I was moved by Chalcedon’s remarks on his family in Among the Ruins. My family’s experience is not dissimilar. Yes, there’s going to be some church history here.
My parents were brought up in the old Norwegian Synod, which became part of the American Lutheran Church, which centered mostly in the upper midwest. For the most part these are the offshoots of the Scandinavian Lutheran churches, and became probably the most conservative part of the ELCA, as it remains to this day, which is why I still belong to it. But when they moved to Indiana, there was nothing especially close, although years later the LCA and the Missouri Synod would cooperate in quite a few things.
But they ended up in the Evangelical and Reformed Church. This was essentially the Church of Prussia that King Frederick Wilhelm III forced into existence by merging the German Lutheran and Reformed churches. As you can imagine serious followers of both Luther and Calvin were dismayed, beyond endurance. This is the church that my sisters and I were all confirmed in. To this day, the window over the door of the sanctuary of my home church reads Salem Ev. and Reformed Kirche.
When they ended up in Pennsylvania, my sister and her husband ended up in the southernmost church of the old Dutch Reformed Church. I should probably note that both had been hooked into the maelstrom of the United Church of Christ, that product of the ecclesiastical merger mania of the 1960s. Like the Church of Prussia before it, it tried to yoke oxen and horses, and found it a very balky team.
My family in Pennsylvania still belong to this church, and in fact, my sister was (and my brother in law still is) a leader of the congregation. As are my nieces, who in fact are not all that much younger than I am. But interestingly, in talking with them about various things, I have found that my nieces faith is quite shallow, they are leaders, and officers of their church but, they have a fairly shallow faith. Given my experience, I put it down to belonging to a church, that is neither fish nor fowl.
My experience is somewhat different. When I moved out here, there was essentially no UCC available, and so the choice became either Lutheran or Methodist. It wasn’t a very hard choice to go back to the ELCA, essentially it was coming home after a generation. 🙂
But you know, the ELCA is not the LCA that I knew on summer vacations as a child growing up in Minnesota, that was never a particularly conservative church, to my mind, but the corporate ELCA is on a par with (and in communion with) the Episcopal Church in America.
And so we go back into Lutheran history a bit. When the King forced that merger in Germany, a lot of Lutherans (Calvinists too, but that’s not germane to my history) felt that he was corrupting the teachings of their churches, and when civil and even criminal penalties started being imposed, a good many left. This is when Lutheranism really got going in the United States (Australia and New Zealand, as well). This is origin of the old Buffalo Synod. It drew heavily on what is called Old Lutheranism.
There was another group, from Saxony, which founded a synod based on mostly Neo-Lutheranism, which developed in reaction against theological rationalism and pietism, with an increased focus on Lutheran distinctiveness and and the Lutheran Confessions, as well as the historic liturgy. It paralleled the rise of Anglo-Catholicism and in fact is occasionally called German Puseyism. This is the origin of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Over time it became the second largest Lutheran synod in the United States.
Interestingly the ELCA, because of its full communion with the Episcopal Church, is (maybe, kind of, sort of, I haven’t yet figured out if there is an authoritative answer) in communion with the Church of England, and it shares many of its problems. As do many of the liberal churches (I would say it because of a lack of vision, in the faith and too much subservience to the state).
But the LCMS has also formed partnerships with the Evangelical Lutheran Churches across Europe and the world, which are in many cases the remnants of the old Lutheran churches in Germany. Even in the UK, where is 1896 a group of German bakers in Kent, asked Concordia Seminary in St. Louis to provide a pastor for them with assurances that they would support him. That mission has now grown to have churches in England, Scotland, and Wales, including training pastors in Cambridge.
If you know me, you know that I will likely at some point end up in the LCMS, simply because it matches better what I believe, or even what is often its subset: The Confessional Lutheran Church. A lot of the reason I haven’t is practical, the difference between five blocks and about fifty miles.
But I’m hardy alone in that yearning, the ELCA is at best flat in its membership and in many cases drying up, while LCMS is continuing to grow. That tracks with what I see in other denominations, the more demanding churches are growing while the ‘go along to get along’ ones are not. I think it more a matter of vision and the mission than anything else.
In many ways I think the development of the various churches in the United states almost makes a laboratory case for their predecessor churches in Europe, because here without state support, they have to make their case to the parishioner, That can, of course, lead to apostasy but it can also lead to real piety, depending on how well the people understand the purpose of the church, itself.
And so I continue to wonder if a good part of the Anglican church’s problem isn’t simply that it has, as the Established Church, this mandate from the state to be all things to all men, instead of a church serving only God. It never worked all that well for Rome, or in Germany, maybe it’s run it course in England as well, or maybe it simply needs to wrest control, once again, from the state and entrust it to men of vision. Because, historically, it has been one of the mainstays of the Faith, and I would hate to see it go down.
In truth, because I suspect, of Virginia’s influence on our early history, it (in its Episcopal form) has become our church for state functions as well. Where else but the National Cathedral could one have a state funeral for a Protestant?
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