Fine Tuning - Shaping Modern Lutheran Worship sans Praise Band

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1. Lutheran hymnody is exciting

This is really a theological matter. If a pastor is convinced that the Lutheran hymn heritage has something unique to offer Christians in the way of Gospel proclamation and catechesis, they will want to drink deeply from it. If they want to use it, they can find ways of making that happen without capitulating to the desires of naysayers who think other, less theologically astute songs are more “exciting.” There is nothing more exciting about one kind of music over another. One can cultivate an appreciation for all kinds of music, if one opens their minds and interests to doing so. As Christians, we should be open to cultivating appreciation for the Lutheran hymn corpus because of the great value it possesses and the great contribution it makes to Christian understanding theological knowledge and ultimately, spiritual growth.

(HT: Issues, Etc. - Pr Todd Wilken's pick for Blog of the Week - mp3, 05m18s, 2.14 MB, 2010-Aug-27)

Fine Tuning: What Makes Lutheran Worship Lutheran

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Part 2 of a series (Part 1)


One of the most challenging things I faced as a former worship leader in the Evangelical Free Church was exactly how to define what worship was. One elder at the time quipped, “Ask 50 different people what worship is and you’ll get 50 different answers.” This was absolutely true and remains true today. One of the great things about Lutheranism is that it recaptures and explains a view of worship that is Biblical and objective–– not according to my whims, but according to what God says.

Worship is God gathering His church together so He might give to us His gifts. These are the gifts of His Word, Baptism, His Supper and His Holy Absolution. We are sustained through these things. Worship in essence calls us to get out of the way and let these things come to us, that we might receive them in gratitude and allow them to renew and shape our faith. As we hear the Word of God read and preached, we also share it together in our songs and hymns. Since we know that the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, we do not wish to waste time singing things that are not the clear and well-explicated Word. Lutherans have always regarded our hymns as mini-sermons. This is because what we sing is just as important as what we hear preached. The Word of God present in our hymns sustains us in our faith.

Fine Tuning: How We're Changing

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Part 3 of a series


Here are some things that are happening in the LCMS now that the evangelicals did ever so long ago. It all looks really familiar to me because it is exactly what occurred when I was in the Evangelical church through the 80's and the 90's.

• Viewing doctrine as divisive and an impediment to missions

• Thinking that one can possess strong doctrinal positions, and change the musical styles to those influenced by the pop-culture (top 40 mostly).

• Disappearance of the chancel furniture except maybe on Communion Sundays

• Praise band leads almost all of the service, typically drums, guitar, keyboard, bass, lead singer.

• Hymns barely to non-existent

• Old=bad, new=good

• How-to, practical sermons for daily living rather than Christological, law/Gospel proclamations (may not be epidemic in the LCMS yet, but don’t worry, it’s coming)

• Disdain for the liturgy. We retain the things that might still qualify us as “Lutheran” but we really wish we could get rid of those too. The liturgy becomes a “style” seen as a necessary evil, rather than a “substance” that is life-giving through what it purveys. So it is altered to become "cooler," if not downplayed, or discarded altogether.

• Communion practiced less frequently or on days other than Sundays

• Service more like a concert with the band warming up for the main act -- the sermon!

I have noticed that we are shifting to a more and more amorphous brand of Christianity where doctrinal distinctions and precision is downplayed in favor of “bringing in the lost.” But we are not using the true Gospel to do it. We’re using techniques. We take the true Gospel for granted. We think to ourselves, “Hey, we’re Lutheran. That cannot happen to us. I mean, my pastor has a Book of Concord sitting on his shelf, after all–– I think.”

Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, discusses Entertainment-Driven Youth Ministry with Pr Todd Wilken (mp3, 40:12, 16.1 MB, 2010-Aug-25)

Read also Dr Veith's article, Stupid Church Tricks, in World magazine


Part 1:

Part 2:

Printable (, 4 pgs, 54.67 KB)


Since it was the Roman Catholic Church that, with its heretical innovations, had really broken away from the ancient, orthodox, catholic (“universal”) Church, the Lutheran Reformers {were} not compelled to abandon the worship forms of the Church catholic. On the contrary, they insisted on using the catholic ceremonies, both because of their usefulness for instructing the common people, and to give a clear confession of their unity with the Church catholic. The Lutherans refused to be numbered among the sects, although Rome still refers to us this way. At some times and in some places during the 16th century, Lutherans {were} compelled to stop using this or that ceremony as a confession against the papists who were trying to compel the use of these ceremonies among the Lutheran churches. But wherever possible, Lutherans retained the ceremonies of the Church catholic, because they proclaimed the unity and collective wisdom of over a thousand years worth of believers from all over the world, especially the Western Church in which the Lutherans mainly lived.

Unlike the confessional Lutheran Church, the sects have broken away from the Church catholic by false teachings. Most of them don’t even wish to be associated with the Church catholic. One of the most widely shared of these false teachings is a false teaching regarding the Means of Grace, that is, how God communes and communicates with men, how God creates and strengthens faith in man, how God distributes to individuals the forgiveness of sins won by Christ for all men. The Lutheran Church recognizes that it is the Gospel alone, in Word and Sacrament, that God has chosen as his means to accomplish these things. (More will be said about the theological underpinnings of sectarian worship forms in the next post on this subject.)

The sects, having abandoned the Church catholic, have developed their own worship forms, their own practices, in keeping with their false understanding of the Means of Grace and how man interacts with God. The “contemporary” worship phenomenon has grown out of this false understanding commonly held among most of the sects. Because of the sectarian origins of these worship forms, we refer to it as “sectarian worship.” “Sectarian worship” is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it confesses (intentionally or unintentionally) a disassociation from the Church catholic.

Mr. Brett McCracken, author of the WSJ article, "The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity” and the book, “Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide”, discusses Hipster Christianity with Pr. Todd Wilken (mp3, 26:29, 10.6 MB, 2010-Aug-19)


Stephen Sizer discusses Christian Zionism with Pr. Todd Wilken (mp3, 26:30, 10.6 MB, 2010-Aug-17)


Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller and Seminarian Evan Goeglein play Law and/or Gospel, Praise Song Cruncher, How to Tell if You're Being Manipulated by a Youth Speaker, and Which Ladder, National Youth Gathering (LCMS) Edition (mp3, 1h13m22s, 25.2 MB, 2010-Aug-11)

The top five listener favorite hymns are studied:

5 -- Monday, Aug. 9: Pr. Bill Cwirla, "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less" (mp3, 54:29, 21.8 MB)

4 -- Tuesday, Aug. 10: Dr. Arthur Just, "The Church's One Foundation" (mp3, 54:30, 21.8 MB)

3 -- Wednesday, Aug. 11: "Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" (mp3, 54:29, 21.8 MB)

2 -- Thursday, Aug. 12: Dr. Arthur Just, "Thy Strong Word" (mp3, 54:29, 21.8 MB)

1 -- Friday, Aug. 13: Pr. Wil Weedon, "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It" (mp3, 54:29, 21.8 MB)

Listen live from 3-5 pm CT or on-demand at


How Does the Form and Shape of Worship Affect Faith?

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Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ; and to have such faith is to live in fellowship with God in Christ (receiving and trusting His gracious good gifts of life).

The preaching of the Word is primary, beginning with the Father’s own speaking of the Son. It is by this Word (His Son) that God creates and gives life to man; by this Word that He breathes His life-giving Holy Spirit into man, in the flesh. It is a divine Word, the speaking of God Himself, by which He reveals and gives Himself to man. In its confrontation with sinful man, it both accuses and forgives (Law and Gospel), and thereby calls to repentance and faith (in Christ, the Word).

This same Word, which is the almighty and eternal Son of God, has become flesh — true Man — part of His own creation — so that, in Him, in His own Person, God and man are perfectly united and in harmony forevermore. It is therefore by and with and in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you live in fellowship with God (by faith), and not at all apart from Him. This is the case, both by His forgiveness of sins and by His gracious giving of Himself in love.

It is in and with Christ that you receive the Holy Spirit (the life-giving Breath of God) through the forgiveness of your sins. For Christ is the true and perfect Man, the new and better Adam, who has been anointed by the Spirit for you. He receives and bears the Spirit in the flesh on your behalf, in order to bestow the Spirit upon you (with the forgiveness of sins).


Piety Matters

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Can a religion be only cerebral? Is religion only a way of thinking and not a way of doing?

I don't believe so. I think that religion is a matter of soul, mind, and body. It is a way of thinking, doing, and living. In other words, it is a matter of piety. The old saw about “Lutheran substance and [American] Evangelical style” is all wrong – in fact, the catch phrase intentionally plays down the importance of a lived religion: it's merely “style.” And we all know that style is unimportant. Once men wore fluffy collars, now they wear ties. Just a manner of style.

But it's the wrong word. What the advocates of such a plan mean to say is: Lutheran substance, American Evangelical piety. The piety of a Christian is how he lives the faith he professes. Piety is what a Christian does and the words that rattle around in his head without him consciously thinking about them: the words and actions of his Sunday morning worship, how he prays in his daily life, the pattern of sound words that pop into his head throughout the week, the songs he sings, the proof texts he knows by heart and repeats to himself, how he explains the faith to his children, the way he dresses for worship, the popular activities he avoids because of his faith, and the like.

So is there a distinctively Lutheran piety? Or is being Lutheran simply a cerebral matter: Here is a list of doctrines: if you assent to these, then you are a Lutheran and your piety is up to you, as an individual or community, to devise on your own from whatever source you like. Is that how it is?


Parts 2 & 3 of Issues Etc. program on Law and Gospel with Dr Carl Fickenscher are posted here.

Fine Tuning - More Like the Baptists Every Day?

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Part 1 of a Series (Part 2 | Part 3)

As a former church musician in the Evangelical Free Church, I was for years immersed in efforts to use music to create enthusiasm for and numerical growth in worship attendance. The LCMS is going where I was, and subsequently left, in favor of a truly Lutheran brand of worship. The LCMS is looking more and more like the Free Church; not everywhere, but in enough places to cause alarm. And it is not so much about who is doing what, as much as there is a consciousness pervading the LCMS that is bound to make us into a more and more mainline protestant church and a less and less Lutheran church. Lutheran theology and worship is distinctive and has certain hallmarks that make it what it is. If we want to preserve these things, we need to speak more clearly about how we are not.

When Jesus comes again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, nothing will be set ablaze more quickly than 21st Century popular culture. Yet, it appears that we cannot wait to befoul ourselves with it. And the 2010 LCMS Convention provided some very good examples as to how. It was disappointing to me to witness the egalitarian manner in which worship music styles were treated. The arguments about how differing musical styles communicate different messages are well established, yet we insist on acting as if they do not, as if differing musical expressions carry no implications, for better or worse, one way or the other. At very least, the music of the pop-culture is carnal and not churchly.

My, How Times Have Changed by Pr. Thomas Messer

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I recently received a wonderful treasure from a dear parishioner, Sharyn (a.k.a. Trixie), which she came across a couple of weeks back.  It is an old copy of The Lutheran Witness, dated February 19, 1918.  I finally had some time to read through it today.  Wow!  This is not The Lutheran Witness I have come to know in our day and age.  The times, they have definitely changed.  This old copy of The Lutheran Witness is filled with theological articles and all of them are most decidedly Lutheran through and through.  There is no "fluff and puff" to this publication whatsoever.  This is deep stuff.  Theological stuff.  Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions emphasized throughout.  Quotes from Dr. Luther, other Lutheran theologians, and the church fathers.  Warnings against embracing the surrounding culture.  Warnings against following in the footsteps of the false teachers of the age (e.g. Billy Sunday).  Decidedly Lutheran.  Unashamedly Lutheran.  Unapologetically Lutheran.  Through and through!  Heck, even the cover screams Lutheran, complete with a picture of Dr. Luther along with his bold confession:  "Here I stand.  I cannot do otherwise.  God help me.  Amen."   

I read through this old copy of The Lutheran Witness and then scanned through the latest copy of The Lutheran Witness which I received recently.  Simply no comparison.  The content and focus is so decidedly different that it is a shame that they bear the same title.  I'm not trying to be mean.  I'm sure the folks who produce today's version of this publication mean well and work hard at putting out a quality publication.  And, there are often some good articles in today's version.  But, let's be honest.  Today's version is not exactly deep on theology.  The focus is more on promoting synodical projects and programs, highlighting "successful" congregations and synodical personalities, sharing testimonials and feel-good stories, and so forth.  Today's version is more like synodical propaganda than bearing witness to the Lutheran confession of the faith.  Not so with this version from 1918.  Just take a look at the contents of this 1918 version and compare them with today's version:

"Crucified" (cover story)
Wow!  What an absolutely wonderful article this is.  It takes the reader through the prophecy of the crucifixion to the place of the crucifixion and finally deals with the shame of the crucifixion, all the while emphasizing in vivid detail what our Lord, Jesus Christ, did to accomplish our salvation.  Just to give you a taste, here are a few excerpts from the article:
"And they crucified Him."  Sublime brevity!  Divine eloquence!  The most stupendous fact of all ages is recorded without the least tremor of emotion.  Truly, the Evangelist was inspired by the Spirit to restrain his pen.  "And they crucified Him!"

Yes, He was counted a transgressor that we might be counted free; for "God hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."  2 Cor. 5,21.

Naked hung He there - the Lord of heaven and earth.  He was naked that we might be clothed with the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness.  The soldiers divided His garments among themselves and cast lots - raffled - for the cloak, that it might be fulfilled as the Psalmist prophesied in the 22nd Psalm, v. 18:  "They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture."

Furthermore, Tertullian, in his Apology, states the circumstances of the crucifixion were announced by the Procurator himself in a dispatch to the Emperor Tiberius; and Justin, in his Apology to the Emperor Antonius, mentions the Acta Pilati, or public records, in which a full account may be found.


To read more, click here.

HT: Pr. Thomas Messer

Obvious question: What were they before they became theologians?


Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, Professor of Theology at Concordia University, Irvine in Irvine, Calif., and well-known as the co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program "The White Horse Inn", discusses Christ Alone with Pr. Todd Wilken.

Part 1

(mp3, 41:00, 16.4 MB, 2010-Jul-12)

Part 2

(mp3, 40:59, 16.4 MB, 2010-Jul-13)

Part 3 

(mp3, 40:30, 16.2 MB, 2010-Jul-14)

Part 4

(mp3, 26:32, 10.6 MB, 2010-Jul-15)

Part 5

(mp3, 54:11, 21.7 MB, 2010-Jul-16)

Dr. Carl FickenscherConcordia Theological Seminary, Ft Wayne, Ind., discusses the Law and Gospel with Pr. Todd Wilken

Part 1

(mp3, 40:59, 16.4 MB, 2010-Jul-06)

Part 2

(mp3, 54:29, 21.8 MB, 2010-Jul-20)

Part 3

(mp3, 40:29, 16.2 MB, 2010-Jul-21)

Part 4

(mp3, 54:29, 21.8 MB, 2010-Jul-27)

See also Dr. Fickenscher's article: "Are Today's Ears Hearing the Timeless Message?: Preaching and Hearing Law and Gospel in Today's Culture"

Guests talk about five past presidents of the LCMS with Pr. Todd Wilken (All 5 parts: mp3, 1h31m04s, 36.5 MB, 2010-Jul-05; transcript, 193 KB, 20 pages)

  1. Dr. Martin Noland talks about Dr. C.F.W. Walther (mp3, 18:31, 16.96 MB)

  2. Dr. Larry Rast talks about Dr. Friedrich Wyneken (mp3, 19:52, 18.2 MB)

  3. Dr. John Wohlrabe talks about Dr. Friedrich Pfotenhauer (mp3, 14:09, 12.97 MB)

  4. Dr. Paul Zimmerman talks about Dr. J.A.O. Preus, Jr. (mp3, 18:12, 16.67 MB)

  5. Dr. Ken Schurb talks about Dr. A.L. Barry (mp3, 20:18, 18.6 MB)

Presidents of the LCMS


Prof. David Berger, Associate Professor, Director of Library Services at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., discusses The Ablaze!® Program in the LCMS with Pr. Todd Wilken (mp3, 54:29, 21.8 MB, 2010-Jun-14)

See his article, "Ablaze!®, the Movement"

See also Mr Scott Diekmann's series of articles on the related program, Transforming Congregations Network: A Non-Native Invasion (pdf, 36 pages, 421 KB)


Dr. T. David Gordon, Professor of Religion at Grove City College, Grove City, Pa., and author of the book, Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal, discusses Pop Culture and Church Music with Pr. Todd Wilken (mp3, 35:25, 14.2 MB, 2010-Jun-29)