(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.