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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

What Does This "High Church" Mean?

Owning the "High Church" label, for a little while, without quibbling over its semantic baggage:

A high view of the Church, as I have said before, goes hand-in-hand with a high view of Christ.  A "High Church" attitude and approach to the Liturgy and worship derives from a particular view of life before God, which finds its central focus and clarity in the Reconciliation of Christ Jesus, the Atonement of His Cross, and the Justification of His Resurrection from the dead.  It is with profound gratitude to God for this Gospel, for this grace in which we stand, that we draw near — through the flesh and blood of Jesus, by His Word and Holy Spirit — and, in reverent awe, that we approach the receiving and the handing over of His good gifts.

"High Church" is typically characterized by, and is usually identified with, a certain quantity and quality of formal ceremonial (admittedly ambiguous in its contours, but everyone evidently knows it when they see it).  Despite that common stereotype, however, outward ceremonies are not the chief or definitive concern; they are not the heart of the matter, nor are they decisive; leastwise not for a "High Church" Lutheran.

A high view of the Church, deriving from a high view of Christ, our Savior, approaches the Divine Liturgy and Christian worship with confidence and conviction concerning the following eight axioms (I'm calling them axioms, because I'm not sure what else to call them, but "axiom" has the right sort of orthodox ambiance):

1. The sufficiency, power, and authority of the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, for repentance and faith, forgiveness, and life everlasting in Christ.

2. The centrality of the Holy Sacraments for the faith and life of the Church: Holy Baptism as foundational; Holy Absolution as a continuing exercise of the significance of Holy Baptism; and the Holy Communion as the heart and center of the Body.

3. The goodness of Creation, and of the body, especially in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the first creation and the Firstfruits of the New Creation.

4. The catechetical character and liturgical purpose of Preaching, which is always proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' Name, in order to bring disciples to and from the Font, to and from the Altar, in the worthiness of repentant faith.

5. The evangelical definition of the Office of the Holy Ministry, which in all things (including the exercise of Church discipline) aims at the forgiveness of sinners with the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

6. The "meet, right, and salutary" appropriateness of thanksgiving and praise, of worship and adoration, with "hearts and hands and voices," with body and soul together, and with lips that are opened by the Word and Spirit of Christ to confess and call upon His Holy Name, to the Glory of His God and Father.

7. The gracious Word and work of Christ Jesus, our merciful and great High Priest, who ever lives to make intercession for us at the right hand of the Father, and who also serves His Church on earth with His Divine Liturgy of the Gospel.

8. The unity, holiness, and catholicity of the Church in Christ Jesus, who is with her in each time and place, not only with His Spirit and Divinity, but also with His Body and true Manhood, wherever He calls and gathers His disciples together "in His Name," in the preaching and administration of His Holy Gospel.