Lutheran theology of worship and music


Lutheran theology of worship and music

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Lutheran worship is first and foremost about God’s actions for us.
Christians gather together to receive the blessings God gives in Gospel and God’s Word. Lutheran worship is the proclamation of the Gospel.
from “A Simplified Guide to Worshiping as Lutherans” by Pastor James Waddell
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Lutherans historically have referred to public worship as Gottesdienst, divine service, with the emphasis on God serving his people. Klemet Preus offers this expanded definition.

Most people, when they think of the word worship, think of something that we do. By this way of thinking, we are active in giving God our honor and praise and God is passive in receiving our worship. Actually, the primary direction of the communication in worship is the other way. In true Christian worship we are passive and God is active. We are receiving and God is giving. We are learning and God is teaching. We are getting and God is giving.
(page 14)

Consider what the Apology says. “The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God… The highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive the forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness.”
(page 10)
from “The Augustana and Lutheran Worship” by Pastor Joel Otto
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“Worship Service” or “Divine Service”?

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Lutheran worship

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“What is worship?” by Pastor James Waddell

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“Worship Songs Evaluation Form” by Pastor James Waddell

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WELS Blended Worship vs Contemporary Worship chart

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In Lutheran theology, God’s Spirit works through the Gospel and God’s Word. Music is a vehicle to deliver the Gospel and God’s Word.
Today, for many American Evangelicals, music is a “means of grace” to reach an emotional high and bring people “into the presence of God.”
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We will also want to recognize that it is God’s Word and God’s Word alone that builds and strengthens faith. It is not the musical style of a song or its accompaniment, but the Word-based content that edifies worshipers. Without God’s Word, no musical style is beneficial to the faith; with God’s Word a variety of musical styles can benefit faith.

from “Should rock music be used in church?”
WELS Q&A: The Church and Its Ministry – Music/Worship (01)
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The hymns must proclaim Christ and His benefits, in a word, the Gospel.
(page 4)
The theological function of music is to proclaim the word of God to the people.
(page 18)
from “Lutheran Hymnody: Orthodoxy in Song” by Pastor Chad Bird
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Criteria #1: A Lutheran hymn aims not to create the right atmosphere or mood for worship, but serves as a vehicle for the Spirit-filled Word of God.
Criteria #2: A Lutheran hymn is not entertainment but proclamation.
Criteria #3: A Lutheran hymn is not experiential or sentimental (theology of glory), but objective and sturdy (theology of the cross). The theology of the Lutheran church is a theology of the cross. This means not only that we preach Christ crucified, but that the crucifix is the lens through which we view all of God’s dealings with us.

from “Lutheran Hymnody: Orthodoxy in Song” by Pastor Chad Bird
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Whatever music choices the church makes, however, must always meet these criteria: Does the music edify? Does the music appropriately carry the message of God’s word so that the Christian faith is able to be built up and strengthened? Or is faith distracted from the Word because of the music? Does the music carry the gospel message or is the music being used as a substitute for the gospel?
from “Should rock music be used in the church?”
WELS Q&A: The Church and Its Ministry – Music/Worship (01)
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If we want to make changes in the songs or liturgy of the church service, perhaps the question shouldn’t be whether it is different or more upbeat or more contemporary, perhaps the main question should be “Does this change or this song better communicate the gospel and God’s grace to the people?”
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The difference between Lutherans and Evangelicals is that Lutherans believe the Spirit works only through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament and the Evangelicals believe that the Spirit works without means–without the Word and the Sacraments.

Lutherans encourage the fruit of the Spirit by proclaiming law and gospel and by using the Sacraments.

The Evangelicals look for some other tool to prompt the fruit of the Spirit. ……
If Christianity comes at me in the kind of music that always thrills me and gives me a kick, then I can be thrilled and kicked into living for Jesus, too. The words of most of the music used in Evangelical worship are really not all that important; what’s important is the style, the ambiance, and the feel of the music and how it matches the successful popular music of the day.

Lutherans approach music from their means of grace perspective: by means of music the church proclaims the message of the gospel of Jesus. In Lutheran worship it is not the task of music to make the message seem respectable, successful, or thrilling. Those tasks belong to the gospel. The gospel creates respect for itself when the Holy Spirit works faith. The gospel generates its own successes, and these successes are not always similar to what the world calls success. The gospel thrills because it carries the message of the forgiveness of sins; it gives me a “kick” because of its Spirit-worked power. Music is simply the cradle in which the message lies. This is the Lutheran teaching of the use of music in worship.

All generalizations limp, but I’ll summarize this way: in Lutheran teaching, the message comes first and the music comes second; the message is served by the music. In Evangelical teaching the music is the message and it is also the means.

from “Can rock music be used in Lutheran worship?”
WELS Q&A: The Church and Its Ministry – Music/Worship (01)
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Revivalists agreed that in order to move people spiritually it was also necessary to move them physically. (page 35)
When Calvinism, Pietism and Revivalism challenged Luther’s worship principles, they actually challenged his principles of by Grace Alone, by Faith Alone, and by Scripture Alone. (page 36)
from “Christian Worship Manual” edited by Gary Baumler and Kermit Moldenhauer
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Music to Luther was viva vox evangelii, the living voice of the gospel. (page 14)
Luther viewed music as the viva vox evangelii, praising God and proclaiming his word to the world. In part, this is done with music associated with texts that speak clear and distinct words of law and gospel, sin and salvation. Thus, church music is to be functional (not an end unto itself). … The music must serve the text, not overpower it with other messages. (page 15)

Today for many American Protestants, music is a “means of grace.” It is a form of crowd-attracting entertainment. Although rarely broadcast as such, this pervasive view of the relation between music and worship is rampant today in American Evangelicalism. Some “praise and worship” leaders say you must have at least 20 minutes of a certain type of singing to get people into the presence of God.
(page 14)

from “Worship Wars at the Dawn of the New Millenium” by Richard Krause
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Words are important in worship music

What’s the first thing that attracts a person to a particular piece of music? For most, it’s the melody. When the ear hears a tune that the brain likes, one finds himself humming or singing a collection of notes that has been put together in a pleasing way.

When talking music in the church, however, there’s another element besides the tune that has to be considered. Words are important. To determine whether something should be sung in God’s house means to sit down with the text, peel back the layers of music that carry the words, and examine those words critically. Do the words teach what God’s Word teaches? Are they consistent with Lutheran teaching? Do the words highlight what man has done for God rather than the other way around? Do the words send mixed theological messages? Do they send any message at all? Could the words be misunderstood? Are the words so generic that they could be sung to a god of anyone’s choosing?

“I heard it sung at another church” or “But it has such a catchy melody” are not the standard by which we measure what we sing during worship. Ultimately, the words are. As long as the music style is fitting for being in the presence of a righteous God, we need to realize that music is subjective and different people have different tastes. But God feeds us through his words, not through music styles. The words of a song can weaken or strengthen, confuse or feed faith.

Therefore, it’s the responsibility of worship planners to choose music that feeds faith with the Word of God. “Appetizer” songs that emphasize God’s holiness and transcendence and my adoration and thankfulness have a place in worship, but don’t forget to remind me chiefly why I am thankful. Don’t forget the main course, which explicitly tells me of God’s love in Christ. A proper balance is important.

from “The Lutheran Way of Worship, part 7” by Steven Bode
(Forward in Christ — December 2008)
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Liturgy creations that are labeled “seeker-sensitive” or labeled more generically “contemporary worship” may consciously or unconsciously employ practices that support and express a doctrine of the Holy Spirit that centers on making an experience of the presence of God which is dependent more on the exercise than on the gospel. Music is the primary tool of the exercise, any gospel is secondary or maybe of no importance.
from “Proclaiming the Gospel in Worship” by Pastor Johnold Strey
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Today Arminian songs are flooding the marketplace and the regular worship of Evangelical churches throughout our land. These hymns typically shift from an objective focus on God’s character and his saving work in Christ to the individual believer’s subjective experience of God. Often they have lots of “Jesus talk” but little gospel.

Good and solid hymns will put an emphasis on Christ and his work for us, on God’s mercy and grace, on the means of grace, on doctrine and spiritual themes and motifs. Great hymns will emphasize God’s grace, not only a person’s emotional response to God’s grace.
from “Worship Wars at the Dawn of a New Millenium” by Richard Krause
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When it comes to the music and song texts of worship, discussions often veer away from the main point we should consider. Repetition of texts may or may not be an issue. Musical style may or may not be an issue. But substance should always be the issue. We have one hour each week to nurture the faith of the majority of our members. We don’t have time for ambiguity. Let’s use that hour wisely and give our people the gospel richly — in Scripture, sermons, sacraments, and even in song!
from “It’s about substance” by Pastor Johnold Strey
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Nevertheless, even among texts with a particular focus, it is often the case that the best of them point to the chief article of the Christian faith — namely, Jesus and his saving work on our behalf. While a text cannot say everything, it is incumbent upon it to say something about God and the Christian faith. There are times when the problem with a hymn text or choral anthem is not with what it says — that it perhaps sets forth false teaching — but that it doesn’t say much of anything about Christianity.
from “Text, Music, Context: A Resource for Reviewing Worship Materials”
by LCMS Commission on Worship
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Some people call it blended worship. It brings together worship forms that have been tested and tried in Christian churches for centuries and joins them to contemporary musical styles. Blended worship is one way Lutheran churches can retain public worship’s historic emphasis on gospel proclamation and at the same time accompany that proclamation with music many people understand and enjoy.
from “Blended worship that works” by Professor James Tiefel
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In blended worship, new musical styles blend with the traditional forms and progression of the liturgy. Worshipers continue to sing the liturgy’s gospel-centered songs such as “Glory to God” and “Lamb of God.” The Christian church year still sets weekly worship themes that focus on the Savior’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. The historic progression of Scripture lessons and sermon is still punctuated by psalms and hymns so that both called ministers and the congregation are able to participate in proclaiming the specific gospel message of the day. The great hymns of the church, some new and some ancient, teach the gospel truths of the Bible. The objective of worship remains what Lutherans always have wanted it to be: to proclaim the great things God has done for us in Christ. With that gospel, the Holy Spirit works to create, strengthen, and preserve faith.
from “Blended worship that works” by Professor James Tiefel
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Blending the gospel-proclaiming forms of the church’s past with musical styles that are part of the church’s present may enable us to offer the people of today the timeless message that Jesus saves.
from “Blended worship that works” by Professor James Tiefel
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The Lutheran church has always been known for its emphasis on Christ-centered and gospel-proclaiming worship. From the time of the Reformation, the Lutheran church has also been a liturgical church. There is good reason for that. Martin Luther himself stressed the importance of holding on to the historic liturgies of the Christian church, since those liturgies provided the framework for regular proclamation—to members and visitors alike—of the timeless truths heard by Christians for centuries. Liturgical worship provides worshipers with a connection to generations of Christians who have gone before.
from “A Synod that Values Worship” by Pastor Mark Schroeder
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Today people throughout our synod are discussing important issues involving the purpose of worship, the styles of worship, and how to conduct our worship in the best possible way. The Bible and the Lutheran Confessions make it clear that the form, style, and structure of our worship are matters of Christian freedom. But this Christian freedom does not imply that we are free to do anything we want. Acting in Christian freedom in an area as important as worship, in fact, implies very careful thought and decision making. Christian freedom in worship decisions involves sanctified and responsible Christian judgment. That means recognizing that the proclamation of the gospel message is vital—both in what is spoken and in what is sung. That means remembering that the purpose of worship is not to please various tastes and preferences, but rather to edify worshipers through the proclamation of law and gospel. That means a commitment to a careful evaluation of what elements of our worship need to be preserved and what can be changed in a way that gives glory to God and benefits those who worship.
from “A Synod that Values Worship” by Pastor Mark Schroeder
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God has blessed the world with the gift of music. He has also blessed the world with his Word. When the two are combined and music is employed as the vehicle to carry his life-giving Word to his people, we are fed well. Lutheran worship strives to use songs and hymns and spiritual songs to help the Word of God dwell richly in us (Colossians 3:16).
from “The Lutheran Way of Worship, part 7” by Pastor Steven Bode
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Lutheran worship, as Lutheran preaching, means to proclaim Christ as well as praise him. Praising him means telling “the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 78:4). The gospel will predominate. If we want to reflect Lutheran, Christ-centered doctrine that gives solid hope and brings the true peace of forgiveness, we will focus on texts that make known what Jesus has done to save us, starting in the manger and ending outside the empty tomb.
from “The Lutheran Way of Worship, part 7” by Pastor Steven Bode
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You cannot overdose on the gospel. You cannot get too much of Jesus. You cannot hear too often of the forgiveness of sins, the Word who became flesh and preached the Word to his people, the Lamb of God who took our sins away by his death, or the King of kings who proved his victory over sin and death by his resurrection. You cannot marvel at the mysteries of the Word of God too much. You cannot ponder the miracle of your baptismal adoption too much. You cannot receive Christ’s body and blood and have his forgiveness applied to your heart too much. The gospel cannot strengthen your faith too much.

If that’s the case, then we have a strong, evangelical reason for putting the evangel – the gospel – into our singing. It’s not that we have to. It’s that we get to. We want to! What better way to respond to the blessings of Christ than to sing about his blessings! What better way to thank God for the gospel of his forgiving grace than to sing about his forgiving grace! What better way to praise Christ than to proclaim what Christ has done for us!
from “It’s about substance” by Pastor Johnold Strey
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The word typically used to describe the believer’s weekly gathering around Word and Sacrament is worship. As a noun, worship simply refers to the regular assembly of Christians. But in common usage today, the verb to worship refers only to the Christian’s response to God’s grace. The church’s assembly, however, is not so much about believers worshipping God as much as it is God’s service to his people in the means of grace. God convicts and condemns, but then he absolves and forgives. He strengthens and equips. He applies the saving and redeeming work of his Son in the waters at the font, in the Word proclaimed from the pulpit, and in the meal at the altar. In other words, God’s divine service to us through the gospel is the primary aspect of our worship life.
from “Proclaiming the Gospel in Worship” by Pastor Johnold Strey
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When we thank someone for a gift, we don’t primarily explain how good we feel about it, or how neat “the gift” is. We thank them for the specific gift that was given. If you received a thank you note that didn’t acknowledge the gift you had given, you’d probably be a little puzzled.
When we sing our songs of praise to the Lord, what is the highest form of praise we can return? Isn’t it to proclaim what he has done for us? Isn’t it to thank him for the specific gifts he has given us in Christ? … The words of God, the promises of the gospel — these are not only the reason for our praise but also the content of our praises.
… We don’t go to worship to celebrate what we have done. We don’t say, “Look, Lord, isn’t it wonderful that I believe in you, follow you, and serve you!” No! We go to worship to praise and thank God for what he has done, is doing and will do. God’s work in Christ is the focus of worship. And it is the focus we need to recapture as we seek to renew our public worship experience.
from “Proclaiming the Gospel in Worship” by Pastor Johnold Strey
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Knowing that the coming of his Son would mean the spread of the gospel to every nation, language, and people, God did not propose a ritual for New Testament Christians. He gave them freedom and encouraged them to proclaim the life-giving gospel in ways that would lead people to become his disciples. So the Church has been working at this ever since the Ascension.

How do Christians approach this task? First of all by understanding what the Bible says about the way of salvation: the centrality of Christ, the work of the Spirit through the means of grace, the nature of faith, etc. Then the Church seeks to understand the nature of the Christian as a human being, i.e., how he hears, learns and assimilates information. For example, “repetition is the mother of learning” is an axiom that observes a characteristic of the human creature God made. This is also where the role of music and the arts come in. We observe that the message goes deep to the human heart when it is proclaimed through the medium of art and music. This dual task—understanding the salvific teachings of the Scriptures and the nature of the human being—has guided the Church in its freedom-based decisions over 21 centuries. (JT)
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These three tasks form the biblical perspective on public worship, and in freedom the Church considers all three as it forms the ritual for public worship: an understanding of the salvific teachings of the Scriptures, an understanding of the nature of the human creature, and an understanding of the influence and power of Satan as we approach the end of time. (JT)
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The liturgy is simply a way of public worship believers across many centuries have formed in an effort (1) to proclaim the gospel (2) to human beings (3) who are constantly tempted by Satan. (JT)
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The question that stands before you is this: What can I add to the worship of today’s Christians that will demonstrate the priorities of Christian worship over the centuries? Let’s tweak the question a little more: How can I adjust or edit the liturgy in such a way that these priorities will be served better in today’s world? Have I discovered a set of songs that proclaim the salvific teachings of the Scriptures in a better way than the hymns we sing now? Have I discovered a musical style that demonstrates an understanding of the nature of the human creature more completely than the musical styles we use now? Do my innovations demonstrate an understanding of the influence and power of Satan as we approach the end of time in a way that is better than the forms we use now? (JT)
… the real question is: How does this order of service take a rite orthodox Christians have used for centuries for the purposes I’ve reviewed in this note and make it better? (JT)

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