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A Brief Look at the
Lutheran Church

Emphasizing The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

by Pastor Walter P. Snyder (XRYSOSTOM)


Forward

What follows is short and narrow in scope. For those interested in studying Lutheran history in greater detail, I recommend Concordia Historical Institute and Project Wittenberg. For a broad cross-section of world-wide Lutheranism, including recommended pages, try my Godtalk page. The largest indexed collection of all things Lutheran may be housed in the Lutheranism category of the Open Directory Project.

In the Beginning

The "Birthday of the Reformation" is often listed as 31 October 1517, when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church's door. This call for a debate with the established church started a chain reaction of change in Western Christendom. Following the lead of Luther, contemporary and later reformers continued to write defenses and position papers. With the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles' Creeds, some of these writings were gathered in the Book of Concord in 1580. These statements of belief are also known as the Lutheran Confessions, and you can find them and more at Project Wittenberg.

While the Reformation may have officially begun in 1517, it built upon earlier attempts at reform of an often corrupt and venal church. Savonarola in Italy and Hus in Bohemia led unsuccessful efforts at change. Meanwhile, the Lutheran Church itself really began to take form with the presentation of the Augsburg Confession on 25 June 1530, perhaps the official "Birthday of the Lutheran Church." From this time on, differences with Rome were clear, and both sides saw little hope in reconciliation.

The Lutheran Reformation spread to Scandinavia, and influenced the reform movement of John Calvin in France and Switzerland. It also had some impact on the English Reformation, although England saw more political than religious change.

A Time of Change

JOHN CALVIN [1509 to 1564] began his reformation in France, and later moved it to Switzerland. He is a chief founder of the Reformed bodies of today. JOHN KNOX, a student of Calvin, was the organizer of the Presbyterian Church, which began in Scotland. THOMAS CRANMER brought about the formation of the Anglican (Episcopal) Church in England. Later, JOHN WESLEY of England instituted the reforms which resulted in the formation of the Methodist Church. The AUTHORIZED [KING JAMES'] VERSION of the Bible was printed in 1611. From 1546 to 1563, at intermittent periods, the Roman Catholic Church held the COUNCIL OF TRENT, which served as the beginning of their COUNTER-REFORMATION. All Luther's teachings were condemned here. The THIRTY YEARS' WAR [1618-48] pitted the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches against each other in open warfare. GUSTAVIS ADOLPHUS, King of Sweden, was the protector of Lutheranism, and died in the fighting. J. S. BACH and GEORGE F. HANDEL wrote their masterpieces of sacred music following this time.

The discovery of the New World occurred shortly before the Lutheran Reformation began. As exploration continued, the Lutheran Church came to America. RASMUS JENSEN held the first Lutheran worship service in America by Hudson Bay in 1619. The first Lutheran Church was erected in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1638. The first book translated into an American Indian dialect was Martin Luther's Small Catechism, in 1646, 100 years after the reformer's death.

Lutherans in America

The Lutheran immigration was small, at first. However, by 1800, it swelled to thousands each year. The first Lutheran Synod was organized in Pennsylvania, and later became the UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA. After a time of change and merger, it dropped the "United" from its name and became the LCA.

Most of the Lutheran bodies in America resulted originally out of national backgrounds. THE LUTHERAN CHURCH - MISSOURI SYNOD (LC-MS) was the result of SAXON immigration to Perry County, Missouri, south of Saint Louis. Like-minded confessional Lutherans were sought out for the purpose of joining together in mission, ministry, and education. The Synod was organized in 1847 with DR. C. F. W. WALTHER as President. Seminaries were established for training pastors. Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana are charge with educating pastors for The LC-MS. Today, the Missouri Synod is active throughout the world in mission work and with its partner churches. One of these is The Lutheran Church - Canada (LC-C), which grew out of four Canadian districts of The LC-MS.

The LCA later merged with the AMERICAN LUTHERAN CHURCH and several congregations which had broken away from the Missouri Synod to form the EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA (ELCA). It is the largest body in the United States to claim the name Lutheran.

Many small Lutheran associations and synods exist. Some have fewer than twenty congregations. The only other body of any great size in the U.S. is the WISCONSIN EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYNOD (WELS). Today, countless Lutheran synods and agencies are spread across North America and around the world.

Modern Times and The LC-MS

Sin can enter into the affairs of the Church on earth. Yet the Holy Spirit remains active through Word and Sacrament, and that the Church will never be abandoned by its Savior. Because of sin, things often change for bad. Because of God, things often change for good. A few of the changes will now be listed.

As mentioned, the Holy Spirit is active in the Church on earth. However, some look for direct revelation and ecstatic experiences as proof that they have a living faith. A broad-based, interdenominational, CHARISMATIC movement has swept through various bodies. While Charismatics seem to revive "lazy" churches, the problems they bring outweigh their enthusiasm. They look for God to speak outside of the Scriptures and thus deny the sufficiency of God's Word and His promises therein.

ECUMENISM [the ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT] has also expanded its activities. Its proponents rush to praise the benefits of "all of God's people working together," and urge us to ignore doctrinal differences between denominations. It is still the official policy of the LC-MS to avoid unionism and the negative aspects of the ecumenical movement.

In many Christian bodies, the LIBERAL/CONSERVATIVE debate raged during the 1960s and 70s. In The LC-MS, a climax was reached in the early 70s, with the walkout of liberal professors and student supporters at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Included in the controversy was the matter of how Scripture should be interpreted. Other issues also came to bear. What is remarkable is that this was the first instance in modern times when such a large doctrinal liberalism was reversed by a church body.

Success at "cleaning house" in 1973 does not mean that all is right or will remain right with Synod. Paul reminds the Church to remain "sober and vigilant" in all its thoughts, because the "devil is a roaring lion" who still seeks to devour Christ's chosen people. We will always have fights over doctrine, and we must always and only resort to Scripture and our Confessions drawn from Scripture to preserve the true teaching of our Savior. To ignore error is to allow its growth. This becomes especially troubling when congregations slip (or are led by their pastor) into false teaching and practice, then rebel against a new pastor who tries to lead them back to our historic, biblical, Christocentric doctrine.

Still, we do not fight for the sake of fighting. We are constrained by Christ's love to seek harmony and to approach all people with kindness. Yet the peace of Christ is not something we bring to ourselves or to others. It is a peace which comes through faith in the Gospel. And if anyone would destroy or pervert this Gospel, they must be resisted. Otherwise, while there may be earthly harmony, there is no true peace, for there is no true Gospel.

Page designed by Walter Snyder as part of the Xrysostom family of Web pages. Text adapted from, "What Do Lutherans Believe? A Study Guide in Christian Teaching for Adults," published by Oshkosh Church Supply, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Copyright © 1992 by Walter W. Snyder and Walter P. Snyder. Available by calling 1-800-236-8724. This page Copyright © 1996-97, 2003 by Walter P. Snyder.