‘A Blessing Wherever Chinese Lutherans Gather’

The Chinese Evangelical Lutheran Church and the LCMS dedicated a new Mandarin Chinese hymnal on March 18.

“This hymnal is vital to the life of our church,” said the Rev. Andrew Miao, president of the China Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC). “Our young pastors need to learn from this pilot hymnal what the liturgy is and how to use it.”

On March 18, 2019, in the Luther Building in Chiayi, Taiwan, the president of the CELC, the president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), local CELC pastors and LCMS missionaries gathered to dedicate the pilot edition of Chinese Lutheran Service Book (CLSB). This hymnal is the culmination of cooperative work between the two church bodies and is published by the CELC, with support from the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM).

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison (right), president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, joins the Rev. Andrew Miao (left), president of the China Evangelical Lutheran Church in Taiwan, as they dedicate the new Chinese Lutheran Service Book in March.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). These words, read during the hymnal dedication, teach the centrality of music for the life of the church.

The new Chinese hymnal is written in Mandarin Chinese and contains the setting of Divine Service 1 from Lutheran Service Book (LSB), Matins, Vespers, Luther’s Small Catechism, selected psalms and tones, prayers, services for Holy Baptism and Confirmation, and 56 hymns. All but two of the hymns included are translations of LSB hymns, with settings of Luther’s morning prayer and table prayer as the two additions.

The new Chinese Lutheran Service Book next to a Lutheran Service Book.

Concerning this and other hymnal projects, the Rev. Charles Ferry, director of the LCMS Asia region, said, “These are not LCMS projects, but local church projects.”

Yet partnerships work together in the kingdom of God. Deaconess Sandra Rhein, who serves as a hymnal translation consultant for the OIM, and LCMS missionary Rev. Dr. Michael Paul, who served as primary translator and editor, assisted with this project.

“I pray that this hymnal will be a blessing wherever Chinese Lutherans gather,” Rhein said at the dedication.

Melding Theology and Music

Rhein, who serves as parish musician for Emmaus Lutheran Church in South Bend, Ind., briefly explained the difficulty of hymnal translation. Wooden translations and simple musical notations do not make a usable hymnal. Instead, the words need to be translated with the poetry of the hymn and the meter of the music in mind. The theological sense of the hymn text also is essential to a useful translation.

Deaconess Sandra Rhein presents the new Chinese hymnal during the dedication in Chiayi, Taiwan.

“The theology has to be correct,” said Paul. “If the people can enjoy it and sing it, that is essential.” Paul reminded listeners that LSB includes great Lutheran hymns that were translated from German into English.

“What I do is serve the church as a musician,” said Rhein. But that role has taken on new aspects in the last 10 years as she has worked on hymnal translation projects. “I don’t do the translating myself. But I do learn a lot of the language, because I often help with the technology side of things and enter a lot of the text in the computer.”

Developing a hymnal in a foreign language involves far more than just translating words. Even musical notation differs between cultures. To facilitate the project, Rhein contacted the manufacturer of the leading musical notation software, who decided that this ability is something they want to develop for other markets. Lutheran hymnal projects are impacting people beyond the church.

An Expert Guide

“Sandra has been a great resource because of the lessons learned from other projects. She brings a credibility to the field that no one can argue with … the hymnals are there,” reflected Ferry as he explained the decision to call Rhein to serve with the OIM. “There is an understanding that we have been there before. You can follow her, and she will guide you through the process.’’

While studying at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., Rhein got to know the Rev. Isaiah Obare from Kenya, whose church body didn’t have a hymnal. As a result, they had to use other Christian songbooks, which helped facilitate many people leaving the Lutheran church.

The Kenyan church asked the LCMS for assistance, and Rhein was given the green light to help create a Swahili Lutheran hymnal, which was completed in 2012.

The CELC has the same concern as their Kenyan brothers and sisters in Christ. “The liturgy has been lost in the last 10 years, because we didn’t have any idea what its purpose was, where it came from or how to use it,” lamented Miao, who is overjoyed to see the new hymnal.

United Across Languages

“The historical church is a confessing church. We confess. We say back to God what He has said to us,” said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. “The Lutheran church does not survive well if we do not teach our hymns to our children.”

Miao hopes that this hymnal will facilitate catechesis in his church body as “our leaders … learn how to teach this to their members.”

Reflecting the unity of these partner church bodies in the midst of different languages, everyone sang “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” (CLSB 203, LSB 395) in English and Chinese simultaneously.

A driver passes the entrance to Salvation Lutheran Church, part of the China Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chiayi, Taiwan.
Church members and visitors sing from the new Chinese Lutheran Service Book at Salvation Lutheran Church in March.

“God has truly blessed us by putting us in this place at this time with these opportunities,” said Ferry, expressing his thankfulness for not just this hymnal, but also the building in which the Asia region’s headquarters are located. The Luther Building in Chiayi is a partnership between the CELC and the LCMS, a physical blessing of church partners working together.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

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