luther-roseOlder Lutherans who wonder how and why their liturgy has changed so much since their childhood might find Frank Senn’s 2011 paper ‘Ninety-five Theses on the State of Liturgical Renewal in the Lutheran Churches of North America’ a helpful resource.

A brief summary follows with page citations from the PDF.

Lutheran liturgy began to change bit by bit in the 1950s, although its ‘renewal’ did not begin in earnest until the 1970s.

The Catholics were the first to begin tinkering with liturgy and tradition in the 1960s. Unfortunately, Anglicans also followed them into the same trend, which has left all three denominations confused. It is no wonder that most of us cannot recognise the churches of our childhood.

Early days of settlement

Senn divides his paper into items of historical and current interest. His first seven points on pages 2 and 3 cover the early Lutheran Church in North America.

We discover that German Lutherans were the first colonial settlers to celebrate Christmas with gusto. However, in regular worship, Senn tells us that Lutherans were either pietists or rationalists. (Pietists rejected the established — state — churches of Germany and Scandinavia for more homespun practices. Rationalists, probably the middle and upper middle classes, adhered to established liturgy and theology.)

In the mid-19th century, Senn writes, immigrants brought more confessionally Lutheran styles of theology and worship (item 10, page 3). Those who were translating prayerbooks into English found these useful resources. A more uniform pattern of worship began to develop which culminated in 1888 with the Common Service (item 12). It was so named because it was liturgy which all Lutherans could appreciate and use.

By the early 20th century, what pastors wore at Sunday services had changed. Black robes were gradually replaced by an alb and stole with the addition of a chasuble for Holy Communion services (item 15).

1950s and beyond

In the late 1950s, the Lutheran Churches of North America embarked on a programme of ‘liturgical restoration’. A new worship book, The Service Book and Hymnal, was introduced in 1958. The Joint Commission on the Liturgy and the Hymnal had gone beyond Lutheranism to embrace certain prayers and hymns from the broader Western Church (item 17, pp 3, 4).

However, it was not long before the new worship book’s critics complained that its language was too archaic. After all, they said, American culture was changing rapidly. So, eight years later — 1966 — an Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship convened to discuss how church services could be made more relevant to contemporary society (points 18, 19).

The Commission was in place through the 1970s. Although certain synod-specific rubrics were created, the Commission encouraged them all:

1/ The LCMS Worship Supplement (1969) to the Lutheran Hymnal (1941). This new volume had not only newer hymns but also alternative orders of service (item 20).

2/ The 1970 Service of Holy Communion (item 21) was an modern one in line with the spirit of unity and ecumenism of the day. Not only that, it established Holy Communion as the principal Sunday service (item 22). As with the post-Vatican II Catholic Missal, Lutheran liturgy moved towards being more man-oriented to the perceived ‘needs’ of the congregation.

3/ Throughout the 1970s, new booklets appeared with more particularised and alternative worship services and hymns (item 23). The Commission’s summer conferences introduced them — and no doubt proliferated them year on year.

4/ The Commission adopted a version of the three-year Roman Catholic Lectionary for public worship (items 24, 32). Although North American Lutherans began using the Lectionary, most European Lutherans did not (item 25).

5/ It could be said that the Commission’s work culminated with the 1979 Lutheran Book of Worship, approved by the church groups involved except for the LCMS (page 5). That said, many LCMS congregations began buying copies for their churches. The LBW was informed by ecumenism, reiterated the importance of Holy Communion as the main Sunday service and borrowed texts (e.g. the Psalter) from the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer. A broad campaign of workshops in churches across North America ensured its acceptance.

6/ Altars have been rearranged or built to be free-standing to allow everyone to stand around them (item 41, page 6).

Resulting present day problems

Senn hints that so much alternative liturgies and hymns might have made the Lutheran churches in North America come full circle, approaching the tension of pietism versus rationalism in the colonial days. Some Lutheran churches are more traditional whilst others embrace new practices and language. This is because of:

1/ Gender-inclusive liturgical language (item 42) which has led to a deliberate omission of the Creeds with their male-oriented references to the Holy Trinity (item 44). The 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship book is gender-neutral whilst the LCMS Lutheran Service Book, also published in 2006, retains traditional language (item 45).

2/ Inter-Lutheran co-operation on worship has consequently become polarised (item 46).

3/ Worship has come to be seen, erroneously, as a form of evangelism and, as such, services have been modified to become seeker-friendly (items 68-71, page 8).

4/ Congregations and clergy now think that prayer books and hymnals are too complicated for the unchurched to use (items 73 and 74, page 9), so service sheets and big screens are being used instead.

5/ Congregations are omitting a confession of sin and the Creed (item 77), no doubt in order not to offend.

Senn makes excellent points near the end of his paper (item 84 on page 10 and items 91, 94 and 95 on page 11). Emphases mine:

84. Lutheran laypeople used to be able to recognize Lutheran worship when they visited other congregations in the days when the Common Service was included in the hymnals of various church bodies, or when the SBH and then the LBW were in widespread use. Common Lutheran worship can no longer be presumed.

91. The question needs to be raised as to whether a common order is sufficient if common content is lacking. Historically Lutherans have been concerned about the relationship between the lex orandi (rule of prayer) and the lex credendi (rule of belief). In the nineteenth century, liturgical and confessional restoration went together. Lutherans have understood that practices influence theology.

94. Lutheran worship has always been trinitarian and Christological.
Worship is addressed to God the Holy Trinity and the content of many songs
is Christ ‘‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’’ This orthodoxy is challenged today by secular ideologies such as feminism and Pentecostal praise and worship songs that focus on Jesus and me.

95. In many congregations we have returned full circle to a situation in which the liturgy must be retrieved and restored before it can be renewed. In many other congregations, however, the seeds of liturgical renewal, planted forty years ago, are producing rich fruit.

I suspect that the Lutherans are experiencing a long-term decline in worship just as other Protestants and Catholics are. Our churches and liturgies are no longer what they were.

As I have written before (here and here), we are no longer hearing the voice of the Shepherd through our clergy and lay leaders but that of the stranger, the hired hand and the thief.

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