Sasse on the Missouri Synod: A Missionary Church

"With its roots in the agricultural region of the Midwest, where in some parts Lutheranism is almost more "of the people" than in many so-called "people's churches" (Volkskirche) of Europe, the Missouri Synod, like every true missionary church, has grown far beyond her historical origins. But she is a missionary church in a sense which cannot be said of any other Lutheran church. This is one of her most profound characteristics...Missouri is the church of home missions among Lutheran churches. Where other Lutheran churches, following the older Lutheran ethos, always have in view the Christian in his "state" (Stand), to which belongs not only his nationality and vocation but also his religious home, the Missouri Synod instead sees the individual soul, which is to be converted to Christ and incorporated into the church."

From Confession and Theology in the Missouri Synod, Letters to Lutheran Pastors No.20, July 1951 (originally published in German in the Lutherische Blaetter).


Compiler's Note: This is a profoundly sympathetic observation by Sasse, in which he goes to the essence of what distinguishes the Missouri Synod from almost every other Lutheran church body - its zeal to see the pure Gospel have free course to impact the world, which makes Missouri a truly evangelical church. It's a remarkable insight for a German theologian raised in a state church and educated in the German university system, although by this time (1951) Sasse had been a member of a Lutheran freikirche in Germany and was teaching at Immanuel Seminary in Adelaide, the theological institution of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (UELCA). But this church body was not necessarily sympathetic to the Missouri Synod, being an amalgamation of diverse and sometimes disparate strands of German and Scandinavian Lutheranism that had come together slowly over 80 years
(1846-1921) in various mergers, often in conscious opposition to the local Missouri-aligned church body. Sasse's essay, then, must have raised some eyebrows not only amongst Lutherans in his native land but also in his newly adopted church body, although it undoubtedly gained him an appreciative audience in the Synodical Conference in the US and in the local Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA), which was then in fellowship with the churches of the Synodical Conference.


As an Australian Lutheran writing today, one is compelled to note that the tensions Sasse pointed out as existing at the time between "Missourian Lutheranism" and "World Lutheranism" (my terms) continue to exist not only on the world stage but also in microcosm in the Lutheran Church of Australia, which formed in 1966 through a merger of the aforementioned UELCA and ELCA, a union to which Sasse contributed substantially. These tensions are exemplified by the LCA's current associate membership in both the Lutheran World Federation and also the LC-MS sponsored International Lutheran Council.


God willing, we will post some more excerpts from this fascinating essay on the Missouri Synod. It seems a fitting topic to focus on following the installation on the 11th of September of the Sasse scholar, Pr Matthew Harrison, as President of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.

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