Singing Our Way to Hell (Part Two)

 

a commentary by Peter M. Berg

 

 

 

 

 

Several years ago my wife and I enjoyed a trip to Luther Land, a generous gift from my congregation on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of my ordination. The majority of the people on our tour were from a Missouri Synod parish in Indiana. What kept this from being just another busload of pasty-white Lutherans from the Midwest was this interesting twist: The pastor of the LCMS church scheduled the trip for the congregation's youth group and church choir so that it coincided with the LCMS national youth rally, effectively taking the rally out of the picture. Weary of what he considered to be the questionable content and music of past rallies, he came upon this resourceful alternative. While the pastor's cleverness is to be commended, it is unfortunate that youth ministries have so bought into Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) that a pastor feels that such a maneuver is necessary.

 

Christian Contemporary Music

 

CCM is the attempt to wed Christian lyrics to a variety of musical styles from the popular music scene. The pop scene is a thing which defies easy definition. It encompasses many differing styles, which spring up, devolve, and become passé at bewildering speed. Classic rock 'n' roll, alternative rock, soul, rap, blues, hip-hop, etc., the list seems endless. In one way or another, most of these mutations have found their way into CCM. The WELS has not been untouched by the phenomenon. A number of CCM groups have sprung up in the synod and often play at youth functions. These groups sometimes make contact with local churches, offering their "music ministry" to those who are interested. While grumpy middle-aged pastors might be suspicious, they are mollified by the fact that this stuff seems fairly benign and that these groups are not too pushy about "serving the Lord" in their church on a given Sunday. Fearful of secular pop music, it's conventional WELS wisdom to settle for what seems to be a christianized clone. About a decade ago CCM was a matter of debate at a synod convention. However, all of that has died down and there is a general acceptance of at least a limited role for CCM in our circles. In view of this, one asks, "What's the problem?"

 

Long ago, when rock 'n' roll record companies and DJs were trying to assure skittish parents that this hip-gyrating music was basically harmless, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones spilled the beans. “Rock 'n' roll”, he said, “is about sex.” Indeed, some who have critically analyzed rock music agree, pointing to various features, which are seen as alluring and destructive. Now to be fair, rock 'n' roll is about much more than sex. Yes, at its worst rock 'n' roll deals with subjects such as sinful sexual behavior, drugs, disrespect for authority, violence, suicide, and even brutality against women, and yet, on the other end of the spectrum, vanilla-coated popular songs deal with innocent teen love, romantic heartaches, cars, dancing, and about being young. Rock truly runs the gamut. These are things which popular music and poetry have always been about. Even the sheltered prude knows about the naughty bits in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Popular music is about life in its many and varied aspects. Popular music is also about a particular view of life, the world's view. Just as theology determines what kind of musical sound will accompany its texts and rites, so the world chooses music that suits and exhibits its worldview, and this is a view not at all attuned to the Gospel. In other words, popular music, because it's neither neutral in text nor tune, brings baggage with it. Therefore, the notion that one can Christianize popular music with Christian texts, sung by better-behaved people, and not have any extra baggage to contend with, is quite naive. With CCM there is no such thing as a Christianized prodigy; and so, let's not be quick to join in the chorus, "Send in the Clones." Satan is God's ape, the old saying goes, and to think that he would miss this opportunity is to miss the point.

 

The Myth of Benignancy

 

This naiveté is based on the notion that musical notation is neutral. It is not. Music is a power. It can soothe, incite, arouse passions, create an atmosphere for reflection, etc. That music is a power, or has an intrinsic mood, is revealed in the church's choice of music throughout history. Good hymns have tunes that musically support their texts without dominating the text. An excellent example is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Note how this plaintive tune masterfully reflects the text. During Medieval times there was a closer connection between the music of the world and of the church, something which is not at all the case today. Indeed, in the Middle Ages the western church in so many words ruled Europe, whether politically, spiritually, or culturally. However, in spite of the connection between these two musical worlds, the church bypassed much of the music that was available. Its borrowings have been cautious, and what it borrows it transforms and makes its own.1 The church is its own culture, ideally never being transformed by the world, rather transforming the world. When the church forgets this, it's in trouble. Therefore, to take a recent "art form" like pop music, which has come out of the secular environment and is proudly of this world, and paste on a few Christian lyrics, believing that one has done God a service, is more than naive, it's foolish and wrong.

 

I believe that most Lutherans could reach a general consensus that rap music is simply not suited to accompany the Gospel, even if that judgment was based on musical notation alone. In spite of rap's verbal athleticism, aesthetically and musically it doesn't work. Add to that all of the other baggage which rap brings with it and, well, you get the picture. That most of us would agree on rap's unsuitableness for the church is more obvious than the reasons for this consensus. What accounts for this sense that certain tunes and styles of music are inappropriate for sacred texts? Musical experts might give us complex answers. Perhaps it is an innate sense of proportion which God has given us. It's not just a case of checking to see if a particular song or artist has any bad associations, and then giving a clean bill of health for use in the church. The music of Beethoven, though masterful, is not suited for the church. Not even all that Bach wrote is churchly in character, though the quality of his secular pieces soars far above the usual offerings of the pop industry. Pop tunes, and their CCM clones, are often light and catchy, sometimes sentimental, intense, and silly, and are rounded out with easy musical resolution. They are truly contemporary. The Bach scholar Robin Leaver has pointed out that popular-culture music is by its nature "throw-away" music. Perhaps this is this industry's own version of the planned obsolescence of which the automakers were once accused. There's always the need to market the next new model or new CD. More importantly Leaver asks if this disposable music is used in a sacred context, is the message itself also disposable? Popular artists generally do not seem interested in producing something of the enduring quality of a Bach cantata or a Sibelius symphony. This is not intended as a criticism. By its very nature popular music is about the present. It's neither fillet mignon nor chopped-liver, it's more like lunchmeat. Therefore, its quality ranges from the good and clever to the shoddy. Settling for less is intrinsic in here-and-now music. However, the Gospel deserves the best. Musical accompaniment, which tends toward the shoddy, and at best, cannot soar to the heights of excellence, is not suitable for the church. As Martin Marty once observed, "Holy shoddy is still shoddy," and the shoddy is not sanctified by claiming that the little trifle which I created was done out of my love for the Lord.

 

The Music of Here and Now

 

 

Even the mild version of rock music used in much of CCM can't help but bring with it these negative associations, and the baggage continues to pile up. This is the type of music that the commercial world uses to sell cars, jeans, soft drinks, and cosmetics. It is a music very much wedded to the here-and-now material world, sung by material girls and material boys. I recently listened to a CD by the CCM group MXPX. (Can we buy a vowel?)  I couldn't understand any of the lyrics and it sounded like any other rock song. The person who loaned the CD assured me that the lyrics had nothing to do with high theology. Unlike the music used in high worship, CCM cannot distinguish itself from the worldly. It's simply not transcendent. The worship of the church is otherworldly. The stranger who enters the Mass should declare, "I've never heard or seen anything like this before. I have entered another world." This is certainly not the case with the mega, church-growth churches where CCM is the music of choice. The Rev. Lovejoy, of "The Simpsons", learned this when he asked a visiting Gospel singer about some of the performers who were no longer in her group. He was told that they went back into commercial rock 'n' roll. As she said, "All you have to do is change 'Jesus' to 'Baby’." If the creators of "The Simpsons" see through the shallowness of CCM, why are its advocates in the church clueless? The message of the Gospel is priceless. The Gospel deserves the best. The transitory nature of pop music, its lack of depth, its cultural associations, its frequent lack of masterful quality, all serve to disqualify it as a suitable partner for the Gospel. This is not to say that popular music cannot produce anything of enduring merit within its own context. It can, but this context is quite different from that of the sacred.2 I think that people who are knowledgeable about music would say that Jazz artists have produced more things of enduring quality than their rock counterparts. Yet Duke Ellington's attempt at a Jazz mass in the 1950s is more of a musical curiosity than a useable creation for the church (a thing, by the way, which can be said about a Mozart mass). Some musical forms just don't cut it, even if they have worth in their own niche.

 

Furthermore, popular music is generally targeted for a specific portion of the musical market, namely young people. Similarly, CCM is generally seen as the music of younger Christians. This flies in the face of the nature of the church, which by definition is a gathering of believers of every generation, race, gender, and economic status. An entire congregation can heartily sing and enjoy A Mighty Fortress is Our God. That cannot be said of most of the musical offerings of CCM. Someone will be left out. In this way CCM serves to drive a wedge between people, between "our music and their music." Good church music unites people. Also, CCM is about as prolific as its secular counterpart. One can hardly keep up with what this industry is churning out. Songs in CCM can become as passé as quickly as the secular pieces which they ape. Of the Father's Love Begotten will never be passé, and I'll wager a case of Pilsner Urquell on that, even though we'll have to wait for Glory. (In heaven they do drink beer, that's why we practice here.)

 

Pharaoh, Pharaoh, ooh, baby!

 

Up to this point only the matter of music has been addressed. What of the more important component of a song, the text? Recently, a CCM group called "Corban Creek" was brought to my attention. It is a group of young WELS musicians. The group's web site offers a sampling of some forty songs in its repertoire. Some of these songs are from Christian Worship, some are psalms, others are creations of other CCM "artists", and some might be original to this group. With a few exceptions the hymn selections are not from the stronger Church Year section of the hymnal. There are direct references to Christ's death and the forgiveness of sins in some of the pieces, but this is not always the case. There are a few sacramental references, but even these songs are not overtly sacramental. Then there are songs, which simply repeat a phrase over and over, which is typical of most "praise music."  One certainly comes away with the idea that God is great, strong, and helpful; and yet, as Luther observed, what we can know about God apart from the suffering Christ and our baptism can only make us fear. Apart from the quotations from Scripture, and a few good lines here and there, most of the material is about as unremarkable as elevator music.  With a few exceptions, the elements which make for a good hymn, noted in Part One of this article, are absent. When it comes to the texts of these songs, one doesn't find much to object to, or much to praise.

 

Another example of this genre of music was a piece sung by a group of students from the University Chapel at UW-Madison. The group "led" one of the chapels at Luther Preparatory School last school year. The text of the song follows:

 

Come, now is the time to worship,

Come, now is the time to give your heart, 

Come, just as you are to worship,

Come, just as you are before your God,

Come.

 

One day every tongue will confess You are God,

One day every knee will bow.

Still the greatest treasure remains for those

Who gladly serve You now.

 

Where does one begin? Do we start by pointing out the ambiguity of the text (where's Jesus?), or the emphasis on what we do, or the scent of Decision Theology, or the impression that Christian service leads to reward? After an earful of CCM lyrics, one comes away with the impression that, at best, he's been subjected to the mundane, at worst, bombarded with Reformed/ Methodistic jargon and theology. Then, to add insult to injury, all of this is wrapped up in the transitory tunes of today.

 

After reading enough CCM lyrics, one also comes away with the sense of the loss of the Holy. One of the songs on the Corban Creek song list, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, has the refrain, "Pharaoh, Pharaoh, oooh, baby, let my people go. UGH! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I said, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, ooh, baby, let my people go, UGH! Yeah, yeah, yeah."3 This brings to mind that old church camp standby about Noah in the "floody, floody" and the "muddy, muddy." It's great fun to sing, that is, if you don't think about what you're singing. When we recall the horrible judgments of the Lord, and that in the days of Noah grandmothers clutching their grandbabies to their breasts were not spared an unspeakable, eternal fate, songs of this kind seem awfully out of place. Not even the fate of the enemies of God should be trivialized. Compare the treatment of these two Old Testament pericopes to the famous "Flood Prayer" in the baptismal rite revised by Luther. No comparison.

 

However, someone will lament, "Isn't there a place in the church for things which are a little light-hearted? Must we always be so sad?" With that the inquirer goes off on Lutheran dourness and how doleful the hymns of the chorale sound, and then bridges to the local Calvary Chapel and how its chancel dramas are "fun and educational." The Rev. Timothy Quill writes of such a church in Kazakhstan, Russia where he was involved in a mission endeavor. He notes that a small Pentecostal style church has been organized in the city of Aktau. He writes, "It meets in a local theater and the style of worship and music has been recently imported from contemporary American Evangelicalism. A local Kazakh businessman is there for the first time. He is only nominally Moslem and very interested in American things. His reaction is to smile politely and comment, 'I believe your God is a fun God.' It was not meant as a compliment. Disney World is fun! Divine service is a world beyond fun. The liturgy is reality and not fantasy."4 Like this nominally Moslem Kazakh, people are searching for spirituality. It is true that many shallow and unknowledgeable folks are finding their "spirituality" at local church-growth entertainment centers, burgeoning their numbers and making nervous voters’ assemblies in Lutheran churches envious. Yet there are people, like that astute businessman, who are suspicious of those who shill the Gospel. While the Willow Creek and Calvary Chapel rip-offs are growing, so are churches which have retained a high view of the Liturgy; churches like those of the Eastern Orthodox communion, and those which have retained the Tridentine Mass. If numbers are all the rage, why not also consider these numbers? Thoughtful people are seeking transcendence, and they're on the move. There's considerable angst in certain Lutheran circles that too many seminarians and pastors are trotting off to the East. Perhaps if Synodical Conference Lutherans had a deeper sacramentality, had used TLH to its fullest potential with proper ceremonia, had used only the best hymnody, and had something deeper than "Peoples' Bible" sermons, this exodus might not have reached the proportion it has (me culpa for my part in all this). Then there's the double whammy: Since we're wittingly or unwittingly doing the Protestant thing, and doing it poorly, those who want more of that "good-old time religion" or its newer spawn might as well head to the local Assemblies of God worship center for the real stuff, rather than sit in a WEF unit "following the order of worship on page 38 of Christian Worship."5

 

Second Thoughts

 

The proponents of CCM and other non-traditional musical forms seem to sense that not everything they use is altogether admirable (Phil. 4:8). This caveat is found in the Corban Creek sampler of lyrics, "Every song in the Grab bag is usable for a concert, but some are not appropriate for worship settings." One is compelled to ask, "What's the difference?" The Rev. Victor Prange writes in a similar vein in the introduction to Let All the People Praise You. Consider this remarkable admission, "All of the texts in Let All the People Praise You have been carefully reviewed for doctrinal content. Changes were made in several texts to express biblical truth more completely. Obviously, not all songs will match the doctrinal precision of the Lutheran Confessions. It is in the nature of poetry to express biblical truth in imagery and metaphor, not only in doctrinal language. Not every song in Let All the People Praise You is intended for public worship, but each song does sing of Christ in its own way. Every song, as the Spirit carries out his work, may lead a person closer to Christ's love and give someone else a vehicle with which to praise Christ's holy name." Two things immediately come to mind. The first is the questionable notion that poetic imagery and metaphor, by their nature, are somewhat deficient in expressing doctrinal precision, and that this is an excuse for accepting less than precise verbiage. One only has to call to mind Jesus' use of imagery and metaphor. We'll let others accuse Him of falling short of the doctrinal precision of the symbols, we will not. Secondly, there seems to be an unfortunate distinction, in both quotes, between songs which are suitable for public worship and those which are not. Other advocates of CCM have made a distinction between "formal" and "informal" worship settings. Doesn't the Gospel always deserve the best in both text and tune, both in "formal" and in "informal" settings? Informality in worship, if we allow for the concept, has more to do with place and time rather than what is done at any given place or time. Certainly we will have a devotion Friday night at the church campout. Yes, we will be dressed casually and sit in our lawn chairs. Just the same, that doesn't mean that we will accept dumb-down lyrics, silly talk, less than precise doctrinal formulations, and cornpone melodies. Since the Gospel doesn't change, why should the cradle that holds it? We may be around the campfire, but the church still talks and sings like the church. If some of the offerings in LAPPY are not suitable for public worship, then why were these songs included at all? Won't those who develop a taste for this Protestant candy finally demand it in the Divine Service? Was LAPPY an attempt by the synod to exercise some sort of control over our slide toward the left?

 

In view of all the negatives, why does the Lutheran Church need CCM and other non-traditional forms of music, especially given the rich musical treasury it already possesses? I believe that the basic reason is fear. We're afraid that we will lose our young people if we do not cater to their musical tastes and involve them in some meaningful way in "ministry".6 We're afraid that we will lose the prospective church member if we don't better compete with the mega, church-growth assembly in town, which just put up a huge, spanking new worship center (never mind that it looks more like something at the mall than a house of prayer). Fear, plain and simple. This fear is unbecoming of the children of God. This fear, like all ungodly fear, springs from an evil source. It comes from the notion that we grow the church, that our ingenuity is needed to keep the youth interested, and that the ways of the world can be adapted for use in the church if we but exercise a bit of caution, especially if it works.7  In opposition I say, if all CCM were banned from our congregations and youth gatherings, if we never again sang Amazing Grace, not one soul would be lost. What would be missing, though, would be the banal and the dangerous. At its very best, CCM is a pale image of that which is excellent, and, therefore, it is an unneeded redundancy. At its worst, CCM is another gospel. It's the "gospel" of relevance, modernity, shallowness, non-transcendence; it's the "gospel" of trite and sometimes false texts; it's the "gospel" of good texts joined to the shallow music of pop-culture; it's the "gospel" about me and my hurts and feelings and what I propose to do for JEEZUS8; finally it's the "gospel" of fear. The beloved St. Paul spared no scorn for such a gospel. (Gal 1:8) It is no gospel at all.

 

Gospel Music

 

The cover notes of Let All the People Praise You state, "Congregations reaching out to other cultures will find hymns and spiritual songs from African-American and Spanish folk traditions." Such a claim is to be expected from a church body that is attempting to be culturally sensitive, though you sometimes can't help but see a bit of humor in our attempts. The usual lily-white WELS sacred choral concert is an eclectic mix of good things, show tunes, and the obligatory African-American spiritual. It's as if to say, "See! We're culturally sensitive!" One wonders if inclusions of songs like "He Never Said a Mumbalin' Word" (LAPPY, pp. 108, 109) aren't an attempt by some to do penance for what they see as the musical colonialism of the Lutheran Church. You know, making those poor black folks sing all that 16th century Germanic stuff, which being translated means, "I never liked that stuff either."

 

Although being culturally sensitive seems like a noble aspiration, culture can be a tricky thing. Sociologists tell us that culture is a complex mix of many things, and a thing continually evolving. What is African-American culture? That's a question easier asked than answered. Among the many aspects to be considered in the development of African-American culture, the history of black slavery has to be considered central. The enslavement of black people, and subsequent prejudices which have been endured, is a long, tragic tale. However, black people have suffered another enslavement, for the introduction to Christianity for most blacks has been through non-sacramental Protestantism. This meant that the theology, philosophy of worship, and music which blacks received came from sources which were inimical to confessional Lutheranism. Like all other people, blacks took the religious heritage given to them and gave it their own spin. Just the same, what they adapted or created on their own bears the imprint of another theology. When LAPPY introduces black Baptist hymnody into Lutheran parishes in an attempt to be sensitive, it not only brings what is black, but also what is Baptist. These are Siamese twins, which are impossible to separate, and the theology which the one brings with it has no place in the Lutheran Church.

 

It is at this point that the advocates of Gospel music play their trump card, Insensitivity. This music, we're told, is a part of black culture, and it would be insensitive to deprive people of a part of their cultural heritage. We counter that if a part of a group's culture includes aberrant theology, then that part of the culture has to go. Christianity has always been an assault on culture. No one is exempt. Furthermore, this attempt at sensitivity amounts to paternalism, even a reverse form of racism, for it assumes that people of certain races, cultures, or generations will somehow not be able to appreciate and use the hymns and liturgy of western Catholicism.

 

Television and radio have brought the black worship experience to the attention of other Christians. A superficial description of this experience would certainly note that emotional expressions are very much up front. The experience engages the entire individual and includes clapping, spontaneous verbal expressions, and physical movement. This is often interpreted as an evidence of the deep sincerity of the worshipers. I for one would not criticize the claim of sincerity, as difficult as it is to substantiate such a claim since we always look at others from the outside. However, I would caution that less athletic and emotional forms of worship do not, in contrast, demonstrate a lack of sincerity. The real thing at issue here is what drives or motivates the black worship experience. If a theology does not give the objective comfort of the sacraments, if being saved depends upon the commitment initiated in the heart of man, if the "Gospel" being preached is in reality a mixture of Law and Gospel, if assurances of God's continued care depend on "walking the walk", then this worship experience, for all its sincerity, is an exercise in enthusiasm, that is, sinners being directed to the wrong places for grace. The emotive music of revivalism, and the response it attempts to elicit, is intended to do the work, which Gospel and sacrament alone can do. This is the theological program of the traditions to the left of Lutheranism. It is far better to train all our people, regardless of their cultural background, in the way of worship, which our fathers retained from our catholic past, to which they themselves added, and which is developing to this day.

 

I was once told that one has not heard the Gloria in Excelsis really sung until he hears it sung by our brothers and sisters in our Zambian sister church. That's a good example. The Liturgy, which is an amalgam of Jewish, Greek, Syrian, North African, Roman, Mozarabic, German, and French influences, will receive a unique tweak from each racial and ethnic group which embraces it. However, these groups must first have something substantial to tweak. Black people will, and have, put their own unique imprint on Lutheranism. That's a given. However, it is one thing for a group to put its imprint on Lutheranism after it has been thoroughly exposed to high, confessional Lutheranism, and quite another for it to imprint a Lutheranism which already has the stamp of Protestantism on it. To say that the emotive hymns of revivalism are the imprint and legacy of black culture on Lutheranism is to admit that we need another gospel. We do not. This is especially true of a Lutheranism, like our own, which has always leaned to the left.9

 

Yes, we're in the midst of the "worship wars." There are voices in the church, which are advocating a new kind of Lutheranism, in spite of their assurances: "We'll keep Lutheran doctrine, we'll just superimpose a different style." S. S. Schmucker advocated this program more than a century ago. He proposed that a Lutheranism of a mild confessional spirit, which had adopted American revivalistic techniques, was best suited for the American scene. Although Sam Schmucker is not in the WELS family tree, and so not the reason we're in the jam we're in, his philosophy is being regurgitated in our time.

 

What To Do?

 

Where do we go from here? Permit these proposals.

 

-While the Commission on Worship (COW) has devoted a great amount of effort in promoting a high approach to the worship life of our synod, upon further reflection one must conclude that any effort to enhance the life of the church means starting with preaching and the Supper. If we don't start with the Gospel and the Incarnation, then it's merely about aesthetics and the tyranny of my taste over yours. We ought to promote sermonizing patterned after the ancient fathers and Luther, and restore the Supper to its proper place in every Sunday service, supporting it with appropriate ceremonia. When this is done then "Twinkie tunes with ding-dong melodies" (Schalk), children's sermonettes, the "WELS Connection" during the offering, Methodist clergy apparel, and Gospel choirs swaying in the chancel will seem woefully out of place.

 

-Up to this point the COW has been low-key in promoting good worship practices. It's time to step it up. Those who are advocating alternate forms of worship (a.k.a. Let's do the low-church-WELS/Presbyterian or the Willow Creek thing) will not be convinced. It's time to openly criticize their sub-Lutheran practices. Our "glorious Gospel freedom" does not mean freedom to do non-Lutheran things, nor a license for questionable practice and bad taste. Also, let the COW admit that some unfortunate choices were made in the hymn sections of CW and LAPPY, and name the suspects.

 

-We have a shortage of organists. Give incentives to teacher-track students at MLC to take organ classes. Also, congregations ought to finance organ training for interested members.

 

-The MM will deal with the matter of adiaphora in a later issue. Suffice it to say that we usually deal with this concept in terms of the law, when the crucial issue is "How does a given practice affirm Christ and the Gospel?"

 

-Encourage foundations and individuals to financially support a commission for gifted hymn writers and composers.

 

-During the past two decades we have endured school closings and amalgamations, visits from synod fundsters, and a variety of newfangled ideas. We have been told that being part of a synod means getting on board when it comes to these things. Why don't we encourage an even more important kind of unity? Let all pastors voluntarily pledge themselves to use only the rites in our synodically approved orders of service, and the latitude, which these orders permit. Let's strive for liturgical unity and good hymnody within the synod. Having said this, it should also be stated that the liturgical section of Christian Worship is the weakest of the current crop of Lutheran service books. Since producing a new hymnal won't fly at this time, this is the best we have. Let's all use it, and let's all strive for a high approach to worship.

 

-More regional workshops by the COW, especially offering training on presiding at the Mass. Too many guys are schlepping through the service. Also, ban Hush Puppies, polo shirts, and khakis for all who preside.

 

 

-Plan a youth rally devoted to good church music. Spend the week teaching elementary Gregorian chant, Luther's catechism hymns, other chorales, and newer creations in the continuum of western Christianity. Also, give instruction on a high approach to music and worship. At the end of the week cut a CD on which the kids record what they were taught and offer it for donations toward the fund which provides commissions for writers and composers. Who knows, maybe some kids will go home and tell their pastors that they don't want to sing  "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" anymore (LAPPY, p 166).

 

-Explore other liturgical traditions. The music of Eastern Christianity is still relatively unexplored territory. Some of its soaring songs might be adaptable to our context.

 

The cynic may say that Hades will freeze over before any of these proposals finds acceptance. I say, it'll never freeze over, so keep the faith and strive for what is noble and admirable. Otherwise, we will continue singing our way into a Baptist hell.  §

 

 

The Reverend Peter Berg is pastor of Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Chicago, Illinois. This article was written for the October 2003 issue while Fr. Berg was rostered Wisconsin Synod.

___________________________

 

1 Pachabel's Canon in D has been used at so many Christian weddings that the church has virtually co-opted it as its own, though originally it wasn't church music. Indeed, whole cultures are co-opted and changed by Christianity. When Norway was Christianized, my wife's Norwegian ancestors were asked to stop raping, pillaging, and burning villages, which they have done, for the most part.

2 Greatest rock song ever? Of course, "Stairway to Heaven" (Led Zeppelin). Please, no snotty e-mails from Beatles or Stones fans.

3 This ditty is sung to the tune of the 60's rock song, "Louie, Louie." It was said that if you played your 45 backwards you could hear dirty lyrics. I tried. It sounds like "Louie, Louie" backwards.

4 Real Life Worship Reader, edited by Rev. John Pless, University Lutheran Chapel, Minneapolis, 1994, p 3.

5 WEF stands for "worship/education/fellowship" unit. These were small multi-purpose buildings built for mission churches, with the hope that upon growth the congregation would build a suitable building used exclusively for worship. In reality all too many churches are stuck with these units with low acoustical ceilings and cramped quarters. / The service on page 38 of CW is called "The Service of the Word." A most unfortunate offering stripped of canticles and the Supper. If the preacher blows the sermon in this dry mass, the congregation is in trouble. The only recourse is the readings. Thank God for the pericope.

6 It has been observed that often the style of a CCM song is really the style preferred by youth leaders rather than by the young people themselves, whose musical tastes evolve as fast as the music itself. "Ministry" is a very elastic word in the WELS, and "being involved" and "having a sense of ownership" seem to be new means of grace.

7 Indeed, for most non-sacramental churches music becomes the new sacrament, valued for its psychological effect on worshipers. Many churches have a musical "warm up" for their audiences prior to the service so that they might be "anointed" with the Spirit. In fact, the idea has gained currency in many churches that the praise of the people invokes the presence of God. Pure enthusiasm!

8 Question: How does a pietist singer warm up? Answer: "Me! Me! Me! Law! Law! Law!"

9 This author's thesis that Lutheranism has suffered too many musical incursions from the Protestant left is not new. J.P. Koehler, in his The History of the Wisconsin Synod (1938), testifies to the low state of music in 19th century Lutheranism. See page 164. For an excellent assessment of this period see Peter C. Cage's article in the July 2002 CTQ, "Sacramental Hymnody in American Lutheran Hymnals During the Nineteenth Century."