Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
James Voelz recently published a two-part essay in Concordia Journal entitled, “Contemporary Americans Make Poor Confessional Lutherans."! In his essay, Dr. Voelz points out that the rampant liberty that permeates American life is constantly at odds with the desire of Lutherans to remain confessional, doctrinal and liturgical. He states, "All of the factors involved in such a church, viz., doctrinal formulations, confessional statements, and uniform liturgical practices, are restrictive and non-libertarian. They rub against the grain of every contemporary American. Which means that to embrace them is to be truly counter-cultural.”
This tension between being Lutheran and being American is nothing new. Since their first arrival in America, Lutherans have faced questions of change-whether and how much to change the practices and beliefs they brought from the old country, be it Germany, Norway or another homeland. America's emphasis on religious toleration is part and parcel of the American ideal of liberty. People of all faiths who come to America have to decide how much to "Americanize."
Eminent Evangelical scholar Mark Noll recently published a book detailing this process of Americanization across the spectrum of American Christian denominations. 3Baptist theologian William Estep makes a telling statement: "The Lutheran Church has been reduced to one of numerous competing confessional bodies, and some Lutherans are discernibly dissatisfied with the American experience .... However, most Lutherans, like most Catholics, while they have maintained their own parochial schools, have become an integral part of the American experience, including the pluralism characteristic of American society.”
This trade-off between Americanism and Lutheranism is a cycle that has repeated itself. Dr. Voelz' viewpoint would indicate that it is repeating again. It is this author’s intention to look at the mid-nineteenth century in order to better understand our present situation. F. Bente, David Gustafson, Vergilius Ferm, and numerous others have published studies on this conflict which we will compare and contrast. This will enable us to better understand the major parties into which Lutherans in nineteenth-century America were grouped by several scholars, not least William Julius Mann (1819-1892), a Lutheran pastor of the Pennsylvania Ministerium and prominent leader of the confessional movement in the General Synod in the 1850s, and Philip Schaff (1819-1893), a leading German Reformed pastor in America and the dean of American church historians.
This study will look at where each party of Lutherans in nineteenth-century America stood on several issues: sources of authority, dogma, the sacraments, worship, revivals and the use of so-called "new measures," catechesis, clergy, polity, rationalism, and language. The author sees, in the left, right and center parties of Lutherans in nineteenth-century America, some parallels to Lutheran parties in America today. The reader is left to draw his or her own comparisons.
A note here about terminology may help the reader. Throughout this study, the author uses the phrase "American Lutheran" as a technical term meaning the particular party of Lutherans who were called by this name in nineteenth-century America. This party was led by Samuel S. Schmucker, among others, and is described in detail below. To avoid confusion, different terminology, such as "Lutherans in America" or "Lutheran Church in America," will be used when referring generically to Lutheran Christians residing in America.
Hendrickson, Philip, "An Examination of the Left, Right and Center Parties in the American Lutheran Controversy of the Mid-Nineteenth Century" (2003). Master of Art Theology Thesis. 107.
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