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.