Friday, April 01, 2005

Lutheran Family - Encyclopedia of American Religions
Previously appeared here: 4/1/2005 12:47:00 PM

Because of Luther we have the split between the Roman Catholic church, and the protestants. One element that Luther stressed had profound and peculiar consequences for Lutherans in America: the close tie he advocated between church and nation.*

Thus, as Lutherans emigrated from Western Europe to the U.S. they established churches that coalesced into denominations (synods) by language or country of origin. The fragmented image of Western Europe became reflected in the fragmentation of American Lutheranism.

The urge to merge: common beliefs and common liturgy
Old wine, new skin

But unlike the usual tendency of Christian denominations to splinter into denominations along doctrinal lines, these Lutheran synods in the U.S. often had much in common doctrinally (the legacy of Luther's creed) -- and with assimilation into Americans and the common language of English, the division along language and country of origin slipped into the background. Thus, the last century saw a large merger wave within the Lutheran Family of synods in the U.S.

The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is the result of the merger in 1988 of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. The size of the merger?: it created the fifth largest religious denomination in the U.S.

Note to co-author: Here's the prominent example of how evangelical in title does not make you part of the Evangelical Family. Thus, for instance

In a study comparing Evangelical and mainline denominations, a Princeton University study included the following as Evangelical denominations : Assemblies of God, Southern Baptists, Independent Baptists, black Protestants, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion; Church of Christ, Churches of God in Christ, Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, National Baptist Church, National Progressive Baptist Church, Nondenominational, Pentecostal denominations, and the Presbyterian Church in America. 1 Many theologians would include the conservative members of such mainline denominations as the Episcopal Church, USA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church. The names of a few American denominations -- for example: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod -- contain the word "Evangelical." However, they are mainline or liberal groups and are NOT part of the Evangelical movement.
(The various efforts at emphasis above are my attempt to highlight important distinctions.) You can see the hazards of doing any red state - blue state study using denominational families, let alone denominations. Could the saying ever be more true?: you can't tell the players without a scorecard.

Doctrinal polarization: conflicting beliefs and values
Some skin is less durable than others

The Missouri Synod is also a result of the great merger wave in American Lutheranism. It is roughly half the size of the ELCA. It is conservative, or in today's parlance is evangelical whereas the ELCA is not. The more liberal faction of the Missouri Synod - comprising about 5 percent of its congregations broke off and formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. One of three liberal synods which merged in 1988 to form the ELCA, it contributed the E word to the name of the new new skin. Naturally the departure of the AEL churches has left the Missouri Synod more cohesive, and more conservative.

(Aside: For those who may be interested, Gustavus Adophus College is in the ELCA.)

Family Feud - Concordia Not

Until reading the EAR I had no idea how bitter were the doctrinal fights have in the Lutheran Family. Quoting,

[Conservatives] demanded an investigation of the Concordia Theological Seminary, whose faculty, they alleged, was teaching doctrine contrary to official synod standards. Among the key items to which objection was raised was the teaching of modern biblical criticism which, it was claimed, compromised the belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.... The liberals, whose strength centered upon the seminary, insisted on greater freedom to interpret the Bible and teach theology.... Early in 1974 Tietjen was suspended as president of Concordia. In reaction, 43 of 47 professors went on strike and were supported by three-fourths of the student body who voted to boycott classes. After leaving Concordia, the faculty and students established Concordia Seminary in Exile (popularly known as Seminex).
Seminex to this day continues to be painted as the Evil Empire, and rallies members to the Missouri Synod. See here and here. Follow the second link and you will wonder it isn't 1984 all over again. Care to define free speech? See: newspeak and doublethink. Telling your adherents your church is under threat can be an effective way of making it stronger. The human urge to stand and fight is stronger than the urge to turn and run - and even an imagined enemy is real enough for the purpose.

Today Concordia University is safely in the Missouri Synod orbit of control.

Emirates Economist?

Yes, actually, this post does have relevance to our blog. For example, we can draw the parallels between this post and our post of yesterday where, figuratively speaking, Lord Palmerston spoke to the Arab League.

Life is full of parallels. In teaching if you want to bring up a subject but it is likely to stir up emotions, don't. Find common ground by bringing up a parallel example. Don't mention the parallel with the sensitive subject: because that's where the student comes in to realize it out on her own - or not.

*UPDATE: An Episco friend studying at a Lutheran seminary writes to correct me about Luther and the state. I've left my original statement above unedited -- in the blogosphere the tradition is to live by the first draft you post. My statement can be taken more than one way. What Luther advocated was that in a nation the government have its realm and the church its realm, complementing each other, but neither subordinate to the other. And not a church-sponsored state or a state-sponsored church, both of which were associated with the perceived aspirations of Rome. It is the equal-partners-within-a-nation model which I am attributing to Luther, and with it the consequences for the history of Lutheranism in the U.S. I thank my friend for leading me to clarify my thesis.


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