An evangelical critique of contemporary worship

D. H. Williams, a theology professor at Baylor, offers a searching critique of contemporary worship as practiced in the typical megachurch, published in Christianity Today, no less.  You need to read it all, but here is the opening description of the service:

On a recent Sunday, I found myself visiting a Protestant megachurch. Entering the “worship center” was eerily similar to being ushered down the aisle of a movie theater: floor lighting, padded chairs, visual effects shown on two large screens, and music over the speaker system.

A band appeared on stage to begin the service with live music. It was dark, and I thought I heard the audience singing along, but it was impossible to tell. And although I was seated in the front row, I sensed that the congregation was almost superfluous to the activity on stage. As in most forms of entertainment, the audience functioned as passive onlookers, participating only in an unseen, intensely personal way.

While the band played, song lyrics flashed across the two big screens, with words like great, God, and high figuring prominently. The musical performance was outstanding, even if the vocabulary was extremely limited. If the songs aimed at an emotional response, they were probably successful, but like so much contemporary worship music, they lacked any element of substantive teaching.

Immediately after the singing, without any announcement, much less Paul’s words of institution (1 Cor. 11:23-26), the elements of the Lord’s Supper were hurriedly handed around. Again, I was amazed at the blandly efficient nature of this activity. We could have been passing pretzels and soda pop. No one offered any guidance whatsoever on the sharing of this critical ordinance or sacrament. It seemed a strictly vertical encounter between each individual and God.

Next came the sermon, offered by a capable person who worked very hard to relate while teaching some biblical content. A simple outline appeared on the screen so that we could follow the train of thought. So did the relevant Bible passages, lest anyone could not find them in an actual Bible. I noticed that the illustrations came almost solely from popular movies and television. Then the service ended as abruptly as it began, with a few announcements over the speakers and a cordial “thank you” to the congregation. No benediction or closing prayer—not even a person to give it. The house lights came on, and it was time to leave.

via Contemporary Music: The Cultural Medium and the Christian Message | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dennis Peskey

    If the “worship service” you attend does not preach Christ crucified for you sins, the “service” is not Christian and you just wasted a good two hours where you could have been golfing. (You might consider finding another church which is Christ centered, Cross focused – could help your immortal soul abundantly more than a round of golf.)
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    If the “worship service” you attend does not preach Christ crucified for you sins, the “service” is not Christian and you just wasted a good two hours where you could have been golfing. (You might consider finding another church which is Christ centered, Cross focused – could help your immortal soul abundantly more than a round of golf.)
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Steve Billingsley

    The only issue I have with this is the characterization of “typical”.
    I attend a massive (20K+ per weekend) church and it shares some of the characteristics described here (the layout of the auditorium and seating, song lyrics on the screen, etc.) but not the others (when we take the Lord’s Supper, which happens once per month, it is a much more deliberate process complete with some instruction and time for silence and prayer). I can’t say I have visited more than 3-4 megachurches in my lifetime and they all had some significant differences in the way things are done. To broadly generalize like this is not really fair, anymore than it is it to take the experience at one Lutheran or Presbyterian (or whatever denomination) and assume that what happens there is necessarily true in all churches of that denomination.
    I understand the professor’s concerns over his particular experience and I would share them. But I don’t know that this is a “typical” megachurch.

  • Steve Billingsley

    The only issue I have with this is the characterization of “typical”.
    I attend a massive (20K+ per weekend) church and it shares some of the characteristics described here (the layout of the auditorium and seating, song lyrics on the screen, etc.) but not the others (when we take the Lord’s Supper, which happens once per month, it is a much more deliberate process complete with some instruction and time for silence and prayer). I can’t say I have visited more than 3-4 megachurches in my lifetime and they all had some significant differences in the way things are done. To broadly generalize like this is not really fair, anymore than it is it to take the experience at one Lutheran or Presbyterian (or whatever denomination) and assume that what happens there is necessarily true in all churches of that denomination.
    I understand the professor’s concerns over his particular experience and I would share them. But I don’t know that this is a “typical” megachurch.

  • http://originalsoapbox.wordpress.com Peter S.

    Ah, I notice the author explicitly references Marshall McLuhan, an interesting article on whom you linked to just yesterday. I wonder if it is time to visit the question of the forms of Christian corporate worship; whether and/or how they affect the message proclaimed.

  • http://originalsoapbox.wordpress.com Peter S.

    Ah, I notice the author explicitly references Marshall McLuhan, an interesting article on whom you linked to just yesterday. I wonder if it is time to visit the question of the forms of Christian corporate worship; whether and/or how they affect the message proclaimed.

  • Michael Z.

    Ha! I guess I don’t attend a “contemporary worship service” even though my church ministers to over 2000 people and is Evangelical in doctrine. ;-P

    My church has all the technology he mentioned, but still has involved corporate worship (yes contemporary). My pastor walks us through communion whenever we do it, and he covers the gospel and excellent Bible teaching in every sermon. (Oh and he prays…at the traditional spots…since that was important to the author)

    Conclusion, generalizations are mostly wrong.

  • Michael Z.

    Ha! I guess I don’t attend a “contemporary worship service” even though my church ministers to over 2000 people and is Evangelical in doctrine. ;-P

    My church has all the technology he mentioned, but still has involved corporate worship (yes contemporary). My pastor walks us through communion whenever we do it, and he covers the gospel and excellent Bible teaching in every sermon. (Oh and he prays…at the traditional spots…since that was important to the author)

    Conclusion, generalizations are mostly wrong.

  • Richard

    I liek the Schleiermacher comment: “Ironically, the weight placed on personal experience and freedom from conventional beliefs is reminiscent of early-20th-century Protestant liberalism. Updating their theology for modern fashions, the heirs of Schleiermacher and Hegel emphasized the primacy of the individual’s experience of God, setting aside complicating issues of doctrine as divisive, latently authoritarian, or just plain irrelevant. Despite many important differences between this sort of liberalism and the contemporary evangelical megachurch, there are striking similarities in their approaches to individual experience, popular culture, and socially uncomfortable doctrines.”
    Williams nailed it.

  • Richard

    I liek the Schleiermacher comment: “Ironically, the weight placed on personal experience and freedom from conventional beliefs is reminiscent of early-20th-century Protestant liberalism. Updating their theology for modern fashions, the heirs of Schleiermacher and Hegel emphasized the primacy of the individual’s experience of God, setting aside complicating issues of doctrine as divisive, latently authoritarian, or just plain irrelevant. Despite many important differences between this sort of liberalism and the contemporary evangelical megachurch, there are striking similarities in their approaches to individual experience, popular culture, and socially uncomfortable doctrines.”
    Williams nailed it.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Sorry, I read this post and all I can think of is “Opening Song, Opening Song, lights and big drums…” There, got that out of my system.

    I have to admit the bit I just read makes me scratch my head and wonder is this typical? I would not be surprised if it were not as the logical consequence of not correctly understanding the nature of Holy Communion is to treat it in such a slip shod fashion. To me this is a greater indictment then the music ever could be. Simply because this is closer to the root of the problem. The treatment of the elements and sacred gift of communion indicates a near complete lack of belief in Scripture.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Sorry, I read this post and all I can think of is “Opening Song, Opening Song, lights and big drums…” There, got that out of my system.

    I have to admit the bit I just read makes me scratch my head and wonder is this typical? I would not be surprised if it were not as the logical consequence of not correctly understanding the nature of Holy Communion is to treat it in such a slip shod fashion. To me this is a greater indictment then the music ever could be. Simply because this is closer to the root of the problem. The treatment of the elements and sacred gift of communion indicates a near complete lack of belief in Scripture.

  • Steve Billingsley

    @Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I totally agree. It is easy to focus on lights and seating and musical style, but I think that the treatment of Holy Communion is a much more telling indicator of what a church’s theology and priorities are all about. A church that treats the sacraments lightly will also treat the Scripture lightly, regardless of whether it claims to be theologically orthodox or conservative or evangelical or whatever label it likes to trumpet.

  • Steve Billingsley

    @Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I totally agree. It is easy to focus on lights and seating and musical style, but I think that the treatment of Holy Communion is a much more telling indicator of what a church’s theology and priorities are all about. A church that treats the sacraments lightly will also treat the Scripture lightly, regardless of whether it claims to be theologically orthodox or conservative or evangelical or whatever label it likes to trumpet.

  • Tom Hering

    Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death, chapter 8, “Shuffle Off To Bethlehem”:

    “It is naive to suppose that something that has been expressed in one form can be expressed in another without significantly changing its meaning, texture, or value.”

    “It is an essential condition of any traditional religious service that the space in which it is conducted must be invested with some measure of sacrality … if an audience is not immersed in an aura of mystery and symbolic otherworldliness, then it is unlikely that it can call forth the state of mind required for a nontrivial religious experience.”

    “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a serious and demanding religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”

    “The spectacle we find in true religions has as its purpose enchantment, not entertainment. The distinction is critical. By endowing things with magic, enchantment is the means through which we may gain access to sacredness. Entertainment is the means through which we distance ourselves from it.”

  • Tom Hering

    Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death, chapter 8, “Shuffle Off To Bethlehem”:

    “It is naive to suppose that something that has been expressed in one form can be expressed in another without significantly changing its meaning, texture, or value.”

    “It is an essential condition of any traditional religious service that the space in which it is conducted must be invested with some measure of sacrality … if an audience is not immersed in an aura of mystery and symbolic otherworldliness, then it is unlikely that it can call forth the state of mind required for a nontrivial religious experience.”

    “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a serious and demanding religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”

    “The spectacle we find in true religions has as its purpose enchantment, not entertainment. The distinction is critical. By endowing things with magic, enchantment is the means through which we may gain access to sacredness. Entertainment is the means through which we distance ourselves from it.”

  • Steve Billingsley

    @Tom Herring
    Are you saying that enchantment is impossible if electric guitar, drums and bass are involved?

    I am not sure I get your point. I agree with Postman’s analysis, but my question is where does Christian worship “styles” (for lack of a better term) transition from enchantment to entertainment? What is truly required for mystery and sacredness? Does not most of it depend upon a sense of the presence of God in the midst of the people? I am not saying that requires emotionalism or sentimentality, but it does require a sense of seriousness and purpose and (perhaps most of all) humility in the hearts and minds of worshippers.

  • Steve Billingsley

    @Tom Herring
    Are you saying that enchantment is impossible if electric guitar, drums and bass are involved?

    I am not sure I get your point. I agree with Postman’s analysis, but my question is where does Christian worship “styles” (for lack of a better term) transition from enchantment to entertainment? What is truly required for mystery and sacredness? Does not most of it depend upon a sense of the presence of God in the midst of the people? I am not saying that requires emotionalism or sentimentality, but it does require a sense of seriousness and purpose and (perhaps most of all) humility in the hearts and minds of worshippers.

  • JonSLC

    While I agree with Williams’ points in the article, I don’t think he made his case in a way that would win over well-informed contemporary worship advocates. Steve and Michael (@ 2 and 4) are right to call out Williams on making generalizations based on one example. To illustrate, what if the tables were turned? Could a contemporary worship proponent walk at random into a liturgical church and find legitimately objectionable things? I would imagine so. I’m sure examples abound on both sides of the debate — not only examples of poorly done contemporary worship, as Williams evidently experienced, but also examples of poorly done liturgical worship.

    I think this debate would benefit from each side using good examples of the other position, instead of generalizing based on poor examples.

  • JonSLC

    While I agree with Williams’ points in the article, I don’t think he made his case in a way that would win over well-informed contemporary worship advocates. Steve and Michael (@ 2 and 4) are right to call out Williams on making generalizations based on one example. To illustrate, what if the tables were turned? Could a contemporary worship proponent walk at random into a liturgical church and find legitimately objectionable things? I would imagine so. I’m sure examples abound on both sides of the debate — not only examples of poorly done contemporary worship, as Williams evidently experienced, but also examples of poorly done liturgical worship.

    I think this debate would benefit from each side using good examples of the other position, instead of generalizing based on poor examples.

  • SKPeterson

    JonSLC @ 10 – Worship may be done poorly at a liturgical church, but I doubt one would find it as often or as egregiously done as in a contemporary service.

    The key is the liturgical form. By its very nature the liturgy is fairly constant in form and continuity through time. It does not allow pastors to go off on their own, which historically has often led into error, apostasy or heresy, but constrains the Man while God does His work.

  • SKPeterson

    JonSLC @ 10 – Worship may be done poorly at a liturgical church, but I doubt one would find it as often or as egregiously done as in a contemporary service.

    The key is the liturgical form. By its very nature the liturgy is fairly constant in form and continuity through time. It does not allow pastors to go off on their own, which historically has often led into error, apostasy or heresy, but constrains the Man while God does His work.

  • Tom Hering

    Steve @ 9, what were electric guitars and drum sets created for? To enchant people? Or to excite people? Obviously, it’s the latter. So, can electric guitars and drum sets do what they weren’t created for? Or rather, can they cross over from excitement to enchantment, and do it well? Answer: No, especially not in the hands of your average praise band. So we get something that’s not enchanting, just exciting … for some folks … like Pentecostals and other enthusiasts. Meh.

  • Tom Hering

    Steve @ 9, what were electric guitars and drum sets created for? To enchant people? Or to excite people? Obviously, it’s the latter. So, can electric guitars and drum sets do what they weren’t created for? Or rather, can they cross over from excitement to enchantment, and do it well? Answer: No, especially not in the hands of your average praise band. So we get something that’s not enchanting, just exciting … for some folks … like Pentecostals and other enthusiasts. Meh.

  • http://www.jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com J. K. Jones

    Not all mega-churches would exhibit all of the things mentioned in the post above, but most of them would exhibit one of them or another. I’ve been to quite a few, formerly being a Purpose-Driven Church disciple.

    Warren would not be subject to several of the charges, but, having attended part of one of his preching seminars, the sermon one would be the most telling. Purpose-Driven preaching is not Christ-centered in some very important ways.

    I currently attend a PCA church with a well formed liturgy. I find myself at home there. I lead the singing, and that has been an opportunity for me to re-learn much of what I have been taught.

  • http://www.jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com J. K. Jones

    Not all mega-churches would exhibit all of the things mentioned in the post above, but most of them would exhibit one of them or another. I’ve been to quite a few, formerly being a Purpose-Driven Church disciple.

    Warren would not be subject to several of the charges, but, having attended part of one of his preching seminars, the sermon one would be the most telling. Purpose-Driven preaching is not Christ-centered in some very important ways.

    I currently attend a PCA church with a well formed liturgy. I find myself at home there. I lead the singing, and that has been an opportunity for me to re-learn much of what I have been taught.

  • Steve Billingsley

    @SKPeterson
    “JonSLC @ 10 – Worship may be done poorly at a liturgical church, but I doubt one would find it as often or as egregiously done as in a contemporary service. ”
    How do you know? Again this is a broad generalization. How many liturgical churches and how many contemporary churches have you been to?
    Liturgical churches can be just as susceptible to error, heresy and apostasy. The Episcopal Church in America is about as liturgical as it gets, but a significant portion of it went completely off the rails a long time ago.

  • Steve Billingsley

    @SKPeterson
    “JonSLC @ 10 – Worship may be done poorly at a liturgical church, but I doubt one would find it as often or as egregiously done as in a contemporary service. ”
    How do you know? Again this is a broad generalization. How many liturgical churches and how many contemporary churches have you been to?
    Liturgical churches can be just as susceptible to error, heresy and apostasy. The Episcopal Church in America is about as liturgical as it gets, but a significant portion of it went completely off the rails a long time ago.

  • Tom Hering

    Despite what some advocates of liturgy would argue, liturgy doesn’t guarantee the perpetuation of sound doctrine (86% of LCMS laypeople think Jesus ISN’T the only way). But it does perpetuate a sense of sacredness, as opposed to a sense of entertainment.

  • Tom Hering

    Despite what some advocates of liturgy would argue, liturgy doesn’t guarantee the perpetuation of sound doctrine (86% of LCMS laypeople think Jesus ISN’T the only way). But it does perpetuate a sense of sacredness, as opposed to a sense of entertainment.

  • Joe

    Tom said -” (86% of LCMS laypeople think Jesus ISN’T the only way)”

    Where did this statistic come from? I would like to see the bacj up for this – if true this is incredibly disturbing …

  • Joe

    Tom said -” (86% of LCMS laypeople think Jesus ISN’T the only way)”

    Where did this statistic come from? I would like to see the bacj up for this – if true this is incredibly disturbing …

  • Steve Billingsley

    Tom Herring @ 12
    Was the organ or piano created to entertain? For that matter doesn’t the human voice do a lot of entertaining? Does the average liturgical service create enchantment any better? I am not sure it does.
    Again, what’s with the broad generalizations? So all Pentecostal (or Charismatic) services just excitement and noise with no enchantment, mystery or sense of the sacred. I’m not prepared to make that judgment, just like I am not prepared to make that judgment about more traditionally liturgical services. I grew up in and pastored in a more traditional setting and love the worship within these settings.
    A lot of what brings enchantment is brought by the worshipper into the service. The attitude of one’s heart can enable or shortcharge enchantment regardless of the form.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Tom Herring @ 12
    Was the organ or piano created to entertain? For that matter doesn’t the human voice do a lot of entertaining? Does the average liturgical service create enchantment any better? I am not sure it does.
    Again, what’s with the broad generalizations? So all Pentecostal (or Charismatic) services just excitement and noise with no enchantment, mystery or sense of the sacred. I’m not prepared to make that judgment, just like I am not prepared to make that judgment about more traditionally liturgical services. I grew up in and pastored in a more traditional setting and love the worship within these settings.
    A lot of what brings enchantment is brought by the worshipper into the service. The attitude of one’s heart can enable or shortcharge enchantment regardless of the form.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    Obviously the example given by DH Williams is an abomination! An anthropomorphic theology will always produce a worship that starts and ends with the worshipper. This is unbiblical and tragically called “Christian” in our world. But are we simply using this as an excuse to stay comfortable in what is familiar to us, but completely unintelligible to the rest of our world?

    Do we honestly believe that the church exists in a vacuum, unaffected by the culture in which we live? Do we seriously believe that Jesus is only honored by songs written 200 years ago, played on instruments from that period and in a fashion familiar to that culture? Really? Part of the communication problem between Christians and the rest of our culture is that we demand people convert to our culture instead of Jesus! Our hymns, our music, our liturgy, our pot luck suppers and our church culture. THIS IS NOT JESUS!

    We can bash the Emergent, Missional types all we want, but at least they are making an effort in cross cultural communication. We Lutherans are all too eager to use Word and Sacrament as an excuse to ignore the fact that the greater culture does not understand a word we are saying! God’s Word does not change. How we communicate and celebrate that Word changes with the culture and context of those hearing and celebrating. If it does not, the people communicating quickly find themselves “preaching to the choir”, communicating exclusively with people who are raised inside the bubble of church culture.

    This doesn’t mean that we throw out 2,000 years of church history and remake everything. We are informed and influenced by history and tradition. But we are called to be the church of today, in the world but not of it.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    Obviously the example given by DH Williams is an abomination! An anthropomorphic theology will always produce a worship that starts and ends with the worshipper. This is unbiblical and tragically called “Christian” in our world. But are we simply using this as an excuse to stay comfortable in what is familiar to us, but completely unintelligible to the rest of our world?

    Do we honestly believe that the church exists in a vacuum, unaffected by the culture in which we live? Do we seriously believe that Jesus is only honored by songs written 200 years ago, played on instruments from that period and in a fashion familiar to that culture? Really? Part of the communication problem between Christians and the rest of our culture is that we demand people convert to our culture instead of Jesus! Our hymns, our music, our liturgy, our pot luck suppers and our church culture. THIS IS NOT JESUS!

    We can bash the Emergent, Missional types all we want, but at least they are making an effort in cross cultural communication. We Lutherans are all too eager to use Word and Sacrament as an excuse to ignore the fact that the greater culture does not understand a word we are saying! God’s Word does not change. How we communicate and celebrate that Word changes with the culture and context of those hearing and celebrating. If it does not, the people communicating quickly find themselves “preaching to the choir”, communicating exclusively with people who are raised inside the bubble of church culture.

    This doesn’t mean that we throw out 2,000 years of church history and remake everything. We are informed and influenced by history and tradition. But we are called to be the church of today, in the world but not of it.

  • JonSLC

    How much can we, in Christian love and for the sake of the gospel, adapt to the culture that surrounds us? How many adaptations can we make before we are, in effect, altering the message we share?

    I think those are the questions that Williams is addressing in the article, and that Pastor Ed (@18) is asking. These are questions I struggle with. There are pitfalls on both sides. Williams expresses one set of pitfalls, Pastor Ed the other. I see no easy answers to these questions. Addressing them, I think, will require regular self-examination, a commitment to the preserving and proclaiming the gospel, and a willingness to listen and learn.

  • JonSLC

    How much can we, in Christian love and for the sake of the gospel, adapt to the culture that surrounds us? How many adaptations can we make before we are, in effect, altering the message we share?

    I think those are the questions that Williams is addressing in the article, and that Pastor Ed (@18) is asking. These are questions I struggle with. There are pitfalls on both sides. Williams expresses one set of pitfalls, Pastor Ed the other. I see no easy answers to these questions. Addressing them, I think, will require regular self-examination, a commitment to the preserving and proclaiming the gospel, and a willingness to listen and learn.

  • Tom Hering

    Joe @ 16,

    http://www.confessionalsbytes.com/2010/11/study-reveals-86-percent-of-lcms.html

    Even if we’re skeptical and cut the statistic in half (43%) it’s still extremely disturbing. Now, there is some question as to which question the 86% were answering: the first question, “Can a good person not of your faith go to heaven?” or the follow-up question, “Even when people of other faiths are not Christian?” Either way – “good person” or “not Christian” – we’re in deep trouble.

  • Tom Hering

    Joe @ 16,

    http://www.confessionalsbytes.com/2010/11/study-reveals-86-percent-of-lcms.html

    Even if we’re skeptical and cut the statistic in half (43%) it’s still extremely disturbing. Now, there is some question as to which question the 86% were answering: the first question, “Can a good person not of your faith go to heaven?” or the follow-up question, “Even when people of other faiths are not Christian?” Either way – “good person” or “not Christian” – we’re in deep trouble.

  • Tom Hering

    I think there was another large survey of LCMS lay people (1980s?) that found about the same percentage believed we get to heaven by being good people.

  • Tom Hering

    I think there was another large survey of LCMS lay people (1980s?) that found about the same percentage believed we get to heaven by being good people.

  • Bob

    D.H. Williams is a pretty cool guy. He wrote a book titled “Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants.” He’s from the Free Church tradition. He’s one of the few that gets it — and good luck to him! May his tribe increase.

    “http://www.amazon.com/Retrieving-Tradition-Renewing-Evangelicalism-Protestants/dp/0802846688/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309454740&sr=1-1

  • Bob

    D.H. Williams is a pretty cool guy. He wrote a book titled “Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants.” He’s from the Free Church tradition. He’s one of the few that gets it — and good luck to him! May his tribe increase.

    “http://www.amazon.com/Retrieving-Tradition-Renewing-Evangelicalism-Protestants/dp/0802846688/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309454740&sr=1-1

  • Steve Billingsley

    JohnSLC @19

    I agree. This isn’t an easy question, but it does require serious thought. What disappoints me is when people refuse to even seriously consider these issues.

    After all, one of Luther’s most radical actions, the translation of Scripture into the vernacular, was all about communicating the gospel to people in a language they can understand. It can certainly be done to such a point that the gospel becomes watered-down and unintelligible, but without any cultural translation, it can be just as unintelligible to people.

    I think one of the things that is key is the commitment to Christian education in all circumstances. (Luther, Melanchthon and Sturm certainly embodied this). Cultural translation must be combined with deep commitment to teaching and learning.

  • Steve Billingsley

    JohnSLC @19

    I agree. This isn’t an easy question, but it does require serious thought. What disappoints me is when people refuse to even seriously consider these issues.

    After all, one of Luther’s most radical actions, the translation of Scripture into the vernacular, was all about communicating the gospel to people in a language they can understand. It can certainly be done to such a point that the gospel becomes watered-down and unintelligible, but without any cultural translation, it can be just as unintelligible to people.

    I think one of the things that is key is the commitment to Christian education in all circumstances. (Luther, Melanchthon and Sturm certainly embodied this). Cultural translation must be combined with deep commitment to teaching and learning.

  • Jonathan

    Tom @12, I dislike contemporary ‘praise’ music as well, but I’m reminded of this: (acoustic, though, not electric)

    Psalm 150

    Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy house of worship,
    praise him under the open skies;
    Praise him for his acts of power,
    praise him for his magnificent greatness;
    Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
    praise by strumming soft strings;
    Praise him with castanets and dance,
    praise him with banjo and flute;
    Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
    praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
    Let every living, breathing creature praise God!
    Hallelujah!

  • Jonathan

    Tom @12, I dislike contemporary ‘praise’ music as well, but I’m reminded of this: (acoustic, though, not electric)

    Psalm 150

    Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy house of worship,
    praise him under the open skies;
    Praise him for his acts of power,
    praise him for his magnificent greatness;
    Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
    praise by strumming soft strings;
    Praise him with castanets and dance,
    praise him with banjo and flute;
    Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
    praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
    Let every living, breathing creature praise God!
    Hallelujah!

  • JonSLC

    Steve @ 23: I agree. It frustrates me, too, when people don’t think through these matters from many angles.

    Luther presents many fascinating examples of adapting to the culture for the sake of the gospel. He also gives us examples of stopping at a certain point with adaptations. For instance, while other reformers were departing entirely from the historic Christian Sunday service (“the Mass” or “the Liturgy”), Luther decided not to. Instead, he retained its framework while making updates to it and encouraging flexibility in its use. The result was no new canon law in regard to worship, and no throwing out the baby with the bathwater, either. Perhaps that’s a good model for us: retain gospel-centered, faith-building worship practices handed down to us, and also intentionally tune in to the culture around us, eager to reach and to teach.

  • JonSLC

    Steve @ 23: I agree. It frustrates me, too, when people don’t think through these matters from many angles.

    Luther presents many fascinating examples of adapting to the culture for the sake of the gospel. He also gives us examples of stopping at a certain point with adaptations. For instance, while other reformers were departing entirely from the historic Christian Sunday service (“the Mass” or “the Liturgy”), Luther decided not to. Instead, he retained its framework while making updates to it and encouraging flexibility in its use. The result was no new canon law in regard to worship, and no throwing out the baby with the bathwater, either. Perhaps that’s a good model for us: retain gospel-centered, faith-building worship practices handed down to us, and also intentionally tune in to the culture around us, eager to reach and to teach.

  • Steve Billingsley

    JonSLC @ 25

    Good points! While I attend a large megachurch that is not liturgical in many ways, I do wish that more of “the Liturgy” would get re-introduced back into the mix. There is, however, a great emphasis on Christian education and the integration of ancient spiritual disciplines (such as fasting, solitude and silence) into community and individual life.

  • Steve Billingsley

    JonSLC @ 25

    Good points! While I attend a large megachurch that is not liturgical in many ways, I do wish that more of “the Liturgy” would get re-introduced back into the mix. There is, however, a great emphasis on Christian education and the integration of ancient spiritual disciplines (such as fasting, solitude and silence) into community and individual life.

  • Tom Hering

    Jonathan @ 24, a more accurate, less cutesy translation,

    Praise the LORD!
    Praise God in His sanctuary;
    Praise Him in His mighty expanse.
    Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
    Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
    Praise Him with trumpet sound;
    Praise Him with harp and lyre.
    Praise Him with timbrel and dancing;
    Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.
    Praise Him with loud cymbals;
    Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
    Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
    Praise the LORD!

    If we’re going to take this as literal instruction, then we ought to use the instruments listed. And bring animals into the sanctuary (everything that has breath). Though I don’t know how we’d praise Him IN His mighty expanse. Unless the whole congregation hang glides.

  • Tom Hering

    Jonathan @ 24, a more accurate, less cutesy translation,

    Praise the LORD!
    Praise God in His sanctuary;
    Praise Him in His mighty expanse.
    Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
    Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
    Praise Him with trumpet sound;
    Praise Him with harp and lyre.
    Praise Him with timbrel and dancing;
    Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.
    Praise Him with loud cymbals;
    Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
    Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
    Praise the LORD!

    If we’re going to take this as literal instruction, then we ought to use the instruments listed. And bring animals into the sanctuary (everything that has breath). Though I don’t know how we’d praise Him IN His mighty expanse. Unless the whole congregation hang glides.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    Tom you miss the point! Many of the Psalms sound just like the modern P&W songs that many traditionalists love to bash; repetitive, theologically simple and heavy on instruments. As if a hymn that requires a translator is so much more edifying. Psalms can be simple or complex, the theology may be deep or (on the surface) shallow. They are all true and good!

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    Tom you miss the point! Many of the Psalms sound just like the modern P&W songs that many traditionalists love to bash; repetitive, theologically simple and heavy on instruments. As if a hymn that requires a translator is so much more edifying. Psalms can be simple or complex, the theology may be deep or (on the surface) shallow. They are all true and good!

  • Steve Billingsley

    Pastor Ed @28

    To add one more thing…all of the great hymns of the church were, by definition, when they were penned, “contemporary”. Is there a waiting period required before they are allowed to be used in corporate worship settings? And sometimes they were set to folk tunes or bar songs.

    The Orthodox church (in all of its manifestations) generally doesn’t even have seats in its main worship space, the entire service takes place standing. I’m sure that many of them would look askance on wooden pews all in a room facing forward toward a table and pulpit.

    I wouldn’t have liked the worship service that Dr. Williams describes, for many of the same reasons. But the broad generalizations and characterizations of “typical” based upon an anecdotal (at best) evidence is just inaccurate and unfortunate.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Pastor Ed @28

    To add one more thing…all of the great hymns of the church were, by definition, when they were penned, “contemporary”. Is there a waiting period required before they are allowed to be used in corporate worship settings? And sometimes they were set to folk tunes or bar songs.

    The Orthodox church (in all of its manifestations) generally doesn’t even have seats in its main worship space, the entire service takes place standing. I’m sure that many of them would look askance on wooden pews all in a room facing forward toward a table and pulpit.

    I wouldn’t have liked the worship service that Dr. Williams describes, for many of the same reasons. But the broad generalizations and characterizations of “typical” based upon an anecdotal (at best) evidence is just inaccurate and unfortunate.

  • Louis

    We’ve had young (under 30) Lutherans transfer their worship to our congregation, because we are the only one in town without a “contemporary service” or a ppt service (we use the red book). We’ve also had requests for weddings to be done inside our church from youthleaders in local megachurches – because it looks like a church inside.

    Don’t be fooled. Contemporary is often mid-life crises masked as wanting to reach out.

  • Louis

    We’ve had young (under 30) Lutherans transfer their worship to our congregation, because we are the only one in town without a “contemporary service” or a ppt service (we use the red book). We’ve also had requests for weddings to be done inside our church from youthleaders in local megachurches – because it looks like a church inside.

    Don’t be fooled. Contemporary is often mid-life crises masked as wanting to reach out.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    Louis, I’ve had young (under 30) Lutherans and non-Christians come to my church because they were attracted by the music. They stay because of Jesus. We teach the order of salvation through the flow of the service every week, but the music is contemporary. It’s no mid-life crisis or fad! I would be willing to bet that most of the under 30′s who come to you grew up with a liturgy. There’s nothing wrong with that, I love that they are coming. But don’t make that out to be somehow better or more pleasing to God.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    Louis, I’ve had young (under 30) Lutherans and non-Christians come to my church because they were attracted by the music. They stay because of Jesus. We teach the order of salvation through the flow of the service every week, but the music is contemporary. It’s no mid-life crisis or fad! I would be willing to bet that most of the under 30′s who come to you grew up with a liturgy. There’s nothing wrong with that, I love that they are coming. But don’t make that out to be somehow better or more pleasing to God.

  • Louis

    I’m just reporting what happens, Pastor Ed. Not noted in my earlier comment is that we’ve also had young people convert to Lutheranism from generic evanglicalism choosing our church because of the liturgy too.

  • Louis

    I’m just reporting what happens, Pastor Ed. Not noted in my earlier comment is that we’ve also had young people convert to Lutheranism from generic evanglicalism choosing our church because of the liturgy too.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Hey everyone, let’s have an anecdote contest. The one who tells the most anecdotes and makes the most sweeping generalizations wins!

  • Steve Billingsley

    Hey everyone, let’s have an anecdote contest. The one who tells the most anecdotes and makes the most sweeping generalizations wins!

  • Steve Billingsley

    Oh, and I forgot to add there are special bonus points for armchair psychologizing of the motivations underlying worship styles.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Oh, and I forgot to add there are special bonus points for armchair psychologizing of the motivations underlying worship styles.

  • Kelly

    Louis @30: I’m 30, joined the Lutheran church at 23, and completely resonate with that. Too many Boomers think they’re “speaking our language” when they really end up, sadly, embarrassing themselves.

    Translating something into English is not the same as turning historic Christian worship into an experience informed by charismatic definitions of worship and our entertainment-obsessed modern culture. And will the ridiculous “hymns used to be set to bar tunes” urban legend EVER die??

  • Kelly

    Louis @30: I’m 30, joined the Lutheran church at 23, and completely resonate with that. Too many Boomers think they’re “speaking our language” when they really end up, sadly, embarrassing themselves.

    Translating something into English is not the same as turning historic Christian worship into an experience informed by charismatic definitions of worship and our entertainment-obsessed modern culture. And will the ridiculous “hymns used to be set to bar tunes” urban legend EVER die??

  • Steve Billingsley

    Kelly @ 35
    the urban legend is actually true. In the 15-18th century folk songs and bar tunes were basically the same thing in many cases. The pub (public house) was the social center of many villages and towns and people gathered there and sometimes sang songs. The familiar tunes often had a variety of lyrics set to them, including Christian hymns from time to time. It wasn’t some edgy cultural statement, it was just a common practice. The point was that many church leaders didn’t see any issue in interacting with the culture of their time.

    I am glad you joined the Lutheran church and hope that you are growing in the faith and happy as can be there. In fact, I am happy when any church that preaches the gospel and helps people get rooted and grounded in God’s love and mature in Christ grows. It would be great if the feeling was mutual.

    Oh, I didn’t announce the prize for the anecdote contest. There really isn’t one except the smug satisfaction of theological superiority, but after all isn’t that enough?

  • Steve Billingsley

    Kelly @ 35
    the urban legend is actually true. In the 15-18th century folk songs and bar tunes were basically the same thing in many cases. The pub (public house) was the social center of many villages and towns and people gathered there and sometimes sang songs. The familiar tunes often had a variety of lyrics set to them, including Christian hymns from time to time. It wasn’t some edgy cultural statement, it was just a common practice. The point was that many church leaders didn’t see any issue in interacting with the culture of their time.

    I am glad you joined the Lutheran church and hope that you are growing in the faith and happy as can be there. In fact, I am happy when any church that preaches the gospel and helps people get rooted and grounded in God’s love and mature in Christ grows. It would be great if the feeling was mutual.

    Oh, I didn’t announce the prize for the anecdote contest. There really isn’t one except the smug satisfaction of theological superiority, but after all isn’t that enough?

  • V. williams

    I am a “recent” convert to Lutheranism, having been brought up in a Baptist church, and finding Lutheranism by way of the PCA. I did not come to Lutheranism after growing up with a liturgical background, at all. Short term exposure in PCA was the extent of it. What I discovered, and I think many others take note of as well, is that the liturgy repeats back to God His own Holy Spirit inspired words. I am not sure that I agree with you that God might not find that aroma more pleasing. Much like I can’t pray a “better” prayer than the words Christ Himself gave us when asked what we should pray. It doesn’t mean that those are the ONLY prayers, nor the only way to conduct a service; but were I choosing betwixt them for the long term, I would prefer to use the words given in holy scripture, which are prominent in the liturgy, and not my own.

  • V. williams

    I am a “recent” convert to Lutheranism, having been brought up in a Baptist church, and finding Lutheranism by way of the PCA. I did not come to Lutheranism after growing up with a liturgical background, at all. Short term exposure in PCA was the extent of it. What I discovered, and I think many others take note of as well, is that the liturgy repeats back to God His own Holy Spirit inspired words. I am not sure that I agree with you that God might not find that aroma more pleasing. Much like I can’t pray a “better” prayer than the words Christ Himself gave us when asked what we should pray. It doesn’t mean that those are the ONLY prayers, nor the only way to conduct a service; but were I choosing betwixt them for the long term, I would prefer to use the words given in holy scripture, which are prominent in the liturgy, and not my own.

  • V. williams

    (continuing that thought…) The liturgy is a poignant reminder throughout the entire service, that I bring absolutely nothing to the table, not even praise. It’s all pure grace.

  • V. williams

    (continuing that thought…) The liturgy is a poignant reminder throughout the entire service, that I bring absolutely nothing to the table, not even praise. It’s all pure grace.

  • JonSLC

    Steve, do you believe that there is (or could be) such a thing as liturgical worship that is aware of the surrounding culture, that is sensitive to it, and that has adapted to it in order to proclaim the gospel to many different types of people?

    Louis, do you believe that there is (or could be) such a thing as non-liturgical, “contemporary” worship that is Scripturally sound, that is rich in content and that spotlights the gospel in Word and Sacrament?

    (I’m really not trying to play playground monitor here — forgive me if it comes across that way. I ask these questions in an honest attempt to understand both of your viewpoints.)

  • JonSLC

    Steve, do you believe that there is (or could be) such a thing as liturgical worship that is aware of the surrounding culture, that is sensitive to it, and that has adapted to it in order to proclaim the gospel to many different types of people?

    Louis, do you believe that there is (or could be) such a thing as non-liturgical, “contemporary” worship that is Scripturally sound, that is rich in content and that spotlights the gospel in Word and Sacrament?

    (I’m really not trying to play playground monitor here — forgive me if it comes across that way. I ask these questions in an honest attempt to understand both of your viewpoints.)

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    Thank you JonSLC. I’ll add this to your questions; is there such a thing as a liturgy that is “contemporary”?

    I have nothing against liturgy or those who worship in that context. I come from a free Lutheran church synod that practiced a “low church” worship service. Over the years I have been exposed to and learned the great meaning and value to liturgical worship. I love that the liturgy teaches people the order of salvation; when we are gathered we start with adoration (who is God), then we move to confession (who am I), then God speaks to us (the Gospel in Word and Sacrament), then we respond (in praise and sacrificial giving), finally we are scattered to continue responding to God’s grace involved in His mission. This can be done regardless of musical style, dress of the congregation (or pastor) or the time of the day.
    I am overjoyed that people worship Jesus. Whether they use a harp, organ, guitar, piano or any other instrument.

    V.williams 37
    I doubt that God is more pleased when I pray back to Him His own words than He is please when I come to Him with a broken and contrite heart seeking grace. In the end, I am always praying back to God what He has already spoken. While I love being grounded in scripture, I never want worship to become wrote memory or formula.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    Thank you JonSLC. I’ll add this to your questions; is there such a thing as a liturgy that is “contemporary”?

    I have nothing against liturgy or those who worship in that context. I come from a free Lutheran church synod that practiced a “low church” worship service. Over the years I have been exposed to and learned the great meaning and value to liturgical worship. I love that the liturgy teaches people the order of salvation; when we are gathered we start with adoration (who is God), then we move to confession (who am I), then God speaks to us (the Gospel in Word and Sacrament), then we respond (in praise and sacrificial giving), finally we are scattered to continue responding to God’s grace involved in His mission. This can be done regardless of musical style, dress of the congregation (or pastor) or the time of the day.
    I am overjoyed that people worship Jesus. Whether they use a harp, organ, guitar, piano or any other instrument.

    V.williams 37
    I doubt that God is more pleased when I pray back to Him His own words than He is please when I come to Him with a broken and contrite heart seeking grace. In the end, I am always praying back to God what He has already spoken. While I love being grounded in scripture, I never want worship to become wrote memory or formula.

  • Stephen

    It isn’t all good Pastor Ed, not even aesthetically. But more importantly , in terms of how the worship style works on us, learning things by “rote and formula” is a very good thing. The liturgy (Scripture!) is there for me regardless of my ability to conjure up a feeling or an idea. It teaches, comforts and guides the heart of the Christian. “The Spirit prays for us in sighs too deep for words” as St. Paul says. How many times did Jesus himself quote scripture? When he read from the scroll in the synagogue, chances are he sang those words using a tune handfed down for centuries. Those “formulaic” passages have meaning that exists outside of our ability or strength to feel them or comprehend them. They are “for us” so that we CAN pray and not flounder about in our own ideas.

    Would it be better to sing “I will do this and that for you Lord, I promise, really I will” (most praise songs boil down to this in my experience) or hymnody that preaches about Christ and his benefits? Who is at the center of those two very different forms?

    I think there could be good, liturgical worship with music other than hymnody, but as yet that stuff does not exist to any large degree. John Yilvisaker is out there somewhere doing it, but not too many others so far. But the “tradition” that has come to be called “contemporary” is from evangelicalism. As such, the theological/orthodox worth of it is practically nil in my experience, and I speak as someone who spent a few years in youth ministry AND as musician and song leader. The emphasis of these songs is on the believer and not on the message of the Gospel.

    V. Williams, you got it right as far as I can see. Until we Lutherans create more of this sort of thing, then it’s a waste of time and perhaps even spititually damaging to invite praise music into the church without the guidance of sound, confessional theology. Same goes for any art form, that’s all. The point of it is to preach Christ and not to get us to feel things and have a pleasant experience. We may and often do feel things, but those things come and go. The Word remains forever, and that is what the church is about.

    The liturgical worship in the Lutheran Church as it has been passed on is linked to tradition that has been worked out over centruies. We can’t say that about contemporary forms. Ones that summarily dismiss all that lose a great deal. Beyond the author’serror in judgement over making blanket generalizations, that is the take away for me. We’ve somehow got it in our heads that the new is always better. It’s not.

    Pizza and beer Jesus for everyone!

  • Stephen

    It isn’t all good Pastor Ed, not even aesthetically. But more importantly , in terms of how the worship style works on us, learning things by “rote and formula” is a very good thing. The liturgy (Scripture!) is there for me regardless of my ability to conjure up a feeling or an idea. It teaches, comforts and guides the heart of the Christian. “The Spirit prays for us in sighs too deep for words” as St. Paul says. How many times did Jesus himself quote scripture? When he read from the scroll in the synagogue, chances are he sang those words using a tune handfed down for centuries. Those “formulaic” passages have meaning that exists outside of our ability or strength to feel them or comprehend them. They are “for us” so that we CAN pray and not flounder about in our own ideas.

    Would it be better to sing “I will do this and that for you Lord, I promise, really I will” (most praise songs boil down to this in my experience) or hymnody that preaches about Christ and his benefits? Who is at the center of those two very different forms?

    I think there could be good, liturgical worship with music other than hymnody, but as yet that stuff does not exist to any large degree. John Yilvisaker is out there somewhere doing it, but not too many others so far. But the “tradition” that has come to be called “contemporary” is from evangelicalism. As such, the theological/orthodox worth of it is practically nil in my experience, and I speak as someone who spent a few years in youth ministry AND as musician and song leader. The emphasis of these songs is on the believer and not on the message of the Gospel.

    V. Williams, you got it right as far as I can see. Until we Lutherans create more of this sort of thing, then it’s a waste of time and perhaps even spititually damaging to invite praise music into the church without the guidance of sound, confessional theology. Same goes for any art form, that’s all. The point of it is to preach Christ and not to get us to feel things and have a pleasant experience. We may and often do feel things, but those things come and go. The Word remains forever, and that is what the church is about.

    The liturgical worship in the Lutheran Church as it has been passed on is linked to tradition that has been worked out over centruies. We can’t say that about contemporary forms. Ones that summarily dismiss all that lose a great deal. Beyond the author’serror in judgement over making blanket generalizations, that is the take away for me. We’ve somehow got it in our heads that the new is always better. It’s not.

    Pizza and beer Jesus for everyone!

  • V. williams

    Pastor Ed @ 40
    Using God’s own words does not preclude one from having a broken and contrite heart. All other things being equal, I would choose the “better” thing.
    We are in agreement that worship ought not be wrote memory or formula; however, that is a problem not restricted to liturgical services.

  • V. williams

    Pastor Ed @ 40
    Using God’s own words does not preclude one from having a broken and contrite heart. All other things being equal, I would choose the “better” thing.
    We are in agreement that worship ought not be wrote memory or formula; however, that is a problem not restricted to liturgical services.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    V. williams @ 42
    Of course it is good to pray back what God has spoken to us, but the better thing is not the words we use but the condition of our heart. That is where we disagree. And again, I am not against liturgical worship or churches that practice it. I am proposing that there are other ways to worship that are just as valid and true to the Word. I applaud your passion for Jesus and pray for the best for you and your church.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    V. williams @ 42
    Of course it is good to pray back what God has spoken to us, but the better thing is not the words we use but the condition of our heart. That is where we disagree. And again, I am not against liturgical worship or churches that practice it. I am proposing that there are other ways to worship that are just as valid and true to the Word. I applaud your passion for Jesus and pray for the best for you and your church.

  • Stephen

    Well, since I was ignored, I’ll take a shot at something else said here.

    “Of course it is good to pray back what God has spoken to us, but the better thing is not the words we use but the condition of our heart.”

    Huh? The words we use are essential to prayer. We are people of The Word. We don’t just say anything, do we?

    And as for the condition of our hearts, as Jesus said, it is out of the heart that all manner of evil comes. I’m pretty sure that what we bring in there to worship is a whole lot of sin that needs forgiving. Why are the vagaries and inconsistencies of the human heart better than the words of scripture? Why is the way we feel so important over and against the Word itself.

  • Stephen

    Well, since I was ignored, I’ll take a shot at something else said here.

    “Of course it is good to pray back what God has spoken to us, but the better thing is not the words we use but the condition of our heart.”

    Huh? The words we use are essential to prayer. We are people of The Word. We don’t just say anything, do we?

    And as for the condition of our hearts, as Jesus said, it is out of the heart that all manner of evil comes. I’m pretty sure that what we bring in there to worship is a whole lot of sin that needs forgiving. Why are the vagaries and inconsistencies of the human heart better than the words of scripture? Why is the way we feel so important over and against the Word itself.

  • Rob

    I have a long background of leading worship in contemporary styles and a short one of participating in more ceremonial styles (either type of worship is a “liturgy”, so to call one “liturgical” is to mangle words better left unmangled).

    Far as I am concerned, the short answer is: there is no short answer. Look to Paul. To some he recommends milk. To others solid meat. Who gets which recommendation depends on the state of their maturity.

    Likewise, he tells the Corinthian church that doing something only they understand (speaking in tongues) is of some value, but doing something outsiders understand (prophesying) is of even more value.

    If in our ceremonial services, people have no clue what’s going on and walk away confused, isn’t that kind of parallel to the speaking in tongues? But the author of the article experienced that same disorientation in a contemporary service, didn’t he?

    Thus it is the prophecy – the clear speaking of God’s Word, which makes all the difference and should be most highly valued. And for Lutherans, we get His Word in written form, spoken form, chanted form, sung form, liquid form, and in solid form. Ought to be something in there for everyone.

    I end up with the Confessions – the Word and the Sacraments are the only non-negotiables, as they are the only elements that can enliven faith. All other ceremonies should be done for the proper instruction of those present and to lovingly preserve good order.

    But my final word is this: the burden of proof (and of patient, loving implementation) lies with the person wishing to instigate a change. The church wasn’t just invented yesterday and the historic settings of the liturgy and lectionary have developed over centuries. To think you can improve on them in a 2-hour planning session is more than a little prideful/naive.

  • Rob

    I have a long background of leading worship in contemporary styles and a short one of participating in more ceremonial styles (either type of worship is a “liturgy”, so to call one “liturgical” is to mangle words better left unmangled).

    Far as I am concerned, the short answer is: there is no short answer. Look to Paul. To some he recommends milk. To others solid meat. Who gets which recommendation depends on the state of their maturity.

    Likewise, he tells the Corinthian church that doing something only they understand (speaking in tongues) is of some value, but doing something outsiders understand (prophesying) is of even more value.

    If in our ceremonial services, people have no clue what’s going on and walk away confused, isn’t that kind of parallel to the speaking in tongues? But the author of the article experienced that same disorientation in a contemporary service, didn’t he?

    Thus it is the prophecy – the clear speaking of God’s Word, which makes all the difference and should be most highly valued. And for Lutherans, we get His Word in written form, spoken form, chanted form, sung form, liquid form, and in solid form. Ought to be something in there for everyone.

    I end up with the Confessions – the Word and the Sacraments are the only non-negotiables, as they are the only elements that can enliven faith. All other ceremonies should be done for the proper instruction of those present and to lovingly preserve good order.

    But my final word is this: the burden of proof (and of patient, loving implementation) lies with the person wishing to instigate a change. The church wasn’t just invented yesterday and the historic settings of the liturgy and lectionary have developed over centuries. To think you can improve on them in a 2-hour planning session is more than a little prideful/naive.

  • Steve Billingsley

    JonSLC @ 39

    The answer to your questions is absolutely yes and yes. And I think that there are churches that capture these things (rich in Word and Sacrament and interactive to the surrounding culture) quite well.

  • Steve Billingsley

    JonSLC @ 39

    The answer to your questions is absolutely yes and yes. And I think that there are churches that capture these things (rich in Word and Sacrament and interactive to the surrounding culture) quite well.

  • Stephen

    Rob,

    Case closed. Coming from a similar experience in contemporary forms, I could not have said it better. I’ not opposed to new things. Heck! I’m an artist. But Lutherans don’t do it so well as far as I have seen. The only option is to adopt what is out there from other theologies, and it is almost always no good as far as sound proclamation, whether one likes the style or not.

  • Stephen

    Rob,

    Case closed. Coming from a similar experience in contemporary forms, I could not have said it better. I’ not opposed to new things. Heck! I’m an artist. But Lutherans don’t do it so well as far as I have seen. The only option is to adopt what is out there from other theologies, and it is almost always no good as far as sound proclamation, whether one likes the style or not.

  • mendicus

    Two questions: first, was it the Lord’s Supper? Second, given the importance of communicating in a way that people can understand, as the populace’s facility with the English language and its ability to communicate in subtleties decline, will the Church’s ability to communicate the truths of Scripture decline?

  • mendicus

    Two questions: first, was it the Lord’s Supper? Second, given the importance of communicating in a way that people can understand, as the populace’s facility with the English language and its ability to communicate in subtleties decline, will the Church’s ability to communicate the truths of Scripture decline?

  • Stephen

    Mendicus -

    I’d say to the first question “no” if what is described is accurate. Without the Word, the bread and wine are just that.

    To the second, I’d say it is all the more reason to preserve the traditions and work at improving on and integrating the new rather than full-scale replacement. I think it will work the other way around – people will get tired of hollow, text message language and seek out things with more consequence and weight. they will also get tired of singing about their own piety and hunger for the Gospel – some not all.

    The temptation (and that is the right word) is to dumb down everything and treat people like children rather than encourage them to grow. Not to be too harsh, but I think the contemporary/megachurch wave is a quite simply a consequence of our teenage/youth culture which didn’t really exist before WWII. California got it going with the Jesus Movement and it stuck like Levis Jeans (which I wear daily!). The entire world has been marketed to us on these terms, terms that require not very much of us except to sit back and enjoy. It’s fine as far as it goes, but I don’t think it goes that far.

  • Stephen

    Mendicus -

    I’d say to the first question “no” if what is described is accurate. Without the Word, the bread and wine are just that.

    To the second, I’d say it is all the more reason to preserve the traditions and work at improving on and integrating the new rather than full-scale replacement. I think it will work the other way around – people will get tired of hollow, text message language and seek out things with more consequence and weight. they will also get tired of singing about their own piety and hunger for the Gospel – some not all.

    The temptation (and that is the right word) is to dumb down everything and treat people like children rather than encourage them to grow. Not to be too harsh, but I think the contemporary/megachurch wave is a quite simply a consequence of our teenage/youth culture which didn’t really exist before WWII. California got it going with the Jesus Movement and it stuck like Levis Jeans (which I wear daily!). The entire world has been marketed to us on these terms, terms that require not very much of us except to sit back and enjoy. It’s fine as far as it goes, but I don’t think it goes that far.

  • STW

    The practice of Mega-church worship simply is the result of a theology which is anthropocentric, from man to God, as even terms like “worship” or “praise” imply. Also, since there is no clear affirmation of external means of grace (or means of the Holy Spirit) in terms of God’s Word and Sacraments, but rather an opting to believe in an immediacy of the Holy Spirit, then all the focus is directed to man’s heart, where the emotions–those good vibrations of the heart–if not identified with the presence and working of the Holy Spirit, are at least seen as the telltale signs of His presence and working. Hence, is it no wonder that such Mega-church worship in crafted around trying to stir up the emotions in an “I love you sweet Jesus…I give you my whole heart” type of frenzy, to serve as the rocket fuel to propel the person onwards and upwards towards God in such a so-called worship “experience” the likes of which Schleiermacher laid out long ago in his defining of faith as primarily a subjective, fideistic, “fides reflexa” kinda thing. Heck, if God and faith and worship and praise is all about how we feel about God, then no wonder everything a Mega-church does is based around stirring up a warm fuzzy. Having said that, given that the hearts of mankind are fickle, they quickly can tire of what becomes to them “the same old”, how quickly that “contemporary” becomes passe’ like that top-40 pop song incessantly played on the radio for a month before it drops out of sight for good, so that thus Mega-church is driven to constantly come up with something new and fresh to keep the consumer’s attention and keep their passions stirred up. No wonder that smaller churches, like a small town/rural congregation, eventually fall on their faces after trying to copy a Mega-church model for worship, which is sort of like the carnival come to town in the summer, which draws everyone for a couple days before attendance quickly wanes and it must move on…they don’t have the resources/staff like a Mega-church to constantly come up with something fresh and new on a massive Amusement park level (= to push the envelope further and further away from God and more towards the secularity of world pop culture)….and every kid knows a carnival is one thing while a massive Six Flags Amusement Park is quite another (or better yet, that wonderful Cedar Point in Ohio). But even as the Mega-church eventually laments, eventually even their membership declines and/or becomes like a revolving door, as spiritual atrophy sets in, and their worship leaders realize how hard it is to pull off a grand “worship experience” every week, given that the Gen X and Y’ers, in their XBOX 360/Internet culture where even TV and movie theatres are passe’, aren’t so easily pandered too and manipulated as their Boomer parents are, as they ask why they need to watch a big screen in church when they could just as easily and more conveniently do so at home.

    Those small congregations (which make up 80% of Christians in North America) who are wise don’t even bother to try, and just lamentably pray as the Mega-church seduces some of their members away from them, just hoping after they burn out on the ego-centric cotton candy spirituality that they might return to the consistent, reliable, life-sustaining meat and potatoes Christocentric Liturgy they had formerly found so bland and boring in comparison to all that pretty cotton candy and big rides of the entertaining Amusement Park church.

  • STW

    The practice of Mega-church worship simply is the result of a theology which is anthropocentric, from man to God, as even terms like “worship” or “praise” imply. Also, since there is no clear affirmation of external means of grace (or means of the Holy Spirit) in terms of God’s Word and Sacraments, but rather an opting to believe in an immediacy of the Holy Spirit, then all the focus is directed to man’s heart, where the emotions–those good vibrations of the heart–if not identified with the presence and working of the Holy Spirit, are at least seen as the telltale signs of His presence and working. Hence, is it no wonder that such Mega-church worship in crafted around trying to stir up the emotions in an “I love you sweet Jesus…I give you my whole heart” type of frenzy, to serve as the rocket fuel to propel the person onwards and upwards towards God in such a so-called worship “experience” the likes of which Schleiermacher laid out long ago in his defining of faith as primarily a subjective, fideistic, “fides reflexa” kinda thing. Heck, if God and faith and worship and praise is all about how we feel about God, then no wonder everything a Mega-church does is based around stirring up a warm fuzzy. Having said that, given that the hearts of mankind are fickle, they quickly can tire of what becomes to them “the same old”, how quickly that “contemporary” becomes passe’ like that top-40 pop song incessantly played on the radio for a month before it drops out of sight for good, so that thus Mega-church is driven to constantly come up with something new and fresh to keep the consumer’s attention and keep their passions stirred up. No wonder that smaller churches, like a small town/rural congregation, eventually fall on their faces after trying to copy a Mega-church model for worship, which is sort of like the carnival come to town in the summer, which draws everyone for a couple days before attendance quickly wanes and it must move on…they don’t have the resources/staff like a Mega-church to constantly come up with something fresh and new on a massive Amusement park level (= to push the envelope further and further away from God and more towards the secularity of world pop culture)….and every kid knows a carnival is one thing while a massive Six Flags Amusement Park is quite another (or better yet, that wonderful Cedar Point in Ohio). But even as the Mega-church eventually laments, eventually even their membership declines and/or becomes like a revolving door, as spiritual atrophy sets in, and their worship leaders realize how hard it is to pull off a grand “worship experience” every week, given that the Gen X and Y’ers, in their XBOX 360/Internet culture where even TV and movie theatres are passe’, aren’t so easily pandered too and manipulated as their Boomer parents are, as they ask why they need to watch a big screen in church when they could just as easily and more conveniently do so at home.

    Those small congregations (which make up 80% of Christians in North America) who are wise don’t even bother to try, and just lamentably pray as the Mega-church seduces some of their members away from them, just hoping after they burn out on the ego-centric cotton candy spirituality that they might return to the consistent, reliable, life-sustaining meat and potatoes Christocentric Liturgy they had formerly found so bland and boring in comparison to all that pretty cotton candy and big rides of the entertaining Amusement Park church.

  • Stephen

    Another excellent post STW! Hope to hear more.

  • Stephen

    Another excellent post STW! Hope to hear more.

  • Pingback: How to Lead Praise and Worship in a Traditional Church | Six String Bass Guitars

  • Pingback: How to Lead Praise and Worship in a Traditional Church | Six String Bass Guitars


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