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.

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