Analysis: Contemporary vs. Traditional Worship

Here is a posting that we found on the Vocation in the Valley (yamabe.net) written by Brian Yamabe, one of the commentors on this site. (Vocation in the Valley has been a past Issues Etc blog of the week.) While the arguments put forth below may not convince someone with a contemporary mindset, it will give people with a confessional bend some issues to use in an attempt to retain traditional services at their church. Brian was a delegate to the CNH district convention, and has some insights on that he has posted to his blog.

I’m not a scholar and I’m only a theologian in so far as “everyone is a theologian,” but I’ve been trying to write a paper comparing and contrasting the “traditional” and “contemporary” services that we have at my congregation, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. As I posted previously, I am an ardent supporter of using the historic liturgy for many and various reasons and I wanted to study the two services, as our congregation has them, to see how having two services with two different styles might be affecting our congregation. Let me say that our “contemporary” service is much better at proclaiming the Gospel than any “3 songs and a ‘How-to’ sermon” from an Evangelical church. The basic outline has its roots in the historic liturgy and the sermon is the same one as used during the “traditional” service. That being said there are some major differences in the service. If there weren’t I would have no qualms. In all honesty, I wouldn’t complain if the “contemporary” service was TLH (15) or LSB (Setting 3) set to a guitar. It wouldn’t be my favorite, but at that point, I think I could leave it as a matter of style.

I started the research for the paper by reading through journals, papers, blogs, writing down the order of service for both services, comparing the song from each service, etc. etc. But when I came to write the paper, I had a tough time doing the comparison and contrast I wanted to do because things were so intertwined. It just so happened that I was rereading “It’s Time: LCMS Unity and Mission” and Pastor Harrison’s thoughts on addressing controversies by discussing them. In this way, I could layout what I affirmed and what I rejected. This exercise would then become more than just me spouting off about what I liked and disliked, but it would become a vehicle for clarifying my ideas and having them opened for criticism and correction. So, following the format of “The Forumla of Concord” I present my statement on “Traditional Worship”:

[Status of the Controversy]

[1] A concern has arisen about the use of “contemporary” or “praise band led” worship within our congregation. [2] One side holds that “traditional” worship should be the standard for all worship services as it was handed down to us as the tested means for proper Christian worship. [3] The other side holds that worship styles are mandated neither in the Scriptures nor the confessions and as such we have the freedom to worship as appropriate for our local context.

[Affirmative Statements]

[4] I believe that the historic liturgy is the best vehicle for our understanding of worship which is the proclamation of the Gospel in Word and Sacraments, and our response to those gifts. [5] I believe that all previous additions to the historic liturgy were done to enhance the proclamation of the Gospel. [6] I believe that all previous subtractions to the historic liturgy were done to remove things that obscured the Gospel.

[7] I believe the historic liturgy is the best tool for catechesis in the context of worship. [8] I believe the Ordinaries are a vital part of teaching the faith as they ingrain the basic truths of our theology. [9] I believe the celebration of the Church Year and Feast Days enhances our understanding of the faith by continually walking us through the life of Christ, the lives of the saints before us, and our own Christian lives. [10] I believe most of the hymns found in TLH and LSB are good expositions of what we believe and by singing them, we deepen our understanding of Lutheran theology.

[11] I believe the historic liturgy is the best platform to promote unity within and between congregations. [12] I believe that corporate singing and responsive reading display church unity in our response to God’s gifts and provide a shared experience to all participants. [13] I believe the historic liturgy displays unity with the saints who practiced the same liturgy before us. [14] I believe the historic liturgy acts as a sign-post to others with the same confession of faith.

[15] I believe the prominence of the altar, pulpit, and baptismal font in our church architecture enhances the sacramental focus brought out in the historic liturgy.

[Negative Statements]

[16] I reject the removal of the Ordinaries as they are vital parts of the proclamation of the Gospel and catechesis.

[17] I reject the minimization of the Church Year and Feast Days as they are import for catechesis and the understanding that our faith is steeped in historical events of Christ’s redemptive life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

[18] I reject the removal of responsive readings as they are important for our understanding that worship is a corporate activity.

[19] I reject the addition of a “Children’s Message” as this implies a distinction within the church that does not exist; a simple change to “Teaching Message” or something similar would be acceptable.

[20] I reject the use of “praise songs” as they are largely bereft of sound theological content; a contemporary setting for sound hymnody would be acceptable.

[21] I reject the forsaking of the pulpit when preaching as this obscures our understanding that the pastor is called to preach the Word under God’s authority and is not to draw attention to himself.

[22] I reject the use of screens and projectors as they pull our attention from the altar, pulpit, and baptismal font, the symbols of the sacraments around which we are gathered and should be focused.

[23] I reject the use of amplifiers and speakers, and the placement of the praise team at the front of and facing the congregation as these set the praise team apart from the rest of the congregation and detract from the corporate nature of our singing and worship. [24] Ideally, the praise team would not be visible as with the choir, but at a minimum the speakers and amplifiers should be removed and they should be turned in the same direction as the rest of the congregation.

[25] In general, I reject all those things which take away from our distinct theology and tradition as this watering down will cause great confusion in the future amongst the steadfast inside and outside of our congregation, and give comfort to those who would willfully attempt to alter our theology to make it more palatable to the culture.

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