(by Rev. Tim Rossow) Authentic Lutheran worship is not the same as repristinating Lutheran worship. Lutheran hymnody can be presented and led in a variety of ways and still be authentically Lutheran.
The attached video of “Prepare the Royal Highway” is from one of Bethany Lutheran’s (Naperville, Illinois) mid-week Advent services. Some might call it non-Lutheran. It is certainly a lively leading of the hymn but the emphasis is still on leading the congregation. Notice how well the congregation is singing. Cantor Magness (at the piano), is an expert in training the congregation to sing. Even though this may sound like a “pop” presentation of the hymn it really is not. Most “pop” Christian songs are not good for congregational singing and are geared for concerts. The back beat of pop and rock music (the drum set is the usual culprit) also does not lend itself to congregational singing. Instead, this is a setting of the hymn that uses the harmonic vocabulary of our culture and the tonal capabilities of the piano to support the melody.
This presentation is not for every parish. Bethany Lutheran enjoys a wide variety of instrumentation and embraces the catholicity of the Lord’s song and so the congregation readily embraced this presentation of the hymn. Others might not. What this sample of authentic Lutheran worship should do for all pastors and congregations is demonstrate that there is more than one acceptable way to play hymns and doing so can enrich the liturgy and bring an end to the argument that Confessional Lutherans are stuck in sixteenth century mud.