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The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) is the second-largest Lutheran body in the United States. It is a conservative, confessional Lutheran Christian denomination with German immigrant roots. The LCMS is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri and counts about 2.46 million baptized members. The LCMS is divided into 35 districts – 33 geographic districts and two (the English District and SELC) non-geographic. (See: Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod districts)


The Missouri Synod emerged from several communities of German Lutheran immigrants during the 1830s and 1840s. In Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, isolated Germans in the dense forests of the American frontier were brought together and cared for by missionary F.C.D. Wyneken. A utopian movement of Confessional Saxon Lutherans under Martin Stephan created a community in Perry County, Missouri and St. Louis, Missouri. In Michigan and Ohio, Missionaries sent by Wilhelm Löhe cared for scattered congregations and founded utopian communities in Frankenmuth, Michigan and the Saginaw Valley of Michigan.

The Saxon immigration[]

In the 19th-century German Kingdom of Saxony, Lutheran pastor Martin Stephan and many of his followers found themselves increasingly at odds with the rationalism of the state-sponsored Lutheranism in Saxony. In order to freely practice what they saw as pure Lutheranism, Stephan and 750 other Saxon Lutherans left for the United States in November 1838.

Their ship arrived January 5, 1839 in New Orleans, and most of the immigrants settled in Perry County, Missouri and in and around St. Louis. Stephan was initially the bishop of the new settlement, but he soon became embroiled in charges of corruption and sexual misconduct with members of the congregation, and was expelled from the settlement, leaving C.F.W. Walther as the leader of the colony.

During this period there was considerable debate within the settlement over the proper role of the church in the New World: whether it was a new church, or remained within the German Lutheran hierarchy. Walther's view that they could consider themselves a new church prevailed.

Organization of the Missouri Synod[]

LCMS corporate seal

Corporate seal of the LCMS

On April 26, 1847, twelve pastors representing 15 German Lutheran congregations met in Chicago, Illinois and founded a new church body, "The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States." Walther became the fledgling denomination's first president.

In its early days the synod was conservative on a number of issues. Following Walther's lead, the church strongly opposed humanism and religious syncretism. It opposed abolitionism based on Biblical passages which it taught neither approved of nor condemned slavery.

Under the leadership of its second President, F.C.D. Wyneken, the Missouri Synod poured much effort into caring for German immigrants, helping them find a home among other Germans, building churches and parochial schools and providing pastors and teachers to serve in them.

As a result, the new synod grew quickly during the 19th century, reaching 685,000 members by 1897.

Transition to English[]

As one scholar has explained, "The overwhelming evidence from internal documents of these [Missouri Synod] churches, and particularly their schools...indicates that the German-American school was a bilingual one much (perhaps a whole generation or more) earlier than 1917, and that the majority of the pupils may have been English-dominant bilinguals from the early 1880's on."[1]

Until the United States' involvement in the First World War, the older members of the synod remained overwhelmingly German in its language, but younger members had long switched to English. The anti-German sentiment during the war enabled the younger generation to "Americanize" the church's image and switch the remaining German services to English. As a result over the next half-century the synod's membership doubled.

In 1947, the church body shortened its name from "The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States," to the present one, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

Consensus and division[]

Since the last half of the 20th century, the Missouri Synod has struggled through a number of internal disputes over its doctrinal, theological, and social stances. The most bruising battle took place in the early and mid-1970s, when clashes over scriptural interpretation and academic freedom led the vast majority of the students and faculty at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis to leave that institution. The faculty and students formed a rival institution known as Seminex, or Concordia Seminary in Exile. Prompted by this walkout, about 250 congregations left the Missouri Synod in 1976 to form the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC), one of the predecessor bodies to the ELCA.

After a period of relative calm in the 1980s, disputes reemerged in the 1990s. The LCMS is now divided into two informal camps or wings, each comprised of a number of more formally organized groups. To some extent they defy definition; one side calls itself conservative and calls the other side liberal, but this is not necessatily accurate, as the "other side" considers itself in many ways more doctrinally conservative than those which call themselves conservatives. Perhaps a less biased labeling would be "traditionalists" and "evangelicals". Traditionalists often refer to themselves (not incorrectly) as "Confessonialists/conservatives"; unfortunately, this name misleadingly implies that evangelicals are by definition not confessional or conservative, a point with which most evangelicals would strongly argue.

Some of the formalized groups on both sides include “traditionalist” groups such as Reclaiming Walther, and Consensus, and “evangelical” groups such as Jesus First, Day Star, and Voices/Vision.

At the 2004 Synod Convention, the "evangelicals" won the majority of the elections and theoretically are "in control" of the synod. While having been in control of the synod for many years, the "traditionalists" are currently the minority point of view within the synod.

Points of disagreement range across the entire life of the church, including worship style, ecumenical fellowship with other church bodies, the role of women in the church, methods for training leaders and expanding congregations, approaches to scriptural interpretation, the proper relationship between the sacred and secular spheres, the role of evangelism and the methods of evangelism to be used, and the appropriate division of powers amongst the Synod, its districts, and the Synod's constituent congregations.

Tensions between the Synod’s two wings flared in the months following September 11, 2001, after Atlantic District President David Benke took part in an event at Yankee Stadium to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack on New York City. The traditionalists see the event as an inter-faith worship service, while evangelicals see it as a civil event (arguing that the common elements which define a "worship service" were missing) which allowed prayer.

Many in the traditional camp argued that Benke, by participating in an event alongside non-Lutheran clergy and leaders of non-Christian faiths, had engaged in practices that the Synod condemns as "syncretism" and "unionism." They typically define the event as a religious worship service (and must do so for the argument of syncretism/unionism to hold). People within the traditional camp brought a series of formal charges against Pres. Benke and actively sought his expulsion from the Synod.

Benke's evangelical defenders do not condone syncretism or unionism any more than the traditionalists, but they do not see Benke's actions as being syncretistic/unionistic. They replied that Benke had given Christian witness in a permissible manner, and that the event was not a religious service but a civic event. Pres. Benke sought council from his ecclesiastical supervisor LCMS synodical President Kieschnick, who counseled Rev. Benke regarding the invitation from the office of New York Mayor Guilliani up to and including the day prior to the event. Kieschnick counseled that based on Resolution 3-07A of the 2001 Synod Convention and on Biblical teaching, it was acceptable to participate. The CTCR Report Pres. Kieschnick referred to states "Pastors may have honest differences of opinion about whether or to what extent it is appropriate or helpful to participate in these or similar civic events. In these cases charity must prevail." Rev. Benke was initially suspended by a synodical Vice-President in the traditionalist camp. He was later reinstated to full status as District President by synodical President Kieschnick. Pres. Benke has apologized to the synod that his post-911 prayer for peace and healing was not a more clear exposition of the truth of the Gospel. While this incident is officially resolved, it unfortunately has become a banner for some and has fanned the flames of schism.

The debate was a focal point for action during the 2004 synodical convention. Changes were approved protecting clergy from a relentless cycle of charges which could be brought against them by anybody and without prior notification or consultation. Now, once a member of the clergy is absolved of a particular charge, they can not be re-charged of the same issue simply because the restated charge comes from a different one of the 35 districts than the previous charge. Now, only clergy or synod members can now bring charges against clergy. Since laity are considered members of a congregation but not direct members of the synod, they can still bring charges, but now must do so indirectly, through clergy or synod member. Moreover, a prior face-to-face formal meeting (arranged by the accusor) is required between the two pastors before such charges can be accepted by district or synod. This removes the possibility of an onslaught of frivilous charges which has driven some pastors out of the ministry, and helps to insure that charges are well grounded and defensible. The exception to all this is in cases of sexual misconduct or illegal activity, in which anyone regardless of synodic or congregational membership can bring charges against clergy. Regarding this Pres. Kieschnick stated, "Our pastors must be allowed to be pastors, without fear of backlash or formal charges around every decision-making corner."

Furthermore, a conflict in governance between the synodical Board of Directors (controlled by the "traditionalists" and the President's office was brought to the forefront. The convention sought to restrict the Board of Director's authority due to its alleged misconduct. However, necessary approval by two-thirds of the church's congregations was not forthcoming. Currently, the Board has two open positions, but due to bylaws the pool of legal candidates are all of the "evangelical" camp. The empty seats allow the Board to maintain a "traditionalist" majority, which they would lose were they to fill the seats.

Teachings of the LCMS[]

Doctrinal sources and standards (formal principle)[]

One of the signature teachings of the Lutheran Reformation is the teaching named Sola scriptura – "Scripture alone." The Missouri Synod believes that the Bible is the only standard by which teachings and doctrines can be judged. It also holds that the Holy Scripture is explained and interpreted by the Book of Concord – a series of Confessions of faith composed by Lutherans in the 16th century. Missouri Synod pastors and congregations agree to teach in harmony with the Book of Concord because it teaches and faithfully explains the Word of God. For this reason, many Missouri Synod Lutherans who follow the Book of Concord closely refer to themselves as Confessional Lutherans.

The Missouri Synod also teaches Biblical inerrancy.[2] For this reason, they reject much of modern liberal scholarship.

Major doctrines (material principle)[]

LCMS Logo Cross

LCMS Cross Logo


The Missouri Synod believes that justification comes from God "by divine grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ's sake alone." It teaches that Jesus is the focus of the entire Bible and that faith in him alone is the way to eternal salvation. The church rejects any attempt to attribute salvation to anything other than Christ's death and resurrection.

The means of grace[]

The Synod teaches that the Word of God, both written and preached, and the Sacraments are means of grace through which the Holy Spirit gives the gift of God's grace, creates faith in hearts of individuals, forgives sins for the sake of Christ's death on the cross, and grant eternal life and salvation. For Missouri Synod Lutherans, sacraments are actions instituted by Jesus and combine a promise in God's Word with a physical element. All agree that Baptism and the Lord's Supper are sacraments.[3]Confession and absolution are considered by some to be a sacrament, because they were instituted by Christ and have His promise of grace, even though they are not tied to a physical element.

Sacramental Union and the Lord's Supper[]

Regarding the Eucharist, the LCMS rejects the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and the Reformed teaching that the Lord's Supper is merely a symbolic act. Rather, it believes in the doctrine of the Sacramental Union, that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present "in, with, and under" the elements of bread and wine. It is occasionally reported by some non-Lutherans that the LCMS and other Lutherans teach the doctrine of consubstantiation which the LCMS rejects.


The Missouri Synod flatly rejects millenialism[4] and the teaching of any "secret rapture." They believe that all will be caught up (raptured for lack of a better term) on the Last Day, the end of time. The church's focus tends to be on immediate salvation rather than on the end times.


The LCMS is also creationist and opposed to the teaching of evolution.[5]

Law and Gospel[]

The LCMS, along with certain other Lutheran Church Bodies, also teaches the doctrine of the distinction between God's "Law" and God's "Gospel." The Missouri Synod believes that the Holy Scriptures contain only two teachings – the Law and the Gospel. The Law is all those parts of the Bible that provide commands and instructions, which the LCMS believes are impossible to completely obey. Therefore, the Law is a statement of God's wrath, judgement, and damnation. The Gospel, on the other hand, is the portions of Scripture that promise free salvation from God, even to sinners. The law always condemns, the Gospel always promises. Both the Law and the Gospel are gifts from God; both are necessary. The function of the law is to show a person their sinful nature and drive them to the Gospel, where the forgiveness of sin is promised for the sake of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The LCMS insists that both the Old and the New Testament teach both Law and Gospel. The Old Testament, therefore, is valuable to Christians. Its teachings point forward in time to the Cross of Christ in the same way that the New Testament points backward in time to the Cross. This vital LCMS doctrine was most famously summarized by C. F. W. Walther in his book, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.

The doctrine of Law and Gospel is unique to some Lutheran denominations, however not all Lutheran denominations teach this doctrine. Those that teach the doctrine of Law and Gospel believe that it answers all questions raised by Liberal Christianity.


The Missouri Synod is also conservative in its worship practices. The LCMS endorses the doctrine of close or closed communion – the policy of sharing the Lord's Supper only with Christians who believe that everything it teaches about the Christian faith is true. There is a variety of ways in which Missouri Synod congregations put close communion into practice, most often asking visitors to speak with the Pastor before coming to that congregation's altar for the first time.

The Missouri Synod has no official policy on worship style. The synod only requires that hymns, songs, rituals and practices be in harmony with the teachings of the synod. Historically, worship in Missouri Synod congregations is traditional and liturgical, utilizing a printed order of service, a Hymnal and traditional hymns, accompanied by a pipe organ or other classical instruments. In recent years, many congregations have adopted a variety of less formal worship styles, employing contemporary Christian music, pianos, guitars and other instruments. While the Book of Concord describes this as adiaphora, or "Matters of Indifference", there is a vigorous debate among LCMS Lutherans on the appropriateness of these forms.

The Missouri Synod holds that the ordination of women as clergy is contrary to scripture. The issue of women's roles in the church body has continued to be a subject of great debate within the Synod. Women received the right to suffrage within Missouri Synod congregations in 1969, and it was decided in a narrow vote at the Synod's 2004 convention that women may also "serve in humanly established offices" such as congregation president, reader, or usher. Several caucuses within the Synod are currently pressing for a wider-ranging reevaluation of the issue of the ordination of women, although at the present time, they are a distinct minority.

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod provides a summary of the major beliefs of the LCMS.

Church structure[]

The Synodical structure is congregational (run by congregations) instead of episcopal (run by bishops), although, unlike some other Protestant denominations, this is not considered to be a point of doctrine, as the Synod is in fellowship with some Lutheran church bodies in Europe that have an episcopal structure. Congregations are served by a full-time professional clergy.

The corporate LCMS is formally constituted of two types of members: autonomous local congregations that qualify for membership by mutual agreement to adhere to stated principles, and clergymen who qualify by similar means. Congregations hold legal title to their church buildings and other property, and call and dismiss their own clergy. Much of the practical work of the LCMS structure is as a free employment brokerage to bring the two together; it also allows the congregations to work together on projects far too large for even a local consortium of congregations to accomplish, such as foreign mission work.

The entire synod is divided into districts, usually corresponding to a specific geographic area, as well as two non-geographical districts, the English and the SELC, which were formed when the formerly separate English Missouri Synod and the Slovak Synod, respectively, merged with the formerly German-speaking Missouri Synod. Each district is led by an elected district president, who must be an ordained clergyman. Most district presidencies are full-time positions, but there are a few exceptions in which the district president also serves as a parish pastor. The districts are subdivided into circuits, each of which is led by circuit counselor, who is an ordained pastor from one of the member congregations.

The LCMS as a whole is led by an ordained Synodical President, currently Gerald B. Kieschnick. The President is chosen at a synodical convention, a gathering of the two membership groups (professional clergymen, and lay representatives from the member congregations). The convention is held every three years; discusions of doctrine and policy take place at these events, and elections are held to fill various Synodical positions.

LCMS pastors are generally required to have a four-year bachelor's degree (in any discipline), as well as a four-year Master of Divinity degree which is usually obatained from one of the body's two seminaries: Concordia Seminary in St. Louis or the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana or at the two seminaries run by the Lutheran Church - Canada. Candidates may earn their Master of Divinity degree at other seminaries but must then take colloquy classes at either St. Louis or Ft. Wayne. Seminary training includes classwork in historical theology, Biblical languages (Biblical Greek and Hebrew), practical application (education, preaching, and mission), and doctrine (the basic teachings and beliefs of the church). It has been noted that the seminaries of the LCMS are some of the most difficult seminaries in the United States as the LCMS has a strong focus on education.


Ordination is seen as a public ceremony of recognition that a man has received and accepted a divine call, and hence is considered to be in the office of the ministry. The LCMS does not believe ordination is an extension of apostolic succession but sees the office grounded in the word and sacrament ministry of the Gospel.

The LCMS also does not believe that a pastor must be ordained. The LCMS belives that ordination is adiaphora (something that is not commanded by Scripture or Forbidden by Scripture) and that the important process of a person becoming a pastor is the Call Process. Once a pastor receives a call to serve a particular congregation he does not have to be received in an official ceremony.

Ordination is practiced in the LCMS and in some cases ordination can be the most elaborate ceremony performed at a particular congregation as an ordination is something that is relatively infrequently observed in comparison to annual festive ceremonies such as Christmas and Easter .


In addition to its two seminaries, the LCMS operates ten universities known as the Concordia University System. Among the LCMS's other auxiliary organizations are the Lutheran Laymen's League, which conducts outreach ministries including The Lutheran Hour radio program, and the Lutheran Women's Missionary League. The synod also operates a publishing company, Concordia Publishing House.

Relationship with other church bodies[]

Maintaining its position as a confessional church emphasizing the importance of full agreement in the teachings of the Bible, the LCMS is not associated with ecumenical organizations such as the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the World Council of Churches or the Lutheran World Federation. However, it is a member of the International Lutheran Council, made up of over 30 Lutheran Churches worldwide that support the confessional doctrines of the Bible and the Book of Concord.

At present, the LCMS is in fellowship with the Lutheran Church - Canada. Originally, the three districts comprising the Lutheran Church - Canada were districts of the LCMS, and eventually it was decided that it would be best if the Canadian congregations formed the Lutheran Church - Canada. However, a handful of Canadian congregations remain with the LCMS.

With 2.6 million members, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is the second largest American Lutheran denomination, after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with 5.1 million members, and followed by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod with 410,000.

The LCMS is distinguished from its closest non-LCMS Lutheran US denomination – the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) – by three main theological beliefs:

  1. The biblical understanding of fellowship – the LCMS believes in a distinction between the altar, pulpit fellowship, and other manifestations of Christian fellowship (i.e., a prayer fellowship). The WELS does not.
  2. The doctrine of the ministry – the LCMS believes that the Pastoral office is divinely established, but all other offices are human institutions and hence are not divinely established. The WELS believes that other offices, such as teachers, are also divinely established.
  3. The role of women in the church – Both the LCMS and WELS agree that Scriptures reserve the pastoral office for men. However, the WELS also believes that the Scriptures forbid women's suffrage in the congregation.


  • 1847- 1850 Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther
  • 1850- 1864 Friedrich Conrad Dietrich Wyneken
  • 1864- 1878 Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther
  • 1878- 1899 Heinrich Christian Schwan
  • 1899- 1911 Franz August Otto Pieper
  • 1911- 1935 Friedrich Pfotenhauer
  • 1935- 1962 John William Behnken
  • 1962- 1969 Oliver Raymond Harms
  • 1969- 1981 Jacob Aall Otteson Preus II
  • 1981- 1992 Ralph Arthur Bohlmann
  • 1992- 2001 Alvin L. Barry
  • 2001- 2001 Robert T. Kuhn
  • 2001- 2010 Gerald B. Kieschnick
  • 2010 - Matthew C. Harrison

See also[]

External links[]

Print resources[]


Historical documents and accounts[]

  • Forster, Walter O. Zion on the Mississippi: The Settlement of the Saxon Lutherans in Missouri 1839-1841. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953.
  • Janzow, W. Theophil. Thy Kingdom Come: A History of the Nebraska District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Seward, NE: The Nebraska District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, 1983.
  • Meyer, Carl S. Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964. LOC 63-21161
  • Rudnick, Milton L. Fundamentalism and the Missouri Synod: A historical study of their interaction and mutual influence. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966. LOC 66-28229
  • Schiffman, Harold. "Language loyalty in the German-American Church: the Case of an Over-confident Minority" (1987) online
  • Suelflow, August R. Heritage in Motion: Readings in the History of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 1962-1995. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1998. ISBN 0-570-04266-6
  • Todd, Mary. Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000. ISBN 0-8028-4457-X

The Seminex controversy[]

  • Adams, James E. Preus of Missouri and the Great Lutheran Civil War. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.
  • Board of Control, Concordia Seminary. Exodus From Concordia: A Report on the 1974 Walkout. St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1977.
  • Danker, Frederick W. No Room in the Brotherhood: The Preus-Otten Purge of Missouri. St. Louis: Clayton Publishing House, 1977. ISBN 0-915644-10-X
  • Marquart, Kurt E. Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Lutheran Perspective. Fort Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1977.
  • Tietjen, John. Memoirs in Exile: Confessional Hope and Institutional Conflict. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1990.


  • Our China Mission. Men and Missions IV. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1926.
  • Gieseler, Carl A. The Wide-Open Island City: Home Mission Work in a Big City. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1927.
  • Kretzmann, Paul E. Glimpses of the Lives of Great Missionary Women. Men and Missions IX. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1930.
  • Krueger, Ottomar. "Unto the Uttermost Part of the Earth": The Life of Pastor Louis Harms. Men and Missions VIII. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1930.


  • Arand, Charles P. Testing the Boundaries: Windows to Lutheran Identity. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1995. ISBN 0-570-04839-7
  • Cimino, Richard. Lutherans Today: American Lutheran Identity in the Twenty-First Century. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2003. ISBN 0-8028-1365-8
  • Nelson, E. Clifford et al. The Lutherans in North America. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975. ISBN 0-8006-0409-1
  • Strommen, Merton P., Milo L. Brekke, Ralph C. Underwager, and Arthur L. Johnson. A Study of Generations: Report of a Two-Year Study of 5,000 Lutherans Between the Ages of 15-65: Their Beliefs, Values, Attitudes, Behavior. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972. ISBN 0-8066-1207-X

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