VBS Kids Singing “Morning Prayer” is Quite a Contrast to Convention Worship, by Pr. Rossow

I left the convention early and am back in Naperville to help out with our VBS and our brand new Creationism Camp that we started this year for the community and for our own jr. and sr. high school kids. We brought creation science author and camp coordinator Kimberly Jones in from Texas for the week to lead the camp. I also wanted to get back for the first meeting of our ad hoc Feasibility Committee tonight which is beginning discussions on how we might add a new music rehearsal and youth building to our campus. What I want to share with you though is an interesting comparison and contrast in worship.

I got in late last night but forced myself to get up to make it to our 9 AM VBS chapel and what a blessing it was. I was struck by the contrast with the convention worship.

Several years ago we started doing Morning Prayer and, later, Service of Prayer and Preaching, in our Day School Chapels. We sing an occasional song out of All God’s People Sing but for the most part the kids sing out of the Lutheran Service Book. This is the first year that we have jettisoned the typical dumbed-down VBS chapel and music and replaced it with “Morning Prayer.” What a contrast I experienced going from the convention worship that for the most part blended “contemporary” and traditional music to what I got this morning in VBS chapel, just singing out of the hymnal.

The hymnal really works well with children. For the first seven or eight years that I was here at Bethany I did not change the local custom of catering to the children in chapel with all sorts of happy little ditties. Since moving to the hymnal we have noticed that the children actually sing louder and better. The children actually learned Morning Prayer before the congregation did and when we first started doing it for the entire parish I could hear the childrens’ voices leading and teaching the adults. Of course it does not hurt that our Cantor teaches sight-singing in the primary classrooms. Here are some observations that struck me at VBS chapel this morning.

  • The singing was marvelous. Many of our helpers are teens from our St. Andrew Society (acolytes). I noticed one of them doing the typical VBS lean-and-help move with one of the children in her class. The difference was that even though she had to set her hymnal down, she kept on singing the Venite because she has it memorized from Day School chapel.
  • Associate Pastor Schumacher was fully vested for the service sending the signal to the kids that this is real church. The children were far more quiet and attentive than at our old campfire style VBS devotions.
  • One of our mothers came in a little late and delivered her child directly to the pews where his class was sitting. On her way back up the aisle I saw her speak the words of response to the reading – Thanks be to God. She was not planning on staying for the service but even for the short moment she was there, she was able to participate from her memory of our singing of Morning Prayer in other settings in the parish.
  • The VBS theme is Creation (which dovetails with the Creationism Camp) and so the children sang the Catechism songs for the first article. (The Catechism songs were written by our Cantor and are available on CD at CPH, item # 790004 and with an accompanying songbook.) It was so wonderful to hear the children at VBS learning the catechism through song. It is after all, vacation Bible school.

We have not totally banned “contemporary music” at Bethany. The antiphon for the psalm of the day was “O Lord, Our Lord, How Majestic is your Name” (copyright Meadowgreen Music, 1981) but here is the catch. The verses were chanted by the children antiphonally with one of the chant lines from the Lutheran Service Book. Yes, children can chant psalms. They’ve been doing it for years at Bethany and doing it very well. On occasion we use some “contemporary” music  in our highly varied but hymnal-based worship here at Bethany but we incorporate it into the liturgy rather than blending liturgical and “contemporary” worship (which leaves you with nothing but that obnoxious third and unknown substance which is what was concocted for the worship at the synodical convention) or even worse, replacing liturgical worship with “contemporary.” We are Lutheran, not some blended denomination or worse yet a MethoBaptiCostal denomination.

It did not even matter that our Cantor is not here. Our Associate Cantor Susan Gavin filled in wonderfully. (That’s not surprising since she is a BJS member.) Our Cantor, Phillip Magness is still down in Houston. Those of you at the convention may see him sitting in the peanut gallery in the back right section of the hall Tweeting away for Cross Focused Leadership for Missouri. (Now that I am away from the convention I am finding those tweets helpful since I do not have time to watch the convention on live streaming video.) Phillip put the VBS liturgies together and Susan is executing them. I would also like to acknowledge our Day School teaching staff who are playing a large role in the Creationism Camp and our VBS Director Patty Pedigo who has dovetailed the camp seamlessly into the VBS. How is this for seamless cooperation between church and school – our Day School staff actually wrote our entire VBS curriculum this year!

The convention was great, but it is good to be back home, at home in the hymnal with the children of the parish singing it out with joy.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


VBS Kids Singing “Morning Prayer” is Quite a Contrast to Convention Worship, by Pr. Rossow — 36 Comments

  1. Ahhhh! That explains why the tweets from CFLM have been so well done! For the most part, in between shut in calls, meetings (ok even during meetings), I was following CFLM to keep up. Magness has done a great job and is very clear when he tweets. Musicians, aren’t they great. Sort of like artistic engineers. Precise and to the point.

  2. Pastor Rossow, what a blessing it is to hear of your VBS program. The little ones that will attend will indeed hear God’s Word!

    My hope and prayer is that the rest of the LCMS would come to understand the difference between a vapid contemporary song and a confessional hymn. The gospel should be the focus and that which proclaims it most clearly should be our practice.

  3. Thanks for the compliment, Pastor! I’ve found with so many things that the simplest solution is often the best. VBS songs from the hymnal! So simple, works great, with no small thanks to our wonderful Cantor. And I have to add that there is a good number of kids who LOVE to sing “Thy Strong Word.”

    (Just one little nit-pick: while I’ll still always be a Gavin by birth, I now go by my married name. 😉

  4. Couple of things, Pastor. That would be Associate Cantor Mrs. Susan Keller, not Miss Susan Gavin. 🙂

    Also, I wanted to share that yesterday as Susan and I were teaching “Thy Strong Word” to one of the VBS groups one of the young boys (3rd or 4th grade age) shared his disappointment that we left out the fourth and fifth stanzas (we concentrated on stanzas 1, 2, 3, & 6 since that is what we were going to sing in chapel today). The children LOVE this hymn and sing it with gusto. In addition to “Thy Strong Word” and the catechism songs we have spent the first few days teaching “In Adam We Have All Been One” and they are embracing that one, too. The words are not easy–the hymn uses poetic and archaic language–but Susan has been working through the stanzas one by one, talking about what they mean and helping the children to appreciate the depth there.

    Last thing I will mention is that one of the things that is helping very much is that the children have not been age-segregated. Most of our music groups are mixtures of grades 1, 2, & 3. There is one group of 4th-5th grade. The mixing of age levels allows for older students to assist the younger ones with use of the hymnal, reading the words, etc. It is working wonderfully.

    Children love to sing what their teachers and parents love to sing. And more important, they love to sing words that mean something. Children are not stupid. They want to do things that matter. It is amazing what they are capable of doing when asked and given the opportunity.

  5. The idea of a singable, learnable liturgy seems so obvious. I wonder why it never occurred to me when I was pre-Lutheran?

    Now to my real question, which is: Why is the first thought of a church after finally burning the mortgage, “hey, let’s get back into debt!” It’s perverse.

  6. So THAT is the story behind CPH item # 79-0004 Sing the Faith: The Small Catechism Set to Music. I was doing all the shipping and receiving for a company which mostly sells Concordia products, and when someone ordered this C.D. I jotted down the title and the item # so I could purchase one for myself. I had no idea your church was the origin of it! “Learn the catechism through song!” Some things that are normally difficult to memorize become easier when you combine the words with music. Personally, I prefer an older translation of the catechism, but I congratulate your Cantor for a job well done. Thanks for that contribution to the church!

  7. Not sure where this fits but here goes. Sunday afternoon, while many of you were at the convention in Houston, we hosted our final fundraiser for NYG in New Orleans. A car wash in 108 degrees of desert sun. Some of the kids did not show up to help and several of the parent sets have never come to help with fundraisers or any planning or logistical work. We have also lost several kids that originally committed to track camp, work, etc.

    Later that evening, as I was lamenting the lack of committment and drive from our kids, I realized that their lack of discipleship was a result of our inability to make their parents better desciples. The core root of this phenomenon is that we have created a church body that is a mile wide, mile long and an inch deep. Our topical sermons, Lucado and Warren small group studies and New Member Orientation rather than a slimmed down confirmation are the cause of this. Kids look at NYG as just another activity because their parents look at church as just another activity. We do not breed disciples or stakeholders. We encourage consumers.

    Again, not sure where this belonged but I wanted to share this for some reason.


    p.s. I still like my contemporary worship music. Sorry.

  8. I am happy that your VBS went well at your location and in your setting. However I find your snarky comments about praise music, blended worship, and anything else that does not fit your small box of what is worship, offensive. If this is what we are to expect from the new synodical leadership that you support then it will be a very short leadership indeed.

  9. Tim,

    No need to apologize for your like of “contemporary” music. Thanks for continuing to post here. Just give this website a year and see if it does not make a difference in what you think.

    BTW – when I ask people why they support “contemporary music” in the church they usually say in so many words, “because I like it.” I would suggest that this basing of church choices on what we like instead of on what is fitting has helped create the mile wide/inch deep church you speak of.


  10. I think where you posted this is just fine. Oh the horror of falling into the Lucado/Warren trap. I am not being tongue in cheek here either. I have wandered around in the Willow Creek wilderness and I can tell you that I began to turn my back on any particular “pastor” who became an industry. Look at Bill Hybels and his army of pastors who have since written books and produced videos, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Beth Moore, etc. They all became huge phenomena I believe because the people were so hungry to hear the word of God but didn’t want to be told they had a sin problem. So the Word was packaged to fit the culture and in turn shaped the culture and in turn the language of the church. So now we have a culture of victims who cannot abide hard work or hard times and our churches reflect that same attitude. We have millions of baby Christians who cannot take more than milk, who cannot sit still in church, who cannot dress properly, who cannot take music that is not earsplitting and who cannot be bothered to learn proper doctrine and practice. And all this was done in the name of “church growth” (getting our numbers to match the empty spaces in our pews) and reaching out to the unchurched, which in my mind is not even a real word. As you stated and as I add, we have done and continue to do a very poor job of convicting parents of their roles as Christian leaders in the home and in the community. It has been a problem since the 60’s and will continue to be a problem until each pastor in each congregation decides to do as others have an insist that we get back to the very basics of our LCMS faith and practice and stop trying the next new thing. Send the law in full force then send the grace that makes us desire to want to please God in all things. As to the contemporary music, we must always measure its worth by its words. Does it bring the gospel? Is it a pleasant aroma to the Lord? Will it stand the test of time in its message? Can the oldest person in your church sing it and can the youngest learn its words at the appropriate reading age? If not, maybe it belongs in one’s personal library but not in the sanctuary. Not all contemporary is bad, but a good deal of it is. I think to abandon the music of the church which cannot be found anywhere else is a very dangerous road to take. And while many of our hymns can be difficult to sing, they cannot be any more difficult than the songs of the hip-hop and rapper music that has invaded the Christian music world. Not an indictment of you Tim or anyone who enjoys the occasional contemporary songs, but it has been proven over and over of late that our kids are not as shallow about their search for God as many of us adults might think. I remember a speaker recently who was talking about the church’s incessant use of videos and how he has discovered that the kids were attending less and less and what he found is that they are bombarded with pictures, videos, and music on a daily basis and actually are looking for something different but can’t find it. Truth be told, I think the baby boomers (and I am one) are just too infantile themselves to want to have grown up church because they are petrified of ever becoming old. So they play into the “contemporary” to try to put off the inevitable. Ha.

  11. What a blessing it has been to have lead the VBS children in Morning Prayer the last 3 days, to teach at Creation Camp, and to have just returned from the Higher Things Given Youth Conference in Nashville. Kids love the liturgy and learn from it. They also love our hymnody. It was so cool to be with our youth at a minor league baseball game Saturday night and to hear two of our girls singing “O God, O Lord of heaven and Earth” during the game. That was the theme hymn for Given 2010. Hgher Things is such a blessing for our youth. Bethany’s Youth will soon begin the countdown for Higher Things 2011. Our youth consistently say the best thing about Higher Things is the worship–10 services in 4 days, all using LSB. And the youth do sing! (And knowing some of what is on their ipods, Bethany’s youth are very typical teens in many ways!)

  12. Rick, the catechism songs were originally written over a 3-year period for CPH’s “Growing in Christ” Sunday School curriculum. Once the cycle was done, it was decided to compile all the songs into one package as a songbook/CD.

    Any child that spends their elementary years listening to these songs will have their catechism memorized before they ever step foot into Confirmation class.

  13. Pastor Rossow,

    It’s encouraging to hear about your church’s VBS. Our congregation changed its VBS curriculum this year too. We used a curriculum without the aid of any videos, or prerecorded music. We opened and closed each day with worship in which we confessed the faith, sang and prayed from the hymnal (with the help of an organ) just like we do on Sundays. Some of the children who don’t often make it into a sanctuary watched us and participated with great interest. We learned about Jesus, Martin Luther and even learned a little Latin – the Five Solas of the Lutheran Reformation. It was a good week. I pray more congregations follow this trend and return to teaching children using the historic liturgical practices and confessions of the Church.


  14. @Tim Schneider #8

    Tim, thank you for sharing that and what you have stated is so true. When I left Pentecostalism and landed at a Baptist church, the Sunday sermons and teaching were all “man centered.” The teaching was about how to be a better, moral person. How to be a good husband and how to make my life a “Christian” masterpiece. I never heard the Gospel in this church and it is truly sad, since the people attending believed such therapy sessions were “gospel” messages.

    Now that I am in a solid, law and gospel preaching and teaching, confessional Lutheran congregation, I can’t imagine giving up the feast I participate in each Sunday and every other chance I can get.

  15. This is why Higher Things does so well…My son wanted to here and understand the word. He could aways fined time to party with his friends and I’m sorry but listen to rap.. 🙂 But he new and wanted solid preaching and teaching when it came to his salvation. and please I’m not a good Dad it’s what are kids want truth! they are smart!

  16. Susan #3,

    I can’t believe I still forget to call you Mrs. Keller (please forgive me Erich). I guess knowing you for 15 years as a Gavin is just hard to get out of my head. Mea culpa, I’m an idiot – but you knew that already. 🙂 Thanks for your patience.


  17. Phillip #9,

    Your talk of “setting” and “location” is the relativistic talk of the culture and not of the Holy Christian Church. The Bible speaks of one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Following different patterns and people is the talk of division (e.g. I Cor. 1). As someone above commented, good church music works for all ages and cultures. In the fall our Cantor is headed off to Brazzaville to teach Congoless the liturgy and hymns of the French version of the LSB (the “LCL”). They are eating it up all over French West Africa. Isn’t odd that Christians on the mission outposts are thirsting for the historic liturgy and yet narcisistic American “Lutherans” are chasing after all sorts of non-Lutheran forms of worship.

    BTW – what did I say that was snarky? I do not believe I spoke of “contemporary” worship in snarky terms but simply described it for what it is.


  18. Where do the confessions address musical aesthetics? Is that part of “retaining the mass” which apparently is full of hidden rules and requirements known only to a special few (Unlike “retaining the Latin,” which we somehow can ignore with impunity…,.)
    I don’t want to risk sinning by choosing the wrong tempo or instrumentation, so I propose going back to only Gregorian chant; or even better, the Genevan psalter so its easy for everbody to participate.

    That would be snark.

    Lutherans do not bind consciences on musical aesthetics. This is pure sweet Gospel applied to the doctrine of worship practice, not “dividing doctrine and practice.” Doctrine applies to practice, and part of that doctrine is don’t bind consciences to particulars in human ceremonies not addressed by scripture. Luther could not have made this clearer. Freedom of a Christian means subsuming your wills and preferences, even if it means I sometimes have to hear some fat effeminate white guy bawling out a terrible rendition of “Crown him”

    The organ was originally used in roman theater and circuses, and orchestras started out as wandering ensembles no different than a 60s garage band. That taint didn’t keep them from being developed, controversially, to great use in the church. Electric guitars, trap sets, and hand raising are not matters governed by scripture. In fact, there is more scriptural basis for raising hands in prayer than making the sign of the cross.

    And if a us lcms church sang the liturgy like the Africans, most musical pietists here would condmen them as Schwarmer.

    it is time to discuss these things theologically, and get unified behind a proper doctrine of worship practice that does not bind consciences, that is orderly and reverent as required by scripture, does not cause undue offense, and that in all things points to Christ. That doesn’t bar contemporary music that properly teaches Christ. And I say this as somebody who thinks 16th century German hymns and Bach’s cantatas and. Schutz’s organ work are objectively superior and most closely resemble what we will hear in heaven. Scripture and the confessions don’t bind anybody to that opinion, however, and other musical forms are reverant and can be used without causing offense (except to the extreme musical pietist whose pietism should not be encouraged).

    Christ have mercy on us and forgive me for having anything to do with these foolish and stupid arguments.

  19. That CPH small catechism music is excellent and very helpful for memorizing. CPH is just awesome, though they could use more work on sunday school and vbs programs.

  20. I think Rev. Cwirla is the orginator of this quote,

    “Give them something to grow into, rather than something to grow out of.”

  21. Boaz #19,

    You are correct, we need a theological definition of proper worship. That is what Harrison will be leading us through with the It’s Time approach to unity (as well as addressing the other issues that divide us).

    You are also correct that worship ought to be reverent and orderly. Add in law/gospel, cross-focused and Christ centered and you have the the basic elements of a theological foundation for worship.

    As to the comparison of the trap set and the organ, there is significant difference that you are missing. The organ was not chosen because it was a top forty sound that people grooved on; it was chosen because with it one person could produce an entire orchestra of sounds and because it could be used to support congregational singing. The organ can execute any number of sounds – churchly and circusses alike. The trap set, lead guitar etc. have been chosen today for sensual reasons and they are pretty much known for a particular type of music although they do offer some flexibility. So, there is ahuge difference between the move to the organ and to the garage band sound.

    Concerning your point about African music. You have over-simplified. The Africans are doing the liturgy with their own folk music sound. Pop/rock music is different than folk music. Folk music is the muisc of the folks that is meant for group singing. Pop/rock music is meant for solo singing and even then, the vocals are usually just extra sounds which is why my parents complained about my music as a teen because they could not understand the words.

    In addition, the LSB has already acoomodated the African issue. It contains Chinese, African, Hispanic and other folk type music. When we do those hymns and songs at our church we add in instrumentation that is inherent in that folk music (e.g. mariachi, congas, harp, etc.).

    Just a few thoughts. Let the discussion begin and more importantly, let’s all, on both sides, articulate our position so that the It’s Time group can hear from us and use our good arguments in the dicussion that will eventually lead to more unity in the synod.


  22. Update on VBS chapel…

    We are only singing select stanzas of the Thy Strong Word for chapel and some of the kids are complaining that we don’t sing them all.

    Today the office hymn was one I have never sung before. Imagine that, foisting an unknown hymn and melody on the kids and even on the pastor! It fit the theme perfectly today and reiterated the point of my chapel sermonette. It was LSB #569, “In Adam we have all been one.” It is a fairly simple melody and after the third verse we were all singing it fairly well.

    Cwirla via Father Robert is correct – give them something to grow into.


  23. Pastor Tim, Jim and Lutheran Lady: Thank you for your kind comments and support. Still not sure of what the final answer/solution may be but God will direct us if our ears are open.

    Pastor Rossow and I have gone around about the contemporary worship issue a couple of times and it has evolved to a bit a a joke as two forty somethings are going to dig in and be stubborn. In no way was Tim trying to be snarky but just passionate in his defense of traditional worship music.


  24. Tim S.,

    Thanks for being so kind. Your attitude is what needs to pervade the discussions that Harrison has said he will conduct.

    Let me also say again, the worship issue is not a matter of organ vs. trap set. Authentic Lutheran music is not about the instruments. It is about the reverence and orderliness. In our church we primarily use the organ. Next to that is the voices of our dozen choirs that lead and enhance singing. After that it is the piano and then a whole boat load of instruments including stings, harp, bass guitar, congas, tympani, accordian, brass, bells, tambourine and even an occasional chicken shake.

    There is a huge variety of sound and instrumentation appropriate for authentic Lutheran worship. Instruments like the lead guitar and the trap set typically do not enhance folk singing but instead cancel it out. They were not intended for folk singing.

    Might I also add, the lifting up of hands in Scripture for prayer is not equivalent to the “waving to Jesus” lifting up of hands that charismatics do. The charismatic lifting of hands of indeed genuine and sincere, I do not question that, but it reflects a self-centered emotional experience that in and of itself can be OK but as a worship style is not healthy. It promotes experience over objective truth. I know, I have spent lots of time in the charismatic renewal movement. It is not what Paul is talking about when he speaks of lifting hands in prayer.

    More to come…


  25. There is more to this issue than simply which instruments are to be used and upbeat musical arrangements. A third issue is the content of the lyrics. By that, I don’t mean orthodox vs. heterodox (although that is another genuine concern), but the complexity of vocabulary, references, and poetic arrangement in traditional hymns.

    I visited in the home of a family last night who was concerned about worship. They were not radical supporters of contemporary worship. They were very kind in sharing concerns and were not looking to pick a fight (as so often happens in this case). They said that the problem they had with some hymns was that, after singing them, they didn’t know what they had sung.

    I have often marveled to myself while singing hymns about the complex poetry and deep theological insights which come out in the lyrics. That is, of course, why I love them so much. I have often wondered though if the person in the pew “got it” when singing hymns. When we ask for “faith and hope to walk with God; in the way that Enoch trod”, do people know who Enoch was? or what it means to ‘trod”? The couple I talked to last night are not uneducated or stupid people, yet they are not alone. We live in such a non-literary age in which vocabulary, thought progression, and poetry seem to be de-evolving into something very simplistic and shallow. Tweets, texting, and other things associated with the electronic age only make things worse. Following liturgical worship or even reading a book seems to require more work and attention than many people are able or willing to give.

    I think one of the main reasons for the popularity of contemporary music is not the “feel good” nature of the music, but the simplistic nature of the lyrics. I feel frustrated and often don’t like them because the content is so light as to be almost non-existent. Yet people can understand them.

    What to do? Teaching people to be more literate would be a daunting task even if they wanted to do so and I don’t think many do. Forcing people to sing hymns which they find difficult to understand doesn’t seem helpful. Yet giving in to simplistic songs doesn’t allow them to grow. Apart from the question of musical aesthetics, how do you help people understand, appreciate, and desire content deeper and more complex than what they are hearing on the local Christian radio station?

  26. The children in your church are so fortunate! The kids in my church are getting cheated. They only learn camp songs and our liturgy has been either so abbreviated or is different every Sunday, that they will never learn it by heart. It heart breaks for my daughter and so many of the kids in our church.

  27. @Pastor Steven Schlund #26

    What to do to educate? This may be a drop in the bucket, but at our church we’ve started putting a small blurb in the service folder to accompany the Hymn of the Day that gives the gist of the hymn, clarifies difficult phrases, and/or ties it in with the appointed readings. Also, we typically sing the same hymns several times per month or season to help it sink in over time.

    I feel it would also be helpful for pastors to reference the hymns in their sermons and encourage the use of hymnals at home to sing with the family or for personal devotion. The Cantor and other parish musicians can also make hymns and singing part of the church culture, particularly by rehearsing well and adding nuances to help highlight the texts.

    boaz #19 said: “Freedom of a Christian means subsuming your wills and preferences, even if it means I sometimes have to hear some fat effeminate white guy bawling out a terrible rendition of “Crown him””

    But besides from that being completely distasteful, I would say it’s objectively inappropriate as it does nothing to support congregational singing. Everything should flow from the objective of supporting the Lord’s Word in song. Demoting the congregation to the position of mere consumers of a musical performance is inappropriate.

  28. “We cheerfully maintain the old traditions made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and peace. We interpret them in a more moderate way and reject the opinion that holds they justify. Our enemies falsely accuse us of setting aside good ordinances and Church discipline. We can truly declare that the public form of the churches is more fitting with us than with the adversaries. If any one will consider it in the right way, we conform to the canons more closely than the adversaries. Among the adversaries, unwilling celebrants, and those hired for pay, and very frequently only for pay, celebrate the Masses. They sing psalms, not that they may learn or pray, but for the sake of the service (as though this work were a service) or, at least, for the sake of reward. Among us many use the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. They do so after they have been first instructed, examined, and absolved. The children sing psalms in order that they may learn. The people also sing so that they may either learn or pray.” —Apology XV, 38-41, Concordia: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord

    What I find interesting in the above reading from our confession is that music is meant to teach us doctrine. The songs are sung so that we may learn or pray. Today’s “contemporary worship” tunes are not catechetical, they do not teach but instead are a form of entertainment. Music in many evangelical circles is used to set the tone of a worship service. The music is “mood music” and the “mood” to be set is our giving an excellent sacrifice of praise to a sovereign who, upon seeing our “sacrifice”, will have mercy upon us and bless us. Such thinking is antithetical to Scriptural Lutheran worship where praise is in response to what God is giving us: the forgiveness of sins.

    What I am writing about “contemporary worship” is no overstatement. The lyrics of CW songs tend to be “me” centered, focusing on something “I” do for God. “I” drives all the verbs in most of these songs. For example, take the lyrics of the following “praise song” which was sung at the LCMS convention (as reported by Scott Diekmann):

    I will give you all my worship
    I will give you all my praise
    You alone, I long to worship
    You alone, are worthy of my praise

    How nice of “me” to give God something, as if anything I could give Him is better than a pile of stinking dead worms. No, the fact of the matter is that I am a sinner begging at the table of God and it is HE WHO IS GIVING while I receive His free gifts. The praise that comes off my lips after I receive His gifts are the words of a man who deserves death and eternal damnation. Indeed, I have nothing to give to the Lord, I am empty, hungry, thirsty, and He feeds me and fills me. My paltry thanks in response to the forgiveness of sins He freely gives to me is the thanks of a slave to his master. When I thank and praise God in response to His gifts, I do so from what He has given me. The lyrics of the “praise song” quoted from above, comes across as if I am giving God something that isn’t already His, so pat me on the back for my good deed of worship.

    Most contemporary worship songs are of the same stripe as that above. They are anthropocentric and push Christ to the background where He is relegated the task of “divine cheerleader” there to help us pull ourselves across the finish line one day.

    My apologies if this sounds like a rant, but I have “been there and done that” and know the utter despair that arises from the theology of glory this stuff comes out of. It is a place I never want to go again.

  29. Pastor

    I agree with the premise the comtemporary worship music tends to be flawed and I would like to see a return to biblical worship in my own congregation. However, it seems to me that Lutheran congregations are using this style of Sunday service to attract non-Christians or non-Lutherans…my congregation is a large one with 4 services each weekend…one of those services the 8:15 Sunday service is the “traditional” service (it is not liturgical though but is defined as trad. because the pastor wears his robe, no stole, and there are hymns, the creed and a formal invocation but not much more) the rest are contemporary with little other than communion to signify one is in a Lutheran church. (The preaching is definately confessional lutheran however most of the people the pastor references are Evangelical types like Dobson, Colson etc….little of the fathers or reformers ever)

    The trad. service is the smallest in number…our church has a budget of over 1 million w/ have going to salaries…which services do you think they will keep? We thought about going elsewhere as we have a baby boy that we wanted to raise in a distinctive Lutheran environment but it seems that many of the congregations in our region are doing similar things in their services…

  30. Jim Pierce :“ The children sing psalms in order that they may learn. The people also sing so that they may either learn or pray.” —Apology XV, 38-41, Concordia: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord
    What I find interesting in the above reading from our confession is that music is meant to teach us doctrine. The songs are sung so that we may learn or pray. Today’s “contemporary worship” tunes are not catechetical, they do not teach…

    I believe that this point bears repeating. People do learn from hymns. Children do learn from hymns–even children who are pretty young. The benefits of this are multiplied when hymns are memorized–which is done without any effort at all if they are sung often enough.

  31. @charles #31
    Just a couple of thoughts based on your post but not necessarily directly at you more so just thoughts in general.

    The Divine Service was never intended to be evangelism into the community. It wasn’t meant to attract anyone, but to be the support and nurture (forgiveness of sins, hearing of the Word, and reception of the Sacrament) for those who believe in order to strengthen their faith so that they could go out and evangelize to the world. Then you could bring people in and explain the faith and what was occurring during the service and allow the Holy Spirit to work faith. It seems far too often today we’ve changed to making the service the primary evangelism tool to draw people into the church and therefore simplified it so much as to not be confusing or offensive to anyone who might walk in off the street.

    Second, you mentioned that your traditional service (held at 8:15 am) was the smallest attended service of the 4 that you have in a weekend. I think that is frequently the case and far too often we draw conclusions from that that just aren’t present. When I was in college, I attended a church once that had an 8 am traditional service and a 11am contemporary service. The 11 am service was always bursting at the seams and the leadership said “see, people want contemporary and we need to add another service”. When I looked around at the 11 am service I saw it full of college students and families with small children. My theory was that given that population you’re going to see them at 11am instead of 8 most of the time regardless of what service was offered just because they prefer the time. I was always curious to know what would have happened if we had switched the contemporary and traditional service. My bet was on the fact that the 11am service would have been just as well attended.

    I think diligence in educating the laity of the importance and reasons for what we do and why we do it is crucial for the future of the faith. This is becoming more and more challenging, but more and more necessary.

  32. @Tom #33

    Tom: My point EXACTLY. We have traditional services at 8am and 10:45. The 10:45 service is almost always better attended than the 8am service. ALL churches that offer one traditional and one contemporary seem to offer the traditional only at 8am, then say “let’s do away with the traditional because the people have spoken — they prefer the contemporary service”

    That’s just hogwash! The people have spoken that they like a later service, NOT that they prefer that unlutheran service! I’d love to have ALL contemporary services mandated to be at 8am and see what happens.

  33. @Norm Fisher #34
    A possible problem is that a Pastor who loves to “do his own thing” doesn’t put equal effort/enthusiasm into a traditional service. It bores him; the people who want it probably bore him as well.

    That isn’t supposed to matter? Preachers are simul justus et peccator, too.
    And when “my” contempo service becomes a matter of pride (and perhaps gets district attention) while the traditional is just “same old same old”…….. 🙁

  34. Hi,
    You mentioned:
    The VBS theme is Creation (which dovetails with the Creationism Camp)
    could you tell me about the Creaionism Camp??
    Does anyone have ideas for Noah’s ark VBS?

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