It was not the adoption of a pristine liturgical tradition. Instead it was a committee effort borne of consensus to create a service that had its history not in one church order but in many of them. It was created from the sacrifice of preference for the sake of a larger good (and was remarkably successful in this).
"The Common Service is not the transcript of any Lutheran Service of the Sixteenth Century. The Orders from which it is derived afford precedents for many things, which it does not adopt. While it exhibits consensus (italics original) of the pure Lutheran Liturgies of that age, in strict accordance with the spirit of Christianity embodied in our Confessions it freely rejects what was temporary and adapts the whole to this new age." (E.T. Horn, "The Lutheran Sources of the Conunon Service," Quarterly Review of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, XXI (April 1891): 248 and below.)Though they did not find the preparatory Confession and Absolution in these church orders, the committee bowed to the predominance of American Lutheran usage that had included something of the kind. They disagreed among themselves and found Lutheran practice had also disagreed on the placement of the Our Father before or after the Verba. They were not sure about the inclusion of the Nunc Dimittis and placed it as an optional post-communion canticle rather than an obligatory one. They chose the best English literary tradition in the King James Bible and the work of Thomas Cranmer. They cared not simply about forms but theology, about doctrine and practice. They hoped that the confusing array of beliefs and practices would be more united, that the Lutheran Church's confession and teaching would again match their beliefs, and that those beliefs would be both Scriptural and confessional. This dream was partially realized in the wide-spread acceptance of the Common Service, though with some small variations by each of the bodies that adopted it.
"It must be observed that the Common Service has omitted what was inapplicable or inexpedient; retained what is edifying; and avoided any prescriptions which were not needful to show the right use of the parts of the Service."
They were not without their critics. Dr. James Richard, liturgics professor at Gettysburg Seminary, wrote a pointed critique in the Lutheran Church Quarterly claiming there was "no such thing as consensus in the 16111 century liturgies," that the Common Service was too elaborate for people, and that it gave too much weight to Southern German liturgies which were not the most significant of the sixteenth century. Much to Dr. Richard's consternation, his objections did not deter the widespread acceptance of the Common Service.
Perhaps more profoundly, this group did not command its usage but certainly expected it. "Let it be remembered that every item in the service has been most carefully considered, and is the ripe fruit of the experience of the Church for centuries, and that while there is a place for the exercise of Christian liberty, such liberty should not be used arbitrarily, but intelligently. Where the Church Book is regarded only as a very valuable storehouse of liturgical material, from which the pastor may draw at pleasure, much certainly is lacking in knowledge of the book." (Henry Ester Jacobs, "The Making of the Church Book." The Lutheran Church Review, October, 1912, 597-622) In one of my favorite comments, Henry Eyster Jacobs wrote this: Let it be remembered that every item in the service has been most carefully considered, and is the ripe fruit of the experience of the Church for centuries and that, while there is a place for the exercise of Christian liberty, such liberty should not be used arbitrarily but intelligently. He pointedly challenged the notion that the Common Service was merely a reference work used by the pastor to draw from and insisted that it was no mere storehouse from which the pastor may draw at pleasure for such a pastor does not understand the liturgy at all.
For much of its history, the Common Service became both premise and promise of Lutheran renewal, identity, and reconciliation. For a goodly period of time, if you walked into a Lutheran congregation on Sunday morning, literally anywhere in America, you would find the same words, some of the same music, and a common liturgical life that is exactly the thing missing in the confusing and confounding array of choices today assumed under the heading of Lutheran. If for this reason only, the affection for and esteem given to the Common Service of 1888 has made it tempting to believe it was the high point in Lutheran liturgical history. Yet it was not without its flaws -- many of which seem picayune and petty in comparison to the grand divisions of the worship wars of late. Who can compare the lesser problems of this magnificent achievement with things today where on you find a liturgy and God stripped of all gender reference and captive to the gospel cause of social justice on one side and the abandonment to evangelicalism on the other.
When Lutherans seemed poised to share a common liturgy and hymnal, the lack of an option to continue the Common Service was as much responsible for the failure of Missouri to stay on board as any other single issue. They combined in such way that Missouri kept the Common Service alive in edited form in Lutheran Worship and almost as it had been in The Lutheran Hymnal when the Lutheran Service Book was published. Along with the Wisconsin Synod and the ELS, the Common Service lives on, with edits and adaptations just as it was originally received and passed on. I wonder if the reluctance of many to let go of the Common Service is in part a reticence to let go of the dream of Confessional Lutheran theology and practice restored, of a common liturgical identity for Lutherans in America, and for something that is formed more by our own Lutheran history than modern day Roman liturgical thinking. I know it is for me. Sadly, the closest Lutherans ever were doctrinally and liturgically was in the heyday of the Common Service and since its 100th anniversary we have been further and further apart.