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

Friday, December 25, 2009


On the other side of the worship spectrum, a relative of mine reported on worship at her church this past Christmas Eve. The contrast between what was sung at our traditional, liturgical service and what was sung at hers was striking. Here's a taste of what is going on out there in the world of "contemporary" worship, just in case you were wondering about what a "praise band" does on Christmas Eve:

"Don't get so busy that you miss Giving just a little kiss To the ones you love.
Don't even wait a little while To give them just a little smile. A little is enough.
See how many people are crying. Some people are dying.

Chorus: So don't save it all for Christmas Day.
Find a way to give a little love every day.
Find a way 'cause holidays have come and gone
But loves lives on if you give on love."


So there you go. The theology of Celine Dion instead of the doctrines of Christ. No Gospel. Just an exhortation to be nice. All year. Not just on Christmas Day. Because it is up to us. "Love lives on IF. . . ". This is what more people hear in Church these days. Including many children. Lord, have mercy!

The performance of this music reinforced the man-centered lyrics. Here's the report:

"There's a girl in the band who usually sings backup, but they gave her this solo on Christmas Eve. The usual lead singer wasn't there, and so she was sort of getting her chance. Well, we all just couldn't believe how she nailed this long note toward the end of the song. It was just amazing. And as she held it we all just started to applaud. It was so awesome."

There are many who want to ignore the worship wars going on in Christendom today, and let everyone do what they think is right in their own eyes in the name of "freedom." Certainly our Lord gives us much freedom in how we are to worship Him, but I don't think this is what He has in mind for us.

I do know that not all churches dabbling in "contemporary worship" would have this song sung in the Divine Service. But this is the well they drink from, and I encounter things like this every time I go on the road and visit a church's "contemporary worship service."

C.S. Lewis used to say that "he who doesn't believe in God will believe in anything." I think it is fair to observe also that apparently he who doesn't sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs will sing anything.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


So what's your choir singing for Christmas? We at Liturgy Solutions would love to hear from you. We hope your preparations have all gone well, and that you and your singers make the hearts of all in your sanctuaries glad.

Here at Bethany, we are looking forward to the following highlights:

5pm - Schola Canotrum (and flute trio)
*Quempas Carol
*Ding-Dong, Merrily, on High
*Verse for Christmas Eve (Hillert, from NPH series)
*Willcox descants on "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"

7pm - Vocal Quartet (w/ Bethany Brass accompanying congregational song)
*Elise B. Calhoon sings "O Holy Night"
*Stanzas of various hymns sung in Liturgy Solutions' arrangements, including:
-Once in Royal David's City
-O Sing of Christ
-Of the Father's Love Begotten
-O Little Town of Bethlehem
*Dr. Jennifer Barnickel-Fitch sings "Gesu Bambino"

11pm - Proclaim
*What Sweeter Music (Rutter)
*Gradual for Christmas Day (Stephen R. Johnson, Liturgy Solutions)
*In the First Light (Glad studio chart)
*Some Children See Him (Burt)
*Willcox Descants (of course!)
*Elise B. Calhoon sings the Wexford Carol
*Choir sings stanza 1 of Stille Nacht (in German)

Christmas Morning - Elise graciously returns to sing Wexford again. (Thank you, Elise!) Many choir members were willing to sing Christmas AM as well, but I didn't plan voice parts accordingly and, with the divisi on the Rutter, Glad, and Burt, we decided not to have those for Christmas morning.

Which leads to my last question, besides what you are singing, WHEN are you singing? Does your choir do both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Do they do two services on Christmas Eve (like Bethany's Proclaim did last year)?

"Joy, O Joy, beyond all gladness,
Christ has done away with sadness!
Hence all sorrow and repining,
For the Sun of Grace is shining!" (LSB 897, refrain)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Sinless Christianity

The hymnody of the Lutheran tradition serves a role of teaching or catechesis. For me, this was a very unfamiliar idea until a number of years ago when I listened to a lecture given by my now, very good friend, Leonard Payton. The idea was clear in his presentation, namely, that the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly is obtained through the appropriate teaching and admonishing of ourselves with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3: 16). He used the Levitical practice of the Old Testament to illustrate this and pointed to a memorized tradition as being the norm for ancient Israel. When we realize that the Psalms and many portions of the prophets were sung for memory and internalized by the people, we can begin to get a glimpse of what it means for the Word of Christ to dwell richly in us.

Our hymnody teaches on every imaginable doctrinal subject. It is vast and didactic – just like the Psalms. How anyone can use the Psalms to justify simplicity in our worship music remains for me, puzzling.

I was struck by a little tidbit of information regarding a hymn in our Lutheran tradition, All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall. A line from this hymn by Lazaraus Spengler is actually quoted in the first article of the Formula of Concord (Epitome), which states:

We believe teach and confess that original sin is not a slight corruption of human nature, but that it is so deep a corruption that nothing sound or uncorrupted has survived in man’s body or soul, in his inward or outward powers. It is as the church sings, “Through Adam’s fall man’s nature and essence are all corrupt.”

It is telling, by the way, that in the Formula of Concord, one of the most important confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, the first article is entitled “Original Sin.” Without sin as the preexisting condition, proper contemplation of the Gospel will be impossible. It is upon this dark canvas of original sin that the Gospel may be painted in all its gloriousness.

I like to listen to a contemporary Christian radio station in my area. I do not listen for the reasons that most people do. I listen to remain aware of the latest in that genre. I like to keep up with the new songs, new artists and what is contained therein so that I am knowledgeable when I speak with friends and colleagues in other denominations. Well, I have been made painfully aware that the music of this genre does not discuss sin. It does not show the depth of the fall. It does not illustrate that “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin…”

No, the concept that this musical genre communicates is that I am troubled and need assistance. Maybe I am depressed. Maybe I am hurting. Maybe I have a bad habit, or see a therapist, or have baggage from my dysfunctional upbringing. Maybe I have a low self-image. At any rate, the purpose for following Christ is that he then gives me the pathway to live victoriously over all these things. Eventually, if I do everything right and follow the “principles” Christ has given me in his Word, I may even be able to stop seeing that therapist, stop smoking, drinking, chewing, or whatever my problem may be.

If this is the essence of sin, we do not need a Savior. There is no original sin in this picture, and, therefore, nothing from which we need forgiveness. The contemporary Christian music genre speaks very little about confession and forgiveness. Christ is not a Savior in these songs as much as a helper and a buddy who’s always there for me in the hard times. Jesus helps me get over my problems, he encourages me, tells me everything is going to be OK and even “holds me in his arms” as some songs say, –– but he does not forgive me! So I can quit smoking, say bye-bye to the therapist, become a better, more positive person, and help lots of other people do the same, yet still die in my sins. Our sinless Christianity cultivates Christians who trust Christ for for comfort, help, and encouragement, but not for forgiveness. Is this the Christ of Scripture, who dies on the cross? For what? To be our life coach or buddy?

The contemporary radio station reflects the thinking of a great many mainstream Christians. Theirs’ is a Christianity without original sin. It is a faith that thinks our problem is far less serious than it is. And hymns like “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall” are not sung in most Christian churches and has even fallen out of use, regrettably, in the Lutheran tradition, from whence it came. When hymns like this are jettisoned, we fallen men and women have very little to remind us of our biggest problem. This leads to our justifying ourselves, rationalizing and thinking that we are not so bad. There really is no true Christianity without the doctrine of original sin. We, as people of the Reformation, need to be aware of this flawed view, so prevalent in our day. To embrace a sinless Christianity is to embrace an impotent cross and an ineffective Christ. Bypassing original sin in our doctrine bypasses the work of Jesus to forgive that sin and leads to a tepid faith that seeks personal achievement and success, dare I say works righteousness, rather than the peace and comfort of sins forgiven.

I am grateful that God, in his grace, uses hymns like All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall, to remind me of the depth of my sin, and of God's lavish forgiveness of that sin in Christ.

All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall
One common sin infects us all
From sire to son the bane descends
And overall the curse impends.

From hearts depraved and evil prone
Flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone
God’s image lost, the darkened soul
Seeks not nor finds it heavenly goal.

As by one man all mankind fell
And, born in sin, was doomed to hell
So by one man who took our place
We all received the gift of grace.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Baptismal Liturgy for Post-Modern Americans


P: We rejoice this day in the gift of new life which our heavenly Father bestows upon us in and through Baptism. We are pleased to share this celebration with many guests this day, and so begin by welcoming our visitors today.
C: We welcome you in the name of the Lord.
P: Yes, that's right, we are all glad you are here. And it is OK if you don't participate in the service. We know that the Lutheran service may be foreign to you. But don't worry:
C: We will sing the hymns for you.
P: And pray the prayers.
C: And confess the Christian faith.
P: You can just take it all in, and through the Word you will hear today, we trust that the Lord's will shall be done in your hearts.
C: That's how He works!
P: And if you feel so moved as to join us in worship, the bulletins you received on the way in have the order of service for this day.
C: And hymnals are in the pew racks in front of you.
P: Yes, this is a worship service.
C: We actually believe God will be present with today.
P: And so we consider this sanctuary to be "the Lord's house",
C: Not your house. Not our house. But God's house.
P: And so we do ask that you respect our customs, even though you may not understand or agree with them.
C: For this is where we worship our God. It is a holy place.
P: And so we ask that you not take flash pictures during the service.
C: Such distractions are offensive to us.
P: You may record the baptism with flash-free photography if you wish or wait until after the service, when I will be happy to re-enact any part of the Rite of Holy Baptism for your benefit. But during the service we want to keep the focus on what God is doing today through His Word.
C: For without God's Word, the water is plain water, and no baptism.
P: But with the Word of God, it is a baptism, that is a life-giving water, rich in grace,
C: And the washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.
P: So, please, let us turn off all cell phones and flash bulbs and put away everything that hinders us.
C: that we all may hear His Word, and gladly hear and learn it.

the service then continues according to the rite as it appears on page xxx in the hymnal...


Yes, the paparrazi were at Bethany again today. Two baptisms in one service. All flash all the time. Our pastors don't want to say anything; our ushers aren't comfortable with addressing this either - even though they have directions about this in the usher manual and it has been brought up the last two usher meetings. And the Elders have put a statement in the bulletin, but the kind of folks who flash away in the Divine Service don't look at the bulletin. They are just here to observe (and record) the Baptism.

So what does one do? I realize my ersatz 'Creative Worship' - style liturgy is over the top. And I hope you got some chuckles out of it. I find the satire theraputic. But the problems remains, and we have no "solutions" for it here at LS. Anyone have any ideas?

I have a feeling we are going to have to endure more and more of this kind of a thing as our national culture become more post-Christian.