If one were to judge LCMS worship attitudes and practices by what you saw or experienced in the 1920s or 1930s, it might lead to the conclusion that the black gown and reluctant ceremonial had always been typical among the parishes and pastors of the Synod. That might not be accurate. For the truth is that early on Missouri had as much interest in hymnody and liturgy as others Lutherans had not. Under CFW Walther, the worship life of the congregations he served were rich in ceremony and enjoyed a rich musical life that accompanied the full liturgy of the church. It was said that visitors to Missouri Synod congregations in St. Louis in the 1850s "would have experienced not only an elaborate liturgical rite based on Luther's Reformation revisions, but chasubles, chanting, candles, and crucifixes, as well..." For Walther maintained that "the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which the Christians serve God publicly before the world."
Outside of Missouri, Lutherans were somewhat shocked by this. Even those who were confessional conservative were Reformed in worship practices and leaned pietistic with its suspicion of liturgy. For example, the WELS in 1917 published an English language hymnal, Book of Hymns, that excluded collects, Psalms, and other liturgical elements insisting that their members often do not take part in the liturgical service, "as they know neither the words nor the melody of the responses." As late as the 1940s, a Wisconsin Synod pastor could claim that no congregation he knew of even owned a Liturgy and Agenda. It would seem that while Missouri began with a more catholic liturgy, a concern for hymnody that truly expressed the faith faithfully, and found much to appreciate in ritual and ceremony, others were not so such this was good. "Those who can't preach it, wear it [a surplice?]."
By the time 1930 came, whatever was characteristic of the fuller liturgical form, ceremonial, and vestments had surrendered to typical 4-6 times yearly celebration of Holy Communion (the people receiving it generally twice annually), a pastor wearing a black gown (more of an academic style than cassock), and hymns that tended to mirror the American landscape of generic religious songs of the day and Gospel style American hymns. While there were some who believed that giving attention to the liturgy and hymnody was itself a means of relegating the preached Word to a secondary place, most younger clergy of the day knew the time had come to make some changes and to restore even some of what had been lost. Even Time magazine had been watching and on February 19, 1934 reported on those "Lutheran Liturgists" advocating not a "change not in theological doctrine but in church services, with pastors wearing proper vestments, decking their altars with flowers and tapers, emphasizing the crucifix, reviving traditional Lutheran rubrics, singing only the purest liturgical music..."
By 1960 a monthly celebration of Holy Communion had become the norm and reception of the Sacrament increased significantly among the people. The cassock, surplice, and stole had replaced the preaching gown. This was against the backdrop of a church body still uncertain about the value of or even the wisdom of restoring Reformation practices. Walter A. Maier had once characterized the norm for worship not as the historic practices of the Reformation era but the plain, common service that best fit the American mind.
When the 1970s hit, it was clear that there was a perceived link between those interested in liturgy and those interested in doctrine and there were many who began to frame the growing conflict in Missouri in liturgical terms and not simply Biblical. From then on a different dimension entered the fray as the restoration of Lutheran liturgical practices and attitudes toward ceremonies and vestments continued. It would take another couple of decades between the connection between confessional theology and confession liturgy would be restored. By then Missouri had already suffered a split, most other Lutherans had coalesced around a loose merger called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and it was clear that there was a difference between the Roman liturgical movement and the Lutheran one. Even Wisconsin became familiar with the alb, chanting, processions and the like.
Yet who would know that at the same time the Lutheran liturgical movement became mainstream, other challenges to Lutheran worship were to come from non-denominationals and evangelicals who attracted followers on the basis of preferences and, most of all, perceived success in growth (especially from the unchurched). Indeed, some have blamed the liturgical movement with what they considered a loss of momentum and passion for outreach, missions, and evangelism. Thus by the year 2000, the missionals grasped onto the issue of outsider friendly worship that mirrored the music and culture the unchurched might be familiar with against the confessionals who were concerned with a liturgical identity that mirrored our confessional identity. Now the genie has been let out of the bottle and it seems that what happens on Sunday morning is even more diverse and agenda driven than ever before. Homemade liturgical orders and borrowed hymns not from Lutheran sources has created the circumstance in which everyone did [does] what is right in his own eyes and a liturgical chaos (Theo Graebner's phrase) that produced The Lutheran Hymnal has become the norm for most Lutherans no matter what their jurisdiction. That said, the frequency of the Lord's Supper has moved ever closer to a weekly standard, more pastors are wearing the historic Eucharistic vestments of the Church, and there is far more catechesis being done on the why of worship than ever before. Will it be enough to restore some sense of uniformity? Only God can tell.