Tuesday, March 9, 2010

FW: Wittenberg Trail: "Is Contemporary Worship Essentially Bad?"

An interesting article. What do you think, QBR readers?


Feed: Confessional's Bytes
Posted on: Thursday, January 28, 2010 6:39 PM
Author: Jim Pierce
Subject: Wittenberg Trail: "Is Contemporary Worship Essentially Bad?"




Pr. Wesley Tetsuji Kan posted the following as a response in a forum topic at the Wittenberg Trail titled, "Is Contemporary Worship Essentially Bad?" I think his response is good and he makes some very interesting observations about where the battle should be taken in this debate.

You are right in setting down a definition for "contemporary worship." Unless we are all talking about the same thing a discussion of the subject is pointless. First, I should explain my own liturgical practices and preferences just to be honest and open. As a pastor, I follow the historic Lutheran liturgy, chant the Mass (Holy Eucharist/Holy Communion/Lord's Supper), wear a chasuble and have a crucifix on the chancel wall. I consider Paul Gerhard the greatest hymnist of all time and the greatest church composers to be Crüger and Ebeling. I also know all the words of Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" and more than a handful of Paul Simon's and Gordon Lightfoot's songs. Few Lutherans know I am a closet Mothers of Invention fan.

This may come as a shock to many of my confessional brothers but I am willing to compromise and accept "contemporary worship" under these conditions. You can bring into my church any musical setting (rock, reggae, folk, bluegrass, salsa) played on any instruments, but the singing must be congregational and/or choral, set up in the choir/organ loft and must cover all the confessional Lutheran themes to the same degree as the historic liturgy. You may be asking what are those themes. They are: sin, atonement (Christ's death for our forgiveness), repentance, confession and forgiveness.

The complaints that stating these conditions will generate as responses will likely include, "but if we satisfy these conditions, it is the same thing as the historic liturgy." Exactly. We traditionalists have been suckered into fighting the wrong battle. It is not about the musical setting or the kinds of instruments used to accompany church music. The battle ought to be entirely about the content of church music. Theologians far smarter that I have been saying for years that the problem with "contemporary worship" is that it substitutes Theologia Gloriæ (theology of glory) for Theologia Crucis (theology of the cross). They are absolutely right.

The problem of "gloriæ" music is that it is not substantive, that is, it does not address the critical doctrines of Christianity. Take for example "Glorify Thy Name." The first stanza is, "Father I love You, I praise You, I adore You, Glorify Thy name in all the earth, Glorify Thy name, glorify Thy name, Glorify Thy name in all the earth." The second and third verses merely substitute "Jesus" and "Spirit" for "Father." Confessional Lutherans fight the wrong battle by attacking the obvious, that this is mind-numbing 7-11 music (seven words repeated eleven times). The real problem is that this song says absolutely nothing of value about Christ and His soul saving doctrines. In fact, it is so lacking in substance that one can substitute the names of the Hindu "trinity" (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and it will work just fine because all the names have two syllables. No, I am not the front man for the local ashram, and am certainly not promoting Hindu evangelicalism, but you see the point. That song (and songs of its kind) are so lacking in Christian doctrinal substance that they can be so simply transformed into a song for a pagan religion.

In stark contrast to "Glorify Thy Name," a traditional Christian hymn like "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth" cannot be transformed into a song for or about any other religion. Just the first sentence of the first verse, "A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, the guilt of sinners bearing" unmistakably marks this as a song about Jesus Christ and His atoning death for our sake and about no other subject.

The problem that is addressed by the present controversy brings to light an uncomfortable truth. The battle is not over "outright heresy." The battle is about insufficient orthodoxy. To state this another way, contemporary worship's flaw lies not in what it says but in what it fails to say. I have yet to find anything overtly heretical in theology of glory. The problem is that "gloriæ" does not expressly state the necessary truths of Christian doctrine, particularly about salvation. As a pastor I can talk for hours without saying anything heretical and yet be a completely worthless pastor because I have completely failed to preach Law and Gospel. The same dynamic applies to church music.


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