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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 clichéd 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!

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It’s a shame that people like you who call themselves “confessional” lutherans are stuck with songs that no longer have meaning for todays believers. Amazing grace is amazing and will grow th ekingdom more than your mighty fortress song that you only sing once a year anyways.

Anonymous, I’m actually glad you are willing to argue for Amazing Grace in the context of reaching the lost as this makes my job easy.

Is it possible to reach people with a song like Amazing Grace which says absolutely nothing about the person and work of Jesus? Is it possible to reach a lost soul with a song that both a Muslim and a Buddhist can sing without compromising their own theological distinctiveness? I know that Amazing Grace is a sacred cow to many but the song says nothing about who Jesus is (and therefore says nothing of the Father who sends Him nor the Spirit who proclaims Him) and what He did for us at Calvary.

The song also is silent as to what He does for us today in the preached Word and through the blessed Eucharist. The Psalms on the other hand always speak of the Lord who saves and points us to the Christ who does the saving.

If we put Amazing Grace up against the Psalms as a “traditional” benchmark the amazing ain’t so amazing at all.

As amazing as Amazing Grace is held to be by many, I can't let this remarkable post pass without correction.
Basic to being "confessionally" Lutheran is the Augsburg Confession, of which article V (5) states,

"Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He [the Holy Spirit] works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake."

Article V includes more than what I've quoted, but I might be so bold as to add Amazing Grace behind 'our own merits.'

Amazing Grace may be amazing. A Mighty Fortress is probably unrivaled. It is completely and totally relevant for today's Christians (especially on the first Sunday in Lent, when it is scheduled to be hymn of the day).

But no matter how good the hymn or spiritual song, it is God, and God alone who will grow His Kingdom.

Thanks for this. I had always felt guilty for learning from the hymns because I assumed they were often just written by sincere Christian musicians but weren't really crafted to teach. I thought the were just sincere responses to God's word. I struggle with a hymn book filled with both hymns design to teach and others which are not. How can I know which is which? Further how can newcomers?

Thank you for your comment Anonymous! I do think that hymns that teach and confess the faith ARE sincere responses to God's word. There’s no reason to separate the solid doctrine from a sincere response. I think that too often folks like me get labeled as stoics who want to separate out and throw away any emotionalism and this simply isn’t the case (at least not with me!).
Just because a sincere Christian writes a hymn doesn't mean it’s a good hymn that should be sung in church.
I have a post on how we evaluate hymns that I’m putting the finishing touches on that should be posted later this week. I think you’ll probably enjoy it when it’s finished so stay tuned!

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  • From The Haut South
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