Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 43 - What is American Lutheranism? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-043 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: All right. You used a phrase in that response that I'd like clarified, if you would. What is American Lutheranism? Who were the leaders of this movement? >> DR. WILL SCHUMACHER: That's a fair question, Nick. And as a matter of fact, there�s probably not a standard dictionary definition of American Lutheranism, but I'll make a stab at it. American Lutheranism is that part of the Lutheran Church as it�s been developed in America that has been more ready to accommodate itself to American society and what could be called the mainstream of American theology and has tended to deemphasize the specific confessional doctrinal profile that we associate with the Lutheran confessions in the Book of Concord of 1580. This begins to emerge rather early in the history of Lutheranism in America. Certainly by the early 19th century, Lutherans were beginning to identify themselves as Americans first and Protestants second and Lutherans third. To be an American meant, for all intents and purposes, to be a Protestant. And once the national identity begins to emerge and people do have this patriotic feeling following American independence, it�s natural for Lutherans in America to look in a very favorable way on other Protestants who are also Americans. One of the important figures in this movement was a man with the remarkable name of Samuel Simon Schmucker. Now, you've heard of Samuel Simon Schmucker before because in an earlier question, my colleague, Dr. Rest, mentioned him in his discussion of ecumenism. But I think it's valuable to review a little bit about his views at this point. Schmucker was a leader in the Lutheran Church starting from about the 1820�s. He was the founder and first president of the Gettysburg seminary in Pennsylvania which was the first Lutheran seminary in America, 1826. Schmucker developed ideas that emphasized the general Protestant character of Lutheranism and deemphasized the distinctive doctrinal positions that separated Lutheranism from other Protestants, for instance, from the Reformed or from Calvinists or from Anglicans or Presbyterians and so forth. In Schmucker�s view, those differences were not as important in the New World, that the conditions in America were such that it was more important for Protestants to find common ground and build as much as they could together to promote the general welfare and spiritual well-being of the people. By the 1850's, Schmucker, who was by this time, a mature theologian, drafted what he called the definite synodical platform. The title of the document is less important than what it contains. In this document, Schmucker rewrote the Augsburg Confession. But he rewrote it for the American context, for American audiences. And in doing so, he intentionally omitted those parts of the Augsburg Confession which, in his judgment, represented the remnants of medieval Catholicism. So he wanted this document to be more up to date, more American, more Protestant. So what would he remove? Among the things he left out were doctrines like baptismal regeneration. He didn't talk about baptism as actually bringing about a rebirth because that was a disputed point among American Protestants, and emphasizing that doctrine would have tended to emphasize the divisions between Protestant churches, including the Lutheran church. He deemphasized the real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper by rewriting the part of the confession that has to do with Christians eating and drinking Christ's body and blood according to his word in the supper. He left out the part about private confession. The Augsburg Confession states that the confessors in 1530 wanted to retain private confession and absolution. He thought that was a vestige from a medieval Roman Catholic tradition and had no place in a Protestant document like this. So in these and other ways, Schmucker attempted to Protestantize the Augsburg Confession. Now, at the time that this was released, and, by the way, Schmucker initially published this anonymously, and it was only a few years later that he admitted that he was the actual author. At the time that this document, the Definite Synodical Platform was released, it raised enormous reactions among Lutherans in America. And, in fact, even within Schmucker�s own church, it was voted down and defeated. No one wanted that to be their confession. Part of the unintended consequence of this was that Schmucker's proposal actually fueled the revival of interest in the Lutheran confessions in America. And groups like the Missouri Synod actually grew in influence partly because people were put off by Schmucker�s Protestantizing tendencies. But even though at the time of its publication, this document was rejected, Schmucker's views had a long-term impact. And his willingness to be much more open to other Protestant Christians in America continued to form the thinking of a whole branch of Lutheranism in this country. And that's what I've called American Lutheranism. It was also the case that Schmucker's brand of Lutheranism tended to be concentrated on the East Coast and is, therefore, sometimes referred to as Eastern Lutheranism. And it tended to make very early and ready use of English as its language of preaching and worship and teaching. Naturally, for the groups that came as immigrants later on such as the Saxon Lutherans who formed the Missouri Synod, this use of English was in and of itself rather suspicious because English was not viewed as an adequate theological language. But Schmucker and his ideas of a Protestant Lutheranism that more or less found common ground with other American Protestant churches and tended to accept the prevailing mood or style of American Protestant Christianity, that's what I've referred to as American Lutheranism. And usually, that's used as a term in distinction from some other kind of Lutheranism which might be called confessional or conservative Lutheranism, what some writers have called old Lutheranism. That doesn't mean that American Lutheranism consists of Americans and old Lutheranism consists of old people. It simply means that the theological direction of American Lutheranism is toward greater common ground with other American Protestants. And confessional Lutheranism or old Lutheranism tends to retain and emphasize those distinctively Lutheran doctrines, even when those separate us and distinguish us from other Protestant churches. I hope that's helpful for understanding what I mean, at least, when I talk about American Lutheranism. ***** 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. *****