Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Most Awesomest Video Introducing The Lutheran Confessions… Ever

Pastor Jonathon Fisk, who shepherds St. John Lutheran Church up in Springfield, PA, and whose blog is a favorite of mine over at Worldview Everlasting, has put up his newest video which is a high octane introduction to the Lutheran confessions of the Book of Concord. Watching this video is a bit like drinking history and theology through a fire hose but Pastor Fisk has created a ten-minute e ticket ride that you’d wait hours in line for if you had to. Fortunately, the replay button is a virtual one and you get right back on watch the most awesomest video introducing the Book of Concord… evah!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How Should Hymnody Be Judged? A Simple Guide

I was having a “friendly discussion” with a friend of mine concerning what goes on during worship on a Sunday morning recently on Facebook. After much back and forth about the Divine Service versus praise and worship as a mere preference (it’s not a matter of personal preference for confessional Lutherans but that is a whole other can of worms and another post to be written for a later discussion…) I was asked who, in my ever so humble opinion, should test the hymnody. Should that responsibility fall to the pastor or maybe it should be the music minister. I was also asked how my church handles a situation where “the called staff find a song acceptable and you personally do not, how does your church handle that?”

The first thing that I think would be helpful is to establish a standard so that we remove our personal preferences from the equation. I may like the old Greek and Latin hymnody (I’m referring to the style of hymns and not the Latin or Greek language) but just because I like a certain era’s hymns doesn’t mean that anyone else will. By setting up some guidelines the thorny issue of a hymn’s aesthetic value as a personal preference will be greatly diminished.

A few years ago I posted a simple list which I thought was an excellent guide as to how we can evaluate hymnody so that the matter of personal preference or subjectivity could be pushed to the back burner and a more objective standard could be set forth as a means to judge what we sing on a Sunday morning:

1) Is the Crucified and Risen Christ Jesus the indispensable center of the hymn?
2) Does the hymn clearly proclaim Christ’s vicarious satisfaction as the sinner’s salvation?
3) Is the hymn grounded on a clear, Scriptural text?
4) Does the hymn point us clearly to the Church’s ministry of word and Sacrament as the place where we surely receive Christ’s gifts?
5) Does the hymn make clear that it is entirely Christ’s work alone that saves us without works, responses, or proper feelings of our own?
6) Does the hymn make clear that the faith which alone justifies is not a human work, but a free gift given by God’s choosing of us (not our choosing of Him), in Christ Jesus, through Word and Sacrament?
7) If the hymn speaks of the Christians response to Christ’s gifts, does it make clear that it is what Christ does for us and not what we do for Him that is the center of the Church’s life and mission? Does it make clear that sanctification is as much by faith alone as is justification?
8) Has the hymn been properly tested and tried by the Lutheran Church?
9) Does the hymn inspire in us a hunger and thirst for the things of Christ Jesus and His Kingdom that is coming?
10) Does the hymn drive you clearly, unerringly to the sound doctrine of Christ Jesus rather than merely let you free associate it’s words with sound teaching?
11) Does the tune bear repeated singing? That is, could you sing it twenty times in a row and not feel sick to your stomach?
12) Is it a hymn that the congregation knows or can sing with some choir support?

If we used the criteria listed above to apply a modicum of discernment for what we sing on a Sunday morning, we would have far fewer disagreements on theological matters than currently plague our beloved synod. Why do I say that? It’s simple: because we would singing our one clear confession of faith and with one clear voice and not with as many confessions as there are voices as there are personal preferences.

And, so ya’ll don’t think I’m just picking on the music led by your praise bands and such, this criteria works just fine with choirs leading our sung confession as well! Don’t think that just because a congregation employs a choir that they are immune to singing goofy songs that should never be sung within the walls of a Lutheran sanctuary. The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of consultant provided guides being used in Lutheran circles that recommend that we use pop culture songs to make the unchurched seeker more comfortable in the name of evangelism. I know we paid some consultants a good penny or two for evangelism advice but chances are that if the song was popular on top 40 radio it ain’t gonna pass even one of the criteria listed above and doesn't need to sung from the balcony by our choirs or the pews by the congregations. The same thing goes for last week’s top ten list over at K-Love which takes vapid and adds a dash of the eww that’s kinda creepy factor with songs that seem to favor effeminate or romantic language that is more appropriate with ones spouse than the risen Christ! Nope, nonsense like that fails our simple evaluation big time and is best left off the rotation of regular hymns.

As to the question of who should test the hymns, the pastor with the input of a layperson with some theological training on staff or who has volunteered to run the music program works nicely. It’s important that both the pastor and the congregation work together in picking hymns to be sung within the Divine Service. The laity should rely on the pastor’s theological knowledge to ensure that no errors are present in the hymns and that the hymn is appropriate or a particular Sunday’s pericope as well as hold that pastor to account should he err (and he will err from time to time as he is a poor miserable sinner like the rest of us) and choose hymns that do not meet the a standard we all should hope for. It should never be an either or situation that has the pastor or laity subservient to the other as we are all slaves to Christ.

I hope that answers your questions.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What Are We Teaching Our Youth? Part 3

Pastor Jonathon Fisk from Worldview Everlasting looks at some of the weird goings on at the national youth gathering like liturgical dancing and a prayer walking class that was taught as part of a breakout session in his video titled “I'm Just Very Confused - Part 2: Authorized Take-Over Deum

Part 1 can be viewed here

Friday, August 20, 2010

What Are We Teaching Our Youth? Part 2

Pastor Jonathon Fisk from Worldview Everlasting continues his look at the national youth gathering in his video titled "I'm Just Very Confused - Part 1: Simulized Adrenali-Fide"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Are We Teaching Our Youth?

Here’s another great video from Pastor Jonathon Fisk. Pastor Fisk is a favorite blogger of mine no matter what medium he’s using over at Worldview Everlasting.

This video looks at what went on at the last nation youth gathering, an event which congregations from all over the country sent their youth to. So what are these national gatherings teaching? Pastor Fisk gives us a hint in the embedded video.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Great Article On The Perils of “Wannabe Cool” Christianity

Brett McCracken writing in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal warns of the perils of “wannabe cool” Christianity. He reports that as many as 70% of Protestants between the ages of 18-22 are “pouring out of their churches, never to return” because of trends that have Americanized Christianity’s congregations scrambling to stay ahead of the relevance curve and sustain the cool, hip, and relevant image that place gimmick above Gospel. He writes:

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn't megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the "plan" has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called "the emerging church"—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too "let's rethink everything" radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity's image and make it "cool"—remains.

Mr. McCracken goes on to list several of the techniques that pop evangelicalism seems to use in attempt to be cool such as using Stephen Colbert or Lady Gaga references in sermons, screening R rated movies (this is especially prevalent during the summer months! And with the lack of quality movies coming out of Hollywood, or Vancouver for that matter, some congregations even have resorted to sermon series on movies that are up to five and six years old… which could be relevant I guess if you just woke up from a coma!), holding worship services at hip nightclubs, or having worship experiences at an iCampus where the participation is of a virtual nature.

Mr. McCracken also hits the emergent church’s postmodern, lets “rebrand” the church as an attempt to remake Christianity cool pretty hard and states the emergent movement has fizzled out. McCracken’s notes that the emergent movement’s ideas and impulses to “rehabilitate” Christianity are still alive and well even if the movement has fizzled out. I would argue with Mr. McCracken that the emergent church has fizzled out and say that it’s leaders, McLaren, Sweet, Bell, Pagitt Jones, Kimball (who the LCMS has invited to teach church workers who focus on youth ministry) and others are actually bigger than ever. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the same practices (think Roman Catholic monastic practices from before the Protestant Reformation and desert father mysticism) encouraged and promoted by so many the emergent leaders are now being taught in evangelical and Anglican churches as well Lutheran churches in the LCMS! Just because the movement’s leaders keep moving the target doesn’t mean the movement’s dead or has fizzled out.

Mr. McCracken also points out that the most popular “and arguably the most unseemly” method of trying to stay “wannabe cool” is to just try to be as shocking as possible, with the most popular tactic being a focus on sex. Mr. McCracken is not exaggerating or using hyperbole to make his point! There is not a week that goes by where there isn’t a sermon series on sex supplanting the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Don’t believe me or Mr. McCracken? Well then, just Google the words sex and sermon series and watch how many hits pop up! If you are so inclined to indulge in an adult beverage, you might just want to pour yourself a stiff one… you’ll see what I mean, trust me.

Mr. McCracken supports his argument by quoting author David Wells from his book “The Courage To Be Protestant”:

"The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.

"And the further irony, is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them."

Mr. McCracken concludes his article:

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that "cool Christianity" is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it's easy or trendy or popular. It's because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It's because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It's not because we want more of the same.

So does Brett McCracken’s article word of warning of those of us who call ourselves confessing Lutherans? Oh heck yeah! As long as we keep looking to consultants and marketing gurus who tell us play secular music in our worship service so as to not scare away the unchurched seeker, put up billboards claiming to be from Satan that state he hates our goofy church, or fall victim to the “we need to talk about sex because nobody in the church ever talks about sex” bug that plague so many seeker sensitive churches in Americanized Christianity, then if we have any sense at all about us we had better hear Brett McCracken’s warning loud and clear.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Liturgical Dancers To The Left Of Me, Drum Circles To The Right

This morning I found in the inbox my monthly Youth Ministry E-bulletin from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The E-bulletin focused on the recent national youth gathering that wrapped up down in New Orleans a few weeks ago. One thing really caught my eye…

Rev. Dr. Terry Dittmer, the director of the Youth Ministry Office of the District and Congregational Services , in his final thought this month, looks back at the national youth gathering and distinguishes what he believes was really the highlight of the conference.

Now, just what do ya’ll think that most memorable moment was? Was it the liturgical dancers? No. Was it the dynamic drum circle that hypnotized the crowd? No. Was it classes where the youth were taught prayer walking so that they can go out and reclaim lost spiritual territories? No. Or was the most memorable moment “the elegance of divine service and the liturgy” or “the celebration of the Lord's Supper with the 24,000 youth and adults”. No, that was not the most memorable moment for the head of youth ministry in our beloved synod.

Instead, the most memorable moment, according to Rev. Dittmer’s was:

But, to me, the single most moving, dignified part of that service was the procession of Christ's body from the cross down the center aisle of the Superdome. The story of Christ's crucifixion was recounted. At the end of the story, Christ's body was taken from the cross to be put in the borrowed tomb. His body was placed on a gurney and carried out of the dome on the shoulders of young people. Now, everybody knew it was an actor portraying Jesus laying on the stretcher. But, spontaneously, as the body was transported from the stage, the assembly rose with profound respect for what the scene was depicting. There wasn't a sound in the house. In that dramatic moment, the truth of what we know about Christ's suffering, death and resurrection were shown as real. Here was the truth - fully on display. Christ died for our sins. WE BELIEVE.

I’m, not having been to a seminary and not being a pastor and all, well, I’m just a little unclear on something here… exactly how are we brought to faith? And how exactly is that faith in Christ and His salvific work given to us by God sustained? I thought that we believed by the hearing of the Word as St. Paul says in his epistle to the Romans and the Galatians and not by things that we see as the writer to the Hebrews states. Isn’t that what Lutherans teach and confess in the Augsburg Confession?

I wonder what happens to the youth (and the adults as well) when they go home to their congregations and don’t have so dramatic a worship experience. I wonder…

Monday, August 09, 2010

Finally, A Praise Song That Gets Me To Emote

I’ve been criticized on more than one occasion, usually by my evangelical friends but also by Lutheran folk, for just not being emotive enough on a Sunday morning while singing hymns. How anybody can tell that I’m not getting emotional enough by looking at a list of the hymns we sing in a bulletin without actually standing next me in the pew and monitoring my facial expressions, body language, and lacrimation output is beyond me.

Well, to all those folk who think that my attachment to good catechetical and historical hymns has left me unable to be emotional or incapable of singing along with praise team leader and not feel the words that I’m singing, let me once and for all put your mind at ease.

The embedded video is a praise song from the Crazy Praize Volume 3 CD. The CD is described thusly:

The third volume in this very popular series of wacky praise songs for kids features ten new songs, with equally silly motions guaranteed to produce giggles and guffaws every time. Great for kids worship times, or anytime, these songs are not only fun, but they're loaded with scriptural truth to reinforce the message of God's love and grace in the hearts of children- young and old. In addition to the hilarious songs on the recording, there is a companion DVD available that teaches 7 of the amusing titles motions(notated in the song list by an *), and a DVD with lyrics and moving images for background use for every song.

I think it’s safe for me to say, without any reservation whatsoever, that if I sang the song in the video, on a Sunday morning, in my church, I would get very, very emotional. Really. No joke.

HT: Fighting for the Faith

Friday, August 06, 2010

Lutherans Didn’t Invent Contemporary Worship And Comparing CCM To Psalms

In spite of this month being one of the busiest I’ve experienced in years, I took a friend up on her offer to participate in a discussion where a commenter on her site was trying to make the case that songs of the contemporary Christian music variety’s focus on the “personal relationship” was no different that that of the personal nature of the Palms. Wrote the commenter:

As for the “personal relationship” aspect of new hymns, read the psalms, the hymnbook in our bible, and it is so personal, you can’t escape the first person, personal expression, speaking out to God, crying out to God aspect of it. Three kinds of psalms – mad, glad or sad. All personal.
So many traditional Lutheran hymns are just loaded with secondary discourse – you can sing them and keep your distance and stay far away as you doze off, waiting for them to be done soon.

And later:

As for expediency, I just find it is way easier to reach people in worship using modern contemporary sounding music whether it is amazing grace with guitar, A Mighty Fortress on Guitar, or something being written today.
I’ve heard they have Luther’s original chart of A Mighty Fortress, arranged on… guitar. Lutherans broke the mold with indigenous contemporary worship but, for the most part, have let the evangelicals pave the way, the Lutherans sticking to what was familiar to them. We are not doing what Luther did. We stay comfortable rather than reach new people. We prefer insider language and music. Seems different to me than what Jesus would have done. Didn’t he leave everything to reach those far from God?
If contemporary worship music helps us reach new people, and traditional hymnody honestly just scares many people away, are we sticking with our traditions at the expense of the great commission?

Boy howdy, talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight! Those two hundred and thirty eight words have enough fodder for a month’s worth of posts!

First, the statement "Lutherans broke the mold with indigenous contemporary worship" is simply untrue even if it is repeated entirely too often. It was many, many years before the reformers even moved the Divine Service from Latin to the vernacular German. In the Augsburg Confession (ACXXIV) the Lutheran reformers went so far as to confess that they preserved the order of the mass, save the parts sung in Latin and the hymns which were in German to “to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ].” Again, what was that about teaching being “secondary”? No sir, teaching in traditional Lutheran hymnody was always a primary function of these hymns and not something “secondary” or something to “doze off” to.

The most elementary look at church history would find that singing by the congregations had almost disappeared by the time of the reformation. By the sixteenth century most of the singing was entrusted only to professional choirs or musicians. It was the reformers who brought back sung confessions of the church catholic to the laity in the Greek, Latin, and yes, German hymnody (and by Greek and Latin I mean the style of the hymns and not the languages) so that these hymns would strengthen Christ’s church.

To think that the hymns of saints whom have fallen asleep no longer have anything to offer us today is as theologically uninformed as it is arrogant. Traditional Lutherans sing the hymns they do because of their theological depth and their clear confession of Christ and His work and not because they are trying to use “insider language and music” and keep to themselves. A singing, confessing church is a proclaiming church and in doing so she is in fact carrying out the Great Commission. A singing, confessing church uses her hymnody to make disciples by teaching all that her Lord has given her in song as well as by the Word.

But what of the Psalms? Do they show us that we need to follow the contemporary Christian music’s trend to make the “personal relationship” the material principle of our sung confession and not follow the reformation tradition of hymn as a catechetical device?

I take issue with the Psalms being perceived as personalized in the same way that the majority of modern Christian music accomplishes its personalization. The easiest way to test contemporary Christian music is to simply look at the grammar: scrutinizing who the song about by looking at who is the subject of the verbs. If we, or our feelings, or our works, or our actions are the subject of the song, it is about us and is not about us the work and person of Jesus. Using the Psalms as a baseline is actually a pretty good idea in that our hymnody should at least measure up to the various psalmists in both proclamation as well as theological content. When put side by side with the Psalms, the vast majority of contemporary Christian music simply doesn’t measure up as it’s clich├ęd and vapid with it’s banality guaranteeing it’s proper place in the pile of forgotten one hit wonders currently playing on K-LOVE.

Yep, I’ll be happy to use the Psalms as a “traditional” benchmark any day of the week!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Pr. Fisk’s Goal Malady gLAWspel Video

No matter how many times as I’ve watched the embedded video from Pastor Jonathon Fisk I always find myself cheering and wanting to hit the replay button to watch it again, and again, and again. Pastor Fisk hits a home run going from explaining our freedom to do good works not because we have to but because we get to and then juxtaposing the account of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus over Martha’s work in her kitchen as Christian freedom.

What happens when the we get to gets mixed up with the we have to? Pastor Fisk has called this confusing the good news of the Gospel with Law or something that we have to do “GLawspel” and he explains it, there’s no other word for it, brilliantly.

Most of my Lutheran friends have already seen the video but I’m hoping that folks who are outside of Lutheranism might give Pr. Fisk a shot at explaining a very difficult subject that I would argue plauges most of the churches in west and especially in our own country.

I strongly suspect that Pastor Fisk’s videos will become a staple here at POTF as I love his humor and ability to teach in a somewhat unorthodox manner with orthodoxy never compromised.