Friday, February 3, 2017

Contemporary Worship: Not Fit for Lutheran Consumption

"Trust me, I'm an enthusiast!"

Charles "Crazy Eyes" Finney
When I was teaching at a Lutheran school, there was much discussion at our congregation about something called blended worship. The idea was, as sort of a compromise, the congregation could adopt aspects of contemporary worship into the liturgical framework. For example, the worship service would still be laid out according to the pattern of the divine service. Changes to each one of those elements of the divine service, however, might be made. For example, parts of the liturgy, such as the Kyrie or the Gloria, might be swapped out with other pieces of more popular and contemporary, music. The idea was that we could compromise with those in the congregation who wanted to move toward contemporary worship. We could still retain our Lutheran liturgical heritage, while "getting with the times." This would liven things up, it was argued (though not in those words), and make church more attractive to the youth. Of course, any and all praise and worship music would have to be screened by the pastor for doctrinal purity.

My church never adopted such nonsense. We did, however, spend many hours in agonizing conversation regarding what we could do to attract more people to the church, and keep people from leaving. If only we had the right music… If only we had the right worship service… If only our building were fancier… If only we had more programs for the kids… If only insert thing for us to do or change here, we will attract more people, we will keep more people, our children won't leave us when they grow up, and we will have enough money to keep the church going.

But is it our job to do all these things? Is it our job to “keep the church going?” No, at least not in the way this question is usually asked.

There is a problem with this frame of mind: It is not Lutheran. And, when I say it is not Lutheran, I mean that it is not biblical. Many LCMS parishes are in financial difficulty, and many have closed. Enrollment at our day schools in many places is dwindling. Well-meaning people want to know what they can do to stop these terrible things from happening. We look around us at our American evangelical neighbors and seem to see quite a different situation. We see large modern-looking buildings (which no confessional Lutheran would ever mistake for a church) filled to capacity on Sunday mornings. We watch popular TV preachers filling former sports arenas with people week after week, and drawing in millions of dollars per year (I’m looking at you, Joel Osteen). We look at what they're doing, and we think, if we adopt a little of that methodology, perhaps our churches will fill up as well.

This idea couldn't be more wrong. The way we worship directly reflects what we believe theologically, and vice versa.

We have believed the lie that worship style, and our pastor's personality is what will keep people in our churches and make new Christians. In reality, there is only one thing which will really do that: God's Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. I am convinced that this is why we allow so much of the nonsense that goes on in our parishes to continue. We are infected with American Fundagelicalism.

I'm not talking about fixing an out of tune organ or trying to build a better relation between pastor and congregation. No right-thinking person would say that a congregation must use a broken and out of tune organ because an organ is the only appropriate instrument to use in worship. If the organ were broken, we would push in the piano from the fellowship hall. We would sing a cappella. We might even, in an homage to Franz Gruber and Josef Mohr, break out the guitar… Or, if you're me, the accordion...Or whatever would facilitate the preaching of Law and Gospel through the liturgy, the reception of the gifts we are given there, and the teaching of doctrine to the congregation through our hymnody.

This brings me to the heart of the issue: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. That's a $.25 Latin phrase which means, "law of praying, law of believing." In other words, how you pray (worship) influences how you believe (theology and doctrine). It also works the other way around. The way you worship influences what you believe. How could it not?

Consequently, if one worships in a manner which is contrary to one's doctrine, one’s doctrine will begin to change.

Confessional Lutherans cannot adopt aspects of contemporary worship such as the music, the building layout, and the manner of dress for the participants, just to name a few things. By doing so, we confess by our actions something that we do not believe, and something that is not taught in the Scripture: Man is saved by a decision of his own will, and that confirmation of saving faith comes through an inner, personal, private, emotional experience with God.

There are those who would say that "modern" or "alternative" or "blended" worship practices (henceforth here to be called Contemporary Worship) can be substituted for the liturgy at will as this is simply a matter of adiaphora. They are wrong. The types of musical instrumentation used in Christian worship has changed a lot throughout the centuries. Indeed, to a large extent, the instruments are immaterial to worship. The thing that is important is what a style of worship teaches doctrinally. Liturgical worship has developed in the church over the last two millennia. It emphasizes the biblical truth that God comes to us, not we to him. It teaches us that God gives us his gifts out of his grace. Contemporary Worship does just the opposite. Contemporary worship focuses the worshipper on himself and his feelings. It treats him like a consumer, appealing to his will, and manipulating his emotions so that he finally makes a decision to accept Christ.

Contemporary Worship practices are designed to manipulate emotions. They were intended to bring the person to a place where they would have a "come to Jesus moment" and make a decision to become a believer. Contemporary Worship practices are based in, teach, and reinforce, the ideas that 1) conversion happens because of an act of the person's will, 2) that man can cooperate with God before his conversion, and 3) that our faith is confirmed by how we feel. This is great if you happen to be a non-denominational sacrament-denying Pelagian Arminian, but Contemporary Worship has absolutely no place in a Confessional Lutheran church.

What we know today as Contemporary Worship is a product of American Christianity. I believe it can be traced back to a man named Charles Finney. He was a revival preacher during the Second Great Awakening. Finney is sometimes called the father of modern revivalism. Charles Finney was a Presbyterian minister in America. He advocated for "new measures" to jar complacent people from their indifference toward religion. He taught that conversion, rather than being something God does to a person through the means of His Word, was something man must be convinced to do. To get a person "saved," Finney taught that preaching and worship style should manipulate the person emotionally. Preaching and worship style should drive a person on toward their decision to give their heart to Jesus.

A minister should never introduce innovations that are not called for. If he does they will embarrass him. He cannot alter the Gospel; that remains the same. But new measures are necessary, from time to time, to awaken attention and bring the Gospel to bear upon the public mind. And then a minister ought to know how to introduce new things, so as to create the least possible resistance or reaction…Suppose I were preaching on the subject of Temperance, and that I should first show the evils of intemperance, and bring up the drunkard and his family, and show the various evils produced, till every heart is beating with emotion[1].

The church, he taught, was cold and dead. It was stuck in the mire of old-fashioned forms and man-made creeds. New measures must be used to initiate revival where people can have a genuine conversion experience. Such an authentic conversion experience would, according to Finney, be marked by an inner emotional response.

If you say to him [the anxious soul], “There is the anxious seat, come out and avow your determination to be on the Lord’s side,” and if he is not willing to do so small a thing as that, then he is not willing to do anything, and there he is, brought out before his own conscience. It…prevents a great many spurious conversions…The church has always felt it necessary to have something of the kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles baptism answered this purpose…And in modern times, those who have been violently opposed to the anxious seat have been obliged to adopt some substitute, or they could not get along in promoting a revival. Some have adopted the expedient of inviting the people who were anxious for their souls to stay for conversation after the rest of the congregation had retired. But what is the difference?[2]

A lot of what Charles Finney taught about worship can be seen in American evangelicalism today. Consequently, American evangelicalism, from where we borrow many contemporary worship practices, most notably music and “worship space” design, does not view the gathering of the visible church in the same way as confessional Lutheranism.

American evangelicalism sees the worship service as a public meeting into which we, the initiated (Christians), are to coax the uninitiated (non-Christians). At this meeting, we are to project the right image to them, just as we do in our everyday life, to make our religion more desirable to them. The preaching, the mood, and the worship space are intended to play upon their emotions as well. Everything is designed to elicit an emotional response urging the "seeker" or, as Finney might say, the anxious soul, to give his heart to Christ. To Finney, the extent to which the preacher is able to excite the emotions of his hearers is the degree to which he will be successful in converting sinners. Internal emotional experience is the proof of genuine conversion, rather than the promise of God. 

Look at the Methodists. many of their ministers are unlearned, in the common sense of the term, many of them taken right from the shop or the farm, and yet they have gathered congregations and pushed their way, and won souls everywhere. Wherever the Methodists have gone, their plain, pointed and simple, but warm and animated mode of preaching has always gathered congregations. Few Presbyterian ministers have gathered so large assemblies, or won so many souls…we must have exciting, powerful preaching, or the devil will have the people, except what the Methodists can save[3].

This all culminates in the person finally proving the genuineness of their decision. In Finney's day that was having these converts sit on the anxious seat, where they would be preached at and prayed for until the conversion was fully affected[4]. The modern “crusade,” with its emotionally manipulative music and persuasive speakers, as well as the televangelists, are the direct descendants of Finney’s anxious seat.

Scripture teaches that, through his natural powers, man does nothing whatsoever to effect his conversion or assist in it. He is incapable of accepting the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). These things, i.e. believing that you are dead in sin and that Christ died to save you, are, as St. Paul says, spiritually discerned. The unregenerate man cannot understand or accept these things because he is, just as St. Paul described him, spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-10). These notions are foolishness to him.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:18-24).

Confessional Lutherans believe, teach and confess the same:

But the question is about the effective cause [of conversion]. Who works this [the perception of sin and acceptance of the promise of grace in Christ] in us? How does a person have this? How does he get it? Therefore, this teaching informs us that, since the natural powers of mankind cannot do anything or help toward it (1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:5), God, out of His infinite goodness and mercy, comes to us. He causes His Holy Gospel to be preached. The Holy Spirit desires to work and accomplish this renewal in us. Through preaching and meditation on His Word God kindles faith and other godly virtues in us. They are the Holy Sprit’s gifts and works alone (FC SD II 71-72)[5].

Believing this Biblical truth about the condition of man and the working of the Holy Spirit, we worship in a way which confesses it. The first thing we do is to confess that we are poor, miserable sinners. Then we hear the word of forgiveness spoken to us by our pastor, as from God Himself. Then we enter into the Service of the Word. We sing His Word in the Introit, in the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Psalms, the vast majority of all the other parts of the liturgy, and in the hymns. We listen to the reading of His Word, according to a set schedule, so that we learn, over time, all the things which God would teach us (that’s doctrine). Then we hear our pastor preach God’s Word. All of the while we are gathered around God’s Word we are passively receiving God’s gifts of repentance, forgiveness, and faith in Christ – all things which God works in us[6]. Then, when our pastor is finished preaching Christ into our hearts, we gather at the Lord’s Table to have the Word placed into our mouths in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper[7]. Then, with the words of Simeon on our lips, we depart in peace, our eyes having seen His salvation. The focus of the liturgy is on Christ crucified. It is all designed to point us to him and to deliver to us the gifts of God which we are unable to take for ourselves, through the means which God has appointed – Word and Sacrament. The only time in the liturgy when we spend any time focusing on ourselves is during confession and absolution, and the prayers. The first shows us that we are wretched and sinful; the other shows us that we are helpless.

Contemporary worship causes us to confess something unbiblical, in the name of “keeping the church going,” and in the end, it can’t even accomplish that goal. Joel Osteen may fill Lakewood to capacity, but he points the people to themselves rather than to Christ. Is it better to have 10,000 gathered where Christ is excluded, or to have two or three gathered in Christ’s name around Word and Sacrament?

God is in charge. He causes the church to grow, when and where he wills. Pastors are called to preach the Word and to administer the Sacraments – to feed the flock. The people are called and gathered by God to be fed. Christ crucified is at the heart of this gathering. Anything which serves to change our focus, which contemporary worship does, has no place. Scripture teaches that God grants his Spirit to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word, and God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments[8] (Galatians 3:2-5; Hebrews 1:1-2). Far from being something neither commanded nor forbidden, worship style is inseparable from the doctrine you confess.


[1] Finney, Charles G. The Works of Charles G. Finney: Lectures on Revivals of Religion, Lectures on Systematic Theology, Sermons on Gospel Themes, Lectures to Professing Christians (4 Books With Active Table of Contents) Kindle Edition. Amazon Digital Services, 2011. Kindle.
[2] ibid. Location 19859-19889 
[3] ibid. Location 19975, 19982 
[4] ibid. Location 19856 
[5] McCain, Paul Timothy, ed. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005. 
[6] Acts 5:31; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 
[7] This should give us a new appreciation and understanding for Cranmer’s collect, wherein he writes, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.” "1928 Book of Common Prayer." 1928 Book of Common Prayer Home Page. Accessed February 03, 2017.
[8] SA III viii 3, 10. McCain, Paul Timothy, ed. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.

No comments:

Post a Comment