The Enlightenment had a profound effect on the way Lutherans worshiped. The reticence of earlier generations to establish uniform liturgical practices meant it was nearly impossible to refer to a single, orthodox Lutheran tradition. Preaching was central to the service, but sermons in many cases were little more than lectures. Often, they did not even contain references to God. Hymn texts were adapted, and de-emphasized basic Christian beliefs, such as the divinity of Christ and even the Trinity itself. Doxological stanzas often were entirely eliminated.
In 1817, coinciding with the 300th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, movements toward a recovery of historic Lutheran theology and liturgical practice surfaced. While Lutheranism quickly benefited from this new sense of renewed confessional worship, the practice was not uniform. Many Pietists felt this trend lacked a sufficient emphasis on personal experience.
Near the end of the 19th century, American Lutherans of several ethnic backgrounds developed and adopted a shared liturgical text in English. It was based upon historic Western liturgical patterns and came to be known as the "Common Service."
The emphasis on intellect during the Enlightenment had far-reaching consequences for Lutheran Christians. It seemed an admirable goal to want Christians to understand what was happening as they worshipped and to be edified. This goal profoundly affected the Lutheran church.
The sermon rose to a level of paramount importance. The normal Sunday service became a preaching service. The Word and Sacrament no longer were a weekly part of Lutheran worship. In many places, even the historic lectionary of assigned Sunday Bible readings disappeared. Sermons became opportunities for general moral instruction. Rationalists sought to minimize transcendent aspects of the faith (God, heaven, etc.) and to emphasize the use of reason in all aspects of human life.
In order to ensure that "edification" took place, churches eliminated nearly all that hinted of routine. The Rationalists believed anything that smacked of routine discouraged human beings from employing their mental faculties. Where historic texts of the liturgical Ordinary were partially retained, congregations no longer sang them. Many services were nothing more than a sermon with occasional hymns and prayers.
The development of the Common Service in the United States in the latter part of the 19th century revitalized the English language liturgy that was shared by Lutherans from several ethnic traditions.
The modern Lutheran orthodox movement sprang from this beginning. After about 10 years, orthodoxy appeared to begin to dominate Rationalist thinking and began to give way to a Romantic understanding.
Romanticism shifted Lutheran worship both inwardly in a mystical way and backward toward its ethnic and cultural heritage. The Romantic interest in history and heritage assisted orthodox Lutherans in the recovery of earlier liturgy and practice.
C. P. Krauth, C. F. W. Walther, and Beale M. Schmucker, in particular, worked to revive historic liturgical practice. These leaders formed the impetus that brought about the unified liturgy as proposed by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg in mid-18th century.
After preliminary approval by the cooperating churches, three men–Edward Traill Horn, Beale M. Schmucker, and George U. Wenner–began drafts of the Common Service in 1884. Published in 1888, the Common Service included British translations from the "Book of Common Prayer." It was a quite faithful Lutheran adaptation of the full historic Christian liturgy for Holy Communion.
It expressed the hope for the day "when the One, Holy, Catholic, Christian Church, shall use one Order of Service, and unite in one confession of faith" (Wolf, p.111). On July 2, 1893, the revised "Church Book" appeared in print and the Common Service was included in a worship book for the first time. It was a remarkable achievement both in liturgical renewal and ecumenism.
It paved the way for the preparation of common translations of the "Augsburg Confession" and Luther’s "Small Catechism." The manner in which the Common Service brought Christians together over the Word and Sacrament foreshadowed the direction taken by the ecumenical movements in the last half of the 20th century.