Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 60 - How did the LCMS Grow During the First 150 Years? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-060 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: How did the Missouri Synod grow over the first century and a half of its existence? I'm particularly interested in hearing you speak about the qualities of the synod which enabled it to grow. What role did missions play? What role did schools of the synod play? >> DR. WILL SCHUMACHER: Nick, that�s a really insightful question about growth, and I appreciate you pointing to the factors that contributed to that growth. It's one thing to go back and study statistics and to know how many congregations and how many members the Missouri Synod had at a given time. It's another thing to really understand why that happened and why those numbers change. So suffice it to say we're more certain about the numbers and the growth than we are about the exact reasons that contributed to that. But I think we can make some headway to really understanding that. The synod was formed with just 14 congregations and about a dozen pastors, a few advisory members as well. In just seven years, there were nearly 80 voting pastors and as many congregations scattered from New York to Minnesota and Iowa and Missouri and Louisiana. It was really spread all over the United States at that time. And today, of course, there are more than 6,000 congregations that are holding membership in the synod. So there has been a tremendous amount of growth over roughly a century and a half. I would like to point to two important periods of significant numerical growth in the synod and say something about each of those and the distinctive features that contributed to the growth during each period. From about 1850 through the 1880�s, we can talk about a period of roughly 35 to 40 years in the second half of the 19th century. Missouri Synod growth was fueled and driven by a clear focus on connecting with and serving a large and growing German immigrant population. We've talked about this before. This period built a very large Lutheran church body with a high degree of cultural uniformity, all German-speaking, all Lutheran, and also a high degree of theological unity through the intentional focus on the careful teaching and catechesis. This is why you're right to point to the role of schools. The fact that 19th century Missouri Synod congregations nearly always had a congregation and a school started as a unit meant that the catechetical instruction of young people was carried out in a very thorough and a deliberate manner and that the church, broadly speaking, the church and its school really had full control over what young people were being taught. The practice of having a church and a school together was usually carried out even when for financial reasons they couldn't afford a teacher or a teaching staff in the school. Often the pastor was the teacher and he conducted all the classes during the week and services on Sunday in the congregation. But that school was an important element in attracting, connecting with, and teaching these large numbers of German immigrants. I mentioned before there was more than 4 million immigrants from Germany during this period that we're talking about, this middle third of the 19th century. The German immigration did not last forever. And when that phase of our national history ended and immigration from Germany declined, as it did after the 1880�s, the synod had no longer grown in the same way. By the end of the 19th century, the Missouri Synod was, in all probability, the largest single Lutheran body in America. There were lots and lots of Lutheran synods, and it's difficult to get accurate statistics, but the Missouri Synod was probably the largest Lutheran synod in America. But that growth had been fuelled by this large scale immigration of German-speaking immigrants. And the Missouri Synod positioned itself and structured itself in a way that could take advantage of that important demographic movement. But when that movement came to an end, when that immigration period came to an end in the 1880�s, that phase in the Missouri Synod's growth also largely came to an end. So much for the first major period in the Missouri Synod's growth. I point then to the second major period of numerical growth, to the 25 years from 1935 to 1960. During this 25-year period, the Missouri Synod doubled in size. In 1935, it was roughly 1 million members, and by 1960, it had grown to 2 million. Now, that's a very significant rate of growth. If we had continued at that same rate, we would have well over 6 million members in the Missouri Synod today. We have less than half of that. Now, what is there about that period of time? Well, it happens to correspond to the presidency of John Behnken, but I don't think we can give Behnken all the credit for that. If any synodical leader should be thanked for this period of large-scale growth in the Missouri Synod, it should probably be Behnken�s predecessor, Frederick Pfotenhauer. He served from 1911 to 1935. And we've talked about him in connection with the transition from German to English. Under his leadership, the synod had transformed itself really from a German immigrant church into an English-speaking American church body solidly committed to the historic Lutheran confessions. That is, we�ve made the shift from German to English without losing our distinctive Lutheran character. Because the Missouri Synod was English-speaking by 1935 when Behnken was elected, it was well-positioned to enjoy significant growth as an American church body, not as a church body of immigrants, but as an American church body, although retaining its theological character and its confessional profile. That period of growth is tremendously important for us. The Missouri Synod wasn't the only church body that was growing in this period between 1935 and 1960. Other conservative denominations also experienced significant growth. It was a time of rapidly expanding church membership in the United States generally. But the Missouri Synod participated in that because it had reidentified itself as an American church body, a church body that looked like and spoke like the rest of the society, rather than being an ethnic German enclave. What are the implications of this for today? We've looked at two significant periods of growth, and in each period, there were different dynamics. So the implications of this is a little bit hard to say. It depends somewhat on how you interpret and read the situation we find ourselves in today. But if the United States is in the process of becoming a more multi-ethnic and multilingual society -- and the latest census statistics tend to point us in that direction -- then I believe the synod will have to make some hard choices. It'll have to make up its mind whether it really wants to be a church body that reflects that kind of society, a church body that looks like America, in other words. That decision is much the same kind of decision that the synod had to reach as it made up its collective mind under Friedrich Pfotenhauer that we could speak and preach and pray in English and still be genuine Lutherans. Right now, we are, as a synod, very white and very Anglo. As a denomination, we're mostly white English-speaking people. But our country looks less and less that way. There's a great deal of ethnic and linguistic diversity in America today, and it seems to be a growing trend. I think we have to think about the implications of that change in our surrounding society and what that means for us as a church body. It's difficult to see how the Missouri Synod could significantly grow as a church body if we remain a white, Anglo enclave in what's becoming a much more diverse society. I think our history has things to teach us about the way we engage the society around us and of how we think about the challenges of our future. ***** 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. *****