Monday, June 14, 2010

From a Layman: Contemporary Worship Mocks the Solas

by Brian G. Heyer

We hold the solas - sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, as dear tenets of our understanding and teaching of our Confession. One of the errors of "contemporary/whoopee worship" is the not-so-subtle rejection of these solas.

I believe the label for the root of these errors is the return to the ancient falsehood of mysticism. This is the sum of the devil's lie: It's not enough to gain a trust in the saving faith given through grace as promised in the Bible. In addition, the lie continues, you need to have subjective religious emotions and experiences to improve the quality of your relationship with God.

Because of the solas, of course, we understand that everyone already has a relationship with God. It's one of wrath and punishment, unless one is led to trust in the promises of scripture. Our works and obnoxious worship do not improve that relationship. Sola fide is our answer.

Does contemporary worship provide comfort for those with weak faith, or just distractions? If one struggles with weak faith, does contemporary worship entice him to find just the right emotional combination to unlock a trusting faith? What if he's not clapping loud enough? What if he doesn't feel the revivalism? If the worshipper vainly sings about himself and his own emotions toward God in a hypnotic mantra, is he comforted by what he does for God? Does he have to wait for the interlude to learn what God has done for him? What if he can't hit the high harmonies for excellent worship experiences? Contemporary worship trains participants to seek and expect an experience, but if the spiritual amplifiers don't go to "11," then what? How can we merit the treasures of heaven? Sola gratia is our answer.

Whoopee worship is self-idolatry. And Old Adam needs very little encouragement to worship himself, hence its appeal to modern America. "Emergent church" founder Doug Pagitt proudly admitted recently that Biblical, doctrinal issues were purposefully omitted so there would be no barrier to church growth. Instead, a church's niche should be found with spirituality surveys, business marketing principles, SWOT analyses, better theatrical production values, and engaging "conversation" that doesn't lead to answers. If the church's practices don't point straight back to the Bible and sound doctrine, people are led astray. Sola scriptura is our answer.

I believe this is why the COP has urged WELS members to understand that doctrine and practice are intertwined. Adopting the practices of those that reject the solas not only are a reflection of their unsound doctrine (mysticism, emotional manipulation, decision theology, etc.) but eventually sound doctrine, such as our solas, will be tossed aside. It's as predictable as saying dogs will chase cats. After all, ears must be tickled ever more rigorously to keep the attendance trending up.


LPC said...

In addition, the lie continues, you need to have subjective religious emotions and experiences to improve the quality of your relationship with God.

I agree. In fact the "need" becomes a "must", you must have subjective emotional experience or you are spiritually dead. It promotes mystical encounters with God.


WELS church lady said...

Thank you for the post Mr. Heyer. Church should not be fashioned as a business. This issue was the topic of a recent Adult Bible Class. In the professional world one has to work their way to the top. This is not possible in God's kingdom. You must also follow the rules, or be terminated. For the Christian, the law reminds us that we are sinful, but the Gospel saves. You cannot keep the law. Try telling your boss that you are unable to keep the company's by-laws!
Mr. Heyer takes issue with the Emerging Church and Church Growth. This brings to mind the WELS Church and Change. On the C&C web, you can click on The Resource Center, which then lists Post-Modernism. Yes, I know, these things are no secret. Perhaps the uninformed are reading this blog. Emerging Church is listed under Post-Modernism.(remember folks, this is a WELS organization that I am talking about) Here is the quote:
"Emerging Church is a "primer to suggest concepts for being church in our culture, and a portal into the rich web of ecumenical resources for doing mission work in the post modern age,"(Ecumenical! Boy, that gets us confessionals excited.)
Future Church and Geo Cities are noted on the site.(Future Church? Christ is the Church. Kind of sounds like a place where members travel via spaceship?)
Apostasy such as this is the reason that WELS needs Confessional Unity. It is a blessing that many of our confirmands are receiving the BOC. If one generation studies the Lutheran Confessions, we will return to true unity.

In Christ,
Rebeeca Quam

LAJ said...

Klemet Preus has written an excellent book on doctrine and practice and the relationship between the two called "The Fire and the Staff."

Lois Johnson

Pastor Christopher S. Doerr said...

I wonder how helpful it is to engage in name-calling (whoopee/whoopie worship) or to say that all contemporary worship is based on subjective emotionalism without defining what kind of worship you consider to be "contemporary."

After reading your article several times, I am not sure what specifically you are trying to condemn.

For example, are you trying to condemn the use in a Lutheran church service of any song (or "hymn"?) that was written by someone from a sacramentarian or revivalist denomination? That would wipe out 40-50% of the hymns in our hymnal, I would guess off the top of my head. Or maybe you distinguish between adopting these people's hymns and adopting their practices?

I make a plea for more clarity and specificity and less generalizing and name-calling.

Brian G. Heyer said...

Thank you everyone for the comments.

Here's an exercise that everyone can play at home. Take a blank sheet of paper and draw line vertically down the middle. The left hand side is for 'whoopee worship' and the right hand side is for, say, a Divine Service from the front of the red book. (Each participant chooses their own definitions in this example.)

Start with the CW service, and from those few pages, list all of the theological and practical errors included therein that the Church through the centuries has left for you to deal with. Be complete.

Next, make a similar list for the possible errors of theology and practice contained within 'non-traditional/ contemporary/ whoopee' model. Include the many Bible verses related with those errors and let the Word help you decide. Synergism. Enthusiasm. Mysticism. Don't stop at Idolotry either. Gnosticism. Fellowship. Exclusive pastoral duties. Failing to re-catechize with hymnody. Pietism. Paul's concern of freedom being a barrier to Christ, etc.

Think carefully, and be complete. If it helps, work backwards with the question, "If I wanted to start a church for pagans, what would it be like?"

When you reach for the second sheet of paper for the 'whoopee' warnings, ask yourself, "Why on earth would I want to even risk introducing introduce all of these errors into my beloved church?"


Anonymous said...

Brian, that's an excellent point. I think a point that's missing in many discussions is that liturgical worship has its roots in orthodoxy and was specifically designed to proclaim Scriptural doctrine. (Yes, it was perverted by Rome, but then it was restored by Wittenberg.) Contemporary worship has its roots in heterodoxy and was designed to proclaim false doctrine.

Thus, the very essence of liturgical worship is orthodoxy, while the very essence of contemporary worship is heterodoxy.

Can you someone cleanse contemporary worship and Lutheranize it? I would answer, "No, you can't." It's rotten to the very core. It is designed to promote false doctrine and it always does by its very nature every time it is used, despite attempts to sanitize it.

I can hear people up in arms already about that statement, so let me give one example of what I'm talking about:

Contemporary worship always starts with at least two upbeat praise songs. Why? Because at least two upbeat songs are necessary to put one in the right emotional mindset to make a decision for Christ. (This is not something I'm making up--the originators of contemporary worship admit this themselves.) Thus, even if you "Lutheranize" it by making sure that those two upbeat praise songs are free from false doctrine, the very act of singing them and using that structure promotes the false doctrine that faith is an emotional decision.

That's why the argument that says, "As long as the words of the song don't have blatant false doctrine in them, we use whatever style or format we want" doesn't hold any water.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Anonymous said...

Pastor Doerr,

You are correct that it is not wise to throw around a term like "contemporary" without a clear understanding of what is being discussed.

But are you really unsure what the author of the post was commenting on? Are you unfamiliar with the genre/model of worship, often known as "contemporary," sometimes called "praise service" that has from time to time also been labeled with "whoopie worship"?

The author was not speaking to a specific instance or practice, but this genre. Perhaps "contemporary" isn't the best label for the genre, since the commonality has nothing to do with the period of time in which these forms were developed or are used.

It also does not completely center on the source of the music. Perhaps you could point us to someone who has suggested that "the use in a Lutheran church service of any song (or "hymn"?) that was written by someone from a sacramentarian or revivalist denomination" should be condemned. Surely the source matters, but I don't think that you reached that conclusion from this post.

The point I am trying to make is that when the discussion is of a genre, perhaps it is useful to generalize. Or maybe you have to. And it is also useful to give the genre a name. It would be good to have a name that is appropriate.

The post was about the theological underpinnings of the genre often called "contemporary." But because the theological underpinnings of the genre do pertain to mysticism, and the need for emotional experience, maybe the term "whoopie worship" isn't too far from the truth.

If, however, you are unfamiliar with this genre, I imagine that you could find someone to give you a sample of it, even as it has been used in Lutheran churches. You probably wouldn't have to go far to find it.

Pr. Johann Caauwe
El Paso TX

Pastor Christopher S. Doerr said...

Pastor Caauwe,

Thank you for addressing my post. You asked, "But are you really unsure what the author of the post was commenting on?" Yes. I thought I was clear about that in my post.

I agree with you that it is appropriate to write an article about a genre of worship. I also agree with what you may or may not have meant to imply: that a person could quibble about the terms in order to cast aspersions on the substantive issues themselves without addressing them.

However, your post speaks as though there is unanimity in the use of the term "contemporary worship." There is not. As implied in the intro to the most recent post by Pastor Rydecki, many people use the term "contemporary worship" to condemn whatever is too new for them, whatever they feel they are not used to.

Pastor Christopher S. Doerr
Waupun, Wisconsin

AP said...

If it was just a matter of things being new, why are some churches (including WELS churches) trying to hide behind terms like "blended worship"? Blended worship seems to suggest that the problems people associate with contemporary worship (i.e. what Mr. Heyer partially summarized earlier) are not present in "blended worship," as if the blending with some vaguely liturgical structure (minus embarassing things like creeds, etc.) sanitizes the doctrinal issues out of whatever pure contemporary worship is supposed to look like. It's not a matter of blending newness with oldness either. The blended services I've seen have only the slightest structural similarities to the Western Rite.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

Kenneth J. Schmidt said...

Pastor Lilo writes that it is "imperative for those who use contemporary music in their services to be careful about their choice of songs." If I were a pastor choosing music for church services I would not completely trust my own judgement in picking hymns for worship. I would only use music from hymnbooks that have been gone over carefully by committees of Lutheran pastors of proven orthodoxy. The publishing of doctrinally pure hymnbooks and agenda used to be a high priority in confessional Lutheran circles. If a WELS cleric is tempted to include a contemporary hymn in services he should at least have two or three orthodox Lutheran pastoral colleagues take a look at the lyrics for him. A faithful pastor is careful what he feeds his sheep, especially when treading the doctrinal minefield of contemporary worship.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pastor Lillo,

You wrote, "It's been my experience that those in our circles who use this type of music and worship DO try to use the better stuff that's out there."

I know I mentioned this before, but I think it deserves repeating. A WELS pastor has used the following words from "The Voice of Truth":

"I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth."

This is blatant Arminianism and false doctrine, yet it was used by a WLS trained pastor and even defended by other WLS trained pastors. You said you thought maybe the place where you heard this song had changed the lyrics. I've heard it used without any change to the lyrics. Whether or not the song is still used or the lyrics have been changed since then, I do not know.

It turns out that the same seminary education allows some to choose and defend lyrics like these, while others clearly identify them as false doctrine. Eight years of education do not automatically guard against heresy. It appears we have a problem.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Rev. Lillo,

Would you please refrain from the immature poking fun at our brothers' typos?

You're makings our points for us. Granted that a few of the hymns in our hymnal are not very solid. The two you mentioned came out of Anglicanism and Bohemian Pietism. Perhaps the WELS Hymnal Committee included them for sentimental value, in spite of their questionable emphases. I wish they wouldn't have. Right doctrine with the right emphasis is far more important than sentimentality.

But you see how difficult it is to borrow the hymns of the sects without also borrowing their false emphases? It's hard enough for a synodically assigned committee to weed it all out. How much worse when every pastor appoints himself a one-man hymn committee!

The issue is not just over hymn choice, however. Perhaps you missed our recent post. We weren't just making that stuff up out of our REAL desire to just preserve a certain "style."

Those who espouse sectarian worship are the ones who make it all about style. "We won't attract as many people if we don't offer them the right style of worship." Liturgical worship, on the other hand, has never been about style, but about presenting Scriptural theology, in order to transcend personal preference and simply present the truth of the Gospel as clearly as possible. If worship ever becomes about reaching a certain demographic with the style that appeals to them, then it has truly become sectarian, and thus, heretical.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Dear anonymous commenter,

We don't accept anonymous comments. If you wish to resubmit your comment with your name signed at the bottom, we will publish it.

Anonymous said...

I'm Calvin, I'm 17 and I attend a WELS synod church that happens to practice contemporary worship services, along with holding a traditional service as well.I happened to stumble across this article today, researching a paper I'm writing on why the WELS should integrate contemporary worship, for evangelical purposes. One thing I've noticed is the stunning lack of comments that argue against this article and the points it makes. This leads me to be concerned if this comment will even make it through.
Something I'm rather confused about is how you can say that contemporary worship "mocks" the solas, which I do believe translate to "by scripture alone, by grace alone, by faith alone." Where's the mocking here? In my experience with contemporary, or maybe as you prefer it be called, "whoopee worship" (which, just as a side note, comes off to me as immature and arrogant to be name-calling and poking fun at something you simply don't agree with, or, as it appears, understand), I've never heard any indication that the style you worship with has any role in getting into heaven, nor do I believe that. You seem to be focused on "emotionalism", which, may I point out, is NOT synonymous with "contemporary worship".
Also, in a time where God has blessed us with many advancements in technology, why can't we progress along with it? Instead, we choose to stay in the 1300's, monopolizing worship to only include the pipe organ because its "safe". Its "comfortable". Its "traditional". Tradition, as I've noticed, is a developer of the very opposite of emotionalism, and just as dangerous: Complacency. Think about it. When you repeat the same process, with the same words, and the same kind of singing, week after week, don't you think it becomes kind of second nature? The words lose their impact, and you are left going through the motions. It is clear that God does not like complacency. Look at the letter to the Laodiceans in Revelation chapter 3. God wants you to be either hot or cold, but not lukewarm, for he will spit you out of is mouth. This is a warning against complacency.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not condemning tradition. It is a good tool for being unified in the Christian faith if used every now and then, but I don't think the services should be ALL tradition, ALL the time. Then it becomes exclusive for visitors from outside the faith. What if they don't like it? Do they have to bend over backwards in order to be accepted as a good Lutheran? Most wouldn't. They would just move on to find something they like better. That wouldn't be their fault. It would be ours. The truth is, worship style is not a doctrinal issue, unless the words to a certain song make it so. Its a matter of personal taste and opinion. Because you worship with an organ and I worship with electric guitar and drums does not mean your opinion is better than mine, and if i'm forced to only sing hymns against my will, even though I really don't enjoy hymns, am I really worshiping then? You might say its a personal attitude problem, but how do you change that? Pray? Whats wrong with going with a different style? My preference isn't better than yours because its different, and yours isn't better than mine because the church has used it for however long it has.
I just wanted to bring a counterpoint for everyone to think about when they come across this article. I just want to leave with a little fun fact that you can think about. Stringed instruments, drums, and trumpets are all mentioned in the bible. The organ isn't.

Calvin LaGrow

Anonymous said...

Calvin, the issue isn't Traditional vs. Contemporary. The issue is how correct theology influences the choice of music for use in corporate worship, whether Traditional or Contemporary. A major problem with the Contemporary Worship movement can be summarized in your comment here:

"I don't think the services should be ALL tradition, ALL the time. Then it becomes exclusive for visitors from outside the faith. What if they don't like it? Do they have to bend over backwards in order to be accepted as a good Lutheran? Most wouldn't. They would just move on to find something they like better. That wouldn't be their fault. It would be ours.

The Divine Service is not intended for visitors. In every instance of corporate worship recorded in the Bible and in the Confessions, corporate worship is designed for the believer, the Elect. There are things we can do to make the service more "user friendly," but to "design" the Divine Service primarily for the non-Lutheran/un-churched/unbeliever visitor is dangerous because it leads to practices that undermine the gospel. For example, removing Holy Communion from the service or eliminating "Close" Communion.

To address the topic of the post, the problem with most "Contemporary Worship" music on the market today is that it comes from an Evangelical mindset. This is a problem, of course, when the text of a song is incorrect. But more subtle and dangerous is how Evangelical false theology influences the style of music, even though the text may be technically correct. Evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit comes to people outside of the Word and Sacraments. This false theological mindset influences musical style in that the style must be overly emotional in order to elicit a response from the worshiper so that it can be interpreted as the Holy Spirit moving in his heart. Lutherans let the text influence the musical style. When you let the whole of Scripture and the primary doctrine of Justification by faith alone influence musical style, it should reflect something very different than what we experience in the theater or bar scene. And while it can touch the emotions, it's not emotional because ultimately it's the Word of God that creates the emotion, not primarily the musical style.

- Rev. James Schulz

Anonymous said...

"Stringed instruments, drums, and trumpets are all mentioned in the bible. The organ isn't."

Yes, but you can bet your bottom dollar they weren't used in the synagogues and they weren't used in the early Christian churches. The Church throughout the ages has generally rejected the use of instruments in the Service because of its ties to secularism and other pagan religious of the times. Martin Luther was reluctant to even have the organ introduced to worship. If you want historic, biblical Corporate Worship then the guitars, organs, and other instruments will have to go and the Vestments, chanting, and incense will have to come out. Judeo-Christian Worship was always like this until just very recently. And lo and behold Christianity grew very rapidly without these instruments and different types of worship to pick and choose from. Our Synod's doctrinal stance is this: "Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given (John 20:22). He works faith, when and where it pleases God (John 3:8),..." (Augsburg Confession V)

Notice our Synod's stance is that the Holy Spirit does not come through types of music, friendly greeters, a funny pastor, etc. Our "traditional" worship looks Lutheran because it is Lutheran. Baptist, Pentecostal, etc. worship looks that way because it reflects their false doctrines. For me, the problems are surely deeper than personal preference. If you haven't read it already, I recommend this article:

Mitch Forte

Daniel Baker said...


Pr. Schulz and Mr. Forte have stated it rather well, but I just wanted to offer you a few thoughts, since I can relate to where you're coming from. When I was 17 (and throughout grade and high school), I had the exact same opinion as you. In fact, it was during this time that my Church began utilizing "Alternative Worship Experiences" and toying around with various non-Lutheran songs and instrumentation. I was all for it. In fact, I thought we should go further and disavow liturgical worship entirely, as I found it too out of sync with contemporary culture. And while I was a fan of the organ for personal reasons, I didn't think it should enjoy the monopoly it has.

Soon after I started college, however, I found myself fighting against these "Alternative Worship Experiences" and pining for Liturgical orthodoxy. What brought about this radical change? Thanks to Confessional Lutheran sites and blogs like this one, I actually began to read the Book of Concord ( and started to discover what Lutheranism actually teaches. I read things in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology like "we do not abolish the Mass, but righteously uphold and defend it" and "the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things" - and this every Sunday! What gives, I thought. I was always taught that this stuff didn't matter (in fact, I was hardly taught anything about this stuff at all). Then it hit me - and it fully hit me when I read this portion of the Apology:

"And the difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the latreiva [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the latreiva [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers" (IV:49).

It was a radical concept. Worship is not about what we do!? But I was always taught that Liturgy meant "work of the people" and that worship meant "worth ship," and it was all about our acts of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving and building one another up in love. The kind of worship I thought God wanted was the very kind of "worship" that our Lutheran Reformation was all about destroying. God doesn't want our works. He wants His works in us. He wants to empower us by His Gospel to live lives of love. That's what the Divine Service is all about: receiving His Means of Grace - the spoken and sacramental Word - for the forgiveness of sins and newness of life in Christ.

After I came to this epiphany, I realized how ineffective "contemporary worship" is in offering these Means of Grace. The "Alternative Worship" at my Church rarely had set Scripture readings (surely not following a "series of lessons"), and never the Sacrament of Holy Communion. For that matter, I have never seen a contemporary service in which the Sacrament is offered. Beyond this, however, contemporary worship almost invariably comes from non-Lutheran (and often heretical) sources. Why would we want to use these when we have something - the Liturgy - that is wholly Lutheran and has been used by the whole Church (and before it) to offer the Means of Grace?

This really just touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why people on this site are so against contemporary worship, and there's much more to discuss. It's not that new stuff can't be used. It's that the new stuff people want to use simply isn't Lutheran. I'm glad you read this article though, and were willing to participate in the discussion. "How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"

Anonymous said...


I had a similar journey and your comments summarized it well. Thanks be to God!

- Rev. James Schulz

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