Grasping at Straws

Found over on GottesdienstOnline:


straw-man3In response to the last post about the use of Entertainment Worship at the chapel of Concordia Seminary St. Louis, there have been some misleading assertions.

I’ve seen some of them.

One of them is a straw man fallacy thatGottesdienst asserts that “Organ good.  Guitar Bad” in corporate worship. 

Of course, the attempt here is to accuse Gottesdienst(or me) of being simple and not understanding nuance.  It should go without saying that there is a world of difference between Jimi Hendrix playing Purple Haze and Andres Segovia playing Bach’s Bourrèe  (both of which most of us at Gottesdienst are old enough to appreciate).  In fact, I personally know a guy who smoked weed with Jimi Hendrix. Top that, you youthful hipsters!

Is it that much of a stretch to suggest that one of these two guitar arrangements might be objectively better than the other for perhaps a prelude for the Divine Service?

Speaking only for myself, I once invited the Rev. Fred Baue to play an accoustic guitar from the choir loft to accompany the congregational singing of the Introit.  It more closely resembled Segovia as opposed to Hendrix (I am supremely confident that Father Frederick could well keep up with Jimi if called upon to do so, though I don’t believe he ever smoked with Jimi…).  We are also blessed to have a violinist from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and a highly skilled brass player in the congregation, and they often accompany the organ during worship services.

There are also some situations in which poverty dictates that a guitar is the only way a congregation can afford musical accompaniment.  This is most certainly true.

But this is a very different thing than the modern suburban American phenomenon of guitar-based “praise bands” and musical settings more like Hendrix than Segovia.  A few years ago, a female “worship pastor” was invited to “lead worship” at a Texas District event.  While I’m sure she is a very devout person and extremely talented as a pop musician, this kind of performance and use of instrumentation tends to detract and distract from the service of Word and Sacrament – which is the focus of Lutheran worship.  As to enjoying the song in the car or at a show, that is an entirely different thing.  But does this belong in a Lutheran service of worship?  Is this compatible with our understanding of the German word from which our journal and blog take their names?

Moreover, there is a good reason the organ is central to our Lutheran tradition: it simulates the human voice.  It provides clear pitches, and encourages congregational participation, even leading in the singing of harmony.  Very few people have the vocal prowess to keep up with our friend the lady “worship pastor” in a congregational setting, and the arrangement is geared toward watching a performance from a stage rather than being led from the loft.

So I think the “Organ good, guitar bad” is kind of hamfisted.

Another critique is a kind of the Tu Quoque Fallacy, arguing that while CSL may be copying Protestant worship forms, CTS “cop[ies] Roman Catholicism in their piety.”

Our Lutheran worship forms are similar to Roman Catholic worship forms not because we are “copying” them, but rather because we have a mutual DNA from the pre-Reformation Church and the ancient Church before the Great Schism.  If two cousins have the same cheekbones and eyes, it is not that they are copying each other, they are genetically related.

We have no common liturgical or historical heritage with the radical reformation, with the charismatic movement, or with the worship practices of the Word of Faith movement.  These forms and theologies are alien to us.

The accusation that confessional Lutherans are “too Catholic” is a canard that C.F.W. Walter himself disposed of, as do our Lutheran Confessions (see especially AC 24 and Ap 24 in which it is asserted that for Lutherans “the Mass is retained among us and celebrated with the greatest reverence” including “traditional liturgical forms” such as “the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc.).  We do not keep these things because they earn salvation, but because they “contribute to peace and good order in the church” (AC15). They are important enough to be confessed throughout our Book of Concord to be an apt description of our worship life – the efforts of some to search for loopholes notwithstanding.  We voluntarily bind ourselves to these confessions.  The Chief Confession of the Lutheran Church says that our confession “is not contrary or opposed to that of the universal Christian church or even the Roman church (in so far as the latter’s teaching is reflected in the writings of the Fathers)” and “nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or the church catholic.”  In doctrine or in ceremonies.

Another straw man is the assertion that we are saying that no hymns from heterodox confessions may be used.  

One will search in vain to find anything of the sort written here.  Our hymnals certainly include hymnody from Protestantism.  This fact doesn’t disqualify a hymn in and of itself.  But certainly care should be used – especially if emotion is being substituted as a kind-of pseudo-sacrament.  Such hymns are not helpful to a Lutheran congregation or chapel.

There is also the straw man that the problem is the song’s repetition, and that as a paraphrase of Psalm 136, we must also condemn the Psalter.

Yes, that must be true.  I can just see the Christian News headline now: “GOTTESDIENST CONDEMNS BOOK OF PSALMS”.

First of all, there is no problem with repetition.  Our Lord Himself (Matt 6:7) does not condemn repetition in prayer, but rather “vain repetitions” (KJV) or “heap[ing] up empty phrases” (ESV).  Psalm 136 includes a repetitive antiphon “For His steadfast love endures forever.”  Antiphony is a common liturgical feature in traditional worship.  Our Introits are antiphonal.  In fact, we repeat the antiphon of Psalm 136 in the Common Service (Divine Service 3 in LSB) at each and every Divine Service. Even in Divine Services 1 and 2 one finds repetition in the Kyrie that shares its DNA with the Eastern Orthodox churches.

The problem is that the song “Forever” is not really a paraphrase of Psalm 136.  It includes a reference to Psalm 136.  It contains a hint of Psalm 136. That is not a paraphrase.  As with most “praise choruses” the meat of the Psalm is stripped out, the objective confession of God’s work in history, space and time, the sacramental work of God, if you will, to which the antiphon responds, is eviscerated, leaving only the thin gruel of emotional babbling.

Compare the two.  Here is Psalm 136,  Here is “Forever.” Any honest appraisal is going to expose the difference.  Only one of them could be described as “heaping up empty phrases”, and it isn’t the one inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The same critic argues that as long a song used in worship is “not teaching something false” it is okay.

I disagree.  I think that chanting page 395 out of the Chilton 1965 Mustang repair manual to Gregorian Tone 8 would not belong in a divine service of worship – its rectitude notwithstanding.  I think that singing “I Scream For Ice Cream” as a distribution hymn would be out of place, even if it contains no heresy.  If the standard is now “anything goes unless it’s false,” my how low the bar has fallen!  Nearly five centuries of a distinctly Lutheran tradition of excellence, theological rigor, and rich musicality is now reduced to “is it factually true?”

I’ve also heard it said that the video is only a “30-second clip.”  

So?  I’m happy to report that there is no equivalent 30-second clip of anything of that sort at Concordia Theological Seminary.  It’s logically the same objection as a man claiming that he only cheated on his wife for 30 seconds.  To quote one of our politicians: “What difference does it make?”

Others have argued that the style or melody is irrelevant.

I disagree.  Although technically you can sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” to the tune of “Come On Baby Light My Fire,” I would question the appropriateness of such an arrangement in Lutheran worship.  Style does matter. It is not a matter of indifference or neutrality.

The complete fabrication that Martin Luther’s hymns were bawdy tavern songs reworded with Christian themes is nonsense, perhaps grounded in ignorance of the musical term “bar.”

I think the attempt to baptize modern Entertainment Worship and the CCM genre as compatible with the Lutheran theology of worship in Word and Sacrament is misguided.  I think it is based on the false premises that changing our worship will increase attendance (the Church Growth Movement has always been wedded to distancing congregations from traditional liturgical forms) by pleasing the world and making Christians look more like the world, and also on the misguided belief that traditional worship is “boring” or that we “don’t get anything out of it.”

The defensive attitude of many Entertainment Worship advocates in the LCMS reminds me of the line from a song by the Christian pop pioneer Larry Norman:

I ain’t knocking the hymns
Just give me a song that has a beat
I ain’t knocking the hymns
Just give me a song that moves my feet
I don’t like none of those funeral marches
I ain’t dead yet!

Perhaps this other chorus is the explanation for Mr. Norman’s sentiment. I think it is.

For Lutherans to search out worship forms and hymnody out of a desire to be entertained or “get something out of it” is a very sad confession for Lutherans.  Because if we actually believe our Confessions, we get everything out of our traditional worship life together: “forgiveness, life, and salvation” in Christ.

Satis est.  Or it should be.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Grasping at Straws — 6 Comments

  1. Dear Norm,

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I am not writing this pro or con either seminary–and I don’t want to get into that sort of argumentation. You can find vocal supporters of sound Lutheran worship at both seminaries and in their administrations.

    But I do want to make one observation. Since the Reformation, Lutherans have insisted on education for both their clergy and their musicians.

    Lutheran clergy in Europe obtained their education at gymnasia,then university in the theology departments. Lutheran clergy in America obtained their education at high schools, colleges, then seminaries. The result were educated, if not always sophisticated, pastors and preachers.

    Lutheran musicians on both continents have obtained their education as all musicians do, by studying under music teachers, singing in choirs, and playing instruments in concert, i.e., in various groupings. All the elements of music were taught formally and both in theory and actual practice. Those who had the gift were encouraged to improvise or to compose. As a result, Lutheran musicians have contributed in outstanding ways to the development of Western music.

    Although Lutheran churches in America have not always employed musicians who have a degree in music from college, or conservatory, or a Concordia–they have until recently only employed those who had real musical training.

    But since the 1970s, anyone could pick up a bass, drum, or guitar and lead the praise band–without any musical training whatsoever. The results are predictable. Except when someone with musical training picks up those instruments.

    Why have so many congregations “dumbed-down” their music in church? Simply because they like the pop sound, and don’t think that the sound matters. But the sound does matter when the congregation is trying to sing along.

    This is not intended to denigrate the use of the guitar. It is ideal for small groups and for places away from the sanctuary. Dr. Fred Baue has done excellent work on that instrument, as seen for example here:

    What Lutherans have to remember is that, as members of the priesthood of all believers, they have a duty to “call upon [God] in trouble, to pray, praise, and give thanks” in worship (2nd Commandment, Small Catechism). Sitting and listening to performances of praise bands doesn’t fit this bill.

    Congregational song, in hymn-singing and liturgy-singing, does fit the bill. Musically supporting the laymen singing in the pew is the primary, but not only, function of the church musician. Educated church musicians deserve our support, thanks, and praise!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland
    (certified Director of Parish Music, River Forest 1979)

  2. The new news for me in this story is that the LCMS’s Concordia Seminary in St. Louis is now publicly promoting the option of a pop entertainment type of liturgy. I hadn’t noticed this before, but then again I have to admit I haven’t been paying close attention.

    I understand our seminaries are under a lot of pressure from many LCMS members and congregations who have turned to this type of liturgy. I would think, though, that with the level of theologic knowledge we have among our students and faculty at the Concordia’s they would at least use musical lyrics in worship that are more Christological.

  3. @Pr. Don Kirchner #3

    Thanks for the attachment. Reading the comments below the video I would be surprised if, as some of the commenters suggest, President Harrison supports this kind of song being part of a Christian worship service. I am surprised if the Seminary President really supports it as well. I guess we will see which way the seminary goes in the future. If it goes anything like congregations I know which have gone down this road, theologically speaking, it won’t be pretty.

  4. @LW #4

    This has been the way the seminary has been going since they got rid of the great Dr. Braur. And yes the president of the seminary and the board of regents support this style.

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