We are to a great degree a fad-driven society. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a fad is a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal: a craze. We are acquainted with diet fads. They are promoted excessively as the diet of the moment, able to accomplish what no other diet has accomplished previously. Soon a diet fad is replaced by another with a different name with the same claim. In our lifetime we have seen many fads from hairstyles to clothing styles. Remember the leisure suit fad? If you have forgotten, look into your picture album. Good for a laugh. Frequently a fad starts in one section of the country and moves across the country; by the time it reaches the other side, the zeal for the original fad has worn off at the point of origin and has already been replaced by another.
The nature of a fad is that it does not last long. We got to thinking about this in the context of the worship service, and specifically the Lutheran worship service.
One fad of sorts—though it seems to have become more than that in the church world—is contemporary worship. The wordcontemporary has different nuances: It can mean living at the same time, occurring at the same time. It does not mean the same thing to every person in everyday life, or in the worship setting.
One definition in Merriam-Webster is “marked by the characteristics of the present period: modern, current.” While one may not have ever attended a contemporary service, given the nature of our throw-away society, our desire to be entertained, our desire always for something new, our lack of respect for the divine, this Merriam-Webster definition is probably the best description of contemporary worship. Add to this the concerns about offending anyone, political correctness, as well as the desire to be up-to-date, and finally the desire to be all things to all people, to many what is current and modern trumps “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths where the good way is, and walk in it…” (Jeremiah 6:16). What was contemporary in the recent past was the preaching of the Word of God and its absolutes with respect to the law of God, as well as the comfort of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In stark contrast, what is contemporary today tends to be whatever strikes one’s fancy, excites the emotions, and creates a good feeling. That this attitude has made its way into worship in many “mainline churches today” is sad for it denies the worshiper the fulfillment of the promise that the Lord attaches to the 16th verse of Jeremiah which says: “… Then you will find rest for your souls.” What is doubly sad is that what is modern or current is what many people are looking for in what they call worship.
Someone has said, “Contemporary worship must not only be contemporary, it must also be worship.” And what is worship? According to our understanding, worship is something to be engaged in reverently. The focus is not on what we do, but on what the Lord God has done for us. Worship is not earning something from the Lord, but a respectful response to the grace of God in Christ. Worship revolves around God’s Word and Sacrament—the means of grace. It is not meant to entertain but to edify. Some contemporary worship strives to promote interaction and discussion. We believe in such interaction and practice it in private discussions, in Bible Classes, and other such forums. However, there is a place and a time to quietly sit back and listen to sound preaching and application of the Word of God. The traditional worship service provides that opportunity.
The late Dr. A. L. Berry, a former president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod said, “How does Lutheran worship reﬂect Lutheran theology? How a church conducts its worship is a reﬂection of what it believes, teaches and confesses. It is difficult, therefore, to retain the substance of Lutheran theology while at the same time embracing non-Lutheran styles of worship. It is important to remember that Martin Luther sought to reform—not to reinvent—the church and its worship. Luther knew that the Gospel was the heart and center of the Divine Service. He changed only what contradicted or diminished the Gospel. Luther never did away with faithful, Gospel-centered and historic worship practices and ceremonies of the church.” (1)
Worship has changed over the centuries. For example, we no longer worship as people did in the temple, or in the early church. But the rush of the present understanding of contemporary worship–which we are told began in the 20 century and was pioneered by the charismatic movement–has taken hold in many “main-line” churches. The use of contemporary worship music (both lyrics and instruments) makes up a good portion of contemporary worship services today.
That there may be some good contemporary gospel hymns does not change the fact that it is important that children be taught sound Lutheran hymnody! So we have some questions.
What, beside a change to more modern English, lies behind the interest in contemporary worship service? Is the substance of the service Biblical and reflective of divine truth? Are Law and Gospel—sin and grace—clearly set forth? Is the focus of worship the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? What place does the means of grace have in the worship? Does the message speak to the heart (unto salvation), or merely to the emotions? Will the first-time (and perhaps the only time) hearer leave having heard the way unto salvation? Does such worship reflect Reformation Lutheran theology? Is the purpose to attract people and create a good feeling, or is it to edify souls? Does a contemporary worship service reflect Scripture teaching regarding fellowship and the avoiding of false teachers? To the extent that “praise concerts” are part of contemporary worship, observation suggests that there is not much concern for what Scripture teaches in this regard. This is another reason to be concerned about the popular praise concerts, and the danger of planting that seed among us!
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states what we fear is no longer accepted in our fickle society with its itching ears for something new and entertaining. We read, “There is nothing that so attaches (holds) people to the church as good preaching.”(2)That fact lays a burden on the preacher, first of all that he speak the truth, and that he not be slovenly in his preparation or presentation. If it is not the Word that attracts people and keeps them, what is the benefit? Luther maintained in a worshipful liturgical setting, and restored the singing of sound hymns to the service, yet he made the sermon the high point of the service.
The Psalmist defines what is God-pleasing worship. “Give unto the Lord the glory due His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2). In the reverence of heavenly worship God’s people will join their obeisance and voices to the twenty-four elders who fell down before the Lord on His throne to “worship Him Who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before his throne, saying, ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created’” (Revelation 4:10-11).
1) What about— Lutheran Worship, essay on line
2) Concordia Triglotta: Article XXIV (XII), p, 401: 51