About 4 years ago I came to the conclusion that the whole “contemporary” vs “traditional” discussion when it comes to worship was missing the point. In fact, it makes it seem like the issue is just about music styles. Problem is these descriptions are quite deceptive. Simply put all worship is contemporary, it is happening now; and all worship is traditional as all worship has roots in some tradition (even if it is a U2 concert).
The question is what is the tradition? And once you answer that then it becomes,”is this tradition appropriate?” That’s not an easy answer, but to put it simply, it boils down to this distinction: who is the primary “doer” in the worship service? If the primary focus is on you doing the doing… (“Here I am to worship”, “Lord I life your name on high”) then it is not appropriate worship as it stems from the tradition of pagan worship. We do something for “god” in hopes that he in turn blesses us. It’s been this way since Cain and again at Mt. Sinai with the golden calf. If, however, the primary focus is on God doing the doing, then it is appropriate.
Our Lord told his disciples on the night that He was betrayed that He had not come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). This is true of what happens in the Divine Service (our German forefathers had it right when they called the church service, Gottesdienst – God’s Service), God is present, begins the service in His name (the name that He placed on us in baptism), Christ absolves our sins, Christ comes to us in His Word, He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink, and blesses us as we depart to our weekly vocations. This has big implications.
This means that the starting point with worship is not the person in the pew… but with God. How has He given to serve us? And as we confess that we believe in one, holy Christian (Catholic) and Apostolic Church, how has He consistently served the Church? This is important. Now, certainly, sermons should be able to be understood by those who hear them and there are things that should take into consideration those in the congregation (ie what translation are you using for your readings, is the congregation going to be burdened by having 3 new hymns thrown at them this week), but by and large the more we strive to be relevant the more we shift from the primary focus of God doing the doing to us doing the doing.