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Articles: Theology
Traditional vs. Contemporary Worship by Pastor Mason Okubo

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The Traditional Worship Service is a legacy we inherited from our Christian forefathers. Because it is an inheritance, it is an expression of the communion we have with Christians all over space and time, who have used this service. It seeks to call people to experience the divineness of God. People like this service because it is a point of stability in their otherwise chaotic life.

In the last century in America, the church has been faced with an increasingly diverse group of peoples and cultures. Over the last 40 years there have been movements to be more effective in reaching the lost by adapting the liturgy to the people. Subsequently, a range of different contemporary services arose.

In Contemporary Worship Services music and liturgy tend to focus on speaking the Gospel message in the heart language of the listeners. Themes focus not just on learning about scripture, but on its application to our lives. It brings the Gospel to the hearer and seeks a response. It seeks to make the environment comfortable so that the hearer is more willing to respond to God. People like it because they feel the love and presence of Christ.

However, each has its shortcomings. Many criticize the traditional services as dead and boring, as simply "doing the rites for the sake of doing it." The people of this generation find it hard to "connect" with the traditional hymns. The vocabulary can be archaic and the musical "language" does not speak to people of this generation. Contemporary worship music seeks to speak the musical language of this generation so they can connect them to the Gospel.

However, this is precisely why people criticize contemporary services. Because of their focus on personal experience, contemporary services tend to concentrate on "what Christ is doing in their lives", rather than on "what Christ has already done." Not only that, but in its endeavor to speak the heart language of the people, the focus of American worship has changed from "the sacraments" to "preaching." Because of the adaptability of preaching, it becomes the primary source by which the congregation is fed. In the traditional liturgy, the focus was on the sacraments. It promised forgiveness independent whether or not the preacher was good or even whether congregant felt like he or she was being fed. As a result, this shift has put a great burden on the preacher to be an effective communicator.

At the Pastors' Fall Conference 2007 an interesting point was made. Many worry that if the worship service is not understood by visitors, it may make them uncomfortable and they will not return. To be sure, it is our job to make sure that man-made things do not interfere with a person's encounter with God. Yet in our worship service we present the mysteries of God. Therefore there will always be parts which are understood only by the mature Christian. In fact, with regard to a non-Christian, the Gospel message should be offensive. Think about it... we say salvation comes through Christ alone. We say we are the sole posessors of God's saving word, a word which condemns ALL other religions of this world.

This might seem like a lot of fuss over nothing. But it is important to remember why we spend so much time discussing it. In our worship services we worship God. We deal with extremely important issues: life, death, eternal life, spiritual death, Heaven and Hell. It is worthy of extensive examination and discussion.

The issue of contemporary vs. traditional is still open. I think it is important not to reject either one because we are simply unfamiliar with it. I believe that the issue is not "Which is best?" but rather "How can you do each one well?" Amongst Lutherans, both worship types seek to connect people to Christ. Both consider "Christ's death on the cross," "law and gospel" and "justification by faith alone" as pivotal to faith. Both seek to connect people with Christ.

May God grant us grace as we seek to worship Him with faith and in truth.