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.


IggyAntiochus said...

...Find a way 'cause holidays have come and gone
But loves lives on if you give on love.

I was going to leave a quip about needed words like this because "he's makin' a list, checkin' it twice, gonna find out whose naughty or nice."

OK, so I still made the quip, but the problem here is that love does NOT live on "if you give on love."

Love lives on because Jesus first loved us. Loves lives on because He sacrificed Himself for us. He conquered death for us. He gives us Word and Sacrament Ministry as tools to continue to proclaim His love for us. Through these means He gives us the Holy Spirit, who prompts good works as a response to Christ's love for us.

THAT'S how love lives on!

Phillip said...

Amen, Iggy. Amen!

Pastor Bowman said...

It is easy to dismiss contemporary music when you use the tragically horrible outliers but not all of it is this bad. As writers learn from the mistakes of their overly sappy and vapid predecessors it is getting better. For instance, we are introducing the following song on the Sunday of the Baptism of our Lord.

Jesus, your love is a flood
Wiping away all sin
Washing us in blood
Lord, your grace does bring us in

In a tidal wave of grace
Drowning our sin, bringing us to life

Lord, your life giving water flows
We’ll never thirst again
Though life now has lows
In your grave is buried our pain

In a tidal wave of grace
Drowning our sin, bringing us to life

Jesus, you have washed us clean
Your word giving us life
On your word we lean
You save us from our strife

In a tidal wave of grace
Drowning our sin, bringing us to life

Our hearts marked by your cross
Death, we no longer fear
Its sting has been loss
Your gift to us you bear

In a tidal wave of grace
Drowning our sin, bringing us to life

IggyAntiochus said...

A careful reading of this post will reveal that both Phil and I have utilized CCM, holding it to the same standard as any other music form.

Phillip said...

Hi Pastor Bowman,

From my many trips to churches who tout "contemporary worship" services, I disagree with your characterization of my exaple as an "outlier". An outlier might be something like "The Milk Song". The Avalon version of Celine Dion's hit, though, was quite prevalent in CCM circles this Christmas season.

Sadly, lyrics like the ones you shared with us are the "outlier" in the what is billed as "contemporary worship" today. (Because such worship is defined and driven not by the Word but by the sound-track.)

And, yes, to be clear, as Iggy says, Stephen and I and the other composers here do use contemporary songs in the Lord's ministry. But that is beside the point. What is being illustrated here is not the outlier that might be useful in the Divine Serivce, but rather the reality of what goes on in beat-driven churches.

To prove my point, just take a look at the lyrics of the following songs and ask yourself if they are closer your example or mine:

1 - The CCLI Top Ten

2 - The CCLI list of songs most used in LCMS churches.

3 - The Best of the Best Songbook ("OSB II")

Despite the fact there there are usable songs on all three lists, the fact remains that few speak as your song does of God's grace and mercy to us in Christ Jesus.

Stephen R. Johnson said...

Having spent the better part of this morning contemplating this very subject, I recalled many instances where people would ask the question, "Cant people take the words of a good hymn and make the music contemporary [meaning rock band]?" I always say, find me a good example, then we'll talk. The sad reality is that they are really not there. Good examples of strongly doctrinal texts that are Christocentric or dare I say Sacramental are just very rare in this genre. We see hardly any that even address the sin and grace relationship - what with sin being such an unpleasant subject for seekers and all.

Throughout CCM you can find some very creative and responsible artists who do a good job with scripture and some pretty heady theological material. Often, those folks are rather sophisticated musically as well so their music is not geared for congregational use - it's too involved. It is always refreshing to hear creatively crafted music that is theologically reflective even with pop-culture style.

But in the congregational song repertoire, there is a whole lot of vapidity. I would say, if anyone knows what the best ones for Lutheran liturgical worship would be, Phillip is that guy.

By the way, it has always been popular to re-gear secular songs with Christian lyrics or at least allow for a double meaning in the lyrics. It is also quite common for a Christian band to be characterized as having the same style as a secular band or a Christian song sounding similar to a secular song. Some of this is happenstance. But much of it, you can be sure is intentional marketing strategy. CCM really is IN the world and OF the world.

In all my years immersed in the praise band stuff, there are precious few of those songs that meet the kind of standard to which we hold even our weakest hymns in LSB.

Unknown said...


You say: "I recalled many instances where people would ask the question, "Cant people take the words of a good hymn and make the music contemporary [meaning rock band]?" I always say, find me a good example, then we'll talk."

Out of curiosity, what is your opinion of the following group, which takes hymns and rearranges them for a band?

Phillip said...

Hi Mark,

I know you asked for Stephen's opinion, but I'll go ahead and weigh in with my review of Koinemusic:

"O Little Town of Bethlehem" - nice groove. Constant interruption of phrases for breaths was odd. Verse with all vocals was better - but then was not the tune for the congregation. So, vocal technique aside, I think it was an OK for car radio/background listening. Musicianship was not strong enough for sustain repeated listenings. (Sorry, but I'm a little afraid of what their "O Holy Night" might sound like!)

I'm glad they are using and promoting good texts, and think their music has a role to play in the lives of Christians who enjoy rock music. But what is promoted on their site would not work well for congregational song.

Stephen R. Johnson said...

I was going to say almost the same things as Phillip did. I would have said that these pieces from Koine are essentially performance pieces, not particularly useful to congregational song. They are basically hymn arrangements in a pop style. "O Little Town" stretches the rhythms out so the congregation would have to really work hard to sing it. That carol has a a melody which is not particularly easy to sing in the first place. We think it is because we know it, but a careful analysis shows the intervals to be rather challenging to keep in tune for a congregation, and they tend to be somewhat awkward. Stretching them out exacerbates this problem in my opinion.

Often, there is not any real problem with "modernizing" hymns like this, but one needs to recognize that they likely become more performance oriented than suitable for congregational singing.

It is good that this group appears to value significant texts, and that is a very important character trait for musicians who claim to want theological substance in their music -- so I applaud them for that. I would not be so quick to make the hymn fit into a "nice groove," however. Rather I would use modern instrumentation to render the hymn in a more singable fashion for the whole congregation and use percussion sparingly. That is, if congregational participation is the goal.

It is a temptation for all musicians to want the music to have an "effect" on the hearer. So, the stylistic elements trump a careful setting of the text. Much pop music does not lend itself to congregational singing for several reasons, one being because it was designed for performance in the first place.

IggyAntiochus said...

It's hard to judge a group on one song, and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" was the only clip available.

Overall, I am glad when someone puts their own spin on a tune. This takes on different forms, such as Kantor Beethe's accompaniment at Lutheran Time Out and the introduction to Radical Grace Radio.

The question of use in worship is always a tricky one. When I listen to a new take on a classic, I always listen with "could I use this in my congregation" ears, so I write here from the perspective of my own parish as opposed to a normative stance for the church.

My congregational ear is a little different than some since I serve an urban parish. For this particular arrangement of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," if the arrangement had a gospel spin, I might run it by my choir! As it is, though, I do not have the forces to pull of this style of music in an appropriate manner.

That's different than congregational singing, though. People aren't coming to my Christmas services to sing unique arrangements of their favorites. The standard 4-part accompaniment in the hymnal suffices in most instances. The services aren't that well attended (around 30 or so), and simply sending the lead soprano into a descant will throw off the congregational singing.

The style seems to be along the lines of Casting Crowns. I like their song "Who Am I" and may use it for Ash Wednesday. This style is more conducive to solo singing than choir or congregational song.

For my own congregation, I wouldn't write off the style, but I would be cautious about introducing it. It would serve a very specific purpose for a very specific reason, though, perhaps during the offering.