Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Of mosques, drum sets and legalism

So Imam Rauf wants to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center in the shadow (or what would have been the shadow) of the World Trade Center. What do Americans think of such a thing, and why?

Some are ardently in favor of the concept. Others strongly oppose it. Still others may not like the idea, but neither are they minded to make a fuss. “It’s their money, their mosque. As long as they aren’t breaking any laws, who are we to stand in the way?”

Those who support putting a Muslim house of worship near Ground Zero point to the law. As President Obama articulated, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

As far as I understand the law and the U.S. Constitution, supporters of the mosque have a solid legal argument. There is no law against it.

Those who oppose the building of the mosque at that location so close to Ground Zero agree, for the most part, that there is no law against it. And yet they still say, “It shouldn’t be built there.”

In the ecclesiastical lingo of the Church Growth Movement, these opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque would be called, “Legalists.”

A “legalist,” as he is sometimes defined, is a person who attempts to make a law where God (or in this case, the United States government) has not made a law. The argument goes that, if God does not directly prohibit something, it is, therefore, free to be done at the discretion of the individual who wishes to do it. Anyone who dares to call such a thing “wrong” has dared to set up a new law.

And yet, it is not on the basis of law that the opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque oppose it. Some oppose it because they question the motives of the imam. Others oppose it because, no matter what the intentions of the imam may be, it will stand as a monument declaring the victory of the Islamic terrorists who brought down the twin towers, and as such, it will embolden the enemies of the United States. Still others oppose it simply because it’s so insensitive to the people of New York and to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, to put up in that place a symbol of the god in whose name their loved ones were murdered. As former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said in a radio interview with Laura Ingraham, “It’s not a question of the First Amendment. It’s a question of appropriateness.”

Americans are quickly losing any sense of “appropriateness” or “propriety” that they once had. (Everything from apparel to gay marriage – Do I really need to come up with examples?) Laws once made in the context of such propriety are now being heralded as the very instruments that permit perversity, because the context of propriety is no longer recognized.

Still, most Americans, 70% according to some polls, have enough sense to oppose the building of the mosque in the proposed location, not on the basis of the law or prejudice or hatred, but on the basis of propriety.

Christians in these modern/post-modern times are quickly losing their sense of “propriety,” too. Propriety, like morality in general, has become subjective, so that if some Christians consider something to be proper, then it is proper for them. No one else has the right to label anything “improper” for someone else.

Is there a law in the Bible prohibiting the use of drum sets in a church service, or the pastor in baggy jeans and untucked shirt, or the popcorn popper or the movie (aka Power Point) screen? No. And yet, I will dare to say, “Those things shouldn’t be there.” For that, I will be labeled by some as a “Legalist” (or perhaps also “Pharisee” or “Sadducee” or “Judaizer”).

But I am not the one pointing to the law. They are the ones who are quick to hold up the law and drag it into the discussion to justify whatever new methodology they want to try or whatever new style they wish to impose. I am not creating a law. I am speaking of “appropriateness” or “propriety.”

“But propriety is subjective! It’s just a matter of opinion!” No, it isn’t, not in its context. In the context of first century Corinth, for example, there was nothing subjective about the propriety of a woman praying with her head uncovered. Such a practice, in that context, was objectively “inappropriate,” because it undermined the headship role of the man.

In our 21st century American context, a drum set, combined with the “upbeat” philosophy of “what worship ought to be” (notice how they use the “ought to be,” too, when it fits their agenda), sends the message that we have caved to the entertainment culture, that sectarian preachers are the role models to be followed, that “church” and “rock concert” are synonymous, that the Divine Service is no longer for the purpose of receiving the “divine service” of God giving Christ’s benefits to you, but for the purpose of you jammin’ your heart out for Jesus.

As an American citizen, I am in favor of Muslims having the legal right to build mosques. But not in the vicinity of Ground Zero. As a Christian, I am in favor of Christians playing electric guitars and drum sets, dressing in baggy jeans, eating popcorn and watching movies. But not during the Divine Service. Even if there’s no law against it, it’s entirely inappropriate, especially for those who wish to call themselves “confessional Lutherans.”


Michael Schottey said...

Those who know me best will expect me to comment here, so I will.

While I agree with the thrust of your post here, I cannot agree with the points you used to make it.

1) The Cordoba Center isn't a mosque. It is a community center...more YMCA than church.

2) Furthermore, the group of Muslims that are building it are as progressive as they come. The Imam (routinely bashed now) was making the rounds post-9/11 as a symbol of "good Muslims." He is even a adviser to the FBI on Muslim culture.

3) Finally, it isn't "at ground zero." In New York terms, it isn't even "near ground zero." There is already another pre-existing mosque closer along with a gentlemen's club, multiple fast food restaurants, and multiple halal shops.

Again, while I agree with your premise (context matters, using the "mosque at ground zero" (which is neither a mosque, nor at ground zero) to make it was unnecessary and--at least in my mind--a false dichotnomy.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


Thanks for your points. First, apparently I am under the same wrong impression as the president, because he spoke of their right to have a "place of worship and community center" in Lower Manhatten. I've tried to pay attention to the news, but I haven't caught every story. Many are undoubtedly calling it a "mosque." To quote the X-Files, the truth is out there...

Secondly, I think I was careful not to say "at" Ground Zero, but "near" or "in the vicinity of" or "in the shadow of." I suppose "near" is a relative term, but in the opinion of many, it's "too close."

Third, I don't believe I bashed the imam, although some have. I don't pretend to know enough about him to question his motives, although the motives of a great many Muslims around the world is seething hatred toward Americans and toward Christians.

The point is, I am not inventing this controversy. It's eating up the news channels. Which newsies shall we believe or disbelieve? I don't know for sure, and as you observed, that was not the point of my post.

The point is that we often "appropriately" appeal to a sense of propriety rather than to the demands of the law in the secular realm. The same is true in the church.

Daniel Gorman said...

Rev. Rydecki opines, "As an American citizen, I am in favor of Muslims having the legal right to build mosques. But not in the vicinity of Ground Zero."

As an American citizen, you are guaranteed free speech and religion by the U.S. Constitution. Muslims have the same rights. Government officials may not use the bully pulpit of their office to deny Muslims the right to build a mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero.

An Executive or Legislative branch officeholder (e.g., president, governor, congressman, etc.) who tells a church that it is "inappropriate" to build a house of worship at its preferred location, even though it meets all legal requirements, has violated his oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States and its guarantee of religion liberty. The officeholder is in rebellion against powers ordained of God (Rom. 13:1). Churches should obey God rather than men who abuse their office.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Rydecki, thanks for an extremely insightful article. Supporters of sectarian worship, who are so quick to claim Christian freedom, are actually operating in the realm of the law, while Confessional Lutherans, who are often labeled legalists, are actually operating in the realm of Christian freedom.

As St. Paul describes it, there are two steps in Christian decision making, two questions that must be asked. The first question is in the realm of the law: "Is this permissible or is this in violation of God's law?" The second question is in the realm of Christian freedom: "Is this beneficial or is this not a wise thing to do?"

Thus, when people promote sectarian worship by saying, "There aren't any laws in the Bible forbidding drumsets in the chancel and screens in front of the cross!" they are still mired in the realm of the law. In a sense, they are the true legalists. And when confessional Lutherans say, "Perhaps it isn't wise to adopt heterodox practices in worship," they are the ones who are operating in the realm of Christian freedom.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Anonymous said...

I think some people are getting carried away with Pastor Rydecki's example of the mosque and are missing the "tertium" of his "parable".

His point is that when making a decision, there are always two questions that must be considered. First, is it legal? Yes, building a mosque and having a rock band in church are legal. Second, is it wise and beneficial? No, building a mosque near ground zero and having a rock band in church are not wise or beneficial.

Those who promote sectarian worship in the WELS are so fixated on that first question that they neglect the second one. They are the true legalists who appeal to the law to justify their practices, claiming that as long as the law doesn't specifically forbid something, they are justified and right in doing it.

Mr. Adam Peeler

AP said...

No, there is nothing illegal about this community center. There is, however, (especially to me) something deeply wrong with it and disturbing about it. Maybe it is just because I lived in Arlington, VA on 9/11 and, in fact, lived just about 2 miles from the Pentagon on the same street. Simply put, if you were not there--in these cities--do not presume to understand how the people who were and are there feel about the 9/11 sites. I was there in Arlington, but I cannot even begin to imagine how many New Yorkers really must feel about Ground Zero. All I can tell you is that before 9/11, the Pentagon to me was just a big, rather ugly office building where I got on the bus every day. After 9/11, it was something else.

Anyway, I think Pastor Rydecki was just making a basic but very important point: just because we CAN do something does not mean we should. Saying we should not so a thing is not always legalism. There are often very compelling reasons to restrain one's freedom.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

AP said...


If it is not a mosque and not at or near ground zero, how do you explain this New York Daily News Article:


In summary--it is two blocks from the former WTC site. 1,000-2,000 Muslims are expected to pray here daily. I wonder how many thousands of people come to pray at a New York YMCA, which, by the way, has officially changed its name from Young Men's Christian Association to YMCA.

Daniel Gorman said...

It's okay for any private citizen to give his opinion on whether a mosque at Ground Zero is appropriate. It's not okay for the NY Mayor, NY Governor, or US President to give their opinion. Giving an opinion is a violation of their oath of office.

Similarly, it's okay for any Christian to give his opinion on whether a rock band in church is appropriate. For the record, it's not.

It's not okay for a synod president or district president to give their opinion regarding the adiaphora of a church under their jurisdiction. Giving an opinion violates their office.

tshinnick said...

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

To give an opinion is to violate that oath? I think not. Instead, that sounds like an exercise of the free speech that they have sworn to protect. This was an interesting, well written article. It's a shame that the following dialogue is being filled with such silly arguments.

PCXIAN said...

TShinnick makes an excellent point. Presidents, Legislators, Chief Executives, Commanding, Officers, and even Pastors have opinions (read this blog). That's called leadership. Leaders have opinions, usually strong opinions, and that's what gets people energized to get laws passed, the job done, the business profitable, the combat mission completed, or the Christian Day School built. It certainly isn't against anyone's oath of office to have an opinion.

Paul Rydecki has a strong opinion on what instruments can be played in a "divine service." I have a different opinion.

Quite frankly, it isn't the type of instruments that we should be concerned with but, most importantly, with the hearts of those playing those instruments. Having been an instrumentalist during a "divine service" playing a Martin guitar, along with a pianist playing a Yamaha electronic piano, a drummer on a set of Ludvig drums, a bassist playing a Gibson bass, and three young, and not so young, singers singing and playing their Christ-filled hearts out praising, worshiping, and proclaiming the majesty of their God is most appropriate.

Yet some mistakenly say that these people are members of a "rock band" (I have never heard a "rock band" during a "divine service"). How foolish they are to have such an opinion but it is their opinion and I can respect it. What I disagree with is that they think that their opinion is our Lord's opinion and that is what is inappropriate.

P.C. Christian

Anonymous said...

Mr. Christian,

There are two things that concern me with your latest post. First, your focus is very man-centered, finding the value of worship within our hearts, rather than in Christ. Second, you talk about proclaiming God's majesty, and not his grace.

The reason these two things concern me is that both of these things, both of these ways of speaking, come directly from sectarianism. In fact, both things are hallmarks of sectarian worship. Sectarian worship, rather than focusing on the objective reality of Christ's mighty deeds on our behalf, focuses on the subjective emotions deep down inside of us. Sectarian worship, rather than focusing on the specific grace and mercy of Christ, focus on the generic majesty and sovereignty of God.

In my experience, those who have been heavily influenced by sectarianism, as you seem to be, fall into these patterns of speech and thought without even realizing it, but to those who have been educated in solid Lutheran, Scriptural theology such things stick out like a sore thumb.

I think this is just one more example of the very subtle yet very dangerous influence of sectarianism.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Anonymous said...

Mr. Christian,

I'd just like to address your comment more directly. You seem to defend playing sectarian music in worship by claiming, basically, "Well, my heart is in the right place and it feels right to me, so it must be ok."

How many sinful actions have been justified in human history by saying, "Well, my heart was in the right place," or "It felt right to me at the time." Do you not see how self-centered this attitude really is? Shouldn't you be more concerned about the message and the impression that you are giving to those gathered for worship than your own personal emotions?

To use Pastor Rydecki's example, I'm sure that the imam planning the mosque is saying to himself, "Well, it makes me feel good to build a mosque here. Who cares what impression it gives to other people?" Wouldn't it be better if he took a step back and said, "Wow, even though this feels good to me, doing this is giving a terrible impression to everyone else. Maybe I shouldn't do it, even though it's legal for me to do it."

In the same way, those who are promoting sectarian worship in our synod ought to take a step back and say, "Wow, even though this feels good to me, it's giving an unclear and inappropriate impression to those gathered for worship about the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of worship, and so on. I'd better not do it."

Mr. Adam Peeler

PCXIAN said...


You sure know how to put words into one's mouth. You have a penchant for misrepresenting what others say. I have never said anything about feelings, not that there is anything wrong with having feelings, awe, fear, and love for the God of creation. One day, perhaps, you will understand and experience these emotions. I also have never downplayed the grace of God or His majesty, as you seem to have done.

We should love the Lord our God with all are heart, soul, mind, and strength. Two of these are subjective and two of these are objective. In other words, we are told to have a fine balanced between them.

Humans can and should judge others actions but please quit trying to judge their hearts.

P. C. Christian

Anonymous said...

Please show me from Scripture where God prescribes the instrumentation that is pleasing for worship. I don't ever see the word "organ" or even "piano." But I see such wonderful instruments as "tambourines," "flutes," "harps," "cymbals," "lyres," "sistrums, "trumpets" and so on. (Just look at God's Holy Word like 2 Samuel 6:5) Perhaps we should only use the instruments that are found in the pages of Scripture. There would go your organ. Proclaiming the grace of God in worship can be done in so many different mediums and for you to determine what is right and appropriate is establishing a personal preference than what God finds right and pleasing. Please do not do this and burden the consciences and souls of so many of God's faithful people who proclaim His Word in ways that are pleasing to God, but perhaps not to you.
I've also noticed that there are so many beautiful hymns that proclaim God's Word and Christian doctrine in truth and purity that are found in Christian Worship. But there are also so many beautiful hymns that proclaim God's Word and Christian doctrine in truth and purity that are found outside of Christian Worship. Some are put to music that utilizes drums, guitars, and singers. In fact I have even heard songs from CW put to drums, guitars and electric keyboard. They proclaim God's Word. If we shouldn't use a song because other "sectarian" churches do, then we would have to throw out some of the hymns from CW. In fact the Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, even the secular world, use hymns that we use regularly. Should we not use them?!
Once again, you are putting your own personal opinion on what is acceptable to worship God and what isn't. That is the greater wrong than those who do proclaim gospel with drums and guitars or with a screen that puts God's Word before his people in just another way.
One final thing...I am not real familiar with your blog, but it seems to me that you are overstepping the bounds for which you have been called. I believe that you have been called to shepherd the sheep of your congregation, not the sheep of other congregations who have sheep who know them best and lead them in ways that are best for them. Your attacks and policing of other congregations seems to be something that should be done and carried out by those who we as a synod have elected to carry out those duties of regulating doctrine, the Conference of Presidents. They are rightfully called for that work, not you. We have the in place for good order within our church body. What you are doing is far from good order, instead it seems you are usurping their authority and running a vigilante group. Unity within our Synod can not be accomplished in this way. This blog saddens me and I will not be frequenting it.
In Christ,
Marcus Weaver

Pastor Boehringer said...

Dear PC,

You demand that others not judge hearts.

But Adam is not judging hearts, but rather confessions and actions, as those who carry the cross of Christ rightly do to honor His name.

However, the following three quotes will demonstrate that you are the one judging hearts.

You said:

"Quite frankly, it isn't the type of instruments that we should be concerned with but, most importantly, with the hearts of those playing those instruments."

"What I disagree with is that they think that their opinion is our Lord's opinion and that is what is inappropriate."

"One day, perhaps, you will understand and experience these emotions."

Please don't judge Adam's heart or mine or anyone one else's. We don't judge your heart. Instead please judge our words and actions, just as we will judge your words and actions.

Words and actions are important. When words and actions point away from the cross and to yourself, the theology of glory has found a home.

Theologians of glory are those who call for displays of power and awe in the church (see Matthew 23). They praise the success of numbers and growth. They make fun of those who point to the wiser and Scriptural way of the cross (see Mark 8). They call foolish things wise and wise things foolish. They defend man-centered worship as the worship of the Lord. They falsely accuse Christ-centered worship to be man-made worship. If you still understand the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross, please avail yourself of The Theology Of The Cross from Northwestern Publishing House.

Take note, theologians of glory, that the Intrepid Lutherans of the past 500 years and of today do not judge hearts. We know this is folly. We rightly judge and rebuke false theology of glory wherever it may be. To remain silent is to lay down the cross and God's gracious name. Christ, have mercy!

Repent, theologians of glory! Return to the cross that saves you and your cross that Christ calls you to carry.

Carry on, my dear theologians of the cross, my Intrepid Lutherans!

Pastor Luke Boehringer

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Mr. Christian,

I was going to let Mr. Peeler's response stand on its own, but your last comment redefines the Biblical word "love" in a rather dangerous way.

First, in your previous comment you said, "Quite frankly, it isn't the type of instruments that we should be concerned with but, most importantly, with the hearts of those playing those instruments." The heart of the song leaders is between them and God. It doesn't have anything to do with the edification of the congregation. Please see the Apostle Paul's discussion of "personal worship" and the edification of the rest of the Church in 1 Corinthians 14. Personal worship is best done at home. But those who would lead the congregation of saints must do so for the edification of the rest.

So yes, their instruments do matter. They may wish to pour out their hearts to Jesus with a Kazoo, but that would not be an instrument that supports the proclamation of the Word in the Divine Service, no matter how much their heart is in it.

I wonder if your use of quotes around "divine service" betrays a dislike for that phrase? Perhaps you prefer the man-centered word we've grown so accustomed to in English, "worship"? It's not a bad word, of course, but it's not the emphasis our Lutheran forefathers (or the Church catholic before them) gave to the weekly "Divine Service" (Gottesdienst).

Then you say, "We should love the Lord our God with all are heart, soul, mind, and strength. Two of these are subjective and two of these are objective. In other words, we are told to have a fine balanced between them."

I can't just let that stand. "Love" in the Biblical sense is not at all subjective. To "love" is to be devoted to another. To do so with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength is to be devoted to another with one's entire self. This isn't "subjective" or "objective," as you put it.

So you are absolutely distorting that Bible passage when you call it God's command to us to have a fine balance between objective and subjective displays of love. This is how American Evangelicalism has misled people, and it is a dangerous teaching.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Weaver,

Two things.

1. Could you kindly point out where Pastor Rydecki, or I, or anyone else made the claim that Scripture forbids certain instruments in worship? You can't? What a surprise! You won't be able to either, because we haven't made that claim. It's disingenuous for you to act as if we have.

You see to have missed the entire point of Pastor Rydecki's article. His entire point was that, while Scripture does not forbid certain instruments, we as Christians have the responsibility to seriously consider what instruments we use in worship. Just because we CAN use a drum set, doesn't mean we SHOULD. Is it truly wise and beneficial and appropriate to set up a drum set smack-dab in front of the altar of the Lord? (I've seen it.) Or might that particular instrument be too closely tied to secular music and give the impression that the chancel is a stage for performance?

2. You strike me as the kind of fellow who would have criticized Martin Luther for posting the 95 Theses. He should have minded his own business, right? Indulgences weren't even being sold in Wittenberg, so why did he care? Why didn't he work through the Roman hierarchy like he should have? How dare he confront false teaching in a direct way? It's so uncivilized!

Here's the deal. All Christians have the duty and responsibility to warn against false doctrine and practice everywhere they see it. That's what Christian love is all about. If you see your neighbor about to walk over a cliff, should you keep your mouth shut because it's none of your business? Should you go find a phone to call the police because they're the ones who officially deal with this kind of thing? Or do you shout as loudly as you can to warn him about the danger? Obviously, if you love him, you'll do the latter.

This is all the more true for Pastor Rydecki and all other pastors. They have a special charge to keep their sheep from danger. Sheep travel. Members of Pastor Rydecki's flock could easily travel, say, to Appleton, attend a WELS church there, have their guard down, because, after all, it's a WELS church, so it must be ok, and be put into serious spiritual danger, which they then might also take back with them and spread around.

In a church body, especially one that prides itself on unity and orthodoxy, false doctrine and bad practice is everyone's business, all the time.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Anonymous said...

Well said, Pastors Boehringer and Rydecki! Those are exactly the sorts of things I was going to say to Mr. Christian, but now I can save myself the time. Thanks.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Mr. Weaver,

I don't want to come down too hard on you for your response, because I really am glad you've stopped by to read a little here on the blog, even though you say you won't be back often.

Mr. Peeler has answered many of the questions you raised, so I won't repeat what he said. I'll just ask you to please make your arguments based on the things that have been said, not on imaginary arguments that have not been made.

A WELS member chided me once before for daring to teach what kind of music God likes or doesn't like, as if I knew. He was stunned when I said that, "Yes, I know what kind of music God likes."

What will it be?!? Organ music? Piano music? A capella? How has Pastor Rydecki seen into the heart of God to know this?

He hasn't, of course. But God's Word gives us the answer (although not to the liking of many, because it requires sound Christian judgment to be used).

Psalm 138:2, "I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word."

Music that exalts God's name and God's Word is the kind of music God likes to listen to, at least when his people are gathered for the purpose of receiving his name and his Word. God wants his name to be known. That means, God wants himself - his character, his reputation - to be known rightly. He makes himself known through his Word.

So music that allows the Word of God to be properly (rightly, correctly, truly) proclaimed - that is the kind of music God "likes." Music that carries God's Word rightly to the hearts of his people - that is the kind of music God "likes" in the Divine Service, so that he may come and serve his people with The Truth, that is, with Himself.

Many instruments can be used for this. But not all, especially not in a given context, like 21st Century America. Some instruments (and some manners of dress and some styles of music, etc.) get in the way of rightly proclaiming who God is and what God has done, either because of the nature of the instrument or because of the associations people have with the instrument (or both).

This is not to say the instruments are evil per se, or that there is not a proper context for using them.

But here's the point we're trying to make: the "Worship Service," the "Divine Service, "The Mass" (call it what you will) is not the time for personal, private worship. It's not the time for entertainment. It's not the time to jam for Jesus, or tap your foot to the rhythm. It's the one time during the week (normally) when the people of God gather to receive from him the benefits he offers in his Word. It's the one time during the week when the ambassador of Christ addresses the gathered people of Christ to speak from Christ to them and to put in their mouths the forgiveness of sins. At least, that's the way it's supposed to be.

I hope you'll keep reading the blog. If you think I, as a pastor, have no right to blog because I'm not called to blog, I wonder if you think the laymen on this blog should also shut down their computers and mind their own business? I wonder if you think we should also stop publishing books to sell at NPH or articles to publish in Forward in Christ? Hopefully you can see that such parochialism would only be detrimental to the Body of Christ.

Daniel Gorman said...

TShinnick opines "'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'

To give an opinion is to violate that oath? I think not. Instead, that sounds like an exercise of the free speech that they have sworn to protect."

A few years ago, some businessmen in my hometown attempted to silence a street corner preacher who had a very powerful voice. If the Police Chief had used his alleged free speech right to deliver the message, "It is not appropriate for you to be preaching here", he might have intimidated the preacher into giving his religious rights.

Similarly, WELS district presidents could intimidate churches under their jurisdiction into giving up their right to adiaphora: "It is not appropriate for you to employ rock bands."

Anonymous said...

Why is it inappropriate to exalt God's name using a drum set, guitars, and loud music? King David did. I can't imagine that is wasn't a glorious proclamation of the Word. I will give you that some churches could do better in the placement of their instruments so as not to cover up the wonderful symbol of the cross or altar. However, it seems to me that you are still stating personal opinion as to what instruments are more suited for worship and proclaiming God's name than others. How can the same instruments that were used in Old Testament times now in New Testament times be inappropriate?? Would the beautiful hymn "Christ is Our Cornerstone" (CW 528) not exalt our God if it were accompanied by guitars and drums? Would God not be pleased with that prayer and proclamation of his name if the tempo were picked up and bass line was jazzed up? Do Christian recording artists (of which we have a number who are WELS members), do they not proclaim God's Word when they sing with a "rock" band behind them? I understand and agree with Psalm 138:2. But I do not agree with your take on the fact that God is there in that passage placing one form of music as better, more appropriate, or more sanctified than others. If the Gospel is proclaimed, praise the Lord above!
Mr. M. Weaver

Michael Schottey said...

I am a little torn on the "appropriateness issue" because appropriateness (to some degree)is a matter of subjectivity.

The pages of National Geographic are littered with people dressed appropriately for their culture. In our culture, it would not be so.

In worship, I have sat in Lutheran churches, high schools, colleges, and seminaries and heard percussion instruments used to the glory of God and the edification of the congregation.

Frankly, the new services settings in the supplement (especially the Matins service) scream for percussion--tambourines and even drums!

I am far less worried about the continued germanification of the divine service and more about the doctrinal matters connected with changes.

Finally, the Word is far more potent and powerful than the channel which conveys it to God's people. However, that doesn't mean that every form of music is the best means to convey that message.

"A Mighty Fortress" is far better sung than rapped.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Notice that I did not say "Of mosques, all percussion instruments, etc."

Who doesn't recognize that a drum set has a different connotation than a tambourine? To argue that, because a tambourine may be used appropriately, therefore, all percussion instruments can be used appropriately, is a logical fallacy. It's similar to saying that, since some wind instruments may be appropriate for the Divine Service (organ, flute, clarinet, etc.), therefore, all wind instruments are appropriate for the Divine Service (hence, the Kazoo, or how about the makeshift Kazoo made from a comb and a piece of wax paper. Does someone really want to argue that such would be "appropriate" for the Divine Service?).

And to be perfectly honest, the day will not come soon enough when we stop hearing about King David's procession with the ark to the tabernacle as the definitive Scriptural proof that dancing and any and all instruments ought to be employed in the Sunday Service. This is another logical fallacy (weak analogy), and a terrible twisting of Scripture.

Is there a degree of "subjectivity" in what is appropriate? It depends what you mean by "subjectivity."

Let's put it this way: If taken all by itself, is it subjective to say, "There shouldn't be a mosque built near Ground Zero"? Yes. But...

Is it an objective truth that putting up a Muslim worship center near Ground Zero would 1) be seen by Islamic terrorists as a monument to their victory, and 2) offend hundreds of thousands of Americans who would also understand it to be a poke in the eye to America and to the families of the 9/11 victims? Yes, that is an objective reality.

If those objective outcomes matter and are understood to be "bad," then one can objectively call it "inappropriate" to build a new mosque there.

Is it, all by itself, a subjective statement that a woman should not pray with her head uncovered? Yes. But...

If the objective reality is that such behavior indicates to the general observer a rejection of the headship role of the men in the congregation (1 Cor. 11), then...

No, in that context, it is not a subjective statement to say that the woman should not pray with her head uncovered. Such behavior would be objectively "inappropriate."

And so we ask in our time and place, would such behavior indicate to the general observer a rejection of God's headship principles? The objective reality is that, no, it would not.

I think I've stated and restated my reasons for calling certain practices "inappropriate." Coming soon will be a series of posts dealing with this issue: "Style is not neutral."

Michael Schottey said...

Well, what do you mean by drum set? A couple of congos, or a set of three timpanis used by someone with skill (along to music that fits) are different than a guy banging away on a rock-style drum set to "Our God is an Awesome God."

I agree wholeheartedly that "style is not neutral," but I would not go as far as Pr Berg did when he wrote, "Singing our Way To Hell."

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


To be clear, I was referring to the latter - a guy banging away on a rock-style drum set. Sorry if my lack of specificity led to any misunderstanding.

I haven't read Pr. Berg's article, so can't comment at this time.

Daniel Gorman said...

Rev Rydecki opines "If those objective outcomes matter and are understood to be "bad," then one can objectively call it "inappropriate" to build a new mosque there."

The role of government is not to judge whether those objective outcomes matter or whether the building of a new mosque there is good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. The government's role is merely to insure that the lawful building of a new mosque there is not impeded.

The role of churches is to condemn the building of mosques at Ground Zero or anywhere else on the planet as an affront to God. All mosques are bad and inappropriate. Have Lutherans forgotten the doctrine of the two kingdoms?

Michael Schottey said...

The article from Pr. Berg can be found here:


I always felt the article was very well written, and my own likes/dislikes sing along with it, but (personally) I thought it went too far toward legalism.

I've seen the historic liturgies done many different ways with many different shades of cultural flavor attached to them. I loved all of them because of their content, not the execution.

I decry excuses like: well we're a young congregation, or we're a mission setting.

My problem with contemporary worship and "rock band" church is the source--the decision theology behind the choices that are made in non-denominational churches and copied thoughtlessly by Lutherans ones.

I guess my point in all of this, is that one can be "inappropriate" in one setting, but totally appropriate in another. However, spoiling the Egyptians is ALWAYS spoiling the Egyptians.

Pastor Michael Sullivan said...

When it comes to propriety of worship: I think that we have to be careful to automatically assume that a kazoo can never and will never be appropriate for divine service. We may not be able to conceive of there ever being a time these instruments would be appropriate for worship, but we don't know the future or all circumstances. Hence, claiming that a kazoo can never be used in worship "is" legalism. Better would be to say that, under current circumstances, a kazoo would draw attention away from the Gospel and on to itself and is therefore inappropriate for worship.

(The Orthodox feel all musical instruments are inappropriate for worship. Not that this has anything to do with the discussion at hand, but it is an interesting side note.)

Now, I would agree that I can never conceive of a time when a kazoo will approriate for leading praises to God. But, I can conceive a drumset being used in divine service to the glory of God. My prime example would be much of the music Koine has come out with. (For those unfamiliar with Koine, it is a Lutheran group that arranges hymns into more modern settings - including the use of electric guitar and drums). I find some of the settings and music very well done. Many arrangements glorify God by drawing attention to the words of the hymns, as Church music ought.

Music in worship should be chosen the same way a frame is chosen for a picture. A picture frame is never to draw attention to itself, but to the picture - getting the eye to focus on it. In the same way music style ought to be chosen to draw attention to the message - the Gospel - and not itself. My experience with Koine is that it does just that.

If style of music is chosen to entertain, attract, then the music is inappropriately used - even if the music happens to be a Bach Cantata. Attention is then put on the frame and not the picture inside of it.

(In this regard one could argue that when Bach was rebuked for his wild music at St. Thomas, maybe the parishoners were right in feeling that too much emphasis was a on the music instead of the message. I think almost all of us would concede that Bach's music is a most beautiful frame for the message, but are these ornate Cantatas appropriate for divine worship if the worshipper is tempted to focus on the genius of the music?)

Michael Sullivan said...

One more thing. The association people have with instruments was mentioned as to whether or not they are appropriate for worship. The same can be said for melodies.

Having lived in Germany, I can not sing CW 277 "God, We Praise You' with out thinking about the German national anthem. Here is a case an point where the music distracts from the message.

Some one might say: "Yes, but not all have lived in Germany and make that association." True. And the same can be said for the choice of musical styles or instruments. Not everyone makes the same negative association that some make. For some, modern music may appropriately focus the heart and mind on the message (ie. Koine). For others it may not.

Another example would be CW 169 "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus." Everytime I hear that, I think about Schiller's poem, which are the words of the Chorale of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. His poem is a hymn of praise to the goddess of Joy, and the poem is filled with rank humanism.

Again, not everyone makes that association, but some do. Certainly those who arranged the words to this piece knew that content of the orignal chorale. However, they chose this music to beautifully illustrate the words printed in our hymnal. Here we have an example of music associated with a form of idolatry used to serve the Gospel.

The point is not that we should be going around and adapting every style to attract people to the Gospel. Rather, my point is that we have to be careful not to give the impression that any instrument or musical form asscociate with the secular world can not be used to appropriately point to the Gospel in the divine service.

In America CW 277 and 169 maybe appropriate melodies for worship. In German speaking countries, these melodies might cause a stronger reaction than a rock band in Church.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree respectfully with Pastor Sullivan on the subject of Koine. I have seen them perform (yes, perform) in worship on several occasions. On each occasion, they were positioned in or in front of the chancel, obscuring the altar of the Lord. On each occasion, the liturgy was abridged or eliminated for the sake of Koine's performance. On each occasion, Koine was the focus of the worship service, rather than Christ and his Word. On each occasion, Koine performed at the congregation, rather than supporting congregational singing. On each occasion, Koine had CDs for sale.

Don't get me wrong, Koine gives wonderful concerts. They just have no place in the divine service.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Michael Schottey said...

I agree with Mr Peeler.

I personally some of the men in Koine and went to school with many of their siblings. I have two of their CDs and they are my favorite "driving music."

However, for all the reasons Mr. Peeler listed, I would prefer to come to their concerts at any other time than during the blessed divine service.

Pastor Michael Sullivan said...

But is the placement of Koine in front of the altar, the abridgment of the liturgy and the focus on the band Inherent in the music and instrumentation, or was it poor choice on the part of pastors who designed the service. The very same things can be said about the Seminary Choir when they visit a church and are placed in front of the altar, or when a church abridges the liturgy so they can hear more of the Choir. The problem is not in the music, but in the arrangement of the service. Koine, done properly, can properly frame the message just like a college or Seminary Choir.

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Mr. Peeler writes @10:12pm 8/18: it's giving an unclear and inappropriate impression to those gathered for worship...

Indeed it is, and let us not misunderstand the gravity of this. Giving such an "unclear" or "inappropriate" impression, in a Confessional context is nothing short of making a false statement, of attacking the integrity not only of one's own Confession, but that of those with whom he mutually confesses it.Such a person is an active participant in the ablation of his brother's Confession -- his brother's expression of Christian conscience. Thus, worship practices concerns not only one's congregation, but the greater Fellowship, as well.

Postmodern Lutherans must realize that they Confess – with words that have real and specific meaning and consequence – that the Bible says something about God, about man, about the nature of their relationship, and about a great many other things, that other Christians simply do not say, and cannot say for lack of theological perspective. Our Confession is unique. Moreover, our unique Confession is a matter of conscience, not mere words, and practice represents one's Confession. Therefore, what we Confess must be reflected in our practice as well as our words, as practice communicates and teaches right alongside them. This means that we, in our Confession and in how we carry out that Confession in practice, are demonstrably unique, and that we, together must work to maintain this unique characteristic. Adopting the unique practices of other confessions is a form of ecumenism, which reduces our Confession to a status common with theirs and breeds doctrinal indifferentism by making inconsistency and duplicity normative.

For example, the modern idea of the Divine Service as "outreach event" is the gold-plated dung handed to us by modern synergistic sectarians, who have no discernible Doctrine of the Church, who reject the Means of Grace and require man's effort to bend the unbeliever's will in favor of a decision for Christ. These Arminian priorities lie at the shallow roots of pop-church worship practices, as such entertainment practices move the will of man as he sits in the Nave as assuredly they do if sits at the local bar or dance club. They have invented the format of "Contemporary Worship" as a tool to bend the perceptions and will of man for the sake of evangelistic endeavor, and thrust this tool upon the rest of Christianity -- hanging the threat of Law over all of us as motivation and justification for its use.

The fact is, the Divine Service is not about evangelism at all, it is not about a mass of unbelievers assembled before the throne of Christ to offer Him thanks, praise and adoration. Worship is not what the enemies of God – the unregenerate – do before His throne. They reject and revile Him, just as they did at foot of His Cross. And worship from the unregenerate worshiper, soiled as he is in his own wreaking rags, is not something God will countenance, much less accept; it is impossible for them to worship in spirit, since they are dead in spirit, or in truth, since they are without the Truth. God rejects their false worship. To lead the unregenerate into the Divine Service on the pretense of "worship experience," is simply to lie to them. They won't be worshiping a thing.

No, the Divine Service is about the Bride of Christ, the Church – Militant and Triumphant, together – doing what She was created to do for eternity: to receive of the manifold blessings of Christ, and give glory to God. Orthodox worshipers have words for this: Sacrament and Sacrifice. Worship is the privilege of believers only. The unregenerate are not part of the Church, they are outside of it. To develop a worship practice on the basis of the preferences of the unbelievers one hopes to gather for worship, is to do so without a scintilla of doctrinal integrity.

Continued in next post...

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

...Continued from previous post.

Rev. Sullivan, above, has made many points worthy of a full length post in response. They are for the most part, well-balanced in my opinion. He is correct when he points out that associations with respect to instrumentation are the same with respect to certain melodies. He pointed out the German anthem used in some hymns and the improper associations that may be drawn from it. One could point out the use of various other melodies chosen for hymns in CW or the Supplement, or in other fine hymnals, which make use of melodies derived directly from pagan or secular contexts or applications. Most of these are obscure, from the perspective of the general populace, and it is correct to say that they may or may not result in improper associations. Being a fan of Classical Music, I suffer from many such usages in our hymnals – they are distracting and offensive to me. However, to generally apply the conclusion reached from these obscure examples as a characterization of the impact of popular entertainment forms in the Divine Service, to wit, "They may or may not cause offense since some may draw improper associations but others won't" is simply wrong. Popular entertainment forms are popular because most people are aware of them, regard them as entertainment, and approve of them as such. It is impossible and, frankly, irresponsible to assert that popular entertainment forms and instrumentation used in the context of the Divine Service will somehow not be inappropriately regarded as entertainment, or as entertaining, by most people. On the contrary, by definition, they will be regarded as such, and will be engaged as such by most people. Moreover, most will be taught by these practices to consider entertaining worship as normative, and “non-entertaining worship” as non-normative. That is, they will be taught to base their assessment of worship on themselves, their own desires, and their own expectation that their own worldly desires will be fulfilled by their own worship experience. This is the essence of anthropocentric worship in our day.

In addition, it is widely known among modern American Christians that popular entertainment forms are the worship format of choice among the sectarians. Therefore, use of such forms by orthodox Lutherans takes on a greater dimension than just desecrating divine worship with secular entertainment association: in addition, they associate our practice with that of the sectarians, and worse, that upon which our practice is based with that upon which the sectarian practice is based -- our doctrine. The use of such sectarian forms breaks down our Confessional distinction and erodes our understanding and application of Church Fellowship.

Modern entertainment forms are fine as entertainment. However, they are to be avoided by the orthodox as forms of worship. Moreover, worship practices typically associated with the heterodox, are, for the sake of Confessional integrity, likewise to be avoided.

Michael Sullivan said...

Dear Mr. Lindee et al.

Thank you for a fascinating discussion. This will be my last post on the subject since I am leaving for vacation after divine service tomorrow and will have no access to the internet. There is much I would like to write on the subject, but time and space is limited. But here are a few points.

1) We all agree that songs of even questionable theology have no place in the divine service - regardless of whether classical or contemporary.

2) We all agree that if the music promotes itself instead of the Gospel, it is not appropriate for worship.

3) We all agree that music should not be "performed" for entertainments sake.

4) We all agree that music should not be chosen simply to attract people to church, or the notion that musical style has any impact on a persons faith in the Gospel.

Here is where we might differ:

A) I think we need to differentiate between entertainment and enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a service - how well the liturgy, the readings, and sermon all pointed to Christ. There is nothing wrong with enjoying how particular melodies frame the Gospel in a song - regardless if that music uses a more popular form of music or not. Enjoying the gifts God has given us is not wrong - especially in Worship - if the focus is on Jesus (the Giver of all gifts) and His greatest gift of salvation by grace through faith. I see entertainment as loving the music with no thought to the Gospel, or that the Gospel gets a second thought.

B) I do not agree with your statement: "It is impossible and, frankly, irresponsible to assert that popular entertainment forms and instrumentation used in the context of the Divine Service will somehow not be inappropriately regarded as entertainment, or as entertaining, by most people."

First of all almost all instrumentation we have - including the organ - have their place in popular music through out history. Bach used instrumentation for his cantatas that would be found in the popular chamber Music of his day. One might wonder (read: I, personally wonder - since I have evidence to prove this theory) if Bachs cantatas where not influenced by the chamber music of his day.

One can also point composers who wrote music for both secular and divine uses Rachmaninov and Tchaikovshy wrote liturgies as well as secular music. Mendelssohn's hymn "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" also wrote "A Mid Summer's Night Dream." Hendel's melodies are found in hymns, Bach . . . The division between music which is secular and divine is not so clear cut. Through out history "popular" melodies and instrumentation have found their place in Church music - even when the muscial form and instrumentation was still popular in the secular world.


Pastor Michael Sullivan said...


Secondly I disagree with your statement that popular forms of music will be viewed as entertainment by most. I believe this is a generalization that does not take culture into context. For example, if a Russion choir were to sing in a German Lutheran congregation, they might consider the music "entertainment," since they have never heard it before. If the Russian music was sung in a Ukrainian Lutheran Church (some of whom have adapted a distinctively Eastern rite) it would not be viewed as "entertainment," but seen as in service of the Gospel. In African-American culture, Gospel music is not seen as "entertainment" by many Church goers - and they do not like it when the Hollywood influenced younger generation views it as such. (I believe many were upset with Ray Charles for taking Gospel music into the secular realm, mixing its distinct form with the Blues) Gospel music, with proper words and theology, is proper music in some cultural settings, but not in others. The same can be said for popular music. Many (not all) in the younger generation do not view popular music as merely entertainment. Many have grown up with this music with out being exposed to other forms. For them, 16th century melodies seem odd and may distract them from the message (more on this later) Using the Koine as an example, some find this music able to frame the Gospel well for them. When they listen to the music, they learn the words and sing the songs for the words. To say that most people view popular forms of music in church as mere entertainment is to say something that we do not know for sure. It judges hearts and attitudes of all. Do I think there are people who view popular music in church as mere entertainment to attract people to the Gospel? Yes. Do I think all have this view? Absolutely not. Do I think Popular music should be used to "connect with our culture" and "attract people people to Christ"? Absolutely NOT! But do I think that there are certain settings in which popular music can be used in the divine service to frame the Gospel? Yes.

Let me us Koine as an example. I believe that most times Koine is used the "travelling choir" syndrome kicks in that wants to "showcase" them. This, obivously, is not proper. In Milwaukee, I had them come for a service. They were placed on the side on the Church - next to the piano. They did not block the altar. They played for preservice, the offering, and the last hymn. During the last hymn, they encouraged in the congregation to sing the well known hymn with them. At this service there were no CD sales. Their music did not distract from the Gospel. They did not "perform." They were not showcased. Their music and message all served the Gospel.

Pastor Michael Sullivan said...


C) Any music can also be a hindrance to the Gospel. For example, if I (being in a mission setting with members who do not have a Lutheran background) were to pick CW 271 "We All Believe In One True God," I am positive that - without proper instruction and assimilation - the beautiful Gospel of that hymn would get lost in the difficulty of singing that melody. My members would focus so much on trying to catch the tune, that the words would be lost. And this is brings me to my last point for today: Ancient melodies or liturgies performed haphazardly without explanation, or with out proper instruction and assimilation, can distract a person from the Gospel message contained in them just as much as popular music. Understand me corectly: I am not advocating that we "get rid" of the liturgy. Rather, that we make sure the liturgy is understood and that we respect the musical background, culture and ability of our congregations. We do not want to go to to other extreme of making the divine service a slave to the liturgy intead of the liturgy a servant to the divine service and the Gospel. Please understand, I am not claiming that any of us do this, but there always in a danger in presenting the liturgy thoughtlessly or in a way that is over the heads of our members. We can be so focused on the words of a hymn that we forget the musical ability of our congregation (and I am very guilty of this latter charge).

Anyway, I really have to get ready for tomorrow. I have finish writing one sermon and plagerize another one (actually it is reusing a sermon I wrote) for my lay reader to preach while I am on vacation . There is so much more I could write, but I will stop there.
Blessings to all of you.

In Christian love, Pastor Michael Sullivan

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Rev. Sullivan,

Thank you for your response, and for taking up this discussion publicly! I, and I think the rest of us Intrepids, have been hoping someone would engage us on this topic, and I'm glad you've done so. Yours seems to be a moderating voice, and I appreciate this. There is much with which I would agree in your statements, and, as you might imagine, some aspects of your analysis which I think require "deeper probing."

I understand that you have a "day-job" -- I have one of those too! -- and I most certainly understand vacation. Thus, I would rather not post my responses as they may constitute a challenge to what appears to be fundamental assumptions and reasoning processes you seem to be employing, and you would be unable to respond. I am intrested in fair play and more than willing to engage public arguement, in the interest of progressing toward agreement in principle. So I will await your return.

Perhaps when you return, some sort of public point/counter-point exchange would be beneficial -- and "enjoyable" -- for all concerned?

Again, thank you. I look forward to further interaction with you!

Mr. Douglas Lindee

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