Have you ever wondered about the label “Lutheran” (and why/how, if you are reading this in a Lutheran church newsletter, it most likely applies to you)? Have you ever wondered about why of our own church body, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, is so named? Have you ever wondered—or perhaps you were never told—why there are nearly three dozen strands (for lack of a better word) of practicing Lutherans nationwide (that’s more than 8 million Americans), rather than just one post-Reformation, American brand of Lutheranism?
Surely, even the least frequent church-going Lutheran knows where the designation comes from—Dr. Martin Luther hated that any new form of church should carry his brand, so to speak; Luther meant, at least at the onset 500 years ago, to merely make his beloved Roman Catholic Church aware that its improprieties, excesses, and false doctrine obscured the Gospel message and, therefore, its primary mission. (I think the last thing he meant to do was foment a Protestant insurrection that would result in suffering, death, and the fracturing of believers into squabbling sects of differing Christian doctrine.)
Honestly, it’s very difficult to translate the label “Lutheran” into a specific description. Of the 30 or so bodies in America, it’s also very difficult to decipher why one operates to the exclusion of others; in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, altar and pulpit fellowship (who is invited to the Lord’s Supper, who is allowed to preach) is based predominately upon “confessional unity.” Is the communicant confessionally sound? Does he or she agree with the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the Book of Concord? Or even know what the Book of Concord is? Does he or she agree with the teachings of our Synod? Can any ordained Lutheran pastor preach from our pulpit?
It was this Protestant Reformation that tempered those followers of Luther into the first Lutherans, those who agreed with Luther’s teaching, doctrine, and practice, the basis for our Lutheran Confessions, the 1580 Book of Concord. This compendium of 10 confessional documents is the backbone of orthodox Lutheranism and is still upheld by The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod as “the true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and serve as authoritative texts for all pastors [and] congregations”; however, and unfortunately, not all Lutheran church bodies in America share such an unconditional subscription. And, ironically, the very book that was meant to keep Lutherans together (concordia is Latin for “one heart”), is at the very “heart” of what would divide the first Lutherans to call themselves American in the early- to mid-19th century.
A fledgling Lutheran presence in the 17th century of Dutch (New York), Swedish (Delaware), and German (Pennsylvania) settlers would eventually give rise in the next century to the first permanent Lutheran “synod” in America, the ethnically German Ministerium of Pennsylvania in 1748. The Latin word ministerium (a group of ministers), would soon give way to a more regular use of the anglicized form of the Greek word synodos, from syn- (together) + hodos (way), meaning assembly or meeting. (Thus The Luther Church – Missouri Synod.)
That’s it for now. Look for “Confessional Unity: Part 2” next month. Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you!Pastor E.B.