Some excellent insight into how, contrary to belief by some, Contemporary Worship is not Lutheran.
What is almost always missing in our ongoing worship debates is an honest assessment of the genesis of what has become known as contemporary worship among Lutherans. It seems that many are wont to conveniently ignore the fact that this genre of worship was developed by non-Lutherans who adhere not only to a different theology of worship, but a completely different theological system (different exegetical, different systematic, different historical, different practical theologies). This did not originate with Lutherans, but came from those whose theology is purposefully not centered upon Christ and the blessed means of grace through which faith in Him is created and sustained, but rather is centered upon man and the experience and enthusiasm created to elicit a decision/response from those in attendance to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. In other words, for all attempts to prove otherwise, this genre of worship is not Christ-centered, but man-centered – and PURPOSEFULLY so.
This is because those who led the charge to turn worship into an experiential, enthusiastic, emotional-manipulating, feel-good, fun-fest do not believe Jesus is Present in their “worship experiences.” That’s the whole point, the whole basis for this genre of worship. Jesus is “up there,” not here. We need to reach Him. We need to let Him know how much we love Him. We experience His love in return as we feel Him touch our hearts. And, if the worship is powerful enough, then that experienced love we feel in our hearts will lead us to commit ourselves to Jesus, make Him our personal Lord and Savior, and leave with the intent to live for Him in this world. It’s all about you. Your feelings. Your emotions. Your decision. Your choice. Your commitment. Your life. Jesus is nothing more or less than the object of your affection and the arbiter of your feelings.
As Pastor Messer points out:
You can slice and dice this all you want in the attempt to Lutheranize it, but that dog just won’t hunt. You cannot adopt the practices of those who adhere to a completely different theology and avoid having your confession of the faith marred in the process. The attempt by so many Lutherans to do this today is not only an exercise in futility, but a sad commentary on how our theology is so grossly misunderstood and unappreciated.
So it is that the oft-attempted argument in our worship debates that this is not about theology is disingenuous, at best, and malicious, at worst. I mean, no one can possibly argue against the fact that the contemporary worship adopted by Lutherans came from those who adhere to a different system of theology. In fact, those who initiated the flirtation with contemporary worship knew this full well. It was kinda the point at the time. Those other Christians who worship differently than we do seem to be onto something. Their numbers are growing and people seem to be really responsive to their way of worship, so let’s check that out and see if it’s for us. Besides, we’re really getting sick of the whole page 5 and page 15 thing; something new and fresh would be most welcome!
As Pastor Messer points out, it was the beginning of Contemporary Worship gaining traction in the LCMS in the 1980’s. The result today is that many seem to think this type of worship is actually Lutheran.
The amazing thing to witness in all this is how the second generation of contemporary worshiping Lutherans among us engage in our ongoing worship debates. Unlike their predecessors, they are convinced that the genre of worship to which they adhere is Lutheran through and through. This is a testimony of the first generation’s effectiveness in embedding this genre of worship into our life together as a synod. Call them pioneers or innovators or what have you, no one could possibly deny the success they’ve had in convincing Lutherans to accept and embrace this genre of worship. When they began their flirtation, one could hardly find an LCMS congregation that had a contemporary worship service available, but now it has become increasingly difficult to find LCMS congregations that do not have one. That’s not bad for a movement that is only a few decades old. Those who dreamed of the days when you wouldn’t have to attend a methobapticostal worship service to “feel the presence of the Spirit at work” have had their dream fulfilled, and then some, for not only can you find this sort of worship service all around the synod today, but those who have taken up their mantle today are convinced that this is decidedly Lutheran.
As a result the point that the debate about worship in the LCMS is about theology is missed by supporters of Contemporary worship. The fact that doctrine and practice can NOT be separated is ignored.
That’s the point that gets glossed over in our worship debates time and time again, as a plethora of red herrings and straw men are invoked to keep us from getting at the heart of the matter. Try as they might (and they do try!), the second generation of contemporary worshiping Lutherans will never be able to deny the fact that what they now embrace and falsely believe to be perfectly Lutheran is the warmed-up porridge their predecessors sold their birthright to obtain. At the end of the day, this is about theology, no matter how vehemently are those who argue to the contrary.
What would be refreshing would be to hear the second generation of contemporary worshiping Lutherans argue their case with the honesty in which their predecessors argued theirs. They wanted something different. They believed that we Lutherans needed something different. They didn’t shy away from making that known. They said things like, “The hymnal does not appeal to unbelievers”; “The liturgy is outdated and turns people off”; “Worship needs to primarily be about reaching the lost, not feeding the found”; “Worship should be fun and entertaining, so that people will long to come”; “We need to change our ways, lest the Church fade away and die”; “Everyone should be a minister,” and so forth. And, they said these things knowing full well that they were saying that we needed to learn from those whose theology differs from ours. Our theology needed to change. That was the point. But, today’s generation says all of these things and more, maintaining that, in doing so, they are expressing our theology, refusing to admit that all of these things are based on a theology foreign to ours.
Pastor Messer sums things up perfectly with a comparison to the “Wizard of Oz”:
The separation of doctrine from practice is akin to the “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” ploy used by the wizard of Oz. As long as that curtain remains in place, there is no dialogue to be had.