Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 42 - How did American Christianity Shape Lutheranism? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-042 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. ***** >> NICK: Our last few questions have clearly established that there is a distinctly American quality to many of the churches in the U.S. Surely this had an impact on Lutherans as well. Can you describe this for us? How did American Christianity shape the Lutheran Church in the United States? >> SPEAKER: Well, Nick, I think you're right to point out that there is a kind of distinctive American character to Christianity as it takes root and develops in America. That's certainly true. Several features of that need to be accented. one is that in America, since its colonial beginnings, religious diversity has been a fact of life. You could almost say that religious diversity is a protected species. It's almost unavoidable. Once you have enshrined in the Constitution, in the First Amendment, the guarantee that the government will make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion or establishing a religion as the official religion. If the government keeps out of it and guarantees that citizens have the right to practice their religion freely, then you're almost certain to have a tremendous variety of religious views, both a spectrum of views within Christianity, as well as, as we see more and more in recent years, this wide variety of non-Christian religion. So diversity, a kind of pluralism, is an undeniable fact of American life to a much greater extent than in other countries, I think. And it's simply been part of our history that we have this great diversity. Christianity in America has had to find a way to come to terms with that kind of diversity. And that would apply to Lutheranism as well. What do we make of the fact that on this corner is a Lutheran church and on the next corner is a Presbyterian Church and on the corner after that is a Methodist Church. And then there's a B�hai temple. There's almost unimaginable diversity in America that really has no legal limit, and as we move into the 21st century, has no social or practical limit either. If we talk about the 19th century in America, you could usually assume that the range would be somewhere within Protestant Christianity. Jews were a rare exception, and Roman Catholics weren�t that common either. And other religions, other non-Christian religions were virtually unknown. But somewhere within this range of Protestant Christianity, that range today is much wider than it ever was. Diversity is the first and most important fact of American Christianity. The second thing I'd like to highlight about American Christianity, the distinctive feature of Christianity as it�s developed in America, is that Christianity has become democratized. That is, it's less and less hierarchical in America than in the European countries in which the various denominations and confessions developed. This is true in Lutheranism as in other denominations. The authority of a hierarchy or the authority of the clergy is simply not as strongly emphasized in American Christianity as it is in other places. This isn't always a matter of doctrine, although it certainly can be. It's often just a matter of practice and custom within churches. The Lutheran churches that developed in the United States, including the Missouri Synod, give a rather prominent role to lay leadership in the churches. The lay people in a congregation form a voting assembly the has a great deal of authority according to our understanding of polity and governance of congregations. When we have our church conventions, there's at least an equal number of voting delegates who are lay people as there are clergy so that the decisions made by the church body at a national level are also influenced in very, very important ways by the laity of the church. Lutheran churches have not always had this kind of representation of lay voices. Certainly, the European Lutheran churches, since the Reformation, that has not always been the case. So I'd say some have labeled this democratization, and it's a phenomenon that applies not only to Lutheran churches by no means, but actually all across American Christianity. Because of these two factors: the radical diversity and this democratization which empowers and puts a lot of authority in the hands of laypeople, not just in the hierarchy or clergy. American Christians are, in effect, forced to make individual choices. Every American Protestant churchgoer is forced to decide which church she or he will attend. This is not just a matter of where you happen to be born. And if you move to a new city, especially in our day and age, there's no strict guarantee that if you were a member of a Presbyterian Church in your former home, that you'll join a Presbyterian Church in the place that you moved to. American Christians make conscious choices in a variety of ways that their European counterparts don't. This prevalence of choice in American Christianity is a very important fact of life, and it certainly has had an impact on Lutheran churches as well. It has sort of developed a kind of American Lutheranism that is different from European Lutheranism not always in questions of doctrine, but there are sometimes doctrinal implications to that as well. ***** 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. *****