The Past, Present and Future
of the “Center” of
The Rev. Dr. Jim Galezewski
Evangelical Lutheran Conference and
Ministerium (ELCM)
Pre-Suppositions of this Presentation
 The Word of God is infallible and immutable.
 The Lutheran Book of Concord is a true interpretation
of God’s Word.
 Human beings are fallible. Hence, our interpretations
of both Scripture and Confessions will vary.
 In the United States, Lutheranism has grown in a
strong spirit of independence and conviction, many
times over and against the state churches they came
 Therefore, there has been a variety of confessional
stances in American Lutheranism
The Core of this Presentation
 Lutheran Christianity in America has
clustered around three main confessional
Loose (flexible and neo-orthodox)
Orthodox, yet flexible
Pietist (looser confessionally, stricter in practice)
Orthodox and strict
Formation of the Lutheran Church
 Three Phases:
 Phase 1: Struggle and establishment
 Phase 2: Consolidation (Orthodoxy)
 Phase 3: Response to Orthodoxy
(Pietism) and moves toward the New
Phase 1: Struggle and Establishment
 Protest against abuses and errors
 Formation of the movement and excommunication
 Development of theological positions (Luther’s
writings and Augsburg Confession)
Justification and salvation
Sola Scripture/Sola fide/Sola gratia
Priesthood of all believers
Word of God and the Sacraments (means of grace)
 Struggle/War
 30 Years war and Peace of Westphalia
 Establishment in Germany, Scandinavia, parts of
Eastern Europe
Phase 2: Consolidation (Orthodoxy)
 Emphasis on practical institutional
 Clarification of teachings:
Systematic Theology
 Confidence in reliability of Scripture
 Precision of thought and expression
 Criteria for purity of doctrine more carefully
Phase 3: Response to Orthodoxy
 Critique: Too rigid and “quietistic”
 Moved away from “right thinking” to “right feeling” and
“right action”
Emphasis on the experience of faith and its meaning
for the believer. Conventicles of Bible reading and
Played down the importance of orthodox doctrine
1st Missionary Center: Halle
This reaction established a polar tension in
Lutheranism that exists to this day
This reaction established a polar tension
in Lutheranism that exists to this day
 There has not been one single identity or
culture in American Lutheranism. It has
always been pluralistic and in tension.
Different historical and ethnic influences
Different ranges of Biblical and doctrinal
Different structures/governance
Different relationships between church and
There has Always been a “Lutheran
Center” in American Lutheran History
Sidney Ahlstrom (1950’s): Lutheranism is
best understood when it is seen not as
something indistinguishably blended
in…but as a tradition living in a real but
fruitful state of tension…”
The “Center” of American
Lutheranism is re-forming
ELCM, LCMC (and Districts), AOELS,
AALC and other Denominations
1700’s: The 1st Mission Period
 First Lutherans: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Georgia and the Carolinas
 Loose: Zinzendorfers: Lutheran Moravians
 Very ecumenical: Has Lutheranism outlived its usefulness?
 Subjective aspects of religion
 Loose adherence to the confessions
 Strict: The Altdorf School and the Swedish Lutherans
 Berkenmeyer in NY, Ulsperger in Georgia
Orthodox in Doctrine
Trained in Europe
NY Ministerium
 Center: H.M. Muhlenberg
Trained in Halle, but confessional
Use of English
United Ministerium of PA
1800’s: Formation of Church Bodies
 Strict: Ohio Synod 1818 (John Stough), Norwegian
Synod, Synod of MO (1830’s)
 Center: PA Ministerium, Southern Synods (GA, NC,
 Looser: Ministerium of NY
Evangelical catechism
“New Hymnal”
 The Question: To what degree do we cooperate and
blend in with other American protestants? Is a
confessional Lutheranism necessary?
1840’s-1860’s: Americanist
 Sides are taken and consolidation occurs. Time of
growth, organizing, publishing seminaries
 Loose: The General Synod (S.S. Schmucker)
Semi-Amalgamation with American Protestantism
Gettysburg Seminary
Altered Augsburg Confession
 Center: The General Council (C. P. Krauth)
 Confessionally Orthodox
 Philadelphia Seminary
 Unaltered Augsburg Confession
 Strict: Missouri Synod (C.F. Walther),Ohio Synod,
Buffalo Synod (J. Grabau)
1860’s-1900: 2nd Period of
 Largely Scandinavian, some Germans
 Free Church (pietist) vs. State Church (orthodox)
 Many new ethnic denominations
 Loose: General Synod, Eielsen and Hauge Synods
(Norwegian Pietist), United Danish L.C. (Holy
Danes), Finnish Apostolic L.C. (“Apps”)
 Centrist: General Council, United Norwegian L.C.,
Danish EV. L.C. (Happy Danes), Suomi Synod,
Augustana Synod
 Strict: Synodical Conference (Synod of MO, OH and
other states, Buffalo Synod, Norwegian Synod)
1900’s: Time of Consolidation 1
 Loose: Pietists (Lutheran Free Church,
Lutheran Brethren)
 Center: United Lutheran Church in America
(ULCA, 1918), Augustana, Norwegian L.C. of
America (former United N.L.C.), Danish EV.
L.C. (Happy Danes), Suomi Synod
 Strict: Synodical Conference: Synod of
Missouri, Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS,
former Norwegian Synod)
1930’s: Time of Consolidation 2
 American Lutheran Church (ALC) forms as
result of merger of Centrist Norwegian L.C. of
America (former United N.L.C.), United
Danish EV. L.C. (Holy Danes)
 ULCA begins to create closer ties with
Augustana Synod, Danish EV. L.C. (Happy
Danes), Suomi Synod. Becomes more
American, liberal in outlook
 Synodical Conference adds Wisconsin Synod
to mix
1960’s: Time of Consolidation 3
 Loose: LCA formed by merger of ULCA
begins to create closer ties with Augustana
Synod, Danish EV. L.C. (Happy Danes),
Suomi Synod.
 Centrist: ALC adds Lutheran Free Church to
its fold
 Strict: Synodical Conference (LCMS, WELS,
1988: Time of Consolidation 4
 Loose: ELCA (LCA, ALC, AELC/Missouri
 Strict: LC-MS, WELS, ELS
 For the first time in American Lutheran
history, NO CENTER!!!!
 First Attempts:
American Association of Lutheran
Congregations (AALC)
Association of Lutheran Free Churches
Present: Break-offs and Dissenters
 Call to Common Mission and the “Family
 Word Alone and LCMC
Districts forming
Mostly former ALC/ELCA Congregations
 Mostly former LCA/ELCA Congregations
 Some LCMS and WELS participation
 Other Small Denominations
What Will Happen?
 God Knows….
 ELCA/Episcopalian “concordat” Asking again: has
Lutheranism in the U.S. outlived its usefulness?
 Missouri Controversy: Over legalism in that
 Attempts and confederation of dissenters as the new
Lutheran “Center”
Joint House of Studies
Some type of new “General Council” or Evangelical
Lutheran Council of North America
Possible future overtures to AALC and AFLC?
Are the Dissenters “Splinter Groups”
and “Spoilers”?
 NO!
 Lutheran polarity is a historical reality. Total Lutheran
consolidation and unionism with other denominations,
goes against the very tension inherent in American
 Since 1988, there has been no viable Lutheran
“Center”, causing disequilibrium in American
 Lutheranism is now doing what it always has done:
re-configuring according to confessional
interpretation and practice
 This re-configuration restores American
Lutheranism’s historical balance!!!!!!

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