Why the Missouri Synod Was A Missionary Church

"It was the context in which Lutherans found themsleves in the American Midwest - where a land quickly opened up for settlement was subsequently swamped by immigrants from all the European nations and churches - which made the Lutheran Church there a missionary church. In this context, the church had to gain her members through missionary outreach, and her congregations were, like all churches in the US, gatherings, assemblies or societies of individuals who had consciously decided to belong to the church of their choice. This is the distinctly American trait in the character of the Missouri Synod, which derives from the history of that nation, and the same trait is found in all the other Lutheran synods of western America. However, it is given its strongest expression in the Missouri Synod, for this version of Lutheranism possessed that which in a mission situation really makes a church a missionary church: the awareness of a particular calling and a firm conviction about what is to be believed (dogma), which alone makes missionary preaching possible. The self-understanding of the early Missourians (lit. the Stephanite church) of being a remnant of pure Lutheranism was refined through catastrophe and by Walther's preaching and pastoral care into a truly Lutheran consciousness of being church - an assembly standing on the foundation of justifying grace and drawing its life from the means of grace. This explains the Missouri Synod's awareness of a particular calling and the dogmatic conviction that is inseparably bound up with it - which is tied to Lutheran Orthodoxy*."

*Sasse begins this section of his essay by noting the profound influence of Lutheran Orthodoxy on the founder of the Missouri Synod, Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther.

From Confession and Theology in the Missouri Synod, Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 20, July 1951 [trans. mine].

On the early history of the Missouri Synod and the genesis of its distinctive polity, see Carl Mundinger, Government in the Missouri Synod, CPH 1947). Sasse gives high praise to this book in the essay; it had no doubt helped him to a better understanding of the Missouri Synod, which represented a style of churchmanship quite different from what Sasse was used to in the state churches of Germany. Sadly, this interesting book is no longer in print; one wonders if CPH could not re-print a heritage edition?

We do not mean by the title of this post to imply that the Missouri Synod is no longer a missionary church. The original impetus to home missions that marked the early decades of the Missouri Synod has since blossomed into a concern to foster confessional Lutheranism internationally, including close connections to infant churches on the African and Asian mission fields - witness the significant presence of leaders from these chuch bodies at Pr Matthew Harrison's recent installation as president of the LC-MS.


  1. Actually, CPH is reprinting Mundinger's book. See



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