One Big Word Concerning Contemporary Worship: “Repent,” Three Excellent Comments on Worship by Rev. William J. Orr

The following three comments were left early this morning on an  old string from July. They were written by Rev. William J. Orr who is listed on the LCMS website as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Willow Springs, Illinois (suburban Chicago).

One Big Word – Repent

December 19th, 2009 at 01:47 | #165
As I have been reading this thread, I found myself quoting Hamlet in my mind when reading Pastor Louderback’s comments, “Sir, Me thinks thou doth protest too much?”

The problem of this debate are the terms – traditional and contemporary. This is the framework for the debate over worship which was put forward by those advocating contemporary worship. The debate rightfully needs to reframed and when it is, it ends rather quickly – when these other terms are introduced historical, biblical, and confessional.

Traditional worship is always contemporary, because it is happening now, but more importantly it is historical and thoroughly biblical and can be defended from our confessions.

Contemporary worship obviously is about the here and now which is why it is trendy and fleeting, but it too is also historical, traditional, and confessional.

The questions then are, “What history?”; What Biblical interpretation?”; and “What Confession is this compatible?”

Lutheran worship as we have received it is certainly historical, biblical, and confessional.

Our worship in fact brings forth temple, synogogue, and passover worship richly unified together. All of which Jesus, Himself, participated in, and fulfilled. Lutheran worship brings forth this biblical reality. At its center is the doctrine of justification by Grace through Faith. This is why “traditionalists” so staunchly defend it, because over the centuries our worship has not radically differed in its form from the beginning of the church but has been refined like gold, has aged well like a fine wine, and now shines and sparkles like a well cut diamond.

Contemporary worship has its roots not in Lutheranism, but in fact its history, tradition, and biblical basis is a conglomeration of Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal theology and practice, which makes it sectarian and heterodox. Justification is not central but these are for each individually – methods for holiness, decision theology, and emotional feeling of the ‘spirit’. These doctrinal foci are not the focus of the bride of on her husband, but rather the focus of the bride on herself. She marvels at how white her dress is and proud she is of her decision to buy that dress and how wonderful and beautiful everyone will see and that makes her feel good about herself. When placed in the refiners fire, the Word of God, it burns like chaff, is sour wine, and shatters like glass.

Proponents will say that there worship is more effective and makes more Christians, therefore better than traditional worship. But does it really? Does it make Biblical disciples of Christ who here about sin, repent, trust in their Baptism, hear and believe what the Word of God says about them in both Law and Gospel, confess the faith that has always been believed and receive the salvation accomplished for them on the Cross when Christ really and truly comes to them in His Body and Blood, and finally receive the blessings of God in the Aaronic Benediction?

Or are you creating Sectarians whose focus is not on Christ, but themselves? Are you creating people who come to church so they can be uplifted emotionally. Who come for a pep talk or self help on how to be a better person. Are you creating people in your church whose roots in the faith are so shallow that when something terrible happens in their lives they fall away? Are you succumbing to the culture rather than changing the culture?

In almost all cases the richness that we have received and are to share from the Gospel is reduced in contemporary worship, which is in fact, the root of contemporary worship in Missouri. The Gospel Reductionism that began in the mid-twentieth century has brought upon us this blight. Sin is rarely addressed, therefore Law rarely preached. Christ is not on the cross, and so the Gospel lacks power. The means of grace are reduced in importance in favor of testimony and feelings of the heart. The Office of the Ministry is changed to reflect this. Pastors are inspirational speakers who are professional friends who make you feel good about yourself.

I am not even going to deal with the adiaphora issue because that is just childish the way that is used.

Contemporary worship is heterodox and sectarian. Period.

Pastors who think that they can somehow keep the substance of Lutheran doctrine and have a different style are at best naive, and at worst completely dishonest.

One last thing, you cannot as a member of the Missouri Synod practice such things confessionally or constitutionally. It is not compatible with either the Book of Concord and the Constitution of our Church Body. And because of this it is not compatible with ordination vows made to God.

One big word – Repent.

Contemporary Worship is Fleeting Fast

December 19th, 2009 at 02:49 | #166
Also we need to consider that Lutherans did advocate the same things in the early 1800s. Samuel Simon Schmucher advocated the Definite Platform which essentially was the American recension of the Augsburg Confession. American Lutherans’ worship in America had blended in with that of the indigenous denominations – the Methodists, Baptists, and Revivalists. The New Measures of Charles Finney were being advocated. Highly subjective emotional hymns and songs leading up to the inspirational speaker who would convert the masses, who had likely already been converted but it didn’t stick so to speak.

Lutherans are doing the same things today. The New Measures of today is the Church Growth Movement. Many would rather give lip service to the confessions and do something else. Our worship is blending in with the “cultural Christianity” around us.

When speaking with a DP recently, he confessed that CW was on the way out. He confessed that the main group interested in it was Baby Boomers, and that for the most part the younger generations were not interested in it.

CW is fleeting and fleeting fast, and just like in the 1800s, God’s people are waking up. Lutherans will return to their roots. May God grant this quickly.

The Liturgy is not German in Culture

December 19th, 2009 at 03:09 | #167
Another way of thinking about worship removes time and culture altogether.

Worship should be timeless and reflect the worship of Heaven.

The Divine Service is the Eternal Triune God meeting His Temporal Church on Earth with His gifts.

The eternal swallows up the temporal in the foretaste of the feast to come. Heaven descends as the Son of God makes Himself present for us to eat and drink and we worship Him with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

This is not something that is German in culture, it is in fact, supercultural. The western rite developed in many countries and has come to us from the culture of the Church.

This reality should be considered as the God of the Bible, the whole Bible, comes to us. We cannot worship Him in some Marcionite way disregarding His Almighty power.

This reality is not rightly considered when we sing shallow repetitive praise songs that tell God how awesome He is or repeatedly tell Him to Shine over and over again.

He does not need your praise but He desires it. What is required is repentance and faith.
These are better expressed in the timeless and super-cultural worship that has come down to us through centuries from the Church.

Thank you Rev. Orr.

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.


One Big Word Concerning Contemporary Worship: “Repent,” Three Excellent Comments on Worship by Rev. William J. Orr — 20 Comments

  1. I keep hearing confessionals say they aren’t binding consciences, and then I read stuff like this.

    Adiaphora is not childish, it is central to understanding Christian Freedom, which is also not a childish concept. It relates to this whole Lutheran concern with binding consciences on human traditions, which is exactly what this argument attempts to do.

    Ignoring the main reason people disagree with you and calling it childish isn’t exactly convincing.

    I fully agree some contemporary worship promotes false doctrine. But make some distinctions please.

  2. For as soon as [Christian Liberty] is weakened and the ordinances of men [human traditions] are forced upon the Church with coercion, as though it were wrong and a sin to omit them, the way is already prepared for idolatry, and by this means ordinances of men [human traditions] are afterwards multiplied and regarded as a divine worship, not only equal to the ordinances of God, but are even placed above them.

  3. The means of grace, the understanding of the depravity of the human condition, the meaning of the third article, faith being granted by grace rather than by the works of human will, Scripture being the only reliable source of Truth rather than human emotion and reason, etc. are not “traditions of man.” In fact they do impinge on “Liberty.” The truth is funny that way because the truth is excusive of all other positions.

    I believe Rev. Orr was making the very valid point that the desires for “Contemporary Worship” are founded in the desires of our fallen nature that are being nurtured by false doctrine.

  4. My perspective from the bottom of the food chain: ‘adiaphora’ is just a fancy word for license “to do your own thing”. It’s just a symptom of the decline of culture present in society worming its way into the Lutheran church.

    Personally, I like predictability, reliability,uniformity, and no surprises, since God and his Word are eternal and fixed, I like standards. Sacred music is a higher level of listening. Lutheran hymns and Bach would be the ‘Gold’ Standard or pinnacle of church worship music. This is not the time to look like the McDonald’s church, you lose credibility.

    With respect to coercion Boaz, the hegemony extended hectoring by adiaphoriacs feels coercive to me.

    Bravo, Pastor Orr and Amen.

  5. ‘This is not the time to look like the McDonald’s church’

    Actually McDonalds is regular and predictable – while there is slight variations around the world (Beer in Germany – can I supersize that!), a Big Mac and Fries, a shake, the surroundings, are almost identical – its called brand recognition. Starbucks too for that matter. Would that we would be a McDonald’s church in that sense of brand – that I could walk into an LCMS church anywhere in the world and know what I would be getting!

  6. I believe the intent of Rev. Orr’s statement was to say that “citing ‘adiaphora!’ as an argument for validating the use of forms and traditions of men which in fact invalidate forensic justifcation” is “childish.” He was not saying that “adiaphora” as a real distinction made in our confessions for the sake of prohibiting frivolity and needless change is “childish.”

    If we had spent more time reading article X of the FC and less time quoting one word from it, we would realize that we confess the concept as a foundation for general stasis in terms of forms, not license. Similarly, the movement which has overwhelmed the churches in the last 40 years by saying “if you don’t introduce these contemporary forms” “you will not grow” and “you are maintenance minded” etc, is in fact the very idolatry condemned in the above quote.

    We should have no tolerance for anyone who says “you must have this particular and certain form,” which is precisely why receiving and maintaining the historic forms is the most harmonious, loving and confessional thing to do.

    +pax christi+

  7. Hi Boaz,

    Please re-read the post. The author did not say adiaphorae are childish. He says that he didn’t want to address the issue of adiaphora because he doesn’t like the childish way it is being used.

    But do you think that is the best argument against the author’s points? If so, please explain. I’m curious. Show us how one can use the “adiophora argument” in a way that isn’t just a justification of doing whatever one thinks is right in one’s own eyes.

    I agree we need some distinctions here. Please help us.

    I hope also you might share with us specifically why you say some contemporary worship supports false doctrine and some does not. Can you give examples?

  8. “contemporary worship is heterodox and sectarian. Period.” Repent
    Do you mean by that statement that any one who goes to a church that uses contemporary worship needs to repent? What if there is no other option available? What if the only difference is the songs? Still have invocation, creeds, confession and absolution, rightly divided law gospel sermons, sacraments. The question does become…where do we draw the line, and who gets to decide. The synod in convention? District by district? The cat is out of the box isn’t it.

    To my simple mind, with certainly less time spent on this issue, it looks as if both sides are guilty of buidling up straw men, and then taking great relish in knocking them down.

    I don’t like contemporary worship, would drive many miles if it wasn’t readily available, but I don’t know how we expect to win our fellow Lutheran Christians over by calling them heterodox, or their arguments childish, and naive. If I dismiss you in that matter, I don’t have to really argue my point do I? Much better to bring them over with teaching…line upon line, precept upon precept.

  9. Would somebody please define “Contemporary Worship?” Even a broad definition will do, or perhaps a description of the whole CW panorama. So far, I’ve read lots of opinions about it, but no coherent description of just what it is we don’t like, or need to repent of, or what we’re defending.

    So, like, I mean, y’know what IS contemporary worship, huh? Like, I’m waiting…..

  10. “Contemporary Worship in the LCMS” by Timothy A. Rossow

    “Contemporary Worship” as used in the worship discussions in the LCMS is best described as a variation of or substitution for the traditional orders of service in the hymnal with forms that are taken from the Pentecostal movement and from the pop Christian culture both of which have thrived since the mid 1960’s.

    On its least varied level it can refer to using the historic orders but instead of using songs and hymns from the hymnal, songs from the Christian pop culture are substituted. This was the earliest form of contemporary worship in the LCMS and is still practiced by some but has been replaced for the most part by other versions that include substitutions beyond the hymns and songs.

    A middle form of contemporary worship not only substitutes the songs and hymns but also removes many of the elements of the hymnal liturgy such as the Kyrie, Gloria, most of the Communion liturgy save the words of institution, the Benidicamus, etc. It also often substitutes a recently crafted creed for the ecumenical creeds. It also typically involves some sort of “practical preaching” (geared toward making the hearer a better Christian) in place of the historic law/gospel and textual preaching.

    The most radical forms of contemporary worship have few or no remnants of the orders from the hymnal. The congregation simply gathers for some warm-up music, then hears some “practical preaching” and closes with a prayer time. Other radical forms include emergent worship which is based on creating an atmosphere of spirituality (dark rooms, candles, maybe even some traditional chants).

    Contemporary worship can also be defined and understood from the viewpoint of the motivation behind these changes. The traditional hymnal orders and traditional textual and law/gospel preaching are seen as stumbling blocks to newcomers to the faith. It is often asserted by practitioners contemporary worship that worship needs to be redone in forms that newcomers are comfortable with and thus contemporary worship has the feel of pop culture and is informal (a trait of the current Romantic age we are in) rather than having the tried, true, and stayed feel of traditional worship.


  11. @Pastor Tim Rossow #11
    Thank you pastor. I think you’re spot-on, but I have just a couple of nuanced comments to add to your definition:
    1. The music needs further definition–in my experience, much of the music is still 70’s, altho some of the less cutting edge but current music sometimes used. I would agree with the “pop culture” description, however–that covers it reasonably well. Many of the songs fit the definition of a praise song: “Six words, four notes, & ten minutes.” I would add “increasing decibels”, as well.

    2. The “practical preaching” a la Joyce Meyers is accurate–that is, “how-to” sermons are quite popular. In my experience, however, LCMS sermons are less “practical” and more “Jesus saved you, so get to work.” It’s as Harold Senkbeil has observed in “Sanctification”: the Gospel as information. This kind of preaching has infected the LCMS–so much so, that even the devotions at the recent Dearborn “gathering” were not a whole lot more than that. The attendees needed the Gospel as much as anyone. What they got was, “Get to work.” Please pardon the “rabbit trail”, but it is the best illustration I could think of. The misunderstanding about the Third Use continues apace.

    Your definition of CW is very accurate, quite helpful, and should enable us to more clearly define the terms of the debate as it unfolds on this thread, and elsewhere.

    Thank you.


  12. I think a simplified version of CW, is the 180 degree turn in worship. By this I mean, instead of God serving us, it turns to us serving God. This radical “turning away” allows for the infiltration of heterodox and heresy and you end up having service like that of Joel Osteen.

    That is my take on it.


  13. @Kiley Campbell #14

    Much of CW is all about me. As Todd Wilken has said, who is the subject of the verbs? In much of CW, I am. The rest of it is preaching, “Jesus saved you, so you gotta get to work.”
    So, here we go again–“It’s all about me and I’m gonna get to work.” But that’s exactly what cultural Christianity teaches, and that’s the way it worships. As we imitate a form of Christianity that seems to be “of the world”, that is culturally conditioned, why should we be surprised at this?

  14. revfisk,

    Amen couldnt have said it better.

    Rev Rossow,

    I am humbled that my statements made very early in the morning were posted on the main page.

    I have been discussing my posts on my facebook page and this comment was made in my defense and was helpful, the author is an LCMS pastor who can identify himself here if he wishes to.

    “It seems to me that the point of Bill’s original post is fidelity to your ordination vows in regards to worship.

    The Confessions (a true and faithful [ie, catholic] exposition of the Holy Scriptures) state what it is that we believe and confess about worship: that it is drawn from the Scriptures and comes to us from the Fathers; that we celebrate the mass with great reverence and with all traditional ceremonies which are not contrary to the Gospel…. See More

    Why do we do these things? Because it confesses that worship is NOT about us, but it is Christ coming physically among us in His Word and in His holy Flesh and precious Blood. The veil between Heaven and earth is lifted, and we are joined with all the saints. Therefore, what goes on in our churches (according to the Confessions) is no different than what happens in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 5: it is one and the same.

    Then, in regards to the statement that not all ceremonies need to be the same everywhere, this is true. But it doesn’t mean that I am free to make things up as I wish. It means I am free to wear a chasuble and maniple, you are free not to. I am free to have a Gospel procession with torches and incense, you are free to read the Gospel from the lectern (or wherever you may read it). I may chant, you may speak; I may use a Eucharistic prayer, you are free not to. And the list could go on and on. But we still have a unity of confession so long as the Word is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s holy institution.

    But, if I am to be faithful in what I bound myself to before God and men, then I am going to use what I have recieved. For it proclaims God who took on flesh in the womb of His Virgin Mother for the sake of poor, miserable sinners; it proclaims that this God-Man suffered, died, and rose again for sinners, and that He still comes among sinners to make them righteous by His Flesh and Blood.

    If I am to be faithful in what I bound myself to before God and men, then I am not going to make up something new, placing you or me as the center of attention, I am not going to give you a pep talk on how to be a better person, we are not going to conduct ourselves as though we were drunk in the bar on Saturday evening. We are going to join in the heavenly worship because that is what has been given to us, we are going to fall upon our knees before the Incarnate God in our midst, you will hear of this Incarnate God and how He continues to forgive sins, re-create His fallen creatures, and make sinners into holy saints even today, and we will conduct ourselves as is fitting before the King of the universe sitting upon His throne.

    To do otherwise would be to confess something different. To do otherwise would be to confess a different god, to confess the opinions of men, to confess me in the place of God. This is the sin of Adam.

    Unfortunately, many continue to buy into the serpent’s lies. Those who teach that the Sacrament is merely symbolic or a memorial, that there is error in the Scripture, that one must decide to accept Jesus, that there are methods and plans for holiness, that women may serve as priests of the Most High God, that you must earn salvation, are outside of the holy catholic and apostolic Church; they are anathema.

    But thanks be to God, that there is forgiveness even for this sin. Thanks be to God that there are true Christians to be found even among the heretics, that there is mercy even for those in bodies which are outside of the Church. This is the felicitous inconsistancy, but really and truly, it is the grace and mercy of God. Though, even in this felicitous inconsistancy, it is just that: an inconsistancy; we cannot claim to know the mind or will of God in these matters.

    If we have bound ourselves to the documents contained in the Book of Concord before God and men as true and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures, then we must teach, preach, and confess what they teach, preach, and confess. We must not be afraid to say: this is the catholic faith, which unless a man hold faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved. Anyone who does not is a robber who does not enter in through the door.

    I think that was the point of Bill’s post.

    Here endeth the sermon.”

  15. Those are my comments posted by Rev. Orr.

    Adiaphora is NOT a license to do as you please. The focus on forensic, objective justification, God serving man, the extra nos (outside of us) nature of the Word and the Sacraments, and Christ coming into our midst are not free or indifferent matters.

    The fact that, more often than not, CW places the focus elsewhere (namely on me), it can be injurious to saving faith. This IS NOT to say that all who attend CW are without saving faith: this is the felicitous inconsistency.

    Rev. Stephens

  16. Reverend Orr:

    Would you ask the most excellent expositor from your post no. 16 to please send this to Christianity Today? We need to go beyond LCMS and begin to teach the truth that worship is not about us. Outside our denom, this is new news. And by the way, it is also a great witness.

    The author might explain the concept of adiaphora and adjust the text for those who wouldn’t understand the Book of Concord. This could easily and lovingly be done.

    I returned recently to LCMS after a long hiatus. There is confusion about worship in contemporary churches, a lot of confusion. Wonderful Christians in other denoms need to hear this kind of teaching. It will answer questions and draw people in to LCMS!

  17. Krauth would have some instruction for us also in having a model theological conference on Pentecostal vs. Traditional Worship where both are treated as equals:

    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 Charles Porterfield Krauth. The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1872, pp. 195-96.)

  18. Hello, everyone. I am a new Lutheran (and English is not my native language, so pardon for any mistakes I make). I have a question regarding the worship dialogue/discussion. When conversation arises regarding traditional vs contemporary (those terms, of course, being pre-loaded with their own meaning… does this discussion ultimately refer to the musical styles? Let me further sharpen my point: apart from the musical styles, and liturgical forms (because, after all, “liturgy” can mean several different things), has anyone else noticed how most of our Lutheran dialogue eventually comes down to Sunday morning worship?

    Thank you for your kind responses! Again, I am new (to Lutheranism & English).


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