Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 58 - Lutheran Cooperation in America (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-058 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. ***** >> JOSHUA: So far, most of your answers are about how Lutherans differ from one another. Were Lutherans in America ever able to get along? If so, how did they manage this? And if not, why not? What lessons can be learned from past history? >> DR. LAWRENCE RAST: Joshua, my students at the seminary always say Lutheran Church in America course is the most depressing course there is. And the reason is nobody seems to be able to get along ever. Well, I think that overstates the case to a certain extent. But, nevertheless, we do see, and certainly both Dr. Schumacher and my answers over the past few, have shown just the depth of divisions that characterized America's Lutherans. Have they ever been able to get along? Well, in fact, as I was alluding to in the last answer, some worked at that. In fact, we might go so far as to say the 20th century shows us an ongoing series of attempts at drawing Lutherans together, to move towards organic unity and towards merger. I mentioned in passing one instance of this, the United Lutheran Church in America which was formed in 1918. This group was formed out of the concerted efforts of the General Council, the General Synod, and the United Synod South, those groups that had divided from one another back in the 1860's. What led to their union? Well, there were several causes. First off, there was the simple fact that these Lutherans have a long history with one another, and so there were some natural channels of approach that could be exploited. To that end, they held a series of free diets, as well as free conferences over the course of the 1870's and later again in the first part of the 1900's. There they worked hard at addressing the issues that separated them. One of the most basic issues that separated them, as we've seen in this course, was the simple fact of confessional subscription. As you recall, Joshua, there was that basic point of whether we accept the confessions *(Inaudible) The confessions in their entirety and then the question of how do we accept the confessions, either quia or quatenus. And the divisions were evidence. However over time, the General Synod began to express itself more confessionally, and finally, in 1913, adopted as its confessional basis the Book of Concord in its entirety. In a lot of ways that broke down the final barriers between the General Synod and the other Lutheran bodies and opened the way towards union. But a third point comes into all this and that is that this way towards the union had already been prepared much earlier when, in the 1880;s, these three synods worked together to provide a common service for their worship. The common service, then, would provide basic liturgical uniformity between the various synods, even though they weren't formally in fellowship. It prepared the way, if you will, for a very seamless transition from three independent church bodies to one united church body. But the final point in all of this that worked to bring these groups together was simply the celebration of the Reformation that occurred in 1917. The 400th anniversary of the Reformation drove many to consider might there be ways we could celebrate this event together. And when they were successful at these united celebrations, then some went beyond and said, we already evidence a confessional unity and a liturgical unity, why not simply express ourselves as an ecclesiastical unity? And very quickly, within the span of a year, that unity was expressed in the formation of the United Lutheran Church in America. Later on, that United Lutheran Church in America would move forward and actually bring the Augustana Synod into its fellowship as it reconstituted itself in 1962 forming the Lutheran Church in America. The LCA would then be the largest church body that came into the merger in 1988 that formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA. So you had that merger going on. There is united perspective there. In addition to those efforts, we've already mentioned the Norwegian efforts at unity. And there are some efforts at unity among other Lutherans in America. Over the course of the teens and the twenties, some of the older divided churches find a way to come together. For example, the Ohio Synod, the Buffalo Synod, the Iowa Synod, and the Texas Synod are able to draw together into one united church body in 1930 forming the American Lutheran Church. They're able to overcome their historic differences with one another and move forward as the American Lutheran Church. They also sponsored a group I mentioned before called the American Lutheran Conference which includes the Swedes and Norwegians. Ultimately, in the 1950's, the ALC moves to reconstitute itself as well trying to bring the Missouri Synod into its orbit and to seek merger there, something that's not successful, but also to reconstitute itself in a way to include other synods. That happens in 1960 when the American Lutheran Church is reconstituted once again. That American Lutheran Church actually does enter into fellowship with the Missouri Synod in 1969. And in the years 1969 to 1981, the Missouri Synod and the ALC are in formal church fellowship. You see where the ALC positions itself. It's kind of in the middle, if you will, of the more conservative or confessional churches, Missouri, Wisconsin, ELS and the more, for lack of a better word, moderate churches, especially the ALCA. And between these two it tries and strives from the 40's, 50's, '60's, 70's, and '80s to act as a catalyst to bring all together. Actually, the ALC declares fellowship with the LCA in 1968, the year previous to its declaring fellowship with the Missouri Synod. And there is profound hope at that time that this will ultimately lead to organic union between the three large churches. Missouri is not able to hold the Synodical Conference together at this time, as we've already seen. That splits up. But in some people's minds, that frees itself to pursue union with the other Lutheran church bodies. However, an unforeseen element arises that really makes union impossible. That element is simply the ordination of women. And in the early '70s, when the ALC and then the LCA adopt the principle of the ordination of women, that puts a very difficult barrier between the Missouri Synod and the ALC and LCA in terms of actually achieving the union that they so hoped for. Finally, that fellowship is discontinued between the LCMS and the ALC, as I mentioned, in 1981. What can we learn from all this? Well, first off all I think we should learn something from these forbears of ours simply in terms of the seriousness with which they took two points: No. 1, their own theological position and the integrity thereof. But coupling that with the necessity of pursuing discussions with other Lutherans with the hope that in the course of these discussions, corrections can be made, unity can be declared, and we can move towards organic union. That can only happen, of course, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit. But their seriousness in this regard in maintaining both those points, I believe, remains a model for us today. And I hope we can continue to pursue those. ***** 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. *****