The worship wars rage on. In the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LC-MS), the latest iteration of this conflict seems to have become centered on the presence of the group known as FiveTwo. FiveTwo is a group in the LC-MS that identifies itself with the missional movement* – and music and more bare-bones liturgies are a big part of this.
Simply put, nothing can rile up Confessional Lutherans on the internet like FiveTwo. After all, doesn’t being holy especially mean loving one’s brothers and sisters in Christ the most of all, and to value that which has been passed on from generation to generation?
I’ve tried to step pretty softly in this war, for some good reasons. My posts trying to start a fruitful discussion with “FiveTwo” can be found here, and I even wrote a post on the Just and Sinner blog that FiveTwo founder himself, Bill Woolsey, told me he appreciated (it was titled: “The Plea of a Stubborn “Confessional” Lutheran: Yes, My “Missional” Friend, Please DO Condemn My Lack of Love for the Lost”).
As can be found in that article: my main concern with the “form” or “style” of contemporary worship is that the Gospel-enveloping “culturally savvy tortillas” that persons produce, in the hope that this or that “target [market]” will pick them up, often actually work to mitigate the simple and humble forms of the Gospel (see 2.2 and 2.3 here). Along with that of course, is the concern for proper reverence.
That’s what I want to focus on right now. I understand that we might have different ideas of what constitutes reverence, but just how far can the definition of that be stretched? I will be honest: it is bits like the following from Pastor Will Weedon that make me think I don’t get reverence at all… Do you have two minutes? If so, please listen to this clip, titled, “What our actions confess about the Lord’s Supper”. It is pretty mind-blowing stuff.
I must respect that. I must be humbled by it. I am – this is most certainly true. How rich the Father’s love for us that He has had His Son visit us in this most intimate of ways! It is unbelievable. As Luther said, it is the Gospel. Period. Full stop. This is the show.
That said, I recently read from a missional pastor (whom I have had many pleasant discussions with in the past) the following:
Contemporary worship is here to stay in the LCMS. 30% — 40% — whatever — of the congregations are not going to stop CoWo.
Especially when the arguments are so weak…. I know that many of you have been to bad CoWo services. I have sympathy with that. I’m sorry about that. But, at the core, guys like me see CoWo the exact same way as I see liturgical worship. A wonderful blessing from God.
Some of you don’t. And you push against it. I’m good with that. You want to do what is best for the synod, the church, God, etc. So do I.
But: we have the Koin to handle this. And that is what I am hopeful for and looking forward to.
“The Koin” is the Koininea Project, which is supposed to be an effort for the various factions (two main “sides” really) to get together and honestly discuss their differences in route to finding agreement.
Let me be totally up-front with everyone, as I recently was on Facebook: here is the attitude I have, and would have going into any meetings like this if the issue of contemporary worship was on the docket:
I will maintain that the Confessions are abundantly clear [on the issue of proper worship] and it is absurd to state otherwise. The Luther quote is just a bonus [context: see here]. In a marriage, if one partner starts to do something out of the blue – after being together for several years – that the other partner finds offensive and childish, is that good for the marriage? Obviously not.. Good order in this sense is a fruit of love which restrains its freedom for the sake of the neighbor. And if the innovator feels that the other partner’s feeling limited in this way (think CoWo is irreverent, childish, or worse) is immature, then they ought to be more patient with them, bear with them as one they consider the weaker brother, etc. While there is sin and pride all around, I humbly submit proponents of CoWo especially need to give this some serious thought and reflection.
This goes deep for me. Years ago, may wife and basically left a congregation that was doing contemporary worship for the sake of the kid(s). Here is an excerpt from the letter, which I know did not move my pastor and will probably move few, if any, others now. But it is what I said then and continue to agree with now:
“…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. 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]…. **
To sum this all up, I might put it this way: Yes, his perfect love drives out fear. But if Jesus’ causing you to fall at His feet as though dead would seem “unkind”, check your “worship style”.
Also note this, from a few months ago (click on the image for more):
Note: post updated for clarity.
* For more on this idea of “missional” vis a vis “confessional” see this post, discussing the differences of Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk and the Reformed Baptist David Platt.
** The rest of the letter is here. I add: 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?
*** One man who says he grew out of contemporary worship has some stronger words: “Having come out of the charismatic extremist end of warfare worship, I can only say….it is childish, pagan at its core, subjectively driven, manipulative by nature, simple songs with no ‘there’ there”. Many others can say the same, even if they might put it less bluntly.