Some Thoughts on the topic of the Divine Service

In an ideal world, I would prefer that pastors do their level best to use the prescribed orders of service and the hymnody provided in our common hymnals when they conduct services in the Church. And I would urge the people of the churches to support their pastors in this. All of us have our own preferences, likes, and dislikes, but these matters of personal taste should not drive our corporate worship together. That is one of the beauties, in my opinion, of uniformity in worship, not that absolute uniformity is essential for the true unity of the Church, but that such uniformity transcends all of our individual likes and dislikes. The worship of the Church does not belong to any individual and should not be dictated by the individual tastes of the worshipper. There is plenty of room for individual expression in our private devotions throughout the week. And there is plenty of variety already built into the prescribed orders of service. I don’t think this uniformity that was desired by the Reformers and by the founders of this Synod is something that can be legislated or demanded. It must be something that is done voluntarily by the people and pastors together.

Having said that, I realize that I might as well be a clanging cymbal (no pun intended). There are those of us who are committed to using the prescribed orders and rubrics and those who are not. And the rest either have to put up or shut up. Those of us who are committed to using the traditional worship forms are not ever going to make room for Baptist/non-denominational praise services. I know I will not. And those who are committed to experimentation no matter what the cost will allow us to do what we want but will not allow themselves to be conformed to what is historic and traditional, always of course banging that “adiaphora” drum. For myself, I would be open to working with a church that wants to experiment with different instruments, but not if it meant that the words, structure, or form of the service would have to be changed at all. As I was reflecting on this today, I realized something that I think is important: a divine service should be able to stand alone without the addition of music in any of its parts. The rite of the Communion Service as it is in our hymnals (and in the Common service brought over from the land of our fathers) can stand alone. It does not need music to make it what it is. It can be conducted completely without music, and will not lack anything in substance. Can the services commonly called “Praise services” do that? Another thing that dawned on me was that in our singing, music exists for the words, not words for the music. Music is only the servant, not the master.

I think that the first thing that must be agreed upon in our debates over how the church ought to conduct its worship is that there will be no tampering with the words of the Rite or Order of Service. If we could all at least agree on that alone, we would be miles ahead of where we are now. If we cannot agree that the words and structure of our common service should remain basically intact and changed only by common consent, then we will never be unified over worship. If we could establish unity over this, perhaps then we could begin to work toward a common acceptance of appropriate musical forms to carry these words, to serve them. What I find far too common, however, is pastors who are just simply unwilling to submit to the common structure and wording of our service. They think they have to add their own little creative elements to it to make it more meaningful. They have to put their own little individual “touch” in it to make it more “relevant.” And then you end up with confessions of sins that don’t confess any real sins and absolutions that don’t absolve. You end up with truncated services, omissions of this or that part to save time, etc. etc. If we could just get everyone to stick to a common Rite, we would be in much better shape today than we are.

The Rite (words) of the service should be the main thing. That should be established before anything else is even discussed. Music belongs to the category of ceremony (as Paul H. D. Lang points out in Ceremony & Celebration). Far too often, however, I think that it is the other way around. So like I said, let the Rite (words) of the service remain unchanged, along with the structure of it; use the hymnody that has been commonly accepted among us in corporate worship (save the praise music for your i-pod at home), and then talk to me about using electric guitars and drums to accompany the singing of the Sanctus or the Agnus Dei. If the words and structure of the service have to be changed to accommodate a different musical “style” or “atmosphere” (usually more informal) then it ought not be done. I am all for bringing all sorts of different music to bear on the service, so long as this does not require the words, structure, form and reverence of the service to change.

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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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4 Responses to Some Thoughts on the topic of the Divine Service

  1. Preachrboy says:

    “I don’t think this uniformity that was desired by the Reformers and by the founders of this Synod is something that can be legislated or demanded. It must be something that is done voluntarily by the people and pastors together.”

    And this is exactly what the other side refuses to either hear, or report honestly about the traditionalist position. Instead we are painted as legalists who would force everyone into lock-step sameness. How sad.

  2. Past Elder says:

    You have hit upon something very profound — the distinction between a rite itself, and the music that is used within it. I think most of the resistance to more contemporary music is its use in “contemporary”, read non liturgical, services. I think we (LCMS) are moving in that direction. It’s the difference between a hymnal and a missal. Our new “hymnal” is called a service book, not a hymnal. The services stand by themselves and could be used with other music than the hymns provided in the back.

    I am happy to say in my parish that is how our “contemporary service” is conducted — the liturgy IS used, and the “hymns” are music of a more recent origin. I’ve suggested to our elders (I’m “past elder” and that was in another parish of another synod, WELS) that we not refer to our services as traditional and contemporary since it gives the impression one is the liturgy and the other a mega church praise service. In fact all our services are traditional, ie liturgical, and some use traditional hymnody and one uses more contemporary music styles.

    On a related note, with all the recent heat about recent defections to Eastern Orthodoxy, may I suggest a look at Reformation in the Eastern Rite. Yes, it exists! Here is the Eastern rite as reformed in the Ukranian Lutheran Church, not a state church but a confessional body in fellowship with WELS and ELS. The link may get cut off — it did when I posted it on another site. If so, the last part is /liturgy.html

    http://www.angelfire.com/ca4/saintsophiaseminary/liturgy.html

  3. Lawrence says:

    Instead we are painted as legalists who would force everyone into lock-step sameness. How sad.

    True. Except that there are some legalists trying to do just this. It all depends on what we are lock-steping into. Are we seeking doctrinal sameness or sameness in something else?

    … or report honestly about the traditionalist position.

    Yes. Honesty in this discussion would be a refreshing change. Reflecting the point to many of these debates is not the liturgy, but someone’s personal wishes for tweaking their worship service. And the point of this, is,… focusing on what we want in the service rather than focusing on what Christ wants.

    It seems it always comes down to this pesky distinction between what God wants and what man wants.

  4. Mort says:

    Assuming that churches agree to use the same liturgical text, but different styles of music…

    (1) Is it acceptable for a church to offer only one style of music?

    (2) Is it acceptable for an individual to attend only churches that use a style of music the individual finds congenial?

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