Part 2 in a series.
One of the most challenging things I faced as a former worship leader in the Evangelical Free Church was exactly how to define what worship was. One elder at the time quipped, “Ask 50 different people what worship is and you’ll get 50 different answers.” This was absolutely true and remains true today. One of the great things about Lutheranism is that it recaptures and explains a view of worship that is Biblical and objective–– not according to my whims, but according to what God says.
Worship is God gathering His church together so He might give to us His gifts. These are the gifts of His Word, Baptism, His Supper and His Holy Absolution. We are sustained through these things. Worship in essence calls us to get out of the way and let these things come to us, that we might receive them in gratitude and allow them to renew and shape our faith. As we hear the Word of God read and preached, we also share it together in our songs and hymns. Since we know that the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, we do not wish to waste time singing things that are not the clear and well-explicated Word. Lutherans have always regarded our hymns as mini-sermons. This is because what we sing is just as important as what we hear preached. The Word of God present in our hymns sustains us in our faith.
The modern praise and worship craze that the Lutherans are now readily employing runs antithetical to our long held definition of worship. The songs do not proclaim God’s Word in any substantial manner. Rather than appealing to the objective Word of God and expounding upon it, CCM appeals to our subjective emotions, insists that it is us who serves God in our worship rather than God who bestows his gifts as we gather. In modern praise and worship practices, we are to ascend into God’s presence. I used several musical techniques used to accomplish this and it was all really emotional manipulation. But the impulse behind it was mysticism.
In Lutheran Worship, God descends to us, making His very presence real in the body and blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. This He does by the power of His Word and promise, and it is objective. Jesus’ body is present in the Holy Supper because He says it is. And what He says, He does. This is a far cry from the impulse in modern Protestantism to want to experience God as some kind of internal happening. I used to hear people say, “Wow, Jesus was sure present in our worship today.” As Lutherans we can be assured, by God’s own promise, that Jesus is present in His Holy Supper, and through his Word, every single week, every time we gather around those things, whether we feel it or not.
The Sandi Patti song, “Lord I praise you because of who you are; not for all the mighty things that you have done…” is not exactly a CCM hit. But it emerged out of a culture where Christian entertainment has become very popular (and unfortunately imported into church worship). Sandi Patti became a very popular Christian version of say, a Celine Dion, but even before her. As you can tell by the first line of the refrain of this song, it is meant to communicate this: “Of course it is easy to praise God when you get something out of it, or when He does something for you. You ought to really praise Him for who he is. Then you know you will be praising Him rightly.” As altruistic is this sounds, it is pure Gnosticism. Everywhere does Scripture praise God because of His actions. Look at song after song in Scripture. Start with the Psalms, look at the praises of Daniel, Moses, Mary the Mother of God and hosts of others. You don’t even have to go any further than Psalm 136 to see how God is perpetually praised for what he does. Indeed, the Incarnation is the supreme act of God coming amongst his people in a tangible, external, real way. Jesus’ life was a life of doing things: healing, teaching, serving, and ultimately, dying to forgive our sins–– an action on His part–– and then rising again, ascending, judging. This is the God who saves. Not the cosmic “who you are” that the song refers to. Folks, the modern praise and worship movement in all its manifestations is infested with Gnosticism. This runs thoroughly contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and has been rejected in our historic worship since day one. We know who God is because of what He does!
Lutherans, ask yourselves the question: Is the music we are singing grounded in the objective, external word of God, or in Christian experience? Does it explicate scripture like a mini-sermon, or does it seek to create a mood, elicit an emotional response, or worse, “ascend” into a mystical experience with God?
Lutherans have always rejected a theology of glory in their worship. A theology of glory suggests that we contribute something to our salvation and growth. Everybody wants to feel as though we are gaining God’s favor by our own actions. So we seek the mystical experience. We expect that we can encounter God in some tangible way by using the right music, in the right style, perhaps with a little mood lighting. We want God to make us feel His presence. Take a look at this popular CCM chorus: “In the secret, in the quiet place, in the stillness you are there. In the secret in the quiet hour I wait, only for you, cause I want to know you more. I want to know you, I want to hear your voice, I want to know you more. I want to touch you, I want to see your face, I want to know you more.” Let me just say that one can sincerely believe everything this song says and still die in their sins.
Lutheran theology has always held that salvation comes to us as pure gift. We did not earn it and we do not deserve it. We merely receive in faith what God gives. And, by the way, that faith is a gift too. All of this is outside of ourselves. It is received by believing the promises; by grasping in faith that what God has said is true, not because it is validated through an “experience” with God. So, songs like that above, have no place in Lutheran worship.
Yet, amazingly, God in His grace has given us Himself to experience. He tells us, “taste and see.” His very presence comes into our lives as a pure gift to be received by undeserving sinners. Clamoring after the mystical encounter with God as we are so inclined to do these days amounts to nothing more than unbelief. It is a refusal to believe the words, “This is my body… This is my blood.” It is refusing to believe that those things are enough. We want more, so we must have our favorite music. We want more, so we insist on feeling something. We want more, so we must hear sermons that tell us what to do to be better people and contribute to our own justification. We’re not content with God’s gifts. We spurn His gifts by seeking after a more meaningful experience.
Check out a quote by a fellow named Mike Baker. I do not even know him, but am looking forward to remedying that. He, like me, is relatively new to Lutheranism. He, like me, was a worship leader in the praise band. He, like me, discovered great riches in the Lutheran Confessions. He has left some very inspiring comments in response to my previous blog which was highlighted at The Brothers of John the Steadfast site.
…By the grace of God, the Holy Spirit guides you–a broken desert hermit–to the Lutheran Confessions and you use that like a map to find this remote oasis where the waters of the Gospel flow in endless streams of beautiful, life-giving grace. And it’s free! Not only that, but the water is PURE and there are people in the church [pastors] who have the sole job of just handing it out to you ALL THE TIME. Shoot, if you don’t stick your hands out, they will put it in your mouth themselves! And the water isn’t just to lure in new folk. It’s for everybody! All the time! Did I mention it’s free?
…and the stiff-necked people who have been lounging in the shade the whole time you were out there being made into beef jerky by false doctrine don’t even know what they have. They don’t even teach their own kids about the water. They are too busy complaining about how boring the water is and how it would be better to put in a coffee shop or cut down a lot of these pesky trees to get a better view of the outside world.
Mike did not know he was talking about me and the relief I found in the clear waters of the Lutheran Confessions, but he was. His comments are also about Lutherans who have taken God’s gifts for granted and are seeking after things that will not provide what they think they will. Please consider our warning, not because we deserve to be listened to, but because we learned from our mistakes and observations, from many years of not realizing that God gave us worship so we might receive His gifts – and that is enough!