Part 3 in a series
The LCMS convention is long over, but some of the music demonstrated there reflected the influence of pop-culture influenced American Protestantism. This Protestantism is, to be sure, not Lutheran. They take their cues on worship from Nashville and Los Angeles recording studios and companies like Maranatha Music and Integrity. These entities exist to make a buck and in doing so, cater to the lowest common denominator when it comes to theology. Anything that would identify one theological position from another cannot possibly be produced by the major record labels. It would not sell. The song may not say anything objectionable, but that’s where the money is.
Yet, we Lutherans are now clamoring after this stuff as it if is novel and new. We’re 30 years too late and even some of the most vigorous evangelical proponents of the new efforts in worship back in the 70’s & 80's are now wondering if the affect they had desired actually worked. The Emergent Church has now formed as, believe it or not, a backlash to the mega-church, Willow Creek–styled, mass appeal techniques. Yet, despite these clues, the LCMS convention was advocating by its own showcases the very same approaches to worship that the evangelicals were using 25 years ago. Are we not just a bit slow on the uptake?
Here are some things that are happening in the LCMS now that the evangelicals did ever so long ago. It all looks really familiar to me because it is exactly what occurred when I was in the Evangelical church through the 80's and the 90's.
• Viewing doctrine as divisive and an impediment to missions
• Thinking that one can possess strong doctrinal positions, and change the musical styles to those influenced by the pop-culture (top 40 mostly).
• Disappearance of the chancel furniture except maybe on Communion Sundays
• Praise band leads almost all of the service, typically drums, guitar, keyboard, bass, lead singer.
• Hymns barely to non-existent
• Old=bad, new=good
• How-to, practical sermons for daily living rather than Christological, law/Gospel proclamations (may not be epidemic in the LCMS yet, but don’t worry, it’s coming)
• Disdain for the liturgy. We retain the things that might still qualify us as “Lutheran” but we really wish we could get rid of those too. The liturgy becomes a “style” seen as a necessary evil, rather than a “substance” that is life-giving through what it purveys. So it is altered to become "cooler," if not downplayed, or discarded altogether.
• Communion practiced less frequently or on days other than Sundays
• Service more like a concert with the band warming up for the main act -- the sermon!
I have noticed that we are shifting to a more and more amorphous brand of Christianity where doctrinal distinctions and precision is downplayed in favor of “bringing in the lost.” But we are not using the true Gospel to do it. We’re using techniques. We take the true Gospel for granted. We think to ourselves, “Hey, we’re Lutheran. That cannot happen to us. I mean, my pastor has a Book of Concord sitting on his shelf, after all–– I think.”
Departing from well established Lutheran music to products put out by Nashville and L.A. are sure to threaten our Lutheran identity. The sacraments are not addressed in this music, neither is sin. Nor are a host of other theological distinctions spelled out in our exhaustive Bible commentary, the Book of Concord. So, for those who think that we can start down that list above without directly affecting our historically held Christian and Lutheran distinctions are going to find it to be impossible. No such thing as Evangelical style and Lutheran substance. It just does not exist.
In my next and perhaps final posting in this series, I will speak about how worship music can be contemporary, traditional and authentically Lutheran all at the same time. Better yet, go to a service at Bethany Lutheran in Naperville, IL where Phillip Magness is Cantor. That’s exactly what he does. Bethany and its music should be the standard bearer for the how to be thoroughly, confessionally Lutheran and yet create exciting, fresh musical expressions in a variety of styles. We’ll talk about how they do that in the next post.