Home > Uncategorized > The High Church Danger to the Lutheran Church – A Fraternal Warning

The High Church Danger to the Lutheran Church – A Fraternal Warning

March 6th, 2012
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Not the solution to the low church danger.

I have read, in many places, and at various times, that there are those who wish to imply, suggest, or even say outright, that there is in fact a certain form of the Lutheran liturgy to which all should aspire in order for the Lutheran liturgy to be conducted most appropriately and most properly. Such claims, while well intentioned, are wrong. In our age when the Lutheran Church has, in many places, sold its liturgical birthright for a porridge of non-denominational, non-sacramental, sensationalist entertainment style “worship,” it is understandable that a reaction to this will be letting the pendulum swing far in the other direction, but…we must not do this. Here are some prophetic words from Hermann Sasse against the high church danger. And a friend just wisely pointed out that we need to be very careful to distinguish between the liturgy, per se, and the ceremonial, that is, the customs and practices that accompany the liturgy. It is about the “ceremonial” where I’m noticing the most concern and false impressions being given, as per Sasse’s warning.

Even the Pope has reminded his bishops that the Masses that are secretly celebrated in prison camps, without any pomp, in utter simplicity, come very near to the Mass of the ancient church and are not inferior to a pontifical Mass. In Lutheran Germany, however, one can today hear theologians — even some who come from unliturgical Wuerttemberg — say that there is a form of the divine service that belongs to the essence of the church, even that Gregorian chant belongs essentially to the Christian liturgy. It is high time that the liturgical movement in the Lutheran church wakes up from its romantic dreams and subordinates itself to the norms to which the whole life of the church must be subject: the norma normans of Holy Scripture and the norma normata of the church’s confession. And this applies to all the Lutheran churches in the world, for the Scandinavian, in which the Anglican influence is so great, and for the American, in which the ideas of the European liturgical movement have now gained a footing. If this serious reflection does not take place, then the liturgical movement will become what it has become already for many of its adherents: the end of Lutheranism and the road to Rome.

from Hermann Sasse, “The Lutheran Understanding of the Consecration”, Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 26, July 1952, in We Confess the Church (pp117-118), Concordia, 1985.

Not a healthy replacement for the liturgy.


HT: Gnesio blog.


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  1. Peter Sovitzky
    March 6th, 2012 at 09:59 | #1

    This is purely anecdotal, but the church I attend now (and cantor at as well) is very much like the above picture. We have incense at every service and we chant (we also sing hymns and Taize pieces). It is dignified, but not a museum. There is a nice balance.
    The result is a parish which truly values the liturgy and the Eucharist (we even have Daily Eucharist!) and it is a church where I truly feel loved and part of a greater whole.
    The previous church I attended (and sang at) had a “traditional” service but it wasn’t Traditionally Lutheran, but simply the tradition of that church (which was quite low church). The result was people coming up for communion (in drive by format without a rail) and people would at times snatch the host and just kind of hurry to “get it over and done with.” The liturgy of the Eucharist was very, very bare bones (Lord’s Prayer and Words of Institution…since when is THAT traditional?).

    The idea that we need to stay away from Praise band stuff and also avoid the other end of the pendulum (high church with incense, chasubles, etc.) or we might become ROMAN is hard for me to accept. The reverence and liturgical practice at my church is, I think, the most in line with the BOC!


    Peter Sovitzky

  2. SorenK
    March 6th, 2012 at 11:23 | #2

    The late Gerhard Forde had a point on this also: in some churches it’s only in the liturgy where the people hear the Word of God. Hope LCMS doesn’t have this problem…but the word of moderation is well spoken…

  3. John Hendler
    March 6th, 2012 at 12:08 | #3

    I respectfully disagree with the characterization of ‘high church’ worship. Growing up, I attended a very traditional (and wonderful) LCMS church with a great pastor and my beloved red hymnal. When I came to my current church, it was quite a surprise to see (and smell) the incense and see pastors wearing what I always thought was ‘Roman’ dress. With patient catechesis by our pastors as well as reading the Confessions and Treasury of Daily Prayer (and thus becoming more familiar with Biblical practice than I ever was before) I have come to accept this as part of the worship of the ‘holy catholic and apostolic church’ and not as ‘high church’. It is wonderful and good. I will say I agree that such worship should NOT be done in reaction to current (and sad) trends in our church body, but because of a genuine desire to worship in the spirit of that ‘holy catholic and apostolic church’ of which we are all a part.

    • March 6th, 2012 at 12:12 | #4

      Those are fine practices, the problem is when those practices are held before others as the “standard” or “best” or “most appropriate” or “most Lutheran” in such a fashion that those choosing to use such practices posture themselves over against those who do not as being advocates for the most appropriate forms. That is the high church danger. Forms instituted by men may never be elevated to that of doctrine. A church that observes a less ceremonial form of the Mass is no less “in the spirit of the holy catholic and apostolic” church than one that chooses to go with the full “smells and bells.”

  4. Noreen
    March 6th, 2012 at 12:39 | #5

    @SorenK – This is the way I grew up. It was the liturgy that taught me the faith. My church was quite “moderate”, and actually heretical in many ways, but in those years worship was straight liturgy out of the hymnal. That was the place I heard the Word of God and my faith was nurtured.

    Unfortunately they have abandoned the hymnal now and look like all the other evangelical big-box churches, so if I was growing up in that church now, I think I would be quite clueless. Sad. It has given me the firm resolve that the historic liturgy is the best and most faithful vehicle and we abandon it to our peril.

    • March 6th, 2012 at 12:45 | #6

      I’m entirely in favor of using the liturgy, this post speaks to those who advocate for a certain precise form of the liturgy, which would be described as a “smells/bells/high church” form…imitating a Medieval Mass form, frankly. Insisting that there is in fact a certain form of the Lutheran liturgy that is ‘best practice’ is where we run into problems. We do not counteract the “no liturgy” crowd by pushing the pendulum in the opposite direction.

  5. Denton White
    March 6th, 2012 at 12:54 | #7

    Thanks for your insights. As a “johnny-come-lately” to the Lutheran Church (MS) and to liturgy I deeply appreciate the liturgy. For me the point of the liturgy is not itself but to proclaim Jesus Christ. It is, at least to my understanding, one large sermon that contains Law (confession) and Gospel (absolution) of which the elements are important because of their relation to the greater whole. Like the sermon itself, it contains Law, but does end with it. It ends with pure Gospel – the Lord’s Supper. I have also found that among the folks to whom I minister, the liturgy becomes beautiful when they actually understand what is meant by the various aspects. Sometimes we can forget why we do what we do and it never hurts to explain.

  6. March 6th, 2012 at 12:59 | #8

    CFW Walther seems to disagree with you.
    “We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.”
    ~Der Lutheraner, 1853
    It seems that regardless of feelings or perception, our founder believed there was in fact a “Lutheran” form of worship which distinguishes us from other churches.

    At best your “fraternal warning” is confusing because it lacks clarity.
    The solution to the problems (all of them) in worship is education… the Liturgy is a teaching tool which strengthens our hearing and confession of Christ. Even Sasse seems to relate that the danger of High Liturgy isn’t “high liturgy” but making an idol out of it. The same way the enthusiasts place feelings and emotion above all else in worship.
    On this one, you don’t need kevlar, I think you need to flesh out your statement more in order to keep from offending people unnecessarily.

    • March 6th, 2012 at 13:09 | #9

      Brandt, how did you get the impression from my post that I’m opposed to the Lutheran liturgy?

      It is interesting that when I write on this, people automatically assume I am speaking against the liturgy. Odd that. Note carefully the point Sasse is making, and I am making. Their are among us those who would like for us to believe there is one certain precise form of doing the liturgy, the Lutheran Divine Service, that is the ‘best practice’ or the ‘most Lutheran’ … I generally hear this from those who are trying to port into the Lutheran Divine Service practices that are borrowed less from actual widespread Lutheran practice, and more from an effort to resurrect Medieval/Tridentine mass forms. I’ve read painful/pained explanations of how a pastor should hold his fingers when consecrating the elements…yes, that is happening. And it this romanticizing for some “golden age” of liturgy that is the danger when we overreact to the low church silliness among us.

  7. Matt Jamison
    March 6th, 2012 at 13:28 | #10

    Sasse’s point above is that serious reflection should take place, lest the liturgical movement become a road back to Rome. I don’t think the liturgical movement that he was writing about in 1952 is the same phenomenon that you are addressing in current LCMS circles. Has there been a rash of LCMS liturgy-heads departing for Rome? If so, I haven’t seen it. I can think of a few examples, but no more, probably, than those once in the LCMS who have gone “non-demoninational” or departed the faith entirely.

    I subscribe to and read Gottesdienst, the house journal of the group that I think you are complaining about. What I am seeing there is a huge emphasis on strong preaching, and a thesis that all that is good in worship flows from the pulpit. The emphasis on “liturgical correctness” is less than I assumed it was. I think their discussions fall under the category of “serious reflection” as do yours. Your point is well taken that we will not and should not be clones of one another in worship.

  8. Rev. Dr. Chris N. Hinkle
    March 6th, 2012 at 14:40 | #11

    I suspect Brandt lacks the either the German or the opportnity to see the agenda that Walther used. While Loehe’s agenda provided an service very similar to the old page 15, Walther used a derivative of the Saxon agenda. One old German speaking pastor described the old German service used by most of the Synod as “hardly any liturgy at all.” My take on Walthers comment was that he is referring principaly to the absense of an altar which is associated both with the sacrament that was deprecated by the Reformed doctrine and the Altar of Incense which the Old and New Testaments associate with prayer.

  9. Noreen
    March 6th, 2012 at 14:55 | #12

    @Paul – Yes, I should have been clearer. I understand your point completely. I was not reacting against you. I was just adding a personal note to the comment by SorenK. You have a very valid point, which I am learning more and more about as time goes on. I heard a very good presentation by Kuhlmann recently that touched on your point. I have also read a bit of Sasse in the past year which has helped me to understand the potential problems. I think Matt Jamison has a very good post with which I agree.

    Thank you for bringing up the topic. When are you coming to Houston? We need to have a beer together!

  10. Paul Beisel
    March 6th, 2012 at 14:56 | #13

    I think it is good to have people in the church at times cautioning against excesses. This is what Paul McCain is doing here. We all know how quickly the drunken man can fall off the horse into the other ditch. I commend him for having the courage to speak a word of caution. There is nothing wrong with such words.

    I am sure that the point of Rev. McCain’s post is not to criticize the use of ceremonies, since our Confessions are quite clear that those may be retained which are useful for teaching. What is dangerous is when these are held up as elements *without which* a Divine Service is not as beautiful or valid. I always have appreciated the attitude towards ceremony that is expressed by A.C. Piepkorn in “Conduct of the Service” : “There is really only one basic rule of good form: ‘Be courteous!’ And similarly there is really only one basic rule of altar decorum: ‘Be reverent!’ Every other rule is simply a practical amplification of this basic charge…If certain individual suggestions seem to reflect a ‘liturgical’ bias, it is because we are not persuaded that every parish and every parson must scale its or his ceremonial down to the lowest level among us. Those less ‘liturgically’ inclined may depart from the norm suggested as widely as their vagrant fancy and their Christian liberty dictate, and they will unquestionably do so. These things are not matters of faith, and their doing or omission is neither mortal nor venial sin.”

    I would also point out that Rev. Charles McClean in his forward to his book “The Conduct of the Services,” notes at the outset this great Confessional Principle: “We believe, teach, and confess that no church should condemn another because it has fewer or more external ceremonies not commanded by God, as long as there is mutual agreement in doctrine and in all its articles as well as in the right use of the holy sacraments, according to the familiar axiom, ‘Disagreement in fasting does not destroy agreement in faith’” (Formula of Concord, Ep., X7).

    If everyone would strive to follow these principles, then we should not have any problems. As far as I know, these are the principles that the Gottesdienst men seek to put into practice. I see nothing wrong with seeking to emulate other churches in their ceremonial practices, as long as one understands that “these are not matters of faith,” as Piepkorn says.

    Thanks Rev. McCain, for reminding us of the need to exercise caution. All the best!

    Rev. Paul L. Beisel

  11. JDB
    March 6th, 2012 at 15:23 | #14

    I appreciate this article. I think we need to get to the point where we understand the parameters of conducting the Lutheran Liturgy. What constitutes the liturgy as Lutheran and what do we really need? From there we can begin to make decisions on what are the best ways to convey this in the service, noting the context in which we are having the service (and yes, context does matter to an extent). We can become too strict with regard to liturgical tradition and we can become too loose. Will the liturgy be identical in every place? No, and I don’t mind if people have changed a few things. I can appreciate sound, Lutheran creativity. But there are parameters, and we need to think about what we are doing before we do it.

  12. March 6th, 2012 at 15:36 | #15

    Does your worship prepare you for death?

    I had the opportunity to hear an excellent presentation this afternoon from a neighboring pastor (Rev. Shawn Kumm of Zion, Laramie) on Lutheran worship. One of the best points that he made was related to how worship is meant to prepare the Christian for death.

    I have often found that all theology finds its best expression on the deathbed. It is there that Lutheran teachings become so distinct from others that one can really see the pure Gospel versus impure ones. What struck me about this worship leading to death thing is the difference between liturgical and “contemporary” services.



  13. john pawlitz
    March 6th, 2012 at 15:58 | #16

    Great perspective on this issue. I think this happens when worship is more about an aesthetic experience than faith in God’s word.

  14. March 6th, 2012 at 16:11 | #17
    • March 6th, 2012 at 16:21 | #18

      I had not seen/heard that one…absolutely hilarious. I’ve been told the color is not “pink” but “rose.”

  15. March 6th, 2012 at 16:27 | #19

    I learned the color is actually “roseate” and in my dictionary that’s a synonym for pink:)

  16. Noreen
    March 6th, 2012 at 17:15 | #21

    There is a lot of variety within our hymnals and hymnody. There are various settings, different hymn choices, whether one uses incense or not, whether there is a procession of the cross or not, whether one bows, or genuflects, whether one crosses themselves or not, the use of appropriate and varied instruments as determined by the Cantor, all sorts of room for differences without going CoWo. I have been richly blessed by the differences I have experienced among faithful, liturgical, confessional congregations. I wish more people could have that exposure, then maybe they would really see what’s possible within a realm of “uniformity” in “diversity” while remaining faithful to our Confession.

  17. Bill Cork
    March 6th, 2012 at 17:26 | #22

    The photo is Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church in Houston, an “Anglican Use” parish in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, now the mother church for the new Anglican Use Ordinariate of Roman Catholics who were formerly members of the Anglican communion.

  18. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    March 6th, 2012 at 22:21 | #24

    @J MARK HUNTEMANN I don’t know about preparing me for my death but I’ve attented a few services that seemed to be preparing the church for its.

  19. March 7th, 2012 at 14:29 | #25

    From the responses that I’ve read, time and time again, I see the clear confusion. There is a confounding of “Liturgy” with “Ceremony” or “Tradition”! There is a HUGE difference! The point that Rev. McCain is making is that ceremony and tradition do not define the liturgy – it’s the other way around! And I find this a bit sad, as people will use Liturgy as an excuse to have their ceremony. The ceremony becomes so important to them that, in the end, the liturgy is lost and all that’s left are the works of man. Instead we must subject ourselves to the liturgy – to its purpose – to the goal God has in mind when uttering His Word and giving us His body and blood and His Holy Spirit. The goal, I believe, is not that we become more ceremonial, but that we become lovers of all God’s good gifts: music old AND new, ancient ceremony AND modern ceremony, sermons that are new and sermons that are old, sanctuaries that follow an ancient tradition and sanctuaries which stem from the gifts of craftsmanship and vision that God affords today.

    The end result is discipleship. Discipleship is what Jesus commands us to do – to “make disciples”. MUCH more time is spent, and many more words are spoken of our Lord teaching us HOW to “make disciples”, and very few words on how to most reverently conduct the ceremonies. We need to re-learn this, so that our ceremonies and our tradition serve to BEST teach us and equip us with the needed grace, forgiveness, encouragement, and edification to go out and serve others.

    There is no rule, not even in the BoC and certainly not in Scripture, that says our ceremonies must be “high church”. I’ve looked – I’ve searched – many years I’ve been flustered by these discussions. The bottom line is: if we’re more concerned about ceremony and traditions (of men) than we are about discipleship and “feeding the flock”, then we might as well go all the way and dress like the priests of Israel – because they did the same things and Jesus was not too happy about it. We need to stop drinking this milk of comfortability and “this is what I grew up with” and move on to more solid food of “how can I best serve God and my neighbor?” THEN we will understand liturgy, and we will understand tradition and ceremony in its proper context. AND, we’ll become a more unified and confessional church in the process!

  20. March 7th, 2012 at 14:37 | #26

    @Vicar Dan
    Also I failed to mention this: There is not just “traditional” and “contemporary”. Both of these titles are false titles. Lutherans LOVE definitions and structure and absolutes – but with regard to worship practice there is a LOT of gray area! The choice isn’t “high church” or “non-denominational”! Summing everything up to those two choice is reactionary and, if you don’t mind me saying, EVIL!

    You can be traditional but still use instruments OTHER THAN a pipe organ or some other high-church favored instrument. You can be ceremonial but still use Collects that are not strictly from the LSB agenda! You can even be liturgical (using the term as it should be used) but have absolutely no “high church” emphasis at all! If we are so daft as to say that the Body and Blood of Jesus only does what it says it will do if it falls within the context of our ceremony or tradition – than we have left confessional lutheranism. If we say that the Word of God and the grace of God are only efficacious if mixed with incense and genuflects, than we have abandoned the Christian faith; we have become pagan, offering our many repetitive words to God in hopes that he will see us and smile.

  21. March 7th, 2012 at 16:36 | #27

    Sasse would probably have had a fit at seeing an African Lutheran Bishop in miter and chasuble preach at Pres. Harrison’s installation. Sasse’s words, while cautionary for the time, reflect a vastly different world and time for most Lutherans. We have the Eucharist more frequently, you see Eucharistic vestments commonly, Pastors commonly chant, kneelers are very common, crucifixes very common, etc…

    “Forms instituted by men may never be elevated to that of doctrine.” It seems that this caution against “high” church is seldom met with a counter to those who flaunt not wearing vestments or using the liturgy or bowing, etc….

    Frankly Paul, the numbers of Lutherans heading to Rome is barely a trickle and yet the numbers of LCMS congregations sliding into evangelicalism is a flowing stream. For every Pastor defecting to Rome, there are tens and tens of Pastors leading their Lutheran congregations away from the liturgy (and therefore the means of grace which is at the heart and core of the liturgy).

    I am not sure that the Lutheran Confessions ever speak of being too “high” church but they certainly speak to those who refuse the traditions and the church usages the Confessions commend as commensurate with Lutheran doctrine.

    The labels are false — it is not traditional and contemporary but true and false worship. Where the Word and Table of the Lord are not front and center and the means of grace not the heart and core of what happens on Sunday morning, it does not matter what you call it, just don’t call it Lutheran.

    • March 7th, 2012 at 16:47 | #28

      Now, Larry, Sasse most certainly would not have had a fit. He was well aware of all forms of Lutheran ceremonial and practices, better informed, I might say, that most of us who “pontificate” on the subject, er, so to speak. As for the “counter” perhaps you didn’t see the photo at the bottom of the post? I really don’t think quantifying error is the way to go here, Larry. Congregations imitating the Evangelicals does little to justify the deliberate imitation of practices and customs drawn *not* from Lutheran sources but from Medieval Tridentine Mass forms and practices.

  22. March 7th, 2012 at 18:32 | #29

    Paul, I guess we hang around different places because I have never seen medieval Tridentine mass forms or practices among Missourians… I have seen some things that undoubtedly Luther and his contemporaries well knew but have disappeared from most Lutheran ceremonial today but never seen Roman practices that were not also consistent with Lutheran history and practice. Even if they are there, how many are doing them and how many places foster such? My point is simply that the greater danger among us are not Lutherans pining away from medieval Rome but Lutherans who eat Saddleback and Willow Creek as the breakfast of champions and whose Sunday morning looks nothing like that spoken of in the Lutheran Confessions…

    • March 7th, 2012 at 18:37 | #30

      We should not excuse error in one direction, by pointing to error in the other direction, and an insistence on ceremonies as “best practice” and trying to suggest that a certain kind or amount of ceremony is the “more Lutheran” is not in keeping with Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions. And therefore Sasse’s warning is well founded.

  23. March 7th, 2012 at 18:37 | #31

    @ptmccain Amen. As an Anglican would say, ‘It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.’ To raise to the stature of law something not of divine ordination shown in Scripture, whether high-church ceremony or revivalist accretions, is to exchange the ways of God for the inventions of man.

  24. auldcelt
    March 7th, 2012 at 20:29 | #32

    One thing that the “high church” brings with it is A SENSE OF THE SACRED; ; the “low church” does not for the most part. The “low church” is far too busy trying not to look like the Roman Catholic Church. Experience how difficult it is for a “low church” to offer weekly communion! God help us!

    • March 7th, 2012 at 20:33 | #33

      And that’s a pretty good example of the self-righteous, judgmentalism that is precisely part of the problem the post is about. And, I would note the person posting the comment does not even have the decency or integrity to use his real name when making such pronouncements. Typical.

  25. Rev. Paul L. Beisel
    March 7th, 2012 at 20:59 | #34

    So, just out of curiosity, what is the “ideal Lutheran practice”? St. Paul’s in Fort Wayne? “Mid-church”? I was conversing with a friend today and we agreed that if one is going to say that we should not hold up a highly ceremonial church (like one would have seen in Post-Reformation Germany, for instance) as the “best” or the Lutheran “standard,” then what is the best? Aren’t we falling a bit in the direction of being critical of churches that have more ceremonies than others? I realize that you (Rev. McCain) are speaking of the opposite danger–that of higher ceremonial churches frowning on those that have less (though none of those that I associate with do so to me, so far as I know). But, I will go back to Piepkorn’s statement: We are not persuaded that every parson and every parish must reduce his and its ceremonial to the lowest common denominator.

    I think that there is a lot of ignorance about this even amongst confessional pastors. I was ignorant of it until I read Lang’s “Ceremony and Celebration” and Piepkorn’s “Conduct of the Service.” They provided for me the Confessional attitude towards ceremonial, and I hold to it to this day. One thing that Lang makes very clear is that liturgy is not simply the words or simply the ceremony. Liturgy is the actual carrying out of the service. The words of the Service are the “Rite” and everything else, including the music, is “ceremonial.” Again, while I do appreciate the caution of looking down on churches that do not have as much ceremony, or of repristinating just for the sake of repristinating, I do not hear any of my colleagues who serve churches with more ceremonial frowning on me because I do not genuflect. Nor do I frown on them for doing so.

    • March 7th, 2012 at 21:53 | #35

      There is no “ideal,” for liturgical ceremony is not “the ideal” — liturgy is servant, not master, not hobby, not passion, hobby, obsession, distraction or fascination, it is merely a vehicle for the means of grace. Getting hung up over what “ideal” ceremony surrounding the liturgy is, truly, to mistake style with substance and to confuse the two to the point that “style” overwhelms concern for substance. As Pastor Juhl said on my Facebook page, he realized he was becoming too much a “liturgian” and forgetting it is about being Christian. Piepkorn is fine, Lange is ok, they are not the “ideal.” We do well to remember and hold dear what the Confessions say the highest worship of God is. It is not the liturgy. It is faith.

  26. Rev. Paul L. Beisel
    March 7th, 2012 at 21:01 | #36

    So, what I’m saying is that everyone really just needs to read Piepkorn/McClean and Lang. They sure helped foster in me the right and Lutheran attitude towards ceremonial.

  27. Rev. Paul L. Beisel
    March 8th, 2012 at 06:46 | #37

    Let me see if I get what you are talking about–you fear that there are people who are looking at rubrics/ceremonial as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end? But you agree that rubrics are good and important. I’m in total agreement with you (and our Confessions) that the highest worship is faith. And, I know that you are not a fan of ditching the Liturgy. But I don’t see why one cannot in sanctified wisdom speak about a “better” or “best” way of doing things. I am not so sure that that contradicts the principle that faith is the highest worship. If you look at it in terms of Luther’s Freedom of the Christian, the Word of God governs the inner man, and the rubrics govern the outer man. The rubrics suggest that if you are walking from one place to another in the chancel, for instance, the “best” way to do it is to take the shortest route, rather than the longest. It’s just a matter of practicality. I think a lot of the ceremonial is like that. I have to say that having grown up in a very “low” WELS church called “Faith Lutheran Church,” I used to joke that one really had to have faith to believe anything divine was happening there. Now, granted, I was immature in my faith at that point, and now I recognize that the Word preached and the Sacraments administered was enough. It seems to me that using ceremonial to draw attention to these things, and the great gifts that they are, would only serve to encourage reverence and a sense of holy awe. I’m not disagreeing with you that there can be too much focus on rubrics, to the extent that they, and not the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments, become the “beauty” of the Service. But I do not think that one can speak, in terms of practicality, of a “better” way of doing things.

  28. March 8th, 2012 at 08:03 | #38

    @Rev. Paul L. Beisel
    You can’t, because who becomes the arbitrator of WHAT is “good”, what is “better”, and what is “best”? Do we elect a pontiff who determines for all churches just how far one should genuflect and for how long and under what circumstances? Do we have council meetings where we discuss how much incense to use and what kind or whether we should use gold or silver or wood vessels for Communion? Do we call upon the CTCR or the President of synod to decide for us the speed of which we read the Scripture or what the “proper” words are that we should use in worship? Do we hold international meetings to find agreement upon the materials used in our chausables? “Good, better, best” are not objective terms that we can simply quantify and set in stone what they mean. Besides, who cares about what “WE” want, what “WE” think – Enough of US. This is about God, and about Jesus’ bloody, messy, unorthodox, “contemporary style” death on the cross, and about proclaiming that Gospel to others. We are trying to teach people about Christ and about His love for us. If that can only be done through a certain worship setting determined by the talking heads and the reactionists in the synod, then the African church which is growing by the millions is in a LOT of trouble, as well as the growing church in China, India, Japan, and other parts of the world (that don’t use our particular worship format). That particular catfish can be skinned in different ways. It does not affect doctrine if we choose to use “In Christ Alone” as a song on Good Friday vs. “Go to Dark Gethsemane”. Yeah, if we use a song like “I have decided…” then we have a problem – that’s a doctrinal problem. But as I’ve said before there is more than black and white here; it’s not “us” against “them”, as many reactionists seem to polarize to. We are one body in Christ, lest we forget that Christ died for us – all of us – and we are all trying to accomplish the same things here. I don’t mind “high church”; I just don’t appreciate when my loving, peaceful brothers and sisters demand that I do it the way they tell me to or get out of the synod. THAT is unacceptable and unnecessary.

  29. March 8th, 2012 at 08:07 | #39

    Paul, when you say “There is no “ideal,” are you saying that there is no standard at all? How does that square with the language in the Confessions about worship, about not abolishing the Mass, about church usages (ceremonies), etc… Adiaphora never meant unimportant or without consequences. In fact some ceremonies became confessional when their practice was challenged. I get your beef with those who are higher than your comfort zone but I honestly do not get how you can say the Confessions are ceremonially neutral. It is impossible to say that the confessors did not have in mind a form (Western Mass) and the attendant ceremonies (except those that violated the Gospel). After all, it was not all that easy to distinguish early Lutheran and Roman services with the ceremonial being so much the same. I believe, Paul, the burden is not upon those who use more ceremonial to justify but those who reject them. They are not rejecting medieval Tridentine Roman practice but LUTHERAN practice as well. It seems like what you are saying could very well mean there is no practice at all that is consistent or reflection of Lutheran Confessional identity. Surely you are NOT saying that…

    • March 8th, 2012 at 09:27 | #40

      No, I’m saying that there is no “ideal” ceremonial when conducting the liturgy. As per the Sasse quote. Those who are attempting to push Medieval/Tridentine Mass forms as “the ideal” are heading the wrong way, for good reasons perhaps.

  30. Jonathan Trost
    March 8th, 2012 at 10:03 | #42

    “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity.”

    That saying was first wrongly attributed to St Augustine by Hoffman von Fallersleben in a poem he wrote in 1852 at the dedication of a new RC church building in Germany. In fact, the father of the saying was a Lutheran pastor from Augsburg, Peter Meiderlin, who conceived it in his tract, “A Prayerful Admontition to the Theologians of the Augsburg Confession” (mid 1620′s)

    Nothwithstanding the unity of faith and doctrine expressed in the BOC of 1570, we know that well into the 17th century there continued to be strong disagreements as to how they should be expressed and manifested in, among other things, the liturgy. (This is not a new issue.) Meiderlin quotes one of the ancients, Seneca: “We are ignorant of essentials because we deal in non-essentials.”

    So, shouldn’t all branches of Lutheranism again listen to Meiderlin? As long as the liturgy is in all ways expressive of unity of the faith derived from scripture, the creeds, and the confessions, i.e., “essentials”, may there not be, as Luther suggested, a lack of uniformity as to the “non-essentials”, i.e., incense or no?

  31. March 8th, 2012 at 13:44 | #43

    Paul’s post is an appropriate reminder to avoid pastoral pitfalls such as arbitrarily introducing new ceremonies. However, I have much more frequently encountered those, some laity but more often fellow clergy, who seek to impose a “low church” — sometimes bordering on “no church” — style of worship. Those are the individuals that I have found to be imperious, intolerant, and legalistic with regard to worship.

    • March 8th, 2012 at 14:36 | #44

      There’s always a “however” in life. I find rigidity and “group think” knows no ideological boundaries. If everyone were as enlightened as me and you Kevin, obviously, all would be well with the world.

  32. Chuck Foy
    March 8th, 2012 at 14:00 | #45

    McCain: Now you have my name! What the hell is so self-righteousness about my observations. I am a trained observer and I stand by my statements. As far as judgementalism is concerned, yes, I’m judgemental. I have seen the nonsense and bullshit I’ve been put through trying to get weekly communion in a “low church”. The congregations I’ve experienced are dumber than mud about anything concerning Lutheranism. Further, don’t you ever question my integrity or decency again. You hypocrite!

    Charles E. Foy

    • March 8th, 2012 at 14:32 | #46

      Chuck, now that’s how a man of integrity posts a comment, using his real name, and being willing to be held accountable. As for the substance of your remarks, I’ll let others judge its quality.

  33. reginald
    March 8th, 2012 at 19:00 | #47

    Who knew Sasse was so unpopular among confessionals? The worship wars are just another example of how hard it is to understand Christian freedom. Just like the Baptists take a fine practice like immersion and bind consciences to it, and Catholics bind consciences to fasting, and Orthodox bind consciences to particular art forms and musical styles, Lutherans do the same for rites and ceremonies. One side wants to continue on the reformed path towards more and more charismatic practices, and the other insists on repristinnating every obscure forgotten rubric from Rome or the East, that may have at one time been used by Lutherans.

    Practice is governed by dogma, and within acceptable dogma, governed by love. Love makes no demands, only sacrifices.

  34. Jonathan Trost
    March 8th, 2012 at 22:14 | #48

    @Chuck Foy

    As a “pewsitter” for some generations, I’ve long observered that an informed congregation is a happy congregation. If Lutheran congregations are “dumber than mud” about their Lutheranism, such probably results from lack of catechesis about the liturgy. Ask many “pewsitters” why the liturgy contains what it does and flows as it does and you’ll probably hear: “Because it’s ‘always’ been that way, right?” When a pastor lays something “new” on his congregation, without explanation, chances are pretty good that there’ll be at least some, if not significant resistance, because implicit in the unexplained change is the suggestion that “we must’ve been doing it wrong”. And, people don’t like that feeling.

    Moreover, without explnation, many will see it as no more than change for the sake of change, and react negatively. But, when the change is explained as returning to our Lutheran roots, with explanation of how much of American Lutheranism got away from it and why, people will be more than just open to returning to a liturgical practice which reflects the “faith of our fathers, living still”.

  35. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    March 9th, 2012 at 00:51 | #49

    This is a great post, Pastor. I’m starting to think we have latter-day Pietists on the one hand looking for their fix from non liturgical worship, and what I’ve taken to calling liturgical Pietists, which at first blush is a contradiction, but really so much of it seems all about me, what I am feeling and what I “get out of worship” no less than Pietists of the usual kind, just looking for the fix from the sources the usual kind avoids and looks elsewhere.

    But, yeah, rose is not pink. The hex triplet for rose is #FF007F. The hex triplet for pink is #FFC0CB.

  36. Jason Latham
    March 9th, 2012 at 10:29 | #50

    As a fellow “pew sitter” I must agree with some of the comments above (sans the foul language). Baby-boomers make up 90% of the congregation where I attend and many have never read the BOC past Luther’s Small Catechism and that was when they were 12yo (according to their own statements). My wife witnessed people “dunking” the host in the wine at an LWML convention some years back. There is no place for the sacred in many modern Lutheran churches. Simple things such as making the sign of the cross, genuflecting, and keeping silence for people to pray at the beginning of the service is frowned upon as “too Catholic”. Instead we have a book table with books by Beth Moore or Max Lucado and everyone raves about these. There was even pressure from some within our church to change it to a more “contemporary style”, including tearing down the building and reconstructing it along contempo-entertainment guidelines. The only thing keeping our church “Lutheran” is the historic Lutheran liturgy and our beloved pastor who fights to keep it there and educate the laity.

    With all due respect, I think this warning is without merit. I see the church moving too far and too fast in the other direction. We can worry about that when we get everyone on the same confessional and liturgical page. As for now we have to stamp out the modern non-denom evangelical hold on Holy mother Church (That’s right, Holy Mother Church, I said it!).

  37. March 9th, 2012 at 17:00 | #51

    I appreciate the “high church” liturgical worship at Zion Evangelical in Detroit, Mi. The Divine Service is celebrated as closely to Luther’s Mass as possible. Yes, we are a “smells and bells” congregation, with kneelers that are permanently down. Some comments seem to place the use of incense within the Dark Age European Roman Catholic practice. We all know that incense, processions, bowing, prostrations, chanting are all Biblical practices from the O.T. subsumed into the life of the Church. Having moved to Lansing and seeing three (3) local LCMS Sunday worship services all I can say is they all lacked much “unity” in the conduct of the services. As for me and my house give us that “old time” Old Lutheran religion please (and keep the praise band in the garage where it belongs).

    • March 9th, 2012 at 20:07 | #52

      Actually, Bob, one should look very carefully at the liturgy being used to see if there are concerns with it as described by the German pastor.

  38. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    March 10th, 2012 at 10:37 | #53

    @Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    Terry, very often in our beloved Synod what appear to be polar opposites are two sides to the same coin. Elitism and authoritarianism contend again and again. One side does what it does because they are right, and the other because their sources are right. At the root of it all (as in pietism) is pride. This is not an argument in favor of being a ‘flaming moderate,’ but to consider one’s motives for what it is we want. Is it the desire to be doctrinally pure? Or is it the smug satisfaction you are more churchly than others? Is it the desire to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Or is it the pride of keeping up with the latest trends and being cool? The old Adam will lead the Pharisee to say ‘I thank God I am not like the tax collector,’ but he will also lead the the tax collector to say ‘I thank God I am not like the Pharisee.

  39. Chris Forsyth
    March 10th, 2012 at 11:47 | #54

    Pr. McCain:

    As a newer member of Zion, I can tell you that there are no concerns what so ever with the liturgy. Contrary what might be heard, read on this blog or elsewhere, Zion is defintely a confessional Lutheran Church. If anyone doubts me, then please contact Zion’s pastor Rev. Mark Braden. His contact information is on the church’s website.

    • March 10th, 2012 at 11:57 | #55

      Zion should therefore stop using the Mass as it is posted on their website, which clearly contains false doctrine. And if it is not using that Mass form, it should be deleted.

  40. March 10th, 2012 at 16:24 | #56

    Although I am not a pastor, I find this topic very interesting and timely. About two weeks ago I met a man who had moved to the USA from the Czech Republic about 8 years ago. He was born and raised in the Lutheran church. In our area of north eastern PA, there are not many Missouri Synod churches. Most Lutheran churches are either ELCA or AALC. This man told me that soon after moving here he began checking out the Lutheran churches to find one he could attend. He was shocked by the style of liturgy in these churches. He said he felt that he was attending a Baptist or non-denominational church service in these Lutheran churches. He eventually checked out a Roman Catholic church that has one service using a Tridentine Mass and another service that uses the Novis Ordo Mass. This man stated that the Tridentine Mass was almost identical to the Lutheran service he grew up with. This individual finally told the Catholic priest that he was a Lutheran but he felt very much at home at the Catholic Church and asked if he could continue attending. The priest told him that he could continue. This story suggests that the style of liturgy is very important to people and that in some countries the Lutheran service is almost identical to a Catholic Mass. I believe that Lutheranism has been negatively affected by Calvinist Protestants since the arrival of Lutheran immigrants. Some Lutherans have succumbed to the pressure of these Protestant groups for seeming “too Catholic” in worship style. They have given away their individuality to be like everyone else. Remember Luther wanted to reform some aspects of Roman Catholicism, not totally do away with everything that seemed Catholic as Calvin did. Calvin went so far as to do away with the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Communion service as well as most liturgy. So who do you wish to follow, Luther or Calvin? It is a very short step to move from “calvinized” Lutherans to heretical Lutherans such as those that now allow gay married pastors.

    • March 10th, 2012 at 16:37 | #57

      Unfortunately, the Tridentine Mass is precisely the “abomination” condemned in the Lutheran Confessions. But I do see the point you are trying to make.

  41. March 11th, 2012 at 08:45 | #58

    Pastor McCain, after I sent the above mentioned response, I began thinking that it might have been the Novis Ordo Mass that the Czech fellow goes to. In any case, it was one or the other that reminded him of the Lutheran service he attended back in the Czech republic.
    Thanks for pointing it out.

  42. Pastor Schultz
    March 12th, 2012 at 16:31 | #59

    Zion’s doctrine and practice is fully in-line with the Scriptures and Confessions.

  43. March 13th, 2012 at 14:58 | #60

    I have a hard time seeing the full distinction between “ceremony” and “the liturgy.” Obviously, I fully agree that the only true worship is faith, as our Confessions teach. And I don’t think one should be required or forbidden to chant, genuflect, elevate, etc. But is there really no ideal that our Confessions set forth, no basic liturgical orientation that our fathers in the faith simply assumed? I fear that if you say there are no ideals, the only thing left is “anything goes.”

    Anyway, some of my thoughts on the matter are posted here: http://www.esgetology.com/2012/03/13/ideals-in-lutheran-worship/

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