I have been thinking a lot about the “worship wars” lately. That’s why I recently looked at the letter that I had written to my former pastor some years ago, informing him that we were leaving the congregation. Basically, we left “the CCM style” for the sake of the kid(s). Here is an excerpt of the letter (and if anyone is inclined to wonder “where is the joy and celebration?” when you read this, please look at this especially, and this as well, which I think speak of a joy rooted in humble and humbling things):
“…Speaking for myself here, I used to ask regarding worship, “Why shouldn’t the Holy of Holies become the Friendly of Friendlies?” (Ft. Wayne theologian David Scaer’s phrase). Was not Jesus kind to all?
This is the answer that has gradually formed in my mind over the last several years due to my reading of God’s Word, listening to many Bible teachers and commentators, and my own reflection: Jesus, though ever-kind, only shows His “friendliness” to those who take Him seriously (fear of God)—to His own, or to those looking to become His own (if one will argue against this, at the very least could we not agree that [seriousness is at issue] when it comes to the Divine Service, to Eucharistic worship?—see Hebrews 12:22-29 for example). On the other hand, to those who do not take Him seriously—His enemies—He simply dies for them in all seriousness, with a heart of true love, which is an unpretentious, no-nonsense love, and is pure unsentimental unwavering kindness. This he does whispering “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. There is nothing that could ever possibly be construed as “cheesy” or “gimmicky” with Jesus. In short, “the Passion of the Christ” [Note: the movie had recently been released] is our theology, or we have no true theology. It alone is to be the centerpiece of our worship. And in all honesty, it’s the only way that the books of Leviticus and Revelation even start to make sense to me.
What of the lost? Well, certainly we are to be about the same business of Jesus, who came to seek and to save them. The Divine Worship, however, is serious business, and is meant for the people of God—though all seekers and even rank unbelievers may come into the presence of this wrathful and yet kind lamb—if they dare [I add in 2010: and perhaps they will “fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!'” as they hear the one who not only prophesies such that he “strengthen[s], encourag[es] and comforts”, but also such that unbelievers are “convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare.”–I Cor. 14 – in an essay found here, a pastor suggests that “Here, then, is displayed the concepts of cultural sensitivity, relevancy, and love, especially for unbelievers and new Christians”… really?]. This is the kind of worship—more—the kind of Catechesis, in which [my wife] and I desire to raise our children.
I don’t really sense much of this approach [here]. While being concerned about what’s happening in the culture around us is critical, I think this knowledge is important for different reasons than what I believe the majority of this congregation does. For example, in my opinion, our attempts to reach out to the culture, with our finger on the pulse of their “felt-needs”, and our corresponding desire be more “user-friendly” (in the way we go about it [here]) are actually tending to undermine the message about what people really need and what the Church really has to offer. It comes off as a lot of fluff and shallow sentimentality to me sometimes, removed from the hard realities the Church has faced through the ages, and still faces abroad. Please don’t think that I am in any way saying that the Church does not need to be vigorous about evangelization. We certainly do need to do this, but I think we both have different philosophies about the best way to be about this.
I guess regarding the worship life [here], our approach to me seems off-kilter, lacking balance, etc., in that we do not really deal seriously with sin and also lack to a large degree a sense of holiness, awe, and reverence (for example, you might recall my talking to you about how I believed you had mentioned one Sunday during Lent how our midweek services had been “fun”, and also my mentioning how even our last Tenebrae service was short on the sorrow / mourning, but rather featured more up-beat tunes). Comedy skits, for example, just seem totally out of place to me now (besides, there is no way we can compete with TV and movies). I understand of course that others will see this much, much differently—perhaps in their eyes, [what we have here] is far too traditional!
In short, I guess it just comes down to the fact that [my wife] and I are becoming even more traditional and really want that for our children (I don’t even think children’s messages during worship are a good idea anymore in that I think they give the impression that the rest of the worship service isn’t really for the kids and we shouldn’t necessarily expect them to be participants). That will probably be our pat answer for those who semi-interestedly might ask us why we are leaving. Going into more detail for your sake, we think you will agree that a lot of what our culture is and offers is shallow and unreflective, manipulative and slick, unconcerned about the past, entertainment-driven yet bored, overly emotional and therapeutic, immature (obsessed with youth and the desires of youth), fixated on personal “rights”, duty-shunning, non-serious, and for the most part antagonistic towards modesty, chastity, frugality, simplicity, and contentment. In our minds therefore, any attempts to try to appeal to it (or shall we say be contemporary?) on its terms is a grave mistake. In fact, some would say that these things above are components of an “anti-culture” in that in the long-run they are unable to effectively sustain communities during the hard realities of life that inevitably come. The popular Lutheran theologian Marva Dawn’s book “Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down” is somewhat instructive here, and I highly recommend it as it helped to formulate a lot of these issues in my mind. Simply put, today [my wife] and I would rather try to be more radically counter-cultural—more “set apart” when it comes to worship and the Christian life (and I think, more confrontational (?) with the culture…). We both think [this church] is more likely to become more contemporary in the near future than it is to become more traditional, and we do not want to “stand in the way”. Of course, going right along all of this, we also believe that Lutheran churches ought to be more serious about our distinctly Lutheran heritage and theology and communicating that to congregations.
In some ways, I know I’m taking the easy way out. Rather than coming up with very specific examples and then, creative solutions (not just criticism)—and then thinking of how to present them in a way that might be acceptable to you, the staff, and the rest of the congregation, [my wife] and I would rather avoid conflict and move to a congregation that simply has been “less progressive” than this one—one that wouldn’t resist “going back to the past…”