Why The Traditionalists Are Of No Help

Since we seem to be on a worship streak, I’d like to continue it by thinking about how the Traditionalists only muddy the waters. The following excerpt is from an article a minister in my denomination wrote not too long ago. After reading it, I finally realized why I felt so enormously patronized after visiting that one time twelve years ago and never returned.

“The current focus on this kind of worship started with the incredible success of Willow Creek Community Church, a church God has used in a mighty way to reach lost people. Yet even Willow Creek leaders say, ‘Don’t just imitate us. Find out what your target group needs and aim at them.’

“Willow Creek focuses on reaching 20- to 40-year-old unchurched people who live in the suburbs of Chicago. So leaders of Willow Creek shape their worship to attract members of that demographic group.

“But not everyone fits Willow Creek’s target audience. For example, the most popular kind of music in the United States today is not Christian contemporary music; it’s country music. So why don’t we see a proliferation of country-oriented worship?

“Close to the church I serve in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., lives a large enclave of what you might call ‘countercultural’ folks. Suspecting that their neighbors would not resonate with contemporary-style worship, my friends at First United Methodist Church started a service of ‘jazz vespers’ to reach them.

“The example I know best is the worship I experience every Sunday. It begins with God’s people coming into the presence of God, symbolized by a processional led by a cross and Bible, followed by the robed choir and ministers, as the mighty organ accompanies the full-voiced singing of one of the great hymns of faith. The liturgy that follows is an extended dialogue between God and the worshipers, carefully thought out, united around the theme of the sermon, and printed in the bulletin so everyone can participate.

Stan Mast’s “In Praise of Traditional Worship” represents what I find so frustrating about today’s broad regard for Reformed worship. Both sides of the so-called “worship wars” just never seem to capture the point. A defense of a form of worship that merely meets the felt needs of high culture is as misguided as the contemporary expressions to which it seeks to offer alternative.

As a former Evangelical who has sought true worship in the confessionally Reformed tradition over against the assumptions and dogma’s of contemporary worship with which Evangelicalism seems so smitten, a perspective like Mast’s offers no hope; it rests on the same human-centered assumptions. His references to Willow Creek and how contemporary worship is equally sound reveal that this is merely the flip side of a skewed coin. What is needed today is reform and recovery of confessionally Protestant worship in the liturgical tradition. Do we want true diversity in our midst? Then level the playing field by making worship God-centered where diverse social, cultural and political views can exist in submission to true worship instead of divvying us all up by forms of worship designed to divide by these same cultural value systems.

Of course, worship is simply the outward expression (and perpetuation) of a theology. What the wanting categories of “contemporary/traditional” worship tell us is that at the heart of all the rankle of worship wars is a theology that is quite at odds with a historically and confessionally Reformed theology. Now, the spirit of war has waned and hands are joined because all have agreed on one crucial thing: worship is about us. Some might think they have transcended the rankle by validating these categories and asking innocuous questions of worship like “is it godly worship; are the words biblical; is God glorified; is it done is spirit and in truth?” What do any of those questions really mean other than to show that they merely lean hard on sentimentality and not theology?

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13 Responses to Why The Traditionalists Are Of No Help

  1. Rick says:

    Good word, Zrim.

  2. Whiskeyjack says:

    Right on Zrim.

    What’s interesting is that in the Evangelical churches that I was raised in, not only was the worship style a reflection of the congregates musical taste, it also seemed apparent, at least to me, that the “worship” music was deemed to communicate some sort of spiritual energy, like a quasi-sacrament.

  3. Zrim says:

    Bada-bing, Jack.

    Godfrey once called “music the new sacrament.”

    I sit on our worship committee. Why is it that 92% of all discussions about worship revolve around music? Why is the worship committee virtually run by the music director? What is this relative obession with music? As important as it is, worship seems to involve a whole lot more than music.

    My church is also of the “traditionalist” persuasion. It is commonplace to speak of the “contemporaries” as being “caught up in performance.” I guess you are guilty of performance/consumption if you play geetars/drums and sway to the beat but not when you soak up Bach with a slight smile on your face and hands in your lap. Is there really any difference between “Listen for the bass ‘singing bowl’ technique used at the beginning of this piece,” and “listen for the gnarly guitar riff in the middle of this praise chorus!” Making something high-brow doesn’t make it any less repugnant unless you’re high-brow, I guess.

    There’s lending dignity and solemnity to the worship of God, then there’s worshipping dignity and solemnity.

  4. Rick says:

    One might argue that the Elders should be the only members of the worship committee.

    But then again, I would love to be part of our worship committee.

    We have separate music committee and the chair of that committee is the least desired chair in the whole church. My dad was music committee chair and it nearly gave him a heart-attack.

  5. Whiskeyjack says:


    “There’s lending dignity and solemnity to the worship of God, then there’s worshipping dignity and solemnity.”


  6. Bruce S. says:

    Again Horton: High Brow – Low Brow – No Brow. The church’s music is located in the No Brow dept.

  7. Zrim says:


    I can live right well with that…

    …even if the categories of “Contemporary- Traditional – Historical. The church’s music is located in the Historical dept.” might make it all sound better, somehow.

    I guess it’s all a matter of linguistic taste and preference, eh?

  8. RubeRad says:

    The church’s music is located in the No Brow dept.

    Since I often play music at church, I guess I’ll have to be shaving my eyebrows then. I wonder if I can get the session to enforce eyebrow-shaving for the whole congregation? Or maybe just those who serve in music ministry?

  9. Bruce S. says:

    Since I often play music at church

    I thought you gave that up for lent, if not permanently. You remember – no art for art’s sake.

  10. RubeRad says:

    No, I continue to support the musical worship of the church with art for Word’s sake. That includes the occasional prelude, offertory, or hymn accompaniment — and always with the rule that the congregation is made aware of the accompanying Words. (And actually, prelude doesn’t count, bcos it’s outside the call-to-worship/benediction bookends, so technically speaking, it’s outside the bounds of RPW)

  11. Echo_ohcE says:

    So Rube, would you say you’re somewhere between a music minister and a layman? Sort of semi-ordained?

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Don’t hate me.

  12. Steven Carr says:

    Sigh…I’m so glad I go to a non-instrumental psalm singing church

  13. Echo_ohcE says:

    That does solve a lot of problems, doesn’t it?

    But when do you confess out loud anything about “Jesus” by name?

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