Paul R. Schilf, Ph.D.

The June/July article discussed what should be most commonly understood as "traditional worship" and "traditional music." In that article, I suggested that Lutherans must not hesitate to critically examine their music and worship heritage and subject it to sound theological, psychological, and sociological examination for its meaning and usefulness for our own time. It should go without saying that the Lutheran church must submit its worship and music to the scrutiny of theological examination. It should be the primary emphasis of the church to hold the musical styles to the scrutiny of Lutheran Doctrine. However, what about psychological and sociological examination? Will we gain any additional understanding of our worship or liturgical music by examining them with the scrutiny of psychological and sociological constructs? Because of man's sinful nature, we often desire to hold musical preferences and styles to societal measures. We look to see, one, what we like and two, what other churches are doing. At times people have indicated the need to look to future church leaders as the preferential or authoritative source for discerning proper music in worship. In short, we want to know, "how do others feel?" Some have presented that the church must attract younger members by using the most contemporary forms and sounds during the worship service. Furthermore, they believe that we must use these popular, societal styles to make worship interesting and thereby retain adolescents in worship services.

To the contrary, some recent research addresses just this issue. In an exhaustive study, Barbara Resch (1996) investigated the attitudes of adolescents toward the appropriateness of religious music in worship settings. Her study, using 879 public and private high school and junior high school students in the Midwest, examined their perceived level of worship-appropriateness for 40 American church musical excerpts. Tempo, instrumentation, and style were among the musical elements researched and discussed. The results of this Indiana University doctoral study have grave implications for individuals who believe adolescents are attracted to a more contemporary style of worship music. It was clearly discovered that students perceive contemporary rock and popular styles of music inappropriate for church services. Moreover, it was affirmed that students in junior and senior high school believe that more traditional music is most appropriate for worship. Additional studies have shown that adolescents wish to keep their popular styles of music separate from that of religious services. Nowhere was this more evident than at the July 2003 Confessional Lutheran Youth Conference. More than one thousand youth enthusiastically participated in new and traditional hymns, Lutheran liturgy and several forms of Gregorian chant. The students' witness provided tremendous support for more traditional styles of music in worship.

The church must strive to worship its Lord with the best possible music. Pop music should never replace the solid, historically accurate and correct forms that have served the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church for centuries. The church must educate congregational members about the criterion that determine what musical styles are best and most appropriately used in worship. Musical styles that have goals to make us "feel good" or provide us with a link to secular society are inherently wrong, as their effect is self-serving and will ultimately dumb-down and secularize the church. These sectarian fads often lack appropriateness on sociological as well as theological levels.

October: Why Use Chant?

Buszin, W.E. (1958). Luther on music. New York, NY: Lutheran Society For Worship, Music, and the Arts, by permission of G. Schirmer Inc.
Schalk, C.E. (1983). Music in Lutheran worship. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
Resch, B.J. (1996). Adolescent’s attitudes toward the appropriateness of religious music, Dissertation, Indiana University.