Actually the title should be: God, worship, and music. And I particpate and benefit from his work in Word and Sacrament. As a starting point you should know where I am coming from as I post this. Note that while I am a pastor, I am writing this more from the perspective of a worshiper.
- I am broken
- unfixable on my own
- forgiven and restored entirely because of what Jesus did, does, and will do
- I cannot sing well, but I like to chant
- I enjoy a variety of musical styles
- I have played guitar for 49 years (for worship, community gatherings, and even weddings)
- My favorite styles include bluegrass, old country, and liturgical
- What is most important? Justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ
- What is the source of what is most important? The Bible
- I confess the Christian faith as a Lutheran (referring to the three ecumenical creeds plus theLutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord).
- Doctrine expressed in music is important and has to be consistent with the above.
- I grew up within the Lutheran liturgical tradition of the LCMS. That was when the1941 hymnal, The Lutheran Hymnal, was at its growing peak in the 1950’s. I heard all the great hymns of faith, experienced the changing liturgical seasons with the colors, readings, knew page 5 (non-communion service of the Word), page 15 (communion service with the Word), and page 32 (Matins). I loved it, and still do! I memorized many hymns and could tell you the name of the hymn with only a few notes played (“Name that Tune” was popular in those days!).
- I have led worship, using TLH, Lutheran Worship (LW), Lutheran Service Book (LSB), Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW), Creative Worship (from CPH), contemporary worship, and have produced my own orders of service.
Worship, music, and me?
God is the initiator and I am a responder to God’s grace in worship. That means I don’t start it, nor do I sustain it, God does. I marvel at the gracious God who gifted people throughout the ages to express the Christian faith and the response to it through music in such varied and beautiful ways. That means I see a place for the Gregorian chants, majestic hymns, and contemporary pieces. But I am selective (eclectic) based on how well the piece holds together theologically consistent with the Faith statements above. Not everything written during and after the Reformation is appropriate. Likewise not everything written today should be used in worship.
I have experienced times when a majestic hymn sung in a minor key was so emotionally moving that I couldn’t even sing with my voice, but my heart was right there, rejoicing. I have experienced worship with a contemporary song that moved me the same way. The spiritual, emotional, and mental harmony was beyond words. But those times are rare.
Other times I have been in services where the majestic hymn must have been in the mind of someone I didn’t understand. When I hear a Chorale that is well done, it is beautiful and powerful. But don’t ask me to sing it. Please don’t shoot me, either. I’m telling it like it is. Other times I have been in contemporary worship where the music is “hot” and the worship team is raising a storm, and my soul cringes. I can’t sing that. Please don’t shoot me, either. I’m telling it like it is.
The Psalms show such a divergence of emotions but always within the context of the covenant that God made with them. I think a liturgical service provides the most consistent environment for experiencing the wide variety of effects that God does when he works in us. When I say this I am not dismissing contemporary music out of hand. Rather, this means that the framework for expressing the Christian faith is important. The liturgical development over the centuries has produced a rich blend of God’s Word-our response interweaving. Contemporary music can fit within that heritage.
Surprising to most people, the liturgy is not a straight-jacket, hemming in a person in faith expression. About a decade ago I helped establish a Bible College at a cutting edge charismatic church. When I taught the worship class, I asked them to evaluate a liturgical service and their own contemporary service over a four week period. They were shocked to learn that the contemporary service was much more rigid than any liturgical service they had experienced.
I have much more to say on this topic, let me conclude that the starting point for worship is always God and his Word; the ending point is always God and his Word. But we cannot forget who God is working on—us, poor, miserable sinners. That means worship includes spiritual, doctrinal, and emotional elements, and we cannot forget that. God doesn’t.