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When the nominations for president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod were tallied and released earlier this month, a collective gasp went up from Lutherans who pay attention to things like presidential nominations.

It wasn't just that nine-year incumbent Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, 67, received 755 nominations, but that the Rev. Matthew Harrison, 48, received nearly double that amount: 1,332.

Harrison, executive director of the church's World Relief and Human Care office, has the support of a group called the Brothers of John the Steadfast whose mission is, in part, to "defend and promote the orthodox Christian faith which is taught in the Lutheran Confessions … "

The group's website (www.steadfastlutherans.org) is one of the voices in the conservative wing of the synod that's unhappy with Kieschnick, and the group's analysis said Kieschnick's 755 nominations were the lowest number ever received by a sitting president.

"The nomination numbers were encouraging," said the Rev. Timothy Rossow, pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill., who heads the Brothers of John the Steadfast.

Some observers say the movement reflected in Rossow's group is made up of as many as one-third of the denomination's 2.4 million members. Others say it's much smaller, though loud and influential.

Theological and doctrinal conservatives within the St. Louis-based Missouri Synod call themselves "confessional Lutherans." They are traditionalists who stress a strict adherence to the Book of Concord, the 16th-century work that defined the central doctrines of Lutheranism.

Confessionalists are critical of what they call Kieschnick's postmodern approach to the church. They say that for the last decade, Kieschnick has taken a nondenominational, ...

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