Schisms and Sects
Written by: Ted Vial
In the United States, Lutheran immigrants formed separate synods that were largely based on the language and country of origin of the immigrants.In the 1620s, some Scandinavian and Dutch Lutherans settled in New York and New Jersey.Many German Lutherans immigrated to Pennsylvania, beginning in the 18th century and coming in large numbers in the 19th century.Henry Melchior Mühlenberg (1711-1787), trained at the University of Halle, formed the first American Lutheran synod in Pennsylvania in 1748.The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was founded by immigrants from Prussia unhappy with the union with the Reformed church.They have proudly remained independent as other American Lutheran synods have merged.Because most Lutheran immigrants settled in the northern regions of the U.S., Lutheranism was less torn by the Civil War than were Methodist, Baptistand Presbyterian churches.Some southern Lutherans opposed slavery, but after the southern states seceded five synods south of the Mason-Dixon line formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Confederate States of America.
More divisive for Lutherans were disputes over the Augsburg Confession.Lutherans who had emigrated from Germany, sometimes under persecution, did not like what they saw as lax American standards toward pure doctrine.Samuel Simon Schmucker (1799-1873), born in the U.S. to German immigrants, was the founder of Gettysburg Seminary.(He was also on the board of Dickenson College, which was dominated by Presbyterians.)An advocate of women's education (he founded a school for girls) and minorities (he admitted Daniel Alexander Payne, the first black student at Gettysburg Seminary), he believed that the Lutheran church must adjust to its American context.In 1855, he authored the Definite Synodical Platform calling for a revision of the Augsburg Confession for Americans.He objected to some of its more Catholic aspects.This led to a series of controversies between "Platformists" (supporters of Schmucker) and "Symbolists" (Symbol is the German term for "creed"), more conservative confessionalists, often born in Germany not America.In 1864, these more conservative Lutherans founded their own seminary in Philadelphia, and in 1866 split with the Lutheran Synod to form their own synod based on the "Unaltered Augsburg Confession in its native, original and only true sense." They took control of the Missouri Synod, the Norwegian Synod, and the Joint Synod of Ohio.