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What Luther Says

Why Is Contemporary Worship (Music And The Praise Band) The Sacred Cow In Christ's Church Today?

There have been a couple of REALLY GOOD commentaries written in the past few days about "Contemporary Worship (CoWo)" in Christ's Church with a special emphasis placed upon the style of music so often characteristic of CoWo as well as the use of a "Praise Band" and whether or not any of it should even have a legitimate place in the Divine Service.

I don't care what denomination you belong to (or if you attend a Non-Denominational church), because the simple fact of the matter is that Contemporary Worship has somehow become the new mark of the "true" Christian Church.

Never mind the Holy Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper as being the marks that identify a true Christian Church from the pretenders! Nowadays, if your church sign out front isn't advertising to the general public that you you offer a weekly Contemporary Service, then you must be a "dead" or "dying" church since you're "clearly not trying to be relevant" to attract others from your local community.

The phrase "Sacred Cow" easily comes to mind.

"Sacred Cow" 
A person or thing immune to criticism or questioning, as in The rules governing the press conference have become a sacred cow in this administration. This term alludes to the honored status of cows in Hinduism, where they are a symbol of God's generosity to humankind. It has been used figuratively since about 1900. 

Sure enough, any serious criticism of Contemporary Worship Services and all that's associated with them is usually followed by fierce resistance from the CoWo enthusiasts.

It's even become "taboo" in some circles to even bring the subject up for any kind of discussion whatsoever. So much for that group's claims of wanting to be as "accommodating" and "inclusive" as possible, huh?

However, have you ever really stopped to think about the Biblical case that can be made against practicing Contemporary Worship? Yes, believe it or not, there are some extremely powerful points to be made against CoWo participants and proponents that I think we need to prayerfully consider.

Don't take my word for it though. Please listen to what others have to say -- others who were once staunch supporters of the practice and who now do what they can to educate their brothers and sisters in Christ about the spiritual dangers (yes, "spiritual dangers") inherent in such a form of weekly worship.

People like Pastor Eric Andersen. Here are some of the most compelling excerpts from the first piece he wrote on the subject only a few days ago...

Why I Quit The Praise Band 
And then I started studying the Lutheran Confessions. I eventually came to realize that I couldn’t be a Lutheran and keep doing what I was doing, and I wasn’t about to turn my back on sound doctrine so I could keep doing what felt good. To say this was a painful divorce would be a massive understatement, and it didn’t happen overnight. The truth is, I continued playing in praise bands throughout my time at the seminary even though I was beginning to have theological reservations about it. Getting involved in praise bands was the natural thing to do, especially since my field education and vicarage took place a large congregations with thriving contemporary services. The culture of Concordia Seminary (St. Louis) also encouraged this sort of thing. My suspicion of the praise and worship genre began during my time at Concordia Chicago, when Professor Brian Mosemann (who was more than patient with my endless questions and objections in class) introduced Confessional Lutheranism to me without ever beating me up with “what we’re supposed to do because the confessions say so.” He simply and eloquently presented Lutheran theological thought, and it was impossible for me to resist the logic. I wanted to, as my Old Adam wasn’t going to let go of his crass enthusiasm without a fight (he’s still clinging to it, BTW; see SA III:VIII, 9).


So why did I finally put my guitar down and quit the praise band?[1] It wasn’t easy, but here are some of the main reasons. 
1. Praise music is not suitable for congregational singing (generally speaking). Unlike the hymns, which utilize a limited melodic range and fairly basic rhythmic patterns, much of the praise music that congregations utilize today was written by professional musicians to be performed by professionals at concerts. Chris Tomlin, for example, is a (first) tenor. Many of his songs include notes that are so high you can barely reach them with a ladder. Nor do the (syncopated) rhythmic patterns that dominate the genre lend themselves to congregational singing. 
2. The text, not the music, should be primary. The music typically comes first in praise songs; the words are secondary. Complex rhythmic patterns dominate the text, making it difficult to hear or reflect on what is being said. The lyrics that pervade the praise & worship genre are generally shallow (why bother writing profound lyrics when nobody’s going to hear them anyway?). Good hymns emphasize the text above all else. Even when music plays a prominent role, it still ought to be a handmaiden to the text. 
3. When we’re at church, we’re on holy ground. The sanctuary is a holy place. In order for something to be holy, it must be different, set apart. Not common. Praise music is common. It sounds like everything else in the world around us today (in some cases, it’s even a cheap imitation of that). Things are supposed to be different in the Church, which is why pastors vest and the liturgy calls for chanting. Most contemporary-minded pastors don’t do those things. Vesting and chanting would be out of place. There’s not much room for the holy in the average contemporary service. 
4. 7/11 songs are shallow. Now not all praise and worship songs are 7/11 songs (where you sing the same 7 words 11 times), but many of them are. The chorus to one of the popular songs I used to lead back in my praise band days went like this: “Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord. Yes Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes Lord. Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord, Amen.” I’m not even kidding. 
5. Theology matters. If a praise song is harmless, that’s usually the best you can hope for. It’s better for a song to teach nothing at all then to teach false doctrine. This is why I don’t like most so-called “Christian” radio stations, bestsellers, or movies. Most of them are filled with terrible theology. You’re much better off sticking with the secular stuff. Many praise songs don’t say much about God at all, so a Jew, Muslim, or any sort of theist would be comfortable singing them. Quite often they say things that are unbiblical. Decision theology is rampant in the praise genre (which makes sense, as most of these songs are written by reformed Christians). Rarely, if ever, is there any Sacramental emphasis. 99% of the time praise songs are so happy they make Pharrell seem like a downer, and it’s easier to find Waldo than it is to find any trace of sin or the Law in them. Most of the time, however, the songs are about me, me, me, and more me, and how we love, love, love to praise God SO much, and all we wanna do is just praise Him and squeeze Him and give Him our hearts. Many praise songs would work quite well as a love song. Replace any mention of “God” with the name of your girlfriend, buy her a box of roses, and you’re all set. Ideally, church music would teach us something about who God is and what He has done for us. Hymns teach doctrine and tell the story of salvation. In fairness, there are some praise songs out there that don’t do a bad job of this. But I’ll put up the best hymns against the best praise songs any day. Paul Gerhardt says more about God in a single stanza than most contemporary Christian artists say on a whole album. 
6. The Church is catholic. Contemporary worship is trendy, and so it is constantly changing. When something gets old, it is no longer contemporary and is discarded (which may be one reason why the Bible may be minimized or is entirely absent from these services and much “contemporary” preaching). Contemporary worship is defined by its age, not by its theological substance, nor is faithfulness an essential criterion. It’s hard to define “contemporary worship” because it means so many things to so many people. It is also therefore highly individualistic, a quality which is antithetical to unity and catholicity. Contemporary services in one place are often drastically different from contemporary services in another place, even on the same Sunday. Not that we need absolute uniformity (AC VII), but there ought to be some continuity from congregation to congregation, especially if they are in the same Synod.

Definitely read the whole thing, but make sure you let the above key points sink in.

In short, I love Pastor Eric Andersen's brief confession: "So, why did I quit the praise band? Because I’m Lutheran." What else is there to say?

Yet, such an honest, humble, and truthful piece did not sit well with the CoWo crowd. In fact, it prompted Pastor Kent Reeder to respond with his very own commentary alternately titled "Why I Won't Quit The Praise Band" that I personally disagree with (for many reasons!) primarily due to his belief that "liturgy and hymnody don't maintain orthodoxy" because "people do, because God, in his grace, chooses to use certain individuals and his Word to keep the Church on track." What!?!

Well, the debate didn't end there. Pastor Eric Andersen published a new piece just yesterday as a follow-up to his original one, but also as a direct response to his fellow Pastor, Rev. Kent Reeder.

His intentions couldn't be any clearer and they emphasize what's at stake here and why we need to be having this discussion at all levels within Christ's Church.

The purpose of this response to a response is to highlight how the contemporary approach to worship which Pastor Reeder has articulated in his article (and is practiced widely throughout the Christian Church today) is fundamentally opposed to the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.

That's the gist of it right there.

That always has been the issue and that always will be the issue.

So why in the world wouldn't we want to try to reach unity with one another in regard to how we worship each week? I'll let Pastor Eric Andersen fire the first return salvo in his opening paragraph from his latest article.

Why The Praise Band And I Are Never, Ever, Ever Getting Back Together 
How do you know what somebody believes? Look at what they do. Faith is manifest in works; doctrine is manifest in practice. If you pour the blood of Christ down the toilet, that says something about your doctrine of the Sacrament. If you don’t believe the Divine Service is holy ground, you either don’t believe that Jesus is holy or that He is present in the Divine Service. The denial that we are on holy ground in the Divine Service is a key component of the false theology that undergirds much of what is often called “contemporary worship.”

And that was only the first paragraph in Pastor Andersen's response to Pastor Reeder!

He went on to accurately state...

The wildly contrasting approaches to worship we see in the Church today aren’t the result of minor differences over human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men (as is often claimed by proponents of contemporary worship). There’s no way around it: if the Divine Service isn’t holy ground, then Jesus either isn’t present or He isn’t holy. I suspect many in the CoWo crowd would insist that the church is holy ground, but in actual practice it nevertheless remains that any regard for the holiness of God (and therefore the presence of Jesus) is absent in many of their services. This is an approach to the Divine Service which is fundamentally opposed to the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments (AC VII). Our practices reflect our doctrine. When our practices are radically different, odds are, so is our doctrine.


To call the place where the Lord Jesus comes to serve us “regular ground” borders on the blasphemous. As Holy Scripture says, we have access into the holy places by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19). Where the blood of Jesus is, there is holy ground. The Divine Service is not “regular ground,” where “regular people come and hear a universal message.” We are on holy ground, where Jesus comes not merely to speak some generic, universal message, but comes to make you, a sinner, holy.


Those who understand that the Divine Service is holy ground understand why what is often called “contemporary worship” doesn’t belong there.


How those who make the worship-related decisions for a congregation regard the Divine Service (is it holy ground or isn’t it?) is usually obvious upon entering a sanctuary. What is the architecture like? Is there an altar, pulpit, font, and crucifix? What sort of fabrics adorn the sanctuary? How does the pastor dress? Does it look like a movie theater or a concert venue? What sort of music is being played? How is the liturgy conducted? These things will speak volumes about the doctrine which is confessed at a congregation’s altar (if there is an altar). Just as faith is manifest in works, doctrine is manifest in practice.


Lutherans, nor even Christians, for that matter, are supposed to “point all people to Christ by whatever means available.”


Great contemporary Lutheran music is being written. Steven Starke’s hymns are, in my opinion, some of the best in Lutheran Service Book. As I mentioned in my original article, caution is needed when straying from the hymnal (but do note that I suggest that it’s possible to do so while retaining a distinctly Lutheran identity), and I even commend the efforts of “contemporary” music director Miguel Ruiz as being an example of what faithful “contemporary” Lutheran worship might sound like.


The Divine Service is not about us pointing to Christ, much less doing so by any means available. The Divine Service is about receiving Christ in His appointed means of Word and Sacrament. There is no room in the Divine Service for shallow contemporary songs that are all about what we do for Jesus, nor is there room for the general irreverence that the praise and worship genre typically fosters. The Church exists to deliver Christ to His people, and nothing does that better than the liturgy. Sorry praise band, but we are never, ever, ever getting back together.

Now, good luck trying to slay the sacred cow that is Contemporary Worship in your congregation, especially if your Pastor is the one driving the "CoWo Wagon" like Pastor Reeder, but at least Pastor Eric Andersen has provided you with some helpful resources you can use to make a strong Biblical case against it if need be.

I like how one person summed it up on Facebook...

Rafe Spraker: Praise Bands music purposely manipulates emotion to stimulate a "Spiritual Mystical Decision." Sheep are confused by the religious jargon set to music which is designed to "move them." Luther knew music has this powerful ability upon our soul and therefore encouraged hymnody to be written which reflected the Truth of the Gospel. Our emphasis should be on Christ in His incarnation and on His presence in His Word and Sacraments. Praise Band music focuses on the state of our hearts and its ability to choose, make commitments or decisions, etc.

I couldn't have said it any better than that.

Here's what we find in the Book of Concord too...

"Thus the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive from God gifts; on the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God." 
*- Apology, III:189

Seriously, isn't it time we took a more serious look at Contemporary Worship and all that comes with it? Why is Contemporary Worship (music and the Praise Band) the sacred cow in Christ's Church today?

Arrogance. Pride. Sin.

Apparently, "Old Adam" is lounging around on a swimming pool float within too many hearts and minds, cocktail with an umbrella in one hand with his iPod playing the latest CCM hits in the other, when he should be drowning daily in the waters of our Baptism instead.

If you're looking for more information on this topic, then please check out some of the other posts from our Archive for a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of this unholy trend.

Yes, It's Time To Ditch The 'Contemporary Worship' Service

Have Evangelicals Been Listening To Table Talk Radio!?!

You wanna know why I have a problem with Contemporary Worship particularly as it exists within the LCMS? Because of things like this -- Worship Satire: "Your Identity" or, as I like to call it, "The Type of Thing I Hear Each And Every Week During Our Contemporary Worship Service At Church" when the Pastor's not letting the Youth Group do a skit IN PLACE OF the Divine Service.

When your CoWo Service sounds like that intentionally satirical worship song, then there's a big problem, my dear friends.

When did we get to a place where we assume that a song must be "truly Christian" and, therefore, it is perfectly appropriate for us to include in our church services simply because "it has the words 'fire,' 'desire,' and 'believe' in it" and is performed by the "most sincere" and "passionate" Christian(s) we know?

Even Jimmy Fallon blasted Contemporary Worship for what it truly is without even realizing it...and millions of Christians probably laughed along with him without giving it the slightest second thought about its existence in their own church and why they allow it to happen in the first place.

What a sad state of affairs. Then again, it's about perspective, patience, and perseverance, right? So, let's keep forcing the issue and having this debate by speaking "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).

Who Left Whom? CoWo Isn’t A Practice Of Walking Together 
One thing I don’t understand about this whole affair of CoWo at CUNE and in LC-MS congregations (please read this thread and the comments for some examples and context) is why those introducing this recent innovation into the LC-MS have done so knowing that they are changing the liturgy from practice that was common to most congregations in the LC-MS for decades? For all the talk of brotherly love coming from those demanding that the “traditionalists” stop blocking change in the LC-MS towards CoWo, where was that brotherly love when these innovators began introducing CoWo (and accompanying Church Growth theology) departing from the common practice of their synod? 
One of the problems here is that the CoWo practicing brothers have stopped walking with their “traditionalist” brothers and have gone their own way for years now, pursuing and making their changes despite pleadings not to run in the direction they seem dead set upon going. 
A theme carried throughout the thread I link to above, from those supporting “praise bands” and unionism, is that the so-called “traditionalists” are an unloving, intolerant, lot who can’t see the “big picture” because they are wrongly focused on teaching (aka doctrine) and “incessant wrangling” over getting the message and practice straight. But who left whom? Who departed the practice of their synod and then demanded the right to continue their practices even though they were causing divisions with their new practices? 
I have read allot of talk from CoWo supporters concerning not offending our brothers and sisters in the Lord, but isn’t what the CoWo supporters are doing an offense to those who want to preserve the liturgy practiced in the LC-MS long before CoWo arrived on the scene?

That says it all.

I rest my case and I will certainly continue to pray for my friends and church.

I will fervently pray that the Lord will open the eyes, ears, hearts, and minds of all the CoWo enthusiasts to the truth and lead them to repentance.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, this is why doctrine matters. Doctrine matters because it defines and determines our worship practices.

How we worship at church says a lot about what we actually believe.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Unfortunately this article was filled with the most shallow understanding of Scripture I've seen in a while. I don't have time to respond now but I will probably write a blog article to respond to those five arguments.


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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