Bringing Classic Lutheranism back here and now…

In recent years our little north woods town of Boulder Junction, Wisconsin has used the marketing slogan “Bringing Classic Back” for our tourism focus.    We’ll borrow that tagline here to describe our confession as it shows itself at Trinity.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Boulder Junction is a congregation of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.   As such we hold to a particular and definite biblical understanding and confession in both teaching and practice.   One might call this confessional or classic Lutheranism, as known by the confessions (creedal writings) of the Lutheran Church as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580.   We do not understand our Lutheran Church to be a “new church” that originated in the 16th century nor when the LCMS was founded in 1847.   Rather we understand the Lutheran confession to represent historic, biblical, creedal, and liturgical Christianity that has been confessed down through each century.    The Lord has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church.   God has put us here to serve this area in Vilas County, Wisconsin and along this part of Upper Michigan in the great north woods.

This identity of our Lutheran congregation expresses the Christ-centered message and worship life of the church in this place and the acknowledgment of His holy presence with us by means of His Word and Sacraments.  In short, when you depart for home after service on Sunday morning, you know you’ve been to church.  We seek to be faithful to the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship in the Lord’s Supper and the ordered prayer life of the Church.   We seek to live faithfully in the world but not of the world until our Lord’s return in glory on the Last Day.

At Trinity Lutheran Church of Boulder Junction you’ll still find Bible, Catechism, and hymnal thoroughly used in our life together in Christ.  We believe the historic liturgy and the faithful body of hymns in our Lutheran heritage best reflect what we receive from Holy Scripture and confess in the Book of Concord.   We believe that these are assets for the faithful proclamation of the gospel to all because they confess the changeless and universal faith that we have received from the faithful who have gone before us.   We wish to remain distinctly confessional in teaching and practice passing on what we have received, rather than blending in with the landscape of pop Christianity.  We simply intend to set for the truth in love in all its fullness and trust that the Holy Spirit does indeed do His work in His time as a gift, without our added agendas or attempts to manage what is clearly His doing.

Right here where God has put us we have God’s faithful and reliable promises in Christ. We have preserved for us here “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). It is the faithful deposit that is handed down in stewardship from the holy apostles of the Lord Jesus. It does not change.   The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the sure promise that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. His mercy never ceases. Once and for all Christ has paid for our sins upon the cross. For all humanity of all time, Jesus has said, “it is finished.” He tells us that our sins are paid in full. All of our failures, selfishness, cruelty, idolatry, and transgressions against God’s commandments were laid upon Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And Jesus has been raised physically from the dead to deliver to us an eternal victory over sin, death, and hell. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, these treasures and gifts can never be taken away. God in Christ is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. For those who are baptized into Christ are clothed with Christ – God sees us then eternally as His redeemed children, covered in the righteousness of the Son eternally begotten of the Father who also fulfilled for us all righteousness and pronounced us righteous for His sake.

And the Church of the Lord has the charge then to deliver the “whole counsel of God” and to “teach all things” faithfully as a stewardship of the mysteries of God. The Church is not called upon to make it up as they go along or simply “do what works.” The Church is called to be faithful, as are the ministers of Word and Sacrament who proclaim Good News and administer the holy sacraments.  As we live, work, play, shop, rest, and struggle with life, let us find our rest, our comfort, our peace, and certainty in the unchanging truth of Christ, His Word, and the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

If you are a Christian who has been away from God’s Word and Sacraments, make the time for church.   We need to hear God’s Word regularly and have it faithfully taught (Romans 10:17; Acts 2:42).  Our faith lives from what it receives in God’s holy Word and Sacraments.  Without it we become numb to our spiritual hunger and thirst and become cold and lose our faith.   Faith is more than just remembering, it is trust that depends upon what God continually gives in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s chosen means of His Word and Sacraments.   The truth matters.  Saving Christian faith must have a true object and not just optimism or nostalgia or assuming the culture’s values and standards.  The Lord perseveres in His reaching out toward us.   Let Trinity serve that and teach you the “whole counsel of God,” the apostolic faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  Return to the Lord, for He is gracious and merciful.   Times of renewal, repentance, and divine forgiveness are here for you at Trinity Lutheran Church.  Be established, grounded, and centered in Christ with us at Trinity!

Come and grow, learn, pray, worship in reverence, receive the Lord’s gifts, witness out in the world in your calling in life and know the ancient Christian faith and worship alive today for you!   Evangelical and catholic are the old words that describe the substance of our traditional Lutheran congregation in teaching and practice.

Our pastor is glad to offer instruction for those coming from other beliefs and who have come to trust the good news of Christ and acknowledge that truth.   Catechetical instruction is offered for young and old.    Please also feel free to ask questions about our beliefs, practice, and understanding the Divine Service.


Which path toward membership is determined to a large degree by the individual’s background. Meeting with the pastor is the best place to start. But generally speaking, the following description of the paths toward baptized, communicant membership are followed:

+ TRANSFER – For those coming from another congregation of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (or a congregation in our church fellowship, such as TAALC or LC-C), who are already baptized communicant members of their previous congregation, are usually simply transferred by action of both congregations.   The pastor will still wish to discuss matters of teaching and practice given the divergences in some LCMS congregations.

+ GENERAL ADULT CATECHISM CLASS – For those coming from non-Lutheran Christian background (for example Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, non-denominational, etc.) usually adult catechesis (instruction) is held to cover biblical teaching as summarized in the catechism and to cover the historic Lutheran liturgy. This course usually will go for some months, but usually less than a year.   Because of divergent issues between the LCMS and the ELCA, prospective members from congregations of the ELCA will typically be asked to go through adult catechism class as well.   Public confirmation and affirmation of our confession of the faith is mandatory before being received into communicant membership.

+ ADULT CATECHISM CLASS WITH EXTRA ATTENTION – For those coming with no or little Christian background thorough catechesis (instruction) will be needed toward both receiving Holy Baptism, public affirmation of the Lutheran confession of the faith, and to be received as a communicant member of the congregation. In mind for this path are those coming from non-Christian religions or no religion at all (for example Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, atheist, agnostic, pagan, unitarian).

For those coming from other Christian denominations and are already baptized, we want to ensure in these days that such were baptized with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For those baptized with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, there is no need for another baptism and it would be wrong to have another one. Those baptized among Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Oneness Pentecostals will need to be baptized again, so to speak, though in such cases those baptisms were not properly Scriptural.

+ YOUTH CATECHESIS – Baptized youths at Trinity now are typically going through Catechism Class (“confirmation”) during middle school years, with some flexibility as to which grade or the precise age.   Our concern has to do with the student’s readiness as well as the commitment of the parent(s).  A minimum of three years of intensive instruction are required at Trinity prior to going through the rite of confirmation.   The pastor reserves the right to commend a student for another year when deemed necessary for admission to the altar.   Generally only children of parents who are already attending Divine Service regularly will be admitted to catechism class toward confirmation.   Children of parents who are will not attending regularly will not be admitted.
Parents seeking the sacrament of Holy Baptism for their infant children are asked to meet with the pastor regarding this. 

The History and Meaning of the Sign of the Cross Among Lutherans

“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” I Corinthians 2:2

The Sign of the Cross

Its History and Meaning

Lutheran liturgical scholar, Paul Lang notes:

Crossing oneself was practiced by Christians from the earliest centuries and may go back to apostolic times. We know that it was already a common ceremony used daily in A.D. 200, for Tertullian writes: “In all undertakings – when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we retire at night; when we sit down to read; before each task — we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.” St. Augustine (A.D. 431) speaks of this custom many times in his sermons and letters.

Lang also remarks:

It is one of the traditional ceremonies that was most definitely retained by Luther and the Lutheran Church in the 16th century Reformation. Luther prescribed it in his Small Catechism under the heading: “How the Head of the Family Should Teach His Household to Bless Themselves in the Morning and in the Evening.” He says, “In the morning when you rise (In the evening when you go to bed) you shall bless yourself with the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” Again in his Large Catechism he recommends that parents should instruct their children to cross themselves for the purpose of recalling their divine Protector in moments of danger, terror, and temptation. This ceremony is also still authorized in many present-day Lutheran service books [Ceremony & Celebration, p.71f].

Although Roman Catholics make the sign of the cross, they do not have a monopoly on the practice.  The sign of the cross is not a uniquely Roman Catholic practice. It is shared by Christians who maintain something of historic Christian piety and liturgical practice. As pointed out above, the sign of the cross is a practice continued by Luther, and prescribed by him in the Small Catechism and other writings.

To be sure, there are some who make the sign of the cross in an empty or superstitious manner – still the abuse of the practice does not invalidate its proper use. For some the sign of the cross can also become an outward show of piety to others, a work of self-righteousness. The sign of the cross is also abused if it is used in that way. Whether done in an empty way, a superstitious way, or in a self-righteous way, the problem in such cases is not with the gesture but with the attitude of the person practicing it.

The basic meaning of the sign of the cross is derived from Holy Baptism (hence Luther’s connection with the Triune invocation of God’s name). In the Baptism Liturgy the pastor makes the sign of the cross “both upon the forehead and upon the heart” to mark the candidate for Baptism as “one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” Hence the sign of the cross is a way of remembering one’s Baptism into Christ the crucified and the blessings that come through Him (Romans 6). That is its most basic meaning and that is how Lutherans interpret it in an evangelical (Gospel) way.            Since it is neither commanded nor forbidden, Christians may or may not use it in freedom. However, it is not something to be condemned.

St. Paul the Apostle exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” The sign of the cross assists our prayer in a physical way so that we may remember that Christ is our help in every time of need and that we are baptized into Him. In Holy Baptism we are joined to our Lord in His death, burial, and resurrection. In general, the sign of the cross is made to acknowledge that all of our faculties (mind, heart, and soul) and all of our strength (shoulders) are being dedicated to the service of God in the cross of Christ, through Holy Baptism as well as the other means of God’s grace in the Lord Christ alone.

Sometimes a physical gesture or postures help us to focus our mind for what is at hand and upon God’s Word. Bowing, kneeling, folding one’s hands, not to mention the sign of the cross, help us to focus our body and soul for prayer and worship, especially in the context of the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament, but also in our personal and family prayers.   We worship “in Spirit and Truth” the Word who became flesh and made His dwelling among us. And so our worship of the Triune God is inseparably physical and spiritual.  In a Christian view, these two cannot be separated.   God made us physical-spiritual beings (Gen. 2).

How and When Is the Sign of the Cross Done?

The sign of the cross is simply done by holding the first two fingers and the thumb of the right hand together at their tips, and with the fourth and fifth fingers folded over the palm together. Then, with the fingers so joined, the forehead is touched first (“In the name of the Father”), then the chest (“and of the Son”), the right shoulder (“and of the Holy…”), and finally the left shoulder (“Spirit. Amen.”).                             Meanwhile, the head and shoulders are slightly bowed as a sign of servanthood to the Blessed Trinity. This is the most ancient way. Some Christians go to the left shoulder first.

The thumb, index finger, and middle finger joined symbolize the Holy Trinity while the two remaining fingers symbolize the two natures in Christ (that He is true God and true man).    The movement from right to left is understood to mean that salvation passed from the Jews, who were at the right side of God (the side of honor, belonging to the chosen people) to the Gentiles, who were at His left, or as Paul says, the promise is for the Jew first and then also for the Gentile.

In conclusion, the sign of the cross is customarily done during these times:

+ Upon entering and leaving the nave of the church

+ at the Invocation at the beginning of the Divine Service

+ At “and the life of the world to come” in the Creed

+ When receiving the body and blood of the Lord

+ At the words “deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer

+ At a Benediction or Dismissal from the altar

+ Before beginning personal and family prayers

+ At the benediction at the end of the liturgy

+ During the opening versicles of Matins and Vespers

+ Whenever it is a helpful reminder of Christ

Note: During the Divine Service, when the Holy Gospel is announced, one may also make a “triple sign of the cross” on the forehead, lips, and heart. This smaller cross at this point is made with the hand closed, using the tip of the thumb, upon the forehead, lips, and heart, since the Gospel sanctifies our minds, our mouths, and our hearts in Christ’s forgiveness.

The sign of the cross is a symbolic reminder of our salvation in Christ alone, and by grace (a gift) alone. As such it can be a visible proclamation of what we believe, teach, and confess.

Quotations from Martin Luther on the Sign of the Cross

1 In the morning, when you rise, make the sign of the cross and say, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” [Small Catechism, Luther’s Morning & Evening Prayers][1]

“It is certain that if anyone could speak these words “And the Word became flesh” in true faith and with strong confidence in hours of the greatest temptation, he would be delivered from his trouble and distress; for the devil fears these words when they are uttered by a believer. I have often read and also witnessed it myself that many, when alarmed and distraught, spoke these words “And the Word became flesh” and at the same time made the sign of the cross, and thereby routed the devil.”[2]

“You must never doubt that God is aware of your distress and hears your prayer. You must not pray haphazardly or simply shout into the wind. Then you would mock and tempt God. It would be better not to pray at all, than to pray like the priests and monks. It is important that you learn to praise also this point in this verse: “The Lord answered me and set me free.” The psalmist declares that he prayed and cried out, and that he was certainly heard. If the devil puts it into your head that you lack the holiness, piety, and worthiness of David and for this reason cannot be sure that God will hear you, make the sign of the cross, and say to yourself: “Let those be pious and worthy who will! I know for a certainty that I am a creature of the same God who made David. And David, regardless of his holiness, has no better or greater God than I have.”[3]

“Whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life. Cling to His neck or to His garment; that is, believe that He became man and suffered for you. Cross yourself and say: “I am a Christian and will conquer.” And you will find that death is vanquished. In Acts 2:24 St. Peter says that death was not able to hold Christ, since deity and humanity were united in one Person. In the same way we, too, shall not remain in death; we shall destroy death, but only if we remain steadfast in faith and cling to death’s Destroyer.”[4]

“Now, is that not a horrible disease and an abominable sin, one that should terrify us so that we hate Mammon from the heart, make the sign of the cross against him and run away as from the devil? Who would not be terrified to fall into this and to hear this judgment spoken over him? He will be called “God’s enemy,” one who not only despises God but even wishes that God and His Word did not exist, just so that he could have the freedom to do as he pleases and wills, to insult God and vex Him. Figure out for yourself what the fate of such a person will be. He is saddling himself with a man who will eventually prove to be too heavy for him.”[5]

[1]Tappert, T. G. 2000, c1959. The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Small Cat.: VII, 1). Fortress Press: Philadelphia

[2]Luther, M. 1999, c1957. Luther’s Works, vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Vol. 22 (Jn 1:15). Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis

[3]Luther, M. 1999, c1958. Luther’s Works, vol. 14 : Selected Psalms III (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Vol. 14 (Ps 118:6). Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis

[4]Luther, M. 1999, c1957. Luther’s Works, vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Vol. 22 (Jn 3:20). Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis

[5]Luther, M. 1999, c1956. Luther’s Works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Vol. 21 (Mt 6:25). Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis

On the Purpose and Meaning of Liturgical Vestments Among Lutherans

Unlike the Old Testament Levitical Priesthood (see Exodus 28:1-43), there are no divinely prescribed vestments neither for the Apostles nor the pastors after them. However, the Church, in her time-tested wisdom saw the gradual development of vestments uniquely identified with the clergy and other liturgical assistants (deacons, acolytes, etc).

While there are no Scriptural requirements for vestments there are no laws against them either. This being said, the lack of neither a command nor a prohibition does not mean that such things should be dealt with without careful thought, purpose, a view to the larger church throughout the ages.

In his chapter covering vestments in the book, Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, John T. Pless notes:

…liturgical vestments developed out of ordinary civilian dress of the late Roman empire. Between the fourth and ninth centuries these items of clothing became ecclesiastical garments invested with specific liturgical meaning. Liturgical attire developed from two basic types of Roman clothing: an indoor tunic and an outdoor cloak. The indoor tuned survived as the alb, while the outdoor cloak became the chasuble, and, eventually, the cope. […] Only after the clothing of Roman antiquity was in regular use in the church’s liturgy was the theological meaning assigned to the various garments. [pp.219,220]

This development from the early church continued through the Middle Ages and into the Lutheran Reformation era.   Pless writes on the attitude of the various Lutheran and non-Lutheran Reformers on vestments:

The question of vestments had to be faced by the Reformers. The Anabaptists and the Reformed rejected vestments as detestable reminders of the papal church.      For Luther, vestments belonged within the realm of Christian liberty. […] Article XXIV of the Apology states that the Church of the Augsburg Confession [the Lutheran Church] has not abolished the Mass but celebrates it every Sunday and on other festivals and maintains “traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of lessons, prayers, vestments, etc.” The research of Günther Stiller and Arthur Carl Piepkorn demonstrates that the historic vestments (alb, chasuble, and stole) continued to be used in many places within the Lutheran Church [Germany, Scandinavia, etc.] well into the 18th century. For the most part these vestments were rejected by the proponents of Calvinism, Pietism, and Rationalism. It was under these alien influences that the black gown of the academy [or judges] enters into liturgical usage in the Lutheran Church. [pp.221, 222]


The purpose of vestments is threefold: to cover the person serving publicly in the liturgy; to indicate an office; and to reverently and joyfully bring color and symbolism to the visual sense in the Divine Service. Using the historic vestments also gives a visual indication of our continuity with the church throughout the centuries. We do not claim to be a new church or teach new doctrine but are confessing the apostolic faith. Contrary to the radical Reformers and the later Pietists, Lutherans did not desire to communicate anything whereby someone would conclude we are a new church or anything less than reverence before the altar of Christ in the Divine Service.



Alb – from the Latin “alba tunica” (white garment) – This is the basic garment that may be worn by the pastor an any other assistants (deacons, acolytes, crucifers, etc.) serving with liturgical duties in the Divine Service or other orders (Matins, Vespers, etc.).   This vestment covers the person and is white as a reminder of the righteousness of Christ and His forgiveness that covers our sin. It provides a white background for clergy with a stole and/or chasuble over the alb.

Surplice – This white garment is simply a more flowing and looser form of the alb that is traditionally worn over the black cassock.   It has the same symbolism as the alb.      In longer standing traditions the surplice is used for non-Communion services such as Matins and Vespers, for weddings and funerals, or sometimes for lay assistants in the liturgy (deacons, acolytes, choirs, etc.).   Historically, it was first       developed as a looser fitting version of the alb so as to allow a heavy fur coat to be worn underneath it in colder climates in Europe in times when there was no heating system invented yet.


Cassock – was a closer-fitting black garment that was originally the street wear of clergy and academics (professors) in the Middle Ages. It was close-fitting around the arms and top and loose from the waist down to the ankles. Its color was black to indicate solemnity and humility.   The cassock was the fore-runner of the modern clergy shirt and white collar – the everyday uniform of pastors. Technically    speaking, it is not a vestment but simply a daily clergy uniform and sort of “undergarment” at least liturgically speaking. The blackness of the garment indicates death and sin, while the white collar indicates the holiness of the God’s Word which is spoken. The cassock (without a clerical collar) may be worn by any lay liturgical assistant under the surplice (or cotta).

Stole – a neck-piece or scarf-like cloth in the color of the seasons of the Church Year with appropriate Christian symbols adorning it. For   pastors it hangs straight down in two equal lengths. For deacons it is worn as an attached sash, diagonally across the body. For each it indicates the office held by the man serving. For pastors it is first placed on them in the rite of ordination. The stole should not be worn by those not ordained (laity, vicars, acolytes, confirmands).

Tippet – the tippet is particular kind of stole, sometimes called a preaching stole or preaching scarf.   It is always black and not particularly adorned.   It is worn by ordained pastors for the prayer offices (Matins and Vespers) and other orders where he preaches in that particular service, most often on weekdays.

Chasuble – a circular or oval shaped garment worn over the alb and stole only by the ordained pastor who is serving as celebrant of the Lord’s Supper in the Divine Service. The chasuble is made in the colors of the Church Year and matches the stole and other altar paraments. It is an exclusively Eucharistic (communion) garment.   It brings adornment and emphasizes the reverence we have for the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. The chasuble has been the standard communion vestment of clergy through the ages, including Lutheran clergy in better times.

Cope – Developed from a cape and of similar origins as the chasuble, the cope often featured a hood-like design on the back. It is customarily used by the pastor in processions, ground-breakings, for blessing Palms on Palm Sunday at a solemn Vespers, or when conducing rites outdoors in colder weather.                    It is also used by bishops being honored at particular solemn or festive occasions.


Cincture – a robe or band-like belt to hold together the alb folds, symbolizing readiness for service.