Some Thoughts on Worship in Chapel: A Response to Rev. Robert Weinkauf’s Post

LSBThis blog (at least the few posts I’ve actually made) has focused on my expertise in church history.  I have desired to avoid commenting on any current issues within the Synod on this site because many others already do that here.  By the way, I will finally be completing the third part on the controversy on the Lord’s Supper between Luther and Zwingli and their colleagues during the Reformation in the near future.  It may relate to the subject of this current blog post.

As a history professor at Concordia University, Nebraska I have a different perspective than Rev. Robert Weinkauf.  However, I don’t discount his view nor feel insulted by what he wrote. (That might be easy for me to write since he didn’t criticize my history lectures.)  He wrote about his experience from his own perspective.  Our administration, chaplain, faculty, and students need to hear his perspective and shouldn’t overreact to criticism.  First, I know Pastor Ryan Matthias and believe he understands Lutheran theology and does an admirable job as a servant of the Word for our students, staff, and faculty.  I don’t think one can evaluate a man’s ministry based on one 10 minute message.  Additionally, I’d like to point out that during chapel on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at Concordia University, Nebraska, we use the Lutheran Service Book.  Every Wednesday we celebrate the Lord’s Supper with one of the services from the LSB.  Additionally, a group of students choose to conduct Evening Prayer from the LSB on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Despite having written these things, I do agree with Rev. Weinkauf’s sentiment regarding the use pop/rock music in chapel or during the Divine Service.  I do not believe that rock music and multi-colored stage lighting (that looks exactly like a pop/rock concert) is proper for chapel or Christian worship.  Many of us, who became Lutheran because we were fleeing the charismatic-style worship and faulty theology of American Evangelicalism, simply can’t understand why Lutherans would want to squander their rich liturgical heritage for the ever-changing style of post-modern pop/rock music.  When we hear pop/rock music in worship, we can only imagine the unbiblical theological traditions that deny baptismal regeneration, the presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper, the power of Holy Absolution, and the unmerited gift of faith in Christ.  That’s certainly my experience and it’s why I don’t often attend chapel on Thursday or Friday.  Perhaps, that means we are the weaker brothers and sisters in this situation.  If that’s the case, then our brothers and sisters, who may be stronger in faith, should be patient with us and seriously consider the offense to our consciences in this matter.

Unfortunately, our Synod’s congregations, pastors, and commissioned ministers are simply not in agreement on this issue.  Can we have American Evangelical style with biblical, Lutheran substance?  I believe the answer is no. Others disagree with me.  The worship at Concordia’s chapel reflects this reality.  Perhaps, our Synod’s Koinonia Project can lead to greater reflection on this matter and closer agreement.  Meanwhile, let’s remember that true Christian charity should prevail among us.  That divine love may compel us to bear with our fellow Christians’ faults or reconsider how our actions might offend the consciences of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In the spirit of peace I would like to propose a compromise regarding worship at Concordia University, Nebraska.  I propose that worship in chapel on weekday mornings should be conducted with the services located in our Lutheran Service Book.  There are many choices there.  Then, the various student bands could conduct concerts in Weller Hall, the Cattle Room, or outside (weather permitting) with different styles of music (jazz, rock, pop, classical, etc.) on different evenings throughout the year. In fact, we already have Praise on Wednesday evenings.  Why could we not have full concerts?  How cool would it be to have a battle of the Concordia Christian rock bands on the football field?  I might even volunteer to sing some good tunes from the 1980s, but I don’t think I can hit the high notes from Stryper’s “To Hell with the Devil” anymore.


About Dr. Matthew Phillips

My name is C. Matthew Phillips and I am Professor of History at Concordia University, Nebraska. I completed my Ph.D. in medieval European history at Saint Louis University in 2006. My research has focused on medieval monasticism, preaching, devotion to the True Cross, and the Crusades. Additionally, I have interests in medieval and early modern European education and the writings and life of Martin Luther.

At Concordia I teach World Civilization I, World Civilization II, Europe Since 1914, Early and Medieval Christianity, Renaissance and Reformation, The Medieval Crusades, The History of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, and The Modern Middle East.


Some Thoughts on Worship in Chapel: A Response to Rev. Robert Weinkauf’s Post — 72 Comments

  1. @Matt Mills #44

    While he wasn’t MY campus pastor, I got to work with, know and learn from in back in my LSF days. (NDSU grad) No I never left ULC humming, but one of the things I still remember (about 20 years later) was a line in a sermon: “The Word says what It does, and does what It says.) Think on that for a moment…. kinda in line with Lex orendi… Back when m yone pasotr suggested seminary, Pr. Pless was one of the first people I talked to about it. Sad I haven’t been able to enroll. Got to catch up with him at Convention last year. He was still encouraging, and I think he was a help for me landing on a task force. I wished I could have learned more from him.

  2. Rev. Rossow,
    How many contemporary worship services have you been to? More or less than 100?
    You also mentioned that the church “should worship as it has for the last 2,000 years” can elaborate on that and illustrate what that looks like. I don’t think you’re supposing that we should time-warp and lose the organ or English language but I’m not sure that I understand.

    I’m a CUNE grad (2008-2012) and very much appreciated my time there. I probably attended 75% of worship services including all types that there were. I prefer traditional worship but I also found CoWo to help me reexamine Scriptures. Since graduating I have been unable to attend a Lutheran church or any with traditional worship in English (there aren’t any where I live) and so I’ve attended a non-denom church that uses fairly conservative CoWo. I like to think this have given me a little more perspective and there’s a few things I have recognized:

    -Lutherans are great at Law & Gospel. In worship services this is manifested in confession and absolution as well as sermons that convict me of my sin and promise me my savior. This should never be compromised in Lutheran churches.

    -Lutherans are terrible at welcoming people. If I had not grown up understanding the mechanics then I would be incredibly confused but also very off put by how mechanically things are done. This doesn’t mean that there is no vibrancy but rather that I have observed and experienced that things can appear more complex than they might be. The Tues, Thurs student-led evening prayer services at CUNE followed a format but nobody ever said anything that wasn’t written down (which may also be a strength)

    -The LSB is a great thing. It’s full of God’s word because it draws from Scriptures. BUT it’s not the Scriptures (except where it is) and it can be treated like anything from it is automatically best practice. By this I mean that audience considerations must be made and CUNE has recognized that Lutherans are now a minority but that adhering to that minority’s understanding of worship is foundational to what happens.

    -What many people today are looking for today is the sense that they are being authentically listened to. You’re likely reading this post and interpreting it to say what you want it to say instead of what it is meant to say (this happens on BJS all the time). God’s promises are not delivered more if I am at an emotional high when they are proclaimed. God’s promises are not delivered any less if I am emotionally absent when they are proclaimed. BUT isn’t it nice to feel involved? If you’re exchanging vows with your husband or wife, how would you feel if they weren’t looking at you? CoWo has a strength in that it often feels very casual and natural compared to the mechanical nature of traditional worship. Traditional worships predictability can also be a strength. Two years ago at a Lutheran service in Haiti, I was always able to tell what was happening because it was just the same as in LCMS churches. Two weeks ago in Australia I was at a Lutheran church and they followed the same pattern and there was some comfort in it. Lutheran churches shouldn’t change from/to traditional/contemporary to get numbers but there should be some reexamination of what is practiced and felt in worship.

  3. Matt,

    You raise a good question. I have probably been to about 25 COWO concerts, listened to COWO top 40 music as my number one button on the radio for about five years, my first three albums were COWO (those are those round black things with little grooves in them that go round and round), and have been to about 150 COWO services.

    The most important statistic is that I served as preacher, liturgist and creator of about 125 of those COWO services. I come at this topic with a lot of experience.

    I could write a book about it. To keep it short here let me share one story. I worked with some musicians that I had known as faithful church members for nearly seven years. One of the things that opened my eyes to the harmful revivalistic and enthusiastic (used in the theological sense) nature of COWO is that people idolize their commitment to the need for an emotional high more than to Scripture, God and even the pastor they trust and who trusts them. When I discovered this it scared the be-Jesus out of me and opened my eyes and they have never been shut since.

    As to what I guess is your point (although it was hard to figure out what your point really was. I think you were saying that we need to be more welcoming in the Divine Service and that happens through being more layed back) you need to realize that the Divine Service is not built for evangelism as we define it today. Evangelism as we define it today happens one on one. The Divine Service is the place where we meet the Almighty, Eternal God who is angry at us for our sin, demands repentance, and then brings us the sweet joy of his forgiveness to which we respond in Him with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Early in my recovery from CoWo (I played sax in the praise band), I noticed how the enthusiasts would mislabel the Divine Service as “traditional worship”, as is done in Matt B’s post. What is really telling is that the DS uses capital letters (God coming to man) whilst the other is lower case (man coming to God). Further, one is a “Service” from God, Who is doing all the heavy lifting, and not lower case “man”. We’re not talking about two variations on the same theme or event, fellas.

    And don’t even get me started on “blended worship”. (Again, no capital letters in that term either.)

  5. @Marc from Cincy #4


    So true. I too came out of the CoWo mess. The following has been said many times before, but here it is again – I’ve often thought “Praise Bands” should consider the following as a test: Would “Praise Band – X” be comfortable being put in the back of the church instead of at the front? Of course not. That arrangement would take away from their “Performance.” And that’s a key concept that they often refuse to address or face. Of course, there are so many more issues too……

    My point is just a variation of what has been said hundreds of times before. When I go to a concert I enjoy watching the performance. That’s why I pay for the ticket. I want to be entertained and I demand my money’s worth. I would like to see proponents of CoWo stop and take a serious look at what they are doing. It’s possible! Look how many of us came out of those environments!

  6. Matt B. :
    If I had not grown up understanding the mechanics then I would be incredibly confused but also very off put by how mechanically thoings are done.

    Why is it that people who were raised in our churches so often not only are so convinced that there is greener grass on the other side of the fence, but also know with such definite certainty how we, who were not, would experience and react to authentic Lutheran worship – even though the way they claim we have to have experienced and ;reacted to it is not at all how we actually experienced and reacted to it?

    O, and I do not know it to be true that “mechanically” is an appropriate term for describing the manner in which Lutheran worship is generally being conducted – although I realise that the term may actually adequately describe the way liturgical worship will be conducted by some of those who are without genuine comprehension of, or appreciation for, what it is ….

  7. I, for one, think this is an incredibly valuable discussion for the church to be having. The majority of the posts on both sides have been sincere and charitable, Dr. Phillips sets a great example of that here. I’m glad that several CU students that support contemporary chapel have had the opportunity to respond, and I hope they come to understand the serious arguments against their practice put forth by Dr. Phillips and others.

  8. I have come up with a simple test for CoWo praise songs which I call the South Park test after an episode they did on “praise bands”…

    If you can substitute the word “baby” for the name of Jesus and it fits contextually, then it is probably inappropriate for use in worship!

  9. @Randy #10
    Funny you should say that…a few years ago a pastor and I started writing a CoWo worship service, because it was funny. We stopped for fear that, if it got out, people might actually use it!

  10. Since you are trying to remove enthusiasm and flashy musicianship from services, wouldn’t it be best to remove the organ as well? As Karl pointed out in #37, organs can be used in an incorrect manner to distract from the service; so wouldn’t it be best to throw out the organ as well? It’s been tainting the church with it’s presence since the 800’s.

    Bonhoeffer argued in Life Together that all church music should be acapella unison singing. Harmonies are flashy, self-centered, and divisive. Isn’t that the next step? By the way: I went to a Gaelic service in Scotland in which all the music was acapella. Really beautiful music, except the only thing they sang was the Psalms.

    After that we need to remove the hymns with loud high notes and fast moving lyrics. These are too enthusiastic as well. From now on, all hymns should be sung in a monotone chant.

    I’m completely joking, of course. Hopefully I’ve pointed out the hypocrisy of completely opposing any sort of contemporary worship music in the service. Some of you act as if the very presence of a guitar inside the chapel would bring to mind images of sinful rock concerts. Violins were once outlawed in Scandinavian churches because they were associated with passionate dance music. Clearly the issue is not the instrument itself; it’s how it’s played. Removing the instruments is only treating the symptoms and not the root cause. For all on here who are harping on CoWo, would a classical guitar arrangement of a hymn played from the back be theologically acceptable?

    Some of you refuse to consider that any contemporary songs could be acceptable for worship. To completely outlaw CoWo is overly divisive and unnecessary. I agree that there needs to be consistency in this matter, so why not create a committee to find what is worth salvaging from the genre and publishing a songbook? Of course, there are always new CoWo songs being written, and thus the work of fighting false doctrine is ongoing. Every hymn was new at one time.

    “I will sing a new song to you, O God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you” -Psalm 144:9

  11. @David H. #15 It seems to me a new songbook was published just a while ago. It is called Lutheran Worship and it has wonderful songs! In fact, a great committee of theologians and musicians worked hard to bring it to the people. Like rewriting the liturgy, many within COWO want to write their ideas into the worship service. This is selfish, frankly. One person, rewriting a liturgy, has no accountability. Use what’s out there. That’s really what being a member of a synod is all about.

  12. @David H. #15
    For all on here who are harping on CoWo, would a classical guitar arrangement of a hymn played from the back be theologically acceptable?

    Why not? Silent Night was introduced on guitar because the organ was out, I’ve read.

  13. Correction: it is called Lutheran Service Book. My bad! 🙂 And one more little comment to David H. – You hit the nail on the head whenever you said, ” Of course, there are always new CoWo songs being written.” Klemet Preus says it much better than I regarding that very thing in “The Fire and The Staff.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. @LadyM #16

  14. @David H. #15
    Wow, it looks as though I can just recycle this comment endlessly. How convenient. I’ve lived long-term in 9 states, and four foreign countries and visited and worshiped in many others and I have never seen a contemporary service in an LC-MS church that didn’t mess w/ the ordinaries and propers of the historical liturgy. I’ve seen the Roman Catholics pull it off, so I guess it’s theoretically possible, but I’ve never seen it done in one of our churches. From a practical standpoint this fight over worship has nothing to do with music or instruments.

    It’s the theology of CoWo that constitutes the deadly virus; the music is just the unsightly blemishes all over the poor Bride of Christ’s face. For all its ugliness, it’s a symptom, not the disease.

    What’s “divisive” is breaking unity of practice with the Church throughout the world, and throughout the centuries, and our confessions also call that unloving.

    Next red herring please, I’m still hungry.

  15. @helen #17

    “Why not? Silent Night was introduced on guitar because the organ was out, I’ve read.”

    Finally! Somebody is admitting that guitars MAY be acceptable for worship! Although it does make me wonder if any staunch traditionalists would cringe if it was played again in this matter during the Divine Service.

  16. @R.D. #21
    It’s not about the music or the instruments, it’s about the theology.
    It’s like David H. is jumping up and down screaming at the doctors “these spots are harmless, spots never hurt anyone” whilst ignoring the doctors patiently explaining that even if the spots themselves were benign, the disease that caused them is going to kill him if he doesn’t come in for treatment.
    Take the focus off the theology, and this is where you end up. Might be a Tit 3:10 moment for poor David H though, I’m not sure he can listen anymore.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

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