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Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) is the second-largest Lutheran body in the United States. It is a conservative, confessional Lutheran Christian denomination with German immigrant roots. The LCMS is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri and counts about 2.6 million baptized members. The LCMS is divided into 35 districts, 33 of them geographic districts and two (the English District and SELC) non-geographic. See Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod districts
2.1 Doctrinal sources and standards (formal principle)
The Missouri Synod emerged from several communities of German Lutheran immigrants during the 1830s and 1840s. In Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, isolated Germans in the dense forests of the American frontier were brought together and cared for by missionary F.C.D. Wyneken. A utopian movement of Confessional Saxon Lutherans under Martin Stephan created a community in Perry County, Missouri and Saint Louis, Missouri. In Michigan and Ohio, Missionaries sent by Wilhelm Löhe cared for scattered congregaions and founded utopian communities in Frankenmuth, Michigan and the Saginaw Valley of Michigan.
The Saxon immigration
In the nineteenth century German Kingdom of Saxony, Lutheran pastor Martin Stephan many of his followers found themselves increasingly at odds with the rationalism of the state-sponsored Lutheranism in Saxony. In order to freely practice what they saw as pure Lutheranism, Stephan and 750 other Saxon Lutherans left for the United States in November 1838.
The ship arrived January 5, 1839 in New Orleans, and most of the immigrants settled in Perry County, Missouri and in and around Saint Louis, Missouri. Stephan was initially the bishop of the new settlement, but he soon became embroiled in charges of corruption and sexual misconduct with members of the congregation, and was expelled from the settlement, leaving C.F.W. Walther as the leader of the colony.
During this period there was considerable debate within the settlement over the proper role of the church in the New World: whether it was a new church, or remained within the German Lutheran hierarchy. Walther's view that they could consider themselves a new church prevailed.
Organization of the Missouri Synod
On April 26, 1847, twelve pastors representing 15 German Lutheran congregations met in Chicago and founded a new church body, "The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States." Walther became the fledgling denomination's first president.
In its early days the synod was conservative on a number of issues. Following Walther's lead, the church strongly opposed humanism and religious syncretism. It opposed abolitionism based on Biblical passages which it taught neither appoved of nor condemned slavery.
Under the leadership of its second President, F.C.D. Wyneken, the Missouri Synod poured much effort into caring for German immigrants, helping them find a home among other Germans, building churches and paroachial schools and providing pastors and teachers to serve in them.
As a result, the new synod grew quickly during the nineteenth century, reaching 685,000 members by 1897.
Transition to English
Until the United States' involvement in the First World War, the synod remained overwhelmingly German in its makeup and its language. The anti-German sentiment caused by that war prompted the church body to "Americanize" its image, and over the next half-century the synod's membership doubled.
In 1947, the church body shortened its name from "The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States," to the present one, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.
Consensus and division
Over the past half century, the Missouri Synod has struggled through a number of internal disputes over its doctrinal, theological, and social stances. The most bruising battle took place in the early and mid-1970s, when clashes over scriptural interpretation and academic freedom led the vast majority of the students and faculty at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, to leave that institution. The faculty and students formed a rival institution known as Seminex, or Concordia Seminary in Exile. Prompted by this walkout, about 250 congregations left the Missouri Synod in 1976 to form the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC), one of the predecessor bodies to the ELCA.
After a period of relative calm in the 1980s, these disputes reemerged in the 1990s. The LCMS's more conservative wing (generally known within the Synod as "confessionals") and its more moderate wing both established a plethora of internal caucuses, organizations, and news services to promote their opinions and campaign for candidates for Synod leadership. These include conservative/confessional groups such as Reclaiming Walther, Christian News, and Consensus, and moderate groups such as Jesus First, Day Star, and Voices/Vision. Issues of disagreement range widely, and include worship style, ecumenical fellowship with other church bodies, the role of women in the church, methods for training leaders and expanding congregations, approaches to scriptural interpretation, the proper relationship of the sacred and secular spheres, and the appropriate division of powers between the Synod and its constituent congregations.
Tensions between the Synod’s two wings flared in the months following September 11, 2001, after Atlantic District President David Benke took part in an inter-faith prayer event at Yankee Stadium to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack on New York. Many in the conservative-confessional camp argued that Benke, by participating in a prayer event alongside non-Lutheran clergy and leaders of non-Christian faiths, had engaged in practices that the Synod condemns as "syncretism" and "unionism." Meanwhile, Benke's defenders, mostly in the Synod's moderate wing, replied that he had given Christian witness in a permissible manner, and that the event was not a religious service. As Benke's case bounced back and forth among a number of church officials for adjudication, it became an emblem for broader, longstanding disagreements within the church. The Benke controversy has left many LCMS members speaking of a "crisis in the Synod" and warning openly of the possibilities for a schism.
The debate was a focal point for action during the 2004 synodical convention. Changes were approved making it harder to bring charges against ordained clergy. Furthermore, a conflict in governance between the synodical Board of Directors and the President's office was brought to the forefront. The convention sought to restrict the Board of Director's authority. However, necessary approval by two thirds of the church's congregations was not forthcoming. Six months following the convention, considerable tension and discussion continue.
Teachings of the LCMS
Doctrinal sources and standards (formal principle)
One of the signature teachings of the Lutheran Reformation is the teaching named Sola scriptura -- "Scripture alone." The Missouri Synod believes that the Bible is the only standard by which teachings and doctrines can be judged. It also holds that the Holy Scripture is explained and interpreted by the Book of Concord -- a series of Confessions of faith composed by Lutherans in the 16th Century. Missouri Synod pastors and congregations agree to teach in harmony with the Book of Concord because it teaches and faithfully explains the Word of God. For this reason, many Missouri Synod Lutherans who follow the Book of Concord closely, especially conservative Lutherans, refer to themselves as Confessional Lutherans.
The Missouri Synod also teaches Biblical inerrancy. For this reason, they reject much of modern liberal scholarship.
Major doctrines (material principle)
The Missouri Synod believes that justification comes from God "by divine grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ's sake alone." It teaches that Jesus is the focus of the entire Bible and that faith in him alone is the way to eternal salvation. The church rejects any attempt to attribute salvation to anything other than Christ's death and resurrection.
The means of grace
The Synod teaches that the Word of God, both written and preached, and the Sacraments are means of grace through which the Holy Spirit gives the gift of God's grace, creates faith in hearts of individuals, forgives sins for the sake of Christ's death on the cross, and grant eternal life and salvation. For Missouri Synod Lutherans, sacraments are actions instituted by Jesus and combine a promise in God's Word with a physical element. All agree that Baptism and the Lord's Supper are sacraments. confession and absolution are considered by some to be a sacrament, because they were instituted by Christ and have His promise of grace, even though they are not tied to a physical element.
Real Presence and the Lord's Supper
Regarding the Eucharist, the LCMS rejects the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and the Reformed teaching that the Lord's Supper is only merely a symbolic act. Rather, it believes in the doctrine of the Real Presence, that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present "in, with, and under" the elements of bread and wine. It is occasionally reported by some non-Lutherans that the LCMS and other Lutherans teach the doctrine of consubstantiation which the LCMS rejects.
Law and Gospel
The LCMS, along with certain other Lutheran Church Bodies, also teaches the doctrine of the distinction between God's "Law" and God's "Gospel." The Missouri Synod believes that the Holy Scriptures contain only two teachings -- the Law and the Gospel. The Law is all those parts of the Bible that provide commands and instructions, which the LCMS believes are impossible to completely obey. Therefore, the Law is a statement of God's wrath, judgement, and damnation. The Gospel, on the other hand, is the portions of Scripture that promise free salvation from God, even to sinners. The law always condemns, the Gospel always promises. Both the Law and the Gospel are gifts from God. Both are necessary. The function of the law is to show a person their sinful nature and drive them to the Gospel, where the forgiveness of sin is promised for the sake of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The LCMS insists that both the Old and the New Testament teach both Law and Gospel. The Old Testament, therefore, is valuable to Christians. Its teachings point forward in time to the Cross of Christ in the same way that the New Testament points backward in time to the Cross. This vital LCMS doctrine was most famously summarized by C. F. W. Walther in his book, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.
The Missouri Synod is also conservative in its worship practices. The LCMS endorses the doctrine of close or closed communion -- the policy of sharing the Lord's Supper only with Christians who believe that everything it teaches about the Christian faith is true. There is a variety of ways in which Missouri Synod congregations put close communion into practice, most often asking visitors to speak with the Pastor before coming to that congregation's altar for the first time.
The Missouri Synod has no official policy on worship style. The synod only requires that hymns, songs, rituals and practices be in harmony with the teachings of the synod. Historically, worship in Missouri Synod congregations is traditional and liturgical, utilizing a printed order of service, a Hymnal and traditional hymns, accompanied by a pipe organ or other classical instruments. In recent years, many congregations have adopted a variety of less formal worship styles, employing Contemporary Christian music, pianos, guitars and other instruments. There is a vigorous debate among LCMS Lutherans on the appropriateness of these forms.
The Missouri Synod holds that the ordination of women as clergy is contrary to scripture. The issue of women's roles in the church body has continued to be a subject of great debate within the Synod. Women received the right to suffrage within Missouri Synod congregations in 1969, and it was decided in a narrow vote at the Synod's 2004 convention that women may also "serve in humanly established offices" such as congregation president, reader, or usher. Several caucuses within the Synod are currently pressing for a wider-ranging reevaluation of the issue of the ordination of women, although at the present time, they are a distinct minority.
A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod provides a summary of the major beliefs of the LCMS.
The basic structure of the denomination is congregational (run by congregations) instead of episcopal (run by bishops), though unlike some other Protestant denominations this is not considered to be a point of doctrine, as the Synod is in fellowship with some Lutheran church bodies in Europe that have an episcopal structure. The congregations are served by a full-time professional clergy.
The corporate LCMS is formally constituted of two types of members: autonomous local congregations that qualify for membership by adherence to stated principles, and clergymen who qualify by similar means. Congregations hold legal title to their church buildings and other property, and call and dismiss their own clergy. Much of the practical work of the LCMS structure is as a free employment brokerage to bring the two together.
The entire synod is divided into districts, usually corresponding to a specific geographic area, as well as two non-geographical districts, the English and the SELC, which were formed when the formerly separate English Missouri Synod and the Slovak Synod, respectively, merged with the formerly German-speaking Missouri Synod. Each district is led by a district president, who must be an ordained clergyman. Most district presidencies are full-time positions, but there are a few exceptions in which the district president also serves as a parish pastor. The districts are subdivided into circuits, each of which is led by an ordained pastor from one of the member congregations.
The LCMS as a whole is led by an ordained Synodical President, currently Gerald B. Kieschnick. The President is chosen at a synodical convention, a gathering of the two membership groups (professional clergymen, and lay representatives from the member congregations). The convention is held every three years and discusses doctrine and policy as well as electing the leader.
LCMS pastors are generally required to have a four-year bachelor's degree (in any discipline), as well as a four-year Master of Divinity degree from one of the body's two seminaries: the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In seminary, students preparing to be pastors study historical theology, the biblical languages (Biblical Greek and Hebrew), practical application (education, preaching, and mission), and doctrine (the basic teachings and beliefs of the church). Ordination is seen as a public ceremony of recognition that a man has received and accepted a divine call, and hence is considered to be in the office of the ministry. The LCMS does not believe ordination is an extension of apostolic succession but sees the office grounded in the preaching ministry of the Gospel.
The LCMS operates ten universities known as the Concordia University System. Among the LCMS's other auxiliary organizations are the Lutheran Laymen's League , which conducts outreach ministries including The Lutheran Hour radio program, and the Lutheran Women's Missionary League . The synod also operates a publishing company, Concordia Publishing House .
Relationship with other church bodies
Maintaining its position as a confessional church emphasizing the importance of agreement in the teachings of the Bible, the LCMS is not associated with ecumenical organizations such as the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the World Council of Churches or the Lutheran World Federation.
At present, the LCMS is in fellowship with the Lutheran Church - Canada. Originally the three districts comprising the Lutheran Church - Canada were districts of the LCMS and eventually it was decided that it would be best if the Canadian congregations formed the Lutheran Church - Canada.
With 2.6 million members, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is the second largest American Lutheran denomination, after Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with 5.1 million members, and followed by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod with 410,000.
The LCMS is distinguished from its closest non-LCMS Lutheran US denomination - the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) - by three main theological beliefs:
- 1. The biblical understanding of fellowship - the LCMS believes in a distinction between the altar, pulpit fellowship, and other manifestations of Christian fellowship (i.e. a prayer fellowship). The WELS does not.
- 2. The doctrine of the ministry - the LCMS believes that the Pastoral office is divinely established, but all other offices are human institutions and hence are not divinely established. The WELS does not believe that any office is divinely established.
- 3. The role of women in the church - Both the LCMS and WELS agree that Scriptures reserve the pastoral office for men. However, the WELS also believes that the Scriptures forbid women's suffrage in the congregation.
- 1847- 1850 Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther
- 1850- 1864 Friedrich Conrad Dietrich Wyneken
- 1864- 1878 Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther
- 1878- 1899 Heinrich Christian Schwan
- 1899- 1911 Franz August Otto Pieper
- 1911- 1935 Friedrich Pfotenhauer
- 1935- 1962 John William Behnken
- 1962- 1969 Oliver Raymond Harms
- 1969- 1981 Jacob Aall Otteson Preus II
- 1981- 1992 Ralph Arthur Bohlmann
- 1992- 2001 Alvin L. Barry
- 2001- 2001 Robert T. Kuhn
- 2001- Gerald B. Kieschnick
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