Monday, August 8, 2016

What’s This? Genuflecting in Worship?


If you open up your Bible and pray the Psalms you might come across this line, “Oh come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker”  (Psalm 95:6).  Missouri Synod Lutherans are Bible believers and what the Bible says, they desire to put into practice.  Our Lord and God does not mandate that we bow down or kneel at any particular time or place in the service but as the Scriptures themselves commend bowing and kneeling as a salutary practice, Lutherans do it.  Many of our church buildings have kneelers in the pews and most have an altar rail so that communicants can kneel to receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins.  Kneeling is part and parcel of Lutheran worship and while this is confirmed in furniture, one might take a look at our current hymnal and agenda to see where there is instruction to kneel.  Lutherans may kneel to confess their sins (LSB 151,167,184, 203, 213, 291, 292), pray (LSB 227, 233, 241,249, 253) get confirmed (LSB 273) and get married (LSB 276).   If the Lutheran is to be a pastor, he kneels to be ordained (LSB Agenda p. 166),  installed (LSB Agenda, p. 181) and he may kneel if he is leaving for another field of service (LSB Agenda, 195), or retiring (LSB Agenda, p. 198).  If a son or daughter of a congregation is beginning study for service in the church they may kneel (LSB Agenda, p. 207).  If a Lutheran is a candidate for commissioning in service to the church, they are instructed to kneel (LSB Agenda, p. 212).  Dig through Lutheran Hymnals and Agendas past and present and you will find kneeling all over the place.  Genuflecting is kneeling, just with one knee.  It is this one-knee kneeling that has the Rev. Chris Wicher, President of the Eastern District of the LCMS, well, upset.  His full report of the recent Synod Convention is found here, but his comments on the worship practices of the Convention are of particular interest to us.  President Wicher writes,

“WHAT’S THIS? GENUFLECTING IN WORSHIP? Finally, a word about my worship experience at the convention. Worship was definitely of high church style, complete with liturgies “out of the book” and chanting throughout on top of full liturgical garb, chasubles and the like. This is my second convention which was run and organized by our current administration. The same style at this convention held true at our last convention, which is also true when I attend chapel at the International Center in St. Louis. The message to me is plain. High church is the preferred worship style given to the churches of the LC--MS. I get it, I can even do high church liturgy if I wish but which I don’t. But what is completely foreign to me and a bit unsettling, being a life-long LC—MS Lutheran, is what appears to be genuflecting going on in the chancel. This is something I hope will not continue (if genuflecting is what indeed is taking place) which in some strange way is reverencing the host as if the pastor, because he is a pastor, has some magical power and has instantly before our eyes magically changed the substance of the bread into the body of Christ. Really?”

Yes, President Wicher, genuflecting was really taking place! Pastors were kneeling! Many of the editors were present at the convention and saw it with our own eyes!  But what is the problem?  Kneeling is a true adiaphoron, but like all ceremonies or liturgical actions, it may teach something.  The pastors in the chancel did not kneel in some strange way reverencing the host as if the pastor has some magical power and magically changed the substance of the bread into the body of Christ, but because those pastors actually believe that under the bread is the true Body of Jesus Christ and under the wine is the very Blood of Christ according to Christ’s own clear Word.  It is this LORD, our maker, the one through whom all things were made who was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate and raised on the third day who is really present, under the bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink.  Don’t you believe that?   We pray you do.  Have you ever knelt to receive the Sacrament of the Altar?  Did you at that time believe in some magic that the pastor did, or were you receiving the Body and Blood of your Lord and God in humility for the forgiveness of your sins and worshiping him in true faith?   Genuflecting is a true adiaphoron, believing that Christ is present in the Sacrament according to His Word is not. The fact that He is present might cause fellow Christians to kneel in reverence.  They are free to do so.  So are you.  Really.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -  Philippians 2:9-11

Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee;
Though in essence only one, Undivided God we claim Thee
And, adoring bend the knee, While we own the mystery.  LSB 940:5

- The Editors


Two side notes.  We commend to our readers the following; the first regarding the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament, the second, Blessed Martin Luther on the genuflection during the recitation of Nicene Creed in the Divine Service as a confession of the Incarnation of the Son of God  -

1. "Now, here we are not saying that one should not worship our dear Lord Jesus Christ in this Sacrament, being present, of that one should not hold this Sacrament with all honor and reverence. On the contrary, since these divine, almighty, true words are believed, all of this follows of itself, and not only in external gestures but also both externally and, first and foremost, in the heart, spirit, and truth. On account of this, such adoration of Christ is not thereby cancelled, but much rather, confirmed. For where the Word is rightly seen, considered and believed, the adoration of the Sacrament will happen of itself. For whoever believes that Christ's body and blood are there (as there is plenty of evidence so to believe, and it is necessary so to believe), he cannot, to be sure, deny his reverence to the body and blood of Christ without sin. For I must confess that Christ is there when His body and blood are there. His words do not lie to me, and He is not separate from His body and blood." - George von Anhalt, The Treasury of Daily Prayer, February 3, pp. 1179-80

2. Although the Antichrist in Rome and the devil frightfully mutilated and perverted all that is divine in the church, God nevertheless miraculously preserved Holy Scripture – even though it was darkened and dimmed under the pope’s accursed rule – and passed it down to our day.  Thus God also preserved these words of the Gospel, which were read from the pulpit every Sunday, although without the proper understanding.  Also the words of the Decalog, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as Baptism and one kind in the Sacrament have survived under the devilish regime.  Although the Gospel was obscured and the proper understanding of it hidden, God still kept it for the salvation of His own.  These words too, “And the Word became flesh,” were held in reverence.  They were sung daily in every Mass in a slow tempo and were set to a special melody, different from that for the other words.  And when the congregation came to the words, “from the Virgin Mary and was made man,” every one genuflected and removed his hat.   It would still be proper and appropriate to kneel at the words “and was made man,” to sing them with long notes as formerly, to listen with happy hearts to the message the Divine Majesty abased Himself and became like us poor bags of worms, and to thank God for the ineffable mercy and compassion reflected in the incarnation of the Deity. But who can ever do justice to that theme?...The following tale is told about a course and brutal lout.  While the words, “And was made man” were being sung in church, he remained standing, neither genuflecting nor removing his hat. He showed no reverence, but just stood there like a clod.  All the others dropped to their knees when the Nicene Creed was prayed and chanted devoutly.  Then the devil stepped up to him and hit him so hard it made his head spin.  He cursed him gruesomely and said:  “May hell consume you, you boorish ass!  If God had become an angel like me and the congregation sang: ‘God was made an angel,’ I would bend not only my knees but my whole body to the ground!  Yes, I would crawl ten ells down into the ground.  And you vile human creature, you stand there like a stick or a stone.  You hear that God did not become an angel but a man like you, and you just stand there like a stick of wood!”  Whether this story is true or not, it is nevertheless in accordance with the faith (Rom. 12:6).  With this illustrative story the holy fathers wished to admonish the youth to revere the indescribably great miracle of the incarnation; they wanted us to open our eyes wide and ponder these words as well.
 - Luther’s Works Vol. 22, pp.102-103, 105-106.



29 comments:

  1. Why is Wicher allowed to remain a DP. Talk about bearing false witness!

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  2. These liberal synodocrats really cannot help themselves. They've been waiting for something to complain about.

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  3. From that District's report: "We even, at times, group bunches of them into “bundles” for a one vote approval to them all. Frankly, that was the first time I ever experienced a “bundling of resolutions”."

    That man, as a synod leader, has never heard of an omnibus resolution in his entire career? For him to not recall such a common procedure makes me wonder about these people...

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  4. This district bureaucrat, in his report, apparently does not know the difference between genuflecting and sacerdotalism. He apparently also does not realize that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during the Divine Service. Do we have a heretic as a district president?

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  5. Consider the following quotes from the Catalog of Testimonies published in many editions of the Book of Concord. These quotes from Chapter 3 are taken from the Concordia Reader's Edition:

    Athanasius: "The holy catholic Church condemns anyone who says that the human flesh of our Lord is not to be worshiped and adored as the flesh of the Lord and God."

    Ambrose: "Angels do not adore only the divinity of Christ, but also His footstool.... the prophet says that the earth the Lord took upon Himself when He assumed flesh is to be adored. Therefore, we understand 'footstool' to mean the earth, that is, the flesh of Christ, which we today also adore in the Sacraments, and which the apostles adored in the Lord Jesus."

    Augustine: "He gave us this very flesh to eat for salvation. No one who eats this flesh does not first worship it.... We not only not sin by worshiping it, we sin if we do not worship it."

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  6. I sat in the front row at the Milwaukee convention, and was a little surprised when the celebrant genuflected after the consecration of each element, but I fail to see Wicher's point that it was a confession of the Romanist doctrine of a Catholic priest's power by his recitation of the Verba to effect the Real Presence. FC VII is the confession of my brother pastor who celebrated at that opening service. Indeed, FC VII points out that only an Arian heretic would fail to worship our Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar. Of course, the question is how this may be done. Kneeling to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord is an act of worship on the part of the communicant, and has been the practice since the Early Church. One may say that the action at the opening Eucharist supports the Consecrationist position on the moment of the Sacramental Union, a position that I have held to, but our tradition has Distributionists and Receptionists as well. In my humble opinion Receptionism is ruled out by AC X, which states that the body and blood of the Lord are DISTRIBUTED in the Sacrament. I was thoroughly edified by the opening Service of Holy Communion at our Milwaukee convention, and I hope and pray for unity in our synod, which is the goal of our present administration.

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  7. Actually, when we ponder the eternal truth that God himself became one of us to save us from everlasting death, we might be more inclined to fall on our faces in reverent awe. But since that isn't always (or ever?!) practical in a gathered setting, bowing and/or genuflecting seem to be rather good alternatives.

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  8. I wonder if the reverend president needs to travel more, not just around the world but across the US.

    I've been in the ministry twelve years and have never *not* genuflected when celebrating the Divine Service at a church altar.

    There was a time not too long ago when the common practice (even among DPs) of vesting in alb and stole would have raised eyebrows and whispers of "too Catholic!").

    In fact, for one of the most powerful officials of our church to condemn an adiaphoron and to associate it with false doctrine could be a situation where faithful pastors and congregations might find themselves in a state of confession, and adopt the ceremony as our forbears did in similar times of ceremonial accusations.

    My personal piety is to genuflect as the elements are consecrated, when approaching the altar for the first time, departing the altar at the conclusion, while communing, upon taking and returning the Gospel book, and in the Creed at the words 'and was made man.'

    For me, this is as natural and normal as making the sign of the cross or bowing my head to pray.

    Hopefully, the reverend president will clarify his words as to whether or not they are an accusation of false doctrine.

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    1. I can remember laymen genuflecting toward the altar before getting in their pew before the Service. Not so much today, but years ago.

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  9. I have never had a pastor who genuflected during consecration, but that does not mean the practice is wrong. I agree, I would like to see all pastors and congregations adopt the practice as a matter of confession.
    Rev. Wicher should be ashamed of his public false witness against his brothers. I hope and pray that he repents just as publically as he offended.

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  10. What we have here is adiaphora revealing false doctrine. DP Wicher has given a clear statement of an receptionist. Receptionism is false doctrine and is tolerated in the LCMS.

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    1. "Receptionism is false doctrine and is tolerated in the LCMS." That's quite a quote! Is it tolerated by you? I thought you were LCMS?

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    2. In 1999 the COP decided that I am not LCMS.

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    3. Oh, my goodness! Forgive me, Michael. I do not know your story. (Would like to hear it.) But, so...where do you go to Church if you are no longer a member of the LCMS? (Oh, blessed state.)

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  11. "However, no one, unless he be an Arian heretic, can and will deny that Christ Himself, true God and man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper, should be adored in spirit and in truth in the true use of the same, as also in all other places, especially where His congregation is assembled." (FC SD VII.126)

    If only we believed in God still...

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  12. I had never thought about this issue. I do bow, when I say "Amen" during the prayers, and I do kneel to receive Christ in Holy Communion. I have no problem with genuflecting during the Words of Institution, if instructed to do so. I was not taught to do so, however. If I have been wrong, Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.

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  13. Having read the entire article/report, it appears that you are straining at a gnat. That paragraph was just that, a paragraph that was, in fact, buried in the middle of the report. He was not confessing "Receptionism;" perhaps, he WAS confessing to a certain sensitivity regarding the appearance of Romanism. He didn't say that everyone else should share his sensibility, and he wrote as if to say that you are free to encourage him in how he should view the action that concerned him. Instead of coming to a third party audience and calling for him to repent, perhaps you should contact him directly and explain how his understanding was inaccurate, and that genuflecting is right and salutary during that portion of divine service. That would be better than launching yet another Lutheran flame war, even if you are right about the practice itself.

    May God bless you and keep you; may He make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may He lift up His countenance over you and grant you His peace.

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  14. Delwyn-
    You have certainly not been wrong, and that fact that you weren't taught to genuflect does not reflect poorly on your pastors and teachers. We all are learning, growing and rejoicing as we mature in the faith we have received. In the end we are free. Pastor Weedon did a bit of an unscientific survey about this issue a few years ago, you'll see the differences in practice are not divisive on this issue...or they shouldn't be at all and there is not place for guilt or shame in any way either by doing the ceremony or not.
    https://weedon.blogspot.com/2009/07/poll.html?m=1

    As for contacting President Wicher, I think that is what the public nature of the post does, as his own convention report was public. You have a good and evangelical approach. Hopefully this post doesn't start a flame war, but the kind of consideration and introspection you've experienced for all parties. He did say that he hoped that the practice would not continue, but his reasoning isn't helpful.

    The Lord be with you.

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    1. Well said, Pr. Ball. And of course, Pr. Weedon has also offered genuine wisdom in regards to the freedom of adiaphora. The problem in this case is that Pres. Wicher is not simply taking a different approach to the use of free man-made ceremonies. If the matter at hand was nothing more than a difference of opinion on whether or not to kneel at a given point in the Liturgy, there would be no cause for much concern. But ceremonies confess something, as Pres. Wicher has certainly discerned, and his accusation has been leveled not so much at genuflecting as at the truth this ceremony confesses. That is what is deeply troubling, in addition to the unbecoming tone of his report and his bearing of false witness against his brothers in Christ. His comments and criticisms suggest that Christ is not present in the Sacrament, according to His Words (Verba Christi). Presumably he holds to a receptionist view of the Sacrament, and so would not deny that the communicants receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion. One might well ask if he thus ascribes some "magic" power to the mouths of the communicants, by virtue of their being communicants, which is able to do what the Word of Jesus is unable to do in his opinion. But, again, the real issue at hand is not an adiaphorous ceremony but the doctrine of Christ and His Word. Do we believe and trust and honor the Word of our Lord, or do we not? And if a ceremony, which in itself is free, is criticized and rejected because of the truth which it confesses, then I am of a mind to suggest that it ought to be emphasized and practiced all the more fervently for the sake of that Truth.

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    2. In the dusty vaults of my increasingly decrepit memory, I think I remember learning at the Seminary that the early Church (perhaps during the Arian controversy) required, or at least expected, a priest to genuflect at least twice a year to prove he was not an heretic. But, that was a long time ago.

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  15. Forgive all the lousy typos! Writing on my phone!

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  16. Delwyn,I agree with the general sentiment of your comments.
    DP Wicher should have spoken with his brothers about his concerns. If he had, he probably would not have publicly, and falsely, maligned them.
    #wedidntstartthefire

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  17. I too was rather struck by Rev. Wicher's statement when I read his report. It seems rather odd that he should be so surprised by it, as I have been aware of its practice for some time. It is rather new to me too, but it IS appropriate to kneel before the altar of Christ and his very body and blood. I can't think otherwise. Interesting discussion on "Distributionists and Receptionists". I am not sure we will ever get to the bottom of this mystery with sure confidence here in this veil of sadness. But what I CAN give testimony to is that Pastor Wicher, sinner that he is, has been very faithful in helping me in my ministry when I have been in need. I am not "in the gossip loop" of the Eastern District, but from what I know he has been faithful and caring in his duties as District President. His sins have also been forgiven and he is a child of God. We ought to be thoughtful and Christlike in our response to perceived rebuke, remembering to interpret everything in the kindest way. To God be the Glory.

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  18. This whole thing reminds me of the brouhaha of seven years ago when "bloggers with a certain Lutheran youth organization" (as Fr Esget delicately put it) were ridiculing those pastors who wore rose vestments on Laetare and Gaudete, telling them to "get back in the closet", etc. Coming neatly between then and now was, of course, Fr Hollywood's great piece, "Goldilocks, George Carlin, and the Middle of the Road", which seems like especially apropros reading right now, at least to me. Looks like the via media tyrants aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

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  19. "Worship was definitely of high church style, complete with liturgies “out of the book” and chanting throughout on top of full liturgical garb, chasubles and the like." -- the Rev. Bishop Chris Wicher, Eastern District (LCMS)

    I confess uncertainty as to whether this keen observation bears more on the appearance of worship at a mundane convention; or rather on the appearance of worship by the blessed heavenlies, gathered in session around the Throne (cf. Revelation Chapters 4 and 5).

    Indeed, in such latter environ we presently find unabashed bowing (4:10; 5:8, 5:14), the melodic speech of which chanting actually consists(4:8,11; 5:9-10; 5:12; 5:13-14) and ... my heart fibrillates ... incense galore (5:8). Such hullabaloo is testified to by our inspired and sanctified Seer, with great conviction, as occurring "day and night" (4:8) ... or to put it differently, say, "quite incessantly, world without end, Amen!"

    As a physician and as mere mortal, I sometimes fear for the post-death sensibilities of some of our dear Lutheran bishops. Will it be one of an alienated, disengaged disappointment, or rather onr of a confounded, forehead-slapping shock? For all reliable notices of the great-experience-to-come seem to be less those of the resplendently lush fairways of Pebble Beach; than the beautiful and reverential ways of high church style (sic), ... those of a VERY High Church and its participating cloud of witnesses, indeed.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor















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  20. I have been genuflecting for the thirty years I have been priviledged to serve as celebrant; I learned it from other pastors of churches I'd attended (though not my home church) prior to seminary. Bishop Wicher appears to suffer from a form of alienation, the sense that "these folks are different from me, I don't understand what they're doing" which I feel every time the guitarist mounts the lectern and turns the service from a focus on God to a focus on the performer, or a clown minister appears, or an skit interrupts the sequence of prayer. Yes, I deeply appreciate the bishop's sense of alienation.

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  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  22. The Rev. Wes Kan submitted this comment, but for some reason, it didn't make it to the Gottesdienst inbox. Rather than try to run down the source of the glitch, I am posting it here with apologies to Pastor Kan. - Ed.

    The Rev. Dr. Chris Wicher, president of LCMS Eastern District, wrote a scathing commentary in his district's newsletter that was republished in Gottesdienst. Dr. Wicher railed against the practice of genuflecting in the divine service. He wrote, “This is something I hope will not continue (if genuflecting is what indeed is taking place) which in some strange way is reverencing the host as if the pastor, because he is a pastor, has some magical power and has instantly before our eyes magically changed the substance of the bread into the body of Christ. Really?”
    Dr. Wicher’s ad hominem attack upon those who genuflect is a direct violation of the Eighth Commandment that in the Small Catechism states we are to “put the best construction on everything.” Accusing fellow pastor of engaging in the practice of magic without any evidence whatsoever is to denounce them (us) for practicing witchcraft or sorcery in direct violation of the First Commandment. I genuflect and I deny the sorcery accusation. Dr. Wicher ought to publicly repent his false, baseless and unwarranted accusation.
    W. T. Kan

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  23. Interestingly, after studying this issue, I decided to start genuflecting during the Words of Institution. So far, no one has complained, and one person asked why I did it, seeming to accept my answer peacefully. No one accused me of moving in the direction of either witchcraft or Trent.

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