Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

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Basic Facts
Current President: Rev. Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick
Membership: International Lutheran Council
Districts: 35
Congregations: 6150
Membership: 2.5 Million
Mailing Address: International Center
1333 Kirkwood Road
St. Louis, Mo 63122-7295 USA
Official Website: The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
E-Mail Address: Email The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Logo Cross of the LCMS

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) is the eighth largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and the second-largest Lutheran body after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is the third largest Protestant denomination which is not a member of either the National Council of Churches or the National Association of Evangelicals, behind the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church of God in Christ. It is headquartered in St. Louis and has about 2.5 million baptized members, approximately half of whom are located in the Upper Midwest.

The LCMS is a conservative, Confessional Lutheran Christian denomination with German immigrant roots. It is divided into 35 districts – 33 geographic districts and two (the English District and SELC) non-geographic.


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 movement of Confessional Saxon Lutherans under Martin Stephan created a community in Perry County, Missouri and St. Louis. In Michigan and Ohio, missionaries sent by Wilhelm Löhe cared for scattered congregations and founded German Lutheran 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 and unionism of the state-sponsored Lutheranism. The Prussian Union of 1817 forced Lutherans to, among other changes, embrace non-Lutheran services of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism. In order to freely practice their Christian faith in accordance with the Holy Bible and the Lutheran confessions outlined in the Book of Concord, Stephan and nearly 1100 other Saxon Lutherans left for the United States in November 1838.

Their ships arrived January 5 1839 in New Orleans, with one ship lost at sea. After spending some time waiting for that last ship, most of the remaining 750 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

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.

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 church teachings 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. The Missouri Synod also teaches Biblical inerrancy,[2] the teaching that Bible is inspired by God and is without error. For this reason, they reject much of modern liberal scholarship.

Major Doctrines (Material Principle)


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.

Unlike Calvinists, Lutherans agree that the means of grace are resistible; this belief is based on numerous biblical references as discussed in the Book of Concord.

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 true body and blood of Christ are not consumed with the consecrated bread and wine in the Lord's Supper. 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. Or, as the Smalcald Articles express this mystery: "Of the Sacrament of the Altar, we hold that the bread and wine in the Supper are Christ's true body and blood." It is occasionally reported that the LCMS and other Lutherans teach the doctrine of consubstantiation. Although consubstantiation is rejected by Lutherans and is explicitly rejected by the LCMS, many in the LCMS do firmly believe in consubstantiation, transubstantiation and other moments of presence. [4].


The Missouri Synod flatly rejects millenialism [5] and the teaching of any "secret rapture." They believe that all people will be caught up (raptured) on the Last Day (i.e., the end of time). This belief system is formally referred to as "Historical Amillennialism." The church's focus tends to be on immediate salvation rather than on the end of times.


The LCMS is officially creationist. [6] According to the recent 2004 LCMS synodical resolution 2-08A “To Commend Preaching and Teaching Creation” all LCMS churches and educational institutions - including preschool through 12th grade, universities, and seminaries - are "to teach creation from the Biblical perspective."

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 condemns, the Gospel saves. 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 LCMS endorses the doctrine of closed communion Close Communion — the policy of sharing the Lord's Supper only with Christians who believe that everything the Bible teaches about this Sacrament and the Christian faith is true. There are a variety of ways in which Missouri Synod congregations put closed communion into practice, most often asking visitors to speak with the Pastor before coming to that congregation's altar for the first time. Fellowship in the Lord's Supper explains more regarding this practice.

The Missouri Synod's Constitution indicates that one of its purposes is to strive toward uniformity in practice, while also encouraging responsible and doctrinally-sound diversity. The synod requires that hymns, songs, rituals, and practices be in harmony with the Bible and Book of Concord. Historically, worship in Missouri Synod congregations is orthodox and liturgical, utilizing a printed order of service and hymnal, accompanied by a pipe organ or other classical instrumentation. In recent years, many congregations have adopted a variety of less-formal worship styles, employing contemporary Christian music, pianos, guitars, and other instruments.

The Missouri Synod teaches 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 affirmed at the Synod's 2004 convention that women may also "serve in humanly established offices" as long as those offices do not include any of the functions of the pastoral office. Thus in many congregations of the LCMS, women now serve as congregation president or chairperson, readers, ushers, etc.

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

Internal Struggles at the Beginning of the 21st Century

While LCMS doctrine teaches that both the truths of scripture and mankind’s need for forgiveness through Jesus are timeless and unchanging, members of the LCMS have varying views on how best to communicate God’s love to people in a constantly changing human culture. These internal struggles within the LCMS are prompting what is considered by some a new reformation within that body.

The "political" divisions might be defined as "traditionalists" (who espouse a reverent approach to worship and to sharing conservative doctrine) and "progressives" (who embrace cultural relevance in worship style and/or mission outreach with conservative doctrine). Notable influences in the recent internal transformations of the LCMS include the official LCMS Ablaze! movement, Jesus First, Day Star, and Voices/Vision, Renewal in Missouri, the Pastoral Leadership Institute (PLI), the Reverend Herman Otten and "Christian News," Reclaiming Walther, Consensus, and Confess and Teach for Unity.

Critics maintain that these movements are confusing and a blending of many different doctrines, and that distinctions are muddled as the historical Sola Scriptura of the Lutheran heritage is seemingly compromised. Influences from the megachurches of American evangelicalism (eg Bill Hybels's "Becoming a Contagious Christian" from Willow Creek and Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" from Saddleback Church) have been embraced in some LCMS congregations even though they are not in harmony with Lutheran theology.

At the same time, various changes in the culture cause some strain on the historical institutional structure of the LCMS. For example, the synod has seen funding move from unrestricted gifts from members to designated gifts restricted to particular uses. These funding changes have contributed to significant cuts in funding for a large fraction of the LCMS overseas missionaries in recent years. Some view such funding changes to be politically motivated, though others see the changes to be an inevitable result of the way members have chosen to make contributions to the LCMS in recent years.

Despite tensions regarding how best to minister to people in the 21st century, the LCMS is united in its understanding that the church is commanded to faithfully teach the message of salvation in Jesus to a world that is in need of forgiveness and restored relationship with God.

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 a 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; discussions of doctrine and policy take place at these events, and elections are held to fill various Synodical positions. The next synodical convention will be in 2007. Local conventions within each circuit and district are held in the intervening years.

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 an episcopal form of apostolic succession but sees the office grounded in the word and sacrament ministry of the Gospel, since the Scriptures make no distinction between a presbyer (priest) and a bishop (see Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, paragraphs 63,64, citing St. Jerome). The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (Article XIII) explicity grants that ordination can be considered a sacrament, only if interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word. The Augsburg Confession (Article XIV) holds that no one is to preach, teach, or administer the sacraments without a regular call. The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope holds that ordination takes place by divine right (par. 72).


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 (now known as Lutheran Hour Ministries), 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.

With 2.5 million members, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is the second-largest American Lutheran denomination, after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with 4.8 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 J. A. O. Preus II
  • 1981-1992 Ralph Arthur Bohlmann
  • 1992-2001 Alvin L. Barry
  • 2001 Robert T. Kuhn
  • 2001- Gerald B. Kieschnick

External links

Official LCMS Websites

Additional Resource Websites

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.


  • 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