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Sunday, March 30, 2008 

Oversimplifying Worship

Today we have a guest post by Dan from Necessary Roughness entitled Oversimplifying Worship. For my guest post at his site visit here. I'll let Dan do all the talking and tell ya why he's here and I'm there, enjoy!

Greetings to all at Putting Out the Fire!

When the Lutheran Carnival began its Sabbath, the need for bloggers to share content and expand readership continued. I extended invitations to begin a new project, calling it Cross Posting, (all puns intended). I will trade posts with other bloggers, effectively becoming a guest contributor on some blogs while other bloggers guest-post on mine.

One of the things that caused me to invite Frank was the fact that he teaches high schoolers Christian (Lutheran) doctrine. The kids thirst for it and ask questions that adults don't even consider.

This phenomenon is not limited to high schoolers. My wife and I are raising five-year-old twin fraternal girls, one of whom is mildly affected by autism. I refer to them as my older and younger daughters, the older child being my “typical” child. They are less than an hour apart, yet they function like an older and younger sister. The older one even parrots things we tell the younger kid to do.

Every other day on average when I am home, I sit at the piano, conveniently located in our toy room, and we play a Matins or a Vespers service, depending on the time of day. If the next Sunday is a church holiday, like Easter, I will run through hymns that will likely be sung that day, so that they can jump in before they can fully read. It worked for Easter when, even though we visited another church, they were able to sing the Alleluia in “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.”

With relatively the same exposure to liturgy and catechesis, it is interesting to see what each picks up on her own. The older daughter knows the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the first nine out of the Ten Commandments (that tenth is a doozy!), Luther's Evening Prayer, and she has asked me a lot of questions regarding Jesus, the Trinity, and so forth. I try to keep things simple without dumbing things down to the point of being doctrinally inaccurate.

My wife has been praying the Lord's Prayer with the younger, who now recites it by heart. She can complete the Apostle's Creed, even keeping “ascended” and “descended” straight. She practically leads the family in Asking a Blessing from Luther's Small Catechism; she is affectionately known as the “prayer police.” The rest she learns through music. She sings about half of the Venite from Matins and half of the Magnificat from Vespers. She even asks for “Jesus Loves Me: five-eight-eight” and “I Am Jesus Little Lamb” (LSB 740) on occasion.

The suggestion has been made that the kids are getting “too much church.” I can concede that there is a point when kids, indeed all people, might be spending too much time in one location without learning things like: what a price means at the store, learning how to kick a ball in a goal, or how to write her name neatly. But 20 minutes every other day isn't that much. It is less time than we spend cleaning up after dinner.

Good Christian friends, your targets for evangelism are usually older than five years old, and yet we expect less from adults. Dumbing down worship leaves people unchallenged and unprepared for the secular world they are exposed to the rest of the week.

Not only are Christian souls are under attack by atheistic philosophy or other religions, but the Christian soul is under “friendly fire” from the rejection of infant baptism, the denial of the Real Presence of body and blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, salvation by faith plus works, decision theology, and other differences in doctrine among the denominations. Help them! Sound doctrine unites rather than divides.

It is my observation that many church leaders (LCMS included) seek to simplify church and compact it into 30 minutes on Sunday morning. They leave out Old Testament lessons or Holy Communion. They drop the hymns with 10 verses and simplify language that is still understandable (if but a little Jacobian). They drop the hymnal and use projectors, assuming that people can't read music.

In a week, assuming you get one hour of church and eight hours of sleep per day, you are in the world 111 hours for every hour you spend in church. That is a serious advantage to give the stalking lion. We need to increase that time and improve that time, not only giving people a respite from the rest of the week, but also leaving them with the “means of grace”: word and sacrament. Don't hold it back and insult their intelligence. Don't play into this world's mantra that Christians cannot think and handle advanced topics.

Hymnals, for example, have words and music in them. Some people can't read music and thus read just the words. Those who can read music benefit from reading both. It is better to give the Christian too much and let the Christian choose what he or she can handle, rather than limiting everyone by catering to one person’s perspective of what everyone can handle.

It is a popular thing to bend doctrine and practice over backwards in the attempt to attract and retain visitors. We are reducing our expectations of what people need to be taught, and then we wonder why people don’t see important differences between denominations. We play into the expectation that church is about how to make your present life a little better, rather than admitting our mistakes, receiving the forgiveness of sins, and ensuring our eternity in the new heaven and earth.

It takes the Ad Council a grant from the government to make TV tell kids that they shouldn’t be watching TV. Through our lax expectatations, the church tells parishoners they don’t need to be immersed in the Word. Don’t guilt them. Just offer the opportunity to study, sing, and pray, with a pastor trained in Biblical languages when possible. Offer enough opportunties that people will think, “Gee, perhaps this is something I should be doing; this is something I should be learning.” The sower may get good soil, but the seed has to be planted, sometimes more than we think necessary.


These are great points that lead me to ask why parents are so willing to undersell their children (my 5-yr-old can't read, how could she learn the Catechism?!), and pastors their parishioners ("of majesty coequal"? come on, people can't understand that!). Well, teaching requires work. Dan has to make a deliberate investment of time and energy to help his daughters learn these things. Turns out it's a lot easier to let Bob and Larry do the catechesis while Dad watches the game in the next room; to visit sermoncentral.com than to wrestle with a text. Oversimplifying is the result of making things easier for the expert, not the student.

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
  • Confessional Lutheran
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