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Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions

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Lutheran Church in America

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Organized in 1962, the Lutheran Church in America is a consolidation of four Lutheran denominations whose origins go back to the middle of the nineteenth century. It began to function as a new juridical institution on January 1, 1963, and represents one of the principal Protestant mergers in the present generation.

The four merging churches were the American Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the United Lutheran Church in America. Each group has an interesting history and each has had a profound influence on American Protestantism.

The Evangelical Tradition.

The American Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in 1871 by missionaries from Denmark under the name of Kirkelig Missionsforening (“Church Mission Association”). Augustana Evangelical Lutherans became an organic body in 1860. Their constituency was mainly of Swedish extraction, along with sympathetic Danes and Norwegians who protested against the new liberalism among the immigrants from Europe. Finnish Lutherans became a separate denomination in 1890 and, until recently, were called the Suomi Synod. United Lutherans date back to the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, organized in 1748, and beyond that to early colonial days. They represent the union, in 1918, of the General Synod, the General Council, and the United Synod of the South. At the time of their latest merger, their membership was about 2 million, compared to a total of less than 1 million for the other three bodies.

It was relatively easy for the Lutheran Church in America to formulate a common confession of faith, since the merging churches were in the conservative evangelical tradition. A typical statement of doctrine reflects the tenor of its strong dogmatic foundation: “This church accepts the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian creeds as true declarations of faith of the church. This church accepts the unaltered Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism as true witnesses to the Gospel, and acknowledges as one with it in faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of these symbols.” Significantly, the statement professes belief in the Scriptures as the norm of faith and life in the church, but without excluding tradition as a possible complement. See Luther, Martin.

Mission and Membership. The Lutheran Church in America carefully avoids two extremes: the centralization of authority in the Roman Catholic Church and the congregationalism of Protestant denominations in the Free Church tradition. It has a central organization, but its authority comes from the congregations and is shared with them. The only unchangeable rule is in matters of doctrine.

Membership of the church consists of congregations and pastors. Congregations which enjoy the benefits of membership are expected to shoulder their fair share of the responsibilities, both in carrying out the adopted programs of the church and in contributing to the work which is done in their name. Pastors qualify for membership by ordination. They remain members as long as they are doing the work of the ministry under call by a congregation or church agency or are retired after honorable service.

True to the Lutheran emphasis on education, the new merged church has already undertaken an educational program that will affect every level of religious instruction. No less than 34 colleges and universities are affiliated with the Lutheran Church in America, besides numerous day schools for children in the primary and secondary grades. Unlike other conservative American Lutherans, church leaders in the Lutheran Church in America are sympathetic to the National Council of Churches and are active in the world ecumenical movement. See National Council of Churches.

For further information read Ecumenical Movement; World Council of Churches.

Catholic Encylopedia for School and Home
Vol. 6, pp. 515-516

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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