Here is the first in a series of others' initial reactions…
The declining number of Christians in church for many denominations has people looking for something, anything, to keep people or bring new people in. Many churches, even Lutheran ones, have added "contemporary" services, sometimes stopping liturgical services or offering a "blended" service in place of the liturgical service.
I dislike the term "contemporary." Contemporary refers to a short length of historical time, something new, when some of the things that are done in this type of service are not new at all. The advocates, to avoid getting a term assigned to them by critics, should choose a term that has to do with what is going on in the service.
The worship format war is tangential to and consequential of the theologies people have about worship, and there is more than one theology of worship. It doesn't take a Master's Degree of Divinity to see this.
I will be attending the LCMS Model Theological Conference on Worship in St. Louis next week. The advance literature has been interesting, including Chapter 22 of Timothy H. Maschke's, "Gathered Guests," titled "Variety in Worship." There is a lot of talk of freedom, adaptation to the culture, making things "new" again for a congregation, and experiencing other expressions, all of which ring true to me in various degrees.
Yet to those who seek "freedom" in worship, even Maschke has rules. Some materials cannot be sung by congregations, leaving them to watch the band or the performer. The pastor and those involved in worship planning need to analyze the theme and theology of what they are including in the service. Materials should be "Lutheranized" to emphasize Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel. Contemporary worship, even to Maschke, is not the "freedom" to do whatever one wants. As someone who has traveled to a lot of different churches while on business trips, I can tell you that even Maschke's level of discernment has not been followed. Watching some services has been like driving without seat belts or even a steering wheel.
Whatever the variety the LCMS seeks, it should make sure that the texts we use in worship, first are free of heterodox theology, and second, include good Christian theology. One can sing a sing, "Jesus is Lord," 20 times, and while the statement is indeed true, think of those who can't confess the Nicene Creed who can still claim that "Jesus is Lord." A love song to Jesus can be sung by just about anyone — even Gandhi is quoted as saying he liked Jesus.
We can take that even further. I should be able to tell upon viewing the whole text of the service what denomination that church is and what that church teaches. It makes no sense for a Lutheran church to teach that people can earn even part of their way to heaven, or that Jesus exists as separate God and man people, or that the sacraments are mere metaphor.
If the Model Theological Conference on Worship can publish guidelines that ensure that distinctly Lutheran doctrine is proclaimed in the order of service and in the hymns, and those guidelines are followed, then it will be a success in my opinion. Some may inappropriately call that "dead orthodoxy" or slavery to a doctrine, but we are supposed to be slaves to Christ, and we should teach his Word. We have to complete that sentence in the Great Commission, "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
The core argument is not liturgical vs. contemporary. Those are styles and tools. A liturgy can be written that totally botches law and gospel. How many times have we seen "confessions of sins" that say only that we are sorry for not evangelizing, or that we have bad attitudes, or that we haven't given enough to the church? Likewise, we can have contemporary worship that puts us into true pondering of the Word that God has given to us, such as Cantor Magness's Taizé service. That requires real work, though, on the part of the cantor or pastor to deliver sound doctrine.
I am interested in seeing if the Conference tries to push for freedom for freedom's sake, or if and how it will address the proper usage of new tools to ensure that Lutherans in these new services will actually stay Lutheran, recognizing their own depravity and relying on Christ for their deliverance. The published liturgies in TLH/LW/LSB have the advantage over the need for reinventing the wheel.