Why those who use “œBlended Worship” Might Want to Reconsider, by Pr. Preus

(Editor’s note: this is part four of a five part series on worship by Pr. Preus.)


Many pastors and congregations in our synod employ what has been called “blended worship?” It is a combination of the historic liturgy and contemporary praise songs in which these songs are substituted for the ordinaries of the liturgy. (Ordinaries are the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc.) The result is a worship hour in which the order of the liturgy seems to be followed but something different than the historic liturgy is employed. I’m going to explain why this practice is not a good idea in less than 700 words when, justly, it should require about 700 pages.


Those who regularly use contemporary praise songs in lieu of the liturgical ordinaries should be challenged to reconsider their choices as they put together the services of their congregations. Why?


The first reason is that such songs are consistently theologically weak compared to the ordinaries of the service they have replaced. Of course the minute I make such a claim people will offer two objections. They will agree that many or even most contemporary Christian songs are weak but insist that they scrupulously avoid such poor choices. They have found the truly strong songs. Well, that’s good. But you have to ask why a substitution is made if the ordinary is strong in the first place, unless there is a criterion employed besides choosing theologically strong texts. The second objection to the claim that contemporary praise songs are theologically weak is the assertion that the most commonly used songs in our synod were all analyzed by a doctrinal review committee and were not found to contain false doctrine. In all candor, that’s like saying that McDonald’s food was analyzed and found to be poison free. That doesn’t mean you should eat the stuff with any regularity especially if you don’t want to get fat and clog your veins. To be free of false doctrine is good but not enough.


Second, when songs are substituted for the ordinaries of the liturgy then people get the impression that the liturgy is a cut and paste affair. It is not. It is an organic unity. It’s not like Mr. Potato where you cleverly pick out eyes, ears, mouth, hair, and nose and put it together so that all the pieces are there. If you’ve ever played such a game you realize that the result is not pretty. We don’t merely want all the pieces of the liturgy. We want something worthy of bearing the words of Christ to us.


Third, I fear that such a process is an implicit concession to the worship opinions of American Evangelicalism even if this is not our intent. (For a discussion of the Theology and worship practices of American Evangelicalism see my previous three blogs) If we are substituting easy to sing praise songs for the ordinaries and they are theologically OK then why do it? The ordinaries are OK too. I suspect that the reason is that people can really “get into the worship better” as a colleague once claimed. They can sing better – an assertion I simply have yet not been able to verify by any facts. They can relate to it better. It is more to their liking. It’s their heart language. It has a more positive effect. However you say it, it’s the same. The criterion is not “Does the liturgy carry the text of God’s word to me in a manner consistent with the meaning of those texts.” Rather our criterion seems to be “Do my people respond well to the text when accompanied by this music.” And that is simply not the correct criterion for the music and forms of the liturgy.  


Fourth, by taking contemporary well known songs and using them as liturgical ordinaries you may easily give the impression that the source of this genre of music is OK. When your people get a steady diet of this type of song they will gravitate towards other expression of American Evangelicalism and Evangelicalism is not OK. It is that false expression of Christianity which entices more people away from the truth of the Lutheran church than all other false forces combined.


So, please, be careful. We have such great resources in the LSB and its attendant books. Use them and stay away from the Evangelical songs which have begun to permeate the thinking and ethos of our church.      


The problem is that the use of such songs is not sinful of in and of itself wrong. What does the future hold liturgically for the LCMS? That’s a question for another day.

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.


Why those who use “œBlended Worship” Might Want to Reconsider, by Pr. Preus — 12 Comments

  1. Sometimes something is a poor choice not because it is inherently bad, but because it falls short of the best, or falls short of what it should be saying.

    I’ve seen this in choices for Children’s Christmas programs, too. The program chosen may not be outrightly heterodox, but neither is it very crystal-clear about why Christ came to earth as human baby. It’s “wrong” because it leaves too much unsaid.

    It’s the difference between “meets the minimum standard” and “the very best of our gifts and talents.”


  2. I would add that the ordinaries aren’t just theologically strong, they are generally direct quotes from the scriptures. If one honors the word, why go with a retelling which can only lose?

  3. Kind of like the preacher who gives an inspiring sermon on Easter Sunday, but forgets to mention that Jesus arose from the dead.

  4. I think it’s worth pointing out though, while conceding the use of non-liturgical worship forms and hymnody borrowed from heterodox sects of Christianity isn’t inherently wrong or sinful, I have never heard an explanation of why we should pick them over the historic liturgy and orthodox hymnody that was not inherently wrong and/or sinful. Have you Pastor?
    In Christ,
    -Matt Mills

  5. The adoption contemporary worship – full blown or in a blended form – is a serious theological matter – not because I/we don’t personally like the musical selections, the drums, cymbals, tambourine, etc. but because such worship style is tantamount to conceding that the theology which these evangelical styles represent are correct. To put it another way: when one worships with that style one assumes the beliefs of that style – ie., “Lex orandi lex crendendi.” Paraphrased this means the way we worship is what we come to believe. Either the perpetrators of contemporary worship, of those who simply let it happen, are incredibly ignorant of this or they don’t care that they are undercutting sound Biblical/Confessional Lutheran theology. It could be either, but in either event, confessional Lutherans must oppose such non-Lutheran theological practices. Will our District and Synodical officials speak up and oppose such errorists? So far, by and large, they have been silent. How long should this silence be ignored?

  6. Hmm, whenever people start to tell me that “we do it better,” I often answer that there is, I think, a reason why God’s people of old came up with such wonderful ideas, how they wrote such beautiful hymns, etc. The reason, I tell them, is that in days of old all they had to read (basically) was the Word of God, and they certainly did not have the distractions of the internet, newspaper, radio, TV, magazines, etc., etc. 🙂 They pondered the Word. The Word tells us of Christ. Does older mean that it is better? Not necessarily, of course. However, there is one other measure, namely, that it has stood the test of time. “Contemporary,” by definition, is always changing according to whatever is, well, contemporary.

    In addition, there is another consideration with regards especially to hymnody: camp songs might be great fun when life is mostly good and rosy, but when your world is falling apart and/or you or a loved one is lying on your death bed, what are you going to need? “Shine, Jesus, Shine”? It’s a pretty song. OR, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me . . .”? There is solid, theological meat in the latter hymn.

    May the Lord grant us grace to preserve the historic texts for the consolation of His people. Even if they reject them for a while, perhaps they will be able to rediscover them if some will faithfully lift them up and teach them to succeeding generations.

  7. I have heard fellow Lutherans argue that we must blend the Divine Service with contemporary songs or just switch to a contemporary service all together in order to keep worship alive and interesting to people. The argument goes that if we keep repeating the same liturgy over and over again it loses its meaning (i.e. people just go through the motions) and the church dies. I agree that our sinful nature is wicked enough that we need to guard ourselves against daydreaming and just going through the motions when God is serving us through His word and sacraments, but I also find that the words of the Liturgy are so profound that the more I hear and say and sing and ponder them in the Divine Service, the more they overwhelm me. I can’t ever imagine getting tired of hearing the words of eternal life. In fact I find that the more I hear the word of God repeated in the service, the more it speaks to me. My simple self has a hard time concentrating on unfamiliar words when I am bombarded with something new Sunday after Sunday like a newly written confession of sins.

    When you think about the words in much of contemporary music, it is totally fitting that we sinners, who want to change age old worship which is focussed on Christ and His forgiveness for us sinners, would want to worship in a way that changes the subject. We don’t want to be reminded that we are poor, miserable sinners. We want to think positively most of the time and concentrate on the power of God in our lives. We want to be God’s teammate, not His redeemed slaves. May God forgive us and have mercy on us to bring us back to true and faithful worship where we recognize that Christ is serving us through His worship where we have nothing to bring Him but our sins. Lord, Let us remember that it is all about You.

  8. Do you see a parallel between churches that want to cater to the baby boomers “turn on, tune out” consumer-driven mentality in having blended services or both a contemporary and a traditional service and what Krauth says below? Truth and error cannot have equal standing. Reverence and casual informal Starbucks liturgy cannot have equal standing coram Deo. And there are still young seminarians still clinging to this schmaltz. Don’t imagine that it will go away when the boomers get older. PLI, and these other groups will continue to push this in the name of “leadership” and “effectiveness” and “success.” If we think popularity means that the Holy Spirit is “really at work,” we’re thinking in a theology of glory.

    Don’t imagine that that first Pentecost is the result we always expect. Remember a few things about that – that was the beginning of the new testament church (extraordinary), all twelve apostles were preaching, a display of the Holy Spirit’s work was manifest by Jesus’ promise, and 3,000 converts was only a percentage of the thousands that would likely have been there at the festival of Pentecost.

    But the practical result of this principle [of the church tolerating within her bosom those who claim she is teaching error] is one on which there is no need of speculating; it works in one unvarying way. When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we ask only for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating, it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate that faith, and poistion is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skilful in combating it.
    (From The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1872, pp. 195-96.)

  9. Rev. Jack Bauer,

    How do you always have the great quotes handy? Oh, that’s right! There’s a team of agents on computers feeding you intel.

    Seriously, good quote.

    Rev. Andrew Eckert

  10. Having been the victim of blended worship, I can tell you that I believe the problem lies in not making a stand for one or the other. You will always offend about half of your congregation. One group craves liturgical sound and structure, the other group craves the latest fad or movement so as not to seem out of it. Neither side leaves the worship service “feeling” fulfilled. I am all for contemporary music that is scriptural although I do not believe contemporary has to mean loud drums and guitars. A Mighty Fortress was a contemporary song in its day and still plays well today. I think the church may be the last bastion of decorum. A place to raise the bar of excellence, not dumb its people down.

  11. I played acoustic guitar for a WELS blended worship service for about 4 years. I found that some CCM songs are good, some seem shallow, some seem questionable. I spent the last 2 years searching for good CCM songs with a solid gospel or Bible message. I also spent the last 2 years looking for articles and books about Lutheran Worship and blended worship and good criteria to use in choosing songs for WELS blended worship. In June 2009 I started my own website (http://blendedworshipresource.wordpress.com) with blended worship articles, blended worship guidelines, CCM criteria, and about 300 CCM songs that I think have a good solid gospel or Biblical message appropriate for Lutheran worship. I especially appreciate Klemet Preus’ book “The Fire and the Staff”, which then lead me to this website. I appreciate your confessional Lutheran point of view and would appreciate your feedback on my website and on my most recent blog “a mission statement for blended worship.” If a Lutheran church used a mission statement for blended worship such as this, do you think that blended worship could be a good thing? If a church uses blended worship (using some CCM songs and guitars), what guidelines or criteria would you suggest to make it a good Lutheran church service?

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