9 min read

Against the Guitar

Against the Guitar
Photo by Sean Nyatsine / Unsplash

Leitourgia Divina Adiaphora Non Est


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Of every practice in the church, we must ask two questions:

  1. Is this practice required by Scripture?
  2. Is this practice beneficial?

That which is required by Scripture must be part of our practices without further assessment; that which is not required by Scripture may be part of our practices if and only if it is beneficial. So-called 'contemporary worship', 'modern' music, et cetera, are neither required by Scripture nor beneficial — they must be avoided and opposed.

When we attend the Divine Service, we are joining before the Throne of God with angels and archangels, with all the saints who have gone before us — with all the host of Heaven. Our praise should not be discordant with the rest of the Church Triumphant, and yet that is exactly what 'contemporary worship' is — discordant. 'Contemporary worship' is a solipsistic focusing on self and personal preferences at the expense of God, of His glory, and of His Church. The Church is the body of Christ — it is unseemly and destructive to have part of the body off on its own, refusing to take orders from the Head.

What message do we send to the world when there exists no uniformity among us? If we are the Church, then surely that must mean something, then surely that will show through not only in our dogma, our doctrine, and our theology, but also in our praxis — lex orandi, lex credendi. A good wife looks a certain way and she behaves a certain way — she obeys — so, too, the Church, the bride of Christ. 'Contemporary worship' is rebellion; it is a rejection of the good deposit entrusted to us by our forefathers and by our spiritual mother, the Church. 'Contemporary worship' would strip the Church of all that makes her the Church; it would exchange chastity and its outward appearance for at least the appearance, the visage of a slattern. Everything is a confession. What is being confessed by those who reject the historic Church?

When someone walks into the Church, he should encounter something true and timeless[1]. If the service is clearly anchored in some specific time and place, then that church has failed to be what she is called to be. Now, there will undoubtedly be some markers of time and place in a church, for men of a certain age in a certain place speak a certain form of a certain language and technology does change (e.g., air conditioning and electric lights); however, the service itself is a timeless expression of God's gifts to man and man's praise toward God. When we seek to bind the service to a time and a place, we take what was of God and corrupt it into something that is merely of man. The 'contemporary' service may be a service, but is is surely not a Divine one.

At heart, the goal and the impetus of those who would employ a 'contemporary' form of 'worship' is to appeal to the world by looking like the world. There are, of course, two problems with this. First, we were warned not to be of the world. Second, such measures are not even effective. It is not really a joke when the answer to "What do you call the grandchildren of an American Evangelical?" is "Apostate." — there are souls hanging in the balance, and 'contemporary worship' tosses them to the wolves. If the church service is nothing more than another rock concert or bare emotionalism, then there is no compelling reason to go to church instead of a bar or a club. God is not specially present at a 'contemporary' 'church' — He can be found just as well by sleeping in and going to brunch.

The Divine Service soothes the troubled conscience; a 'contemporary' service does nothing for the conscience. Those who attend a 'contemporary' service are left uncertain or impenitent — the 'contemporary' service offers nothing of comfort and much to embolden pride. The core — the very heart — of the Divine Service is God coming to His people and giving them His gifts — Word, Sacrament, Absolution. The 'contemporary' service is man trying to find or 'worship' his way to God. 'Contemporary worship' is at least semi-Pelagian and is certainly sub-Christian. The electric guitar and the drum kit do not soothe the troubled conscience.

It is, quite frankly, inconceivable that anyone could attend the Divine Service and then fail to recognize the decadence and the impropriety of so-called 'contemporary worship'. There are, in fact, few examples of societal and civilizational decay, decline, and degeneration that are as clear as the fall from the Divine Service to 'contemporary worship'. It is only blind eyes, deadened hearts, and seared consciences that can face the choice between the Divine Service or 'contemporary worship' and find it to be anything but an illusory choice. 'Would you like the crème brûlée or the bowl of spiders?' God is your Lord, your King, your Savior. Would you appear before even an earthly king and offer him emotionalistic wailing over an electric guitar riff? Then what on Earth possesses you that you believe it appropriate to appear before God in shorts and sandals to wail at Him with a background beat of drums? Compare your 'worship' to that of primitive pagans when they gather to worship their 'gods' (demons). You will find that the comparison if not flattering.

And so I come to my final point (really an umbrella): It must mean something to be Lutheran. We were not founded in 1580. We were not founded in 1530. We were not founded in 1517. We were not founded in 1043. We were not founded even in AD 33. We were founded in Genesis 3. We are the Church that was founded upon the promise of the Messiah Who was to come, and Who, now, has come. We are founded upon, by, and through the blood of Christ. Our detractors labelled us "Lutheran" as an insult; we wear the name with pride, because God used Luther to restore His Church. To be Lutheran is to be Christian. We are the Church. Those who would bring the poison that is 'contemporary worship' into our churches are wolves and fools; they have rejected our Confession and cannot rightly be called Lutheran. Our Confession requires the liturgy; those who reject the liturgy necessarily reject the Confession. Those who reject the Confession are not Lutheran.

Do not think that because God used our forefathers to restore the Gospel and rescue the Church He will not take away our lampstand if we are faithless. On the contrary, woe to us if we, who have been gifted the whole truth, should reject the fullness of that truth. It will be easier at the Judgement for those who were evil in ignorance than for those who were evil with knowledge of the truth; there are worse parts of Hell. God surely blesses those who are faithful, but He just as surely curses those who are false. God does not reckon time as men do, and so the fullness of the punishment (or the blessing) may not fall upon your wickedness (or faithfulness); it may be your children's children who receive the recompense. Our God shows steadfast love to those who obey Him, but He just as surely punishes the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who do not obey.

Everything is a confession. In our worship, we confess who we are, what we believe, and Who our God is. To defend the liturgy and the good tradition of the Church is to proclaim that we are part of that Church, a continuation of that Church, to proclaim that we believe as our forefathers in the faith, and to proclaim that our God is the Lord God, Who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, in Whom is not even the shadow of change. 'Contemporary worship' breaks with the historic Church, professes a new creed, and enthrones a dozen false gods — emotionalism, pride, self — in the heart, where the Lord God must reign alone.

'Contemporary worship' or 'traditional' worship is not a matter of preference or a matter of indifference. The Divine Service has a nature and 'contemporary worship' is at odds with that nature. We are faced not with a matter of preference or taste, but with a matter of faithfulness or unfaithfulness, of blessing or curse, of life or death. You may keep your guitars and your drums and your screens, but it will come at a cost. As for me, I choose to take my place in the throng, to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, to join with angels and archangels, to stand with the saints in glory and the saints here on Earth. My God has promised to be present in His Church and there to bring me His gifts; I will not seek Him elsewhere or bring Him strange fire. God does not change, and He will not be mocked.


  1. Gottesdienst: "All Two Thousand Years of Church Happening At Once" ↩︎