How to respond to contemporary worship sympathizers

In every discussion I’ve had with LC-MS members that are sympathetic to the desires of some for contemporary/creative worship, one of three (or a combination of all three) cards is played by the other party: 1) How our services are conducted is “adiaphora;” 2) (somewhat related) Christian Freedom; and 3) God approves of all forms of music. I have found that the best way to respond to any or all of these is to simply not respond at all. As soon as you get into discussions about music, Christian Freedom, or adiaphora, you have already lost the argument, not because you are wrong, but because the other person is usually ignorant as to the real role that these three things have in the context of worship. I have learned that the best response is to simply put it like this: “Congregations and pastors that stray from the prescribed orders of service and the commonly accepted hymns cannot be trusted to provide doctrinally pure worship for the congregation.” What that does is puts the burden of proof on the shoulders of the person who is sympathetic to these alternate forms of worship, and forces him to concede that those who use the prescribed orders of service do not have to worry about providing doctrinally pure worship for their flock, because it has already been proven to be so. It’s like this: those who refuse to submit to the received orders and hymns and insist on borrowing from non-Lutheran sources or creating an unchurchly atmosphere in their services are on shaky, unproven ground. You can say, “Are you so confident in your own creativity that you are willing to risk the souls of your members including your own just because you want things to have a differently feel to them?” Try that approach. I’m not saying it is going to win anyone for doctrinally pure, reverent worship. But it is a suggestion for thsoe (like myself) who grow increasingly frustrated in these matters.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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12 Responses to How to respond to contemporary worship sympathizers

  1. Lawrence says:

    “Congregations and pastors that stray from the prescribed orders of service and the commonly accepted hymns cannot be trusted to provide doctrinally pure worship for the congregation.”

    I think you said it very well. I’m not sure anything needs to be added.

    I may quote you on this in the future.

  2. Whey Lay says:

    Yes, nicely done. To expand on the point of adiaphora, the statement will usually be made that scripture does not dictate how we are to worship. This is a great area to respond to though, because scripture does not give us clear guidance, we would be wise to consult tradition and history for guidance. After the Word, I would rather trust history and the church fathers than the newest fad.

  3. organshoes says:

    Good answer, Pastor.
    It’s an impossible argument to join. The contemporary-mongers are not only convinced of the rightness and harmlessness of their desires, they’re also convinced the conservatives are merely being conservative: Both sides have their minds made up, is the way they see it.
    To join the argument pretty much serves to acknowledge that worship practice is merely a coin with two valid sides, that Christian Freedom is something like democracy, and that one side deserves to triumph over the other, through democratic–or political–means.
    Your answer avoids that trap. I will study it, to rely upon it.

  4. Pastor Beisel says:

    Whey Lay: I like your response. Where Scripture is silent, it does not mean “anything goes.” Look to the wisdom of the Church Fathers and the Tradition and History of the Church. Nicely Done. I would also add, however, that Scripture is not entirely silent on these matters. Perhaps God’s Word does not dictate precisely what words and kind of music we are to have. However, all the human traditions that have served to edify the Church’s worship (the good and true ones) are based on Scriptural principles such as reverence, humility, order, and love. This is true not only by word but by example.

    Organshoes–nicely done. By joining the argument, you are implying that such things are negotiable. It’s almost like arguing with children. As soon as you start arguing with them, you have lost. I’m not saying that we should not try to convince the gainsayers. Surely we should do our best. But certain arguments are futile to join.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I would only add that Scripture DOES tell us how to worship and by what means. “This do,” Jesus says. In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives us a picture of orderly worship. He has other injunctions in the Pastoral Epistles. The author of the Hebrews has some nice verbiage as well.

    The Didache and other early resources show how this worship was enfleshed in the early Church.

    The liturgy extols the means of grace, Word and Sacrament. The burden of proof lies with those would dispense with the liturgy because either a) they don’t like it; b) it’s adiaphora; c) they want to “win the lost” by instituting Evangelical/Pentecostalism; or d) all of the above.

    A theologian of the cross calls a thing for what it is. Face it folks, we’re fighting different religion, a mission cult that substitutes the so-called “Great Commission” (misuderstood, of course) for the doctrine of Justification. Theirs is an emotional argument with peppy music, and reason can’t argue with emotion.

    Chi Chi

  6. Pastor Beisel says:

    Well said, Chi Chi. I think I mentioned in my previous comment that Scripture certainly gives instructions as to how our worship is to be conducted (with reverent awe, in godly fear; Let everything be done decently in order, etc.). Reverence, order, love, and humility are Scriptural principles upon which all Christocentric ceremonies are based (See P.H.D. Lang, “Ceremony & Celebration” – Redeemer Press).

    The crux of the matter is this, in my opinion–many of churches do not use flagrantly false materials. What you find in a lot of places (probably the majority) is congregations that use parts of the Liturgy, mixed with a few poorly chosen praise songs. Then you have the “creative worship” crowd, even amongst the conservative brethren, who use elements of “CW” for their services. I might discuss this in a post above. The Confessional desire was to have as much uniformity in ceremony as possible, but you have know what ceremonies there are first!

  7. Whey Lay says:

    Chi Chi nailed it cold. It’s not about just music, if it was we would have contemporary music that was as theologically sound as the hymnal, most of it isn’t. It’s about doctrine, and I think the growth obssesors know it even if they don’t verbalize it. Local examples always offered of “succesful churches” have hip praise bands and typical charismatic, or pop Evangelical doctrine, and personally I have always felt that the later was what they truelly wanted, along with the big membership roll and the dollars that brings.

  8. organshoes says:

    Not flagrantly false–that’s the most effective kind of falsehood after all.
    For a short while, I attended an LCMS church that used the musical settings of the liturgy, but substituted alternative words, at random times. So, it might have been entitled ‘Agnus Dei’, and sounded like it, but the words went off in different directions, and were not scriptural. “Lamb of God, you hate the way of warfare and strife…’ or something like that–something beyond the atoning Lamb, at any rate.
    Unnecessary and confusing and vague, and slipped in rather insidiously, I thought.
    Little things mean a lot, as they say.

  9. Brian says:

    Traditional service from the luthern hymnal uses scriptual references, however the order of service is not defined by scripture. Martin Luther himself put common christian hymns to bar music to aid the common people with worship. Christ sermons were not delivered in a prescribed format. How you have service, the format, the music are not what is important, as long as christ’s message is not changed. Word alone, Faith alone, Grace alone have nothing to do with how you conduct a service other than making sure the music, responses, and sermon follow scriptual docturine. Gods message should be delivered to all people and can be done in many ways. To denie people becuase they don’t subscribe to traditional worship is one of the greates sins in the bible(Mathew chapter 8:2-14) becuase you are dening them Gods word. Many of my generation have a difficult time understanding and learning in the traditional worship setting. The deliver meathod is not important as long as the message doesn’t change. This is why pastors go to seminary so they can ensure thier services conform to the word.

  10. Pastor Beisel says:

    I think your statement that grace alone, faith alone, and word alone reveals your lack of understanding of the connection between doctrine and worship. Our view of God, our understanding of Justification by grace through faith, our belief in the centrality of the Word and Sacrament in the service, our belief that hymns ought to teach, not just be raw expressions of praise, the scriptural example of order and reverence, all of these things are most certainly connected to how we worship.

    To preserve tradition for tradition’s sake is problematic, and we would be the first to admit this. We recognize that traditions have changed and evolved over the years. But one thing that is unique about our generation is the complete and utter lack of appreciation for uniformity and the unwillingness to conform to common usage. We really do live in an age of “each one does what is right in his own eyes.”

  11. Pastor Beisel says:

    Oh, and by the way, try telling your 80 yr. old alsheimer’s patient who can’t remember her son’s name, but can remember the words and music to the Gloria in Excelsis, the Kyrie, and the Creed that “it doesn’t matter what the delivery method is, just so long as the message is right.” What a load of crap.

  12. Dan @ Necessary Roughness says:

    I have Methodist in-laws, and when I am out of town “Nana” will take my older daughter to their services. Sometimes we go when it’s a holiday or the niece is singing a solo, or something.

    My kids are five. They can’t read fast enough to follow the PowerPoint at this church. Their level of participation is relegated to clapping at the appropriate time or singing the refrain over and over and over again.

    On the other hand, they are familiar with Matins, Vespers, Compline, and parts of LSB Divine Service One and Three. They can actually participate. They know the Lord’s Prayer, and they do pretty well with the Apostle’s Creed. Through regular worship they know more about the faith than many Methodist adults.

    Uniformity. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for your kids and for those who lose faculties later on.

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