High-Church Lutheranism

I know that there’s at least one Lutheran on this board, so maybe you can shed some light on a particular subject. What are the services in the “high-church” wing of Lutheranism like? Do they include the sign of the cross? Are they pretty common among Lutheran churches, or are they relatively rare these days?

The reason I ask is that I found an interesting paper from Rolf Preus, a conservative Missouri Synod pastor. Here’s a selection:

"I don’t think that I overstate matters when I say that the worship wars in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod have resulted in greater bitterness and frustration during the past two decades than did the controversy over biblical inerrancy of the previous two decades. What happens on a Sunday morning in their own congregation matters more to people than what theologians in a distant city are arguing about. People expect that when they go to church certain things will happen. Certain words will be said. Certain actions will be followed. I am talking about such things as confession and absolution, singing the Kyrie followed by the Gloria in Excelsis, listening to the lessons, and confessing the Creed. This is what has happened and this is what folks expect to happen. Hymns will be sung. A man wearing a robe and standing in a Pulpit will preach a sermon based on a text from the Bible. You will sing the familiar psalms and canticles of the church, pray the Lord’s Prayer, kneel at the Lord’s Altar and eat and drink Christ’s body and blood. You will not leave before hearing the words of the Aaronic Benediction that leave you will the assurance that the God who just served you with his holy word and sacrament now gives you his peace. What takes place on Sunday morning will make you feel at home because what takes place will put you where you have met God in the past and have come to know him. You have talked to God and heard him talk to you. This is what you are looking for. This is why you go to church.

“And now you go to church and everything is different. You go expecting to find something that is no longer there. Perhaps it’s the singing of the Kyrie. Or maybe the Creed is replaced by a homemade version of it that isn’t really very good. Instead of a sermon, there is a kind of chancel drama. The familiar canticles are gone. The Lutheran chorales have given way to shallow and repetitious “praise” songs. The Benediction is replaced by a rather lengthy exhortation to be whatever kind of Christian is in vogue for the season. You don’t want to criticize. You wonder if your expectations were a bit unreasonable. After all, there must be many different ways of worshipping God. The Bible doesn’t actually set down for the church of the New Testament detailed instructions on what to do on a Sunday morning. And if such instructions aren’t laid down in the Scriptures and if the Scriptures alone are to be for us the norm and judge of all doctrine and practice in the church, why should you complain if you must endure change? Perhaps you’re just being old fashioned. Still, you have the definite sense that something important is gone and you want it back. Church is no longer home.”


Any thoughts from the Lutherans out there?

Pax Tecum,

I never heard of the term “high church”, but a quick look at wikipedia shows the ELCA (what I was brought up as) has “high church” stuff.

In our church, only the pastor makes the sign of the cross (waving the hand). Parishoners usually don’t make the sign of the cross (fingers), but I’ve seen a couple do it. We don’t do it at Holy Communion though. The closest we really come to looking like a Catholic Mass is on Easter (especially when a Lutheran bishop is present), although we don’t have incense or holy water. On Easter, there is a very formal procession of acolytes carrying in a cross, acolyting candles, and the paster in front.

That’s how it was done years ago. I’m not sure about now since they’ve been cutting stuff out due to time constrants…

The church service is almost, if not exactly like the Catholic Mass one (and virtually the same readings), with the main difference (besides the fact that Holy Communion is seen as slightly different) is we say our greeting (The Lord be with you! And also with you!" right at the beginning of the service, with the pastor giving announcements), and we don’t have sprinkling of holy water). We don’t even have a thing (don’t know the term) for holy water.

I am actually a Catholic, but I have several Lutheran family members. I read the OP and was surprised that the Lutheran Church is having the same problems as the Catholic Church in terms of liturgical abuses and poor choices of music. I was not aware of this. I’ll have to ask my relatives if this is an issue in their churches when I see them next time.

It’s unusual to hear Lutherans refer to their services as either “high church” or “low church.” More formally educated (i.e. pastors, seminary profs, etc.) will, but usually you will hear it referred to as “contemporary” or “conservative” among the average Lutheran. Note that “high church/low church” and “contemporary/conservative” aren’t really synonomous when talking about worship, but that’s more likely how you will hear it discussed.

There are some “high church” congregations out there. They still have a formal processional with a crucifix, they still have kneelers on their pews (and use them!), they still make the sign of the cross, the pastor still chants much of the liturgy, he still wears the formal vestments, etc. You will hear a formal, historical liturgy, similar to, and in some parts the same as, a Catholic liturgy; as Preus points out still using the Kyrie, Gloria, Nunc Dimittis, etc. The accompaniment is often a beautiful pipe organ. This type of worship is in the minority among Lutherans today (unfortuantely!), but it’s out there. It would be on the far right of the spectrum. It’s being done at the congregation level, not at the synodical level (governing body level).

On the far left, you’ll see worship services accompanied by rock bands, barely recognizeable forms of liturgy, pastors in just a sport coat (polo shirt in the summer), arms waving in the air, “creeds” that the pastor writes himself as a substitute for the Apostles’ or Nicene, etc. This seems to still be in the minority, also, but growing in popularity. This would definitely fall in the “low-church” side.

The majority of Lutheran congregations are in the middle, still using the printed liturgies in the hymnals, but setting aside the more formal things like the sign of the cross, processionals, etc.

As a Lutheran for 38 years, I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum and those in the middle. My preference is definitely the “high-church” end, but there aren’t that many congregations left on the far right end of the spectrum.

Incense, bells, crossing, crucifixes, processions, private confession, the whole nine yards.

Here is a church in my area which is pretty high church. In fact, it’s kind of the flag ship for high church Lutheranism in the LCMS.

As for me, I’m pretty low church, which for a Lutheran means that I’m distrustful of so much crypto-romanism though I cherish the historic liturgy as I find it in it’s simpler forms.

Steadfast- GREAT example! That website displays it better than any description we could provide. Thanks for posting that.

A few thoughts from another Lutheran (ELCA)

Worship practices in the ELCA are quite varied. Most, however, follow the basic structure of the Western Rite although there are some that reject that as too formal or too Catholic. There is a strain of Lutheranism that is suspicious of anything that might also be seen in a Catholic mass.

I have been in an ELCA church in which vestments, incense, sanctus bells, the sign of the cross, a crucifix on the altar, and all the trappings are used. I have been in some in which the pastor leads the service dressed in sports clothes. My own sympathies run with the former.


There are some “high church” congregations out there. They still have a formal processional with a crucifix, they still have kneelers on their pews (and use them!), they still make the sign of the cross, the pastor still chants much of the liturgy, he still wears the formal vestments, etc. You will hear a formal, historical liturgy, similar to, and in some parts the same as, a Catholic liturgy; as Preus points out still using the Kyrie, Gloria, Nunc Dimittis, etc. The accompaniment is often a beautiful pipe organ. This type of worship is in the minority among Lutherans today (unfortuantely!), but it’s out there. It would be on the far right of the spectrum. It’s being done at the congregation level, not at the synodical level (governing body level).

Then in that case, our church (ELCA, BTW) is maybe 80% high church.

still have kneelers on their pews (and use them!) - Check!
make the sign of the cross - Pastor does, but not the congregants (it’s a rarity, though)
formal processional with a crucifix - Only on Easter (sometimes)
the pastor still chants much of the liturgy - Check!
he still wears the formal vestments - Check!
Liturgy is 95% the same (a few re-wording or re-ordering here and there)
beautiful pipe organ - :crying: Nope, but we used to! The new organist ruined the old one! This one bangs on it, and drags it out. The old organist got mad at the pastor because of that (she had a contract that only she would play it) and left the church. Now we have to old our ears in church!

We now have an early morning service with the choir and weekly communion. We used to have bells (years ago), but not anymore. No cruxifix on the altar though. Communion is sometimes done right at the altar with a kneeler (most common way), and sometimes as a quick procession of going up to the steps leading up to the altar, and receiving communion there. Kind of depends on how many people are at the church service. There’s also candles by the altar, too - a group of 7, then 5, then 1 on each side, going in an upward slope The two inner candles are only lit for communion.

My experience has shown that high-church Lutheranism has to do a lot with liturgy and theology. When I was younger, I attended a Lutheran church where the pastor (I learned later) is considered “high-church.” While I was in college, I attended a Lutheran church that also happened to be a “high church”. My father is a Lutheran minister and is also very “high church”. A Lutheran high-church seems to be one that embraces the significance and importance of the liturgy, seemingly reflecting the emphasis put on the liturgy in the Catholic Church. There are many Lutheran and otherwise Protestant churches that do not recognize such a traditional liturgy. Furthermore, I have found that being “high-church” is also a reflection on theological leanings toward the Catholic faith on some matters. However, as one poster above mentioned, there are many Lutherans out there who (like many other Protestant denominations) reject anything that looks, feels, or smells Catholic. So many high-church Lutheran ministers have to be careful not to incorporate too much Catholicism, liturgical or theological.

I never heard of the term “high church”

IN UK the term is used to refer to Church of England worshippers who call themselves Anglo-Catholics. It is often joked at here that they are more catholic than we Roman’s. This refers to their liberal use of ‘smells and bells’. Some even accept the authority of Rome. Their churches contain statues, tabernacle and in fact all the signs and symbols associated with the Catholic Church.

There have been quite a few converts to Roman Catholicism, particularly among their clergy.

I must admit that whenever I have been into one of their Churches, I have felt uneasy about not showing reverence towards their tabernacle. It is our belief that they do not have the Real Presence. But, if they allege unity with Rome and accept the authority of the Pope, who am I to say their tabernacle contains mere bread.

Better to genuflect to a piece of bread than to be irreverent to the Body of Christ. It is not for me to judge.

Addendum: There is very little discernable difference between their Mass and ours. Even the wording is almost identical. Their ‘sung’ Masses are very beautiful.

The only discernable difference between them and us is that their clergy are married with families [although some are single in RC tradition] and the Monstrances they use for Benediction tend to be much more elaborate than are in general use in RC Churches.

It is little heard of over here but there are some Roman Catholic Priests who are married. These are the men who have been ordained Priests and then converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Mostly though, they go on to serve not as Priests but as Deacons.

Correct me if I am wrong. But I do believe that non-Roman Catholic married clergy who are allowed to retain their priestly ministry after their conversion, do so on special dispensation from Rome.

Do you have a link to a website of an Anglo-Catholic parish, by any chance? BTW, have you ever heard of the Anglican Use Liturgy? It’s sadly rare in the US, and I have heard that the English Catholic hierarchy have bluntly said that there will be no Anglican Use in England. Our Lady of the Atonement is the most famous Anglican Use parish that I’m aware of:


Pax Tecum,

That is correct. Fr. Christopher Phillips at Our Lady of the Atonement is one example. Alex Jones, a convert from Pentecotalism, is another.

Pax Tecum,

Not immediately, but I will post one to your private mail.

Pax Christi


Sorry for cutting in but I just stumbled onto this thread.

Links to a few well-known ‘high’ Anglican parish websites.
In the UK:
In the US:

And a couple of ‘low’/evangelical (not necessarily synonymous) Anglican parish websites for comparison.

For relevant Anglican (and other) wackiness may I direct you to ‘the magazine of christian unrest’.


Thanks! I dare say that the Anglo-Catholic parishes are more liturgical than 99% of the Catholic churches in existence today.

Pax Tecum,

Interesting that they call their service “Holy Mass.” Very interesting church, and in terms of liturgy and rubrics, it rivals all but a handful of Catholic churches.

Pax Tecum,

There’s an LCMS congregation like this in my area as well. And while doing research in Germany I attended a similarly high-church Lutheran parish in Braunschweig (sorry that the latter website is only in German!).


You are correct; the Holy See must approve married prospective priests who convert from other Christian traditions, who were ministers of the traditions they come from, and discern a calling to the Catholic priesthood of the Latin Church.

From the Code of Canon Law

Can. 1042 The following are simply impeded from receiving orders:

1ƒ a man who has a wife, unless he is lawfully destined for the permanent diaconate;

Can. 1047
ß2 Dispensation from the following irregularities and impediments to the reception of orders is also reserved to the Apostolic See:

1ƒ irregularities arising from the offences mentioned in can. 1041, nn. 2 and 3, if they are public;

2ƒ an irregularity arising from the offence, whether public or occult, mentioned in can. 1041, n. 4;

3ƒ the impediment mentioned in can. 1042, n. 1.

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