In Defense of Historical Worship – From a Former Advocate of Contemporary Worship, by Pastor Sean L. Rippy

With the discussions about Contemporary Worship happening on SteadfastLutherans, we thought it a good idea to repost this article by Pastor Sean L Rippy. We posted it a year ago here, but many may have joined in our conversation since then, or have forgotten about the posting. It is one of the simplest, clearest apologies for traditional worship that you will ever read.

Pastor Rippy was interviewed on Issues Etc, and that program is available here:


Pastor Rippy replied to the other post giving information as to his current status (again, a year old) here.

In Defense of Historical Worship – From a Former Advocate of Contemporary Worship

By Pastor Sean L. Rippy

As one who has written contemporary worship (CW) services in three different congregations, started it in one congregation, who has been raised on much of its music through radio and worship services, who sought for something in CW that he thought could not be found in LW, who actually likes much of the music of CW and who believed firmly that you could make contemporary worship, Lutheran, but has now rejected CW as profane, allow me to chime in.

The primary question in relation to any kind of worship style is to determine whether it is Christian and to what extent it is Christian. For example, Voodoo rituals are said to be a mixture of Roman Catholicism and pagan rites. To the extent that their rituals are “Christian” it would still not be wise to use their worship styles or rites, as most of us would agree that there is way too much paganism (even evil demon worship) involved. I think most of us would agree that even a drop of unchristian theology or worship would be intolerable.

Furthermore, as Lutherans, we understand and believe certain things about the scriptures and about what the scriptures say about worship. In relation to the question of worship, it is important, in order for us to be Lutheran, that we determine what kind of worship is Lutheran. In essence, as Lutherans, we seek a worship that conforms to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions; which, in our understanding, is synonymous with Christian worship. (i.e. Lutheran worship and Biblical Christian worship are one and the same)

To this end we ask the question: “What does the Word of God say about worship?”

The Word of God teaches us:

1. To use doctrinally pure material – i.e. no heresies, nor even a hint of heresy (Gal. 1:6-10; 1 Tim. 1:3-7; Titus 1:9-2:1, etc.)

2. A particular form which includes:

Hymns (Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19, etc.)

Prayers (2 Chron. 6:40; 7:15; Psalm 141:2; Luke 1:10; 2:37; Eph. 6:18; 1 Tim. 2:1; 1 Kings 8:33; Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4, etc.)

Reading of Scripture (Acts 13:14-15, 27; 15:21; 1 Tim. 4:13; Luke 4:16-22; Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27, etc.)

Preaching which is focused on Christ (Acts 15:21; Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:39; Rom. 10:14; 1 Tim. 4:13, etc.)

Worship which is focused on Christ Jesus (Hebrews 9:1-10:25; Matt. 2:2; Phil. 3:3; Heb. 1:6; 3:1; Rev. 5:1-14; 1 Cor. 1:22-24; 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:5; Ps. 29:2; 95:6; Zech. 14:16, etc.)

The Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16-21; 11:17-31; Rev. 19:9)

Confession of faith/Creed (Rom. 10:9-10; Phil. 2:10-11; 13:15; 1 Tim. 6:12)

Confession of sins and Forgiveness (1 Kings 8:33-34; Prov. 28:13; Ezra 10:11; Neh. 1:6-7; 9:3; Dan. 9:20; 1 Sam. 7:6; Neh. 9:2; Matt. 3:2, 6; Acts 3:19, 19:18; 1 John 1:8-10; James 5:16, etc.)

Grace and mercy coming from God, followed by our praise and thanksgiving (Ezek. 11:19-20; Ps. 103:11-14; Isa 1:18; Heb. 13:15; Ps. 9:11; 47:6; 147:1 Jer. 31:7; Heb. 2:12; Rev. 5:12; 7:12; 19:5, etc.)

3. That the worship service must be done in decency and in good order (1 Cor. 12-14, esp. 14:26-40)

4. That the worship service be reverent (Lev. 19:30; Joshua 5:14; Ps. 5:7; Heb. 12:28; Eccl. 8:12; Heb. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:17, etc.)

The Lutheran Confessions teach us:

1. The proper, highest worship is to acknowledge one’s sins and to seek forgiveness- the ebb and flow of worship: God forgives; we praise Him (Ap. IV, par. 154; Ap. IV, par. 310; LC, par. 16; AC XXI par. 3; Ap XXIV, par. 71f)

2. Christ is the center of worship (AC XXI par. 3)

3. Outward ceremonies do not make one righteous (AC XXVII par 40f; Ap XV par. 20-21)

4. Outward ceremonies (“such as the liturgy of the Mass and various Canticles, festivals, and the like”) which serve to preserve order in the church may be changed, reduced or increased without sin. (AC XXVII par. 40f, FC X; SD X)

5. “We should not consider as matters of indifference, and we should avoid as forbidden by God, ceremonies which are basically contrary to the Word of God, even though they go under the name and guise of external adiaphora and are given a different color from their true one.” SD X par. 5 (I believe CW falls under this)

“Neither are useless and foolish spectacles, which serve neither good order, Christian discipline, nor evangelical decorum in the church, true adiaphora or things indifferent.” SD X par. 7. (I believe CW often falls under this as well)

6. “The real adornment of the churches is godly, practical, and clear teaching, the godly use of the sacraments, ardent prayer, and the like. Candles, golden vessels and ornaments like that are fitting, but they are not the peculiar adornment of the church. If our opponents center their worship in such things rather than in the proclamation of the Gospel, in faith, and in its struggles, they should be classified with those whom Daniel (11:38) describes as worshiping their God with gold and silver.” (Ap. XXIV par. 51).

(These are not attempts at comprehensive lists)

Within these guidelines there are varieties of worship: Matins, Vespers, Compline, The Divine Service (I, II in LW & pg. 15 in TLH), The Service of the Word (aka the Half-Mass – pg. 5 in TLH) The Deutsche Messe (DS III in LW), Nones, Sext, evening prayer, morning prayer, etc.

Furthermore, there are other worship services which may be created for edifying use in the church — services which must follow the prescribed forms and orders of scripture and the Lutheran confessions.

Now how does Contemporary Worship fit into all of this?

While CW is sometimes very hard to define, over the years I have realized certain commonalities between each service that is called “Contemporary”. I have learned these by reading books on the subject, attending conferences, being trained by my vicarage pastors and by trial and error. I have even been told when some of my services were not “contemporary” and why.   Through this process of discovery I have learned that the Esse of CW is not Lutheran or Biblical. The Esse is that which is at the core and soul of a thing. It is that which if you took it away, it would cease to be what it was and become something else. In other words, what is it that distinguishes CW and sets it apart from Liturgical worship? And does that distinction make CW unlutheran and unbiblical?

1. CW is distinguished by a focus on emotion- often referred to as “meaningful”. CW has accepted the Pentecostal theology of spirituality and has therefore defined deeply felt emotions as true spirituality. Whether it is more “emotional/meaningful” music, or more emotional/meaningful” sermons, or a more “emotional/meaningful” service, it’s still the same focus on the subjective self and emotion. In this line, charismatic preaching is important to CW. Charismatic choirs are important to CW. Enjoyable, charismatic songs are important to CW.   It may be possible that the pastor who engages in CW does not have this specific understanding of spirituality; however it is reflected in his actions and in his CW.

The primary goal of CW is to pump you up, to make you feel more emotional and charged about Christ and this becomes true spirituality. It’s a pep rally of sorts. Even when this “pep rally” mentality is toned down, the goal is still some form of emotional, uplifting experience. From the CW perspective, excitement supposedly shows your commitment to Christ.

This is contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding of the Holy Spirit and true spirituality. True spirituality is not a function of emotion, but rather a function of the Word and Sacraments. True spirituality is not subjective, but objective. True spirituality cannot be found in a song but only in the means of grace.

This is also contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding that the proper, highest worship is to acknowledge one’s sins and to seek forgiveness.   Which means more than that confession and forgiveness are offered in the service, but rather, that the entire service is one of confession and forgiveness through Word and Sacraments. The Lutheran service is penitential and joyous at the same time.

One might also argue that this is also contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding that the worship service be reverent and done in decency and good order.

2. CW is distinguished by “Self-Help” or “How to” sermons: “How to be a Better Christian”, “How to be a Better Husband”, “How to be a Christian Leader”.

This is contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding of Law and Gospel preaching centered on Christ and Him crucified.

3. CW is distinguished by a lack of reverence- often referred to as less stodgy and “more spiritual” (see emotions above).

This is contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding of reverence in worship.

4. CW is distinguished by Pentecostal and Baptist music. By Pentecostal I mean, the style of music was created/brought in by the Pentecostal church, the majority of authors are Pentecostal or Evangelical and/or the songs reflect Pentecostal and Baptist/Evangelical theology, especially as it relates to “meaningful/spiritual” worship (see emotions above). There’s a lot of focus on the individual and what we do for God (usually praising Him) rather than on what Christ does for us. There’s a lot of focus on the Holy Spirit (from the heterodoxical Pentecostal theological perspective).

This is contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding of using only doctrinally pure materials.

This is not exhaustive, but sufficient, I think for the current discussion.

One may follow up by asking if it’s possible to avoid some of these dangers and still use CW? In other words, “Is it possible to write a contemporary service using Baptist and Evangelical forms and make it Lutheran?”

After having been told by several “experts” in the field that one’s form is predicated by one’s theology and that it is therefore impossible to use Baptist/Evangelical worship forms and still be Lutheran (this principal is very old-so old it is known in Latin: “Lex orandi, Lex credendi”, meaning: the law of worship is the law of belief or to put it more succinctly: “How you worship is how you believe”. Form and substance are intricately united). However, after having been told that it was impossible to use evangelical forms and have Lutheran substance, I tried anyway. I followed Pastor David Luecke’s understanding of “Evangelical style and Lutheran substance”. I fervently believed that it was possible to blend Evangelical style with Lutheran substance and come up with a solid and unique Lutheran worship style.

This is where I got caught up in trying to write a Lutheran Contemporary Worship Service. I knew that one of the things to be avoided was this Pentecostal concept of Spirituality. It was certainly very difficult to avoid in the songs- almost impossible in fact, as most CW songs are predicated upon this singular concept (spirituality is feelings and feelings are given by the spirit without means: “Spirit Rain”, “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me”, “Blaze Spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire” etc.- which is obviously not the Lutheran understanding of spirituality or the means by which the Spirit comes to us.)   Furthermore, as I was attempting to write a Lutheran liturgy which could be defined as contemporary, I quickly realized that one of the definitions of CW is that it had to be less reverent and more “spiritual” or emotional in nature. Note the titles of some of these contemporary services: “Celebration Service”, “Spirit Song”, etc. These titles reflect an unLutheran, dare I say unChristian emphasis upon feelings as opposed to the gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. (While a title such as “Celebration Service” can be defended as the celebration of Easter or Christ, sadly, oftentimes the service and sermon themselves reveal this is not the case. Also it is the juxtaposition between “celebration” and “traditional”.   If the “celebration” service is a celebration of joy, then what is the “traditional” service? Whether intended or not, Titles teach!)

What I found was none of the “forms” for CW (for indeed there are general categories that are the same within CW) reflected a Lutheran view of spirituality and worship. It seems that while Lutherans believed and maintained that the Bible says worship must be reverent and Holy, the esse (soul) of CW was less reverent (I believe it’s actually irreverent) and more emotionally driven.

Coming to this realization, I tried to make a Lutheran CW which might avoid these pitfalls. Working on the principal that it surely isn’t the unLutheran view of spirituality and irreverence which the people were requesting, I sat down to prepare the services. In the early days, I actually tried to write my own liturgies, working from CW sources and preprinted CW services, trying to remain faithful to the hymnal. It didn’t take long before I realized: a. how difficult it is to write liturgies as opposed to sermons; b. how easily you can mislead people (heresy) when you thought you were writing something else and c. how quickly the people began to misunderstand worship. For example, when one uses an “Evangelical” or “Pentecostal” term, such as “Praise and Worship”, it carries certain meanings, which our people have learned from the Christian radio and popular Christian books, and which do not correspond to a Lutheran understanding of those words. Or when one sings “Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me”, it carries an unchristian/Pentecostal message, whether it can be understood correctly or not. The author is not saying, “Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me, through Word and Sacrament. Oh, and by fresh, I do not mean that I have somehow lost the spirit, since I don’t feel Him right now.”

Later I began to use various combinations of already written liturgical forms. For example, I took a Gloria from one Lutheran hymn book and the Kyrie from another, trying to find more emotionally enjoyable settings- if we sang them at all (we often didn’t because the more chant like tones were considered “a bland expression of the liturgy” to quote Rev. Dittmer) Also, I changed their names to reflect an easier understanding. I might place a popular hymn for the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). I printed everything out in the bulletin (a must for CW). In spite of the heretical dangers of most CW songs, we chose only “contemporary” music for the “hymns” and we had the whole band thing. I tried to choose the least objectionable “contemporary” songs and those that could at least be understood correctly. What I discovered is, they still led the people astray.

In spite of this, I was told repeatedly, “This is not contemporary worship!” I was frequently requested to add more feeling to the service (like the last pastor did) and make it more “spiritual”. I received complaints like: “The service it too strict” (i.e. reverent). “I don’t sense the Holy Spirit any more”. The music director repeatedly implored that the opening hymns were supposed to be “uplifting” so we can “lift the rafters” and the closing hymn had to be similarly “uplifting” lest we leave on a low note. And we had to have several opening hymns in order to achieve the “perfect” worshipful mood.

It is also of the essence of CW that the sermon not be a Law and Gospel Sermon, but rather a sermon about getting through life (as if Law and Gospel did not do this- in fact there might be something to the argument that CW sermons have changed the Lutheran understanding of how one gets through life- not by confession and absolution, but by trying harder). Often times this is defended as preaching the third use of the law- however Lutherans have always contended whether you have a section of third use or not, the Gospel must predominate.   This is certainly not the case in the CW sermons I have heard. I received complaints that my sermons talked about sin. I received complaints that my sermons weren’t applicable to daily life. I received complaints that I wasn’t preaching 10 steps to greater health or a better marriage or whatever.

It was at this moment that I realized that what the people were requesting, was not, in fact, Lutheran worship, but rather a mix of Lutheran and Evangelical/Pentecostal theology in their worship. They wanted Evangelical spirituality and Lutheran communion, two things that are not actually compatible. Eventually, one must replace the other. In fact, Pastor David Luecke has apparently realized the same thing for a few years ago he told a NOW district conference that we need to think of the means of grace as a failed strategy and adopt new forms and substance in order to grow.

What I learned in summary:

1. As a writer of liturgy you lead people astray. Even if you get one week “perfect” that’s only 1 out of 52. (See below on writing liturgy)

2. The CW songs lead people astray.

3. The people who request CW are not requesting Lutheran worship, but a hybrid of Evangelical/Pentecostal worship with a Lutheran understanding of communion added on. (Though this too shall change, I imagine, as the two theologies cannot stand side by side. The one must replace the other.)

It is often falsely believed that if a pastor can write a “good” (often defined as God-pleasing) sermon, then he can write a “good/God-pleasing” worship service. As one who has attempted to write contemporary worship services and as one who has spoken to those who “create” worship services for our hymnals, allow me to say, “This is not true.” Besides the significant point that from my experience most of the pastors who go for contemporary worship do not write (or preach- or even seem to understand) “God-pleasing”- Law and Gospel sermons, and therefore do not write God-pleasing- Gottesdienst- besides that! – Writing liturgy is a different task than writing a sermon. When you write a sermon, you have an entire 15-20 minutes (average) to get your point across. If you make a mistake, or misspeak, you can correct yourself. When you make a point, you can make it in several different ways, using different examples to make sure you don’t miscommunicate. You can still miscommunicate, of course, however, it’s less likely than when you write a liturgy. When you write a liturgy, you have one or two sentences to get it right and that without misleading anyone.

Oftentimes you wind up writing what makes sense to you (the author) but not what makes sense to the people (A situation much easier to deal with in a sermon, where you have more time and more words to explain). This is why it takes liturgies years of writing, discussing and practice before they officially come out. Talk to the people who write liturgies for the hymnals- it takes a group (not 1 pastor) and about 2-3 years to get it right. And remember, for the most part, they’re using already tried and trusted wordings! The simple truth of the matter is, pastors are not trained to write liturgies. We have not taken classes to that effect (primarily because no one thought we’d need to have that skill). And those parish pastors that attend conferences on writing worship services, often wind up taking classes from Reformed/Baptist/Pentecostal sources thus absorbing their theology.

Furthermore in the desire to make Christian concepts more understandable, CW has a penchant for using metaphors and language that are not scriptural and certainly not Lutheran and often misleads, even if they can be understood correctly. One series of CW services I was using used the example of a summer bus trip for the theme of the summer services. The metaphors used during the confession and absolution alone were down right ridiculous and would be humorous if not actually used in a worship service. In replacing the words of the Bible with the words of human understanding, we are leading our people further and further from the Word- a point which might be highlighted by recent Barna research indicating that Christians are becoming less and less able to understand the Bible. Could it be that we’re taking away one of the primary helps to interpretation of the Bible?   The Liturgy?   Historically this is how the liturgy has been used- as an interpreter of the Bible. The Liturgy helps us understand the Bible, but not when you change the Biblical metaphors and words to “modern” metaphors and words.

Also, CW likes to use a lot of Bible passages from the O.T. to replace the wording of the liturgy (i.e. the confession and absolution) and while it is certainly laudable to use Bible passages in the liturgy which, of course, Lutherans do in the traditional services, due to the unfortunate and almost total stranglehold that Pentecostals and Evangelicals have on O.T. understanding through the radio, music and popular Christian books, and because CW often only quotes a part of a Psalm or O.T. passage (usually the praise parts- remember it’s the emotional build up that’s important), it often misleads our own people into believing Lutherans have the same understanding. The Introits and Psalm readings in Lutheran Worship seem to avoid this by quoting larger sections of the Psalms, if not the whole Psalm. In other words, it’s the question of how you quote the O.T. (or Bible for that matter). Are you trying to design an emotional response or center on Christ Jesus?

Very often the end result of Contemporary worship writing is Baptist/Evangelical/Pentecostal theology (form and substance) with the Lord’s Supper thrown in. The Confession of sins is still there, however it is very often not a Lutheran understanding of the confession of sins (most I’ve seen are very weak on sin and either ignore original sin or make sin sound like we’re apologizing rather than confessing. The Absolution is often very anemic and often comes off sounding like an “Oh, that’s okay” sort of reaction to an apology.)

The Benediction is still there (now called a blessing), but it is not a Lutheran understanding of the Benediction. Benedictions in CW are almost always “encouragements” to go into the world and do better. This is not a Blessing!

The creeds are often vacant and if they are present they are either rewritten or simply torn down and built upon anew. They certainly do not represent the concept of an ecumenical creed which has been believed and confessed by all Christians for 2,000 years and unites us in that moment of confession with all those who have passed on in the faith.

Communion becomes McCommunion (a speedy version of lines where the pastor might not even commune some people at all! – certainly not Lutheran).

The vast majority of the songs (and yes I’ve seen a lot of them in my time as contemporary worship writer) are simply heretical. Sometimes they can be understood correctly, but that is no excuse to use songs which in their original understanding are contrary to our understanding of scripture and without extensive study lead the people astray. Those that are not heretical are simply not as good and solid theologically as the hymns we already have. Consider St. Paul’s example of milk and meat. CW songs are at their best, milk (or as I like to use- cotton candy- it tastes sweet to the mouth but dissolves quickly and rots your teeth- not necessary for life and can be harmful) while hymns are meat (good, strong steak- good for you and necessary for life) – not a perfect analogy but useful. And at worst, CW songs are heretical, leading people astray.

Popular CW songs like, “We exalt Thee” or “Great is the Lord” etc. are vague as to whom we are addressing. They can be sung by Christian, Jew and Muslim alike and are centered upon the Reformed concept of the sovereignty of God, rather than the Lutheran emphasis upon Christ. An occasional song here or there which speaks of the sovereignty of God is indeed good, right and salutary. We have a few hymns along these lines. However, Lutheran hymnody is largely centered on Christ and rightly (ritely) so. Christ centered hymns are a hallmark of Lutheran worship. Furthermore, it is the belief (theology) of the Pentecostal church that these songs are designed to “put God on His throne”. They actually believe that you “must” begin your worship service with such songs praising God’s might and power so that God might see the great faith of the gathered congregation and come to that service with His power and might.

In trying to avoid many of these pitfalls, I found my “contemporary” worship services getting closer and closer to the Divine Service in the hymnal. The more pitfalls I avoided, the closer it got to the Divine Service.

In the final analysis I have found that whether intended or not the irreverence and unbiblical spirituality of CW has the ultimate effect of pointing us to our feelings and not to Christ. This makes CW profane, in the truest sense of the word.

“For profanity consists in this: for the sensual gratification or amusement of the moment to give up that which is spiritual and unseen; to be careless of that which is holy, so as to snatch the present enjoyment,– in short, practically not to deem anything holy at all, if it stands in the way of present pleasure.” (Edersheim, Bible History, Old Testament pg. 112). This was written in the context of Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage but has application to all things profane.

CW trades that which is truly spiritual and unseen for enjoyment (which CW defines as spiritual). Since CW defines deeply felt emotions as true spirituality, it is no surprise then that they trade true worship for felt needs; again, whether intentional or not.

Finally, remember this, CW is not new. Versions of CW have tried to come into the church through various means: Pietism, Pentecostalism, NeoPentecostalism, and now through the CW movement. As Lutherans, we have conscientiously and consistently rejected their attempts to move us away from our Christ centered worship – until recently.

[Pastor Sean Rippy, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a former advocate of Contemporary Worship, discusses the differences between historic and contemporary Christian worship, highlighting where contemporary worship falls short.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


In Defense of Historical Worship – From a Former Advocate of Contemporary Worship, by Pastor Sean L. Rippy — 33 Comments

  1. A hardy thanks for this repost of timely materials on the topic of worship practices. In particular, I am thankful for the Scriptural references, which to my mind is vitally important in this discussion. God’s Word should always lead us. Blessings.

  2. Also Acts 2:42 “the prayers.” IS liturgy, not some free-form prayer service. It is the Scriptural prayers of liturgical worship, speaking to God the holy words He spoke to us, namely the Lord’s prayer, Psalms, Biblical canticles. Bringing forth the OT worship- which is liturgical- with a Christ-centered fulfillment.

    And don’t put a coma after “fellowship” in Acts 2:42! They were practicing closed communion; not coffee time, then Lord’s Supper.

  3. I don’t see a problem with putting a comma after Koinonia. The Greek puts an “and” (kai) there. Literally:

    “They were yet persevering in the teaching of the apostles and to the fellowship/communion (koinonia) and to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.

    I agree that the breaking of the bread is The Supper, not coffee time.

    And others indeed might be in a coma regarding koinonia! 🙂

  4. Thank you for reposting Pastor Rippy’s essay. This blog has a huge following and it’s a wonderful teaching tool. I’ve gotten the impression that new pastors or seasoned ones don’t appreciate it much when a layperson tries, however winsomely, kindly and gently, to teach them about the liturgy. It’s much better, in my experience anyway, to have the teaching come from colleagues.

  5. From Rev. Rippy’s article it is reasonable to conclude that “Contemporary Worship” fails to meet the “Article VI. Conditions of Membership” categories of

    2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such
    as:…b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox
    congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;


    4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms
    in church and school.

  6. As Reverend Thomas L. Palke once said:

    “There are a small number of faithful, confessional pastors who believe in the principle lex orandi lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith) and lead their congregations in a substantive ministry of Word and Sacrament. However, since Lutheranism regards liturgy as an adiaphoron, something neither commanded nor forbidden by God, many regard this as a license to do what is expedient and has mass-marketing appeal. Others castrate the liturgy under the pretext that the liturgy is a hindrance to first-time visitors in church and to evangelism in general.

    The confessional writings of Lutheranism generally grant freedom to churches in matters liturgical, so long as they agree in all the articles of faith (Formula of Concord, Article X). And herein lies the problem: worship appears to be disconnected from the faith. Instead of seeing worship as the faith of the church in action, Lutherans, like most Western Christians, tend to reduce the faith to mere intellectual assent. Instead of seeing music, liturgy, and art as bearers of the faith, Lutherans tend to view these things as aesthetic embellishments that establish the proper atmosphere for hearing the sermon, which itself is usually filled with many comedic and illustrative embellishments that are intended to enhance the Gospel!”

  7. Thank you, Norm, for posting this again. I was not privileged to read it the first time it was posted, but have taken the time to do so now. It has been very helpful and is right on.

  8. @Carl Vehse #5
    These things have been happening in the Synod since I became a member in 1976! We just have no discipline that is effective. While out in Utah a man was caught by his Mormon authorities doing something counter to their doctrine and practice–they ran him and his family out of the church. Growing up in Texas one of the local Baptist pastors starting using actual wine in their communion and the words of institution just as printed in Scripture. His body removed him from his office and ask that he join a church more in keeping with his theology. We just don’t have that kind of discipline in our Synod. Oh–to be sure the pastor who insists on maintaining close communion practices and using only the historical liturgy is often put to the side, but the ones who who anything but Lutheran in their worship, preaching, and Bible classes, well they just are encouraged with their innovation!!! 🙂

  9. Carl Vehse :From Rev. Rippy’s article it is reasonable to conclude that “Contemporary Worship” fails to meet the “Article VI. Conditions of Membership” categories of
    2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, suchas:…b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodoxcongregations or of congregations of mixed confession;
    4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechismsin church and school.

    Regarding the renunciation of syncretism, the prophet Amos spoke boldly against the syncretistic worship that was going on in Israel during his day. I fear he could say the same thing today about our own church body.

  10. I’m not sure that anecdotes of Mormon and Baptist discipline are a beneficial analogy to how disipline should be handled in our Synod.

    IOW, thank God that our discipline is not like that of the Mormons or Baptists!

  11. This is a great essay. I have sent it to many different folks in my defense of historical, confessional, liturgical Lutheran worship. This essay was actually circulated among some WELS pastors in the Arizona-California district awhile back by our district president. We do not have a problem with CW in our district, and the essay aims to keep it that way.

    It is a must read for all Christians, as it highlights the poison of the church growth movement.

  12. That was fantastic.

    Oh…and while the Confessions grant freedom, the do not grant license. Big difference.

  13. With regard to worship and teaching materials that are not Lutheran and open communion (for examples) where and when has there been discipline of any sort in the last 40+ years?

    [“Thank God we are not as other men are?”]

    As Pastor Sterle said, “discipline” in the recent past has been more likely to fall on the Pastor who takes his ordination vows, Scripture and the Confessions seriously.

    Worship forms are not “adiaphoron” … the differences in the beginning were among the various geographic areas, not 20 different ways of doing Lutheran services in one city! The “superintendents” (i.e., DP’s) were supposed to see to that conformity.
    And as far as I know, the differences were in details (e.g.,more or fewer German hymns; more or less Latin chanting), not in confession and absolution, admittance to communion or the service of the Sacrament.

  14. This may be a good time time to recall a statement made by Rev. William M. Cwirla in his “Grabau and the Saxon Pastors: The Doctrine of the Holy Ministry, 1840-1845? (Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, Vol. 62, 1995, 93):

    “We might summarize the liturgical distinction between the parties in this way: Grabau worked in the direction lex orandi lex credendi (what is prayed is confessed); the Saxons worked it the other way, lex credendi lex orandi (what is confessed is prayed).”

  15. @revfisk #12

    Exactly, Pr. Fisk. Big difference between freedom and license. That ceremonies do not have to be the same everywhere does not mean, as many among us sadly believe, that we are free to do as we wish. The liturgical latitude given in our Symbols is not nearly as broad as some would like it to be. It is a latitude that must not in any sense trump our shared confession of the faith and the theology of worship derived therefrom. And, it is a latitude which knows absolutely nothing of borrowing the “worship forms” of those who are condemned within these same Symbols, an idea that would be quite absurd to our Lutheran fathers.

    Sounds like a good topic for a future Fisk-tacular video, my friend! 🙂

  16. Isn’t is interesting or sad as the case may be that we will argue to the death in our worship wars, but we will not argue a pagan into eternal life for fear of embarrassment? I mean really!!! If those who are so adamant that we beat the drums and crash the cymbals and raise the rafters would just show us how so much more effective that has been in bringing comfort to sinners and widows, the lame and the dying, the sick and the near dead, the blind and deaf then I would say a 7-11 chorus all the day long. But in my time of distress I feel ” A Mighty Fortress” promises me much more than an “I love you Lord ever could” One song honors Him, one chorus honors my feelings. We simply must put this to an end. Lutherans worship the way they do because they believe the way they do. When I was a Baptist, I knew nothing of Lutheran liturgy. When I became a Lutheran I did not want to worship as a Baptist because it became empty to me. Can’t we be true to our Lutheran selves and let the rest of the world do their thing the way they choose? Why do we have to be the same? Aren’t we mature enough to stand for the higher things or are we so enticed by what “all the other kids are doing?” Do we need a good spanking?

  17. @Lloyd I. Cadle #11
    Re: church growth movement. I would even go so far as saying that those in the church who are truly growing are the ones who are adhering and loving the liturgy which supports their growth. Too much fluff is like too much fat. It shows you have been eating and getting biger but it doesn’t mean that it has been beneficial for you.

  18. @Andrew Strickland #19

    Brother Strickland,

    I have seen a LOT of CoWo attempted by Lutherans over the years – a LOT! I have yet to witness the CoWo done by Lutherans that did not “steal” from others. Point me to the current Lutheran CoWo being done somewhere that one of my parishioners would recognize as unmistakably Lutheran and devoid of any influence by “others.”

    Further, the whole reason Lutherans got into the whole CoWo business was precisely to mimic “others.” Having been a leader in a congregation that was on the “cutting edge” of the CoWo movement among Lutherans over 20 years ago, I can assure you that the whole point of forsaking the historic liturgy and adopting the “worship form/style” of Americanized Evangelicals was precisely to mimic them in the hope of having the “success” they were supposedly having. As I’ve shared here and elsewhere in the past, the pastors back then were at least honest about what they were doing. They knew they were abandoning the theology of worship believed, taught, confessed, and practiced by Lutherans. They readily admitted as much, even often with much pride. Lutheranism had to CHANGE, in their estimation. So, they went about making the changes to Lutheranism they thought necessary. But, they admitted that they were actually CHANGING Lutheranism, and that this CHANGING most definitely involved adopting the form, style, methods, etc. of “others.”

    The problem with today’s Lutheran CoWo promoters is that they choose to believe the lie that the changing done by their predecessors didn’t really happen. This is probably due to the fact that they have witnessed this “changed Lutheranism” for a few decades now and make the mistake of believing that it is actually authentic Lutheranism, as if the theology of worship practiced by the Americanized Evangelicals and adopted by their predecessors is a Lutheran theology of worship. In many cases, the result, then, is probably not dishonesty, but rather naivete. I know a few such pastors who really, honestly, thoroughly believe that their “get down with Jesus worship experiences” are Lutheran through and through, even though you would not be able to tell the difference between their “worship experiences” and the televised “worship experiences” of “others.” They have been taught to believe that what they’re doing is Lutheran and I doubt that a resurrected Luther himself could convince them otherwise.

    So then, seems to me, that the obvious question is: Who taught these fellas that what they’re doing is Lutheran? From where did they learn to “get down with Jesus” as they do? The answer to these questions is, I believe, everything. At the end of the day, the CoWo practicing Lutherans of today will have to admit what their predecessors were all too willing to admit, namely that they got this stuff not from Scripture or our Confessions, but from the very “others” our very own Confessions condemn. Or not. I suppose they could just continue to refuse to answer that question and live under the delusion that what they’re doing is Lutheran. Seems to work for a great many I know . . .

  19. Dear Brother Rippy, thank you for an excellent essay, and for being clear that ow contemporary worship introduces error. I especially appreciate point 3 in your summary. One need only look to the Prussian Union to see that you cannot create a hybrid of Reformed and Lutheran Theology, one or the other will dominate, or you will end up with nothing.

    I’m grateful that I had hammered into me way back in my pre-sem college days that the liturgy, lection, church year and propers all protect the congregation from the pastor’s folly, (and sometimes his hubris).

    I’ve attended many a contemporary worship service and as you mention it seems certain songs must be sung as if we are shouting at the heavens like the prophets of Baal until God does something; yet the invocation is disgarded because it is allegedly an off-putting relic of a bygone era. At one particular church I visited with some friends the pastor had had a habit of begining each service by saying ‘what we’re gonna do now is…,’ which made me cringe and ask myself ‘okay now, which god are we worshipping here?” It wasn’t until later realized that this poor fellow was unknowingly reciting his congregation’s creed.

  20. @Our God Reigns #17
    When I was a Baptist, I knew nothing of Lutheran liturgy. When I became a Lutheran I did not want to worship as a Baptist because it became empty to me.

    I have heard this before, (40 years ago already).
    I find it interesting that the most adamant defenders of traditional historic liturgical Lutheran worship are those who have been through something else and found it lacking.
    Sad that so many of those who were born into clover insist on looking over the fence and longing for straw! Worse when they bring it home and foist it on their congregations!

    @Father Robert #22
    Great quote. But why would you note Cwirla? I thought you knew Grabau.

    Perhaps because some people might read to the end of a sentence headed by “Cwirla” but recoil at Grabau taken straight?

  21. @Rev. Thomas C. Messer #20

    Pr. Messer, as usual your comments are “money.” Well… my teenage son tells me that “money” means “spot on” or as I would say it “on the mark.” 🙂

    I am reading through parts of “The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology” by Charles P. Krauth and what you write reminds me of something that Lawerence Rast, Jr. observes in his introduction to Krauth’s work.

    “[Benjamin] Kurtz was convinced that the greatest threat to the Lutheran Church in America was “Old Lutheranism,” which he firmly believed, was deficient in character. “Old Lutheranism,” chiefly associated with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (founded in 1847), subscribed unconditionally to the entire Book of Concord quia (“because”) it was the faithful exposition of Scripture. As such Old Lutherans looked back to the confessional documents of the sixteenth century to address contemporary issues. Because the Lutheran Symbols confessed biblical truth, they we as applicable to the Church of the nineteenth century as to that of the sixteenth. “American Lutheranism” viewed itself as the natural development and maturation of the revolutionary principles initiated by Luther. Kurtz believed that the two kinds of Lutheranism could not be more dissimilar and, further, could not be reconciled. A different spirit animated them.” (ibid. pp. ix, x)

    Rast goes on to quote Benjamin Kurtz from the Lutheran Observer (November 18, 1859). Notice that the context of these statements is nineteenth century America. We are still fighting this battle today! The following is Kurtz:

    “If we are permitted to judge from what appears in the Alt-Lutheraner and the Lehre und Wehre, we would be constrained to believe that they can find or see Christ nowhere but in the sacraments. They presumptuously denounce all others who do not hold to their views, and would exclude from the Lord’s table any Lutheran who may be connected with the General Synod. There is scarcely a week that they do not anathematize the General Synod and the Observer, because it is planted upon the basis of this body. To hope for union or fraternization with such selfish, such exclusive views, would be worse than folly. They are a class of spiritual Ishmaelites; their appropriate place is in the Church of Rome, where men believe what they are told the church believes, and not what the Bible and the Holy Ghost teach them. An inanimate congregation of wax or clay might be formed by passing them through the same iron mould, but a community of immortal minds, whose divinely delegated prerogative it is “to search the Scriptures,” “to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good,” never, no, never! Revolutions do not go backwards, the Reformation of the 16th century was emphatically a revolution in the sentiments and dogmas of Christendom, and you will never turn the church back into that night of barbarism and spiritual bondage out of which she emerged at the Reformation, while the Holy Spirit makes men free with the liberty of Christ” (ibid. p. x).

    Rast then goes on to write that Kurtz wanted to offer a “progressive, up-to-date form of Lutheranism” that accommodated the practices and theology of the American Revivalistic Evangelism of the day. According to Kurtz, Old Lutheranism’s theology and practice were outmoded and could not “be meaningful to the advanced mind of the nineteenth-century United States. Lutheranism must change or die” (ibid. p. xi).

    The battle of using “contemporary worship” forms in the LCMS is the legacy of men like Kurtz who desired to strip Lutheranism not only of its heritage, but of its orthodoxy. Of course, they thought they were doing “God’s work” in the process; after all, the “old Lutherans” (aka “Confessional Lutherans”) were mere children when compared with their keen and evolved intellects and wisdom. Of course they knew better than the Lutheran Fathers as to what was needed in the church. And it was through such sinful pride and idolatry that they fought to stomp out “old Lutheranism.” Here we are today repeating history.

  22. @Jim Pierce #26

    I only wish the CW proponents in Lutheranism would speak so openly today. I suppose they do in the ELCA. It’s easier for a confessional Lutheran synod to identify error when confessional doctrine is openly rejected as “outmoded.”

    But in the more confessional synods, I don’t hear so much about how Old Lutheranism is bad while the New is good. Instead, there is an appeal to “Old Lutheranism” as that which permits and even promotes changes in worship in order to adapt to the culture, as if those who insist on retaining the liturgy in the 21st century are the ones who have truly fallen away from orthodoxy.

  23. @Jim Pierce #26

    Thanks for the kind words, Jim. Krauth is fabulous. I got a heavy dose of him from Dr. Rast in class and, like you, have been making my way through “The Conservative Reformation . . .” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve paused to reflect on the fact that Krauth’s words are every bit as applicable to our situation today as they were to his back then. Yep, history repeating itself, for sure. But, then, we should expect nothing less – nothing new under the sun, after all.

  24. Thank you for posting the article.

    I think what I have mostly learned is that it’s very hard to have a discussion on this topic because as soon as you say Contemporary Worship, we don’t have a single, common understanding and definition of what it is. I can think of some that I’ve seen on video that I wouldn’t want tobe anywhere near. I can think of others that I’ve seen where I thought: what’s contemporary about this? And then there are some very traditional Lutheran services I’ve attended where they sing songs praising God at such a dirge-ish tempo that it felt more like we were embarrassed than we were joyful.

    My summary would be that there’s sincere objection to CW because of questionable content.
    Is there also objection to CW because of style? I feel, from reading some of these comments and those from another thread, that lots of you would say "yes." But how is that measured? I can see where Pastors and theologians could agree and say "this is doctrinally weak or misleading," but are you going to try to set guidelines for what amount of emotion is permissible?

    I apologize if that’s not your intent, but that’s how it sounds to me, critically. Suddenly, I remember when an arsonist tried to burn down our church a long time ago. We still had service on Sunday, and the opening hymn was Built on a Rock. Would you object that this was too intense, too emotional, and too self-serving? How about the last verse of A Mighty Fortress which, to me, is extremely powerful and emotional (or is that just because I like the 1978 translation and the older translations seem, to me, to be more matter-of-fact)? To me, some of the comments suggest that, at that point, I’m out-of-bounds in a Lutheran Worship because I’m feeling too emotional and I’m no longer reverent and Christ-centered enough.

    BTW, you can tell me I’m wrong and I’ve mis-interpreted your posts and that what I’ve heard isn’t what you intended, but please don’t tell me that that’s not how I feel when I read through these comments. Or, you can tell me that I’ve heard you right and that I best be moving on.

    Something else I just thought of. Do we even agree on the role of music in a service? Yes, the past few paragraphs were trouble-making, but this one’s a call for serious examination: why do you want music in a service?

    It’s an opportunity for a mini-sermon that is easier to remember when set to music?
    It’s to praise God?
    It’s to involve the Congregation, give them a way to participate?
    It’s to keep the Congregation awake?
    It’s because it’s mentioned by the Bible as an acceptable part of a Worship service?
    It’s because I grew up with hymns in the service so I can’t imagine a service without them?

    And it’s important to use hymns everyone has always sung so they’re familiar and people will sing them?
    And it’s important to use easier-to-sing hymns instead of the older hymns no one knows anymore and mumbles through?
    And it’s important to teach the Congregation new hymns so they don’t just sing with same old things without concentrating on what they’re saying?

    It’s so the Congregation will continue to hum/sing the hymns as they leave church, go home, and through the week, keeping God in their mind?
    It’s to motivate the Congregation to be more excited about worship and Christianity?

    How can we resolve the type of music that’s acceptable if we don’t agree on its role?
    And just so you know, I think I’d put my check next to 2, 3, 5, 6.1, 6.2, and 7. (We’ll see, but from the sense I get from these comments, I have a feeling #7 isn’t going to get a lot of votes.) Also, I get the feeling that the assumption is that the music is the flash point for contemporary worship. Does the music define whether a service is contemporary, or is the music a byproduct? The impression I get here is that the music defines the service; you can’t take that style of music and place it into a Lutheran service.
    I hope you don’t think I’m just trying to stir up trouble here. I haven’t given this topic lots of thought before. Until recently, I’d never heard any argument on the topic beyond “I don’t like anything new,” so I’m trying hard to listen and develop my thoughts on the topic.

  25. Thank you for this. It is good to have theologically sound reasons for doing what we do. I enjoy both traditional and non-traditional styles of worship and I continue to strive to have our church’s contemporary worship services follow similar guidelines to what is suggested in this article. The structure of our services follow historically traditional forms. Our songs, while sung with “stringed instruments” and “loud cymbals” are carefully screened for doctrine and their theological balance and liturgical contribution to the overall worship service.

    I would prefer to use this article as a way to guide Lutherans who would like to do contemporary worship with excellence rather than to condemn CW all together. Also, the second half of this article seems to be addressing issues that were more prevalent years ago as the author cites a book and several unLutheran songs from several decades ago. A great deal of changes have been made in contemporary Lutheran worship services as more and more contemporary song writers and Lutheran worship leaders learn from past mistakes and are striving to be more theologically responsible.

    Also, there are a great number of Lutheran song writers that are creating some great doctrinally sound contemporary songs. Thrivent (albeit pan-Lutheran) has a website for free Lutheran songs (mostly LCMS, but also some ELCA, etc). “Broken and Poured Out” on “Playlist 1,” for example, is one that can be used for communion using very scriptural words.

    Thrivent also sponsored a gathering of LCMS song writers and after hearing from various profession musicians and seminary professors, had the participants write sacramental songs that could be used in worship that will be made available to LCMS churches.

    Thanks again for the insightful food for thought.

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