and Gary S. Becker. “De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum.” The American Economic Review 67, no. 2 (1977), 76.

Published by revfenn

Canadian. Confessional Lutheran pastor. Loci Communicant. Husband. Dad. Bach enthusiast. Middle-Earthling. Nerdy interests on the whole.

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