Lutheranism – The First 500 Years, Part Five, 1917-2017

A major feature of the fifth century of Lutheranism is what Harold Lindsell calls the “Battle for the Bible.”  The battle for the Bible has affected all denominations, not just Lutherans.

As the Bible was subjected to more and more scientific analysis, people started to question some of its accuracy and reliability.

Key elements of the battle for the Bible were:

Is the Bible God’s Word? Did God really inspire people to write it?

Is the Bible historically accurate?

The Bible’s miracles particularly came under scrutiny since miracles, by definition, cannot be explained scientifically.

Can we pick and choose parts of the Bible and ignore the parts we don’t like, especially when it comes to today’s social issues?

Has God revealed books of the Bible in addition to the 66 books that are currently in the Bible?

These are some of the issues that were debated in the battle for the Bible.

Martin Luther had the highest respect for the Bible. As the sun is to the earth, so the Bible is to our Christian faith. The Bible is in a class by itself. Luther had particularly strong condemnation for those who thought they could read the Bible once and then move on. Even though Luther probably knew the Bible better than anyone, he always kept reading, studying and meditating on it.

And Luther believed that everyone should have access to the Bible, which is why he worked so hard to translate the Bible into German, the language of his people.

The battle for the Bible had a significant affect on my denomination, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. After much discussion and controversy, much of it related to the Bible’s miracles, the majority of the faculty members and students at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis left the seminary in 1974. They eventually also left the synod and formed their own church body, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

In response to all the questioning of the Bible that went on, keep in mind the following points:

The Bible is self-authenticating. In a sense there can be no battle for the Bible because we can’t do anything to convince people it is the Word of God. The Bible itself convinces people that it is God’s Word.

The Bible is by far the best-selling book of all time.

The Bible is by far the most historically authenticated book of all time. Although we do not have the original copies of the Bible, there are so many thousands of ancient Biblical manuscripts that scholars believe they have pieced together a fairly accurate version of the original Bible. Ironically they have used many scientific tools to do so.

In addition, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and countless other archaeological discoveries have confirmed the things taught in the Bible.

Another major feature of the fifth century of Lutheranism is what I call mergers and acquisitions. As I pointed out last month, dozens of Lutheran church bodies were formed as Lutherans flooded into the US from Europe in the 1800’s. But as English became more common and the world went through two world wars and the Great Depression, there was a significant push for Lutheran groups and other groups of Protestants to bury their differences and come together.

By the 1960’s there were three major Lutheran church bodies in America: The American Lutheran Church, aka the ALC, the Lutheran Church in America, aka the LCA and The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, aka the LCMS.

The mid-western based ALC was formed in 1960 as a combination of German, Norwegian and Danish Lutherans. Based in Minneapolis, the ALC was in fellowship with the LCMS for 12 years from 1969 to 1981.

The LCA was formed in 1962 of German, Swedish, Slovakian, Danish and Finnish backgrounds. It was based in New York and was the most liberal of the Lutheran church bodies.

In 1988 the ALC, the LCA and the AELC, the group that broke away from the Missouri Synod in 1974, all joined together to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, aka the ELCA. This church body has about 9000 congregations and 3.5 million members.

The ELCA is more progressive/modern when it comes to its approach to the Bible and social issues and has entered into fellowship agreements with several non-Lutheran church bodies.

The LCMS was invited to join in the formation of the ELCA but we declined due to concerns about the approach to the Bible that the ELCA was taking. Over the years the LCMS and the ELCA have drifted farther and farther apart.

The LCMS has about 6000 congregations and 2 million members. We operate the largest Protestant parochial school system in the US. We are in fellowship with 33 partner church bodies around the world. And lately we have been getting a lot in inquiries from church bodies around the world about establishing closer ties.

There are two other important Lutheran church bodies in the US, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, aka WELS, and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, aka the ELS. The ELS operates Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, MN and WELS operates Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN.

Conclusion. As I stated in the first installment of this series, the Reformation started because Luther was concerned with the spiritual malpractice that was going on in his day. The church was keeping people in a constant state of uncertainty about their salvation so that it could get them to participate in all kinds of schemes that did much to enrich the church but did little to comfort their souls.

Luther re-established the practice of pointing people to the cross of Jesus Christ as the source of God’s completed gift of salvation for all. His insistence on the Gospel brought true comfort to troubled sinners and still is what keeps Lutheranism relevant today.

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