Critical reviews (by Lutheran pastors and church musicians) of books and other resources for Christian worship, preaching, and church music from a perspective rooted in Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and good common sense. LHP Quarterly Book Review asks, "Is it worth the money to buy, the time to read, the shelf space to store, and the effort to teach?"
A second area in which there is a growing divide between Evangelical Lutheranism and Lutheran Evangelicalism in the Missouri Synod is in the area of worship. I am not here to re-hash arguments about contemporary music, the employment of liturgy, or the use of a hymnal, as important as those topics are. Rather, I suggest that the most important distinction between Evangelical Lutheranism and Lutheran Evangelicalism in the area of worship is the difference over the fundamental theological understanding of what worship is.
For Evangelical Lutheranism worship is a divine dialogue in which God speaks to us and gives his gifts through the Word and sacraments. We, the people of God, gather in His presence at his beckoning to receive those gifts in faith and respond in praise and thanksgiving. However – and this is of fundamental importance – Evangelical Lutheranism understands that the response of the people of God in worship is to be normed by God through the gifts of God.
What does this understanding of worship as divine dialogue mean in practical terms? First, it means that the worship 'event' of the Christian congregation is primarily for the congregation. That is to say, it is the people of God who gather together in worship. For this reason, as you doubtless know, the early church restricted the participation in worship of non-Christians and (in some cases) catechumens. Second, the understanding that the response of the people of God in worship is normed by God through His gifts has important implications for the form that the Church's worship takes. In practical terms, this means that the words that the Church speaks in response to what God has done are primarily cast in the words of Scripture. We speak Christ's words in response. Thus worship is a divine dialogue in which Christ speaks to us and Christ speaks in us.
Lutheran Evangelicalism is tending toward a very different theology of worship. It has gradually adopted what we might call a tent-meeting theology of worship, a theology of worship that is rooted in the revivalist theology of Evangelicalism's Methodist roots. A tent-meeting theology of worship elevates outreach to the level of a primary function of worship. Its constant subtext is the need to reach out to the unbeliever in our midst. It focuses on bringing people into the tent and making them comfortable so that they will be receptive to hearing the Gospel. And it looks for a response from the unbeliever and the renewed believer alike.
This theological perspective also has significant implications for what is done in practice. First, it means that the goal of reaching outsiders becomes significant in shaping the worship 'event' of the Christian congregation. While the people of God are present and involved, there is an intentional focus upon evangelizing any unbelievers who may be present. Second, the event is structured with a two-fold emphasis: First, there is an emphasis on keeping disinterested people engaged. This leads in the direction of worship-as-religious-entertainment. Second, there is an emphasis on eliciting a response from them. For the children of the Romantic Movement, a valid response must be a response from the heart. In practical terms, this means that the words that the assembly speaks in response to what God has done are not primarily cast in the words of Scripture, but are cast in terms of what is going on in the heart of the individual. Pastors who write their own liturgies often fall into this trap. Even so-called liturgical worship becomes person-centered rather than Christ-centered when we speak back to God what is on out [sic] minds rather than what God has spoken to us. It becomes worship normed by our needs and our response rather than by God's gifts and God's Word. This is the reason that even though may congregations shaped by Lutheran Evangelicalism have a veneer of liturgical worship, the kind of liturgy they employ strikes the Evangelical Lutheran as deficient, for this kind of roll-you-own liturgy tends quickly to loose [sic] its Christ-centeredness.