Monday, January 24, 2011

What do you think?

The following video was shot during a worship service at Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan (LCMS):  

I include this here because I think this is a perfect example of the sort of contemporary worship "style" so many Lutherans are doing their best to achieve and emulate.  This particular example has it all:  The praise band with its lead singers, the back-up choir, the big screens, the un-vested pastor introducing the act and saying a few words after the performance, the applause of the audience, and, of course, a praise song that fits very well into the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) genre.  And, it's all done extremely well.  At least, I think so.  I ain't the most musical person, but having witnessed many attempts at contemporary worship over the years, I gotta give props to this group at Faith, Troy for doing it well.

My question to the four or five readers of this blog is:  Does this "style" of contemporary worship jive with our Lutheran theology of worship?  Why, or why not? 

Obviously, I have my own answer and many reasons to support my answer, but I'm genuinely interested in hearing how others answer this question and hearing the reasons they give for their answer, especially in light of the fact that I will be attending the Theological Conference on Worship in Jenison, MI this coming Saturday, the first of three such conferences scheduled in our District in the coming weeks.

So, what do you think?   


Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Needs more cowbell.

treasureinjarofclay said...

No jiving. I think this is a performance, and would be fine with it if they called the spade a spade, and didn't try to pass it off as the divine service. If it isn't a performance, then why not do it from the back of the church? Why are people clapping? How is Christ serving us/me in this? All I see is people singing about what God has done for us. But I don't see God active in the way HE delegates that HE will come to Word and Sacrament. There is no baptism, no communion, and no God's Word (I didn't make it through the entire video). Even if you did include those things in a service like this...there is still the performance factor...and when we say the liturgy we are speaking the best words right back to God (his own words). I think there is more to say, but these are just a few thoughts.

Christopher Gillespie said...

The song rocked. The conduct was definitely revivalistic. So, perhaps the question is why revivalistic might be inappropriate?

Cheryl said...

Leaving aside the whole issue of the appropriateness of the pop sound for church, I think a big part of the problem is how long the song goes on without congregational participation and how little objective content there is during that time. At my church we have presented cantatas. Some might say what's the difference between a long, drawn-out praise song like this one and a cantata since for both the congregation is just sitting and listening for a while? I would respond in a couple of ways. Number one, a Bach cantata has much more depth and content than the song in this video that says the same few words over and over and over for almost 8minutes. A cantata tells a story and much of that story is told with Scripture. There is a lot more going on there to merit the time given to it.

Second, although I agree this particular song was very well put together, it illustrates several things about CW that always bother me. The clapping, for one. It redirects the focus towards the musicians and away from God. That doesn't happen in worship that is properly focused on God and Him alone. Hand in hand with that is the self-consciousness of this type of worship. It seems like so often the focus is within and the question is not "What is God saying" or "What is God doing" but "What am I doing?" A song like this seems to be all about making people feel like God is there. Well, if we are bathing ourselves in God's word we don't need to worry about whether He's there because He tells us that he is. WE don't need to worry about whether we're catching the spirit because we can be sure the spirit is catching us. Ultimately, we don't need to TRY so hard.

By the way, Pastor Peters, our family may be passing your way this weekend. If logistics allow, perhaps we'll see in worship Sunday morning!

Cheryl said...

Oh no, strike that last comment. For a minute there I was thinking you were somewhere else. Got my online pastors mixed up! :-)

meggers said...

Jive? Negative! I don't attend Divine Service for entertainment. I go to receive the gifts I need because I'm a poor, miserable sinner. And although there technically is an altar in this church and it is located front and center, it still seems to take a back seat to the drums, guitars, keyboards, etc. Maybe I'm just "too Lutheran" but I have a great appreciation and respect for vestments and other high-churchy things. I like hymns and showing reverence when the Holy Trinity is mentioned. I like seeing the body and blood elevated to give it the honor it deserves.

I doubt this church does any of those things. I don't like that.

Logan said...

This is a “back assward” view of worship. These performers think they need to give their talents to God. As my pastor always says, God doesn’t want our bananas. He wants worship and praise. Sundays are not about people going to church to give, but to receive. You have heard that “it is better to give than to receive,” but as with everything else having to do with God, it is the other way around. ‘Tis better to receive than to give! Like receiving the Word and Sacraments.

We don’t need people to “go to church.’ But rather ‘come to church.” Going implies activity and giving, where as coming (like come and get it) implies reception.

We have God’s promise that He will draw all the elect to Himself though His Son, Jesus Christ. He does not need our help to dumb down the service to draw the unbelievers.

So why are these blockhead churches always fussing over the non-essentials (praise bands, clown ministries etc.), or the things NOT given to us to do and over which we have no control?

Keep the focus on Christ and Him crucified.

a/k/a reader #4

Dennis Peskey said...

Pastor Messer - Apparently, you're reader assessment is a tad bit low. I do regret the loss of the Kramer Chapel piety which escaped me around the three minute mark of this "praise" ditty. Oh well, we celebrate Matins on Thursday; I can repent then. On to the post.

As far as "lutheran" praise songs go, this was "better" than most. But this is not what I judge. The Pastor, vested in appropriate Methodist garb, rivals my dress for divine service. Neither is this a good thing for I am neither called nor ordained. The very building (sanctuary?) is enough to proclaim their confession.

Prior to going to Fort Wayne, I attended a Free Methodist Church on Sunday (for my granddaughter's Baptism.) Their auditorium was similiar, their pastor was equally vested (nice suit), they had an altar, they had a praise band (not quite as large - but adequate.) At least at the Methodist "worship" we did not clap at the end of the song. Why did the Lutherans? My question to the Lutherans is, "How many were clapping at the foot of the Cross?"

The song ended and the Pastor cited 2 Timothy 3:16; why did he not read the verse. I presumed the book he held in his left hand was a Bible; if so, that verse (along with all the others) "is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

What is the problem? They sing "What our God has done" with their backs to the Cross. If your not standing "in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ" then your focus, whether singing, listening or praying should be on the Cross (would be of benefit to add a corpus.)

For teaching, abandon the theology of glory and focus on the theology of the Cross. For reproof, humble yourself and vest as one chosen to stand in the place of the Lord. For correction, purchase LSB hymnals and sing of what God has done, is doing and will accomplish according to his Word. And for training in righteousness, return to the Lord. The altar is His; He gives us His Body and Blood; it is Holy. Remove the crap from His presense; return to your seats in the sanctuary and receive from the Lord alone.

Cindy said...

I don’t usually read your blog, but I followed the link from Cheryl’s blog. I was raised in the Nazarene church. My husband and I became Lutherans about 12 years ago. This kind of service was what was going on in our church before we left. It is one of the catalysts that started our questioning of the theology that we had been taught. I always felt the pressure of having to *feel* something. If I didn’t feel something, then there was something wrong with my faith. That wasn’t said explicitly but the implication was there.
The church we attend now follows the liturgy pretty much but there is a strong push by the pastor and others to become more “relevant” in our worship. When I express my thoughts on this, I get accused of thinking too much, using my brain, instead of my heart. I need to “feel”. It is frustrating to me that the Lutheran church is fighting this battle. It was studying Lutheran theology that helped me finally realize that my salvation did not depend on my feelings and something inside me, but the objective truth of God’s word and the promise He gives us in the Sacraments.

mgaunt said...

Thank you for your comment. I found it to be a very helpful illustration of the struggle with which we are engaged in the church. I would like to use your comments to share with others on the topic of worship.
In Christ,
Pr. Micah Gaunt

sag said...

That song went on for almost seven minutes. I could have been to the communion rail and back by then and singing a hymn of thankfulness for the gifts I had been given. The pastor mentioned to remember 'what God has done.' How about a sermon to remind us rather than just waving the Bible.

Cindy said...


You have my permission to use my comments. I am glad you found them helpful.


Pastor Peters said...

Only one problem I can see theologically, "our God is alive in the praises of His people..." No, our God is alive in the means of grace where He has placed His promise and where His grace is made accessible to us.

Great job technically and I am sure everyone thought it was wonderful. My point is that the thing should be judged on what it says and not how it makes me feel.

BTW I do not know why praise bands have to be down front. Would they be as popular off to the side or in the back? I really hate anything that distracts from the crucifix, altar, pulpit, and font and nothing is as distracting as people -- be it a great liturgical choir down front or a praise band. I don't even like pipe organs as the dossal curtain for the chancel...

But you all know me... I am a curmudgeonly type who only flies in airplanes with two right wing...

Claudia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Exactly, Fr. Peters! Lots of great comments here, but I was waiting for someone to hone in on the lyrics of the songs itself, particularly the first part of the refrain: "Our God is not dead, He's alive, and He's living in the praise of His people."

This sentiment is exactly what drives this sort of contemporary worship - the more enthusiastically we praise Him, the more alive He is in our lives, etc.

That is not consistent with our theology of worship, but it is consistent with the theology of worship among the protestants, who believe that Jesus is "up there" and needs to be reached by our praise.

Oh, and Cindy, I concur with Pr. Gaunt regarding your illustrative comment, which I can relate to all too well, having come from a protestant background (mostly Church of Christ) - I'll never understand why Lutherans want to give up their treasure to run after the emptiness of much of protestant worship.

on the Wittenberg Trail said...

Pastor Messer and Pastor Peters,
I cringed when I heard the words,"Our God is not dead, He's alive, and He's living in the praise of His people."
I heard it sung in the church and thought, what? God is alive and He's living in the praise of His people. I know there is scripture that states God inhabits the praises of His people but this refrain twists that scripture if that is where he came up with the words. This song is not in agreement with the Lutheran Confessions but it is sung in the church quite regularly. Actually, the senior pastors son wrote and produced this song along with a CD he produced of songs that are also sung at Faith. The writer is also the Worship Director in the church. His songs are used quite often in worship.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Ps. 22:3 is often a go-to verse for proponents of contemporary praise songs. They take the verse out of context and use it to promote the idea that "praise is the doorway to God's presence." We can certainly understand why Americanized Protestants would pluck this verse out of its context and use it to support such a faulty notion. They don't believe our Lord is actually present in worship, except in their hearts and, well, in their praise.

Why Lutherans would sing this song, or the many other contemporary praise songs which flow from the same understanding, is beyond me.

Notice, too, how songs such as this one affect posture, actions, and overall atmosphere. Looking up to the ceiling with outstretched arms to the Jesus their praise is making alive.

But, for those who believe, teach, and confess that Jesus is REALLY there in their midst - living in His means of grace, as Fr. Peters rightly pointed out - we see a different posture, different actions, and a different overall atmosphere - reverence for being in the midst of the Holy One.

All of which is simply to say that Lutherans worship as they believe, and vice versa.

Scott Diekmann said...

You mean your congregation's choir doesn't stand behind the altar, facing the congregation?