The Praise Band, the Organ, and Me: A Dirty Love Triangle

I wasn't going to do this, but I keep seeing the same blogs posted over and over again on my news feed today, and so I can’t keep quiet any longer. (Note: This post is a response to three blog posts: Why I Quit the Praise Band, Why I Won’t Quit the Praise Band, and Why the Praise Band & I Are Never, Ever, Ever Getting Back Together. You certainly are not required to read those before reading this, but if you do you’ll understand where this is coming from.)

I am a child of Lutheran musicians. My father is a Synodically trained Director of Parish Music in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (known heretofore as the LCMS). I grew up listening to him play the organ every Sunday, singing in his choirs as both a child and an adult, and seeing him lead different styles of worship at the different churches to which he was called. My mother has a wonderful Soprano voice, was in a world-class touring choir in college, has sung in the choir for my entire life, encouraged my education in music, and has helped with special music in church services for many many years.

As for me, my education at Concordia University Chicago was as a Director of Christian Education with a minor in Theology, and supplemented by music all over the place — the touring Wind Symphony, Chapel choir, Men’s chorus, and — yes — both school-run and student-led contemporary music groups.

The previous information was not to tell you of any sort of “pedigree” that I have, or tell you that I’m supposed to be an expert that has all the answers. I am merely committed to context — and hopefully that context will help shape a little bit of the following.

Being a Lutheran, I am often asked (for whatever reason) this question: “Which style of worship do you prefer, contemporary or traditional?”

My answer is always this: “I love worship.”

You heard me.

Worship is amazing. I haven’t always felt this way — there were times in my life when I definitely felt “dragged” to church by my Lutheran parents. But as I continued to learn and study Scripture — and even moreso as I went to college and began to study the Scriptures alongside the Lutheran Confessions — I began to form a deeper appreciation of worship and just how important it is for a Christian to attend worship on a regular basis.

Worship is where we need to go to hear that we are sinners and we deserve death, yet God has given us life through His Son. Worship is where we need to go to receive God’s grace through His Word and Sacraments. Worship is where we need to go to be among a community of fellow believers, who are all broken and who are all redeemed by Grace alone, and to be built up by the Word and Sacraments and to build each other up in faith and fellowship.

I love worship.

I don’t much care what it sounds like.

Yes, I like going to church. Does that make me crazy? Maybe a little bit. But Jesus loves me anyway, so I’m all for it.

Weekly I go to at least 2 services. On Sunday mornings, you can usually find me at our 8:30am service — very traditional, very liturgical, with organ music and hymns straight from the LSB (and occasionally WOV *gasp*). You can also find me at our Wednesday night service on a weekly basis (not just during Lent or Advent, but every week) — singing up front, leading the songs as a part of the praise band. (That service is also liturgical — but more on that in a minute.)

Are my loyalties divided? Some people at this point might horrifyingly be trying to make me choose a side. “You can’t like both the organ AND the guitar!! Only one is TRUE worship, and the other one is not theological/alienates people/is old-fashioned/is about us and not about God.” (All of those arguments have been applied to BOTH sides.)

Both are true worship. Let me break down those four arguments:

  1. The style of music presented has nothing to do with theology. If we wanted the Bible to prescribe the kind of music we used in worship, we should be using lyres, harps, tambourines, trumpets, and cymbals. The theology is in the text of the songs, which is the most important thing (a point which both other authors agreed upon). There are plenty of hymns and praise songs which are theologically sound. There are also hymns and praise songs which are not. A good discernment of the text is needed regardless of which style you’re talking about.
  2. People are going to be alienated from both styles. This is because we are sinners. Without the grace of God, we are turned inwards towards ourselves, and that old Adam continues to fight us and make us want to desire our preferences over what God wants in our worship. Some argue that “Contemporary” worship only exists because it is catering to people’s preferences and thereby making worship about them and not about God. I could say the exact same thing about “Traditional” worship — there are people that prefer the organ and hymns because they “worship” better that way. By arguing about this and about which one caters to people’s preferences, we are perpetuating this view, rather than seeing BOTH styles as a gift from God for the edification of His people in worship.
  3. Old-fashioned is good. The Bible is old-fashioned, and it is definitely good. The hymns are old-fashioned, and they are good. Some “contemporary” songs are old-fashioned (hello, ‘90’s), and yes, they are good. If you don’t like old-fashioned, that’s okay, but that doesn’t make it bad.
This movie is old-fashioned. It’s not a bad movie. I promise.

4. …Actually I kind of answered point 4 with point 2. But really, any opportunity to worship is a gift from God and made possible by the Holy Spirit. We should treat them this way, rather than disparaging one or the other. I will continue point 4 by quoting from the Lutheran Confessions themselves.

“Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority [in matters truly adiaphora] to change, to diminish, and to increase them, without thoughtlessness and offense, in an orderly and becoming way, as at any time it may be regarded most profitable, most beneficial, and best for [preserving] good order, [maintaining] Christian discipline [and for eujtaxiva worthy of the profession of the Gospel], and the edification of the Church. Moreover, how we can yield and give way with a good conscience to the weak in faith in such external adiaphora, Paul teaches Rom. 14, and proves it by his example, Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor. 9:19.” Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article X, Paragraph 9.

^Style is adiaphora. So long as the Church is teaching the Word of God, adhering to what it says, and administering the Sacrament, fighting about the style actually hurts the Church and offends those who might be weak in faith.

Yeah, I went there.

Worship is not always perfect, because we are not perfect. Even when we are celebrating how God’s grace is working in our lives, we do it imperfectly. There are always ways to improve worship services, whether they are contemporary or traditional. Again, I’m no expert, but here are a couple of my ideas:

  1. Don’t throw out the liturgy. A lot of people seem to equate “traditional” worship with “liturgical” worship — probably because a lot of Contemporary services choose not to follow a Divine Service setting because they want to try to be as “contemporary” as possible. (Like I said, we’re imperfect.) This is a mistake. Liturgy is great, and really helps people to focus their worship and keep it centered around Word and Sacrament. I myself have helped to structure many “contemporary” services around Divine Service Setting Five, which doesn’t contain canticles but instead suggests songs for the different sung parts of the liturgy. Any church musician worth his or her salt can suggest songs of many styles to fit into these spaces. It is very easy to have a liturgical contemporary service — try it sometime!
  2. If someone prefers a particular style — let them. Don’t call them a heathen just because they like to sing praise songs. Don’t accuse them of teaching false doctrine simply because they would rather listen to K-LOVE in the car. Again, not every song is perfect — and neither is every hymn. When talking to others about worship, we need to speak the truth in love and make sure we understand which songs are Biblical and which songs (or hymns) could use some improvements in this area. And when we are actually in the worship service? Pick the songs that are Scriptural — on both sides of the style spectrum.
  3. Expand your definition of “reverence.” I might get in trouble for this one, but I’ve gotta say it. Yes, it is obviously very reverent to have the pastor wearing vestments, chanting the liturgy, with candles and stained glass windows and crosses all over the place. These are not bad things — but they are bad when you make them more important than the Word and Sacrament. Yes, worship is holy ground — only because God through Christ has made it so. He can do this in beautifully adorned sanctuaries, and He can do this in gymnasiums or theaters. I’ve got one more quote from the Confessions for ya:
“The true adornment of the churches is godly, useful, and clear doctrine, the devout use of the Sacraments, ardent prayer, and the like. Candles, golden vessels [tapers, altar-cloths, images), and similar adornments are becoming, but they are not the adornment that properly belongs to the Church. But if the adversaries make worship consist in such matters, and not in the preaching of the Gospel, in faith, and the conflicts of faith, they are to be numbered among those whom Daniel describes as worshiping their God with gold and silver, Dan. 11:38.” Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIII, Paragraph 51.

And also a quote from Scripture — one of the earliest forms of “contemporary worship:”

“So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod… And David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord — and I will celebrate before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes.’” 2 Samuel 6:12b-14, 21–22.

God wants us to worship Him, because He wants us to receive His gifts of Grace and forgiveness through His Word and through His Sacrament. He doesn't want us to tear each other down in defense of our styles and preferences.

That singing guy is me, and the rest of them are probably a lot of you. But I’m still singing.

So you can quit your praise band if you want, or get off your organ bench, or keep doing both of those things. As for me, I’m going to keep visiting both of them — because I’m not in a relationship with the praise band or the organ, I’m in a relationship with my Savior, because He came down and rescued me from myself.

(Sorry this was so long, but I had to say it. And I’m not expecting that this is going to end the debate once and for all, and in fact, I would love to hear what you think, and hope that we can have a good discussion about it. Leave a comment, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter, or blog yourself — I’d love to hear from you!)

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