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Missouri Synod Lutherans Choose Conservative Leader

(My toddler somehow deleted my first post on this, minutes after it went live, but I’ve managed to resurrect most if it from my iPhone. Apologies if you’re reading this twice.)

Members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have elected a new president — the Rev. Matthew Harrison, the conservative choice compared to defeated incumbent Rev. Gerald Kieschnick. The LCMS has an estimated 2.5 million members, not to be confused with the larger and more liberal (especially recently) Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which has about 4.6 million members.

Tom Townsend, of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, reports that Harrison’s supporters hope his three-year term will focus on Scripture and maintaining the denomination’s unity, in contrast to the “nondenominational, evangelical megachurch model” they say Kieschnick favored.


I haven’t reported on the LCMS before, but this sounds like another case of intrafaith conflict between conservatives and liberals — a trend playing out in many Protestant denominations, though here the debate isn’t over polarizing hot-button social issues like gay/female clergy and same-sex marriage. Instead, it seems to concern a more general “modernism,” including reading the Bible in a certain way and steering clear of ecumenical involvement. (It’s not clear yet whether this leadership change will impact programs like Lutheran World Relief, which brings LCMS and ELCA members together for a common cause.)

Check out GetReligion and Christianity Today for more on this, and share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


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Comments read comments(9)
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Jim Izod

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:16 am

Does your toddler work for Microsoft? He can help design Windows 8.

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posted July 16, 2010 at 8:06 am

“haven’t reported on the LCMS before, but this sounds like another case of intrafaith conflict between conservatives and liberals”
Sometimes, when you don’t know what you are talking about, it might be better not to guess.
This isn’t a conservative/liberal or traditionalist/modernist divide. it’s about whether the church body should adopt a more evangelical style and emphasize evangelism or remain more distinctly lutheran and emphasize doctrine. it would have taken you about 45 seconds of research to find that out. the divide between the two parties in the church is between very, very conservative and just very conservative.

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Rob the Rev

posted July 16, 2010 at 10:06 am

I am a former pastor and member of the “Misery Synod.” I joined as a young adult back in 1970 and was ordianed as a naive thoeological conservative. After ordination I gradually began to realize that I couldn’t go along with Missouri’s fundamentalist theology and began moving away from it and pushing the theological envelope.
There is not a time during my 30 years in the Synod as a pastor that I do not remember ongoing infighting and struggle for control of the Synod. I was in the “other” seminary in Springfield (now in Ft. Wayne)when the walk-off occured at St. Louis and the formation of Seminex (the seminary in exhile)by more moderate and reasonable members of the faculty and student body.
Missouri is basically a literalistic fundamentalist sect theologically that differentiates itself from other literal fundamentalists sects by permitting the use of alchohol and tobacco. They hold to a inerrant, infallible scripture with a literalistic interpretation, believing in such things a real Adam and Eve living in Eden with dinosaurs, like Ally Oop or the Flintstones. I’m glad I finally got out of that strait-jacket of a sect.
The only saving grace is that with all the energy it puts into its infighting and struggle over control leaves it with less resources and energy to convert others to their fundamentalism and make them more fit for hell than themselves.

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posted July 16, 2010 at 10:34 am

Speaking as another ex-Missouri-Synodian…I agree that you’re not quite “getting” the issue here.
The LCMS has always placed a primary value on its affirmation/adherence to the historical confessional documents of Lutheranism — the Augsburg Confession, the Articles of Concord, the Smalcald Articles, etc. They believe that these statements are the clearest, best expositions of the Christian faith, so much so that other church bodies’ — even other Lutherans’ — real or perceived departures from the ideas expressed in these documents put the authenticity of their Christian faith in doubt. They’re not willing to say that all non-LCMS Christians are headed to H-E-double-hockey-stick…but let’s say they think the rest of us are all at least waiting at the “Down” elevator.;-) And of course this mindset has made the denomination very insular; they practice closed Communion; they generally refuse to engage in ecumenical activities (as a child, for instance, my friends and I weren’t allowed to join Scout troops unless they were sponsored by an LCMS church, and we were also not allowed to participate in the local, ecumenical, CROP Walk.) They also, for decades and decades, resisted the sort of generic American conservative Evangelical Protestant culture that most people assume when they hear the term “conservative Christian.” The LCMS, like other Lutheran churches, is part of the liturgical, sacramental tradition of small-c catholic Christianity.
In the last few decades, though — and this seemed to have started around the time I was a college undergrad — there has been a modest push within the denomination by innovators who, seeing the ascendancy of denominations like the SBC and non-denominational “big box churches,” and the corresponding membership drop in mainline Protestant churches, have wanted to nudge the LCMS into a less liturgical, less ecclesiastically and culturally insular, less doctrine-obsessed, more “missional” church body. (The LCMS has always been mission-minded, mind you, but on its own terms.)
So apparently these folks just got their fannies kicked by the Old Guard.
Speaking as an ex-member…as much as I strongly disagree with their uber-conservative theology and social statements, it’s kind of satisfying to see the old lions taking back the denomination from people who seemed to want to get rid of everything good and positive I remember from my LCMS childhood while importing the worst of populist conservative Evangelicalism. In a day when people say they’re looking for “authenticity” in faith…at least the old-line LCMS acts less like used car salespeople out to close the deal by any means necessary and more like people with the courage of their convictions.

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posted July 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Sorry if this seems like ganging up on you, but Lutheran and LutheranChik are on target. Identifying one candidate as “conservative” and the other as “liberal” (or even “moderate”) does a disservice to the real matters at stake in this election.
Beyond that, though, is the bigger question of whether terms basically borrowed from politics — and especially from America’s bilateral politics — are useful in writing about religion. I worry that using them leads, frequently, to oversimplification.
In this particular case, if you want to talk about the neuralgic question of “Lutheran identity,” which has played a large role in the discontent with Kieschnick and the election of Harrison, please go ahead. Talk about a rigid confessionalism pitted against a slightly-less-rigid one, or of competing liturgical styles or even missiological visions. You can even talk about the role of demographics (one man is just older than the baby Boom, one is just younger; one is from the Bible Belt, the other from the Midwest). These are some of the things that seem to have decided the election — and none of them is reducible to liberalism versus conservatism in any conventional sense.

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posted July 17, 2010 at 6:12 pm

I have to disagree with LutheranChik’s comments about the “new LCMS” getting rid of the best of the old ways and importing the worst of populist conservative Evangelicalism. Those things she mentions like closed communion, not participating in ecumenical activities is exactly what many successful and growing LCMS churches have been moving away from in response to the culture. In our area, there are multiple successful non-denoms that are standing room only. Our LCMS church stands strong on doctrine and is very conservative theologically, but open to modern worship styles and reaching out to children that is actually bringing people in. We were very sad to hear about Harrison for president and think he will keep our denomination from moving forward and reaching as many people for Christ as we could otherwise.

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John Faber

posted July 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Actually, with the exception of LutheranChik, the commenters above are mistaken on just about every point they make
The “openness to modern worship styles” has failed miserably to attract people- as Lutheran theology, which teaches that God’s Holy Spirit does that through the Word, would predict. The fact that the Kieschnick regime rejected the Lutheran understanding of this matter is only an illustration of the true nature of the conflict. This is a doctrinal issue, Cabrio. Your failure to recognize that only illustrates the point. And your characterization of open communion- a relatively recent development in church history, btw; Christians traditionally have regarded the sharing of the Lord’s Supper as a confession of common doctrine- is more than a dismissal of the point that Lutherans have a different understanding of Communion than other Protestants. It’s a downplaying of that difference. Again, the issue is precisely doctrinal.
No, Cabrio. You guys aren’t confessional or orthodox at all. It is not an accident that shortly after his election President Kieschnick actually denied on the radio that Lutherans believe in baptismal regeneration. The side that lost this election wants to turn the LCMS into simply a bunch of Baptists with a high view of the Sacraments. The side that won thinks Lutheranism has something to offer after all.
It’s a fight between generic “Evangelicals,” who are satisfied to reduce the Faith to the lowest common denominator and simply agree to disagree even when the Bible is quite clear, and people who are Lutherans as defined by the criteria Lutheranism itself has historically used to define itself: the Confessions. It’s a disagreement between those who are doctrinally Lutheran, and those who in many cases would have a difficult time even articulating or identifying Lutheran doctrine.
It’s a battle between people who think that words mean things and that ideas matter, and those who have been seduced by an increasingly brain-dead culture.
“Conservative,” the Kieschnick faction certainly is. The problem is that it isn’t Lutheran. And the Missouri Synod has decided that it wants to be Lutheran after all. The people who think that the Faith has actual content won this round.

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patsy Walters

posted July 24, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Thank you, Rob the Rev., that you have left the Lutheran Church, MS. We do not need pastors like you.

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Patsy Walters

posted July 29, 2010 at 11:40 am

The Lutheran Church MS has tried to attract new members by compromising our traditions and in some cases, God’s precious Word. The Holy Spirit changes the hearts of people, not Pastors. Kieschnich made a huge mistake when he allowed a MS Lutheran Pastor to take part in the prayer ceremony at Yankee Stadium; standing their in prayer with Muslums, Islamics and everything else under heaven. It was appalling. If one wants a more liberal church with watered down theology, then join the ELCA. They have truly compormised God’s Word and in the end, will have to stand before God and explain themselves. I detest these MS pastors that have decided to allow open communion to those they have no clue whether one understands what Holy Communion is, in accordance with the Scriptures. They need to be kicked out of MS. I am praying that Pres. Harrison will turn things around to reflect the vision that was given to Martin Luther by our dear Lord and keep what we Lutherans truly understand as the perfect and inerrant Word of God. Let us keep Pres. Harrison in our prayers. Amen

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