Sermons and Papers

Strangers In Our Father's House

The Dilemma of Missouri's Confessional Remnant

by Dr. Laurence L. White

Keynote Address at the Lutheran Concerns Association Conference

April 15, 1998


Two years ago I was given the opportunity to address this organization on the changes that have been taking place throughout our church body. At that time, I chose the title "The Transformation of Missouri." Beginning with the Statementarian Controversy of the early 1940's, I traced the transformation of our Synod from the deliberately, aggressively confessional church body that we once were to the cautious conservative institution that we have become. Since you have been so kind as to invite me to address you once again this evening, I would like to take this opportunity to present what the movie industry would call a "prequel." A "prequel,"for those of you who don't have teenagers at home and therefore aren't up on current Hollywood jargon, is the counterpart of a "sequel." A "sequel" tells you what happened after the original movie - while a "prequel," on the other hand, tells you what happened before the original movie.

This evening I'd like to talk about the church we once were before the travails of the modern era - the church which we as confessional Lutherans yearn to be again. Historic, classic Missouri, a church where the Word of God alone was decisive, where the truth of the Bible mattered more than anything else, and where consistent unity in doctrine and practice once prevailed among all of our pastors and congregations. This is not merely an exercise in self-indulgent nostalgia - but a re-affirmation of our real identity. The prophet Isaiah once urged the people of God to "Remember the rock from which we were cut and the quarry from which we were hewn." (Isaiah 51:1) You see, God's people in those days had forgotten who they were and what they could be. They had given up. They were blending in and going along with the heathen culture all around them. The prophet sought to remind them of what God had done before and what God could do again. Let us than call to mind our heritage as Missourians and be inspired by the bold courage and steadfast conviction of those who have gone before. Let us rejoice in what God did among them and find the faith to believe that what God did before He can do again among us. Let us pray for the courage and strength to rise to the challenge of these days so that we may do what must be done to be true "Missourians" again.


The title of this evening's presentation is "Strangers In the House of Our Fathers - The Dilemma of Missouri's Confessional Remnant." That title is deliberately ominous. It reflects this observer's conviction that the position of confessionals within the LCMS is becoming increasingly precarious. In the space of a few short decades we have become strangers in our father's house - barely tolerated step-children to be quickly hustled off to the attic when company comes lest we embarrass the family. The solid theology and doctrinal commitment of classic Missouri is gradually but inexorably disappearing - we're still keeping up appearances, by and large, but the reality is gone. The sleek institutional contours of modern Missouri bear little resemblance to the church we once were. There is currently a move afoot, encouraged by my own Texas district president, to do away with the Synod's name and replace it with something more modern and up to date. I think that may be a good idea, for to call the church that we have become "The Missouri Synod" is false advertising at its worst.

While we have been fighting, and often winning, our own intramural denominational skirmishes, the doctrinal heritage that we cherish is being swept away by the surging tides of the cultural trends which have captured our peoples' hearts and minds. We confessionals have lost sight of the fact that the liberals don't have to win too many of these battles - all they have to do is wait us out. They have time, and the spirit of the times on their side. If they can just hang in there long enough the tides of history will win the war for them.

We live in a post-modern society where tolerance is the only remaining virtue and judgementalism the only unforgivable sin. In such a world all truth is relative and only the opinions, inclinations, and emotions of the individual are sovereign. In such a world a church that is committed to doctrine and defense (Lehre und Wehre) is a unacceptable anachronism, a dinosaur that refused to die, an obsolete unwelcome throwback to a bygone era. Her assertion of absolute truth is perceived as outrageous arrogance; and her attempts at doctrinal discipline are spurned as an unbearable offense. The dilemma of Missouri's confessional remnant can only be fully understood within the broader context of what is taking place within our culture and its impact upon us all.

The specific indications of that dilemma are clearly evident throughout our troubled church. The presidency of Dr. Al Barry has been characterized by patient pastoral efforts to reassert the theological character of his office and to firmly advocate Missouri's historic doctrine both in response to the ongoing antics of the ELCA and the left wing of our own Council of Presidents. Reaction to these efforts from the powerbrokers of modern Missouri ranges from condescending scorn to angry consternation. Parish pastors (particularly, although not exclusively, recent seminary graduates) who attempt to maintain or re-introduce Lutheran doctrine and practice often find themselves fighting a war on two fronts. First of all, they are opposed by people within their church who appeal to the permissiveness of former pastors or of neighboring LCMS congregations. But often at the same time, the faithful pastor must also contend with district officials who implement their own church growth non-theology by assisting in the expedient removal of troublesome pastors who will not conform to the spirit of the times. Faithful laymen frequently find themselves compelled by conscience to depart from congregations in which they have invested many years of service and thousands of dollars in contributions because their church has abandoned historic Lutheran worship, communion practice, or polity. The movement of these theological refugees serves either to increase polarization within the Synod (when they are able to re-locate in a nearby confessional LCMS church) or to further weaken Missouri's confessional remnant (when they drop out or leave the Synod to join another denomination).

In his classic The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, Dr. Charles Porterfield Krauth once noted that error in the church always follows a three step pattern: 1. Toleration; 2.Equality; and, finally, 3. Supremacy.

It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority; You need not be afraid of us, we are few and weak; only let us alone. We shall not disturb the faith of the others. The church has her standards of doctrine, of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship . . . Anyone who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers and the great secret of church statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point, error soon goes on to its natural end which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgement on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the church's faith but in consequence of it." (Krauth, p. 196)

We in Missouri have been in step 2 for some time now and are well on our way to step 3.

I believe that an unprecedented time of testing is upon us. In the years to come, Missouri's confessional remnant will be called upon to offer the good confession humbly and courageously. I am not merely talking about a battle for control of a denominational structure. We've been fighting that battle for fifty years now. And while that battle has been raging, we have been losing the war. The truth of God's Word among us has gradually, slowly slipped away in the face of relentless cultural pressure and increasing opposition from the powerful forces of modern Missouri. We must take up the sword of the spirit which is the word of God and wield that mighty weapon come what may. Then, and only then, will we be true "Missourians" again.

III. The Historic Nature of Missouri

There was a time when doctrinal unity was the treasured hallmark of the LCMS, the defining characteristic of this church. The conviction of our Synod's founders that unity in doctrine and practice was not only possible but essential was based on their firm belief that the Bible was the inspired and inerrant Word of God; that its meaning was clear; and, that Scripture could be directly applied to present circumstances without hesitancy or doubt. Dr. C.F.W. Walther, Missouri's first President, declared:

"The Bible, word for word is the changeless eternal Word of God in both Old and New Testaments from Genesis through the Revelation of St. John. Therefore, these Holy Scriptures of the prophets and the apostles are the only rule and norm of all faith; the only source of all saving knowledge; and the only judge of all Christian doctrine in conflict. This written revelation of the most high God, therefore, should not be interpreted either by the blinded reason or the perverted heart of man. It interprets itself. Nothing should be added to it or subtracted from it. No one should deviate either to the left or to the right from its literal meaning. Instead, the words should be accepted as they read with simple, humble, child-like faith." (Walther (1), p. 1)

Addressing the churches of the Synodical Conference in 1888 on the topic of The Unity of Faith, Dr. Franz Pieper, Walther's successor and heir sounded exactly the same theme:

"It is an amazing phenomenon within Christendom that the possibility of agreement in all articles of doctrine is being questioned . . . It is claimed that we are pursuing a will-of-the-wisp in requiring unity of doctrine . . . We maintain the opposite. We agree that unity would be impossible if we were dealing with unity in obscure human opinions or in difficult philosophical problems. By we are dealing here with agreement in the articles of doctrine which have been revealed by God Himself in Holy Scripture. How is this doctrine revealed? Not in an obscure or an unintelligible manner. It does not require a great deal of human skill to understand the revealed truth. This requires only a simple faith in God's Word. He who believes the truth of Scripture has the truth. We are not faced with a situation in which there are only obscure hints and suggestions regarding the truths of faith in God's Word out of which we need to construct the actual articles of faith by means of our own wisdom and skill. It is not a matterof God in His revelation saying "A" and then leaving it up to human wisdom to say "B" and "C" and thus complete the alphabet of Christian doctrine. To the contrary, all articles of Christian doctrine stand revealed in Scripture in clear words. In Holy Scripture God has spelled out the entire A B C's of Christian doctrine. All that is required is an acceptance of what has been revealed, a repeating of what has been spelled out, a simple faith. Holy Scripture is clear and plain for all Christians...He who denies the possibility of oneness in faith must also deny that the Holy Scripture is clear. As surely as the entire Christian faith is clearly revealed in Scripture, so sure is the possibility of unity in the faith." (Pieper (1), p. 9-10)

Dr. Pieper re-iterates the point even more emphatically in a description of the distinctive doctrines of the Missouri Synod written in 1893:

"Christians should never agree to disagree on any article of faith, but earnestly endeavor to bring about an agreement on all doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture. Nothing but the revealed truth, the whole revealed truth - that is the platform which God has made for the Christian, and which every Christian is commanded to stand upon...But is perfect agreement concerning doctrine possible? We most emphatically answer; it is, as the Scriptures are perfectly clear on all articles of faith, every article of faith being revealed at least somewhere in the Scriptures in plain and proper words. God, by graciously giving His Word to men, did not propose to them a collection of riddles, but made His Word to be "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path" (Psalm 119:105), "a light that shineth in a dark place" (2 Peter 1:19), "making wise the simple" (Psalm 19:7). Erring concerning any article of faith is impossible as long as the words of Scripture are retained as they read. Ere falling into error is possible, the plain words of Scripture must either have been entirely set aside or twisted from their natural meaning according to human reason or feeling." (Pieper (2), 138)

These words may sound strangely naive in our modern sophisticated world where everything is ambivalent gray and nothing seems to be black and white anymore. "God said it. That settles it. And that's all there is to it." - it was with this core conviction that the unique church body that once was Missouri began.

Walther's classic 1848 Presidential address leaves no room for doubt as to the nature of the new synod's unity. Any reliance upon institutional identity or upon manmade rules and regulations to establish or maintain the unity of the church is emphatically rejected - in Missouri the Word of God alone shall reign!

"Let us above all and in all matters be concerned about this that the pure doctrine of our dear evangelical Lutheran Church may become known more and more completely among us, that it may be in vogue in all of our congregations, and that it may be preserved from all adulteration and held fast as the most precious treasure. Let us not surrender one iota of the demands of the Word. Let us bring about its complete rule in all of our congregations and set aside nothing of it, even though for this reason things may happen to us, as God wills. Here, let us be inflexible, here let us be adamant. If we do this we need not worry about the success of our labor. Even though it should seem to be in vain, for the Word does not return void but prospers in the things whereto the Lord sent it. By the Word alone, without any other power, the church was founded; by the Word alone all the other deeds recorded in church history were accomplished; by the Word alone the church also will most assuredly stand also in these days of sore distress, to the end of days. Even the gates of hell will not prevail against it." (Walther (2), p. 176)

This was a straightforward matter of trusting God and obeying his Word. Walther was completely convinced that any church body which was willing to tolerate doctrinal diversity was doomed to division and destruction. In a letter to another of Missouri's founders he wrote:

"If a Lutheran Synod does not want to plant the seeds of dissolution in her very midst, its members must be bound, by provision of its basic law, to refrain from even the most subtle forms of syncretism . . . Let us faithfully confess the truth, and not attempt to help the kingdom of God by deviating from the instructions that God gave us." (Walther (3), p.121)

In Walther's view, Missouri's insistence upon pure doctrine was not the result of "egoism, stiff-neckedness, or hatred of peace and unity;" instead, it was the result of "love for that true unity which alone pleases God and which rests upon one faith and one confession" (Walther (4), p. 418) Dr. Walther condemned external union without true unity in the faith within a denomination or between denominations as "an abomination before God" which we must guard against like "a venomous serpent with a shining glittering skin" (Walther (4), p.418) Such unity may look good on the surface, but it will only bring death and damnation.

Twenty-five years later, at the jubilee celebration of the Synod's silver anniversary, Walther rejoiced that Missouri had become the preeminent witness to the truth of God's Word in America. This was a church in which doctrine came first; a church which was willing to pay the institutional price for the preservation of pure doctrine among our pastors and congregations and the proclamation of the pure doctrine throughout the world. Walther's list of those who battled against the doctrinal and confessional unity of the new church sounds remarkably contemporary:

"What happened when our synod began to testify to the clear truth? From that moment til now, it has had to be engaged in the heat of constant battle against all the enemies of our church, old and new, gathered together, as it were, from all parts of the world into one great army. Sometime the struggle was against the unbelief and mockery of our time which seeks utterly to destroy religion and morals, church and state, divine and human ordinances, under that battle cry of freedom and progress. Sometimes the struggle was against religious unionism which now pervades all Christendom like a pestilence, and which at the outset chokes and kills all love for the clear truth. Sometimes it was against the arrogance of the antichristian papacy, which is rising up again with ever increasing insolence. Sometimes it was against neo-lutheranism, corrupted by rationalistic, unionistic, revivalistic, or Romanizing teachings, principles, rules, and practices. Yes often we had to contend against false spirits within our own midst. How did it happen that our synod, in the midst of these battles, in the face of unceasing bitter attacks and subtle temptations was not wrecked, like a small frail vessel, by howling windstorms and foaming ocean waves, but successfully, though with groaning and sighing kept her course and stayed with the old doctrines of the old true church for a quarter century? . . . God has also blessed us during these past twenty-five years, blessed us in overflowing measure above all our prayers, hopes and understanding . . . The sparks of our testimony for the truth and over against falsehood, for godliness and against all ungodly ways, have flared in countless places and have finally kindled a fire which now illumines this whole western country . . . He has made our Synod above others the bearer, preserver, and witness of His Word in this country for twenty-five years, and thereby has prepared for this western country a time of gracious visitation through our witness . . . It is God alone who has permitted us to know, believe, love, preach, and suffer for His pure Word. Therefore, not to our glory, but only to the glory of this our God, may our mouth today be filled with praise and mirth." (Walther (5), p.103)

Whether the issue was church and ministry, the millennium, or predestination, Missouri prized doctrinal integrity more highly than the preservation of institutional unity. The Synod was willing to practice doctrinal discipline, to exclude those who teaching differed from that of historic Lutheranism, and to publicly condemn aberrant teaching and practice in other Lutheran churches.

Christian Hochstetter, author of the synod's first history had this to say about the church body he helped to form:

"Shall we look on complacently while sophisticated intellectuals attempt to place blind reason above God's Word and deprive the Word of its supreme authority? Shall we quietly acquiesce when we see false ecumenists surrendering the heavenly truth by allowing error to co-exist in the church? Shall we keep silence while innumerable souls are being made uncertain of the Doctrine of Grace? No, this we cannot do. This would dishonor God. The well being of the church requires doing battle against its enemies. Only by incessant warfare against error and errorists can the Church retain its treasure and crown. Those who think it best for the Church to provide a peaceful appearance without strife and dissension are indulging in a delusion that is in accord with neither Scripture nor experience. How can the Church consider itself to be in a happy, healthy condition when truth and error are living peaceably side by side and the wolves are allowed to decimate the flock? . . . As it is the church must fight; peace with errorists would be nothing but a graveyard peace . . . So it came about also in the Missouri Synod that false spirits arose in its midst. The temptation was great to tolerate these spirits. For in other synods it is common to tolerate deviations in particular doctrinal points and even to join in altar and pulpit fellowship with heterodox groups, as long as one is still Lutheran in name. However, it is certain that where there is no doctrinal discipline the gates have been opened to the very enemy who is undermining the walls of the church. There the church becomes the playground of such to whom Luther exclaimed in Marburg in 1529, "You have another spirit than we." The Missouri Synod could remain an orthodox and internally united church body only by following the command of God and withdrawing not only from fellowship with the sects who are outside of its own camp, but also from fellowship with the false spirits which arose in its own midst. Just as sincerely as the members of the Missouri Synod extended the hand of brotherhood to those who stood on the same doctrinal basis or endeavored to stand decisively upon it also in their church practice - just so mandatory was it for them to bear testimony by word and action to the fact that an external obligation to Scripture and the Confessions which existed in the official documents was not sufficient for church fellowship. For where a church body tolerates lax practices in matters of faith or even declares it to be desirable, it has either already collapsed internally or it has never attained to the status of a clearly proclaimed and practiced confession of the truth. Where false teaching and practice is not resisted there a formal acknowledgement of the orthodox doctrine cannot long survive . . . That is the Word, the faith in which the Missouri Synod has remained until now . . . No church body can be granted any greater grace than to be made by God the bearer of His pure doctrine. The more clearly we actually recognize the fact that it is not our meritorious achievement to be holding firm to the pure Gospel, but that it is the power of God's grace that holds us, the more earnestly we must watch and pray that no one and nothing rob us of our crown." (Hochstetter, p.20,21)

Dr. Pieper's description of the Missouri's historic unity says it well:

We stand in a fellowship which holds fast the entire Word of God, the entire revelation, a fellowship in which souls are properly cared for and in which God is given the honor that is due Him. What a blessing we share! We cannot sufficiently praise it. This blessing is granted to us through the free grace of God . . . It is God who has given us understanding so that we are not caused to vacillate by the unionistic talk about love and peace, but rather that we know that the first article of love to God and men is that we firmly hold to and confess the total Word of God . . . We dare not allow any other concept of unity to arise among us than the unity of faith which is in harmony with Scripture, the agreement in all articles of Christian doctrine . . . What value would there be in any external co-operation in church work if the boundaries of our faith were not correctly established according to God's Word and we did not remain one in all articles of doctrine established for us in God's Word? If we, in a unionistic fashion, wanted to surrender this or that doctrine of the Word of God: if, under the pretext of allowing love to hold sway, we were to allow false doctrines to have citizenship rights among us, then all of our outward standing together and working together would be a caricature of the God-desired unity. The unity of faith is most seriously threatened when indifference to false doctrine moves in. The unity of faith is immediately destroyed when one part adopts and holds fast false doctrine . . . Such a unity of faith as God has entrusted to us is indeed rare in the world. Therefore we should most earnestly foster it with all God-given means." (Pieper (1), p.21-22)

For historic Missouri unity in the faith was not merely a matter of formal commitment to official doctrinal statements but of that which was actually taught in the pulpits and classrooms of the church body. Responding to criticism from the General Council, an association of eastern synods which acknowledged the confessions but failed to practice doctrinal discipline, Pieper emphasized the crucial importance of consistent doctrinal discipline and described the reality of doctrinal unity in the Missouri Synod in this way:

"So also the "Missourian" perspective is this; it is unfair and unjust to charge a church body with false doctrine if that fellowship practices doctrinal discipline and attempts, according to the Word of God, to put an end to the false doctrine which has arisen among its individual members. However, it is completely fair, proper, and required by God's Word to charge that church body with false doctrine if the fellowship has told its individual members and indeed its leaders, 'You may say whatever you want to.'" We Missourians only then hold a church body as such to be orthodox when the true doctrine sounds forth from all of its pulpits and professor's chairs and in all writings which are published within the church body, and every false doctrine, on the contrary, as soon as it makes its appearance, is eliminated in the way which God directs. According to this standard we judge others; according to this standard we also submit to be judged ourselves. We Missourians must and will be content to be judged according to the doctrine which is taught by our individual pastors whether in San Francisco or New York, St. Paul or New Orleans, or which is taught by our publications whether they be published officially or unofficially. If anyone should prove against us that even one pastor preached false doctrine, or even one periodical stood in the service of false doctrine, and we did not eliminate this false doctrine, we would thereby have ceased to be an orthodox synod and would have become a unionistic fellowship. In short, the mark of an orthodox church body is that throughout that church the true doctrine alone prevails, not only officially and formally but also in actual reality. (Pieper (3), p.262)

This is a concept with immense practical application for the life of the church. Dr. Pieper goes so far as to argue:

"The entire practice of our church rests upon this fact. For example, we unhesitatingly transfer members from our congregations in St. Louis to our sister congregations in San Francisco. But this only occurs because we know that the members who have been released will find the pure doctrine in all of its articles in that congregation. Under the same assumption, other congregations can release the members to the congregations in St. Louis. The unhesitating transfer of members to other congregations of our fellowship would be unconscionable if we could not assume that the pure doctrine sounds forth from every pulpit within the Synodical Conference. If we were to define an orthodox fellowship in any other way, if we would say it does not depend on the doctrine which actually sounds forth but only on the officially recognized doctrine; or if we believed that it was sufficient for a majority of the pastors to teach the right doctrine, we would then have already given up the distinction between an orthodox church and a unionistic fellowship. We would then be deceiving orthodox Christians when we encouraged them to join any one of our congregations without misgivings. (Pieper (3), p. 262)

Most would scorn this concept of doctrinal unity as "a utopian ideal" and "an impossibility." However, Pieper contends, by the grace of God this impossibility has become reality in the Missouri Synod. Every facet of the Synod's life was dedicated to preserving and protecting that precious unity. Every pastoral conference and every synodical convention diligently dealt with matters of doctrine and they were dealt with in such a way that all doubts and divergent opinions are removed on the basis of the Word of God.

Professor W.H.T. Dau issued a stirring summons to a new generation of Missourians in 1922, during the synod's 75th Anniversary celebration;

"Let the generation of Missourians into whose hands the future work of our synod will be committed remember that doctrinal and confessional fidelity and a church practice which strives honestly to measure up to the professed principles is the only reliable basis of our hope for future success, while the opposite course spells decay and ruin, slow it may be but sure . . . Let no one become dismayed at the criticism that the Missouri fathers were a stern, unloving set of fighters, who forgot the gentler aspects of Christianity over their devotion to rigorous discipline. None that raise this charge come into court with clean hands. The love that can see some one err and not tell him of it is no love. The mind that can yield to an equivocal peace in which plain truth is sacrificed is not truly liberal, but fatally narrow and bigoted because it exhibits all its generous qualities only to the side which opposes truth. With all their aggression and rigor and exclusiveness the men who built up the Missouri Synod were true Christian gentlemen; for though they minced no words when they spoke on any issue of the day, they spoke the truth, and they spoke it in love. We shall take up their testimony and pass it on." (Ebenezer, p. 535)

At the 1923 (Fort Wayne) convention of the Synod, St. Louis Professor Frederick Bente also acknowledged our debt to the Synod's fathers and affirmed his own generation's resolve to be faithful to that great legacy:

"Our fathers in the faith surrendered nothing; made no concessions; deviated not a hair's breadth from the old Lutheran position concerning the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. They delivered to us a fortress intact - nowhere a rock torn from the foundation, nowhere a breach, all walls strong and plumb. Results? Down to the present day not a solitary modernist has ever been heard on the floor of the Synod which our fathers founded. Nor has a liberalist ever occupied a chair in her colleges and seminaries or filled a pulpit of her congregations. Concordia Publishing House, also founded by our fathers, in its publications from the first issue of Der Lutheraner down to its latest book or pamphlet, there cannot be found a single sentence endorsing darwinism, evolution, or any other liberal doctrine. The entire literature of our Synod does not contain a single statement which in any way denies the incarnation, the virgin birth, the atonement, the resurrection or any other Christian miracle, nor even a single passage that charges the Bible with any kind of error - religious, historical, chronological, or astronomical. This large convention, together with all the pastors, professors, teachers, and laymen which it represents believes and confesses the old creeds of Christendom . . . entirely unanimously and without reservation, or without taking exception to a single clause. We all, with all our hearts still sing all our old Lutheran hymns. As for the old Lutheran liturgies and sacred forms for baptism, the Holy Eucharist, ordination, etc., there cannot be found among us a single pastor or congregation desiring to modify them doctrinally." (Bischoff, p. 12)

Three years later, in 1926, Karl Kretzschmar explained the unique character of the Missouri Synod in this way at a convention of the Western District:

"Missourianism, we do not hesitate to say, is Lutheranism in its purest form. It subscribes with full assent and without reservation to all the confessional documents of Lutheranism as found in the Book of Concord of 1580 . . . Missouri Lutheranism is the most outspoken voice in Christendom today for the verbal inspiration and literal truth of the Scriptures and for all other fundamental teachings of Christendom. There are in its midst no divided opinions on such fundamental questions as how the universe came into existence and whence man is. It does not treat with silence or with diplomatic evasions any plainly revealed doctrine of Holy Writ. It does not consider as open questions such matters as areclearly set forth in the Scriptures. It straddles no fundamental issues. Having weighed the religion of the lodge on the scales of divine truth and found it wanting, it does not hesitate to declare its conviction that no one can be a consistent Christian and a good lodge member at the same time. Missourianism is outspoken in its condemnation of Romanism, its opposition to sectarianism, and its renunciation of worldliness in any form. It refuses to enter into compromises with the enemies of the truth and will join in no unionistic agreements with those who teach doctrines contrary to the faith once delivered to the saints. Missourians do not claim that there are no laggards among them, that all things are as they ought to be in their midst. But Missourianism is what it is because it makes earnest and consistent efforts to practice what it preaches. It addresses itself more diligently and effectively to the activities committed to the Lutheran Church than any other division of that church in the world. Faithful to the charge of bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it surpasses any other denomination in protestantism. It does not indefinitely tolerate departure from the divine rule of faith and life. It bears with the weak, but it will not bear with the willful offender. Briefly stated, Missourianism is consistent Lutheranism in doctrine and practice, no more, no less . . . It is its much maligned narrowmindedness which had made Missouri strong; for while it has indeed been a thorn in the side of all false prophets and their disciples, of all advocates of dishonorable compromises between truth and error, of all champions of worldliness within and without the Church, it has found particular favor with God, as may be seen from the abundant success with which the work of Missouri has been blessed. However, Missouri has become what it is through no merit of its own. Possessing the whole collection of divine revelation in their full truth and purity is not a result of human achievement, but a gift of undeserved divine mercy. Nor is there any personal merit in the consistency with which Missouri has practiced what it preached. Synodical conceit and self-praise would be the first steps in a movement which must eventually lead to a complete loss of everything true Lutherans hold dear. Missouri Lutheranism is God's own handiwork and Missouri's consistency is a divinely bestowed gift. Only as we humbly confess our own unworthiness, gratefully acknowledge the mercy of Him by whose grace we live and are what we are, and faithfully administer what has been entrusted to us, will we Missourians continue to enjoy Lutheranism in its highest form." (Kretzschmar, p. 6-7)

For generations it was unthinkable that anything else could ever be true in Missouri. In 1923, commenting on the divisive modernist/fundamentalist battles that were tearing other protestant denominations apart, Missouri Synod President Frederick Photenhauer confidently asserted: "To speak of a party split or divisions in the Missouri Synod, of a liberal and a conservative party among us, would be absurd." (Graebner, p.188) Less than two decades later that which had seemed absurd was becoming reality. The venerable Dr. Photenhauer was voted out of office in 1935. His ouster was the first public indication that Missouri's confessional unity was in serious jeopardy. The rest, as they say, is history. In the years that followed, the Synod was rocked by one controversy after another. From the Statementarians, to Martin Scharlemann, to the increasing furor over the St. Louis Seminary, Seminex, ELIM, and the Great Lutheran Civil War, and on to the Bohlmann/Preus battles over the character of the Fort Wayne Seminary in the early 90's, modern Missouri has staggered from one conflict to another. That, in itself, was not new - Missouri has never been a stranger to conflict. What was new is the manner in which Modern Missouri has chosen to deal with those conflicts. In every instance, outward peace was been restored and major schism avoided through the application of political, procedural solutions. The theological issues and doctrinal disagreements which caused the problems in the first place were never addressed. Add to that failure the devastating impact of cultural pressure and the tolerance above all else mindset that prevails within our society and the outcome was never in doubt. The cumulative result of this fifty year pattern has been the loss of Missouri's most treasured possession, her unique identity as a confessional church, fully united in doctrine and practice. In his book Uncertain Saints, Dr. Alan Graebner, certainly no bronze age conservative, expressed this sense of loss by aptly choosing to entitle the chapter on the Synod's most recent history "Humpty Dumpty and All the Kings Men."


"Remember the rock from which you were cut and the quarry from which you were hewn." This is the church we once were - this is the kind of church to which we yearn to belong again. Dr. Walther was painfully well aware of how difficult it is for such a church to survive in this world. He pleaded with his pastors and people to recognize that the precious treasure of Biblical unity in the faith could only be preserved if every dimension of our individual lives and our life together as a synod was deliberately and constantly directed toward that goal.

"If we wish to preserve this jewel of ours, then every one must work at it in his position and calling and all our church institutions must help toward that end. You fathers and mothers must already lay the foundation at home, and instill in your children early in life pure doctrine and understanding and an inner love for the same together with an aversion for all false doctrine. In your schools, you teachers must faithfully further this work begun at home, and where it has not been started, make a beginning thereof with a burning zeal so that you are not hindrances, but true helpers to the holy ministry. You pastors must not be satisfied just to give what you already have but rather to continue to read and study day and night in order that you may become richer in doctrine and understanding, stronger in refutation of error and more zealous in the work of the Lord. Think for a moment, to stand still here is to step backward; not to grow is to die. We professors in our institutions for the training of servants in school and church must unceasingly give thoughts to making our institutions genuine schools of the prophets and high beacon-lights for the land for which we would gladly see all else fail, if only the light of the pure doctrine of the apostles and the prophets continues to burn brightly. Even at our prep schools we must prepare for this with the highest earnestness. Toward this goal we must always carefully and zealously make full use of our pastoral conferences and synodical conventions. We must see to it that all of our publications and all of the printing means that are at our disposal are used with ever greater conscientiousness so that our readers are led to seek in our publications not interesting light religious reading, but rather nothing else than purity, basics and firmness in doctrine and defense - no whoring with the spirit of the times, no amorous ogling of false doctrine, no respect of persons. Our synodical guardians, our presidents, must be concerned not merely with being guardians of human regulations but rather guardians of the purity of doctrine and understanding." (Quoted in Pieper (1), p. 22-23)

To this great heritage may our God graciously restore us so that we may truly be "Missourians" again.


  • Bischoff, William "Harold W. Romoser Fought the Good Fight," Christian News, Vol.36, Number 13 (Monday, March 30, 1998).
  • Dau, W.H.T. Ebenezer- Reviews of the Work of the Missouri Synod During Three Quarters of a Century. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1922.
  • Graebner, Alan. Uncertain Saints. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1975.
  • Hochstetter, Christian. "Retrospect," Sola Scriptura. Vol.3, Number 6 (May-June, 1973).
  • Krauth, Charles Porterfield. The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963.
  • Kretzschmar, Karl, The Mission of Lutheranism. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1926.
  • Pieper, Franz (1), Unity of Faith- An Essay Delivered at the 1888 Convention of the Synodical Conference. (Translation by E.J. Otto). Mimeographed Copy, n.p., n.d.
  • Pieper, Franz (2), "The Synodical Conference," in Distinctive Doctrines and Usages of the General Bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States. Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society, 1893.
  • Pieper, Franz (3), "Die Missouri-Synode und das General Council," Lehre und Wehre, Jahrgang 36, No. 8. (August, 1890).
  • Walther, C.F.W. (1), "Vorwart des Redacteurs zum Vierten Jahrgang des Lutheraner," Der Lutheraner, IV, (September 8, 1847).
  • Walther, C.F.W. (2), "1848 Presidential Address" Moving Frontiers, (Carl S. Meyer, Editor). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964.
  • Walther, C.F.W. (3). "Why Missouri Stood Alone" by Theodore Engelder in Ebenezer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1922.
  • Walther, C.F.W. (4), Standard Epistles (Translation by Donald E. Heck). Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1986.
  • Walther, C.F.W. (5), The Word of His Grace - Sermon Selections. (Translated and Edited by the Translation Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod), Lake Mills, Iowa: Graphic Publishing Company, 1978

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