Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bethany Lutheran's Model

I have been promising a post about Bethany Lutheran as a follow up to my last post here. Life becomes busy for me in the fall as I spend the better part of every day in my classroom where I teach. The evening hours are short as I have two young children, a wife, homework to review, dinner and household odds and ends to which to attend. And bedtime is as early as I can afford as I am up at 5:30 AM daily.


Having said that, let me give you my most concise assessment of what Bethany Lutheran does to model good worship music practice.

First of all, they have a philosophy. I am not quoting anyone here. Rather, I am stating their philosophy as I see it. It is this: Diverse musical styles serve the gospel well. And we ought to use diverse musical styles and every instrument known to man in the pursuit of serving and proclaiming the gospel. The only styles that inhibit this endeavor are those that are completely beholden to popular culture and entertainment functions.


So, what might you hear at Bethany? Will you hear an organ? Yes. Will you hear a piano? Yes. Will you hear a guitar? Yes. Will you hear timpani or conga drums? Yes. Will you hear all kinds of other instruments like, woodwinds, brass, strings, percussion, like triangles and finger cymbals? Yes. Will you hear an a cappella choir? Yes. Will you hear soloists? Yes. Will you hear African, Latin American, Early American, Old German, and New American styles? Yes.

So, given ALL this diversity, what will you NOT likely hear? The pop-band, (i.e. the praise band). You will also probably not hear the jazz band, although many new American styles borrow chord progressions from jazz (which reflects harmonic practices of turn-of-the-century French composers like Debussy, Milhaud, Poulenc, and Ravel, among others). But putting up the pop band or the jazz band to play the music of the church is too easy and it does not often prove to be the best expression of the Gospel. It is, in a word, uncreative. And it is far too grounded in worldly entertainment associations. We are not in church to be entertained. We are in church to worship and to hear the Gospel message in its fullness. The music should contribute to that fullness of the rendering of the Gospel.


Now I know the argument is going to be that not many churches have these kinds of resources to pull this off. But let me say two things. 1. If a church has the resources to have a praise band play every week, they have the resources to be more creative than that and can endeavor to provide more diversity than that. And, 2. If a church does not have any of these resources, they have many options as to how to deal with their congregational singing that does not involve having a quasi rock group play their hymns. I have written about this at length before so I will spare you the details.


My advice to Lutheran congregations: Like Bethany, embrace musical stylistic diversity, but do so with these things in mind:


1. Make the focus of your music program SINGING the hymns and liturgy. Singing is the number one component to emphasize.

2. Avoid pop-culture idioms. Keep the rock band (praise band) away from the Divine Service.

3. Use all the instrumental resources you have in your congregation - responsibly!

4. Make sure that all texts of hymns are doctrinally precise and clear. Not just that they do not say anything wrong, but that they say everything right.

5. Make sure the music reflects the spirit of the text. Don’t take the easy way out by using music that is simply the most “popular.”


At core, we need to retain a thoroughly Lutheran understanding of what is worship. The problem with modern Evangelicalism is that they do not share our particularly Lutheran view of what it means to be in the Divine Service, the holiness it conveys and the presence of God in Christ that it gives. Our LCMS has been, woefully, all too interested in following the lead of American Protestantism. Lutherans need to retain their fundamental and confessional understanding of what it means to worship as they choose their worship music. Stylistic diversity is great. But rather than appealing to people’s pet preferences and desires to be entertained in some way, we must make sure that our worship music upholds and illumines the Word of God and the presence of Christ in our midst.

8 comments:

timshew said...

Thank you for the excellent discussion of true diversity. Another reason not to use the church rock band is that it is the worst possible way to lead congregational song. The songs are highly syncopated, the amplification drowns out the people's song, and the required dead acoustics keep the singers in the congregation from hearing one another.

Michael Paul 白霈德牧師 said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this. As we all know, this is such a crucial and often contentious issue in our synod right now, and clear thinking and expression are so vital to the discussion. Thanks again and keep up the good work!

Hakim said...

Congratulations for the Mission Board...I pray for success.

Hakim said...

congratulation for the mission board

Hakim said...

congratulations for the mission board

Phillip said...

Thank you, Hakim.

The post was by Stephen Johnson, writing about the congregation I serve, but I appreciate your intent nonetheless.

I also apprececiate and praise God for your service in the Lord's ministry. May you continue to bring the light of the Gospel to those who are ensnared by the deceptions of Islam.

Amberg said...

To what extent, do you think, is imitation of the 16th/17th Century Lutheran hymn tunes needful to maintain Lutheran identity and influence over other protestants?

Stephen R. Johnson said...

@ Amberg: It is essential within a Lutheran congregation to actively nurture and cultivate a love for the great Chorales and hymns of the 16th and 17th century to maintain our Lutheran identity. They are where we find that identity at its formation. As a hymn corpus, they define the Lutheran identity better than any other group of hymns. And we ought also to turn our attention to ancient hymns (e.g. "Of the Father's Love Begotten") which may not be Lutheran per se, but embody proper Biblical doctrine and catholicity.

I myself have set hymns of very ancient texts (e.g. O Savior Of Our Fallen Race/O Splendor Of God's Glory Bright) which stand as examples of what the church has always held to be true. And as new hymns are written we ought to consider those too.

My comments on musical style really have to do with how any given hymn is rendered in the worship setting–– what instruments to use, what styles to employ without capitulating to the praise band and the popular culture. We have plenty of creative options as church musicians and we do not need to follow the fads, nor should we.
In this post, I did not mean to give the impression that we ought to be looking to repertiore that is outside of Lutheranism. But I do mean to suggest that creative rendering of these hymns is a very laudable goal.