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Worship Wars: How Contemporary Worship (CoWo) Is Killing Worship

I've been away from several of the Lutheran Facebook Groups that I belong to as well as many of the Lutheran Blogs I typically visit for a couple of weeks now and I just noticed that the "Worship Wars" ("Contemporary Worship" vs. "Traditional Worship") are back front-and-center.

It just amazes me to no end that this continues to be a raging debate regardless of the denomination you belong to when it should be pretty simple for the Body of Christ to agree when it comes to a style of worship's direct relationship to doctrine and what we collectively believe, teach, and confess.

And yet, here we are. Still arguing about the merits (or lack thereof) of one style over another. My dear friends, I can assure you that this is much more than just a matter of mere preference too.

Doctrine informs practice. How we conduct our church services says a lot of what we actually believe when it comes to the Christian faith.

With that in mind, here's another EXCELLENT commentary that seeks to set things right...

8 Reasons The Worship Industry Is Killing Worship 
1. It’s sole purpose is to make us feel something. The industry, as with the mainstream music industry, must engage us on a purely sensory level to find widespread appeal in an entertainment-addicted culture. It must make us feel something on a purely emotional level. It strikes a match for the initial excitement of the spark. It must hook us in to be profitable. And so, the quality of theology, poetry, and music suffers accordingly. And we trade the beauty of God’s story for the initial excitement of sensory stimulation. Singing love songs to Jesus is not the point of gathered worship. I find Robert Webber’s definition helpful: Worship is doing God’s story.

2. The industry hijacks worship. When the mind is disengaged and worship is reduced to an emotional experience, worship descends into narcissistic and self-referential meaninglessness. It becomes, to borrow a term from my experience in evangelical culture, “unchristian.” It turns us inward. How many times have we heard people say, “I can’t worship with that kind of music!” or “I really felt like I could worship today!” What they mean is, “I wasn’t entertained” or “I didn’t understand it.” True Christian worship happens when we engage with the Christian story through Word and Sacrament. When it’s done well, the only possible response is one that looks outside the self to the goodness of God and God’s work in human history, and searches for our place in God’s story.

3. It says that music IS worship. For the industry, the “worship” is the music part of the service. It uses the old revival meeting order, with a long singing block followed by a long preaching block. In most instances, the invitation is replaced by a another singing block. The singing is the “worship,” the preaching is…well, we’re not sure. It’s not really worship. No corporate prayer, no creeds, no confession. No more gathering, proclaiming, thanksgiving, and The industry’s “worship” music, “worship” albums, and “worship” leaders have helped solidify the contemporary church’s departure from historic liturgy.

4. It’s a derivative of mainstream commercial music. In the 1960s, Leonard Bernstein said that perhaps five percent of the pop music explosion had something of value to say, giving this Brian Wilson masterpiece as an example. After fifty years, that percentage is undoubtedly lower, because of the exponential increase in output. And because the industry is committed to creating christianized versions of popular forms, there is little creativity. It just copies the marketable sounds and adds jesusy words. (Does the David Crowder Band sound like Hootie and the Blowfish, or is it just me?)

5. It perpetuates an awkward contemporary Christian media subculture. It occurred to me recently that mainstream cinema produces better Christian movies than any “Christian” production company can do because they are fully committed to telling a story, while Christian movies are trying to preach a self-help sermon without using any salty language. Disney gave us “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Christian culture gave us “Fireproof” and the “Left Behind” franchise. Case in point right there. Christian music is much the same. It can’t possibly find itself in Bernstein’s five percent because it’s too busy talking about how “Christian” it is, instead of telling the story.

6. It spreads bad theology. Mostly because it comes from the wrong sources. The best of the church’s hymnody was written by pastors and theologians. It was crafted by poets and scholars. The result are texts of high quality. But the industry in its quest to be marketable only has room for marketable people who write marketable songs. It entrusts sacred storytelling to many with dubious credentials as artists, poets, or theologians.

7. It creates worship superstars. I don’t think all artists and worship leaders are purely seeking fame. I think most of them would eschew the label. But this is what they become. They can’t help it. Entertainment begets fandom. They sound the part, they look the part, they dress the part. Their existence demands it. Because their craft mimics that of mainstream music stars, so does our reaction to them. We the church become an audience. Groupies. Screaming teenagers for Jesus.

8. It’s made music into a substitute Eucharist. Most evangelicals, along with the mainline Protestants who are looking to commercial Christian music as an institutional life preserver, use music as if it were a sacrament. Through their music, they allow themselves to be carried away on an emotional level into a perceived sensory connection with the divine. Music is their bread and wine. Don’t believe me? Try telling your church, your pastor even, that we should make a switch. Let’s have Communion ever week, and music once a month (or where I come from, once a quarter). It probably won’t go over well. 

My favorite quote? "Singing love songs to Jesus is not the point of gathered worship."

Really, that's ultimately what it comes down to for me. Yes, there are so many aspects of "Contemporary Worship (CoWo)" that differ from "Traditional Worship" that we could address, but I personally think this is the biggest offense of them all at least from my own experiences.

It's like worship has to be all about Me, Myself, And I and how I, You, We all F-E-E-L about Jesus, which is silly! Oh, and if we enter church on a Sunday morning and don't feel anything "happy" or "positive" because we've been beat up so badly by our sins during the week, then maybe it's best if we just stay home, because Contemporary Worship doesn't have an answer for that.

Instead, they'll tell you that it's all about what YOU must bring to church with you to lay at God's feet, don't they? So, you can forget about actually receiving the gifts you need -- healing gifts like His Word and His Sacraments, which God always intended to give you through the Divine Liturgy/Divine Service of Traditional Worship.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, the above commentary right here is a common sense, direct, simple explanation of the critical differences between "Contemporary Worship" and "Traditional Worship" and why it should matter to us Christians.

Again, as the author beautifully states, "Singing love songs to Jesus is not the point of gathered worship." This is most certainly true.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Executive Recruiter, 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 disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 2 years ago now. 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 repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" 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!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, 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 they are not blasphemous/heretical, 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 both past and present 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 (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). 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 "Christian 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. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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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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