Today's Christian landscape is fueled by a dichotomy between distinct styles of worship; namely, "Traditional Worship" and "Contemporary Worship." The differences in these styles of worship seem to have grown at an exponential fashion in recent days, and the battle has escalated to such an extent that people on both sides of the aisle are willing to condemn the other for their practices. However fierce this battle may wage, keep this in mind, "The people are taught that consciences are not to be burdened as though observing such things were necessary for salvation [Colossians 2:16-17]" (AC XV.)
A good friend of mine, with whom I frequently argue about this very matter, is the Worship Leader for a non-denominational school in Garden Valley, TX. He sees "my style" of worship as being without passion, dying, and antiquated and therefore cannot help me to grow in my faith; while I see "his style" of worship as irreverent, distracting, and without solid foundation and therefore cannot help him to grow in his faith. Which of us is correct?
I don't believe this question can be answered without first defining what worship is. In my friend's style, worship is about how we come to God, to praise Him, and to show Him that we love Him. Don't get me wrong, "Blessed be the name of the Lord," (Ps. 113:2A ESV) but this praise can only come about in the other definition of worship. This definition is explained in Luther's explanation of the Apostle's creed. "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him." When Christian's see that we are dead to sin and cannot "by our own reason or strength," praise God's name (that is to keep the 2nd commandment) we know that worship is not about what we do for God. Rather, worship is about God coming to us in His word, and "the word [become] flesh" (John 1:14 ESV) on the cross.
Now keep this definition of worship in mind: "We [are able to] praise God only because God first comes to us, lost and condemned persons, through His son on the cross for the forgiveness of sins through His word."
Now am I saying that you can't use a rock band to freely proclaim Christ Crucified? I certainly am not; this would be completely going against the Augsburg Confession and would be negating the hard work of CPH who put out the LSB guitar edition (which I use frequently for having hymn sings with my friends.) But I am stating what the confessions teach: "those practices which provide benefit to the Christian Life are to be revered and practiced," and more frequently than not, these Christ centered, cross focused, scriptural based hymns are not used in a contemporary setting.
Rev. Randy Asburry of Hope Lutheran Church in St. Louis Missouri reminded me that, "Liturgical worship is not of the 'essence' of the Church (not what makes the Church the Church), but it is a gift for the 'bene esse' (well-being) of the Church, especially in keeping us 'on the same page.'" This belief is congruent with the Lutheran confessions which furthermore state that, "No tradition was set up by the Holy Fathers for the purpose of meriting the forgiveness of sins, or righteousness. Rather, they were instituted for the sake of good order in the Church and for the sake of peace," (AP XV: 13.) As Leviticus shows us, God is a God of order. The laws which he gave the Israelites were to provide order and guidance from the terrors of the world (sin, distraction, trichinosis etc.) In this same way the liturgy of the Lutheran Church is designed to focus us on the Cross.
Referring back to my frequent discussions with my "wayward" friend on the subject; he will frequently mock the bizarre nature of the vestments and lesser ceremonies in the church. Once I commented on a video of a service he led saying, "It was great, but I would put the band at the back of the church. Lutheran's wouldn't be too happy with a drum set where the altar should be." He retorted, "Yeah, you can't block view of that Advent Wreath." This brings me to an interesting point; why do we have all of these practices (proper lighting of candles, the processional cross etc.?) Melancthon writes, "Ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught [what they need to know about Christ,] (AC XXIV.) It is this point that is especially important for children.
Over the years, my mother has spoken diligently about the importance of the liturgy in the church, even so far as to recommend contrary to the typical Lutheran practice of sitting in back. She says, "Children who can see and hear everything that is going on in the divine service are more likely to remember the liturgy, participate, and be less 'squirrely.'" Many times when new parents would come to our church, she would make a point to quickly introduce herself and lead them to the front. Children understand what is going on, and through proper experience are often more reverent than many adults I know. Children who experience the liturgy at an early age or more likely to realize… "oh yeah, this is about that big shiny guy on the cross up there, and that wine and bread must be important too."
Close your eyes and think about a contemporary worship service. Everyone is facing forward. What are they looking at? Is it Christ crucified for our sins? Oh, that's right there is a band up there. Well are they pointing us to the Cross?
"This is the noise we make with our voice and with our hands. We come to celebrate all across this land. The joy that's in our hearts makes us want to dance for you. Join as the angels sing and worship as they do. And we worship You alone with our songs of praise. One day before Your throne. This is the noise we make"
Not once are we reminded of our sin and need for a savior. Not once in this song is Christ crucified proclaimed. The focus of this song is clearly about what we do to praise God and creating a mystic emotional response to the music.
Now close your eyes and think about a Liturgical Worship Service. Everyone is facing forward, what are they looking at? Oh, there's a crucifix up there? What is everyone singing?
"Christ, the life of all the living, Christ, the death of death, our foe, who thyself for me once giving to the darkest depths of woe: Through thy sufferings death, and merit. I, eternal life inherit. Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, Dearest Jesus unto Thee."
The focus of that hymn is clearly Christ death on the cross for our salvation.
Now, again, am I saying that people who go to Traditional, Liturgical worship services are more righteous or even better Christians? No! Of course not, Article XV of the Apology to the Augsburg Confession clearly states that, "We do not merit forgiveness of sins or grace by celebrating human traditions," (3.) But I am saying that churches that use the liturgy of The Lutheran Hymnal, the Worship Supplement '69, the Lutheran Worship, The Hymnal Supplement '98, and the Lutheran Service Book are more likely to have a service centered on the Cross. Therefore the "bene esse" which Traditional, Liturgical worship brings is that it points us to the cross and that Cross is necessary for salvation.
Blessings in Christ,
P.S. A quick shout out to Rev. Randy Asburry. He was a great help in the writing of this article. If you would like to see more of his insight, check out his Blog at http://rasburrypatch.blogspot.com/.