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Letter to the Editor: More about the differences among Lutherans

Posted: Wed, Mar 6, 2013 8:43 AM

Russell Baldner of Spillville has been following the news of the differences among various Lutheran denominations and e-mails this Letter to the Editor:

I wish to respond to statements recently made (March 3) in two articles posted on regarding Lutheran synodical history ("Explaining the differences among Lutheran denominations" and "Theological questions are being asked about the possible next Luther College President"), a subject that is, admittedly, a confusing labyrinth of independent synods, ethnic groups, mergers and splinters. 

First, contrary to the statement in "Explaining the differences . . ." that the former Norwegian Synod "became the American Lutheran Church," what actually happened is considerably more modest. The original Norwegian Synod, through its successor synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, did become a part of the American Lutheran Church that was formed in 1960—however, only a part of that latter body (synod), not the whole.

The American Lutheran Church (ALC) in question resulted from a merger of three Lutheran synods that were originally of German, Danish, and Norwegian ethnic origin repectively. To be sure, the American Lutheran Church formed in 1960 was, however, the second Lutheran synod to bear that name. The first American Lutheran Church was the result of a merger of three German synods (Buffalo, German Iowa, and Joint Synod of Ohio) in 1930. Thirty years later, that first ALC was one of the three synods participanting in the 1960 merger that resulted in the second ALC—at the time also lending its name to the newly formed body.

"Theological questions . . ." states that "the two denominations [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Lutheran Church Missouri Synod] of Lutheranism have developed sharply different world views since nearly merging in the early 1970s." The statement is accurate on one count and inaccurate on two.

First, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) did not even exist in the 1970s; it was the result of yet another Lutheran merger in 1988 that brought together a synodical trio consisting of the ALC, the LCA (Lutheran Church in America), and the AELC (Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches; see below). The synods referred to in the above referenced article would have been the American Lutheran Church (the second ALC; see above) and/or the LCA, and Missouri. Second, to suggest, however, that the ALC—much less the more liberal LCA—nearly merged with Missouri would come as a great surprise not only to members of those synods but also anyone else familiar with Lutheran synodical history. Third, that relations between the several Lutheran synods in the early 1970s were more positive, e.g., altar and pulpit fellowship between the ALC and the LCMS, than in the years that followed, or than they subsequently were between the ELCA and Missouri since the late 1980s, is, as the article points out, quite true. But that they nearly merged!—not so much.

In the early 1970s, deep differences within the Missouri Synod led to a crisis and rupture within its own ranks, with the conservative faction ultimately prevailing and maintaining the upper hand, while the more liberal, moderate faction broke away and in 1976 formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). In 1988, that body joined the ALC and the LCA in forming the present day ELCA. Altar and pulpit fellowship between the moderate American Lutheran Church and the more conservative Missouri Synod had at that time already become a thing of the past—which status has not since changed between the successor Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and which continues to reflect the substantial differences in thinking between the two churches, who, nonetheless, share the common heritage of the Lutheran Confessions.

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