Pastoral Meanderings on Music in the Church

Thanks to BJS reader Lumpenkönig for posting about this article from Pastor Peters on his blog Pastoral Meanderings:


Rome, not always the high water mark in church music, has become aware of this problem of music that conflicts with the faith and with the nature of what happens in the Mass and has begun to do something about the sad state of music in worship in the average Roman parish.

From Mons. Valentín Miserachs Grau, the President of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music:  [T]he Church has always requested as essential connotations of liturgical Sacred Music: holiness, excellence of the forms (true art) and universality, in the sense that liturgical music could be acceptable to everybody, without shutting itself in abstruse or elitist forms and, least of all, turning down to trivial consumer products…  This one is a sore point: the rampant wave of false and truly dreadful liturgical music in our churches… how is it possible that the musical praxis in our churches distances itself in so evident a way from the same doctrine?

[On the issue of experimentation:] One cannot transform the “oratory” into “laboratory”…. The second aspect of the problem derives from a false interpretation of the conciliar doctrine on Sacred Music. As a matter of fact, the post-conciliar liturgical “renewal”, including the almost total lack of mandatory rules at a high level, has allowed a progressive decay of liturgical music, at the point of becoming, in the most cases, “consumer music” according to the parameters of the most slipshod easy-listening music.

While Rome’s concerns and its methods of dealing with the problem are not exactly the same as Lutherans, it is a good thing that Rome is awaking to the growing distance of the music of worship — both in content and style  — from the faith the Church believes, confesses, and teaches.  It will certainly take some time for this top down approach to change the Haugen-Haas pop hymn culture of the local parish, but at least they are doing something.

The best that we can hope for among Lutherans is a good conversation and some leading by example.  We lack the jurisdictional authority to tell a local congregation what they can or cannot sing.  Whether good or bad, that is the way we operate.  Nevertheless, we have abused our liturgical freedom both to the detriment of the unity of the Church and the catechetical well-being of the folks in the pew.  This is one area in which we all share the need for some repentance and change.  We have borrowed from those who have a completely different understanding of worship and a different theology and the price we have paid is that our people do not see the difference between the pop gospel songs they hear on Christian radio and the hymns of the faith (both new and old).

For us it is not about changing the rules or enforcing the ones on the books — it is about convincing Pastors and those who plan and lead worship to be more faithful in their calling.  It is about believing that what can be done is not the same as what should be done.  It is about putting the effort in to choose music for the liturgy that reflects the lectionary and not personal taste.  It is about getting serious with respect to what we confess to our people and to the world when we use music that conflicts with the faith or is trite, trivial, and banal in content and style.  It is about paying our parish musicians a decent wage so that they can be serious about their craft and about recruiting others for this noble calling.  It is NOT about style vs substance, NOT about culture warfare between high brow and low brow music, NOT about whatever works, NOT about what people (or Pastors) want, and NOT about musical instruments (though I would argue that the guitar is not a melodic instrument and therefore cannot on its own support congregational song).

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.


Pastoral Meanderings on Music in the Church — 2 Comments

  1. First, its about doctrine. If it teaches false doctrine, or doesn’t teach anything, it should be banned as an impure. Second, its about unity and love. If we have no uniformity in our songs, we suffer as a church and increase the likelihood of offense and misunderstanding. Third, its about charity and freedom. We shouldn’t go out of our way to take offense at how other Christians use their Christian freedom. There are praise songs that do teach Christ and the gospel.

    Part of the drive for contemporary worship is that a lot more kids are proficient in rock instruments and styles than classical styles. Is like to see more of these bands play hymns, which can be done well. There’s a wels band called koine that does it, for example. Hearing old lyrics in new styles and melodies helps remind that the lyrics are most important, and can breathe new life into old abandoned hymns.

  2. Dear Pastor Rossow,

    Thanks for sharing with us this thoughtful, balanced, and useful post from Pastor Larry Peters!

    The point about finding musicians who are able and willing to lead worship services is a serious concern. I know a number of congregations that can’t find an organist, competent pianist, or music director in their community. In big cities, or places with universities, this is not as big a concern; but the majority of our parishes are located in places where competent musicians are few and far between.

    Some suggestions:

    1) Competent pianists can play the organ without the pedals, though it does take some adjustment in finger-and-phrasing technique. Check your local high school or college music departments for suggestions on pianists; or post a “Help Wanted” sign on their departmental bulletin board. They don’t have to be Lutheran; and often find that the Lutheran church is tuned to their sensibilities.

    2) Guitarists now have a great resource available from CPH, the guitar edition of LSB: My judgment is that a “guitarist” who can’t play the hymns in these two books are not guitarists or musicians–they’re just faking it.

    3) Organist workshops are available several times a year at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. Organists should be able to play both clefs, but don’t have to play pedals. Check out the information here:

    4) Choir and choir director workshops are occasionally found at our seminaries and colleges. The next one is February 4, 2012 at Saint Louis seminary, check it here:

    Finally, the importance of all this is found in Luther’s Large Catechism, where he writes: “You will never offer up any incense or savor more potent against the devil than to occupy yourself with God commandments and words and to speak, SING, and meditate on them. This, indeed, is the true holy water, the sign which routs the devil and puts him to flight.” (LC, 1530 Preface, 10; Tappert, 360). Singing God’s words is, indeed, powerful stuff for the soul; so why would we want to dilute them–or expunge them–with man’s words in banal pop lyrics?

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

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