Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 52 - Other Lutheran Synods in the Nineteenth Century (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-052 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> PAUL: That description of the origins of the LCMS certainly emphasizes for me the surprising number of LCMS churches that were establishing themselves around the country. I assume there were others as well. Can you tell me about other Lutherans in the 19th century. How did the Missouri Synod relate to these other synods? >> DR. WILL SCHUMACHER: Sure, Paul. Actually, that's a really good question. And as a matter of fact, there were lots of other Lutheran synods and church bodies in the 19th century. Some existed even well before the Missouri Synod came into existence. And much of the Missouri Synod�s distinctive history in the 19th century is connected with the way that they relate to these other Lutheran church bodies. The very first synod in America, Lutheran synod in America, was the Pennsylvania Ministerium which was established in 1748 by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. So this is nearly 100 years, nearly a full century, before the Missouri Synod came into existence already in colonial times. Other organizations were created usually centering on a particular state or region and a particular ethnic group. The New York Ministerium came into existence in 1786. The North Carolina Synod in 1803, the Joint Synod of Ohio in 1818, the Maryland and Virginia Synod in 1820 and so forth. There were many, many others. So there were already a number of Lutheran synods in the United States before the Missouri Synod came into existence. The first attempt to create anything like a national Lutheran body was the so-called General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA, for obvious reasons called the General Synod for short. This was organized in 1820. Really, this was more of a federation of synods of state and regional synods than a single church body. But the General Synod represented the kind of American Lutheranism that had most clearly adapted to the American culture and prevailing theological climate. It did not really present a strong Lutheran profile. As a matter of fact, in its founding documents, the General Synod, although it used the name Lutheran in its own name, made no mention of the Bible or the Lutheran confessions at all. So there was clearly no explicit connection to any specific Lutheran body of doctrine. The member synods of this General Synod were simply accepted if they call themselves Lutheran and identified themselves as such. And no other yardstick of doctrine was applied. Not all the members of this General Synod were happy with this arrangement, of course, and several church bodies that had initially been members withdrew. But by the year 1860, so roughly the middle of the 19th century, this General Synod had grown and included 26 member synods under this umbrella group that we call the General Synod. So this was a major fact of life on the American church scene in the 19th century. And this was the environment in which the Missouri Synod came into existence. Now, as I said, the General Synod stood for the kind of American Lutheranism that was opposed by confessional groups such as the Missouri Synod. In fact, the early leaders of the Missouri Synod pointed out numerous times that the General Synod couldn't properly be regarded as Lutheran at all because it hadn't stated in clear and unambiguous terms that it was committed to a Lutheran understanding of the gospel and of Christian doctrine. It was hard to see how anybody without any specific doctrinal confessional stance could be viewed as Lutheran in any real sense of the world. So the Missouri Synod, as it was formed, knew about the General Synod but they never had any formal relationships with that body but rather tended to be critical of its lax confessional position. I've had occasion before to refer to Samuel Simon Schmucker and his Definite Platform which he released in 1855. And I mentioned there, I think, that revision of the Augsburg Confession produced a reaction that I think was the opposite of what Schmucker intended. Namely, it galvanized a reaction against his revisionist tendencies and really stimulated a greater interest among Lutherans in America for the study of the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession itself. It was into that atmosphere of reaction against the Definite Platform of Schmucker that C. F. W. Walther and others in the Missouri Synod issued an open invitation to what they referred to as free conferences. This was an invitation to anyone in America who committed themselves to the unaltered Augsburg Confession to come together and discuss the doctrine of that confession, that document, the Augsburg confession. And without any preconditions, without officially representing any church body or group, simply as individuals who were interested in and committed to genuine doctrinal unity in the church who wanted to study together and get better acquainted, really, with each other on the basis of the unaltered Augsburg Confession. Perhaps I'll just read you an excerpt from this invitation, this call that went out in 1856 inviting Lutherans of the Augsburg Confession to come together. And remember, this is a definite reaction against the revisionist ideas of Schmucker. "The undersigned, ministers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States, convinced that the unity and welfare of our Lutheran Zion will be greatly promoted by the free interchange of views upon the various interests of our church in this country between brethren agreed in the faith hereby extend an invitation to all the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States to acknowledge the unaltered Augsburg Confession as a faithful presentation of the doctrine of the word of God to meet them in a free and brotherly conference upon the present aspect and wants of the church in America.� And they set the date as the first of October 1856. So there were really no preconditions except that those who attended these conferences should be committed to the doctrine of the unaltered Augsburg Confession. Now, the unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530, of course, was often referred to in distinction from a later revision of that document that Philip Melanchthon himself had written, the so-called Variata, in which Melanchthon tweaked the Augsburg Confession in various ways that proved unacceptable to other Lutherans. Melanchthon did that in 1540 already. But I think the sense of Walther's invitation and his reference to the unaltered Augsburg Confession is not so much a reaction against Melanchthon's 1540 Variata, but it's very definitely a defense, a reaction against, Schmucker's proposal of 1855. So these free conferences were initiated at the invitation of the Missouri Synod, but they weren't official gatherings in any sense because no one was there as a representative or delegate of their own church body or synod. Four of these conferences were held in successive years so from 1856 to 1859, and they started in a fairly simple way. They started with Article I of the Augsburg Confession and discussed the doctrine of that confession article by article. Very, very important. Now, who attended these? Well, actually, Lutheran pastors and laypeople from a number of synods, some of which had not previously had any direct connection with the Missouri Synod or with each other, some members of the General Synod who were disturbed by what they saw going on. And these free conferences became a safe place where Lutherans could build their doctrinal consensus and get to know one another and discuss in an open way with this doctrine meant and how it should be applied in their context in America. The free conferences didn't bear any immediate fruit, at least in the sense of any mergers or structural changes. But their influence was nevertheless very, very far reaching. They weren�t continued throughout the century. The free conferences, as I said, ended in 1859. After that, Walther was prevented from attending because of illness, and the Civil War began which was a distraction for Lutheran churches. But immediately after the Civil War, many of those Lutherans who had gathered for the free conferences came together again and formed a new joint body, a new umbrella group as an alternative to the General Synod. This new group was called the General Council under the leadership of Charles Porterfield Krauth. The Missouri Synod was invited to take part in the organization of the General Council, but they declined. They felt the time was not yet right for such a merger or direct joining together with other synods. The Missouri Synod wanted further doctrinal discussions to be sure that they really were in unity in doctrine before they undertook this kind of formal and institutional allegiance. The Missouri Synod favored reviving the free conferences as a way to build this kind of doctrinal consensus and agreement. But the General Council went ahead with its organization and was undoubtedly a much stronger confessional body than was the General Synod. Even though it had committed itself to the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession, there were enough points of disagreement between the General Council and the Missouri Synod that the two bodies occasionally came into a competition and conflict in various situations, especially in the mission field where pastors and missionaries from the General Council would be attempting to plant congregations in an area where the Missouri Synod was working and vice versa. And this obviously lead into some competition. In competitive situations, there's always a tendency to emphasize the differences between the two groups, rather than build a greater agreement and consensus. So there was mutual respect on both sides, but that didn't prevent it from leading to some tensions and arguments as well. The Missouri Synod continued relations with other Lutheran synods, in particular of course, those who were committed to a genuine, thorough doctrine of the gospel and a fully Lutheran confession and an unconditional subscription to the Lutheran confessions. And in 1872 formed yet a third large grouping of Lutheran synods. This one was called the Synodical Conference. So by 1872, then, there are really three large groupings of Lutherans. At one end of the spectrum you have the General Synod, founded in 1820, which represents what we've called American Lutheranism, that is, a rather nonconfessional view of what it means to be a Lutheran in America. At the other end of this, you have the Synodical Conference led by the Missouri Synod but also joined by numerous others, the Wisconsin Synod, Illinois Synod, Minnesota Synod, and the Norwegian Synod, and so forth. These synods committed themselves to an unqualified and unconditional subscription to the Lutheran confessions. And somewhere in the middle, although tending toward the confessional side, was the General Council with its membership. That sort of gives you an overview of the Lutheran landscape in the 19th century as the century drew to a close and the Missouri Synod�s relationships focused on those synods that were closest to it, those that were members of the Synodical Conference. But they did continue to have relationships and discussions with a number of the synods that were members of the General Council. Don't be too worried if you find all this talk about this synod or that synod and mergers and new bodies in the 19th century. It would be rather confusing. The fact is you can't keep track of the players without a scorecard sometimes. This can be a very bewildering history. I myself use a book which is a historical guide to Lutheran church bodies in North America. This is just a listing of all the church bodies and how they originated and when they merged with whom and how they split from whom. So this picture of the mergers and splits in the Lutheran church bodies is sometimes a bewildering picture. But overall, I think I can say that the Missouri Synod related most closely to those church bodies that unconditionally subscribed to the Lutheran confessions, especially those that were members of the Synodical Conference and to a lesser extent also to those bodies who were part of the General Council. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****