Great Stuff — Gottesdienst: What’s This? Genuflecting in Worship?

Another great post found over on GottesdienstOnline:


kneelingIf 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, pages 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, pages 102-103, 105-106.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — Gottesdienst: What’s This? Genuflecting in Worship? — 31 Comments

  1. Actually, the practice of Eucharistic adoration is generally something different in the Roman Catholic Church. Eucharistic adoration takes place outside of the use within the Mass often in the Roman Catholic Church. That is, a consecrated host is placed in a monstrance and then people pray before it, often kneeling. The proper, Lutheran practice takes place within the Divine Service. That’s what the Gottesdienst blog post discusses. It is good and proper to kneel before God our Maker anytime. It is certainly proper to kneel before Christ our Redeemer in the holy Supper. No Lutheran, particularly a district president, should have any problem with that devout practice.

  2. “WHAT’S THIS?

    “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?”

    A “lifelong LCMS Lutheran” (and DP) described the Words of Institution as “magic” and the Sacrament “magically changed” as if “life long Lutherans” believed in transubstantiation?

  3. The Rev. Chris Wicher, President of the Eastern District of the LCMS said, ““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?”

    I would expect this kind of reaction from the radically reformed Romaphobes. Maybe DP Wicher is in the wrong church. Really.

  4. I would prefer to hear Rev. Wicher speak up with regard to LCMS congregations practicing Open Communion as to how, “I hope it will not continue.” Somehow(Scripture??) I find open Communion much more askew to Lutheran doctrine than genuflection. Genuflection is optional in Lutheran worship. Closed communion is not!

  5. From The Book of Concord, Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, VII:

    “Accordingly, with heart and mouth we reject and condemn as false, erroneous, and misleading …

    “15. … when it is taught that the elements or the visible species or forms of the consecrated bread and wine must be adored. 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.”

  6. I attended the opening service at the convention, and I fail to see what was done as a confession of the Romanist error condemned in FC VII that the celebrant has the power to effect the Sacramental Union by his recitation of the Verba. I thought the opening service was edifying and beautiful. Christians have been kneeling in worship to our Lord since the Early Church as they eat and drink His body and blood in the holy Sacrament. I am thankful that our synod is blessedly led and going in the right direction despite what the corrosive left may say.

  7. @T-rav #7

    And what specific practice is that quote in reference to?

    Carrying the Host around in a box, e.g. Corpus Christi processions, outside of the celebration of the Sacrament.

    [I expect DP Wicher knew that once, too, but amused mockery suits his purposes.]

  8. Dear BJS,
    Aghhhh, now some may understand the difference between worship and praise. The Psalmist knows. Much of the other stuff is trappings, adiaphora; you come into His presence with head bowed, to be served by Him. Hmmm, then when worship is over, cup of coffee in hand later, go have ssme praise.

  9. What happens on Sunday morning is properly called “The Divine Service”. Not “Worship Service” or even “Divine Worship”. God does indeed serve us with His saving grace, and that is the very essence of what is happening. But, God does not worship. Worship includes, praise, thanks, and prayer. Look up the word “worship” or, take it from Pastor Rolf Preus: “We use the word “worship” in English. That’s a good old English word meaning, literally, “worthship.” To worship God is to ascribe to God his true worth. He is worthy to be feared, loved, and trusted above all things. This worship is our work. It cannot be offered unless and until God creates in us the faith and the will to do so. But worship is our duty to God. Worship is our service to God. God does not worship us; we worship him.”

  10. How surprising it will be for so many Christians, when on the Last Day *every* knee bows and every tongue confesses (whether the like it or not) that Christ is Lord.

  11. @T-rav #11

    Thanks! Just wanted it emphasized as CMP already explained in comment 2.

    You’re welcome. Glad to oblige. 🙂

    Ted, who hasn’t been heard much lately, (?) would say, “Worth repeating”.

  12. @Pastor Prentice #12

    “Much of the other stuff is trappings, adiaphora…”

    Adiaphora : ‘Lutheran liberal’ definition : anything seemingly unimportant to YOU, though it may have been important in the church for up to two millennia… and is still important to Lutherans.
    See also: chalice; vestments; liturgy, et alia

  13. @Dave Schumacher #14
    Dear Dave,
    Let me educate you please…On Sunday, you come into:
    01) His presence, His house.
    02) We worship, we bow down to Him, listen to the Psalmist again.
    03) We then receive what He offers us, What? You guessed it, the Sacraments.
    04) Yes, call it Divine Worship, (I do too).

    But, as the tone of the Psalmist, we come into His presence, as we come, head bowed to the King, and we receive His blessing.

  14. @Pastor Prentice #18

    Pastor, other than no. 4 I have no dispute with what you said. What I would like you to “educate” me on is what the difference between worship and praise is.

  15. @Dave Schumacher #20
    Dear Dave,
    So, we are on the same page. Here is where I come from with all this. If we go back to the true Biblical roots of worship, worship came before praise. Yes, David sang and danced when the ark was recovered, and other places. But worship was the first (as the Psalmist and other spots allude), we need it, we do not need praise.

    In the “worship war” disputes, I simply say, separate them out. But if you do, never drop the worship, the bowing down, the receiving. Yes, I like some good praise time, but only after I receive what God gives. And yes, the LSB (and other) settings are great at worship.

    Yes, I cannot stand the terms traditional, blended, contemporary worship. But I am in the minority. Only Divine Service at my Church, which is the best worship setting I have.

    I think we have “Englished up” the term for worship, I want to get back to the Psalmist’s terms for what it is. In a true worship setting, I never have to speak a word, except AMEN.

  16. @Dave Schumacher #22
    Hmmmm. OK, I think of it as this. At Faith, I got a huge CROSS at the center of the sanctuary, looking out over us all. In “worship”, the arrow of the action is truly God to me, from the cross. I step into Church, I hear the Word (spoken by lessons and proclaimed), I receive Divine forgiveness of Absolution (upon confession), I also receive His Body sand Blood. All the real action is from God to me.

    In “praise”, I send back. A good hymn, a response, etc.

    Now, to many, the worship is boring and old, the praise is fun and cool. Sad. I think of late, “some” are trying to “praise up” a worship service, and then it truly loses what it is, worship.

    Why not simply say:

    9 am – Divine Worship (no songs, silent reverence, receive)
    10 am – Praise

    Now you MUST come to 9 am then stick around for 10 am praise.

    OK, never going to happen. But are you “kind of” seeing what I mean. We MUST come to the 9 am worship, we need GOD and all He offers. We want to praise, and God likes it, does not need it, but has no problem with our hearts singing praise for what we received.

    Maybe that would stop the worship wars. Or I am just a knuckle head.

  17. OK Pastor, I think I’m understanding what you are saying and, for the most part, I don’t disagree.
    Our confessions say: “The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God” (Apology IV.310). So, yes worshipping by receiving God’s gifts to us is the most important, and does precede our thanksgiving and praise. But, I think it confuses people when we speak of praise as being different than worship. It isn’t. Praise is worship, thanksgiving is worship, prayer is worship. But, none of these are even possible without first receiving God’s gracious gifts of faith and forgiveness. So, it isn’t that praise is not worship, it is something that will flow naturally after the most excellent worship of receiving God’s gifts.
    It is for that reason that I do not like calling it “Divine Worship”. Although this term does correctly indicate that God is worshipped, it falls short in that it indicates that ‘worship’ (something that we do) is the important thing – it’s not. That is why the Lutheran Church has always referred to it as “The Divine Service” (Gottesdienst).

  18. A little Walther for the mix:

    Walther, Der Lutheraner, as in this example, translated from the July 19, 1853, issue, volume 9, number 24, page 163:

    Whenever the divine service once again follows the old Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a great cry that it is “Roman Catholic”: “Roman Catholic” when the pastor chants “The Lord be with you” and the congregation responds by chanting “and with thy spirit”; “Roman Catholic” when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the people respond with a chanted “Amen.” Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry: “Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the Word of God, then I too will call it `Roman Catholic’ and have nothing more to do with it. However, you cannot prove this to me.” If you insist upon calling every element in the divine service “Romish” that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also “Romish.” Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the Roman Church has done this also . . .Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting… For more than 1700 years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service. Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is “Roman Catholic”? God forbid! Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects or with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian Church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

  19. I would suggest reading The Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz by the late Bjarne Teigen. Read especially on reverencing the sacrament within the usus.

    I would also look at this by Tom G.A. Hardt

    Also helpful is John R. Stephenson: Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics: The Lord’s Supper

    Also if you have the helpful book Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation by Ernst Zeeden (CPH), it clearly documents from earliest times that genuflection was continued by Lutherans in reverence toward the corporeal presence of Christ in the Holy Supper. Just look in the index for the pages. For Lutherans it was about confessing the real presence, not sacrifice. The sacrifice of the Mass among us now are “praise services.” Let us not lose the two key points of the Divine Service – that “divine service” is sola gratia said in a liturgical way, and that the holy real presence is the heartbeat of the liturgy. Let’s stop using that term “worship service.” It is tautological and it puts the accent on the work of man. (Don’t “Divine Worship” either.) Liturgy is not “work of the people” but is the public ministry of Word and Sacrament. Liturgy is not adiaphora (see first table of the law). Certain ceremonies are adiaphora or mitteldinge. It doesn’t mean they are indifferent. Things neither commanded nor forbidden can still do mischief if misused. (The proper pronunciation of ‘adiaphora’ is not “idea-for-a”.)

    The last convention greatly restored AC XIV to the LCMS. Now I think it is time to see if we will restore AC XXIV and Apology XXIV and Formula of Concord-Solid Declaration VII to the LCMS. If one’s reading of FC X on adiaphora is such that it negates AC and Apology XXIV then one isn’t reading FC X properly.

  20. Rev. Wicher is confusing concerns about a Roman view with the office with a receptionistic view of the consecration. We do teach that the verba, within the larger context of the usus are the effective means Christ uses cause the bread and wine to be His body and blood. The body and blood are consecrated, distributed and received. The body and blood are present within the instituted three-fold action of the sacrament then eucharistic reverence via traditional genuflection or possibly in other ways is highly appropriate. He should read AC XXIV and FC-SD VII over again. We do not subscribe to a Aristotelian receptionism with regard to the sacrament – no four causes imposed upon the Verba Testamenti.

    There are lots of things in our Lutheran heritage, LCMS or before 1847, that have been dusty in our ecclesial attic for quite some time – due to American frontier conditions, the after-effects of the Thirty Years War, or Pietism or Rationalism. There are lots of Lutherans who think TLH didn’t have any chant either. Experience isn’t the authority or standard here.

  21. @Rev. John A. Frahm #28: “Now I think it is time to see if we will restore AC XXIV and Apology XXIV and Formula of Concord-Solid Declaration VII to the LCMS.”

    Be sure to include SA.II.II, SA.III.IV, LC.VII, SC.VI, and Ep.VII.

  22. Martin Chemnitz permits Eucharistic Adoration during the distribution of the sacred elements.

    There is nothing wrong with worshiping the Lord your God who is “in, with and under” the bread and wine in Holy Communion.

    Satan causes you to look away from the consecrated bread and wine and to seek the Lord where He has not promised to be.

    Get over yourselves.

    End of story.

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