I was reading in Rev. Eric Andersen’s article‘s comments section when I happened across a very enlightening comment from a BJS reader who said, “I know you will join my prayers that God will continue to work through each of us, no matter what our worship preferences.”
This is a totally unscientific opinion, but I think this reader is onto something. Right at the heart of the matter is the issue of worship style preference.
If this is all just a matter of preference (and not substance–although, it certainly is about substance, too), then the proponents of contemporary worship are right. What makes my desire to chant TLH p. 5/15 or Divine Service III in LSB take preference over your desire to have a freeform liturgy packed full of the best of Hillsong United? Is it because mine is prettier? Is it because yours draws bigger crowds?
I submit that making “worship style” about preference, however, is dangerous, because it makes me the most important thing in the service. If we do Divine Service III every week because I like it, then the Divine Service is about me. If we sing Gerhard and Luther hymns because I like them, the focus of the worship is still me. In the same way, if we sing the aforementioned Hillsong United songs because you like them, then it’s all about what you like, rather than what God is doing.
Dr. Naomichi Masaki of the Fort Wayne seminary asked the question in one of my classes, “Whose liturgy is it?” If it’s about preference, it’s yours and mine to do as we see fit. If it’s the church’s liturgy as it has developed from the time of the Apostles (Acts 2:42)–and even from the time of the Old Testament prophets (Psalmody, anyone?), we really should show greater restraint in changing what is done. After all, don’t we say in the creed, “I believe in one, holy, Christian [catholic] and apostolic church?” The liturgy is the possession of the whole church. Who am I to exercise my preference in the matter? Yes, it has room to shrink, grow, or change, but it shouldn’t be based on preference. I suppose I don’t get much of a voice because I’m white and married to a German (being of Scottish heritage doesn’t gain me any points, does it?), it’s going to sound like I’m advocating an emotionless, Germanic traditionalism. You don’t have to listen to me, but you should listen to Dr. Masaki, who isn’t German, nor is he emotionless.