12 August 2007

LSB Core Hymnody (Kernlieder)

A variety of factors over the past few years have made me all the more aware of the importance of hymnody in the Christian faith and life, for catechesis and confession, prayer and proclamation. I've gradually become convinced that a core body of significant hymns, sung with deliberate repetition at intervals throughout the church year, and from one year to the next, is a most salutary way of instilling these sung poetic confessions of the Word of God into the hearts and minds of God's people. So, for the past year, I've been working to develop such a solid core of hymns, and to determine how best to ensure their regular usage in the liturgical rhythm of the Church's life.

Taking the Lutheran Service Book as the pool of hymns from which to draw, I've identified hymns of historic significance, as well as some of the more promising recent hymns, in arriving at a total of sixty core hymns. A big part of the process included a survey of pastors, musicians, adults, youth and children, family and friends, in an effort to discover those hymns that have proven to be most affective in the hearts and minds of those who sing them. I know that the Word of God is the real power of any Christian hymn, but there is also a subjective, artistic element that contributes to the way a hymn engages the singer.

The end result of my efforts is the following list of sixty hymns altogether, distributed in four tiers of importance. The first tier I have determined to sing at least six times each year; the second tier, at least five times; the third tier, at least four times; and the fourth tier, at least three times. Obviously, any of these hymns may be used more often. And of course, these are not the only hymns that are going to be sung in the course of the year. But my aim has been to make sure that these hymns are used with at least this much repetition, year-in, year-out, so that members of my congregation will gradually learn them by heart and retain them.

I've also done the painstaking work, for myself, of figuring out when each of these hymns will be used each year; although I sense that it will be an ongoing process of fine-tuning and adjustment to work out the kinks here and there over the long haul. There are such a huge number of factors that come into play, including the weekly Hymn of the Day, the catechetical hymn of the week, the observance of feasts and festivals throughout the year, Advent and Lenten Vespers, etc. It is a somewhat daunting and time-consuming task, admittedly, but I believe it is well worth it. Not only for my own awareness and knowledge of these hymns, but for the sake of the people. Over the past decade, I have noted that my congregation has grown in its appreciation and enthusiasm for hymns that were once unfamiliar and more difficult in this place. The sturdier hymns, exemplified by the Lutheran chorales and the medieval chants, such as many of the following are, have both a substance and a staying power that make them a good investment.

First Tier (at least six times per year)

Savior of the Nations, Come (LSB 332)
O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright (LSB 395)
A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth (LSB 438)
Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying (LSB 516)
Salvation unto Us Has Come (LSB 555)
Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice (LSB 556)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (LSB 656)
Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart (LSB 708)

Second Tier (at least five times per year)

Of the Father’s Love Begotten (LSB 384)
To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord (LSB 406)
My Song Is Love Unknown (LSB 430)
Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands (LSB 458)
Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay (LSB 505)
O Love, How Deep (LSB 544)
Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide (LSB 585)
O Lord, We Praise Thee (LSB 617)
At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing (LSB 633)
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word (LSB 655)
Lord of Our Life (LSB 659)
Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me (LSB 683)
I Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716)
To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray (LSB 768)
Praise the Almighty (LSB 797)
May God Bestow on Us His Grace (LSB 823)

Third Tier (at least four times per year)

O Lord, How Shall I Meet You (LSB 334)
Jesus, Grant That Balm and Healing (LSB 421)
Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle (LSB 454)
Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord (LSB 497)
In the Shattered Bliss of Eden (LSB 572)
Thy Strong Word (LSB 578)
These Are the Holy Ten Commands (LSB 581)
God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It (LSB 594)
All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (LSB 596)
All Who Believe and Are Baptized (LSB 601)
From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee (LSB 607)
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (LSB 621)
Wide Open Stand the Gates (LSB 639)
Sing with All the Saints in Glory (LSB 671)
O God, My Faithful God (LSB 696)
From God Can Nothing Move Me (LSB 713)
Evening and Morning (LSB 726)
Rejoice, My Heart, Be Glad and Sing (LSB 737)
Jesus, Priceless Treasure (LSB 743)
In the Very Midst of Life (LSB 755)
Our Father, Who from Heaven Above (LSB 766)
Sing Praise to God, the Highest Good (LSB 819)
O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth (LSB 834)
We All Believe in One True God (LSB 954)
Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old (LSB 960)

Fourth Tier (at least three times per year)

All My Heart Again Rejoices (LSB 360)
Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain (LSB 487)
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest (LSB 498)
Father Most Holy (LSB 504)
Christ Sits at God’s Right Hand (LSB 564)
Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling (LSB 630)
Behold a Host, Arrayed in White (LSB 676)
For All the Saints (LSB 677)
Entrust Your Days and Burdens (LSB 754)
Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me (LSB 756)
Kyrie! God, Father (LSB 942)


Dan at Necessary Roughness said...


Thank you for this list. A lot of familiars, but now I'm willing to try some of those that aren't so familiar. I play Matins and/or Vespers for the kids on occasion and want to teach them good solid hymns.

Sean said...


Mark said...

just a Q. After one of those discussions last evening with 2 other pastors on the evils of "subjective songs and hymns" I look through this excellent core list and find 13 hymns that have I, my, me in the first line. Surely God didn't expect us to lock up both smiles and tears while He is preaching His Word to us or we are sharing that word in song in worship. Is Lutheran subjective OK but subjective expression from any other source always suspect. Should Jesus have prayed "Our God, why have You forsaken us?" Is it feelings that need to be denied or only feelings based on a misunderstanding of God's truth?
Pastorally, a real problem develops, not so much when people are encouraged to good hymns and liturgical practices, but when they are told (or rather receive the impression that they are being told) that their enjoyment of anything with subjective feelings makes them far less than Lutheran and probably less than Christian. That's when they start voting with their feet and congregations are torn apart. mark

Mike Baker said...

I think that using words like "I", "me", or "my" does not neccesarily make something subjective. The source of what is being said is what makes a hymn subjective or objective.

The easiest example of what I am talking about is to look at two songs that look one way but are actually the opposite.

Let us start with the simple children's song: "Jesus Loves Me"

It sounds subjective, but it is not. The title suggests that you are going to get a subjective song about the person singing, but it really is all about a truth that is rooted in a very objective reality: "...The Bible tells me so." Everyone can count on that.

Contrast that with the subjective Hymn, "He Lives!" and you will see the difference. The title carries no hint at the subjective nature of the song, but what it is trying to say is rooted in a very subjective and ephemeral feeling:

"You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart!"

In the objective/subjective hymn debate, objective hymns are hymns that are rooted in, testify to, and speak specifically about the truth as it is expressed in Holy Scripture. Objective hymns are true for all people at all times and can be proven objectively.

Subjective hymns are hymns that communicate Christ's work through personal experience or individual impressions. Subjective hymns do not seem to be always true for all people at all times. They can only be proven by the opinion of individuals because there is no objective means to prove their validity.

This is why subjective hymns are inferior, they fail to build the foundation of the Gospel message on Scripture. Instead they rely on the temporary sand of human emotion and experience. In a true crisis, subjective hymns have nothing to offer but pretty words and nice thoughts.

Objective hymns deliver the truth of the Gospel. I know Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so. How I feel at a given moment or what I am going though is irrelevant because the Bible is the basis for the song. The Bible is the proof.

On the other hand, I may not know if Jesus really lives because there are times where I do not feel the proof in my heart. The hymn offers me nothing more than that. It is too subjective. I am the proof? I am not reliable at all!

That is the difference. You will find that the majority of the Lutheran hymns are objective based on this distinction.

Obviously human feelings are important to us. No one is suggesting that a Christian should be a robot. No one is saying that emotion is not an important part of a Christian's life. The problem is that emotion is also a valuable tool used by the Devil to decieve Christians.

Feelings are important, but they are not the basis of our faith. Our faith is based in truth which is objective. Truth exists apart from individuals. Real truth is revealed not expereienced. There is no such thing as subjective truth because it is... well... subjective.

Because of this, when it comes to stating the truth of the Gospel, the words must flow from its objective source as it is revealed to mankind: God's Word.

Cindy R. said...

You wrote, "I've also done the painstaking work, for myself, of figuring out when each of these hymns will be used each year." Would you be willing to share this Kernlieder calendar? I'm no pastor trying to avoid the work of hymn selection, just a mom looking for good ideas for home devotions. If you worked out a calendar for your personal use only, that's fine. But if you're willing and able to share it, I'd love to see it.

Rev. Kurt Cockran said...

I've referenced this post so many times I feel I should finally let the author know!

I've taken this to heart in helping lead my congregation to a more robust hymn singing repertoire, combining this post with this one (https://steadfastlutherans.org/2016/08/teaching-lutheran-hymnody-learn-29-hymns-in-2-years/). One thing I'd like to note for anybody else continuously referencing this post for incorporation into their own parish life, right now (but hopefully not for long!) we have communion every other week, giving us an average of only 4 hymns sung per week, a total of approximately 210 hymns sung per year.

Doing the math (noting of course the caveats in the introduction to the post), if one were to follow this guide precisely, that would come out to 261 hymns per year. Therefore, for the congregation that sings fewer hymns on average per week, I recommend customizing your own list with only two tiers (or perhaps a smaller third tier).

Blessed hymn singing to all!

Rev. Kurt Cockran said...

Follow-up. Applying this list to my smaller congregation with every other week communion (the practice for now...)

Bigger congregation with weekly communion singing 6 hymns per Sunday...

Total hymns sung in a year: 312 hymns
Stuckwisch Kernlieder: 60 total hymns

Tier 1: 8 hymns at 6 times per year = 48 hymns per year
Tier 2: 16 hymns at 5 times per year = 80 hymns per year
Tier 3: 25 hymns at 4 times per year = 100 hymns per year
Tier 4: 11 hymns at 3 times per year = 33 hymns per year

Total Kernlieder hymns in a year = 261 (83.5% of total hymns)

Here's my best mathematical stab (not my strong suit...) at applying to my congregation:

Total hymns sung in a year: 208 hymns
Kernlieder: 40 hymns

Tier 1: 6 hymns at 5 times per year = 30 hymns per year
Tier 2: 13 hymns at 4 times per year = 52 hymns per year
Tier 3: 21 hymns at 3 times per year = 63 hymns per year

Total Kernlieder hymns in a year = 145 (69.7% of total hymns)