DiM | “Though All Our Life Is Like a Scroll” by Rev Karsten

ApprovedWorship Edition.

June 30, 2016. This month has been extremely busy for our household. It’s been both wonderful and exhausting. We attended our first IssuesETC conference, and this past week we took a special trip to have our kids baptized. Next month will be equally busy, so currently we are trying to get to August. I will be attending the PCR conference in August, but that should mark the end of our crazy summer of travel. I didn’t get a chance to research a CCM Edition of DiM for this week. But we have a special treat today to share a new Hymn written for Worship.

A recurring critique, or comment, about this DiM work is the question of whether or not the standard being applied is fair, or whether or not any song or hymn or even Psalm could earn an “Approved” status. When it comes to Hymns from the major, orthodox churches, we don’t normally look through those because their very presence in the official hymnals means they were scrutinized and approved by governing church bodies for their worship. Here, we are primarily concerned with what is coming out of an industry that mass-produces songs and declares them “Christian” for either radio airplay or even worship services without any oversight or scrutiny.

Karsten named winner of Reformation hymn competition

The Rev. Dr. Wilfred Karsten, pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Moline, Ill., is the winner of a hymn-writing competition held by LutheranReformation.org — the official website for the Synodwide celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The lyrics of Karsten’s original hymn, “Though All Our Life Is Like a Scroll,” are available to view here, along with two musical settings of the hymn (including accompaniment and congregational pages).

Judges for the competition included the Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Starke, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, Amelith, Bay City, Mich.; the Rev. Dr. Jon Vieker, senior assistant to the LCMS president; and Peter Reske, senior editor of music/worship at Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis.

The announcement came June 17 that Karsten was the winner of the hymn for the Synod’s anniversary celebration, which has the theme of “It’s Still All About Jesus.” [Read More]

So we have a brand-new hymn to examine. It was already awarded and praised within the LCMS, but I thought we could take a look at it together. Does it only pass a Lutheran test or is this indeed a sound, Christian, song? Let’s give it a listen.

Concordia Publishing House Music Video

 

In the interest full disclosure, I struggle with the operatic singing. A lot, actually. I find it masks and obscures the lyrics such that I cannot comprehend the point of the song, much less the details of the doctrine, without reading the lyrics directly. Are the singers’ voices lovely? Absolutely. Can I understand what is being sung? Nope. The hymn writer only wrote the hymn, someone else composed the music… which is tough to sing along with at parts. Now, I’m no stranger to classical music, and overall it is a beautiful sound. I don’t care for organs (that’s putting it rather mildly, in fact) but in this tune the organ is not overpowering and it is in-fact supporting the singing rather than drowning it. The organ was nicely done. What remains is a pretty tune, classically sung… but if we don’t read the words we’ll have no clue what we just heard.

Lyrics (via LutheranReformation.org)

Though all our life is like a scroll
Unrolled with blemished pages;
Though sin has shredded what was whole
And death is now our wages;
Yet here we stand in confidence,
With Jesus as our sole defense,
For He alone still saves us.

Though pompously we try to dress
In costumes of our making;
Though fig leaves of self-righteousness
Are futile and heartbreaking;
Yet filthy rags Christ gladly wore
So we would perish nevermore.
His grace alone still clothes us.

Though earth’s deep waters foam and roar
As surging waves are rolling;
Though all the nations rage with war
While bells of doom are tolling;
Yet God gives peaceful fortitude,
He nurtures us with Heaven’s food.
True faith alone still anchors.

Though critics cut out Scripture’s claims
And treat them with derision;
Though they conduct their hostile aims
With scalpels of suspicion;
Yet how the living, two-edged sword
Proclaims the dead and risen Lord!
God’s Word alone: still truthful.

Now sing a high doxology
To God who gives salvation.
Both here and in eternity
Let this be our vocation.
To Father, Son, and Spirit raise
A symphony of grateful praise,
For He alone is worthy.

Discussion

Hymns don’t generally follow the popular “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, refrain ∞…” instead you usually get a tune that carries the singer through several verses that build a doctrinal statement or teaching. This one has 5 verses or stanzas.

Verse 1. Here we have the Law presented, that our lives are shredded by sin and we are deserving of death. We aren’t left there, though, because it turns to the Gospel, our hope of salvation, Jesus Christ.

Verse 2. Interestingly, we first address self-righteousness and the pompous act of presuming to be made righteous by our works, and then we see it rooted in the actions taken by Adam and Eve after the fall… they tried to cover their nakedness when they heard God walking in the garden. We are getting theology here, good sound theology. In the Genesis account, once the punishment has been declared as well as the seed of the Gospel prophesied, God then clothes them temporarily by the first animal sacrifice. The song doesn’t dig there, but jumps directly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Promised seed. On the cross, Christ became sin in our place, wearing our filthy rags (sins of the world) upon that cross, so that we would not perish. Christ clothes us in Grace. Amen!

Verse 3. This verse centers on the hope of Christ in the midst of the storm, the earthly struggle. We’ve been given a spirit of peace, even when we cannot see peace around us. Our Hope is in the LORD, not in princes of earth. Lutherans will see the Lord’s Supper in this verse, but not in such a way that the Reformed should recoil. For we know that the heavenly food is God’s Word.

Matthew 4:4 (ESV) But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Faith in Christ Jesus is our anchor through the storm of this temporal life. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17).

Verse 4. Here we proclaim the enduring Truth found only in God’s Word. The world, and the wolves in many pulpits of the visible church will assail, twist, and mutilate the Scriptures to teach their own dreams and visions and lead many astray. But God’s Word Still truthful, and it is effective and it is powerful. Those who twist and attack God’s Word will face judgement… the two-edged sword executes judgement as well as granting saving Faith. The two words of Scripture are Law and Gospel. Those who reject the Gospel will find themselves condemned under the Law.

John 3:16-18 (ESV) | For God So Loved the World
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Verse 5. Now sing this high doxology, is saying “now sing Praises to the Triune God of the Bible”. This is our prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for our Salvation by Grace alone, through Faith alone, from the Word of Christ alone. We will pursue as our vocation both in this world and in eternity the praise of the Triune God. To the Glory of God Alone.

Conclusion

This hymn sets a high watermark for Worship songs. As for our CCM DiM reviews, if a song could cover in 2 verses, a chorus and a bridge what this song covers in a single verse, it would probably get an Approval rating. What is sorely lacking in today’s CCM is a clear Gospel as an answer to the Law. We are sinners. Not merely “people who make mistakes”. Sinners. And the only answer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We who bear the name of Christ (Christians, the Church) are stewards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. CCM has become completely engrossed in pagan entertainment and has become derelict in their duties as stewards of the Gospel. What we pump out into the airwaves should serve the Gospel, and the ministry of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:11-15 (ESV) | The Ministry of Reconciliation

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

2 thoughts on “DiM | “Though All Our Life Is Like a Scroll” by Rev Karsten

  1. Jorge,
    You have summarized the lyrics of “Though All Our Life Is like a Scroll” quite admirably. I cannot disagree with what you have stated. However, you, being a layman, do not immediately see the underlying theme that undergirds the hymn even though you mention aspect of it.
    What the Reformation restored to Christianity was the primacy of the Cardinal Doctrine, that is, the doctrine of justification. The Cardinal Principles are a collection of single concepts. Together they articulate the Gospel as it is proclaimed in the “Cardinal Doctrine.” The Doctrine confesses that salvation is the forgiveness of sins by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s atoning death on the cross alone. Within this Cardinal Doctrine are the Cardinal Principles sola gratia, sola fide, sola crux and solo Christo. Each “Cardinal Principle” is preceded by the Latin “sola” or “solo” meaning “only” or “alone.” The traditional three are sola gratia (only by grace), sola fide (only through faith) and sola scriptura (only by Scripture = Holy Bible). The two later additions are solo Christo (only by Christ or solus Christus, only Christ) and sola crux (only the cross). The Church has historically amended and added to its confessions because heresies and errors it fought changed over time. Thus, the Apostles’ Creed was supplemented by the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.
    Neither Cardinal Doctrine nor Cardinal Principles is familiar because the terms are new even though they have existed for centuries. To my knowledge, Rev. Dr. Karl L. Barth, president emeritus of Concordia Seminary – St. Louis, was first to used the term “cardinal principles” in a 1980 speech.
    “Scripture alone” does not address any part of the salvation question and is therefore not part of the Cardinal Doctrine. Instead, sola scriptura answers the question “how are we informed of God’s forgiveness and salvation?” Historically, the whole Reformation was fought, and continues to be fought, over that issue. Sola scriptura is functionally and historically the most important of the Cardinal Principles.
    Verses 1 to 4 of the hymn ends with reference to a Cardinal Principle: Christ Alone (1), Grace Alone (2), Faith Alone (3) and Scripture Alone (4). However, verse 5 refers to “soli Deo gloria,” glory to God alone. It is a Latin motto that predates the Reformation. The Reformed churches (Calvinist, Reformed and Presbyterian) use soli Deo gloria as if they coined the motto but their adoption of it was quite recent. Soli Deo gloria does not state a doctrinal principle that addresses the substance of the theology of salvation or Scripture as its source. It therefore ought to be left as an independent motto apart from the Cardinal Principles.
    The one weakness in the hymn is that it ignores sola crux, “cross alone.” Martin Luther’s Latin proclamation, “crux sola est nostra theologia,” (the cross alone is our theology) (WA 5.176.32-3) in the Heidelberg Disputation in April, 1518. That was a mere half a year after nailing the ‘Ninety-Five Theses,’ to the Wittenberg Castle chapel door. This was not the only time Luther referred to the primacy of the cross. He wrote in De Servo Arbitrio (Bondage of the Will), published in December, 1525, “We, too, teach nothing else than Christ Crucified.” (St. L. 18, 1723; E. v. a. 7, 160.) By “we,” he was referring to the Reformation Fathers. If we are to honestly have any genuine part in the Reformation’s legacy, we have no alternative but to proclaim “sola crux.” There are also biblical textual reasons for adhering to “sola crux” that I will not elaborate upon at this time, except to ask Greek exegetes why St. Paul and the Easter tomb angel refer to crucifixion using the perfect passive participle repeatedly but only once to the resurrection (to rise) using this form.
    Dr. Karsten mitigated the damage by writing in verse 4, “Proclaims the dead and risen Lord!” That is a reference to Christ’s sin atoning death. Arguably, this suffices as a less that full proclamation of the substance of “sola crux,” but not in the context of the current battle between the Theology of Glory against the Theology of the Cross. The question all Christians, Lutherans in particular, ought to be asking is why we treat Christ’s crucifixion as if it were embarrassing, something to be hidden as much as possible, rather than as the central sin destroying sacrifice that it is. Why is it for us such a skandalon?
    En el nombre del Crucificado,
    W. T. Kan

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter. I don’t feel we’ve in any way diminished the cross, and pitting the resurrection against the cross I think is an unnecessary dichotomy. For without the resurrection our preaching of the cross is empty. Praise be to God that Christ has indeed risen, ascended, and is coming again to judge both the Living and the Dead. We preach Christ and Him crucified for our sin.

      1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (ESV) “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

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