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

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HOW DEEP HOW BROAD HOW HIGH (Thoughts from "MtCow")

Much of the language used to discuss worship at the Model Theological Conference on Worship (MtCow), was centered on "diversity", "choices", and "styles". Clearly the focus was on the second half of the constitutional article cited in the resolution that authorized this gathering: "to develop an appreciation of a variety of responsible practices which are in harmony with our common profession of faith." (LCMS Const. Art. III 7b)

But the first part of this article, also cited in the convention resolution, is that the LCMS has as one of its objectives to "encourage congregations to strive for uniformity in church practice." This would be Art III 7a.

Cultivating "diversity" and "choices" and "styles" reinforces a tension between variety and uniformity that need not be. Instead, if we are serious about responsible practices which are in harmony with our common profession of faith, I submit that we should instead speak about the "breadth" of the Divine Service, the "depth" of the Divine Service, and even the "height" of the Divine Service.

Were we to do that, we would maintain the focus on the uniformity we are constituted to strive for, and also embrace the various practices and customs that are a legitimate and responsible part of our living heritage. "Breadth" would acknowledge the various languages and cultural situations in which worship occurs. "Depth" would encompass the variety that is provided for within the rubrics - just as a basic dance such as a waltz can be simple or elaborate and still be a waltz. And "Height" would embrace the arts in service of the Gospel.

Height. Breadth. Depth. Of Christ. For us. Just as in the wonderful hymn "O Love, How Deep". Just as the Scriptures speak (Eph 3):

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family [3] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Isn't this what worship is all about?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I know language changes. And some new words are helpful. "Trinity" doesn't actually occur in the Bible. Neither does "Sacrament." Those words were new at one time, and they serve the Church weel. So some of the new buzzwords may be OK. Accordingly, I am going to withhold critique of "missional" as a buzzword, though it tends to irritate me. Certainly the book of Acts describes the mission of the early church, and we have always sent and supported "missionaries". Church usage is normative, so I'll agree with Dr. Gibbs' assertion, made at the conference, that "God is in the gaps" between "Scripture and the Confessions". He works through His church. Through working with the Word, the Church came up with "Trinity" and "Sacrament". So maybe some of the new words like "missional" will turn out OK.

But given the frequency and novelty of some of these terms today, I think it is fair to ask whether the church being shaped by the world - rather than by the Word - when we use so many buzzwords that carry either modernist or post-modernist freight.

Sure, some of these words might serve the Church well. For example, there was much talk of "context". Certainly there is much truth in the proposition that those who preach and teach need to be sensitive to the situation of their hearers. One does not preach in a language the hearers do not understand. One must teach at a level the hearers can comprehend. Properly used, "context" might become a 21st-century American English equivalent of the Lutheran theological Sitz im leben ('setting in life").

But "contextual" if often used in our culture to justify "whatever works", or "what is true for me may not be true for you." It is the way our public university English and History teachers speak. Accordingly, it has post-modern baggage connected to other buzzwords I heard often at the Conference and also at the regional "Blue Ribbon" gathering I attended in Madison: perspective, relative, impact, diversity, empower and community. None of these words are necessarily wrong when used carefully. But they all stem from the world of relativism. So careful use should also mean minimal use, lest the words echo in the body of Christ and overwhelm the commonsense, Biblical way in which the Church has historically spoken: see, confess, convict, nations, save, and communion.

Words matter. They define us. So I think we need ask ourselves a couple of questions. Are we sharing different glimpses of glory in a passionate way so that we can grow stronger by enlarging the numbers of our faith community? Or are we to share what we have seen with our neighbor, that they may know the truth, and be freed to join us at the Lord's table?

The former is the way of organizations marketing themselves to religious consumers. The latter is what we read about in the Scriptures. Can we have it both ways?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

LCMS "MTCOW": continued

I think I'll start referring to the "Model Theological Conference on Worship" simply as "MtCow". It wasn't exactly a holy mountain - but we did 'ascend' to the LCMS capital of St. Louis and live in the ether of ideas there for three days. So here is the next of my many thoughts to share:


One of the delegates at my table struggled with the idea that one could "evaluate worship". I found this interesting, since we were all there to discuss the theology of worship and so presumably would have some objective standards. I tried to explain some of the criteria Bishop Stoterau had referenced earlier in our table talk, to little avail. I couldn't persuade her that there were vaild, objective criteria by which one can measure worship.

I thought of her when I filled out the survey asking for us to evaluate every aspect of each service we attended. Would she fill it out, given that she really didn't think one could evaluate worship? Or would she fill it out on the basis of simply sharing feelings or "perspective" - i.e. on a purely subjective, self-expressive level, without any objective basis? I'll have to send her an email and ask.

I suspect that while some of this resistance to evaluating worship is simply the cultural influences of relativism and post-modernism, something else is at play here: the fides quae/fides qua distinction I've noted earlier this blog. If one is exclusively concerned with expressing the fides qua, viewing worship essentially as a means of expressing one's personal faith experience, then one is going to be loathe to make any sorts of value judgments. After all, who can look into another's heart?

I think the biggest challenge facing the LCMS in worship today is to get the "fides qua" folk to understand that those who lead worship are first and foremost responsible for the "fides quae", ie. the faith by which we are saved. Yes, on a personal level, one cannot really evaluate how someone worshipped, but on a corporate level, yes we do dare evaluate: on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions.

That this is not universally understood and accepted by pastors and other rostered church workers in the LCMS is troubling. Faith itself is at risk if worship is not about delivering "the faith once delivered to the saints," but rather about enabling worship that has "impact" and "motivates".

I'll talk about the import of some of the buzzwords I encountered in my next post.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

LCMS Worship Conference: The Conversation

I suspect that many of our readers upon reading that title might ask, "Are we still talking about the 'national worship conference' in Seward from 2008?" No, that was the triennial conference hosted by the LCMS Commission on Worship. What just happened in St. Louis was the "Model Theological Conference on Worship", which the synod in convention directed be held in order to attempt to resolve our conflicts over worship. I'm going to have several short posts about this over the next few weeks, as there is much to digest, and as these conferences are now supposed to continue at the District level. But, for now, I'd just like to put two short items:

1 - For those who knew not or new little of this conference, this reminder for everyone about the official purpose of this conference should be helpful: "to build greater understanding of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology."

2 - And now for my first of many short observations to come that I hope might continue our conversation together on this important issue:

The conference worship was graciously hosted by our brothers and sisters at Concordia-Kirkwood. They have a beautiful facility, excellent musicians, and are a most hospitable congregation. They deserve everyone's grateful appreciation for their efforts. Their musicians ably led the services planned with them by the Commission on Worship. Though the Commission oversaw the planning, I presumed that we had mostly contemporary sounds because of the musicians available, and mostly traditional content liturgically because of the Commission's oversight and because of Concordia's commitment to historic texts. In other words, we were pretty much experiencing worship at Concordia, not "model" worship.

So I thought it interesting that the questionnaire we received about the conference had many questions about the music, ceremony, and rites we experienced together. It appears instead that the several services are being considered as models of the "variety of responsible practices" referred to in the synod constitution (III:7), to which the convention resolution referred and about which we were supposed to discuss at the conference. This was not made clear to us when we gathered. Sure there were many discussions about the services among the delegates - we are pastors and musicians, after all! - but now that I am considering these as models I find it curious that the musical style of 3 of the 4 services at Concordia was identical, and that the "traditional" model lacked the fullness one would associate with model traditional worship (other than the excellent children's choir from the day school that sang a Voluntary).

Indeed, the worship was all on a rather narrow band for a conference that was supposed to discuss variety. I'm not sure why that was. I am sure that we could have had: choral settings of stanzas of hymns, more variety of psalmody, brass, other instruments, and also a more representative example of "real" contemporary worship. (Many delegates commented that if the "contemporary" worship we experienced at Concordia were representative of what is happening in synod as a whole, we would have not had a synod resolution to have this conference to begin with.)

I'm going to ask Commission members for their thoughts on this. I realize there is only so much one can do with five services, but it does seem to me an opportunity was lost.