Who Left Whom? CoWo Isn’t a Practice of Walking Together

Praise-Band-LogoOne thing I don’t understand about this whole affair of CoWo at CUNE and in LC-MS congregations (please read this thread and the comments for some examples and context) is why those introducing this recent innovation into the LC-MS have done so knowing that they are changing the liturgy from practice that was common to most congregations in the LC-MS for decades? For all the talk of brotherly love coming from those demanding that the “traditionalists” stop blocking change in the LC-MS towards CoWo, where was that brotherly love when these innovators began introducing CoWo (and accompanying Church Growth theology) departing from the common practice of their synod?

One of the problems here is that the CoWo practicing brothers have stopped walking with their “traditionalist” brothers and have gone their own way for years now, pursuing and making their changes despite pleadings not to run in the direction they seem dead set upon going.

A theme carried throughout the thread I link to above,  from those supporting “praise bands” and unionism, is that the so-called “traditionalists” are an unloving, intolerant, lot who can’t see the “big picture” because they are wrongly focused on teaching (aka doctrine) and “incessant wrangling” over getting the message and practice straight. But who left whom? Who departed the practice of their synod and then demanded the right to continue their practices even though they were causing divisions with their new practices?

I have read allot of talk from CoWo supporters concerning not offending our brothers and sisters in the Lord, but isn’t what the CoWo supporters are doing an offense to those who want to preserve the liturgy practiced in the LC-MS long before CoWo arrived on the scene?


Who Left Whom? CoWo Isn’t a Practice of Walking Together — 87 Comments

  1. @ wineonthevines

    “I would not go so far as to assert that all of those non-Lutherans who enter our university system have infltrated our ranks for the purpose of dismantling our theology of worship.”

    Can you show me where this was said?

    In short, can you show me where we suggested there is some “grand conspiracy” to destroy the LCMS from some secret society in CUNE?

  2. @Big Boy #2
    Wineonthevines is not saying that anybody has been saying that; rather, he is preemptively pointing out that what he himself is saying should not be taken to mean that.

  3. Don’t worry: The die-hard CoWo pushers have absolutely no reason to remain in Lutheran churches and will have precious little denominational loyalty.

    Very true. A man who sat on the board of Concordia University in Texas left the LCMS for a non-denom church when he couldn’t get some folks to go to the contemporary style.

    When you let the erring go, you spare the church.

    True in Nov. 1838.

    True in Feb. 1974.

    True now.

  4. I would like to throw this in:

    Most parishioners that are involved in contemporary worship don’t know any better because they just followed a pastor or other leader in that direction. They may like the style or whatever. I find it is easier to get them interested in traditional forms by staying positive and explaining why it is helpful.

  5. I think we could all agree that Contemporary Worship has caused a great division in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

  6. @Mrs. Hume #6
    Absolutely. And, I would add, where contemporary forms have been adopted, it is not reasonable to expect them to be abandoned cold turkey and return to hymn-book services led by organ. That will never happen, and it shouldn’t, because effectual change that doesn’t alienate a constituency takes time and careful, strategic, pastoral planning.

    We need to have more conversations about what that process could look like. There’s no point in shouting at churches who use CoWo. We must find ways to lead them to discover something better. In some ways, “blended worship” is one of the biggest needs in the synod.

  7. @Big Boy #2
    In short, can you show me where we suggested there is some “grand conspiracy” to destroy the LCMS from some secret society in CUNE?

    I don’t think there is such a thing.
    I believe, in a misguided effort to be “welcoming” CUNE is attempting to serve non-Lutherans a fast-food buffet on the non-denom’s own everyday china, instead of pulling out Lutheran recipes and “the good dishes” to show them what we are about.

    Ironically, non-Lutherans who come to Lutheran schools are looking for the things they are not served!

    There is also the possibility that the ‘Lutherans’ are just using their guests as an excuse to “pig out” on junk food (maybe with the notion that the guests won’t know better?)
    [After several decades of “pop” services, many ‘Lutherans’ are more ignorant than non-Lutherans.]

  8. If this CoWo hymnal preserves the liturgy, the text, and simply provides alternate arrangements it may not be terrible. It may not be what I want to hear; but then again not terrible.

    In principle I’m not concerned if the music is organ or orchestral, band or banjo.

    In some ways it’s a question of style over substance, but I fear that this may be a slippery slope. There is a WELS band that I quite enjoy. They started out just playing hymns with guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, but have recently started writing their own songs. They have also started calling their concerts “worship.”

  9. @J. Dean #9
    The first step is having Pastoral leadership on board with the reforming doxological agenda. Priorities must be established and clearly communicated and explained to the church. The Lord’s Supper needs to be increased in frequency, and the services need to become structured in the four-fold pattern of Gathering, Word, Table, and Sending. From there, tradition can be reintroduced and taught one piece at a time.

    We have done this in our parish, as well as teaching the “praise teams” to sing (I would wager) more hymns than any other contemporary group in the synod (including the liturgical canticles). It’s a ton of work, requires a lot of compromise, and must be done with sensitivity. But we have no other choice: Faithfulness comes in terms of degrees, and every parish has work to do.

  10. my question is this. Are the DP’s and congregations led by the Holy Spirit when either forming a call list or Acting upon it?

  11. Is music an essential element of worship? If its so divisive, why not just stop it altogether? Give me the confession/absolution, service of the Word, and service of the Sacrament, and you can drop all the filler hymns/songs. I love the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, etc. in the Divine Service but I’m even willing to give those up for the sake of peace and unity.

    I’m don’t know if the CoWo crowd could do it though.

  12. @Ross #14
    I cannot at this point in time recall who it was, but there was a theologian in either the early or middle ages who actually advocated the elimination of singing in service.

  13. @J. Dean #15
    Hi J.Dean,

    I think Calvin just wanted the Psalms (either sung or said, I’m not sure) used in the Divine Service. Luther took a much broader view of congregational song. I heard this on the DVD put out by CTS, Fort Wayne a few years ago titled, ‘Singing the Faith – Living the Lutheran Musical Heritage’. It was a project of The Good Shepherd Institute.

    In Christ,

  14. @Miguel #12

    Just over 17 years ago I inherited a congregation that was 100% contemporary worship. LW was in the chairs but it was rarely used, and then only for a few selected hymns. In many ways we were Lutheran in name only. Luther’s Small Catechism was not being used at all. Open Communion was being practiced. Worship services were enthusiastic and more Pentecostal than Lutheran.

    We began the very slow, very deliberate, and at times very painful work of bringing the congregation back to a more traditional form of worship, not for the sake of taste or style, but for the sake of doctrine and soul care.

    I remember vividly the first time I introduced “This Is The Feast” from LW Divine Service 2, First Setting. One of our members came up to me all excited and said, “Pastor, what a wonderful praise song. What book did you find it in?” I pointed to LW and told her to look at page 161 and following. She frowned and said, “It’s in the hymnal? You just ruined it for me!”

    It is very hard to break our old stereotypes and prejudices, to slow down and in patience submit ourselves to God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. I am happy to say that now we are a 100% traditional/liturgical congregation. Two years ago we planted a preaching station/mission congregation in a neighboring community. Bucking the trend, it too is 100% traditional/liturgical. By the grace of God it will become an independent congregation soon.

    My advise to those who find themselves in such a situation is to go slow, be patient, listen, teach, and above all be faithful.

    In Christ, Clint

  15. Pastor Poppe,

    You should write a book about your experience. It could help many people.

  16. @Ross #14
    Oddly enough, that’s exactly what we do in our Sunday evening chapel service.

    Simply liturgy of the Word and of the Sacrament, straight from the hymnal. We pray the Litany as our communal and responsive prayer. The sermon is presented with opportunity for the laity to ask questions.

    I think it’s been fairly popular for our folks for several years, across every age group, and gives the music director/choir/ushers/sound/etc. a bit of rest (i.e., no body has to be running about in preparation, except the pastor and a volunteer acolyte.)

  17. @Diane #16
    Calvin did indeed advocate a cappella psalmnody (although he was not nearly as rigid about it as later generations of Puritans). But there was somebody else who said there should be no singing PERIOD in the church, and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was. I’m going to have to go home and look that up now.

  18. @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #17
    Thank you for sharing your story. It is incredibly difficult and slow work, I’ve already made plenty of mistakes from rushing ahead too quickly. It is so encouraging to see that not only am I not alone, but you certainly walked into a far more difficult situation than I. Our parish, at the time I was hired, was at least doing the Common Service once a month. They’ve generally responded very well to the changes I’ve introduced, and even those who don’t like “hymns” (I try to explain that even “praise songs” are hymns, just recent ones and the lemons haven’t been weeded out yet) are willing to cut me some slack ’cause they enjoy the way the music is done even if it isn’t their favorite songs all the time. We have a very strong culture of aesthetic tolerance in our congregation, and THAT is the biggest blessing imaginable.

    But I would also love to learn more about your journey sometime (and Rossow’s at Bethany). I’m sure many of us stand to gain a lot of practical wisdom from your examples. Doxological reformation is hard work and takes a toll. We’re swimming upstream against popular culture, secular culture, and the pervasive subculture of the Evangelical music and publishing industries. But if we don’t persevere, our only other option is to throw stones, draw up lines, and fracture into micro-synods of the super pure. Lord have mercy.

  19. @Miguel #21

    I often find your observations astute and rewarding, and I thank you for them. I might offer one regarding your last note– particularly on the fracturing into micro-synods.

    I’m not convinced that micro-synods are such a bad thing. Of course, the smallest of micro-synods is a single congregation… and I think some of our fellows have found themselves as single congregations in areas where their fellow LCMS congregations have left their fellowship. In this age of rapid communication, I think not only individuals but congregations, isolated by local deluges of false doctrine and practice, will band together for common consolation and mission.

    Whatever it is that the LCMS is now, it is not a Synod in any authentic sense– it is in a state of cold war, with periodic flashes of hot war in various times and places. There is a practical if not articulated broken fellowship between many congregations, and perhaps even whole districts. Getting about the work of identifying who we are will certainly split the LCMS into its major constituent parts, but at least those constituent parts will know who they can legitimately and safely walk with, who share a common doctrine and practice. We are not Anglicans nor Romans, nor any other nationalistic church that premises membership primarily on a cultural or territorial citizenship. We are a Confessional membership, and so our membership is fundamentally one of doctrine and practice.

    This isn’t an exercise in defining one group Christian and another not– but in noting the doctrinal and practical aberrations among us, and honestly dealing with them. I love my Roman and Anglican brethren, but I do not condone their errors. I am a Lutheran by conviction and confession. And if the LCMS intends to remain a Lutheran church body, without sliding into the relativistic abyss of the ELCA (and other historically Lutheran church bodies around the globe that evaporated or were absorbed by other non-Lutheran entities) it must also return to a Lutheran conviction and confession. The only reason we now risk the formation of micro-synods from this exercise in the LCMS, is because we have allowed non-Lutheran error to flourish until it has enamored far too many of our members.

    Peace to you.

  20. J. Dean :@Diane #16 Calvin did indeed advocate a cappella psalmnody (although he was not nearly as rigid about it as later generations of Puritans). But there was somebody else who said there should be no singing PERIOD in the church, and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was. I’m going to have to go home and look that up now.

    Someone in the Lutheran church (“The Singing Church”) actually said that?

  21. Nearly two weeks ago I attended a memorial service for the stepson of an uncle who had passed away in March after battling prostate cancer. The memorial was held at a nearby United Church of Christ which had the sound system, projector screen, and praise band instruments at the ready. It turns out that the stepson had played in a praise band and the remaining band members held the memorial. Everything I had read about Cowo here was borne out by my experience especially the focus on works righteousness–i.e. “I must accept Jesus”, “I must do this”, “I must do that” and most of all “I must be sincere”. Some of the recorded music that was played had a female lead and the focus of the music was on her emotion. There was little that I could discern of scriptural inspiration as the songs were more of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” theme than most anything else.

    My brother looked at their hymnal while we waited for the memorial to begin and noted that there was no liturgy. I can’t imagine a proper worship service without the ordered confession and absolution of sins and then praise that our hymnals lead us through.

    As for secular music, I prefer ’70s/’80s rock and pop along with some old country. Still, hearing an electric guitar open with a riff strongly reminiscent of a Cars tune in a sanctuary is somewhat jarring to me. I could get over the instrumentation so long as the lyrics and service were confessional which seemed to be missing in their mostly all gospel presentation. Again, it was a memorial so my comparing this to a Sunday morning service is likely a bit off base, however, I can compare it to our Lutheran funerals and in my mind, there is no comparison. Yes, there were pronouncements that the stepson is in Heaven (which I hope is true) with Jesus, but there seemed to be a lack of scriptural reassurance presented. But then, so far as I know, the memorial was not conducted by an ordained minister (I could be wrong on that).

    If the complaint against the liturgies presented in LSB is that they sound too “Roman”, then perhaps the complainant should examine themselves as to why this is so and why it matters. I will say that when our pastors first started chanting their part of the liturgy within the past 15 years or so that the Old Adam in me was at first alarmed that we were moving into a “Roman” direction, but then I realized that it was not the words or the confessions that had changed, just the presentation. The pastoral chant adds a fullness to his part of the liturgy rather than having it presented in monotone speech as was done for years. Pastoral chanting helps me to remain engaged through those parts of the liturgy where the Old Adam would lead my mind to stray to other thoughts. Perhaps this is the origins of CoWo–to help the worshipers remain engaged throughout the worship. While laudable at some level, if it was then co-opted by those with a non-confessional agenda, then CoWo as it is now practiced is not a fit for Lutheran church services.

    When it comes to worship the substance–the Word–must be supreme.

  22. @Miguel #21

    The Ft. Wayne Seminary did an article about our congregation and the move from contemporary worship to the hymnal. It was several years ago in the Life of the World magazine, January, 2006 if I remember correctly. I caught a lot of good natured grief for that article since my associate and I are both St. Louis grads!


  23. @Nate Bargmann #24
    when our pastors first started chanting their part of the liturgy
    within the past 15 years or so…

    The chanted liturgy was in the TLH rubrics. It required an extra book for the Pastor, which many congregations did not buy. So we lost our sung service, and now when men who can sing try to bring it back, people hiss, “Roman”, because they don’t know our own history.

    [Perhaps every congregation needs a crash course in Lutheran church history! Do you really think that while Bach was producing those magnificent cantatas for church choirs, the rest of the service was spoken!?]

    The church I grew up in was one such insular affair. People sang hymns well but most of the service was spoken. Only later did I come across sung services done well. And it’s been hit or miss as we went around the country.

    Ironically, it seems to be the people most antagonistic to the sung liturgical service who will fall all over themselves to bring on the “Saturday night” music!

    The pastoral chant adds a fullness to his part of the liturgy rather than having it presented in monotone speech as was done for years. Pastoral chanting helps me to remain engaged through those parts of the liturgy where the Old Adam would lead my mind to stray to other thoughts.

    I’m glad you discovered this!

  24. I firmly believe that the fundamental theological reason for the retention of the liturgy is to reflect the unity of our God in the way we worship and to express that unity as His people. I would urge a study of the worship scenes in Revelation to see what worship in heaven is like. There is no hint of personal preference, individual license, expressions of Christian “freedom” or anything of the sort. God is unity itself in His Triune Oneness. Thus the Church should reflect that unity and oneness in our worship. This is why the first Constitution of the LCMS specified that in the Synod’s worship that the greatest possible degree of uniformity be retained.

    To worship in diversity is to express division and division is the model of the world, not of the Church.

  25. @Ross #14
    I mostly agree with you but I would not drop any part of the service. I would just speak the words instead of singing them. Chanting is pretentious and a beautiful organ and choir are also. Lets concentrate on context instead of what say the COWO’s have fallen for and that is “emotion”. The emotion should come from the Holy Spirit through the Word and God’s saving grace. Save the music for an alternate occasion where people can sit and listen to the organ and choir and bask in their supposed revery of God.

  26. I do admit that the “church” has been involved in music from the get-go. OT priests chanting, NT sing of Psalms and praise but when the “music” become a contention and detracts from the Gospel I’m thinking that through our Lutheran history we have lost sight of the power of the Word and let aberrant ideas to dig it’s claws into us (emphasis on emotion). Hence, lets root out the unstable element that has caused a division in our midst and speak the Word until all this nonsense is past. Does it sound plausible? Probably not but then where do you start? Nothing has worked so far.

  27. President Harrison has said at the very least all out churches should have
    confession absolution and creed in there service. That would be a start

  28. @Al #32
    President Harrison has said at the very least all out churches should have
    confession absolution and creed in there service. That would be a start.

    Can you provide the source for that, for the sake of context?
    I’m not arguing; I am interested in knowing what else he said.

    Technically, C&A is not “part of the Divine Service” in historic Lutheranism.
    The old confessional service (Beichte) was separate and only for those eligible to commune.
    Before that, there was private confession and absolution, which is still in the Book of Concord our Pastors subscribe to. [Those pastors who actually offer to do what they have promised are sometimes accused of “Romanism”]

  29. @helen #33

    In June of 2012, at the Nebraska District Convention, a young pastor asked President Harrison a question about the diversity of worship practices in the LCMS and wanted help and guidance because of divisions in his circuit over the issue. President Harrison gave a small list of what he called “non-negotiables” for worship. It is my understanding that he has given the same or similar list at other times and places as well. Here is what I remember from that speech and what President Harrison said were his non-negotiables:

    Confession and Absolution
    Law/Gospel Preaching
    Lord’s Prayer
    Word’s of Institution

    It was presented in this way… “If you’re not using Confession and Absolution, you’re out of bounds; if you’re not preaching Law and Gospel, you’re out of bounds; if you’re not using the Lord’s Prayer, you’re out of bounds; if you’re not using the Verba (Word’s of Institution) in the Lord’s Supper, you’re out of bounds!”

    Some of the folks in attendance (including me) were disappointed and wish he would have said more on the subject. Some of the folks in attendance have taken his comment to mean that these are the ONLY things you need for worship to be considered Lutheran. When I shared this with President Harrison, personally, just over a year ago, he was shocked and surprised, and said that he never intended for his words to be used in that way. He also told me that he intended to speak more on the subject in the future.

    In Christ, Clint

  30. I don’t rember where I saw it but he was on a video done by lcms It was on you tube. He was going on about koniana and our life together in the church

  31. “Prepare a resolution on worship that seeks to draw our people toward what is best. The shape of the Western Mass (the traditional order of the Divine Service, which is rooted in the very beginning of Christianity, and affirmed repeatedly in the Lutheran Confessions) should be maintained (i.e., Confession/absolution, Scripture, Creed, Sermon, Lord’s Supper, Dismissal). Music fluctuates and changes, but Lutherans should keep to the basic order. We want to encourage and foster every move toward the full use and appreciation of the historical treasures we have been given and whatever good things the Lord sees fit to add from the gifts and talents of His people in this day. We want to encourage reconsideration on the part of those who would treat the liturgical deposits as a finished work. We want to encourage reconsideration on the part of those who would replace entirely the voices of the past with the voice of the present. In other words, we want to make full use of the worship treasures of the past, present, and future.” – Pr Matt Harrison, Today’s Business, Issue 1, May 2013

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