Saturday, August 27, 2011

A layman's frustration

At a funeral today, a parishioner from a different parish in the wider area cornered me to vent his frustration over his parish going to the American Evangelical worship route. I thought his comments were both insightful and humorous.

"And those songs! It's all one word over and over again - Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - no explanation!"

"And we've got this one fella who thinks he can play the guitar and so at Christmas time he gets up there and sings this song, 'Mary, did you know this?' 'Mary, did you know that?' Well, she knew before anybody else. . . "

I wonder just how many parishes have experienced significant conflict at the hands of the pushers of "contemporary worship"?



  1. But do they sing this song?

  2. There it is! I assume that's your ringtone, Fr. Juhl?


  3. Don't forget to mention how the parishioners are blamed for quibbling over "adiaphora" if they choose not to attend or raise concerns over such innovative aberrations from the historic practice of the Church Catholic.

  4. It's very frustrating when someone left charismatic churches to become Lutheran as I did many years ago. I only attend congregations that want to worship like Lutherans, but it's frustrating how many fellow LC-MS congregations have abandoned their heritage.

  5. At my brother's congregation in central Illinois, they jestingly call the praise songs “7-11 songs.” That is, seven words sung eleven times. The CoWo service is the late service, which they attend, begrudgingly…mostly because of health problems that make getting up earlier more difficult. The early service is the ‘traditional’ service, which is a misnomer because it’s more of a ‘blended’ service than the historic liturgy. But who cares that some parishioners are put out by this; they should not “quibble over ‘adiaphora,’” as the above commenter put it.

    Ah, but some do care. That is because to liberals, progressives and other innovators these are not indifferent matters, or adiaphora; they are, in fact, imperatives. For example, I remember when girl acolytes were forced upon my congregation in southern Illinois in the 1990s. The elders implemented this without my counsel or approval. It just showed up one Sunday. Nearly all of the girls who were conscripted into this servitude did not want to do this, for various reasons. A couple of them were actually terrified to the point of shaking. That did not matter; girls and boys are the same. They had no choice to opt out for any reason; all confirmation aged youth served as an acolyte. The deed was done; no turning back now.

    A similar situation came up in our church in southwestern Michigan. We were new, and when it came to the first Voters’ Meeting my wife was pressed upon to sign the constitution and vote. She did not want to because she believes there is no call for women to vote in the congregation as she was taught from her youth in the Scriptures. The Christian men of the congregation can handle that quite sufficiently. Well, the congregational president was scandalized by this, saying: “We worked hard to get women the vote.” Fortunately, our pastor stood up for her and pointed out that, after all, it was adiaphora.

    These things that they claim are adiaphora, in reality, are nothing of the sort for them. If a certain practice in the church was truly a matter of indifference, then why would it have to be forced through or “worked hard” to implement. (By “worked hard” I mean in the sense that there was legitimate and reasonable resistance that must be overcome.) Well, of course, it wouldn’t if it was truly indifferent. Similarly on the other hand, if some people were offended by an ‘innovation,’ why not do away with it…if it is adiaphora? Again, it is not open to differences of opinion in the minds of the innovators.

    In the Lutheran Church, for the most part, “contemporary worship” is neither. It is not ‘contemporary’ because the songs and practices are usually 10 to 20 years behind the actual contemporary ones. (There are a few offensive exceptions to this.) Furthermore, I do not believe it is worship when one considers the meaning of worship in the Scriptures (and we might add the Confessions). In the Bible, ‘worship’ means to prostrate oneself before God in abject humility, penitence, and awe (Psalm 95:6). It means to fall at the feet of Jesus, weeping over and kissing those blessed feet in reverence and joy for the grace and love He pours out on the penitent sinner.

    I have never seen this in CoWo…and I was thick in the charismaniac movement when all this was infiltrating the MoSyn. CoWo is all about ‘ME,’ as Fr. Juhl’s example shows. It is all about rockin’ and rollin’ to the very different gospel that fills the CoWo preaching and practice. Any use of it within, or as a replacement of, the historic, catholic, and apostolic liturgy and practice that Lutherans are so blessed to have in their tradition and heritage is, at best, scandalous, at worst, heretical.

  6. I hear it all the time from folks and we have some folks who drive an hour and fifteen minutes one way to worship with us. What I detest is the bone thrown to "traditional" folks by having a hymnal service at 7:02 and a half in the morning while everything else in the parish screams cowo. They think that they are buying the silence of those who would protest against the cowo. Sadly, sometimes it works... Laymen arise and demand the Divine Service and the hymnal!

  7. Come on guys. I come to Gottesdienst for some intelligent thoughtful provocative thoughts on worship. Pr Curtis, after all, is the author of one of the more interesting outlooks on evangelism and worship that we have had in years.

    Are there conflicts when CoWo is introduced? Are there conflicts when weekly communion is introduced?

    My previous congregation introduced a cross processional. People didn't like that either.

    How much of a sympathetic ear would you have given to those laymen, Father Curtis? Shoot, how much of a sympathetic ear would you give to people who think calling someone "Father" is not Lutheran?

    People don't like change. (shrug) No matter whether the reasons are good or not.

  8. Fr. Louderback,

    If someone had problems with weekly communion, I'd show them what the Confessions say and the precious gift that the Supper is from the Scriptures.

    If someone quibbled about Father, we might look at 1 Cor 4, or Melanchthon's funeral oration for "Father Luther."

    If someone didn't like a processional cross, I'd show him the conclusion to the AC and point out how this is a traditional ceremony.

    You see, Fr. Louderback, here is the thing: what I propose is always something Lutheran, something old, something from our tradition. Cowo is, by its own admission ("Evangelical Style") from another tradition - and, indeed, militates against the Conclusion to the AC.


  9. Well said, Fr. William!

    It would be an interesting study to see how many churches that offer both options of worship (the theological-traditional vs. the me-ological-contemporary (sic)) place the traditional service (such as it often is) in the early morning.

    It is almost a stereotype among such "we offer both Coke and Pepsi" congregations that the liturgy is tolerated at best, and the fact that older people (and their relatives who must bring them) are terribly inconvenienced by this doesn't matter. The great-grandmothers in wheelchairs are just expected to mosh to the band and "get over it, dude."

    Pastor Louderback is absolutely right that people don't like change.

    This is where tradition ("handing over") comes in. Once we decide arrogantly to deviate from catholic practice (that which was handed to us by previous generations) for some innovation (be it a drum kit or skits in the chancel, dancing girls, or the denigration of the Lord's body and blood through infrequency of offering the sacrament) - such things calcify - much like bad habits or besetting sins. They then become the "tradition" that we intuitively desire and defend. How ironic that infrequent communion is often defended by an appeal to tradition ("But we've always done it this way")! Can the devil be any more like Screwtape than to pull this off in our churches?

    Ironically, the traditional impulse ("But we've always done it this way") can be used by Satan to solidify innovations in practice which cause "ungodly doctrines to creep in" as we confess in the conclusion of the AC.

    This is why we cling to catholic ceremonies - not because they are pretty or because we like them - rather because they focus our attention on the cross - and once the focus is taken off of the cross - especially through entertainment - it is difficult to put it back again (Matt 5:13).

    "But we've always done it this way" is not necessarily a bad thing. We just have to be clear about what we mean by the words "we" (the church is ancient in space and time and inclusive to the point where we describe it with the Greek word "katholikos") and "always" (not just our lifetime, but throughout the centuries and even stretching back to the worship in the temple).

    And I was also that layman who had to drive an hour just to find an LCMS church that even offered a "Lite" version of the liturgy. It was distressing and depressing. Was it too much for me as a Lutheran to ask for a liturgy and weekly communion in one of the largest cities in America? I mean, really.

    If people want megachurch worship with entertainment bells and whistles, they can find it anywhere. But woe to you if you live in a part of the country where Lutheran churches are not common - for even the LCMS churches there will likely be outdoing themselves to look, act, (and ultimately believe) like Methodists, Baptists, or Pentecostals.

    And yes, we should be pastorally sensitive to people who have been deceived by duplicitous pastors who confessed one thing at the seminary, but do something entirely different once they get a call (Jer 23:1). It's not the fault of the laity, but the fault of the previous pastors whose Books of Concord gathered dust on the shelves.

    The challenge for the faithful pastor is to figure out how long to tolerate the bad for the sake of not uprooting the good (Matt 13:24-30) - while at the same time being true to our confession and using our vocation to deliver Christ (not Disney) to those under our care. And a faithful pastor may get resistance from everyone in the church apparatus - from district to congregation. Satan never takes a day off, and he hates the liturgy with a passion.

  10. I submit into this discussion an example that I wanted to post in my original comment, but since it was getting rather long I left it out. The following is from the “Worship” web page from another LCMS church in southwestern Michigan. It shows most clearly the kind of bias against “traditional” services that is, lamentably, common throughout our synod. Notice the short shrift the “Traditional” service gets in its description.

    (Begin quote)


    8:00 AM Sunday Service - Traditional

    The traditional liturgy and hymnody from Lutheran Service Book is the standard in early service.

    9:30 AM Sunday School & Bible Study

    10:30 AM Sunday Service - Modern

    The Sunday late service takes on a new and different “personality.” The music is from various contemporary sources; a variety of instruments are used; a song leader and/or choirs or groups are the norm; the order of service is flexible and variable; song lyrics and sermon illustrations are projected on the “big screen;” while Pastor preaches, other people help with various parts of the service; and the overall atmosphere is up-beat and up-to-date. Sound interesting? Come join us at 10:30 every Sunday morning.

    7:00 PM - Wednesday Service - Blended

    “Informal” and “comfortable” describes the personality of this service. Come in work or school clothes. Music may be traditional or modern hymns sprinkled with occasional contemporary music. The piano is the most common instrument. The themes are the same as on the Sunday before. Communion is also served following a Sunday with communion. If you missed Sunday services or have to work week-ends, this is the service for you.

    (End quote)

    I was living in Michigan at the time this was first posted. I knew the church and the pastor, who was recently called there. The “Modern” and “Blended” services were new additions to the church, which were an appeal to “diverse audiences.”

    What interests me is the bland, characterless description of the “Traditional” service. I immediately thought, “Well, of course, they must be nondescript. How might they describe this option for worship that would attract people interested in that “style” or those who might be uninformed, “church-shoppers” looking for what is available? It might go something like this:

    (Begin my quote)

    8:00 AM Sunday Service - Traditional

    Sunday’s first service is our Traditional service, called that because it draws from our church’s rich and beautiful heritage. The tenor of the service is reverent and dignified. Although many people put on their “Sunday’s finest,” you are most welcome in more casual dress. The music for both liturgy and hymns is a delightful mix that comes from composers of the baroque, renaissance, romantic, and modern music eras…and, of course, picking only the finest. Our choirs, both Adult and Children’s, regularly perform these pieces in stunning arrangements that enhance our worship. Our beautiful sanctuary in this service is shown in all its glory, the screens and other props taken down that otherwise cover the chancel adornments. Best of all, the liturgy, hymns, and psalms, as well as pastor’s preaching is fully scriptural, and in accord with the best of Lutheran teaching and practice. We use the Lutheran Service Book for liturgy and hymns, which has been described as “the finest hymnbook published in decades.” One of our members said of our Traditional service, “Here, I know I’ve been to church!” Join us this Sunday at 8:00.

    (End my quote)

    If they described the traditional service in terms like this, it just might compete with (or even cast doubt upon the value of) the other services. But, then again, the innovations are not adiaphora; they are imperatives.

  11. Okay. I'm relatively new to Lutheranism, and what was so very attractive about the LCC, after the totally awesome theology, was the sacramental and liturgical worship up here in Waterloo, Ontario. Coming from a denom. that held to the "regulative principle" of worship, whatever was not commanded was forbidden. Lutherans have always held to the normative principle "whatever is not prohibited is allowed". So, while I adore the liturgy and its scripturally prescribed reverence and Christocentricity , to state that it is not an adiaphoron is to state that it is commanded in scripture. Do I have that right?

  12. Mr. Veenman,

    As a prof at St. Louis says: Not all adiaphora are equal. And, in a given situation, not all adiaphora even remain adiaphora (See FC X on what happens to adiaphora in a "time of confession.). In addition, we never live in a vacuum: not everything that is allowed is beneficial.

    But perhaps the best way I can answer your question is to send you to the following paper. If you have problems viewing it, email me and I'll send it along that way.


  13. Thank-you, reverend.... I will read that. I'm quite sensitive to this discussion because I've so roundly rejected the "regulative principle". It is (ab)used to forbid instruments in the service and even singing, and, perhaps most disturbing, turns the whole matter of worship into slavish law-obedience. You know what I mean, pillaging scripture for prescriptions for every little move; descriptions won't do, it must be prescribed. That used to depress me. I also find very attractive the appeal to our membership in the church catholic. That ought to temper our rational desires for constant "newness".


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