High Church... Lutheranism?

I was poking around on wikipedia today (one might call it “slumming around” on wikipedia), and came across an article on “high church lutheranism.”

I found this to be an interesting concept, as I previously thought the High Church/Low Church distinction was mainly an Anglican one. Apparently there is a smaller, but similar, Lutheran movement.

I thought I might reach out to this community to hear some thoughts on it, or perhaps pick up some better (ie- non-wikipedia-based) knowledge of the issue.

High Church Lutheranism

“High Church Lutheranism” is the name given in Europe for the 20th century Lutheran movement that emphasizes worship practices and doctrines that are similar to those found within both Roman Catholicism and the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism. In North America the term Evangelical Catholicity is used instead

The most ornate liturgy is to be found in the small Evangelical Catholic Lutheran Churches, a few parishes of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod[16][17] and in many Lutheran seminaries of all Lutheran varieties across North America which celebrate Solemn High Mass with ceremonial similar to that found in Anglo-Catholic parishes. The devotional guild the Society of Saint Polycarp was also founded within the LCMS.[18] The most important evangelical catholic journals are Lutheran Forum, published by American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (ALPB). and Pro Ecclesia, a published by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology in cooperation with the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (ALPB).

I know we have some LCMS regulars floating around; is this something they are familiar with?

One thing I was unaware of was that some Lutheran churches have made an attempt to restore the concept of apostolic succession:

n the United States the Evangelical Catholic Church and in recent years other small, biblically and theologically conservative high church Evangelical Catholic Lutheran Churches like the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, International Lutheran Fellowship, Lutheran Orthodox Church, Association of Independent Evangelical Lutheran Churches, Evangelical Marian Catholic Church, and Lutheran Catholic Communion have succeeded in restoring the historic Apostolic Succession from Old Catholic Churches.

It also appears that some in the movement follow Roman Catholic liturgy and adopt more sacraments than mainline Lutheranism:

[quote]The praying of the Divine office is also characteristic to high church Lutheran spirituality. Confession as a sacrament is sometimes rare part of Lutheran tradition and is not considered unique to “high church”. A small number of evangelical catholic congregations reaffirm Melanchthon’s wider use of the word “sacrament” (in the Apology and in Loci Communes) by considering Holy Matrimony, Unction, Confirmation, and Holy Orders to be Sacraments.

Does anyone have any experience with “High Church” Lutherans? If so, what are the impressions of Catholics and non-Catholics of this particular movement?

As I gather, it is distinct from the concept of being a “confessional Lutheran,” though there is some overlap.

Confessional Lutheranism

As a practical matter, Lutheran organizations that identify themselves as confessional are generally more conservative in their views of the Scriptures and doctrine than groups that do not. Many self-identified Confessional Lutherans are adherents of the High Church Lutheran movement.
Many Confessional Lutherans rejected the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which was backed by more moderate groups.

I find the overlap a bit odd- considering the anti-Rome stance of many Lutheran congregations that subscribe to the Book of Concord, as well as the statement above that many reject the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

Anyway… I know there are some Catholics here who have an interest in ways that Lutheranism is and is not close to Rome. I thought that this particular aspect of Lutheranism might generate some interest around these parts. As stated above, I am just now running into this, so am looking to learn a bit about it myself.

I consider myself evangelical Catholic, or a Catholic of the Augsburg Confession. To me it is just a restating of the fact that the Reformation was not supposed to be a schism, and that the Reformation is not over until the schism ends. I’m no expert but it seems the High Church movement may be a recovering of the true catholicity which, from what I’ve read, was lost in part due to pietism.

I am LCMS and find myself with a level of frustration with congregational polity and low-church approaches to things, but my (Lutheran) choices are limiterd where I live.

There seems to be a range within the movement, even with one group, the ALCC directly seeking unity with Rome, as I understand it. FOr me, these groups are well worth watching, what with the liberalism in the ELCA, the reluctance at times of the LCMS to dialogue, and what appears to me (though I may be wrong) to be utter isolation by WELS.

BTW, as a Lutheran, a think we should rethink our position on the sacraments, particularly Confession and Holy Absolution.


Just my 2 cents.

I’m WELS and my largest frustration with the synod is the utter isolation you reference. It was a large culture shock when I first joined. My wife and I found a more … progressive one (in terms of liturgy, at least) and we’ve been relatively happy with it. But, LCMS is kind of the fallback church for her family- none of whom can stand religious liberalism.

I was therefore interested to see LCMS mentioned several times in the article I originally linked to.

I keep hearing stories about how when someone leaves WELS it’s usually to swim the Tiber, which IMO is just entrenching anti-Rome attitudes among some of the clergy. Sometimes I think it’s because of the relative closeness to Rome that some feel the need to push back so hard against Catholicism. Which is kind of ironic, since it’s the most conservative Lutherans that seem to have the most in common with Catholicism, yet are the ones most hesitant to engage with Rome.

Anyway, the movement certainly intrigues me. I concluded a while back that I wouldn’t be swimming the Tiber anytime soon despite some fundamental agreements I have with the Roman Catholic worldview, but enjoy looking for the “ancient church” where I can find it in Lutheranism.

I agree. One of the things I look for in these evangelical Catholic movements is the opening for corporate reunion, which to me would much more fruitful than individual Tiber swimming. IOW, my desire is to see the Elbe and Tiber flow back together.


I was always taught that Luther was an extremly devout Catholic monk/priest one of who’s objections ( in his 39 articles pinned to the church doors) was to the sale of ‘indulgances’ ( if you had money you could buy absolution for any sin, and buy it in advance as it were from travelling ‘salesmen’ authorised by the then Pope:tsktsk:) He thought this to be corrupt and imoral as it smacked more of a money raising scheme than true care for the soul ( rich people could be excused any sin as long as they had given enough cash to the church:dts:)

Not 39 Articles. Ninety-Five Theses.


You can be sure that his objection was not only to Indulgences. It goes way beyond that.

I have no personal experierences but I was following some discussions on a german Catholic messageboard, where also some High Church Lutherans were involved. In fact from what they believe one could say that they are the most catholic Protestants.
So at the first sight they appeal to me. On the other hand some of these discussions have it also make clear that these High Church Lutherans do not just see themselves as close to us Catholics, but that they consider themselves as the true Catholics. And that is quite annoying to me. :smiley:


QUOTE=GKC;5182306]Not 39 Articles. Ninety-Five Theses.


I stand corrected:blushing: Here’s a link to the Times online article regarding Pope Benedict’s recent comments on Luther timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3492299.ece :slight_smile:

Sweden has (or had) a “high church” Lutheran state church. It may still be high church, although I would expect that today this is mostly superficial (as in externals, not theology), they are more than likely somewhat liberal.

Some early Swedish parishes in the American colonies were absorbed into the Church of England, which was later to become the American Protestant Episcopal church.

It is interesting to note that there was once a chance for corporate reunion of the Swedish church with the Roman Catholic church. The king of Sweden made only a few conditions, which as I remember included an allowance of married priests (something Eastern Catholics already had, but Rome was not too crazy about) and Mass in the vernacular.

Rome didn’t go for it.

When I was preparing for ordination, I spent some time as an intern in an ELCA congregation that is decidely high church. At festival worship services, the procession is led by a thurifer. At all worship services, most people in the congregation bow and make the sign of the cross when the processional cross passes by.

There is a gospel procession, with the book being censed before the Gospel is read.

The altar is censed in preparation for the eucharist. During the eucharistic liturgy, the sanctus bells are rung at the consecration.

I probably don’t recall everything perfectly, but this is the most “high church” of any Lutheran church I have attended.

If you want to know more about High Church Lutheranism a/k/a evangelical catholicism, read from the following authors:

(1) Arthur Carl Piepkorn - a LCMS seminary prof from the 50s-early 70s. He is not widely known, but his writings probably do the best job at showing the catholicity of the early Lutheran movement, as well as show as how modern Lutheranism has, in some respects, fallen away from that catholicity. Many of his articles have been recently published. lutheransonline.com/servlet/lo_ProcServ/dbpage=page&gid=00001615403789030111155555
(2) Jaroslav Pelikan. Pelikan is probably the most acclaimed church historian of the 20th century, and 90%+ of his work was done as a Lutheran (he converted to Orthodoxy late in life), with an eye toward the history and traditions of the early church. Check out his book “Obedient Rebels.” amazon.com/Obedient-Rebels-Substance-Protestant-Reformation/dp/B0000CMCY2
(3) Carl Braaten and Robert W. Jenson - retired ELCA profs who founded the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Catholicity who have written many books and articles on the subject. e-ccet.org/ Also, check out Braaten’s book “Mother Church” amazon.com/Mother-Church-Carl-E-Braaten/dp/0800630823

Agreed. After the passing of Richard John Neuhaus, I read his account of his conversion. Essentially, after working for corporate reunion after about 2 decades, he believed that his conception of Lutheranism as an evangelical catholic reform movement within the western church was no longer a reality but an ideological construct which existed only in his mind and in the minds of a few other like-minded Lutherans, and he thought that since Vatican II, Catholicism had moved to the center enough for him to convert. My concern about his decision (and subsequent evangelical catholics who have converted) is that I do not think it was realistic to expect corporate reunion within 25 years after Vatican II. 500 year old schisms are not healed overnight, and I fear that the loss of his voice and others in Lutheranism will ultimately make healing that schism, on a broader scale, harder.

Exactly!! Two reasons it will make it harder:

  1. The swerve toward liberal protestantism by some Lutherans, and toward fundmentalist protestantism by others will go unchecked by the those who are truly evangelical catholic (Lutheran).
  2. Evangelical catholics are the ones who remind us that we are reformationists, not protestants, and should be everyday uncomfortable in schism. As they leave us, the force behind dialogue will fade.


I found this interesting article. What does this mean for all the detracters of anything Luther said when Pope Benedict himself says (qualified of course) that Luther was right in his assertion of Sola Fide?


oops! Noticed there was a separate thread that was dealing with this subject.

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