Profound and Merciful Exchange on BJS – “Lutheran” Contemporary Worship as a Gateway Drug, by Pr. Rossow

Sorry for the long and awkward headline. The only journalism class I had was in eighth grade. I wrote the headline that way to attract as many of you as possible into this post because it is important for people to hear this helpful critique of contemporary worship.

Over on the Obare post a fellow by the name of John posted the following comment (see comment #208). This is the “profound” part from my headline:

I haven’t read ail (sic) the posts here and I’ll probably repeat some concerns. When my children were young we attended the Lutheran church that had a loose liturgy with CW and culturally correct praise bands . They are all approaching or over 40 yrs old now and none of them are in the Lutheran Church. I heard comments from them when we were doing Bill and Gloria Gaither cantatas and many of the contemporary children’s plays that “we were a lot like the Charismatic church their friends went to”. They figured that since their friends church was like ours that their theology was “all right” to. Their friends churches had better praise bands and better “entertainment” and over the years my kids drifted away form the Lutheran church. One of my kids still takes his daughters to an AoG church, occasionally, when the grandkids ask to go to church. The other two kids don’t go at all and don’t want to. I live too far away to affect any change in my kids………………and I grieve for my grandkids (5 in all).

There is a lot of extenuating circumstance to any choice but I feel I made the wrong one and I am, and my kids and grandkids, are paying for it now.

Before I offer my commentary on “Lutheran” contemporary worship as a gateway drug, take a moment and read the next comment. This is the “merciful” part of my headline. It is from a reader named “Diane” (see comment #209):

John- We’ve all made choices in our lives that we regret. The “could of, would of and should of” ring in our ears as we get older. May God in His great love for us through His Son, Jesus, have mercy on you and your family.

When I started this organization and this blog two and a half years ago I had no idea that on so many countless days, my day would be made by the readers and commenters. I thank God for all of you, those I agree with and also those with whom I disagree. This exchange is priceless both in the content of John’s comment and in the godly piety of Diane’s response.

And now for my own commentary on this wonderful exchange. This is the “gateway drug” part of my headline.

Not everyone who sits in “Lutheran” contemporary worship services is going to experience it as a gateway drug but for even some to have undergone such a fix as John’s kids and grandkids have, is a shame and it is preventable.

I believe John’s progeny have drawn a legitemate conclusion. They smoked some pot at the local Lutheran church and figured out that the emotional logic of contemporary worship (i.e. it is based on what makes me feel good) points them to a greater high at the cocaine snorting charismatic drug house.

This suggests what I believe to be the strongest argument against experimenting with contemporary worship whether it be at the local LCMS parish, at the synod convention or at the seminary in St. Louis. If you ask anyone why they do contemporary worship it will boil down to “because I like it.” Personally, I don’t “like” traditional liturgical music. I “like” laid-back, post 60’s pop music with a bit of a rock beat. I have had to learn to appreciate traditional liturgical music and I learned to appreciate it because it is not a tingly sort of music like pop music but is for the most part more stoic, tried and true so that it will not overpower or drowned out the Word with emotion. It can be emotional, but that is not its primary trait. It is not written to titillate or to please one’s tastes.

Of course, those who defend contemporary worship will say that the reason is, not because they like it, but because it grows the church and that the unbeliever likes it. I don’t buy that. First, it is not working. The American church has largely gone over to contemporary worship and yet it has shrunk over the last generation. Secondly, I am convinced as I said above that most every fan of contemporary worship is a fan because they like the music. Liking the music is no reason to embrace an approach to worship. If it is a reason, it is very far down the list of priorities, and is certainly not reason enough to change what the church has done for 2,000 years. John is correct in his comment – if liking it is the primary rationale for the change then in it’s essence contemporary music leads people on to the next and greater high.

Many bright people left comments on the Obare string suggesting that the emotions argument against contemporary worship doesn’t cut it. I get their point. But we are not opposed to emotions. They are fine. “A Mighty Fortress” gets me jazzed every time I sing it, whether it be accompanied by my favorite musician, our Cantor Phillip Magness or by the 90 year old organist named Margaret at Peace Lutheran Church – Elk Prairie, Missouri (just outside of Rolla) where I did pulpit supply nearly 30 years ago, who simultaneously pumped and played the old organ.

Emotion is OK. But in a liturgical service the emotion is subject to a set form and is trumped by it. Even in liturgical services the emotion can go beyond its boundaries but for the most part, when people properly understand the role of the historic liturgy, they realize that it is there to make the proclamation of the word the priority. Our response, to cite Dr. Nagel from the introduction to Lutheran Worship, is secondary and is only proper when it is “caught up” by the proclamation of the word. I plead with men and women, pastors and lay leaders all across the synod, to set aside their “likes” and dislikes and to invest in the rationale for traditional, liturgical worship and commit to what the church has done for a couple thousand years.

My day was once again made by BJS readers. Of course, as our associate pastor reminds us all, each day we wake up baptized and so our day is already made whether there is some profound and tintillating comment on a blog or not, but you get my point. Thanks John and Diane for the profundity and the mercy.

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