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

Friday, July 23, 2010

What Makes Lutheran Worship Lutheran?

Part 2 in a series.

One of the most challenging things I faced as a former worship leader in the Evangelical Free Church was exactly how to define what worship was. One elder at the time quipped, “Ask 50 different people what worship is and you’ll get 50 different answers.” This was absolutely true and remains true today. One of the great things about Lutheranism is that it recaptures and explains a view of worship that is Biblical and objective–– not according to my whims, but according to what God says.

Worship is God gathering His church together so He might give to us His gifts. These are the gifts of His Word, Baptism, His Supper and His Holy Absolution. We are sustained through these things. Worship in essence calls us to get out of the way and let these things come to us, that we might receive them in gratitude and allow them to renew and shape our faith. As we hear the Word of God read and preached, we also share it together in our songs and hymns. Since we know that the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, we do not wish to waste time singing things that are not the clear and well-explicated Word. Lutherans have always regarded our hymns as mini-sermons. This is because what we sing is just as important as what we hear preached. The Word of God present in our hymns sustains us in our faith.

The modern praise and worship craze that the Lutherans are now readily employing runs antithetical to our long held definition of worship. The songs do not proclaim God’s Word in any substantial manner. Rather than appealing to the objective Word of God and expounding upon it, CCM appeals to our subjective emotions, insists that it is us who serves God in our worship rather than God who bestows his gifts as we gather. In modern praise and worship practices, we are to ascend into God’s presence. I used several musical techniques used to accomplish this and it was all really emotional manipulation. But the impulse behind it was mysticism.

In Lutheran Worship, God descends to us, making His very presence real in the body and blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. This He does by the power of His Word and promise, and it is objective. Jesus’ body is present in the Holy Supper because He says it is. And what He says, He does. This is a far cry from the impulse in modern Protestantism to want to experience God as some kind of internal happening. I used to hear people say, “Wow, Jesus was sure present in our worship today.” As Lutherans we can be assured, by God’s own promise, that Jesus is present in His Holy Supper, and through his Word, every single week, every time we gather around those things, whether we feel it or not.

The Sandi Patti song, “Lord I praise you because of who you are; not for all the mighty things that you have done…” is not exactly a CCM hit. But it emerged out of a culture where Christian entertainment has become very popular (and unfortunately imported into church worship). Sandi Patti became a very popular Christian version of say, a Celine Dion, but even before her. As you can tell by the first line of the refrain of this song, it is meant to communicate this: “Of course it is easy to praise God when you get something out of it, or when He does something for you. You ought to really praise Him for who he is. Then you know you will be praising Him rightly.” As altruistic is this sounds, it is pure Gnosticism. Everywhere does Scripture praise God because of His actions. Look at song after song in Scripture. Start with the Psalms, look at the praises of Daniel, Moses, Mary the Mother of God and hosts of others. You don’t even have to go any further than Psalm 136 to see how God is perpetually praised for what he does. Indeed, the Incarnation is the supreme act of God coming amongst his people in a tangible, external, real way. Jesus’ life was a life of doing things: healing, teaching, serving, and ultimately, dying to forgive our sins–– an action on His part–– and then rising again, ascending, judging. This is the God who saves. Not the cosmic “who you are” that the song refers to. Folks, the modern praise and worship movement in all its manifestations is infested with Gnosticism. This runs thoroughly contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and has been rejected in our historic worship since day one. We know who God is because of what He does!

Lutherans, ask yourselves the question: Is the music we are singing grounded in the objective, external word of God, or in Christian experience? Does it explicate scripture like a mini-sermon, or does it seek to create a mood, elicit an emotional response, or worse, “ascend” into a mystical experience with God?

Lutherans have always rejected a theology of glory in their worship. A theology of glory suggests that we contribute something to our salvation and growth. Everybody wants to feel as though we are gaining God’s favor by our own actions. So we seek the mystical experience. We expect that we can encounter God in some tangible way by using the right music, in the right style, perhaps with a little mood lighting. We want God to make us feel His presence. Take a look at this popular CCM chorus: “In the secret, in the quiet place, in the stillness you are there. In the secret in the quiet hour I wait, only for you, cause I want to know you more. I want to know you, I want to hear your voice, I want to know you more. I want to touch you, I want to see your face, I want to know you more.” Let me just say that one can sincerely believe everything this song says and still die in their sins.

Lutheran theology has always held that salvation comes to us as pure gift. We did not earn it and we do not deserve it. We merely receive in faith what God gives. And, by the way, that faith is a gift too. All of this is outside of ourselves. It is received by believing the promises; by grasping in faith that what God has said is true, not because it is validated through an “experience” with God. So, songs like that above, have no place in Lutheran worship.

Yet, amazingly, God in His grace has given us Himself to experience. He tells us, “taste and see.” His very presence comes into our lives as a pure gift to be received by undeserving sinners. Clamoring after the mystical encounter with God as we are so inclined to do these days amounts to nothing more than unbelief. It is a refusal to believe the words, “This is my body… This is my blood.” It is refusing to believe that those things are enough. We want more, so we must have our favorite music. We want more, so we insist on feeling something. We want more, so we must hear sermons that tell us what to do to be better people and contribute to our own justification. We’re not content with God’s gifts. We spurn His gifts by seeking after a more meaningful experience.

Check out a quote by a fellow named Mike Baker. I do not even know him, but am looking forward to remedying that. He, like me, is relatively new to Lutheranism. He, like me, was a worship leader in the praise band. He, like me, discovered great riches in the Lutheran Confessions. He has left some very inspiring comments in response to my previous blog which was highlighted at The Brothers of John the Steadfast site.

…By the grace of God, the Holy Spirit guides you–a broken desert hermit–to the Lutheran Confessions and you use that like a map to find this remote oasis where the waters of the Gospel flow in endless streams of beautiful, life-giving grace. And it’s free! Not only that, but the water is PURE and there are people in the church [pastors] who have the sole job of just handing it out to you ALL THE TIME. Shoot, if you don’t stick your hands out, they will put it in your mouth themselves! And the water isn’t just to lure in new folk. It’s for everybody! All the time! Did I mention it’s free?

…and the stiff-necked people who have been lounging in the shade the whole time you were out there being made into beef jerky by false doctrine don’t even know what they have. They don’t even teach their own kids about the water. They are too busy complaining about how boring the water is and how it would be better to put in a coffee shop or cut down a lot of these pesky trees to get a better view of the outside world.

Mike did not know he was talking about me and the relief I found in the clear waters of the Lutheran Confessions, but he was. His comments are also about Lutherans who have taken God’s gifts for granted and are seeking after things that will not provide what they think they will. Please consider our warning, not because we deserve to be listened to, but because we learned from our mistakes and observations, from many years of not realizing that God gave us worship so we might receive His gifts – and that is enough!


IggyAntiochus said...

Last summer I did some personal research on the Creeds.

The Eastern Church has only adopted the Nicene. Why? Because they see their entire worship service as creedal, as a statement about what they believe.

Now, I am not in favor of Easternizing everything in the Divine Service, but I think an approach that sees every hymn, every canticle, every sermon, every element as creedal would cause us to step back and think about each element.

About that popular CCM chorus, what exactly does one have in mind, wanting to "know" someone more?

Oh, and can you provide a link to Part 1?

Mike Baker said...

Good post, my friend.

I am still dumb-founded by a point that IggaAntiochus brought up about CCM's obsession with "knowing" God and "touching" God. This falls into their whole insistence on "Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior" (I guess as opposed to just being your Lord and Savior. Somehow it being personal is the key.) This personal relationship element is just more of the subjective feeling religion of mysticism.

Phillip said...

Excellent post, Stephen.

In reflecting on this whole importation of CCM/Radio Music into Lutheran worship, I pondered Mike's point about how the new music - presumably on any instrument - should grow organically out of the church's culture, and not be imported from the world.

Now certainly as classical musicians we know of the great amount of interplay between sacred & secular music over the centuries. BUT that was in an era where the church took the lead. Later, after the "Enlightenment", secular music became more innovate and church music became relatively more conservative as the church wisely sought to avoid profane associations with the Lord's song.

All during these eras - both when church music was "cutting edge" (Josquin, Schutz, Bach, Handel) and when it was more conservative (Mendelssohn, Vaughan Williams, Distler), Lutherans would use the hymnody of other Christians, whenever said hymns were doctrinally pure and filled a liturgical need.

Then a third wave hit, which resulted in the two forces described above combining in a way that has been extremely damaging to Lutheran piety in our churches.

That third wave was when the Anabaptists discovered that music, which had hitherto been used little in their churches, could be a big tool for evangelism. The idea was not that music would magnify the Word or give voice to Christian prayer, but rather that music would affect the mood of people so that their hearts could be prepared to make "decisions for Jesus". Bascially it was the use of music not as a handmaiden for the Gospel, but as a means of the Holy Spirit. (This is why they "front load" the music and then want it "out of the way" when the "meat" of the service, the preaching, comes.) The Pentecostal movement then put this on steroids, as this focus on music as an amplification of the third Person of the Holy Trinity rather than the second fit right in with their experiential theology.

When this happened, you had both an importation of the most popular musical forms into the church, regardless of profane associations, AND you had for the first time lots of hymns and songs now put out into the corpus of Christian music by Anabapists, Pentecostals, and all their fellow travelers.

But Lutherans, being used to borrowing music freely from other Christians, failed to mark and avoid what came out of this noxious trend.

And this takes us to where we are today. May the Lord give our pastors, musicians, and congregations discernment, that we may produce music that grows out of our own creativity rather than copying the world's, and that we may borrow only those songs and hymns from other Christians that are consistent with our piety.

Pastor Bowman said...

Iggy, brings up a good point. A point of contention I have had with CCM is the constant refrain of "I will praise" and never saying why or at best listing an attribute of God as why.

One of the things I have been working on with our service team is that when evaluating the value of a song is does it follow the example of scripture when people offer up praise. In other words, does it spell out why we are praising God? Does it retell the story of what He has done? Or does it repeat "I will praise your name" ad nauseum.

The other rule of thumb I teach them is if you can picture Miley Cyrus singing it to her boyfriend and it makes sense, it is a bad worship song.

IggyAntiochus said...

hehe, over on Table Talk Radio they quote someone saying, "If you can replace Jesus name with your girlfriends and it still makes sense, it's not a good song." :)

Phillip said...

Yes, as Carl Schalk was fond of saying, "We praise 'the God WHO'".

Our praise needs to be incarnational.

Dave Rubke said...

Wonderful article. Lutheran worship must be primarily God conveying the Gospel to us through Word and Sacrament and secondarily (but importantly) us responding to God's great mercy and grace in praise to Him and service to our fellow man.

Dave Rubke

T. said...

Since PM mentioned Carl Schalk....It reminded me of one nugget from one of his classes in college. Probably in my Christian Hymnody class, he shared how he was irked with the hymn "I Love to Tell the Story." Because, although it says the story is "of Jesus", it never ACTUALLY tells or recounts THE Story-! That, among other things, has always stayed with me.

Stephen R. Johnson said...

"I love to tell the story, but then I never do."

IggyAntiochus said...

All God's People Sing added several verses to complete the story, and Augsburg's Worship and Praise added one verse that tells the story.

BloomingtonDude said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm thinking it'd might be a good idea to replace the cross in the center of the church with a big mirror so everyone could see the object of their praise.

It seems common in praise songs to life up "I" with statements like "I will never leave you, I will always stand, I will always praise you, etc."

The only time in the Bible I can think of such hubris is shortly before Peter denied Christ.