Wednesday, May 20, 2015

WELS Makes it Official: All WELS congregations shall use NIV2011

NIV 2011 and filthy lucre
If they intend to use the new hymnal, that is.

As pointed out by commenters earlier this week, in our post Washington Post Editorial: The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird., by Dr. Jackson late yesterday on his blog, Ichabod, the Glory has Departed, and to me personally by concerned WELS laymen, the WELS Hymnal Project has standardized the new WELS hymnal on the NIV 2011. The Spring 2015 Director’s Update of the WELS Hymnal Project, issued May 10, 2015, by Project Director Michael Schultz, states this directly in the section entitled “Scripture Committee (SC)” – a committee of the Project chaired by Rev. Jonathan Schroeder – in the following words:
    [T]he Scripture Committee drafted a translation rubric that was approved at the first meeting of the XC [“Translation Committee” – which is also the “Scripture Committee” according to this update] in September of 2013. Their rubric followed the eclectic choice method which was approved at the 2013 synod convention. The primary working translation of the project is NIV2011, with NIV1984 serving as the backup choice where there are weaknesses or deficiencies that require changes. Since the time that resolution was approved, it has been established that NIV1984 won’t be available as a backup choice, so the committee will be bringing an updated recommendation for a backup translation... The SC reviewed all scripture references or strong scriptural allusions in the CW line of products (not including psalms). Of just under 200 instances, it identified four instances where it recommended replacing NIV2011 with NIV1984. Similarly, the PC has compared both of the NIV translations of all CW/NSS/CWOS/CWS psalmody, marking those places where changes may be necessary.
For those readers wondering what the term “eclectic” might possibly mean when applied to a Synod publication project, the statistic presented here, in Schultz’ Spring Update, ought to make that clear. Firstly, “eclectic” means either NIV2011 or NIV1984. Period. Recall, however, that the NIV2011 was touted by the Translation Evaluation Committee (TEC) – not to be confused with the Translation Committee (XC) mentioned in the Update – as being “92% identical to the NIV1984”; so, one has every right ask “How ‘eclectic’ is it, really, to limit oneself to these two choices?” (and for more helpful statistics on NIV2011 vs NIV1984, look at the Slowley and Dyer links under the ISSUES WITH NIV 2011 resources in the right hand column).

But secondly, “eclectic” apparently requires that, if the balance is cited entirely from NIV2011, only four out of 200 “scriptural allusions” contained in a Synod publication need to be cited from NIV1984. Let’s see... if only (4 ÷ 200) x 100 = 2% of all “scriptural allusions” come from a non-NIV2011 source, even the same non-NIV2011 source, well then, the “threshold of eclecticism” has been reached, and thus also full compliance with the resolutions of Synod in Convention. Yes. Two Percent is, without a doubt, manifest eclecticism according to WELS publishers... And it is very consistent with the “eclectic choice method which was approved at the 2013 Synod convention” – which turned out to be only the first step toward eliminating choices other than NIV2011 altogether. Literally. Five percent is the general threshold of statistical significance. Two percent, however, isn’t statistically significant at all. In fact, it might just as well be zero.

Thus, for those congregations choosing to use the new hymnal (apparently estimated at around 95% of WELS congregations, according to the Update), there will be no way to avoid using “Today’s” NIV2011 as a basis of their worship, even if they want to.

To be fair, the Update didn’t exactly say that only four verses would be sourced from NIV1984 instead of NIV2011, it said that of the 200 verses used in the current hymnal, NIV2011 did such an unacceptable job translating four of them, that, out of the gate, they recommended a different translation be used in those specific cases. They are apparently ambivalent about the rest, so, perhaps, of the remaining 196 verses, maybe they will cite 50% from NIV1984 and 50% from NIV2011. Again, given that NIV1984 and NIV2011 are “92% identical,” how eclectic would a 50/50 split be, in reality?

Missional Hymnal
The Missional Hymnal.
It's already been done...
The Update also said that these numbers only accounted for “scriptural allusions” in the hymnal, and specifically excluded the Psalter. Now, this is something worth salivating over. Perhaps they are actively debating the return of the greatest poetry ever published in the English language to contemporary Lutheran hymnals? Perhaps they will shock the Lutheran world by actually rendering the Psalms in the memorable cadences and phraseology of the mighty King James Version? Now THAT would be eclectic, would it not? Perhaps... But, alas!, it shall never be. The Update, under the section entitled “Psalmody Committee (PC),” indicates that NIV1984 and NIV2011 are the only two versions they are inclined to consider for the Psalter:
    [T]his review has included looking at all the differences between NIV2011 and NIV1984. Beyond that, the thinking of the Psalmody Committee has been shaped to the point that the members have come to a general consensus as far as their approach is concerned... The PC’s consensus is to [retain] the musically stronger refrains and tones and “[freshen] up” (tweaking or replacing) refrains and tones that have perhaps become tired or haven’t gained much traction.
At the same time, the Update, under the section entitled “Scripture Committee (SC),” suggests that a Psalter may not even be included with the new hymnal:
    Something that has not been determined is how much of the scriptures will actually be published in connection with the hymnal project. If a complete Psalter is published... then all the psalms would be in play.
Finally, it should be noted (again, according to the Update), the publication of the new WELS hymnal is planned to roughly coincide with the 500th Anniversary of the first Lutheran hymnal ever published – a collection of eight hymns, canticles and a Psalm, four of them by Luther – as some sort of commemoration, one would suppose. A hymnal based on a gender-inclusive post-Modern translation of the Bible that cannot be quoted throughout because of its apparent deficiencies. A hymnal that may or may not include a Psalter. A hymnal that will include who knows what else... I guess the Lutheran world will just have to wait and see.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Washington Post Editorial: “The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.”

Lutheran Sacraments

On April 30, 2015, the Washington Post published an editorial by Episcopalian blogger and author, Rachel Held Evans, entitled Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’ This editorial points to mounting evidence of what should have been predicted by Lutherans all along, who — already knowing that the Holy Spirit works only by His appointed Means (i.e., the “Means of Grace,” the “Gospel in Word and Sacrament”), calling, gathering and enlightening His elect, and through these Means also keeps them in the faith — should have known that the Holy Spirit does NOT work by means of the false doctrines and false practices of the Church Growth Movement (CGM); thus it is no wonder that $500 billion of investment in the manipulative gimmicks of CGM, over the course of a full generation, have produced no evidence of His working, especially in terms of the one thing so ardently sought by those who practice them: numerical growth in the Christian church. Instead, among Millennials, “a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making [Millennials] more disconnected from faith than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as baby boomers were as young adults.”

The author of this editorial cites, in a few paragraphs, recent statistics and compelling thoughts and quotations, no doubt drawn from and expounded upon in her recent book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, which forcefully suggest that, far from drawing people to the Church, CGM is actually driving them away from the Church. Using the same recent statistics, along with elements of her own story of leaving and returning to the Church (and those of others), the author further points out that, if Church practice is any aspect of drawing the unchurched, especially Millennials, into the Church, then “what works” is simply what the Church has been doing for the past 2000 years: “What finally brought me back... was the sacraments... you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the Church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained...”

Some excerpts from this editorial follow. Headings and emphasis are all mine. Hyper-links appeared in the editorial. Readers are encouraged to read the editorial in full. Noticing, of course, how some of the political concerns of the author may have colored her judgment and influenced her choice to join the Episcopalians, notice also how (in the editorial, at least) this is separate from the influence of the sacraments.

[NOTE: And I see now that Dr. Gene Veith has picked up on this article today (5/4/2015), too: Church growth tactics don’t work with Millennials. And again, today (5/5/2015): “The sacraments are what make the church relevant”.]

Disillusionment continues to Skyrocket, Church Growth Gimmickry continues to Fail...
“Church attendance has plummeted among young adults. In the United States, 59 percent of people ages 18 to 29 with a Christian background have, at some point, dropped out. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, among those of us who came of age around the year 2000, a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making my generation significantly more disconnected from faith than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as baby boomers were as young adults.

“In response, many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology. Yet while these aren’t inherently bad ideas and might in some cases be effective, they are not the key to drawing millennials back to God in a lasting and meaningful way. Young people don’t simply want a better show. And trying to be cool might be making things worse... [A]ttendance among young people remains flat.”

Are Millenials leaving the Church because of Church Growth Gimmickry?
“Recent research from Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a ‘classic’ church over a ‘trendy’ one, and 77 percent would choose a ‘sanctuary’ over an ‘auditorium.’ While we have yet to warm to the word ‘traditional’ (only 40 percent favor it over ‘modern’), millennials exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities masquerading as the hip new places in town. For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, and for whom the charge of ‘inauthentic’ is as cutting an insult as any, church rebranding efforts can actually backfire, especially when young people sense that there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him. Millennials ‘are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion,’ argues David Kinnaman, who interviewed hundreds of them for Barna Group and compiled his research in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church... and Rethinking Faith...”

Insightful Quotations from Millennials
“I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘relevant.’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community...” (friend of author and blogger, Amy Peterson)

“When a church tells me how I should feel (‘Clap if you’re excited about Jesus!’), it smacks of inauthenticity. Sometimes I don’t feel like clapping. Sometimes I need to worship in the midst of my brokenness and confusion — not in spite of it and certainly not in denial of it.” (millennial blogger, Ben Irwin)

“When I left church at age 29, full of doubt and disillusionment, I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity. I was looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity... I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake.” (the author, Rachel Held Evans)

Church Growth Gimmickry: Announcing to Prospects that you Think they are Shallow.
“While no two faith stories are exactly the same, I’m not the only millennial whose faith couldn’t be saved by lacquering on a hipper veneer. According to Barna Group, among young people who don’t go to church, 87 percent say they see Christians as judgmental, and 85 percent see them as hypocritical. A similar study found that ‘only 8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date,” undercutting the notion that all churches need to do for Millennials is to make worship “cooler”’... Our reasons for leaving have less to do with style and image and more to do with substantive questions about life, faith and community. We’re not as shallow as you might think.”

What “works” now is what has always “worked”: Authentic Christianity
“If young people are looking for congregations that authentically practice the teachings of Jesus in an open and inclusive way, then the good news is the church already knows how to do that. The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.

“[C]hurch is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality... [C]hurch is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve... [C]hurch is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water... [O]nly the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.

What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.

“Church attendance may be dipping, but God can survive the Internet age. After all, He knows a thing or two about resurrection.”

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