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.

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.


Profound and Merciful Exchange on BJS – “Lutheran” Contemporary Worship as a Gateway Drug, by Pr. Rossow — 171 Comments

  1. @Janet #135
    One last thing – We all agree that our gracious God gives us everything, right? The talents & abilities to create musical instruments, not just pipe organs, & use them – Contemporary Worship-

    Oops, one more. Why not spend your Reading Group time in study of the Scriptures, or in seeking & ministering to the lost?

    My question about communing anyone who comes to the altar remains unanswered. How do you know that those who commune are LCMS members or do you only commune members of your own congregations?

  2. @burnie hess #145
    …having not read the Book of Concord does not make one not a Lutheran anymore than having never seen Christ make one not a Christian!

    But that’s not what I said, either.
    Every Lutheran who has learned his Small Catechism for confirmation has read a part of the Book of Concord, however.

    I said, “may not be Lutheran” if you blow it off, as Pam did.

    Lutherans might know who they were, instead of running after generic protestant enthusiasms, if they did read the BOC. [It’s one of the goals of this organization, so I don’t have to apologize for saying so.] By studying the BOC, you also study the Scriptures; you can’t help it! They are the foundation of it, referred to on every page. It’s not an either/or.

    Try it! You may find out why all the former baptists/pentacostals/non believers who come here value the Lutheran heritage more than you do, who can claim your grandfather believed and your father worked in the church, so your running after a fad must be acceptable!

    If something’s stung you, it just may be Truth.
    And it may be satan is afraid you will listen to it?

  3. I think Billy Graham said it best in World Aflame- 1965
    “Multitudes of Christians within the church are moving toward the point where they may reject the institution that we call the church. They are beginning to turn to more simplified forms of worship. They are hungry for a personal and vital experience with Jesus Christ. They want a heartwarming personal faith. Unless the church quickly recovers its authoritative Biblical message, we may witness the spectacle of millions of Christians going outside the institutional church to find spiritual food.”
    Look, he predicted Olsteen, Jakes, Warren, the Emergent Movement, the ELCA debacle and so much more.

    The problem is far more than Lutherans forgetting to be Lutherans-which is certainly part of it. The problem is also a societal one.

    As Lutherans we love Ephesians 2:8-9 8″For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.”

    We gloss over verse 10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

    I think it is at verse 10 that we begin to cringe. Despite what is said about CW, the CW Lutherans I know are not attempting to be all things to all people, but are attempting to share the Gospel. Instead of harping on them to get them to repent and change there ways, maybe it should be looked at as a way to help them (CW) to do it Lutheran.

  4. @Burnie Hess #151
    Communing those who come to the altar: it is true Burnie that one can never know the heart of another. Therefore, the church from its beginning practiced close communion. In the first 4 centuries of the church, those who were not able to commune were often asked to simply leave the building until such time as they were ready for communion. The early Lutheran church practiced close [some might say closed] communion. Luther often would tell those with whom it was not in doctrinal agreement that he could not commune with them.

    But the more important point that I would like to make, is to ask Burnie a question. Would it be loving to allow someone to commune when Scripture tells us that those who do not believe would be taking the bread/body and wine/blood to their damnation. Burnie, would you desire that someone be condemned for an improper use at the communion rail or would you let any and all commune??

  5. @Helen #153
    If I read Pam’s post correctly,she never said she didn’t have time to read the BOC.She did not”blow it off,” she merely said the Bible trumps every other book when it comes to defining worship.And not “all the former Baptists/Pentecostals/non-believer’s” who are members of my contemporary Lutheran Church ( and there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them),in fact NONE of them are there because of liturgical Lutheran heritage.They are there because they’ve heard the Gospel ,they found our church,and they love the message of being saved through Grace alone!How can you call membership in the Lutheran church for almost 50 years,with 25 years of them being in CW “running after a fad”? If Pam had to leave this thread because she recognized Satan tempting her to sin in thought or deed, how can you twist it around and insinuate she’s just felt the “sting” of Truth?We should pray for one another and lift one another up as brothers and sisters in Christ and not tear someone down when they’re trying to act responsibly and you know they are not going to post anymore.

  6. @natalie #157

    The same question to you as to Pam–with your CW service has your congregation been getting their services doctrinally approved per the agreement when it became a congregation of the LCMS?? If a congregation does not use doctrinally approved hymnals, agendas, etc, they have broken their promise when they became part of the Synod and are being dishonest with themseves and with the rest of the Synod. Is your congregation the only one doing such–no. Does that make it okay–no. Will you change–no, but then you and you pastor(s) should find a church body that is into the CW material so that your Yes can be Yes and your No can be no. [Matthew 5:37]

  7. Brothers and sisters in Christ:

    Personal attacks never win arguments. They also are not fitting for Christians to do. You may not agree with your brother or sister’s thoughts. But speak the truth in love, that they may come to see where you are coming from. Plus, a good rule of thumb is to treat a lay person gently, since it’s more likely that a lay person has not studied theology in depth like pastors are supposed to.

    Pam, earlier I tried to write a message defending you, and I had a technological error that would not allow me to do it. I appreciate your comments and your desire for a Christ-centered service. I have disagreed with some of the things you wrote, but I also tried to be brotherly and pastoral in how I responded. Please reconsider coming back and posting.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Fullerton, NE

  8. @natalie #157

    You are right in that NONE of them are there because of the liturgical worship. They came because they saw us doing something that was familiar to them. And one of those things familiar was soft-peddling the Gospel. way too much of the CW, social Gospel, fell good… None of that is honest about our sinful human condition. We want to feel like we are okay in what we do, instead of trying to learn, understand and follow the Will of God. They never had to “work” hard for their salvation, so why start now, when they can find a warm and fuzzy (Which in God’s love we should sort of be…) non-challenging service, that has day care provided, offers a service at a convenient time, etc. I know of PLENTY of people in my congregation that still don’t get what it means to be Lutheran (because the leadership doesn’t care to get into the dirty details), and some who have moved away and, shock of shocks, are attending a different denomination, because it was close and convenient. Hardly standing fast in the faith.

  9. @natalie #157


    I am not sure you (or Pam) realize the implications of the statement “the Bible trumps every other book when it comes to defining worship.” Such statements, when directed at the Book of Concord, our Lutheran confession of faith, implies that our confession contains false doctrine. Indeed, the idea you express has been expressed by some evangelicals who dismiss the creeds of Christianity as “man made” and that their interpretation of the Scriptures is much more valuable.

    I have read our Lutheran confessions—in fact, I am slowly studying them in a group setting now and this will be my second time reading through them—and I can unconditionally subscribe to them as being in full agreement with the Scriptures. I invite you, as I did Pam, to read the Book of Concord from cover to cover. I think you will find that our Lutheran confession does teach us something about how to conduct the divine service. If after reading through our Lutheran confessions you still believe that they can somehow be “trumped” by the Scriptures, then I for one would be keenly interested in the article(s) of faith that are in error.

    I can agree that it is possible to be a Christian without reading the Book of Concord, but it is not possible to know our Lutheran confession without reading it. If you want to be identified as a “Lutheran,” then pick up our confession of faith and understand what that means. Perhaps you have already read through the Book of Concord, and in which case I would encourage you to keep studying it as I am doing. If you can find a confessions reading group in your area, that is an excellent way to work through our confession of faith.

  10. @Burnie Hess #132
    Pam, remember according to BJS, if it’s not Divine Service from theLSB, then it must be contemporary.

    Actually, Burnie, if you use the dictionary definition, LSB is the most “contemporary” of the services. 🙂

    CoWo is dated by decades and stuck in time. A “fad” whether four years old or forty in a 2000 year old church. And not a new one, either, Luther was speaking against his day’s version of the same thing.

  11. @Pam #127
    I have not read the Book of Concord. Personally, all I need is the Bible and the Holy Spirit in my heart. … The Bible is the only book I completely trust. –Pam

    @natalie #157
    If I read Pam’s post correctly, she never said she didn’t have time to read the BOC.She did not”blow it off,” … –Natalie

    I call this “blowing off” the BOC as irrelevant (not to mention “untrustworthy” [!?]).
    You may choose another phrase to describe her intent to remain ignorant.

    [2.Slang. To choose not to attend or accompany:
    They wanted us to come along, but we blew them off.

    [2. Disregard, ignore; evade something important. For example, If you blow off your homework, you’re bound to run into trouble on the exam. [Slang; second half of 1900s]]

    [a : to refuse to take notice of, honor, or deal with : ignore ]

  12. @helen #162

    Helen, I believe in any earlier post someone eluded that any deviation from the LSB Divine Service is contemporary. I happen to like the Divine Service, however I also like the service my pastor writes using parts of the Divine Service. We do not have a praise team, only an organ so that all of our hymns, They are from the LSB, are accompanied by the same.

  13. I would like to thank each one of you for allowing me to share my thoughts.It pains me to watch my brothers and sisters in Christ verbally attack the worship of God in any form.I will continue to keep all of us in my prayer’s,and pray that God’s will is done in each of our lives as well as in our Synod.

  14. @Burnie Hess #165

    To more directly answer your question–yes people are questioned unless they have been present before. My elders do a great job and we have had the discussion on more than one occasion about those returning who have joined another denomination. The agree is that we will continue our current practice.

  15. @Pastor Tim Rossow #82

    Just returned from the Apologetic Conference on Music (Positive, Negative and Neutral)at Emmanuel Dearborn. It was as I expected — an education on music, a history of music over time and a defense of appropriate music in the Divine Service.

  16. Our church many year ago changed one service a month to have contemporary music, with
    drums, guitars and other interments. This was done thinking it would keep the high school
    age kids in church. We later added a second Sunday. What we have found that most people
    like or dislike that service. More older people in the church enjoy the services than expected.
    Many older people listen to Family Life Radio and other christian stations and know the songs. All songs are approved by the pastor before playing in church. As someone involved with the praise team, I go to church regardless of the type of service on that Sunday. After all it not really about the music, its about singing Gods praises.

  17. I’m obviously late to this party. I stumbled upon it and found it very interesting. My feelings about CW are that if we understood the historic liturgy (the Divine Service) we wouldn’t be looking for other forms of worship. I’ve been a Lutheran all my life, went to church regularly, went to Bible class, and taught Sunday School, but still didn’t understand many parts of the liturgy. I knew it revovled around Word and Sacrament, but didn’t have a deep understanding. So I set out to learn more about it. I bought a couple of books and read them. Then I started searching the internet to better understand each part of the Divine Service. I decided put together what I learned and create an e-book. To learn more about the Divine Service click here.

    The biggest point that I would like to make is that as you read through the Scriptures God shows you how he deals with sinners. He sets the pattern in the OT (chapter 2) and Jesus, through his ministry, continues that pattern (chapter 3). The church then continued that pattern in the form of the liturgy (chapter 3). The pattern that God always uses is that he comes to sinners in his Word and he comes in his Sacrament. These are the means that he has chosen to give us what we need most-forgiveness, life, and salvation. If he has always worked in this way, how do we think we can improve upon it? I can’t go into all the details of the Divine Service, but suffice it to say that the liturgy is saturated with the Gospel; it centers on Jesus Christ; and it clearly acknowledges the one true God-the Triune God. If people really understood this, they wouldn’t be looking for alternatives. Instead they would tell their friends, “We have a little piece of heaven right here on earth. We get to come into God’s presence every week. We get to hear him speak his Word to us. And we get dine at his table.”

  18. @Jay Adams #170

    Hi, Jay. Read the study. Skimmed is more like it. It’s kinda lengthy. But really good. Lots of research and depth. I think it would qualify for CPH’s entreprenurial publishing section. Saw that once, but can’t remeber details about it. Thank you for sharing. More people should check it out.

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