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A Review of “The Chief Divine Service of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church”

Friedrich Lochner. The Chief Divine Service of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. Translated by Matthew Carver.
St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2020.
314 pages. $39.99, paperback.

Trained in orthodox Lutheran theology in his native Germany, Friedrich Lochner (1822–1902) came to America in 1845 to work as a Lutheran pastor. After serving as pastor in Milwaukee and Springfield, Illinois, he taught “both congregational singing and liturgics at the Missouri Synod’s seminary of practical theology” in Springfield from 1876–1887 (p. xvii). His book Der Hauptgottesdienst der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche (CPH, 1895) grew out of his study-notes from teaching those courses in liturgy and hymnology. Matthew Carver’s excellent and readable translation is the first complete translation of Lochner’s 1895 treatise, which remains a valuable source for Lutheran pastors and church musicians.

Lochner was evidently an excellent teacher—logical in organizing a course of study and thorough in presenting its content. In his preface, Lochner outlines his reasons for writing on the Lutheran liturgy. When he came to America, Lochner discovered that “the old form of the Lutheran Chief Divine Service [Hauptgottesdienst] was known and used only in a handful of congregations . . .” (p. xviii). What he feared was “the influence of English Puritanism” and its concomitant tendency toward liturgical minimalism. But he also acknowledged a kind of tension between 1) Article VII of the Augsburg Confession and 2) his advocacy for “the genuinely Lutheran Chief Divine Service” (p. 44). Lochner quotes from Article VII: “To the true unity of the Christian Church it is enough [satis est] that the Gospel is preached according to the pure sense, and the Sacraments administered according to the Word of God. Nor is it necessary to the true unity of the Christian Church that like ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed everywhere.” While acknowledging that premise from the Augsburg Confession, Lochner juxtaposes what he considers to be a complementary rather than a competing premise: “At the same time, our present concern is the genuinely Lutheran Chief Divine Service, in which the good forms and rites deriving from the Ancient Church . . . have been retained as much as possible . . .” (p. 44). Essentially, Lochner maintained that, while no one can insist on uniform liturgical ceremonies, why would one not wish to use the richness of the Chief Divine Service, which originated in the early church and subsequently was restored by Luther? In the twenty-first century, one can readily encounter the same situation that Lochner observed, namely, Lutheran churches that give up the richness of the Lutheran Divine Service for “the most rudimentary [liturgical] forms” (p. xviii). Lochner pinpointed what has proven to be a continuing problem, now more than a century later. 

Elsewhere in Part One (“The Formation and Structure of the Lutheran Chief Divine Service”), Lochner very helpfully clarifies the meaning of “Divine Service,” aptly defining God’s service to His people and distinguishing the divine and the human, in Lochner’s words: “divine love giving gifts and blessing, and of human love receiving and responding” (p. 2). This too is a recurring need in our time—for Lutherans to understand that the Divine Service is assuredly more than praise that we offer to God. 

In Part Two (“The Individual Parts of the Lutheran Chief Divine Service”), he examines in detail each part of the Divine Service—from the Introit through the Post-Communion rite. The music of both Proper and Ordinary portions of the liturgy is a major focus of this part of the book, with the music examples from Lochner’s book preserved unaltered except when required by translation considerations.

More than a significant historical treatise on the Lutheran liturgy, Lochner’s book remains valuable as the Lutheran church of the twenty-first century grapples with continuing questions of liturgy and identity.

Dr. Daniel Zager
Librarian Emeritus, Sibley Music Library 
Eastman School of Music
Rochester, NY