Thursday, June 17, 2010

Let’s call it what it is – “Sectarian Worship” – Part 1

One of the biggest misunderstandings in the worship discussion has to do with the term “contemporary worship.” Is a hymn un-Lutheran just because it’s not yet 400 years old? Is music un-Lutheran just because it was composed in the 20th or 21st century? Couldn’t many of the hymns of the Reformation have been considered “contemporary” at the time of the Reformation? What’s wrong with something that’s contemporary?

It’s not about when it was written or composed. Let’s clear that up. It’s not that old is better because it’s old, or that new is worse because it’s new. New can be good, old can be bad. We are not against using worship forms in a Lutheran service that are “contemporary.” We are against using worship forms that are “sectarian.”

What do we mean by “sect” or “sectarian”?

The Lutheran Confessions speak of the “heretics of our time” who “err and teach contrary to our Christian faith and confession” (FC:E:XII:1). The term “sect” was used to refer to any group that, by few or many false teachings, had departed from the truth of Scripture, outlined especially in the Augsburg Confession. Today, examples would include Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Pentecostals, among others. Technically, even Lutheran churches that have departed from confessional Lutheran (and therefore, Scriptural) theology have now become “sects.” Roman Catholicism itself became a sect long ago when its teaching broke away from the pure truth of Christ, but, perhaps because it formed from within the Church catholic, its adherents are usually referred to as “papists” in the Confessions and not as “sects.”

With the term “sect,” we do not mean to imply that only members of confessional Lutheran churches will be in heaven. We acknowledge and rejoice that the Holy Spirit is able to preserve the faith of believers wherever the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered, even though false teachers have introduced the leaven of false teaching. But this leaven is always harmful to faith, and eventually works its way through the whole batch of dough (Galatians 5:9). And so we use the label of “sectarian” as a warning to all that these false doctrines are not consistent with the saving truth of Scripture and are to be avoided at all cost.

The sectarian origin of “sectarian worship”

Since it was the Roman Catholic Church that, with its heretical innovations, had really broken away from the ancient, orthodox, catholic (“universal”) Church, the Lutheran Reformers did not feel compelled to abandon the worship forms of the Church catholic. On the contrary, they insisted on using the catholic ceremonies, both because of their usefulness for instructing the common people, and to give a clear confession of their unity with the Church catholic. The Lutherans refused to be numbered among the sects, although Rome still refers to us this way. At some times and in some places during the 16th century, Lutherans did feel compelled to stop using this or that ceremony as a confession against the papists who were trying to compel the use of these ceremonies among the Lutheran churches. But wherever possible, Lutherans retained the ceremonies of the Church catholic, because they proclaimed the unity and collective wisdom of over a thousand years worth of believers from all over the world, especially the Western Church in which the Lutherans mainly lived.

Unlike the confessional Lutheran Church, the sects have broken away from the Church catholic by false teachings. Most of them don’t even wish to be associated with the Church catholic. One of the most widely shared of these false teachings is a false teaching regarding the Means of Grace, that is, how God communes and communicates with men, how God creates and strengthens faith in man, how God distributes to individuals the forgiveness of sins won by Christ for all men. The Lutheran Church recognizes that it is the Gospel alone, in Word and Sacrament, that God has chosen as his means to accomplish these things. (More will be said about the theological underpinnings of sectarian worship forms in the next post on this subject.)

The sects, having abandoned the Church catholic, have developed their own worship forms, their own practices, in keeping with their false understanding of the Means of Grace and how man interacts with God. The “contemporary” worship phenomenon has grown out of this false understanding commonly held among most of the sects. Because of the sectarian origins of these worship forms, we refer to it as “sectarian worship.” “Sectarian worship” is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it confesses (intentionally or unintentionally) a disassociation from the Church catholic.

The confessional Lutheran quest for clarity

Confessional Lutherans strive to be as clear as possible in our preaching of the Gospel of Christ. That not only means teaching the truth clearly, but also clearly distinguishing ourselves from the sects that have severed themselves from the confession of the Church catholic.

As the Confessions say, “We do not want the condemned errors of the factions and sects we just mentioned to be silently ascribed to us. For the most part these groups, as is the nature of such spirits, secretly stole in at certain places…Poor, simple people, in their simplicity (who could not help but feel the clear idolatry and false faith of the papacy), embraced whatever was called the Gospel and was not papistic. We cannot avoid testifying against these groups publicly, before all Christendom. We have no part or fellowship with their errors, be they many or few. We reject and condemn them one and all. They are wrong and heretical, and are contrary to the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles and to our Christian Augsburg Confession, which is well grounded in God’s Word” (FC:SD:XII:7-8).

We’re not talking about this or that song that happened to be composed by a non-Lutheran when we refer to “sectarian worship.” We’re talking about a genre. We’re talking about elements of worship that originated as new practices of the sects. “Sectarian worship” is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it confesses an improper association with the sects, as if Lutheran doctrine were similar to sectarian doctrine. Those who hold a quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions must agree with what the Confessions say about giving clear testimony before all Christendom that we have no part or fellowship with the errors of the sects.

So when Lutheran pastors pore over books written by sectarian authors or attend sectarian seminars, conventions and schools to sit at the feet of the sectarian teachers and then bring back into their Lutheran churches or share with their brothers in the ministry the latest and greatest sectarian worship forms, it’s like the shepherd who learns from the wolf how to care for the sheep. It doesn’t serve the sheep. And it fails to give a clear witness to the sectarians that they are in error and in need of correction.

Future posts will attempt to identify these sectarian worship forms more specifically and expose the faulty theology behind them, another reason why “sectarian worship” is incompatible with Lutheran worship.


Lisette Anne Lopez said...

I am proud to hear the truth spoken, that not just the members of confessional Lutheran churches will go to heaven. The Holy Spirit is able to preserve the faith of believers where the gospel is rightly preached and so forth. This needs to be recognized and understood by all confessional Lutherans. However, as said above, sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship.
Serve the sheep, pastors, do not serve the wolf. Serve God, do not provoke Him. Educate confessional Lutheranism from sectarian worship. Educate, teach. Do not become fools. The wolf is a fool.
Thank you for the good, clear message Rev.Rydecki!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Excellent point - we forget how much of the confessions are aimed against the Anabaptists and the like. I fear that we overlook this today given the American tendency towards generic protestantism and the anti-Roman feelings this country has had. Excellent, excellent job.

Pastor Christopher S. Doerr said...

I appreciate the tone and clarity of this article.

Perhaps this question is premature--if so, feel free to postpone answering it: Would you agree that there is a debatable continuum and not necessarily a clear dividing line, when it comes to saying what x is in the statement, "Doing x in our worship dissociates us from the church catholic and associates us with the sectarians?"

Thank you for considering my question.

Pastor Christopher S. Doerr
Waupun, Wisconsin

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Doerr,

I think it'll be easier to answer that question after we've described sectarian worship a little more in the next couple of weeks with specific examples.

For now, I would say that 1) some practices more clearly cross that dividing line than others; 2) more often than not, several practices combine to cross that line, and 3) some practices all by themselves simply nullify any semblance of catholicity.

To use two crass examples of the latter, no matter how catholic the service may otherwise be, an altar call turns it into a sectarian service. No matter how catholic the service may otherwise be, a procession in adoration of the host (Corpus Christi) turns it into a papistic service.

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

If we worship every Sunday following the Common Service, we don't have the "x" because it is not included in the Common Service. If one has the idea to add the "x," then that is where the problem lies.
I look forward to reading further discussions and descriptions regarding sectarian worship.

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

Anyone can make all the changes they want to the church service- good or bad. But, at some point, you have to acknowledge Scripture and how orderly God is. You have to make sense of things you approve or practice and they had better meet the requirements of God. Otherwise you are fooling yourself and possibly endangering your congregation.
The Common Service, Book of Concord, Creeds, Scripture- everything God says, everything Jesus did, from Old Testament to New Testament- all of everything found and built for confessional Lutherans- why not use it? Why turn to something else?
I just don't think it is that difficult.
And yeah, if you want to make a change in the service that is bad, then you have a problem. Get it right.
We don't have to know by exact definition what our conscious tells us is wrong. God gave us Scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide us along.
For the word of God is living and active. Hebrews 4: 12.

Anonymous said...

In an earlier post, someone linked to Prof. Deutschlander’s paper about the Western Rite. He also presented this paper in an evening lecture format at the seminary. The audio is available in two parts:
Each part is about one hour.

This post reminds me of a paper I read by Professor Danell (MLC). It is from 1995, called “Our Use of Reformed Materials.” It was written with specific emphasis on classroom application but it would also seem to apply to “The confessional Lutheran quest for clarity” in worship. In the introduction, he writes of Jesus’ command in John 21: “Feed my sheep.” Then, he asks:
“But what will you feed them? With what will you nourish the souls God has placed into your care? What words will you speak to their ears? What songs will you put onto their hearts and lips? What sights will you place before their eyes? These are questions well worth considering, for God will hold you responsible for what your children “eat.” Will you feed them a diet consisting of the “beautiful fruits” of orthodox Lutheranism as taught in the Scriptures and in our Lutheran confessions? Or will you place before them figs picked from thistles and grapes picked from thorn bushes? Will you prepare for them fruit that is beautiful both on the outside and on the inside? Or will you prepare for them fruit that looks good on the outside but under the skin is full of bruises and bad spots?”

In the conclusion he writes:
“The dangers of Reformed teaching are substantial and they are real. If followed to completion they lead one away from Christ and into damning work-righteousness no differently than Roman Catholicism…Sometimes the errors can be a wrong emphasis or a wrong focus or a wrong approach, things that are easily overlooked if one is not looking for it or worse yet if one is unaware of it. Reformed teaching is most certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The full paper:

As we believe, so shall we worship. As we worship, so shall we believe.

Justin Dauck

PCXIAN said...

Contemporary Christian music versus traditional Christian music is really a silly argument. Many people who have a negative opinion about contemporary Christian music have never actually studied it, or they have a tendency to pick and choose, and then destroy it out of hand.

Are you ever overwhelmed by the archaic language (“riven, bidd’st me, tis, pine”) in some traditional hymns? How many times (weekly, I bet) have you sung a traditional hymn and by the time you got to verse four you can’t remember what verse two was all about? If that is the case (and I know it happens to all of us), then traditional Christian music should equally be considered as “fluffy” and meaningless as some argue contemporary Christian music is. The words might be there but the worshiper’s heart, soul, and mind are far, far away.

I recommend the book Facedown by Matt Redman ( product/109/Facedown/, $10) for a better insight into contemporary Christian music. Matt Redman is a very well known contemporary Christian song writer and worship leader. In this short book, Matt writes about what contemporary Christian music is, the stereotypes, and the weaker aspects of this genre. I further recommend, while reading this book, that one highlights and underlines key phrases, and comments in the borders. Then read it again. I hope you will have a more clear understanding of active worship-whether traditional or contemporary.

Semper Fidelis,

PC Christian

AP said...

So, a rock band poses no impediment to having a proper focus in worship? How about the typically vapid "praise anthem" like "Here I am to Worship" (emphasis on "I" of course)?

I continue to frustrated by those who inisist that this debate is about style. I have no problem with recently-written hymns. I rather like some of them, and I rather like some of the newer liturgies in the CW Supplement. I have a major problem with very old or very new hymns or liturgies that teach or are rooted in false doctrine.

I read the sample chapter offered on Redman's website. I'm curious as to why you would expect anyone to give a book written by someone with apparently no theological training any weight. He's not writing about style here. He is writing about worship and doctrine, and his doctrine seems very much like a theology of glory to me. The chapter I looked at is all about what Christians do during worship, not about what God does for broken and lost sinners who need the means of grace. Not to be unkind, but I do not think reading this book qualifies as serious study of worship. Try "Lutheran Worship: History and Practice" available from Concordia Publishing House if you are up for something substantial.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

PCXIAN said...


Rock band? Perhaps you may want to consider these musicians as servants of God, just like you do your pastor and the organist at your church. As one who has been a “praise and worship band” guitarist with my one of my daughters as a lead singer and pianist, my other daughter and my wife singing harmony, and close friends playing drums, guitar and bass our only goal was to lead our congregation in praise and worship to our King. We prayed before the practices and the services that our efforts would be “Not to us, but to Your Name be the Glory.” I’m sure the pastor, organist, and the choir director at your church do the same thing.

I would urge you to entirely read Matt Redman’s book, then comment on its contents. I am not a theologian, but does that disqualify me about commenting on anything theological, even though I read and study my Bible daily? Many politicians are not lawyers but teachers, businessmen/women, farmers, physicians, dentists, and many other professions (my opinion is that they are the better politicians). Does that mean that they can’t draft laws for consideration in their assemblies? The Bible, for the most part, was not written by theologians but by leaders, kings, fishermen, tax collectors, and by a persecutor of the Way. Are not these non-theologian writers to be taken seriously? Yes, these authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit but was your pastor’s sermon last Sunday inspired as well? My point is that I know many, many laymen who are well versed in the Bible, as we should all be, and that their commentary should not be dismissed because they don’t hold a divinity degree.

I have limited exposure to the newer liturgies in CW Supplement. But what I do recall is that they sounded very Roman Catholic. Not that that is so bad, but if you have ever been to a RC mass or wedding recently, you'll know where I’m coming from.

Finally, I find it interesting that those who distain contemporary Christian music continually bring up the supposedly overuse of pronouns (I, me, us, we, etc) and repetitious choruses. Open up your CW or TLH to any hymn and you will find the same pronouns and in many cases redundant refrains (TLH 315/CW 310). Perhaps those refrains in both genres refocus the worshiper’s heart, soul, and mind on what is important.

Semper Fidelis,

PC Christian

Anonymous said...

Dear PC Christian - please use your real name,

Having been a grand participant in CCM in various ways (and never being comfortable with it - yes, a sin against my conscience) I find it very interesting that you will rarely, if ever, find a gravitation toward solid liturgics, hymns and the like. As I, by God's grace, have grown stronger in my own understanding of confessional Lutheran teaching, I have put away that which has been either a source or a symptom of the divide already in WELS. There has been great offense that CCM and all the trappings of the Emergent Church that come with it, that have caused untold damage to many in the church. The discomfort many feel about this strange new paradigm that has entered our churches by the purveyors of Church Growthism in WELS, (brought to us from the outside) is not a discomfort caused by what they do not know. That is not the case. It is rather a discomfort that comes from the loss of what they do know and the association with things from a confession that they do know to be errant. That being the case, it is not an adiaphora. That cannot be said of the catholicity of proper liturgical, distinctly Lutheran worship. The hymns that embody and ornimate it and set it and us apart, make a clear and confessional statement in our belief and practice against the heterodox. Full and complete, yes proper teaching in every hymn, prayer, reading, sermon and every part of the service should be the norm and not the exception.

I will recommend to you, PC, getting ahold of "Why I Left The Contemporary Christian Music Movement" By Dan Lucarini.

His perspective, though not Lutheran, sheds good light on the subject. Although he has pietistic tendencies in some of his reasoning in certain chapters (please exercise discernment), it does not negate his major points that show this area to not be an area of adiaphora. Much less so for the Lutheran.

In Christ,
Jim Huwe

Anonymous said...

"our only goal was to lead our congregation in praise and worship to our King"

But don't you understand that this is exactly the problem with contemporary worship?

The entire focus of it is on what I am doing to praise God. This is opposed to Lutheran worship and theology, the entire focus of which is to proclaim what God has done for us.

Yes, it's true that in Lutheran worship there is also opportunity for us to praise God, but even then, we praise God specifically by proclaiming what he has done for us, not by offering generic praise.

Your comments demonstrate the subtle dangers of contemporary worship. Nothing you say is necessarily wrong, it's just that your focus is completely off.

It's not about us and what we do about God, it's about God and what he has done for us. It's not about generic praise of God's power, it's about specific proclamation of God's grace.

Mr. Adam Peeler

AP said...


The liturgies in CW and the supplement are based on the historic Western Rite, parts of which date back nearly two thousand years. Would it surprise you to know that Luther's own orders of worship were Masses? Would it surprise you to know that the Augsburg Confession and the Apology both strongly assert that Lutherans uphold the Mass (though one purified of Roman error)?

Luther and the Confessions upheld the Mass (i.e. the liturgy), because its purpose is to publicly administer the means of grace, which alone have the power to work and sustain faith. So, allow me to ask you a few questions:

Is that the purpose of so-called praise gatherings or praise services? Do they add anything to the means of grace? Do they make God's Word more effective? Is the focus on what God does for his people, or on what his people do for or offer to God? Do innovative (and I do not use that word in a complementary way) worship forms serve as a better home for the means of grace than the historic Western Rite?

In short, the answers to all of these questions are no. So what then is the purpose of innovation? Ah, yes, growth! Do you even for a second imagine that any device or invention of man can more effectively grow God's kingdom than his own word? I most certainly hope not.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

PCXIAN said...


Thank you for the replies. However, an assumption must have the supposition of truth if it is to be considered valid. The latest replies had many invalid assumptions, most likely since the respondents weren’t present at these services. The contemporary services I have attended and participated in have all proclaimed what God has done for us, as well as praise and worship and the Means of Grace. These services, in many cases liturgical in nature, were written by the pastor (I realized that this would have gotten the church delisted by Directory of Liturgical Congregations, a link on the right side of this blog).

We all agree that Almighty God does not need our offerings, praise, worship, or proclamation of what he has done, whether it is by a centuries-old, traditional, man-made liturgy; made-up semi-liturgy; or no liturgy (Rom 11:35). The amazing thing is that even though we can’t even in the slightest way comprehend God and His glory, He still loves our worship and praise (Isaiah 43:7, 20-21). Don’t we all anticipate worshiping the Lamb as John describes it in the book of Revelation.

General Lee (aka Aaron), even though you asked me four questions and then answered them all unilaterally “no,” I can truthfully answer them “yes, yes, yes, and perhaps.” Although beyond the scope of this current blog, perhaps reaching out to the culture the way Jesus and Paul did would assist us (with the Holy Spirit’s guidance) in reaching out with the Good News to our family, neighbors, friends, and the nations (1 Cor 9:20-23). Church growth is our mission!

Finally, I’ve noticed a propensity in a number of Lutheran Confessional blogs to use the de rigueur term “catholic” (whatever happened to the word “universal?”). “Catholic this, catholic that;” WELS District Presidents referred to as bishops; pastors wanting to be called “Father;” and Mass being used as a substitute term for the Divine Service. Quite frankly, if you want to win over people to your liturgical-only cause I would not use the word “catholic.” For example, the word “Mass” means to over 1 billion people world-wide that the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ is sacrificed over and over in the daily Mass. We know that “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:27). Using the term “Mass” for Divine Service puts one in the transubstantiation crowd, whether you want it that way or not (1 Cor 10:12).

I go back to my original comment that contemporary Christian music versus traditional Christian music is really a silly argument. Read Matt Redman’s book. You will be pleasantly surprised. Now that is a valid assumption!

Semper Fidelis,

PC Christian (By the way, Jim, that is my real name)

Anonymous said...

PC Christian,

I'm very disturbed by your last comment.

Dr. Palmer asked, "Do they (praise services) add anything to the means of grace?"

To which you responded, "I can truthfully answer them 'yes...'"

This is nothing other than false doctrine. Nothing we do can add to the means of grace. They are powerful and effective in and of themselves.

You then went on to say: "Church growth is our mission!"

This is absolutely false. Our mission is simply to proclaim the gospel. Growth is entirely in the realm of the Holy Spirit, not us. We cannot cause the church to grow by one single soul. Again, saying that we have the ability or the calling to cause the church to grow is nothing other than false doctrine.

I think your comment should serve as a clear warning to all who read it about the serious dangers of contemporary/sectarian worship. Through it, you have been so inundated with false doctrine that you espouse and support it without even realizing it.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Anonymous said...

I’m hoping you can clarify a couple of your answers to Dr. Palmer’s questions. The “Yes/No” questions were:

“Is that the purpose of so-called praise gatherings or praise services? Do they add anything to the means of grace? Do they make God's Word more effective?…Do innovative (and I do not use that word in a complementary way) worship forms serve as a better home for the means of grace than the historic Western Rite?”

You stated that you could truthfully answer them “yes, yes, yes and perhaps.” It seems the first and last questions are areas of disagreement and opinion.

As confessional Lutherans, there can be no disagreement on the second and third questions: “Do they add anything to the means of grace? Do they make God's Word more effective?” The answer must be an emphatic “NO!”

How can we add anything to the Means of Grace? God has given the Word and Sacraments alone as the only way to create and strengthen faith. What could we possibly add to it? Is there something better than the Word and Sacraments to bring a person to faith? Most definitely not.

Do “praise gatherings and praise services” make God’s Word more effective? Again, an emphatic “NO.” How can anything sinful human beings do make God’s Word MORE effective? His Word created the world. His Word calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The Word of God is almighty and effective all on its own. The only thing we can do is deliver that effective message.

Luther recognized that his methods did nothing to help God’s Word:
“I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26–29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philips and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.” (LW Vol. 51, p.77)

If I misunderstood your answers, could you please explain further?

Also, you used “I Come, O Savior, to Your Table” (TLH315/CW310) as an example of a hymn that regularly uses first person pronouns. There is a significant difference, however, in the way they are used here in comparison to many “contemporary” praise songs. In this hymn, I sing of the depravity of my soul. I ask God to strengthen me “unworthy though I am.” Throughout the hymn it speaks MY weakness but of God’s strength (the first stanza is a perfect example).

Dr. Palmer mentioned “Here I am to Worship” earlier. The first person pronoun use in the first three lines of the refrain are quite different: “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that You're my God.” The focus is on what I am doing rather than what he does for me. The song alludes to the gospel but hardly gives a clear confession.

Justin Dauck

Unknown said...

Why would 2000 years after Christ and Paul lived and taught, would we now begin to change our liturgical services based on our culture of today? What is special about contemporary worship that makes it worth implementing in the WELS church or any confessional Lutheran church today? Following the culture like other liberal protestant denominations and pockets of moderate denominations makes no logical sense, let alone spiritual sense.

What definition of "church growth" does Jesus or Paul prescribe in the Bible? We are to proclaim the gospel to all people. That does not mean all people will join the church (numerical growth). That does not mean all people will give money to the church (financial growth). That does not mean all people will enjoy the same fellowship (ecumencial growth).

Perry Lund
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, WELS
Oskaloosa, IA

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


It seems I wasn't the only one who was confused about Mr. Christian's name. I, too, assumed it was a pseudonym at first and rejected a couple of his comments for that reason, but then Mr. Paul Christian sent an e-mail wondering why his comments had been rejected. It's just one of those names, I guess.

Good discussion, everyone. Carry on!

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