Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

"Style Doesn't Matter" or "In the Spirit of Martin Luther..."

By Larry Beane

One of the frequent assertions of the apologists of non-traditional worship is that "style doesn't matter."  Or put another way, if the words speak the truth, the tune used is completely irrelevant.  There is also a common argument that many praise songs that are not accepted by traditionalists are actually paraphrases of the very texts traditionalists love.

It is very true that Luther used paraphrases of scripture and the liturgy.  Our congregation will be using LSB DS5 (a version of the German Mass, which in LSB ironically has no German, but includes Greek) this Sunday for Reformation Day.  It is an ordo in which the ordinaries of the medieval Latin Mass were translated by Martin Luther into paraphrased German (and centuries later, into English), and set to sung melodies rather than the old Gregorian chants.

And so, according to the argument, this proves that style is of no consequence, as the order is intact (or at least paraphrased).  Any argument to the contrary is thus only based on subjective opinion, and may even be unloving, if not elevating man-made traditions to the level of the Gospel.  Or as Augsburg Confession 15 puts it, confessing that "such things are necessary for salvation."  So why not just embrace it, especially for the sake of unity. It's an adiaphoron anyway, right?

I have to admit that the argument has great appeal.  It sounds so logical.  And upon first blush, it is a viable path to unity for our fractured synod's "walk together."  So there is the temptation to entertain the thought of giving the masses Masses that are entertaining.  After all, by means of Word and Sacrament, butts in the pews means souls in heaven.  If I snap my fingers every five seconds and someone goes to hell, I do have to do something other than stop snapping my fingers and singing old hymns to save both butts here in time, and souls there in eternity.  Hence, let's do the Divine Service to the music of the Beatles!

Ask and you shall receive!  The Beatles Mass was written and is celebrated by a person using the adjective "Lutheran" to boot!

The author says:
In the spirit of Martin Luther who changed the words of pub tunes for use in church, this Beatles Mass seeks to get people excited (we had at least 8 people who don't typically attend who came to sing Beatles tunes), and enable those who don't read music to participate.
Awesome sauce!  Or should I say, "I dig a pony" and "Obla di, obla da"?

But as I walk down the Penny Lane of Christian liberty to the Strawberry Fields of unity, I am suddenly menaced by a Mean Mister Mustard lurking behind the tangerine trees and marmalade skies.  I just can't accept the premise that style doesn't matter, and the whole thing comes crashing down like a Grand Illusion (Styx Service, anyone?)

You can read the entire ordo, a paraphrase of the Western Mass, sung to the tunes of (as irrelevant as that is according to some) Lennon-McCartney songs.  You can also watch the videos of the entire worship service in action in the real world (rather than in the hermetic bubble of a theoretical discussion).  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video might be worth a million.

Below is the consecration, the Verba Christi (or are they the Verba Lennoni McCarneyique?).

As much as I do enjoy the Beatles, I'm just not buying the premise that style doesn't matter.

To paraphrase Bob Seegar: "This kind of service ain't got the same class, give us that old time Western Mass."

V: Goo goo g' joob.
R: And also with you.

Note: None of the actual remaining Beatles were harmed in the making of this blogpost.

"Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass.  Actually, the Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence."
~ AC 24:1