Worship wars: where is the conversation going?

08 Sep

(A little bit different fodder for this blog this time around.  All I can say is that little children don’t have a need to seek “The Feeling” because life is just about as exciting and full of God-given wonder as can be – see here as well)

Recently, Matthew Harrison said that, in the future, instrumentation within the service would not be an issue as long as the traditional ordo is followed (see 1:22:35 ff here).  Elsewhere, Issues ETC host Todd Wilken just released an article where he suggests talking not about music, but about doctrine: what are we really saying we want to teach and confess if we worship in a certain way?*

My pastor, Paul Strawn, also recently weighed in on this issue, at the regular meeting of the Northeast Minneapolis Circuit of the Minnesota South District (LC-MS)**.  I think his argument deserves a wide hearing, and he gave me permission to post it on my blog.

What follows are some clips from his talk.  Go here to see the whole thing:

“…what if a musical style, a musical setting, and even a type of text, is chosen to be used in worship in order to actually alter the experience of the worshiper in a way in which it previously had not? In other words, what if a type of music and text would be deployed in worship, with the express purpose of causing the worshiper to acquire a different awareness of God at the end of the song, than he or she had at the beginning? Here we are not thinking of a “growth in grace and knowledge,” of the Holy Spirit working through the text of the song to affect His purposes, but an altered state, an altered awareness of God by the Christian effected by the music, what some have dubbed, “The Feeling”[1]?…

With [LC-MS pastor and musician Michael] Schmid’s stated purpose of such music “to lead the worshipper to [a] point of meditation and reflection, and so hopefully engage the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the intellectual or cognitive,” i.e. ”meditation on God in the presence of God,” the question raised by this presentation is whether the introduction of the praise chorus into the worship of Lutheran churches actually is occasioning unwittingly the entry of a theology somewhat foreign both to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and that is the theology represented by the practice of cataphatic mysticism. While such an assertion might initially seem somewhat odd, already ten years ago it had become a topic of great concern among many Christians across multiple Christian traditions as cataphatic mysticism seems to be a common element, even a key element, of the theology of the so-called Emergent Church Movement (ECM)…

So in order to pursue the answer to this question, the general contours of cataphatic mysticism will first be described. Martin Luther’s early interest in late medieval cataphatic mysticism will then follow and finally, the surprising interest of the emergent church movement in cataphatic mysticism will be explored…

…unlike other forms of mysticism, in which a person may suddenly, without warning, encounter something other, or in experiencing something “other,” loses track of self in which the person becomes one with the other, or beholds a startling vision which is deemed inexpressible, or expressible, in cataphatic mysticism a person participates in a common, everyday or “soft” mysticism. The ultimate aspect or goal of cataphatic mysticism is simply the feeling of God’s presence. That feeling is achieved not suddenly and unexpectedly, but somewhat expectedly, even mechanically, through the creation itself, through created means.

What are the created means of the cataphatic mystic? Really anything that can be intentionally sought. In that God is present in all things, if a thing can be contemplated long enough, God’s presence can be encountered in and with and through, or in, with and under that thing. So a picture, a statue, a beautiful vista, a bit of music, and even ideas and words. Here words would not be used in a normal sense, as a tool of communication between two or more people, but merely as objects that contain an idea. So like a statue, words become images which the eye beholds. Yes, the eyes can depart from the image, but when they return to the image they behold the same image once again.

And the point must be made: Cataphatic mysticism is normally just a starting point that usually ends up in apophatic mysticism [an indescribable experience], and apophatic mysticism usually begins with cataphatic mysticism. Cataphatic mysticism is the start, for the creation itself is the start. So if the feeling of the presence of God is that for which it is hoped, the creation itself must be, to a certain extent, left behind, in apophatic “unknowingness”…

…it would seem that Luther distinguished between the mystical traditions with which he was familiar, and the practice of cataphatic mysticism, speculative mysticism, the use of the creation to go beyond the intellectual and cognitive to meditate upon God in his presence…

The “Max Schmolenbach,” to which [Tony] Campolo refers, is most probably the German economist, Eugen Schmalenbach (1873 -1955), who pioneered the idea of the Bund, as opposed to a community (Gemeinshaft), or society (Gesellschaft), that is, “an elective association based on a common goal or a common ritual experience of communion.”[2]  So Schmalenbach is not defining Christian worship in specific, but “a common ritual experience of communion” of man in general. This definition could also be used to describe the effect of participation in large athletic events, like college football games and NASCAR races—packed as they are with ritual experiences—and rock, country western and classical music concerts. And it also would explain some of the the results of a recently released (August 19th, 2012) study by the University of Washington ‘God is Like a Drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches, at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver, Colo.[3]

* – Wilken ask questions like: “What is worship?  What isn’t worship?  Is worship what man does for God, or what God does for man?  What is the purpose of worship?  What are the benefits of worship?  Those are all doctrinal questions.”

** – “The Praise Chorus as Unwitting Introduction of Cataphatic Mysticism into Christian Worship”

[1] Brian D. McLaren, “Missing the point: worship,” in Brian D. McLaren and Tony Campolo, Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), p. 212.

[3] James Wellman, Katie E. Corcoran and Kate Stockly-Meyerdirk. Cf.


Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Uncategorized



15 responses to “Worship wars: where is the conversation going?

  1. Rev. H. R. Curtis

    September 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Indeed, music matters. I think Pres. Harrison, et al., are making a tactical move: let’s get on the same page via ordo then we’ll talk about your praise band. In one of our pastors’ conferences I actually made that offer to a pastor from our district who is a big advocate for the contemporary worship crowd. I asked him if we could just set aside the question of music, that I did not want him to get rid of his “Praise Team” – but would he at least pray about the possibility of giving up on making his own orders, would he pray about the possibility of just using one of the orders from TLH, LW, or LSB, and never mind the music?

    The answer was no. He would not even consider this.

    So I think the tactical argument is useful if only to reveal the true lines of the debate. The contemporary crowd is opposed to praying the Lutheran liturgy. They will not give up the DIY worship route.


  2. infanttheology

    September 8, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Pastor Curtis,

    Thanks for the comment. I am going to have to let that simmer for a while. : )

    Adding on to the title of the post: which way should we direct the conversation? I.e., what will, in the end, be the most fruitful?

    I don’t know – but I also would not want to give persons who are already very confused about worship the impression that I think that there is something sacrosanct about our ordo – when this (these!) to are indeed a matter of Christian freedom…

    My pastor’s approach – it seems to me – invites the CCM crowd to do some real reflection on this issue without attacking what they are doing directly (i.e. not too many contemporary pastors are Emergent…)


  3. Rev. Karl Hess

    September 11, 2012 at 3:50 am

    It would be nice if Koinonia’s dialogues were happening in a more public setting.

  4. Nathan

    September 13, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Pastor Hess,

    This was not an official “Koinonia” dialogue, if those even exist yet (I don’t know much about it). It was simply my pastor trying to reach those in his circuit whom he has gotten to know over the past 10 years. It was his turn to lead the discussion/bible study, and this is what he did.


  5. Jason

    September 15, 2012 at 2:51 am

    Regarding the emerging church, you’ll want to pass along this reference (hot off the presses) to Pastor Strawn so he has up-to-date material: Emergence Christianity: What Is Is, Where It is Going, and Why It Matters by Phyllis Tickle.

  6. Nathan

    September 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm


    Ah, yes – he was looking for something like that and I couldn’t find anything like this.



  7. jpschock

    September 18, 2012 at 2:29 am

    Nate, another recent book for Pastor Strawn to consider would be the latest from Diana Butler Bass, “Christianity After Religion: The End of the Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening” I have read Bass’ book and there is much in it that will more than likely concern confessional Lutherans. While her book doesn’t address emergence worship specifically, it does an excellent job of laying out the new paradigm of spiritual awakening in redefined terms of belonging, behaving, and believing.

  8. Mark QL Louderback

    September 18, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I think that when musicians talk about anything I tend to roll my eyes…so all of the, uh “cathartic…catatonic… Cataphatic mysticism” talk is a bunch of crap to me.

    Music is powerful, no doubt. But there is just as much altered state in singing A Mighty Fortress when you have a pipe organ, brass instruments, and a nice male chorus to sing with, as much as you do with a praise song.

    Anyone who has sung in any choir can speak about some emotional connection to the music and the moment that transcended where they were.

    So, I just don’t see that as much of an issue. Are some CoWo people crazy? Sure. Who disagrees with that?

    As far as doctrine goes: I don’t have any problem in talking about theology and doctrine and explaining why I do what I do. But yes, if the issue is “We must only worship in one particular way — using one particular set of words — and if you do not worship that way, you are not Lutheran (that is, one who holds to Scripture alone)”….you know, some of us have problems with that.

    So, the issues are:

    #1: Liturgical worship is pretty gosh darn repetitive. Some like that. Some love it. Some would not mind doing the exact same service every single Sunday.

    That’s great. Some don’t.

    #2: Liturgical worship is unconcerned with jargon. The hearer needs to be a part of the in group to understand what is going on. CoWo is more concerned about meeting people where they are and stream-lining the language. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. Is one bad and the other good? No.

    What gets me is the talk of doctrine and truth. I have no problem in saying “Look, some of these services are wacky. They need correction.” Best practices of CoWo? No problem.

    But there won’t be this because of the flip side of Pastor Curtis’ argument: there is not any sort of worship service that does not use the Western Mass that he would approve of. Whether it is theologically solid or not.

    We are really no closer in our discussion of the worship wars. We are just moving our way through different topics with which we want to attack the other side.

    • Nathan

      September 18, 2012 at 5:29 pm


      Thanks for commenting!

      “We are really no closer in our discussion of the worship wars. We are just moving our way through different topics with which we want to attack the other side.”

      “We” Are you speaking for yourself? I don’t want you to be speaking about me! I can’t speak for Pastor Curtis, but as you note from my comment above, I do think its important for us to acknowledge the church has some real freedom here (more than this:

      To me, it sounds like what we have here is an unhappy marriage. Things were going well. Than my wife started doing this thing on her own and it really bothers me because I feel like she is totally unconcerned about what I think…. Doesn’t she realize what this is doing to me? She tells me things are fine and I should just get over it, but I feel distant from her because things clearly don’t seem the same to me…

      So, what do you as a pastor do? Is that applicable to the question at hand in this post? If not why not? What’s love got to do with it?

      I mean, let’s say I grant you all your points… Even if it is true that worship is too repetitive (an island of stability and certainty in an uncertain and chaotic world? – a place you go where you know you won’t be surprised by those who arrange worship [tightly clad women doing liturgical dance anyone?] even if you will – hopefully – be somewhat surprised by God…) and the language should be made more “user-friendly” to the person on the street, does this mean that the point about the unity and strength of the marriage that does exist should be minimized? Why not work on both of these things at the same time, even as it takes *time* and *patience* (like any good relationship).

      Regarding your statements about music (“A Mighty Fortress”) I rarely have moments like those you describe with most hymns (even during Easter worship with the trumpets – this strikes me as beautiful and majestic [and appropriate as well], but I don’t usually get the “liver shivers” here). Likewise I have sung in choirs and never had the experiences you describe. Alternatively, this happens to me often with CCM songs (I can’t control it), or even “How great thou art” (“then sings my soul….”)

      Why is this?

      Is it not, in part (I don’t want to discount differences across persons and personalities here, or fail to acknowledge that some “sacred music” is written to do precisely the same thing that ccm music is), because the music and the worship experience is being engineered a certain way to produce a certain experience? (like pastor Michael Schmid, who my pastor quotes, is saying he does). In one case, it is like the muse, that comes more or less unexpectantly, as a gift. In the other case, I come to expect it – and if I don’t get it, any deep spirituality of those running worship may be in doubt… (yes, I confess did use to think this way)

      Can’t talk again today, but hope you want to keep this up a bit. In case you can’t tell, I am disappointed (and even surprised!) by your response.


  9. Nathan

    September 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Another thing to think about Mark: even if you do have churches that work hymn-singing such that they do create “The Feeling”, they generally aren’t singing the “Feeling-creating” parts again and again to sustain it for longer periods of time – the way more ccm/emergent congregations do – nor are they stringing together all the most emotional parts together to do the same.

  10. Mark QL Louderback

    September 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Nathan ,when I say “we” I am referring to the Synod as a whole. Or at least to the Synod as a microcosm that is the internet.

    But I certainly am not hopeful for good discussion on the matter. I just see sides hardening up and ignoring one another. And for good reason, right? Every ten years we have a change in leadership and those who have been out rise up and beat their chest for a bit, and those on the out slink away to lick their wounds and wait ten years.

    So, I don’t see much difference now.

    Note, you said “Even if it is true that worship is too repetitive…” <— This is not what *I* said. I said that it was repetitive for some.

    But the unity and strength of the marriage of our Synod is to be found in our doctrine. We are united here. No one argues against justification — the cornerstone of our Synod. No one argues against the Word of God as being the base of our faith. We have quibbles on certain topics, sure — but from 100 yards, people can't tell a difference between myself and anyone from the "other side" of the worship wars.

    So, I am actually fairly positive on the unity of our Synod.

    As far as why some and not others when it comes to "getting the feeling", you really never got it singing with a chorus? Greetings O Mary? We sang a version of Shall we Gather By the River that had the parts walking closer to each other, finally ending up in a dissonant chord. I still remember it to this day.

    And some CCM is pretty bad…

    But I don't know — I think it is easier to sing out with CCM. Longer notes, right in the Belt It Out range. The praise team is a pretty joyful sound.

    But engaging the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the cognitive? Eh. To be joyful, sure, I guess.

    There is no doubt that you can use music and emotions to manipulate people. I just don't see that as the purpose of CoWo. And I would not see it as a good thing. Now, I always like a joyful kind of song to kick off the service to — but that was true of traditional as well as CoWo.

    As I said, I don't think this sticks exactly.

  11. Nathan

    September 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm


    Regarding the “we” I see what you are saying, but, as I know you think to, what you and I (and my Pastor), and others, as they join in, come to agree on is not insignificant. It provides a way forward for others.

    “We have quibbles on certain topics, sure — but from 100 yards, people can’t tell a difference between myself and anyone from the “other side” of the worship wars.

    So, I am actually fairly positive on the unity of our Synod.”

    Right – but lots of marriages look healthy from a distance to, when in reality, those in it know that there exists a cancer that eats away from the inside. Both partners in a marriage should be able to be as secure about the marriage’s strength as the other one. If one side says “everything’s OK” while another person believes that the other is not showing love, but disdain, disinterest or worse, that’s not a good situation, and there may be a good reason why one feels that way.

    I repeat:

    “To me, it sounds like what we have here is an unhappy marriage. Things were going well. Than my wife started doing this thing on her own and it really bothers me because I feel like she is totally unconcerned about what I think…. Doesn’t she realize what this is doing to me? She tells me things are fine and I should just get over it, but I feel distant from her because things clearly don’t seem the same to me…”

    Might one partner be being oversensitive? Sure. On the other hand, maybe they really are right to think the way they think… feel the way they feel.

    “As far as why some and not others when it comes to “getting the feeling”, you really never got it singing with a chorus? Greetings O Mary?”

    No – and yet, the first time I experienced an ccm at a rocking Evangelical Free Church in college I was convinced that I had met persons who were more Spirit-filled. It swept me away. Months later I was ready to be re-baptized. I did not doubt for a minute that while perhaps these folks were not as solid in doctrine as people like my dad (who, I will say, I think is a very holy and wonderful man), they certainly had a faith that was more lively and heartfelt than him! There relationship was more real in some way.

    “Longer notes, right in the Belt It Out range. The praise team is a pretty joyful sound.”

    Exactly. And see above for how this affected me (well, maybe if the Lutheran Church does CCM *well*). And I was a solidly catechized Lutheran who valued the intellectual aspect of faith (but also had a very sensitive and emotional side).

    “But engaging the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the cognitive? Eh. To be joyful, sure, I guess.”

    Well – of course. But this is not what we are talking about, right? I said to ccm pastor Ryan Fouts (see the discussion he engaged in here: ) in an email the following:

    “let me say straight up that I want my children to be emotional about God (I have 5 boys under 10). Very, in fact. I want their piety to be extremely heartfelt – I want them to be moved by God! I sing hymns to them every night – the thing is, I don’t sing them hymns with the intent to move them emotionally by the music or the way I sing them. I simply do not think that the music should be overpowering as regards the emotions – any musician worth his salt is aware of the feelings that he can create through his work, and this raises the question of what is a general human experience (i.e. being affected by music) and what is a uniquely Christian response. I simply want my children simply to hear about Jesus, and who He is and what He has done – and who they are – in the song, and I certainly hope that they respond emotionally to that. That said, again, my intent is not to produce an emotional experience of Jesus in them – it is to, as Luther says in your quote, to sing the faith to them because there is nothing that I would rather share.

    I’m not sure if you got the intent of my pastor’s paper. Those who write hymns certainly should “focus on an emotional/experiential component” of music – they can’t not to do this. They should find music that appropriately weds itself to the poetry being presented – in a way that is not set to overpower and manipulate (I do not use that word negatively – this is a part of God’s gift of music and musicians!) mood, but to simply better help the person to hear the message, which should be presented in a fitting (default: joyful!) way to be sure.”

    Finally, you end:

    “There is no doubt that you can use music and emotions to manipulate people. I just don’t see that as the purpose of CoWo. And I would not see it as a good thing. Now, I always like a joyful kind of song to kick off the service to — but that was true of traditional as well as CoWo.”

    Mark, I don’t think most people see that as the purpose either. Their purpose is to get caught up in an experience with God as led by Spirit-filled worship leaders. To be taken up to heaven by the song, more or less. There is also the element that we are not talking about any kind of joyful song, but one that is excessively repetitive (or song*s* for 20 or more minutes in a row in some cases) to “usher people into the presence of God” (as I have often heard). What sophisticated LC-MS Lutheran pastor Michael Schmid is trying to do (see here: ) is exactly that, albeit in a more sophisticated, higher-church way. He says this explicitly – not that we use music to manipulate person’s emotions in a crass way, but in a responsible way. As my pastor sums him up: “the purpose of a contemporary song is ‘to lead the worshipper to [a] point of meditation and reflection, and so hopefully engage the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the intellectual or cognitive,’ i.e. ‘meditation on God in the presence of God.'”

    Is that right?

    “As I said, I don’t think this sticks exactly.”

    I’d like to hear more reasons why you think not… you completely disagree with Scmid then? Are the responses that I am giving you about these things making a little sense at least? You should see some of the conversations I’ve had with non-Lutheran students in my online classes. Most all of them basically see “spirit-filled worship” the same way I did. The point is that music and what music can do is a general creaturely gift – that God gives to all persons. Its not necessarily the Holy Spirit dwelling in their heart via hymns and spiritual songs… is it not important that we are careful not mislead persons here about what they may be experiencing?


  12. Pastor Ryan Fouts

    September 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    A few quick comments since you’ve asked me to weigh in — then I’m heading out of town! First, I’m not a “CCM pastor” at the moment, my congregation uses services derived entirely from the Lutheran Service Book. That said, I’m not anti-CCM. I don’t rule out the possibility of using it in a fruitful way at some point in the undetermined future, and don’t think my brothers who use it in their services are any less Lutheran than anyone else. I just don’t think the reasons why people are opposing it are really very well thought-out… this comes from someone who USED to vocally oppose it. In time, I just found most of my arguments were strawmen.

    Whenever we get into discussions about feelings, emotions, etc., we always end up showing, albeit totally unconsciously, an anthropology foreign to Scripture. Tendencies to “divide” up man into parts, and elevate one part over the other, are not new. It was there with the Gnostics, the Scholastics in the day of Luther divide man into “higher” and “lower” faculties praising the “higher” forms of intellect, and mind, while disparaging the “lower” faculties of feeling, emotion, and body. In the modern era this was perpetuated with Descartes, who similarly divided man in a dualistic fashion. For Descartes, though, the previously thought-of “lower” faculties are not so devious as the Gnostics and Scholastics thought, but are morally and ethically irrelevant. We’re seeing a reversal of those patterns today in postmodern thought, where the feelings and emotions are actually elevated above the intellect…. I appreciate the direction the move takes to justify the experiential and emotional experience of human creatures in the world, but where it goes wrong is that it still maintains the dualism to a degree.

    In reality — Luther understood (particularly as an Old Testament scholar) that when God created man, and delcared him “good,” he was referring to the total man (totus homo), body and soul, reason, intellect, emotion and feeling. To try and segment the human creature into “parts” is really a denial of the essential goodness of man. See FC2 for more an the “essential” goodness of man.

    I’m not in favor of using emotion or feeling to “manipulate” people — but lets be honest, a great deal of manipulation can happen intellectually too. Emotion, or feeling, actually communicates something. It isn’t merely “good” when it flows out of intellectual understanding — feeling and emotion are essentially good regardless, and like the intellect, while good according to design are also bound in the sinful flesh.

    Luther, himself, maintains that our worship out to be joyful, so that our JOY can be heard by others that they might hear it and come to Christ! Some, today, would call that emotional manipulation. Luther, I feel, would disagree… joy is “language,” and emotional language is just as legitimate as intellectual language… but what inspires that joy? Our joy is not a “joy” for joy’s sake — our joy has legs on it, the emotional experience is not one that we need have any more skepticism over than we do over the intellectual content of a sermon. Either can manipulate, but either can also communicate and proclaim the goodness of the Gospel. The Gospel is proclaimed rightly and always in and through human language — that language cannot be relegated to the intellectual realm, language engages the entire creature. Intellect, emotions and all. Worship should, rightly, be emotional — how can we not have joy in response to God’s gifts? This is not manipulation — it’s the Gospel in human language, the language of emotion that is every bit as essential to embracing the Gospel as human beings as the intellect is. An emotional response, while certainly aided by music, at its heart ought always emerge from the Gospel, from the gifts of our Lord. That said, the response actually should be emotional… our response in thanksgiving is simply faith expressed saying “gift received.” Our faith is not merely intellectual assent, it is a trust the envelops the entire human creature… intellect, emotion, body and soul.

    • Nathan

      September 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm


      Your reply is greatly appreciated. I think what you have put forth here is something that we can work with…

      No reason your going out of town should mess things up here. On this blog, I have some conversations that have been going on for over a year, as persons are in and out, away considering (or constructing rebuttals! : ) ), etc.

      Thanks again – I commend you for articulating your position so clearly. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

      When you get back here is my first question: where might you send us to get a better grasp of what you mean when you speak of “emotional language”?


  13. Nathan

    September 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    “I’m not in favor of using emotion or feeling to “manipulate” people — but lets be honest, a great deal of manipulation can happen intellectually too.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by intellectual manipulation here. First of all, by “intellectual” are you just talking about communication that uses words and /or signs for objects or communicates by pointing to objects? Second, by “intellectual manipulation” are you thinking of forceful and logical argumentation? Or are you thinking more about lofty soaring rhetoric? Or are you thinking more about words (or some other kind of communication) that display great conviction, passion, emotion? Or are you thinking about all of these things together?

    Paul does talk about fasting from eloquence, speaks of the Gospel as foolishness to the world, and I doubt he, like George Whitfield, sat around wondering how to “set himself on fire so people would come and watch him burn”.

    I am just talking about singing I am Jesus’ Little Lamb to my two year old. Or telling them that same content in a serious way (which, or course, will have emotion behind it).



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