Misplacing Theology: Why style matters

Gene Veith points out an interesting article by Matthew Sigler, a “ThD candidate in liturgical studies at Boston University where his work has focused on the history of Methodist worship as well as lyrical theology. In addition to being a student, he has served for the past twelve years as a music minister in the church.”

In the article, Sigler – a charismatic – bemoans the loss of the connection between charismatic theology and the music in mainline protestantism. He examines its roots and why “praise and worship music” exists.

This is interesting for a confessional Lutheran as well. Some key sections from the article:

Many forget (or don’t know) that “contemporary” worship was inextricably linked to the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. This connection forged a musical style that was rooted in a particular understanding of the Spirit in worship. Specifically, the singing of praise and worship songs was understood sacramentally. God was uniquely encountered, by the Spirit, in congregational singing.

I find this statement interesting, as we so adamantly try to make the assertion that contemporary worship can be removed from its heterodox context and welded to our orthodox theology. This reminds me of the metaphor from “The Fire and the Staff” where Klemet Preus describes contemporary worship as serving wine of the highest quality in foam cups. Contemporary worship is designed to replace the sacraments of the altar and font with the sacrament of “experience”.

…a premium was placed on intimacy with Jesus in congregational singing. This emphasis was largely due to the influence of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Though he was not the first to say so, Wimber emphasized that the Church needed to sing songs “to God” and not “about God.” Lyrically, this was manifest in the frequent use of the personal pronoun, “I.” Just scan through the catalogue of songs published by Vineyard Music during the 1980’s and see how many of them emphasize the importance of the individual engaging the second Person of the Trinity in the lyrics. While the intimacy motif wasn’t new in the Church, it was an important development in what would become known as “contemporary worship.”

The use of “I” and a focus on intimacy is usually not criticized except in its most egregious forms, usually as a “love song to Jesus”. However, it has theological implications. Singing songs “to God” instead of “about God” is a concise way of expressing the difference. Look at the core Lutheran hymns, “A mighty fortress is our God”, “Thy strong Word did cleave the darkness”, et cetera. The vast majority of them are talking about God. Lutheran theology describes a God who works through means to bring us salvation. He works through bread and wine and water to deliver salvation to us. He proclaims the Gospel in His Word. So, in a way, we also view music sacramentally, however it is God’s Word proclaimed that works faith, not our experience toward God that saves.

During the 1990’s many mainline congregations began to import the songs, sounds, and some of the sights (like hand raising and clapping) of the praise and worship style. In many cases, what got lost was the robust pneumatology behind this approach to worship. In other words, many mainline churches brought the form, but didn’t bring the theology of praise and worship into their congregations. This is a gross generalization, but I think it explains some of the dislocation that occurred during the “worship wars” of the 1990’s. The result was that the songs themselves and the style itself became the focus. Particularly in mainline congregations influenced by the Church Growth Movement, “contemporary worship” was a technique for reaching out—the concept of “praise and worship” as sacramental/encounter was diluted at best.

Thank goodness for that. Although we seem to be short-sighted in some ways, so sacramental/encounter theology creeps in unexpectedly on occasion. Especially when our parishioners are constantly exposed to the sacramental/encounter theology in the rest of life alongside the contemporary music, we shouldn’t be surprised when they import that into Lutheran worship seeing that the music is the same.

Contemporary-styled congregations would do well to examine their own understanding of the Spirit’s activity in each part of the service. Regardless of how local congregations understand the role of the Spirit in worship, all congregations can benefit from a perspective that considers every facet of the service as part of our worship to God.

This has a different meaning for the Lutheran. If we are in a congregation which is pursuing “contemporary” worship, we should think hard about what we are doing. We are importing musical style which have clear heterodox theological roots and trying to shoehorn them into an orthodox theological framework. But why bother? We have a beautiful heritage of music, texts, and an approach to musical expression which has arisen from our theology. Let’s use that!

At a bare minimum, we should take from this article another nail in the coffin of the belief that there is no or little relationship between style and doctrine. There are very clear links, and we should be very attune to this. When a practices arises from a doctrine and we import the practice, we should expect confusion in our doctrine at best and increasing resemblance to the originating doctrine at worst.

Some thoughts from a day of procedural coding

More for my personal future reference, but perhaps this may be useful to someone.

I’ve been trying to improve my programming, striving for clean, elegant, maintainable, readable code. Over the last couple days, I tried to understand how a one-off PHP page might be coded in an object oriented manner. Each possible architecture resulted in classes that were purely containers for smaller code snippets. They weren’t particularly testable and weren’t easy to read. There was also a lot of them, resulting in a ton of code for a small app.

On a whim, I decided to learn more about procedural programming, the very thing I was trying so desperately to avoid. I discovered that I may dislike procedural code simply because it always turned into spaghetti in my hands. But it was probably my fault, rather than the fault of the methodology. Here are some thoughts…

I made all of my code exit at the bottom. This meant making sure that all my code flowed to one exit point. This worked rather nicely, since the code really was designed to output a page at the end, unless an error occurred.

I caused all error states to throw exceptions, which I handled at the bottom. This is the part I’m least sure about, as far as best practice goes. The main flow of the code was all in a try block, with a series of catch blocks at the bottom. I created a number of simple subclasses of Exception in order to categorize types of error states. Individual error types were handled by codes which I set as constants in the exception classes to make it easier to follow. Since all errors should output an error page, this made it very easy to reduce code duplication within a catch block. It also allowed me to easily handle more errors. Prior to refactoring, I disliked checking for and handling possible issues, since it involved another level of if/then statements and a bunch of code inline which made the main flow very hard to follow. By simply checking for an issue and then throwing an exception which was handled at the end, the main flow of the application wasn’t interrupted by error handling, and I was happy to be more careful and check more things. Hopefully this will result in a more robust application later.

I eliminated most functions. My reason for this was to try and reduce code duplication within main flow of the application. It also made the code easier to read. By writing all of the code as one large block, it was easy to follow the logic, and easier to debug.

This code was essentially procedural and small enough for this methodology to work well. I needed an easily readable, robust, maintainable set of code, and embracing procedural programming helped in this endeavor. If the application were larger, I think it would fall apart, and I would go back to a properly architected OO methodology.

Hopefully, a step forward in my development as a software engineer, and another tool in my proverbial toolbox.

New WELS Hymnal — Why?

The WELS has begun a project to create a new hymnal. But in all of the information about it, I’m stumped to find any reason for it. Has anyone catalogued the deficiencies in Christian Worship which we would hope to correct? Or are we just trying to put out a new hymnal for the sake of putting out a new hymnal?

Our synod already suffers from a desire to constantly reinvent ourselves and be new, hip, and exciting. If the goal is to incorporate new hymns, wouldn’t it be better to simply release a new supplement, or at most release a new hymnal which is the same as the old one with additional hymns?

What is the goal? Change?

Luther in a letter Dr. Nicholas Hausmann on worship points out that changing the liturgy is fraught with peril:

Nor did I make any innovations. For I have been hesitant and fearful, partly because of the weak in faith, who cannot suddenly exchange an old and accustomed order of worship for a new and unusual one, and more so because of the fickle and fastidious spirits who rush in like unclean swine without faith or reason, and who delight only in novelty and tire of it as quickly, when it has worn off. Such people are a nuisance even in other affairs, but in spiritual matters, they are absolutely unbearable.

What makes us think that five hundred years after the reformation, we must release a new hymnal several times per generation?

I certainly think that there are deficiencies in CW which could be corrected, and a much stronger hymnal released, but it doesn’t look like that is the goal…

Shoretel phones and HP V1910 switches DHCP

A random note because this was so hard to find. If you are installing a Shoretel phone system with rebranded 3com switches such as the HP V1910, make sure that your DHCP server is set to only be on its main VLAN. I still don’t understand why, but somehow if the server is available on that VLAN, even if it doesn’t understand VLAN traffic and should ignore all except untagged, it can still mess up the process of the phones getting an IP address on the voice VLAN.

Looking for the original source again so it can be cited properly.


Stay with us, for it is evening; the day is almost over. (Luke 24:29)
Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:26)

Your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always. (Isaiah 58:10,11)

Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more;
the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. (Isaiah 60:20)

On no day will the gates of the Holy City ever be shut,
for there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:25)

— Christian Worship: Supplement; Evening Meditation, pg. 68.

I’ve been attempting, in my peccator way, to establish a pattern of prayer. It has been severely lacking in my life, and I believe that I have suffered from the same. NPH has a rite for evening meditation in Christian Worship: Supplement on page 68 which I have been using for the last couple months.

I have discovered in this process is how hard it is to repeat things. The passages above are how the rite begins. I constantly find myself glossing over them, or reading them without thinking, even aloud. I frequently desire to take advantage of the wide variety of rites available for such things and constantly mix it up and rework it.

Yet, if I force myself to continue reading and pondering these words, I grow. As much as novelty makes it easier to absorb something, you can’t understand information on the first hearing. God’s Word especially. By simple repetition, I’ve memorized these words. They are part of me now, appearing in my mind when I need comfort and peace. When I force myself to lay aside my impatience and ponder these words, the Holy Spirit unveils meaning in them.

So I continue to read them. Perhaps someday I will choose a different rite, I have the God-given freedom to do so (Compline looks interesting). But for the time being, I am learning to lay aside my desire for novelty and instead focus on the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

It is hard. Very hard. I am a child of the culture. I grew up with email, instant messaging, and the internet. I want everything now, and — in the vast majority of cases — I get it. But God has given us His Word, on which to ponder and meditate. These things take time and patience. Of which I have all too little.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. — John 1:1, ESV

Schrödinger’s cat children’s song

Sung to the tune of “Five green and speckled frogs”.

Schrodinger had a cat
Inside a box he sat
With the lid closed tight and locked shut. Meow. Meow.
Inside the box with him
Was a vial of poison
When it opens we know not yet. Uh oh.

Is the cat dead or not?
That is the train of thought.
When we cannot observe it now. Hmm hmm
Perhaps it can be both.
Or maybe not, but now
You have a grasp of quantum thought. Phew done.

Several things every confessional Lutheran church website must have

I’ve been on the road and trying to find places to worship of late. In doing so, I’m noticing several things that I always need on a site. I am listing them below for all the webmasters out there, and for me personally since the website I maintain for the church in which God has placed me doesn’t always contain them.

What is your communion schedule?

I treasure the eucharist and dearly wish to commune with congregations in my synod and synods in its fellowship when on the road. However, I also don’t want to put the pastor in a position where he communes someone he doesn’t know. As such, I would like to know if I need to arrive early in order to introduce myself. Ideally, every church would offer the sacrament every Sunday. Until the blessed day where I can count on this, please list your schedule and make certain that it is updated if you switch it around for a month.

Who is your pastor?

I really could use the name of your pastor or pastors so I know who to contact. I could also use a picture of your pastor to make it easier to identify him. Going to a new congregation is an intimidating experience, so it helps.

Is the site actually up to date?

A recent site at which I was looking had a calendar from March (it is July), the most recent sermon was March 10, and the announcements section was from March 10. At this point I’m going to hope that the 9:30 a.m. worship time is still accurate and you haven’t switched to a summer schedule without telling me. If you have a summer schedule and aren’t likely to be modifying the site every week, please indicate that on the site and list both schedules and the date on which it changes.

A statement of why you exist.

I want to be able to rule out the churches that are tinkering with the liturgy. I wish that I could simply assume that every church was solidly biblical, holding fast to the faith passed down from our fathers. However, this is not the case. Having a statement of purpose will solidify my decision to attend. If I see words like “Confessional”, “Book of Concord”, “Sacrament”, “Baptism”, and “Doctrine”, I will conclude that you actually believe the doctrine to which you officially subscribe. It is remarkably easy to tell if a congregation is tinkering with historic Christian worship and doctrine from a statement of faith.

I go to worship to receive God’s gifts. I don’t go to worship to get a weekly buzz, to feel awesome about God, or even to be told 10 ways to be a better Christian. I can get all of that from a CD or radio program. I can even get the preached Word, properly dividing law and gospel on a podcast. I go to worship to receive God’s gifts which I can obtain nowhere else: holy absolution; the very body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine; and proclaim God’s work and Word in community with other believers, e.g. praise.

NIV as temporary

Interesting thoughts from Steadfast Lutherans today:

The practice at Biblica has been to make the old versions disappear. That means one can no longer purchase a 1978 or 1984 version, nor can one access these versions online. … 

This means that the intended maximum lifetime use of the 1984 edition was 15 years.

If a congregation or synod chooses to adopt a translation that is intended to change so rapidly it faces the problem of theological review of the new versions. This is time consuming–and expensive because of the time.

Pertinent to the discussion within the WELS. Even if the NIV2011 were a translation worth using, do we consider the text of the Word as something which has to constantly be updated?

By faith alone.


It is all too hard.

Why must I attempt to wrap my head around God’s gifts?

Why can I not simply ignore the doubts which Satan implants and the sinful flesh relishes?

Why must even my faith be imperfect?

We are caught in a paradox where we understand and comprehend all things through reason. And yet reason itself is corrupt and cannot clearly comprehend such things. And in the midst of all this, God implants faith.

Faith which simply clings to the pure and simple Word enfleshed.

We can’t event wrap our rational minds around this faith.

And so we live in tension.

Our faith clings to the Word. Our mind struggles to comprehend it, and sometimes comes close, and sometimes fails completely.

And it constantly comes back to that faith.

That faith which we have of pure gift.

Which is the only thing holding us to God,

If we were to be given salvation, and told that to remain saved, we would simply have to understand and believe, we would still fall away.

But it is true:

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

I don’t understand it.

Yet I cling to it, by faith alone.

My intellect cannot accept it,

My flesh cannot stand it,

And yet it is. And I believe it by pure and simple faith given by grace.

On a related note, Hammer of God is an amazing book.

To think of what this man had to go through spiritually and mentally to be able to write such.

VBS and Worship

Can we stop this VBS thing? Someone make up their mind. Is VBS supposed to be teaching the young, evangelizing the lost, giving parents mornings off during the summer, or what?

I think our true colors often come out with what we teach our kids. We have liturgy on Sunday morning, but in VBS we do hyper contemporary. Because we totally want the next generation to identify more with Rob Bell than grandpa.

I’d like to suggest CW-VBS. The goal of this VBS is severalfold:

  • To introduce families to the idea that corporate worship isn’t just what you do on Sunday morning.
  • To introduce kids and families to a life of prayer.
  • To start to teach the kids why we use the liturgy.
  • To give the pastors an easier time in catechism class because we’ve already covered, you know, the catechism.
  • To introduce the church year.

Themes! Because we love themes. The daily themes would be:

  • Day 1 — Advent
  • Day 2 — Christmas
  • Day 3 — Epiphany
  • Day 4 — Lent
  • Day 5 — Easter (with a hint of Pentecost, since that is what we are in now.)

The schedule would look something like this:

  • 7:30a-8a — Matins
  • 8a-11a — Normal VBS stuff. Crafts, snack, hymns, study. Bible study for adults?
  • 11a-12p — Divine service for the theme day. Go all out. Seriously. Maybe just skip the Eucharist, since these are kids we are talking about. Because they totally can’t have faith in God’s Word and examine themselves until they reach the age of accountability…
  • 12p-1p — Lunch
  • 1p-5p — Sports camp?
  • 5p-6:30p — Dinner with families
  • 6:30p-7:30p — Vespers
  • 7:30p-8:30p — Family activities?, bible study?
  • 8:30p-9p — Compline

Wow, you say. That’s a lot. Yes, yes it is. But think about what just happened. You just got families, for a week, to gather around God’s Word and worship daily. Isn’t that worth it? As churches, we talk about losing community and fellowship opportunities. Perhaps it is partially because we stopped gathering around daily worship.

Anyway. Another thought that will never be implemented because people don’t actually want to do risky things.