Confessional Revival breeds Liturgical Appreciation

It is no secret that there has been a revival of liturgical appreciation throughout the synod over the last 15 years or so, particularly among the younger pastors, but certainly not absent amongst older pastors and lay people. It has taken different forms. For me, it began with an appreciation of the theology of worship, looking at the theological purpose of the parts of the liturgy, the structure of the Divine Service, and the Biblical foundations of it. By my association with Redeemer Lutheran Church and Pastor Petersen, I have developed an equal appreciation and commitment to learning and following the rubrics as much as possible, and understanding the purpose of what we do with our bodies (sitting, standing, folding our hands, etc.). The book that has really helped me in this regard is Paul H. D. Lang’s Ceremony and Celebration, reprinted by Redeemer. It sets out the Confessional position regarding the use of ceremonies, and provides the Biblical principles which ought to govern our worship: reverence, love, humility, and good order. With this renewal of liturgical awareness and appreciation has also come a desire to use the historic prayer offices for our daily prayers (hence, LLPB).

Having said that, I want to distinguish between the liturgical renewal that is extant among us and the liturgical movement which produced the “high-church libs” (or was produced by them). I see this liturgical renewal as being driven by a prior confessional revival. The more I understand the doctrine of the Scriptures, the more it shapes my liturgical piety. It is not, therefore, simply an appreciation for the “feeling” or the “aesthetics” of ceremonial worship. It is grounded in a movement toward doctrinal purity. That is why I think the return to more historic, ceremonial orders of service among us is, for the most part healthy whereas an appreciation for the liturgy purely for “liturgies’ sake” is not healthy. Someone will undoubtedly bring in the “lex orandi, lex credendi,” which I agree with wholeheartedly. In this case I think our faith/doctrine has driven us to desire a more reverent, orderly, loving, and humble service.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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16 Responses to Confessional Revival breeds Liturgical Appreciation

  1. Anonymous says:

    pastor beisel writes:

    “The more I understand the doctrine of the Scriptures, the more it shapes my liturgical piety. It is not, therefore, simply an appreciation for the “feeling” or the “aesthetics” of ceremonial worship. It is grounded in a movement toward doctrinal purity.”

    Overall, I agree with this post. However, I want to quibble with the last sentence, “It is grounded in a movement toward doctrinal purity.”

    Simply put, if our practice is always a “movement toward doctrinal purity,” then where is the doctrinal purity now? If we are not yet there, or always attempting to get there, where is there, or when will we know we have gotten there?

    The Church is a reality. The Sacraments and the liturgy show us that. The Church is not a platonic idea. Neither is “doctrinal purity.” Either we have doctrinal purity by way of God’s grace, or we have stunk it up to such a degree, that we don’t have it, because we are always trying to “move toward it.”

    I smell the visible/invisible church distinction forcing us to say some things that we dont’ need to say.

    respectfully submitted,

  2. Pastor Beisel says:

    What I meant to say was it is sparked by doctrine. The point is, the liturgical renewal that we see happening in our Synod is ultimately a theological revival (I hesitate to use the word “revival” because of its uses by the Pentecostals). Get my drift?

  3. Lawrence says:

    Is it a revival, or a resurgence?

  4. FatherDMJ says:

    It is a reclaiming of what belongs to the church catholic of all times and seasons.

    It is the never-ending reformation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

    Appreciating the rubrics and ceremonies for what they confess rather than what they are is a hallmark of the on-going Confessional reclamation and reformation of Christ’s Church and her public Divine Service.

    Ceremonies are visible doctrine. One sees what one believes in the ceremonies, for they fill the eyes with Christ’s forgiveness, life, and salvation.

    Well-thought post, Pr. Beisel.

  5. Pastor Beisel says:

    It may have been a good thought, but I wish I could have expressed it in your words Fatherdmj. You said exactly what I was trying to say.

  6. Anonymous says:

    pastor beisel and fatherdmj,

    fatherdmj said, “Appreciating the rubrics and ceremonies for what they confess rather than what they are is a hallmark of the on-going Confessional reclamation and reformation of Christ’s Church and her public Divine Service.”

    With all do respect to you both, I appreciate your comments, and your willingness to set forth what you believe. I’m not trying to be quarrelsome, genuinely trying to understand. I don’t understand the phrase, “what they *confess* rather than what they *are*.”

    I completely agree with the following…”Ceremonies are visible doctrine. One sees what one believes in the ceremonies, for they fill the eyes with Christ’s forgiveness, life, and salvation.” Very true, for the liturgy engages us in the life and action of the Church, which is the life and action of Jesus Christ.

    However, I don’t agree with this…”Appreciating the rubrics and ceremonies for what they confess rather than what they are is a hallmark of the on-going Confessional reclamation and reformation of Christ’s Church and her public Divine Service.” What can the Church reform into if it already is itself? Perhaps the reforming talk is directed toward sinners who need to be reformed, but this should be distinct from the Church per se. Christ does not need to be reformed. God does not need to be reformed. Certainly a corrupt world needs to be reformed. But if the Church is the Body of Christ, there is no need to reform her. What can we reform that God so freely and graciously gives?

    Again, I’m not trying to be difficult. I really want to understand this.

  7. Pastor Beisel says:


    The reason you don’t understand what we are talking about is that you can only talk about the church as an ideal, like the Orthodox. You seem to abstract the church from her members. When we speak about the Church in this context, we are talking about no abstraction, but the Church that is present here on earth, gathered around the Word and the Sacraments. This Church on earth at one time is strong in confession and at another time is weak. God raises up faithful preachers and teachers to guide the church back to springs of living water, so that she may drink freely once again of the pure doctrine of God’s Word. I have never been able to understand this abstraction of the church and what she is in reality here on earth. The Orthodox seem to be unable to recognize that the Church here on earth, made up of sinful people, is in need of constant reform, that is, a return to the right teaching. I don’t know how else to put it.

    Appreciating ceremonies for what they confess means recognizing them as visible doctrine.

  8. Pastor Beisel says:

    Addendum: If the Church on earth has already fully realized its sanctification, and does not need to be reformed, then why does the church need shepherds/pastors? Why do sheep who are already perfectly in the sheepfold need someone to guide them there?

  9. Anonymous says:

    I find this conversation fascinating. First I raised the objection that the church was being spoken of abstractly when this was said, “Appreciating the rubrics and ceremonies for what they confess rather than what they are is a hallmark of the on-going Confessional reclamation and reformation,” because *confess* was put against *are*, which led me to believe that the rubrics and ceremonies were an absraction of the Church and not the reality of her presence.

    I agreed with the statement, “ceremonies are visible doctrine,” which points to the reality of the Church and speaks against her abstraction!

    But then I was accused of abstracting the Church.

    I am….confused….

    I do apologize if I have offended.

  10. Pastor Beisel says:

    You have not offended at all. You’re statements about the Church just sounded very much like those I’ve heard from Lutheran converts to Orthodoxy. That’s all.

    Lutherans do not look at outward ceremonies (like bowing the head, wearing vestments, etc.) as belonging to the essence of the Church. In other words, for us the Church is not defined by these things. Neither are ceremonies considered her identifying marks. That is why we allow diversity in ceremonies (One lights the candles one way, I light them another…). So, that is why we say that ceremonies confess the Church’s doctrine. In other words, the way I conduct myself in the service is an outward confession of what is believed. I believe that Christ is present in the bread and wine and so my actions (ceremonies) confess that when I handle the bread and wine reverently, when I elevate it, when I bow toward it. Is that more clear?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Maybe the problem is that while both Lutherans and RC/EO believe in an objective reality to the Sacraments, we differ in where that reality comes from. We (Lutherans) could replicate the actions of the sacraments exactly, but we would not have the sacraments. Why not? No valid orders (priesthood; the sacrament conferring priesthood is called Holy Orders). On that basis, Rome sees the EO as valid because they have true bishops and priests, but the Anglican communion does not therefore their Eucharist is not real. I think the lack of something as concrete as a sacrament of ordination, with its idea of succession from apostles, is what baffles RC/EO about us. For them it is the divine authority continued in the church through ordination that provides objectivity; for us it is the promise of Christ recorded in Scripture.

    This BTW is why it is such a big deal when bishops are consecrated apart from Rome: they will be valid bishops and priests, for example the excommunicates just recently in China, or the bishops ordained by Lefebvre. THe sacrament has an objective validity in that belief system that exists even apart from Rome.

  12. Lawrence says:

    Please correct me if I am wrong here, but this is how I currently understand:

    I think Lutherans do recognize apostolic succession regarding the Office of the Keys. But this is definitely a different understanding than the RC/EO understanding. We have a bit of a problem with the RC leader rewriting cannon law (doctrine) whenever it suits him. This is just not a ‘succession’ consequence we can embrace.

    As far as ceremony, it is the focus of the ceremony that is important. Within our accepted ceremonies, each element reflects a reverent worship focus on Christ (or it should). And this is why our Liturgical DS Worship ceremonies are so important to us. Not because the specific ceremony is right or wrong, but because each element focuses properly on Christ. (I’m betting we have no problem with RC or EO ceremonies that properly focus on Christ.)

    Likewise for the Office of the Keys. Apostolic succession is not tracing physical succession as God to Church to Priest/Bishop ordination. It is specifically a spiritual God to Pastor ordination.

    I’m not saying that it is okay to have 6 different DS Liturgies. But it’s not specifically wrong either. But that also isn’t the main point. It is when our effort toward Liturgical variety changes the focus from Christ to the ceremony that problems arise.

    Again, likewise, our view of Apostolic succession and Ordination. The RC and even EO fall into the trap of focusing on the physical lineage as just as important as the spiritual ordination.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I think you’re on the right track. We actually shouldn’t have a problem with changes in canon law. Even by Roman lights, this is not doctrine, it’s church law, man made, and can be changed.

    I agree that a focus on the ceremony itself is as harmful as a focus on the feeling. Either way, it leads from Christ, or rather, leads away from what Christ has done to what I am doing, be it “high church” ceremony or “praise” worship.

    This is the heart of ex opere operato: spiritual validity derived from an approved rite being performed by an approved minister, the church being the source of the approval.

    If ceremony is doctrine made visible — and I think it is — then our validity derives from just what you say, namely, Scripture and the doctrine revealed there. We zealously guard and defend the mass, as the confessions say, because they make visible what Christ has done for us, when pruned of their Roman accretions. And since no-one has as predicted brought up lex orandi lex credendi, let’s do it now! That is why it is so important to evaluate liturgical action not just in terms of adiaphora. It may be entirely permissible, neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture, but it may not make visible the doctrine and action of Christ. Or worse, it may make visible some other doctrine or action, which we may not confess with our preaching but enact in our liturgy.

    That is why I oppose, for example, the three year lectionary and communion in the hand. The former was designed by the higher critical based liturgical reformers to not just use more Scripture, but specifically to re-emphasise the miracle passages in the traditional one year cycle with more moral passages — works. The latter was designed to express my co-operation in my own salvation, not just a passive reception on the tongue, but extending my hand as a sign of my action of faith as a response to Christ. So we may teach that faith is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit, but then we take communion after the manner of those who don’t believe that. We could take the wafer in our shirtpockets if we wanted to as a matter of adiaphora. But the action does not make visible the doctrine.

    That is why doctrine driven living — hey there’s a phrase for you — begins to seek solid liturgy as Pastor said in the original post.

  14. Pastor Beisel says:

    Well said. I have found it refreshing to read Paul H. D. Lang, but also A. C. Piepkorn’s commentary on the TLH rubrics (Conduct of the Service, reprinted by Redeemer Press). He emphasizes the confessions’ attitude toward ceremonies, namely, that we do not condemn anyone else for using more or less ceremony. What matters most is that the Word of God is preached and the Sacrament given, and that the service be conducted reverently, according to the prescribed orders of service. If one pastor has a Gospel procession every Sunday and another does not, this does not break the unity of the Church because Gospel processions do not belong to the essence of the Church.

    Here’s a thought: Lang’s four principles (Reverence, order, love, and humility) are all princples based on the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps if we can get people to agree that these are good, right, and salutary principles according to which our worship ought to be conducted, maybe we can begin to show them why using the prescribed orders of service and traditional hymnody is best. I would say that having a praise band thumping out a beat down by the chancel offends against the principle of reverence. Any takers? Perhaps humility too.

  15. Lawrence says:

    If I could rewrite my prevous post I would say this.

    Ceremony is doctrine made visible — “when it is properly Christ focused Worship”.

    The pastors already pointed this out here, so I guess I’m just agreeing.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I know what you mean Lawrence. And I agree. Ceremony is doctrine made visible in the sense of true doctrine when it is Christ focussed. However, ceremony is always doctrine made visible — which is why it is important to make visible what is true doctrine. It is possible to use ceremony that focuses on our feelings, what we are doing, etc, while still preaching what Christ has done. And I think that’s where we are getting all messed up. Using ceremony that does not make visible true doctrine while trying to preach true doctrine. For example, trying to retain pure doctrinal preaching while the reest of the service is about my feeling. Or trying to retain pure doctrinal preaching while using Vatican II derived liturgies that were meant to emphasise the action of the community. Maybe this should migrate to the new post.

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