Monday, June 28, 2010

A firsthand perspective on sectarian worship

(I’m posting this must-read response by Mr. Douglas Lindee to the question: “If our worship looks like ELCA, the Reformed, or the mega-churches, could that not at least be perceived as tacit agreement with those sects?” This question was offered in a comment posted in response to the blog article Let's call it what it is - "Sectarian Worship" - Part 2.)

In fact, I can tell you from nearly thirty years experience among charismatics in modern Evangelicalism, that this is precisely the case. Among Evangelicals, whether one lands in the Arminian or Calvinistic end of the Reformed spectrum, worship experience has been designated as the prime measure of the Holy Spirit's presence and working. The worshiper's own act of worship, the zeal with which he engages in it and the pleasure he derives from it, are Means through which the Holy Spirit works to strengthen the worshiper's faith, and draw him closer to God. For them, such experiences serve as the basis of a material relationship with a personal, yet invisible, God. Pentecostals (on the Arminian end of the spectrum) view such experiences as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, as evidence that He indwells the worshiper and is with them in power. Among charismatics outside the tradition of Pentecostalism proper (that is, those who are more toward the Calvinistic end of the Reformed spectrum among modern Evangelicals), such experiences are manifestations of the worshiper's sanctification, and, consistent with Calvinistic teaching, serve to assure the worshiper of his status among the Elect. Both among the Arminians and the Calvinists in modern Evangelicalism, the experience of certain specific worship traditions have become necessary in order that the individual be assured of his Justification, and in some cases (especially among Pentecostals) to stand as merit before God and evidence of His consequent blessing. In either case, worship experience is connected to establishing the worshiper's Justification, rather than flowing from it, and specific worship forms are engineered by their pastors and/or worship leaders to manufacture a specific sort of experience that reinforces these false teachings.

What do the Confessions say about this? Of Usages in the Church, they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquility and good order... Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation. They are admonished also that human traditions instituted to propitiate God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. (AC XV).

For the heterodox in greater Evangelicalism, "contemporary" worship forms, while not securing Justification in the sense that Roman practices did, serve as prime tools for assuring Justification. That is, apart from the specific experiences derived from such forms, the individual's Justification is ultimately in question.

This is illustrated in the way Evangelicals often use their observations as a basis for judging others. Since specific kinds of worship experience are so tightly connected to the Holy Spirit -- His presence and working -- such experience often determines whether the Holy Spirit is with other professing Christians, functioning as a grounds for measuring the faith and sanctification of fellow Christians: So-and-so is more spiritual than that other person. or He is more evangelical than the other person. Or... worse. That everyone reaches a certain threshold of manifest zeal is vitally important to worship leaders in each congregation -- in order that they themselves have reasonable assurance that they are leading true Christians, and that they produce a basis of providing the same assurance for each individual in the worship assembly. That such experiences only serve to fulfill the expectations of the worship leader is obvious, if one takes the time to spend a few minutes in conversation with them. Invariably, their discussion devolves into some sort of emphatic declaration that individuals who are true Christians must emote in a specific fashion, usually with a form of worship piety directly informed by the Pentecostal experience.

But this is not all. In the same way, such experiences are also used by these Christians to validate the ministries of other congregations. Quite apart from orthodox confession, experience is the basis for determining whether the Holy Spirit endorses a given congregation or ministry, and it is only these congregations to which the conscientious Evangelical will attach himself, and with which he will engage in Fellowship activities. Evidence for this is plain in their speech -- just listen to the local Evangelical radio station (only for as long as you can tolerate it, of course...). The announcer and/or his guests will frequently speak of their recent experiences at such-and-such congregation or ministry, particularly in worship, or in prayer, or point to the feeling that came over them listening to the speaker, as evidence of the Holy Spirit's endorsement of that congregation or ministry: "I spoke as a guest preacher at such-and-such church this weekend, and I was so impressed by the worship. I could tell that the Holy Spirit's blessing is upon this ministry." Pretty much every permutation you can imagine on this Fellowship recipe can be heard any number of times during the week or month on any local Evangelical radio station.

The point is that Evangelicals look primarily to specific worship experiences as fellowship criteria, to specific experiences because of, what we would call, their doctrinal implications (although for them, such experiences bypass scripture teaching and indicate direct spiritual revelation from God). When Lutherans adopt practices that are intended to produce the same experiences sought by Evangelicals, we are telegraphing doctrinal agreement to them. Indeed, we are making overtures of Fellowship to the heterodox by using their own language of spiritual experience.

The fact is, most congenital Lutherans have no direct experience with these sectarian practices, haven't lived the life of an Evangelical who (as he has been taught) seeks spiritual fulfillment in certain experiences, haven't thought the thoughts of these heterodox, haven't prioritized their priorities, and as a result have completely misunderstood the danger of adopting or approving of these practices. I have lived the doctrinally confused and spiritually unsatisfying life of an Evangelical, and so have other Lutherans like me. These sectarian practices are not adiaphora, but insidious destructive forces, working internally to undermine our precious doctrine by reinforcing false teaching through their use, and externally to undermine our Confessional distinction by calling out to the heterodox in their own terms.

Mr. Douglas Lindee


AP said...

Mr. Lindee,

Thank you for your excellent post. Again, the point is forcefully made that the issues under discussion are about far more than just taste or style.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

Joe Krohn said...

Plus one in the kudo department for that post Mr. Lindee...or should I call you Freddy? You sound a lot like Mr. Finkelstein and I mean that in a good way.

I have to admit I got caught up in all of this about seven years ago. WELS was shrinking and we had to do something about it. We were going to be the new paradigm and save the synod. I got my wake up call about a year ago when certain statements inferred where we were in our spiritual development; how the band was connecting with the worshipers; how the band might be affecting attendance. That's when I realized that you can't take reformed worship and put Lutheran theology on it. So there it is. As Lutherans we are taught to ..."defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything." Well, that should only go so far. I think we carry it too far sometimes. This will take courage.

Joe Krohn

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

A firsthand perspective on sectarian worship. Sounds muddy. Glad you aren't muddy anymore :)
Don't worry about those who haven't experienced sectarian worship firsthand. We still take showers, too.

Anonymous said...


Well put. I too was no stranger at all to this sectarian worship style and have done my dance with the Charismatic and Pentecostal types - although would never consider myself having been one.

While in the ALC I did much with these folks because I am a musician. Leaving the ALC about the time of the ELCA merger, because of outright apostasy, I was wallowing around in the Calvinistic and Armenian camps for a while. I was no stranger to the Evangelicals and ate up their worship style like chocolate cake. But I was never left with a satisfied tummy after eating all that cake - spiritually speaking. It wore off very quickly with each praise chorus fading after a day or two. Straight talk, clarity on the sacraments and a quality liturgy, (then p.5 and 15 of TLH) brought me back to my Lutheran roots with a completely new understanding of what I never learned from my liberal pastors in ELCA. I doubt if I would have reached the same conclusion today, because of the variation in WELS worship today, where much of it is not any different than the Nazarene or the Brethren churches I attended more than once 20 plus years ago. No, I likely would have passed by those trying to fake it and gone with a generic Bible church where they could seriously play well. God only knows what may have happened, but there is a reason for everything and maybe it is so that I can stand today to warn others not to go the way of the so called modern church. I am thankful for my entrance into the world of confessional Lutheranism.

Still not being convinced completely that a pop combo was out of place in a Lutheran church, because of the lack of voice on such matters at the time, encouragement of others and an unstoppable penchant to move in that direction, I played the role when asked to. I was aware of the Church Growth Movement then, but the WELS was still denying any Church Growth movement within the synod. The fruit is plain to see now. I took a wait and see approach. Wrong! I repent of my actions. If I ever caused or enabled anyone to slide further into this morass that has darkened the clarity of the Lutheran confessions, Lutheran worship and the clarity of the true teachings of Scripture, I here and now publicly repent.

In Christ,
Jim Huwe

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