Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Deeds lead to Thoughts -or- No, you really can't worship like a Baptist and expect to stay Lutheran

An Alert Reader has sent us a clipping from Concordia-Seward's student newspaper. This is my alma mater and my own dear wife used to edit this paper, The Sower. Alas, how things have changed. I will reproduce the entire article and comment on just the bit I will put in bold, which is the key to understanding more than just the "disco ball" (as our Alert Reader put it). I have deleted any student names because, hey, if somebody went looking in past issues of The Sower they'd probably find a lot of stupid things I said when I was 19 as well.

Lighting and software makes a multi-sensory experience

by [Student A] Staff Writer

Praise on Wednesday evenings and chapel on weekday mornings offer opportunities for students to worship outside of the typical Sunday morning tradition. With the beginning of a new school year, the way Concordia is worshiping is changing with the introduction of new lighting.

"Lighting is a gift from God, and in this community, he's given us lighting to manipulate," said Assistant Professor of Music Peter Prochnow.

According to Prochnow, there are many components that make up the new system. These include the lighting, sound [Ach! where's the Oxford comma? Is there no decency, sanity, and clarity left in the world? - +HRC] and production software called ProPresenter. ProPresenter allows the images to move on screen behind the lyrics for songs.

In order to get the system started, Concordia partnered with Inspirmedia, located in Lincoln. The company has helped with the 2010 National Youth Gathering and with the Room 211 worship services offered at Christ Lutheran Church in Lincoln.

According to Junior [Student B], before the first night of Praise the student-led Praise team was worried the lighting would seem more like a performance of be a distraction.

He said the team was nervous that the new technology might not work the way they needed it to. According to [Student B], during sound check something was loud and seemed "off."

"God showed Himself on the first night," said [Student B]. "People are still focused on worship and who we're worshiping. In that respect, it's been a success."

One aspect of this success, according to [Student B], comes from the amount of energy he saw in the first two Praise services. he felt that there was more focus on worship and learning from the speakers. He also said there was more participation in worship, rather than just sitting back.

"People were more interested in being a part of worship rather than letting worship happen to them," said [Student B].

According to Prochnow, these types of changes are happening in LCMS churches across the country.

"I haven't run into a church that isn't doing or trying to do this," he said. [Sic! Some Assistant Professors just don't get out much! - +HRC]

Prochnow said the system creates more of a concert atmosphere in worship services, but instead of being excited about the performance, the excitement is about the message of what God is telling the student body.

Campus Pastor Ryan Matthias said [that when] he first began working at Concordia three years ago, Weller auditorium [NB: Seward has never had a dedicated chapel. - +HRC] was almost "devoid of sensory experience." [Almost - before, there was only hearing the Word, seeing the ordained servant of God carry out his duties, and smelling, touching, and tasting the Holy Communion. - +HRC]

"What we do with the lighting is to enhance the beauty of what God does with light," said Matthias.

Matthias compared the smoke machine used in Praise to God appearing to the Israelites as a cloud of smoke. He said the fog gives the light something to reflect off of.

"Our God is a creative God. He does things in an elaborate way," said Matthias. "The beauty in worship is a constant reminder that this is the God we worship."

[Picture of three students, one with a guitar, one at a trap set, and one holding a mic. Caption: As one of the Praise team leaders, junior [Student B] introduces and closes each Wednesday evening worship gathering.]

The most important bit in this article is the first line that I put in bold. "God showed Himself on the first night," says Student B. Where did he learn to talk like that? The same place where he learned to worship, to sing, and to think about how men interact with God (i.e., worship): not from Lutherans. Lutherans are rather sticklers for how we talk about theophany. This quotation is simply off the Lutheran farm. It's how Pentecostals and Evangelicals talk and think about God. How does God show Himself for these folks? In the "amount of energy" that one "feels" in the crowd.

And, as Dr. Nagel might say, who is running the verbs? This young man at Seward has learned - no doubt from his home parish - that we are not to "sit back" in worship and "let worship happen to us" but instead be full of "energy" and "participate." What does he mean by this? What is not participatory in DS III? What is more participatory about a "concert atmosphere"? What is worship for? Sitting back and receiving, or "feeling" "energy"? In what proportion to each other, etc?

The Campus Pastor seems no help as he feels that worship before the stage lighting and fog machine was "almost devoid of sensory experience." And the Assistant Professor of Music can't say that he knows even one parish that isn't striving for lights, camera, smoke machine, action. The mind boggles.

My kids are a long way off from college, but here's my thinking at this point. Small private liberal arts school are really expensive and based on my life experience since I graduated, I don't think they educate any better than cheaper schools. It might be worth shelling out the bucks for a truly rigorous Lutheran education - bu, well, you read the article. Is this the sort of education about worship you want for your kids? At 20 grand a year? But it might still be worth it - remember how I started this post, about meeting my own dear wife at Seward. Hard to put a price on that. But in these latter days of Higher Things campus ministries and online match making - perhaps there are more efficient ways for Lutherans to find each other.

I dearly love my alma mater and know that it prepared me very well indeed for seminary and a life of service to the Church. But it is also clear that today it is not the place I graduated from just over a decade ago. And then there is this argument: if students from strong, Confessional parishes and families stop going to the Concordias they will only get worse.

Well, as I said, I've got quite a while to think about it yet. But for those readers who currently in the college market, what have been your thoughts? Where are your kids going or looking to go to school? How did you go about evaluating each choice when it came to the spiritual prospects of each school?



  1. I remember Pete Prochnow from our shared days at Concordia Ann Arbor. He as an adjunct professor, I as a pre-sem student.

    Nothing quite like the jazzy sounds of the electric piano ringing in the Chapel of the Holy Trinity to . . . to, um . . . huh. I'll be honest - I don't know what electric piano does for anyone.

    Quasi-relatedly, what's the wattage CUNE uses for 'Praise on Wednesday,' as opposed to a 'traditional' approach? Isn't an auditorium traditionally dark? How much of a financial burden is CW to the university, or any worshiping body, for that matter?

  2. I don't know what your problem is, Fr. Curtis. God did say, "Let there be light."

    Sheesh, you Gottesdiensters, I swear!


  3. "'Lighting is a gift from God, and in this community, he's given us lighting to manipulate,' said Assistant Professor...."

    Was that a Freudian slip of the tongue? What are they manipulating, the light or the "audience?" Maybe they can manipulate the worshipers (I hate to refer to them as passive receivers of God's gifts in this instance), possibly so they'll have a more relevant worship experience, and will hopefully therefore make a decision for Christ.

    "'I haven't run into a church that isn't doing or trying to do this,' he said." His statement says a lot about his theology - lex orandi, lex credendi.

  4. I'm a Gottesdienster and proud of it. I was taught respect for the historic Lutheran Liturgy by many of my pastors for over 60 years. If you can convince me that Blessed Martin Luther was in favor of CW, I might give it a passing thought; but don't count on it.

    I do not know when Lutherans decided to become generic Bible Belt protestants who are "more interested in being a part of worship rather than letting worship happen to them". And how many of "these types of changes are happening in LCMS churches across the country".

    I do not let worship "happen" to me, I actively participate in the liturgy. You are "part of worship" when you change your focus from light shows, smoke machines and praise bands. The smoke and mirrors distract you from the true focus of worship.

    My "light show" is the lighted candles on the altar and my smoke machine is the incense that represents our prayers rising to heaven.

    I do not participate in the liturgy (the Mass) because I long for a "concert atmosphere". I am not there to be entertained. I am there to present my concert of praise and worship to God Himself.

    Granted that "our God is a creative God." He created the world and all that live in it; but His creation is majestic, not elaborate.

    If the Campus Pastor thinks "that worship before stage lights and smoke machines was almost devoid of sensory experience", all I can say is wake up and smell the incense.

    The Assistant Professor of Music (who)claims not to know "even one parish that isn't striving for lights, camera, smoke machines, (and) action." I would be happy to point him to the parish that I attend, as well as many other congregations in this area.

    I do not know how and why pastors and congregations come up with the idea that CW is the way to go. All I can say is a quote from Bones (the doctor from Star Trek): "Angles and Ministers of Grace preserve us."

  5. A post from another alumnus who sent his comment to my email address. He writes:

    It should also be noted that the same issue of the Sower (Sep. 14, 2011) gives another article, listed below in its entirety. I'll let it do the talking.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Beemer, NE

    Pastor offers Christian Bible Study, by [Student], Staff Writer
    The Sower, Sep. 14, 2011

    In the summer of 2007, Pastor Curt Coddington of Hillcrest Evangelical Free Church in Seward approached [Student} (graduated 2010) about starting a Bible study for Concordia students at his home. He consulted with then-campus pastor "Bo" Baumeister, who agreed that it was a good idea. Ann invited friends to begin the study, which has grown over the past four years to an attendance of 30 to 40 people each week.

    Coddington said that his purpose is to encourage students to study the Bible.

    "I fully recognize that some really bright Christian kids are here at Concordia," he said. "My goal is to help them see the value of studying Scripture and help them teach it without using a lot of props."

    The study includes students from several denominations, as well as students from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and local young people.

    "My goal is not to try to change everybody to my denomination," said Coddington. "We love each other even though we don't agree on everything."

    He said that discussion among group members is beneficial because "the group study reveals how we talk past each other sometimes."

    Senior [Student] started attending the study this August.

    "The way (Pastor Coddington) makes you dig into Scripture, I've never experienced before," Brown said. "It reveals a lot. He asks questions to lead the conversation, but usually we're the ones who give the input and figure it out."

    Senior [Student] has been attending the Bible study since January 2010. One thing she likes about the study, she said, is that "Pastor Curt wants us to dig and ask questions."

    [Student] said that what she enjoys most is that "it's led by someone who's older, versus peer-led groups. (Pastor Coddington) is wiser and has studied Scripture more, and he and his wife act as mentors."

    Senior [Student] began attending the Bible study during her sophomore year at Concordia.

    "I enjoy digging in deep into Scripture and looking at Bible verses in ways that I would have usually missed if I was reading by myself," she said via email. "I also enjoy listening to other peoples' opinions about what the Bible is telling them because their responses allow me to look at it from a different view."

    Coddington said, "I'm not in competition with other studies. We do Bible study discussion-style, but it's discussion to make you think. Scripture is bottomless, so I'm always trying to push (the students) to think."

    [Student] and [Student] both said that the study is ecumenical.

    "I don't feel like Pastor Coddington has ever forced his opinions on me," [Student] said.

    [Student] said, "At times different religious views do come into the discussion, and they have led to discussions or arguments that don't really go anywhere. This can be annoying, but I understand that it will happen no matter what we do."

    Coddington and his wife Joan do their best to make students feel at home. Joan bakes fresh chocolate chip cookies every Thursday for the students.

    [Student] said, "Mrs. Coddington always has a big plate of cookies, but that's not the reason I go. It's just a plus."

    [Student] agreed. "The cookies are great, but the fellowship is better."

    The Bible study meets at the Coddington's home at 1018 N. 1st Street every Thursday night at 9:30. Coddington can be reached at [email address]."

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. All journalistic style guides banished the Oxford comma ages ago. It's not right, but it is reality.

  8. Fr. Lehmann,

    You can have my Oxford comma when you pry it from my cold, dead, rigor mortised hands.


  9. I will not comment on the article directly. (It speaks for itself.) However, there are many good things regarding worship and theology at Concordia-Nebraska also. Overall, the chapel services are more traditional. Some students also lead Evening Prayer. The theology, Greek, and Hebrew classes are quite good here. Certainly, many other majors are excellent too, but I was only commenting on theology or seminary related courses. I'd suspect that most of the theology professors don't enjoy the Friday chapels. *Although I don't speak for them.*

    However, let's be honest, many LCMS congregations look more like Concordia's Friday chapel then like a Matins Service. Many of those congregations are large and wealthy.

    Lastly, I simply don't understand the E-Free bible study story. The article does not mention whether the current Campus Pastor had anything to do with this. If a student came to Concordia who was already E-Free then it would be fine to give him or her contact information for the local church. I'd say the same for the numerous Roman Catholic students at Concordia. However, I wouldn't encourage Lutheran students to attend E-Free bible studies or RCIA classes.

  10. Synodical schools, for better or worse, tend to reflect what goes on in Synod at large. Students pick and choose what suits them. Some opt for praise bands and smoke machines, others for Vespers and Compline. We may not all agree that students ought to have that choice, but that is the reality. Students at Seward at least have the option.

    I have been at Seward for eleven years, and I wish you could all meet the wonderful men and women who have come through our school and who are wholly orthodox. It is a pleasure to teach here. The students work hard, are respectful, and care about their spiritual lives.

    Among the courses I teach are liturgy and hymnody, and I do not shy away from the issues under discussion. If anyone would like to know what students learn in these courses, I would be happy to send an outline. Drop me a note at

    Concerning whether a synodical school is a good choice for college today, I would argue that it is if the desired program is offered. First, the education is excellent (here at least). Second, we take both Law and Gospel seriously, and students need that sort of environment as they wrestle with intellectual and moral questions. Third, for anyone planning to work for the Church, it is a place where you get to know and trust your future colleagues. As fewer pastors and other church workers pass through the synodical "system," this is becoming more of a problem. If I am going to discuss matters of theology and church music with someone with whom I disagree, it is much easier if we have already learned to trust each other in college than if we have never met before.

    Now regarding the Oxford comma: I have used it above in the second paragraph, and it works. At times, it is downright necessary, as in the apochryphal book dedication to "my parents, Mother Teresa, and the pope." But one glorious day we will set it aside, as it is not used in the language of heaven: "Jesu Kreuz, Leiden und Pein."

    (To those who would argue that the angels speak English because it's "die englische Sprache," well, my answer is that it may be angelic, but it's hardly divine!)

  11. Sadly, Dr. Herl, you are manifestly right about this: "Synodical schools, for better or worse, tend to reflect what goes on in Synod at large." Would, however, that it might be otherwise; that it might be more like what I imagine it used to be, namely, that Synodical schools saw themselves as the places responsible for spawning what goes on in the Synod at large.

    I think perhaps this is in part a problem of understanding what a school is for. The same goes for seminaries, which are supposed to be, well, seminal. Instead, we too often find them genuflecting to Synodical trends.

    Economic realities are what they are, of course, but if the LCMS is ever going to recover right worship, it seems to me that we need to reconsider the place of our schools.

  12. I have a policy about these kinds of things:

    "If you require electricity to "do worship" you have a big problem."

  13. Fr. McCain,

    It is, indeed, a pity that our brothers and sisters in the Third World must necessarily worship in a way that is "almost devoid of sensory experience." Someday, I hope that we might bring them electricity so that God can show Himself to them and they can feel some energy.


  14. The watershed is opening. I wonder if this is the next thing Seward will export to St. Louis? The first thing being the giant green spot to the front of the Chapel.

    This is a direct and continued assault upon the Word of God and its sufficiency for faith, life, and salvation. Hearing is no longer "enough". Faith does not come through a preacher anymore? Seward apparently confesses against the Apostle. Through the manufacturing of ambiance and energy faith comes or is at least "enhanced" by human efforts. Sadly, I think my alma mater CTX is all too cozy with this theological stance as well. I remember often the mish-mash of Theologies that came from the pulpit and worship.

  15. Luxuria, terrarum marisque vastatrix. -Seneca

  16. Joe Herl is a very impressive teacher and musician. Would that all sem students were forced to take and pass his liturgy and hymnody requirements! But Joe is only as good as the church supporting this school. The synod as a whole has pretty much told the Concordias to reflect the diversity that exists in Synod or bow out (Bronxville no longer has any music program!). Furthermore, if the students did not want it and their parents and parishes objected, it would not be there. FWIW Seward could find a donor to cough up the money for lighting but the pipe organ in the chapel lies in disrepair and no donors have come forward! If we want to call the tune the Concordias dance to, we have to be willing to pay for the band. As a Synod we have not. Tuition is high because they get little or no cash from Synod (sems either). I lament this as much as anyone but I understand what is happening perfectly. Just like with ULC, a lot of complaining on line will make you feel better but it won't change anything. We must be willing to make our voices known with actions and support that will lead the way. This is true of all aspects of our synodical problems. Money talks. For some time now, the ones with the talking money have been speaking contemp worship and music. Can we find folks who will speak/sing another tune?

  17. I think you are sadly mistaken that Synod directs the CU's in any way whatsoever. The CUS System BOD oversees the legal and administrative areas, but it is the local Board of Regents that directs what goes on in the school itself. "Synod" does not and cannot do that. In my humble opinion, our CU's for the most part, have become nothing more than liberal arts colleges and should be treated as such. They no longer have the formation of church workers at the forefront of their curriculum. They want Synods financial support, but beyond that, I think you'll find little concern for a Lutheran identity.

  18. My friend Stephanie Mueller and I, Katie Keily, are Seniors at Concordia, Seward this year, majoring in music (what serendipity). Both of our home congregations are strong, liturgically sound traditionalists. In light of such a background we continue to cultivate our liturgical Lutheran roots through the many Concordia-offered worship opportunities. For example, Evening Prayer, held twice a week (Praise is only held once), utilizes orders directly taken from LSB, such as Vespers, Compline(,) and Service of Prayer and Preaching. In addition, chapel at Concordia provides a traditional experience for four out of five weekdays. On Wednesdays, specifically, the Divine Service is used and the Eucharistic gifts are administered. One could also mention the various courses offered on the topics of Christian hymnody and Lutheran liturgy as well as the many vocal ensembles on campus that engage in singing a plethora of theologically sound musical repertoire. We could go on... Therefore, despite the increase of equipment in a small sector of the worshipping student body, one cannot assume the part as representative of the whole. Just because one or two students quoted in the Sower article may hold in high esteem a particular worship orientation does not mean that the entire University is colored by their ideals. Similarly, we could not assume by reading merely one of your blog posts that you are consistently inept in your researching ability prior to writing.

    We, as representatives of the misinterpreted Concordia student body, feel particularly offended by the attack on our University and the doubt cast on the Confessional Lutheran, Christological teachings adhered to by the school and staff (adjunct or otherwise). Sadly, we feel confident that your words will affect and deter many students from a “Christ-centered community, equipping men and women for lives of learning, service(,) and leadership in the church and world,” as specified in the University’s mission statement. Unfortunately, these students may choose to attend state schooling where Christ is largely alienated from the campus and students are indoctrinated into a discipline of overall atheism. We do, however, recognize that many Christian students exist and thrive on such campuses.

    It is disheartening to see how your largely unfounded negativity has already affected the attitudes of the students and staff who so faithfully serve our Lord in the same manner as you. Perhaps you should edify yourself with the words of the Apostle Paul, to whose writings we DO adhere: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

    We hope you will consent to responding to our post, as it has been your trend to neglect your commentators.

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Dear Stephanie and Katie,

    I thank God for you and students like you who uphold the Lutheran liturgical tradition. It's good to see that you are willing to speak up and I encourage you to do so in the future. I'm glad to see that the article in The Sower wasn't representative of many of the students at Seward. Hopefully you can mount as energetic a response at home as you've done here to fight against what is a growing problem in our synod, the encroachment of non-Lutheran worship practices into our schools and congregations, which comes from an embrace of non-Lutheran theology. I'd invite you to consider that the "multi-sensory experience" of one night's practice at your school is the tip of the iceberg. My daughter attends CUW and has been involved in ministry programs there. Though they have the same good liturgical offerings as do you, there is still a need to address other theological issues. Continue to fight the good fight.

    Yours in Christ,
    Scott Diekmann

  21. 1.As a personal friend of "Student B" and a student at Concordia NE, I would appreciate if you didn't use the word "stupid" as a descriptor

    2. "God showed himself on that first night" is not a very Lutheran statement. But don't take one line from an interview as proof that the whole school is converting to reformed theology. So if that comment is disregarded and the presence of a "sensory experience" at Concordia is the problem, keep in mind that...

    3. Lights and smoke and guitars are much more common among evangelical churches than Lutheran churches. However, they are not theological. If they cause an problem with issues of "energy," or "participation"...

    4. "Feeling energy in a crowd" is also not a very Lutheran way to talk, and again this quote came from one person. But was the point not made that DS III is also participatory in nature? Are there not sacramental and also sacrificial aspects to worship? No amount of energy will "bring God's presence," He's everywhere...but a half-hearted response to God's work is hardly appropriate. Paul Soulek at St Johns in Seward does an amazing job combining organ, bells, percussion, brass, and full choir into his liturgical celebrations. The homecoming service is indeed remarkable, and there is TONS of energy in that sanctuary when everyone is playing at once. Full organ doesn't bring God's presence any more than a praise band, but each is a response to God's love for us. And of course any worship experience can be taken too far. It's not like God is absent when people are walking in, he slowly makes His way in as we start singing and by the slow song at the end where everyone is crying on their knees He has effectively "filled this place." HOWEVER...(and this is not how Lutherans talk, but it can't be easily denied) a full 43 rank organ, timpani, trombones, trumpets, euphonium, a 70 voice choir and a sanctuary of 800 worshipers all singing the doxological stanza of "Thy Strong Word" is a sensory experience. Consequently...

    5. Senses were created by God. I'll say it again, they don't bring God's presence. Anyone who needs smoke and lights to get themselves worked up to the point of feeling God in their lives needs to read the Bible. But common Lutheran sanctuaries are adorned with stained glass, candles, incense possibly...the evening prayer service at Concordia is held in the recital hall at's dark outside, it's dark in the recital hall, a single candle is lit in the front, the organ plays with subdued is a delightful experience. No one there thinks the mood set by the props is what brings God there but it helps us to focus on what we are about. Pastor Matthias made some good observations on how the equipment can relate to God's work...the smoke reflects the light, Israel followed a cloud of smoke, the light in general attests to God's own creative design.

    6. Katie and Steph were right. Concordia is still a traditional, liturgical place. We still use the organ in chapel more than any praise band. We still celebrate closed communion on Wednesday with liturgy from the LSB. We are in close association with the conservative and liturgical St Johns Lutheran Church across the street. Evening prayer still occurs more often than Praise does. Traditional worship is still alive and well at Concordia NE, and it's not going anywhere any time soon. And I'm glad.

  22. Regarding the Oxford comma,

  23. It is unfortunate that Seward students are willing to speak this way about worship, yet this is not new to the student body. I was a contemporary and floormate to the author of this post, and there were those, even then, who saw worship as "our" efforts toward the Lord, and wanted to "feel God" when they were praising Him. There is nothing new under the sun...

  24. But part of worship is "our" sacrifice of praise to Him, and personally I don't think anyone should leave ANY type of praise of our Lord without a feeling of gratitude for what He has done, or a feeling of awe for what He has created.

  25. Disclaimer: I am a senior at CUNE, a staff-writer for The Sower(,) and a friend of Katie and Steph.

    I am often appalled at the way that the "confessional" Lutheran community sends these attacks on anybody that doesn't use exactly the same words. I didn't write the article and I would have phrased things differently had I been asked about the matter but those of you that suppose that Seward is only another liberal arts college are completely wrong!

    I agree that in many ways the CUS does reflect the changes across Synod but, in my experience, we're a lot more friendly about it. I regularly attend both Praise and Evening Prayer and both certainly provide me with the Word. I don't think y'all are realizing that CUNE provides a place for students to grow in their faith. I certainly have and it's not because we have a few bookshelves with hymnals but because of the people who bear with me and my strengths and faults in love. Praise doesn't use the smoke machine anymore and I didn't personally like it very much when it did but if my preferences are going to separate me from hearing Law and Gospel proclaimed in fellowship with my colleagues then I've got some pretty big problems. Of course God's love is true even when I'm not feeling it but it sure is nice to have that emotional reassurance. If you are in a relationship with somebody aren't you going to appreciate it when they move beyond just verbal affirmations into more physical intimacy?

    If Praise is "just the tip of the iceberg" then what are those deeper "theological issues" going on? I don't always (but generally do) agree with the theology profs just like I didn't agree with all of what Pastor Coddington said when I attended Bible Study in his home but it sure is great to see people working at building their understanding of God's love.

    For any individual that claims to possess a "right worship": grow up.


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