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Foolish Display or Responsible Diversity in Worship Practices?

July 4th, 2006
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What Paul writes, 2 Cor. 6, 14. 17, shall and must obtain: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what communion hath light with darkness? Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord. Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, X.6-7)

Here is a link to what "contemporary worship" looks in some churches these days. The praise band is crowding out the altar and baptismal font. The rock music is blaring and they are trying to lead the congregation in singing the song "House of God" [lyrics follow this commentary].

A week or so ago we enjoyed a spirited discussion about one Lutheran congregation’s decision to have a Marian shrine in its nave, or so it would seem to most who view it. How does a congregation decide it has the right to go on its own in this manner? How does a congregation decide it has a right to go on its own in the manner featured in this post?

The praise band rocking away in the chancel … is this really how anyone wishes to suggest our Lutheran Confessions intend worship to be in the church? Is this evangelical freedom in action, or a "foolish display," if not worse? What does such a practice say about Lutheran theology, if anything? Is this the way we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness?

Here is the video clip of the praise band doing its thing

Here are the lyrics to the song "House of God" — compare this hymn of "invocation" or "welcome" with "Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord" — now ask yourself…which hymn actually proclaims God’s Word, praises Him and confesses the truth? Which hymn is more a device to stir human emotion?

House of God

Welcome to the house of God my friend
All are welcome, all may enter in
Come experience the peace and hope within

We come here, for God and God alone
The house of God
All draw near, make Yourself at Home
The house of God

Come and celebrate His majesty
Dance and shout like those who've been set free
It's about you Jesus and all of your glory


Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord,

With all your graces now outpoured.
On each believer’s mind and heart;
Your fervent love to them impart.
Lord, by the brightness of your light
In holy faith your Church untie;
From every land and every tongue
This to our praise, O Lord, Our God, be sung:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Come, holy Light, guide divine,
Now cause the Word of life to shine.
Teach us to know our God aright
And call him Father wit delight.
From every error keep us free;
Let none buy Christ our master be
That we in living faith abide,
In him, our Lord, with all our might confide.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Come, holy Fire, comfort true,
Grant us the will your work to do
And in your service to abide:
Let trials turn us not aside.
Lord, by your power prepare each heart,
And to our weakness strength impart
That bravely here we may contend,
Through life and death to your, our Lord, ascend.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Hymn # 154 from Lutheran Worship

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  1. July 4th, 2006 at 21:48 | #1

    Praise the LORD!
    Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!
    Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!
    Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
    Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
    Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
    Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
    Praise the LORD!
    (Psalm 150 ESV)
    I don’t care for that style, but maybe that context does. I’ve seen Thai folks and Haitian folks worship–Lutherans, I mean–and they don’t necessarily care to do it how we do, either. I think you can still preach the Word and rightly administer the Sacraments there–even if it’s a little crowded! ;)

  2. Minister2B
    July 4th, 2006 at 22:34 | #2

    How did you find videos from my church?
    Oh, sorry…had a flashback to my congregation’s praise band…the one time I dared go to the contemporary service.
    I nearly flagged the video as “Inappropriate” but thought otherwise when the moderators wouldn’t have a clue as to why.

  3. Bill Kerner
    July 5th, 2006 at 10:55 | #3

    OK…so much to say, so little time.
    In the previous discussion, I suggested that the LCMS teach the purpose of the Liturgical elements (i.e. what we do and why we do it). Now I must ask for the other side of that coin: what we don’t do and why we don’t do it. To the well trained clergyman, this may seem obvious. To us laymen, it often is not.
    I can begin with the fact that the praise band is performing at the front of the sanctuary. This is against the long standing Lutheran practice of having musicians in church perform in a choir loft behind the congregation. My understanding of the purpose of this tradition is that, by positioning themselves in a place where the congregation will not see them, the musicians do not draw attention to themselves, but rather through their music they help the congregation focus on preparing themselves for worship. The praise band in the video fails in this respect. Putting the best construction on things and thus believing that it was unintentional, I could not help noticing that the young lady in the pink was shaking more than her tambourine. This distracts from the worshiper from “the beauty of holiness”, at least I would find it distracting. But this is not necessarily to personally criticize these particular musicians (I understand it is difficult to remain completely stationary while playing the tambourine). Even a choir singing a Bach chorale should be positioned behind the worshipers, because this is the best way to encourage the congregation to focus on the Lord, not the performers.
    Again, I ask that others who feel that this worship style is not conducive to the Lutheran concept of worship be as specific as they can. It won’t help to make conclusionary statements, even if the conclusions are correct.

  4. Frank Marron
    July 5th, 2006 at 12:18 | #4

    I am Lutheran and as such thoroughly enjoy the liturgy and traditional Lutheran hymns and worship style. Not being a life-long Lutheran, the appeal to me is for order and respect and awe for God Himself and His gifts as produced in every Divine Service. Perhaps the greatest strength in Lutheran hymns is the Word-centeredness of the lyrics. Every hymn that is sung is by itself a profession of orthodox Christian faith taken directly from the Word of God. Having said this, from my perspective there are certain Lutheran hymns that are very difficult to sing, the rhythms being strange to modern ears. If “Praise” songs were strictly Word based and merely set to modern rhythms, I would have very little problem with them. One good example from my Charismatic era is a song set to the initial verses of Psalm 42. When I was first introduced to this tune, with guitar and almost a Western ballad type of style, I was very impressed. The modern world can have what it wants as long as the lyrics are Word-based, wherein the cross of Christ is continually reinforced rather than the glory of man.
    Frank Marron

  5. organshoes
    July 5th, 2006 at 13:53 | #5

    To Frank Marron:
    Understandable that your history makes some Lutheran hymns difficult to sing. Believe me, they are difficult for lifelong Lutherans as well.
    Often, though, the difficulty is relative. They’re not impossible, just not as easy as, say, Sweet Hour of Prayer and the like. Difficulty–or challenge, if you will–apparently gives people license not just to grumble, but to resist learning as well. And who says hymns (music) should be childishly simple, or that ultra-simplicity is of itself a desirable thing? They are hardly of a difficulty that requires anything more than repitition and familiarity. They don’t require superior musicianship or training beyond just singing them.
    They do, however, require something of an open mind (horrors, that!), and as much a desire and an agreement, to remain faithful to something true and beneficial, over the desires of the unschooled, unchurched heart.
    In other words: why should lifelong Lutherans forsake what newcomers find ‘strange’? Would that be any different than Lutherans forsaking liturgy out of sensitivity to the seeker?

  6. Frank Marron
    July 5th, 2006 at 15:49 | #6

    Dear “organshoes”:
    You make a goos point that Lutherans should not reject their musical heritage simply because many newcomers or visitors have difficulty with certain hymns or the music in general. When a person attends a traditional Lutheran service, he or she should expect just that. However, my main concern is the attitude I have personally encountered in the past. I left Lutheranism for a 15 year period largely over the music. When I expressed my concern over much of the music, the reaction from Lutheran elders was simply if I have a problem then I should leave! Of course I did just that. Looking back in time it was a terrible mistake by which my entire family became exposed to heresy, even though the music was seemingly beautiful.
    Frank Marron

  7. Bill Kerner
    July 5th, 2006 at 20:50 | #7

    Frank and Organshoes:
    I agree that many Lutheran hymns are more difficult to sing, but I may go a step farther. I think some of them (not many) are just plain bad. On the other hand, Lutheran Worship includes hymns such as “Sent Forth By God’s Blessing”, which is set to the tune of “The Ash Grove”, which is apparently a Welsh folk song. And even TLH includes a lot of Wesleyan and other non-Lutheran Hymns. Yet, some of my very favorites are those composed by Dr. Luther. Some of Luther’s hymns are very personal (like “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice”) as well as doctrinal, and quite moving. So, there seems to be a lot of material to choose from.
    Can either of you think of some contemporary songs that are worshipful enough (and heresy-free enough)to be legitimately sung during an orderly Lutheran service?
    Which brings us back to the central question here. What are the non-negotiable characteristics of a Lutheran worship service? If rocking in the chancel is outside the parameters of Lutheran worship, how “contemporary” can you be and still be in bounds?

  8. organshoes
    July 5th, 2006 at 21:48 | #8

    That is most unfortunate, but I’m glad you’re back.
    I had the good fortune of attending chapel for a week at the seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and it was a thrill, just for the music. The organ was fine, and the other instruments were stirring, but the singing! There’s certainly nothing ostentatious about the place. But its accoustics make a big difference. No–they make all the difference.
    Slate, concrete, stone and tile: these elements would make lusty singers of us all. We’d never vote for wood and carpet and upholstered pews for our new sanctuaries.
    Oh, that it were required of building committees: a pilgrimage to Fort Wayne for chapel.
    As for the more ancient of our hymns: I wish organists understood that sometimes more is less. Sometimes all the stops aren’t necessary to bring out the best of medieval and Renaissance-era hymns. Not even Bach always requires everything the instrument has to offer. Light and dancy and delicate–Luther accompanying himself on the lute. I wish church musicians thought as much of sweet flutes and simple treble voices, as of trumpets and such. The music should be what it is; more the style and character of its time than of some organist’s dreams (pipedreams?) of grandeur.
    Less can be so much more in many cases.

  9. organshoes
    July 6th, 2006 at 13:07 | #9

    Can’t you be contemporary–meaning in musical style and choice of text–without 1) drums, tambourines, and electric guitars and 2) without being vacuous? Do we simply have to mention Jesus to be ‘in bounds’ as you say, or should we not be thanking and praising Him for what He’s done, besides singing how nice and welcoming to everybody He is? Shouldn’t we sing who we are in relation to Who He is, as opposed to singing who we think we are or ought to be, or even all we can be?
    If we sing about lifting our hands up high, shouldn’t we say to Whom we are lifting our hands beyond, ‘Lord’? Lord of what? My finances? My value as a person? Or Lord of my sin and my forgiveness?
    Give me a ‘Death and Burial’ hymn any day, over such emptiness as ‘We love you, Lord. We really do.’
    Place the same ‘sentiments’ as ‘When Over Sins I Sorrow’ or ‘Lord, to You I Make Confession’ in something more modern, then maybe we can talk ‘contemporary.’
    BTW, which hymns are ‘just plain bad’? You mean in your opinion, or that they’re poorly composed?

  10. Bill Kerner
    July 6th, 2006 at 15:40 | #10

    Organshoes:
    Those are exactly the kind of parameters I am talking about. There are contemporary songs/hymns that I think might meet your criteria, but they are 1) few and far between, 2)usually not composed by Lutherans, which means even a well meaning Lutheran liturgist must wade through a lot of drek to find something usable. It also means that you rarely hear them used. When I think of contemporary music that might be worked into a Lutheran service, the original music performed by the a capella group “Glad” comes to mind, also some of the songs of Michael Card, Leslie Phillips, and Rich Mullins *might* be usable.
    Also, I don’t think the inclusion of a simple “praise” song is vacuous in and of itself if it is incorporated into a larger Divine Service that clarifies what we praise God for. Once again, that takes attention to detail one usually does not see. I think what puts the church in the video out of bounds is that the whole message is vacuous or worse. I am not surprised this is an ELCA church: generally the home of universalism. The “let’s just praise the Lord, he loves everybody” message is not just vacuous, it’s misleading and dangerous, because this message does not explain on what basis we pass from God’s wrath into His love. I fear that most of the churches that use this kind of music do so *because* it is so vacuous; they don’t want to think about blood and redemption.
    Stand by for the hymns I consider bad…I’m nowhere near a hymnal now. (don’t panic…there aren’t really very many)

  11. organshoes
    July 6th, 2006 at 18:23 | #11

    I’m really really really ignorant of contemporary Christian music. I don’t know Glad or any of the songwriters you cite. Would that the ‘well-meaning Lutheran liturgist’ takes care in wading through, to find something good. But, what is good?
    I’m not buying the harmlessness of the standalone praise song. Its very emptiness is its harm, and one harm opens the door for more.
    I’m a convert. I’m from all sorts of traditions, that meet all sorts of personal needs. Which are, in matters of Gottesdienst, pure hooey. The beauty of Gottesdienst is that the brief bright hour of fellowship with Christ has nothing to do with what I feel, or what I desire. I’m free of that. Instead, I’m faced with what I believe, and charged with expressing that, and not my emotions. My emotions do not drive what acts I perform in the service, though they are certainly touched throughout that activity.
    What is the purpose of praise songs–and they are by definition vacuous; if they’re not, they’re not simply praise songs, but more like hymns–but to kindle not even my emotions, but my sentiments?

  12. organshoes
    July 6th, 2006 at 19:14 | #12

    One more thought:
    what is it about music that makes Christians clamor for comfort?
    Are we more intimidated by the sung Word, than by the spoken?
    May it never be.

  13. July 7th, 2006 at 12:51 | #13

    On the other hand, what makes Lutherans clamor for hymns that sound like dirges and arrangements full of dissonant chords that force unison singing on everyone.
    ———-
    McCain: Are Lutherans clamoring for dirges? I don’t think so.
    ———-
    One thing I sorely miss about my Protestant heritage is the beautiful hymnody with 4-part harmony, ranging from melancholy Passion hymns to the triumphant “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”
    ———-
    McCain: I’ve got great news for you. Orthodox Lutheran hymnody was never intended to be sung dirge-like and it has always been intended to be sung in four part harmony! Thank the Pietists for giving us isometric settings of the classic Lutheran hymnody and then older hymnals for inflicting it on us. Compare, for instance, the two versions of “A Mighty Fortress” in Lutheran Worship. The one could well be a sleep aid, the other….rousing. Dr. Daniel Zager has done excellent work showing, and demonstrating, how Lutheran hymns were prepared and intended and done during the “golden age” of Lutheran hymnody. They were vibrant, enthusiastic, etc. The Calvinists and Pietists were the ones to come along and suck the life out of hearty hymn forms.
    ———-
    I also think back fondly to the days of playing preludes in my church’s brass quartet and orchestra, bringing glory to God through the arrangements of Bach and Handel (both of them Lutherans, ironically). When forced to choose between orthodoxy and good music, I’ll choose orthodoxy every time, but I don’t see why I can’t have both and am instead forced to suffer through Lutheran Worship every Sunday as though poor hymnody was a path to godliness.
    ———-
    McCain: Don’t blame the hymnody, blame those who do it badly. There are no finer hymns than the classic hymns. And there are no poorer hymns than found in many Protestant traditions, a point that C.S. Lewis was fond of making, repeatedly.
    ———-

  14. Bill Kerner
    July 7th, 2006 at 13:49 | #14

    You may have me on your point that “praise” music is by definition vacuous. It certainly is vacuous musicly, and lyricly it’s overly simple and repetitive and, well, vacuous. But there is something else.
    Dear Brother Organshoes, please don’t take this personally, but I don’t think any of us can ever be totally free from what we feel or desire, even during Gottesdienst. If we could be, why would you yourself observe that slate concrete stone and tile…would make lusty singers of us all, or that you wish church musicians thought as much of sweet flutes and treble voices. I am NOT trying to disparage your opinion, which I respect very much. I simply believe there is a tendency in all of us, with the best of intentions, to be influenced by what musicly speaks to us.
    ———-
    McCain: Good discussion guys. I can comment on the “slate and tile” issue. It is about acoustics. When you have poor acoustics, as many modern congregations do, it is no wonder the singing suffers for it. After you lay down carpet, pad the pews and have walls that tend to absorb sound, rather than reflect it, it makes for a very bad situation for singing. I think that was Organ Shoes point on that issue.
    ———-

  15. organshoes
    July 7th, 2006 at 14:16 | #15

    Josh S’s disappointment most likely cannot rival the disappointment of a pastor, fresh from the seminary and the fervent singing in Chapel, upon hearing his own congregation indeed treat the very same hymns like dirges.
    Congregations owe themselves and their musicians continuing education.
    ‘Pulse,’ Kantor Resch calls it. Every hymn has one. Organists and choirs shoulc be trained to find it.

  16. organshoes
    July 7th, 2006 at 22:50 | #16

    Well, Bill Kerner, it is music after all, and not a ball and chain.
    But, lest we be mindless enthusiasts, we have music married to the Word. If that’s not stirring, and not worthy of the best sounds to be made, I don’t know what is. I pretty much am certain, however, what isn’t worthy.
    Thank you, Rev. McCain, for hosting this discussion, and for this fascinating blog.
    BTW, it’s Sister Organshoes.

  17. Carlray
    July 10th, 2006 at 13:06 | #17

    It’s too bad Stevie Ray died!!

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