A Brief History

 

(from a 1994 document by Dr. Samuel Nafzger entitled, “An Introduction to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod”)

 

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod traces its origin to 750 Saxon immigrants who came to Missouri in 1839 seeking freedom from religious rationalism in Germany. Under the leadership of a young pastor named C.F.W. Walther, these German immigrants joined together with a number of pastors sent to America by Wilhelm Loehe in Neuendettelsau (Bavaria) to form "The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States." The first convention of the new synod was held in Chicago on April 25-May 6, 1847. Twelve pastors, with their congregations, adopted the constitution, and 10 other pastors added their signatures as advisory members, since their congregations had not yet voted to join. Of these 22 pastors, 4 lived in Missouri, 6 in Ohio, 5 in Indiana, 3 in Illinois, 2 in Michigan, and 2 in New York. The twelve original congregations which formed the Missouri Synod included about 3,000 persons. Dr. Walther was elected to serve as the first president of the new Synod. One hundred years later in 1947 the Synod officially changed its name to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which remained largely German in its make-up and even in language until the end of the First World War, grew dramatically during the latter part of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries. In 1897, 50 years after its founding, the Synod reported a membership of 685,000. During the next 50 years, it more than doubled its membership. As of 1993, it reports a membership of 2.6 million members belonging to 6,218 congregations. The Synod has 10 colleges, two seminaries, 62 high schools and the nation's largest Protestant elementary school system with 1,786 elementary schools and preschools. Congregations and schools are served by 8,389 pastors, 9,951 parochial school teachers and numerous other full-time workers, such as deaconesses and directors of Christian education. While the Synod holds that the ordination of women to the office of pastor is contrary to the Scriptures, approximately 45 percent of its full-time professional church workers are women. The LCMS has congregations in all sections of the United States, but the heaviest concentration of its membership continues to lie in the Midwest.

Well known for its emphasis on Biblical doctrine and faithfulness to the historic Lutheran Confessions, the Synod also manifests an innovative spirit in seeking new ways of proclaiming the Gospel. Concordia Publishing House, whose Arch Book Series for children has sold more than 55 million copies, is the nation's fourth-largest Protestant publisher. A pioneer in radio and television work, the Synod operates the world's oldest religious radio station, KFUO, headquartered in St. Louis, Mo. Its program, "The Lutheran Hour," produced by the Synod's International Lutheran Layman's League, has been aired in North America since 1930, and Lutheran Hour programs are broadcast each week into more than 110 nations. Hispanic language broadcasts reach out to this fastest-growing minority. The League also continues to distribute "This is the Life," the longest-running dramatic series in the history of television, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1992. The Lutheran Women's Missionary League (LWML), which came into being in 1942, serves as the Synod's auxiliary for women and has been a leader in supporting missionary outreach in many areas. The LWML also provided the initiative in 1989 for developing "Lifelight," a widely used in-depth Bible study series.

The Synod has a long history of reaching out to others. Black ministry, for example, has been a solid part of the Synod for more than 100 years. In fact, most African Americans who are Lutheran are members of the LCMS. In addition, a Library for the Blind produces sermons and devotional literature, and of the approximately 90 deaf congregations maintained by all religious denominations, over 50 are members of the LCMS.

In its forward-looking approach to doing the Lord's work by helping one's fellow human beings, the LCMS in 1980 became the first denomination in the United States to urge its members to donate body organs at death for transplant. The Synod holds a strong pro-life position and supports efforts calling for constitutional protection of all human life, including the unborn. With respect to the end of life, the Synod believes that the Scriptures teach that Christians are always to care for the dying, but never to aim to kill them. Therefore the LCMS strongly opposes euthanasia, but also believes that when the body's ability to sustain itself is no longer possible, and when doctors conclude that there is no hope for recovery, Christians may in good conscience forego the use of life support systems. While rejecting homosexual behavior as contrary to God's will, the Synod has also called for the development of a plan for ministry to homosexuals and their families.

Unlike many other churches, the LCMS has never been involved in a major merger. However, it was a member of the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A. until the Council went out of existence on January 1, 1988, with the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Internationally, the Synod conducts missions or maintains relations with churches in over 50 different countries. It is a member of the International Lutheran Council, but it does not belong to the Lutheran World Federation, to the National Council of Churches or to the World Council of Churches.

            Following a decade of soul-searching and controversy that resulted in the walkout of most faculty members and students from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and the eventual departure of slightly more than 100,000 members (who formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches) in the early 1970s, the LCMS has reclaimed its historic confessional stance on the doctrine of the authority of Holy Scripture as the inspired and inerrant Word of God.