-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Worship Wars; Heightened Emotions

First off, let me make clear a few things:

Traditional worship: great
Contemporary worship: riddled with problems
The judgement and rhetoric of many who oppose contemporary worship: deplorable

Now for my argument... (Before you read, I apologize for any heightened rhetoric, especially towards the end, its just that...I love my church)

One of the major issues that "traditionalists" (let me clearly define what I mean, so that people don't feel I am making a universal judgement on those who enjoy traditional practice (myself included). I mean: those who believe that any worship needs to be disconnect with the culture and connected with historical practice, and who believe contemporary worship is inherently detrimental to the church) raise, is that contemporary worship, in its content and form, is psychologically and emotionally manipulative.

The problem is, doesn't all music influence our thinking and emotions? (I would say "manipulative" only where it influences in this way without the knowledge and/or desire of the participant, or, a little more subjective, where the level of influence is not justifiable to the content, i.e. when singing "Jesus Loves Me"). Some of this comes from the form itself and some of it comes from the cultural significance.

Let's take "A Mighty Fortress" for example: doesn't the form, disregarding the content for the moment, illicit a very specific psychological and emotional response? (I would categorize this specifically as "triumphant"). The strong, constant, and measured emphasis on the downbeat (pertaining to its form), or its style's cultural significance (adopted by nearly all regal marches and anthems), doesn't this illicit these things?

Or how about even, volume? Doesn't everybody cherish the memories of Easter morning and singing "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent"? And then, the last verse, when the organist pulls out all the stops and the church begins singing: "At His feet the six wingèd seraph," do we decry: "how dare they raise the volume to manipulate my emotions!"?

My point: the ability of music, specifically its form, to do this is not, in itself, a bad thing. A rule we might adopt would be to say: The effect of the form is only appropriate where its primary purpose is not to make people "feel something" but to direct them to the content, that is, to the Word, so that it might be better appreciated.


One of the biggest arguments against contemporary worship, and supporting traditional worship are the concepts of reverence and irreverence. One of the biggest factors in worship for many of these people is whether something is reverent or not. The furrowed brow, the bended knee, and the measured movements become their mantra. I am not criticizing this WHATSOEVER, I merely have a problem when they make reverence-- an emotional disposition before God (it is emotional, not pure action. It is the motivation and the intentionality of the action (worship) that makes it reverent or irreverent)-- the key emotion in worship. While reverence is certainly good, and expected, it is far from being the beginning and end of the spectrum of worship as we find it in Scripture. The elevation of reverence (which I think is sometimes believed to be a type of "anti-emotion" - in response to the admitted over emphasis of emotions found in much contemporary worship) as the key emotion, and the judgement that contemporary worship is inherently irreverent is absurd.

Going back to my previous argument, the form of worship may certainly be, or not be, better suited, or may be better at, eliciting certain psychological and emotional responses, but to say a certain form is or is not irreverent is fallacious. Lets take actions, in general, as an example. Genuflecting: in itself, not reverent. Its form-- the display of submission--, and its cultural/religious significance may make it ideal, and make it better at getting people to connect reverence of God to it, but if we were to argue that this is the best way, or discourage or unjustly criticise, or even state that some other action is inherently irreverent, this would be an error. Contemporary worship may not be the best suited to instill reverence, but it certainly can, and certainly does do this, and certainly is not inherently irreverent. On the other hand contemporary worship tends to be good at expressing joy, praise of God, superlatives, being meditative, can be very personal (in the good sense), etc-- things that traditional worship may not be as good at.

That being said, there are many, many problems that infect contemporary worship and how it is engaged in. The content of much contemporary worship (not all) is, simply put, shallow. This, though, does not have to be, and Lutherans should be leading the way in creating and encouraging the use of doctrinally sound, Scripturally based, and meaningful contemporary worship. A lot of contemporary worship, and the way it is engaged in, places far, far to much emphasis on emotions, especially "feel good" emotions. The form, the way it is engaged in, and even the content itself, often does not serve the purpose of emphasising solid content but actually often distracts worshipers from the content and ultimately draws worshipers away from God thus truly being irreverent.

Points being:
1) Yes, music (even just the type) has the ability to influence us psychologically and emotionally. This is appropriate, and even beneficial if it sets the tone and helps us by directing us to the Word. This is inappropriate if the music has the effect of not drawing us into the Word but rather draws us into ourselves and our feelings, especially if music is being used to do this intentionally. The forms of both traditional and contemporary worship have the ability to, and do influence us psychologically and emotionally.
2) I have a problem when reverence is touted as the key, and almost sole, emotional disposition that is appropriate before God in worship. All others deemed to compromise "good order."

That this issue is severing the LC-MS is truly, truly heartbreaking. There seems to be no one who is actively taking steps to bring the two sides together (that's right: not one side "back"). The lack of brotherly love, admonition, and correction is disturbing.

The Synod seems to be taking the position of "don't ask don't tell"-- they do not take steps to correct error or encourage right practice. They seem to simply ignore a problem that has almost reached a point of disaster. They do not take steps to offer approved worship material for contemporary worship, instead they just ignore it all together while our congregations are continuing to be infected, more and more, by the evangelical "spirit," teaching, and doctrinally unsound worship material. They do not encourage or show how to incorporate contemporary worship into liturgical form.

Those who I have decided, here, to call "traditionalists" have shown remarkable divisiveness. Concerning the Synod, which they simply, and it would seem almost universally deem "a bunch of liberals," they have adopted one or more of these three actions: 1) they completely dismiss the Synod, 2) threaten to "overtake" it, and purge it of error, or 3) threaten to leave. Instead of tirelessly trying, in brotherly love, to turn those, of their own body, from error, they have mocked, criticized, and dismissed them. They have given themselves the moniker: "Confessional" Lutherans (with all of the offensive implications involved). At a time when they should be most zealously fighting for unity, they have decided to give themselves a name that makes sure to tell everyone around that they, "are not that guy."

To those churches who have been, or whom others see as sliding toward liberalism or evangelicalism, you have not taken seriously the effect you are having on the unity of church, nor the complaints of those from your own body. If you cause division (and this goes for both sides of the issue) in the church in the name of "Christian freedom" (Or the other side: claiming superiority of practice, or arguing: "well they started it"), for an issue of practice, you are sinning against, and hindering the gospel, not furthering it.

If you, whoever you are, succeed in dividing the church in the name of Christian freedom: This is a great sin.
If you, whoever you are, succeed in dividing the church in the name of unity of practice: This is a great sin.
Both are gross forms of legalism (yes, Christian freedom can be legalism).

It will most likely be pointed out, those doctrinal errors that have surfaced that stem, whether directly or indirectly, from change in practice (i.e. open communion). But resolution to these problems will be easy in comparison to the deplorable behavior shown and the deep seeded sinfulness of our church. We are lucky in that we subscribe to the Book of Concord to which all of our churches are accountable. If doctrinal error is confronted, in conflict with Scripture and the clear teaching of the Confessions, and if this error is not repented of and recanted, the church has a clear, though absolutely last, course open to it. As for our "behavioral problems"...what can we do?

Bottom line:
That the Synod is dividing on issues of practice: very unfortunate.
That doctrinal errors from outside teachings and practices are infecting our church: very unfortunate.
That apathy, condemnation, judgementalism, legalism, turning a blind eye, lack of concern, lack of love, anger, rejection, and denial seem to be our overwhelming reactions to this: unspeakable.

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