For years, the 2.4-million-member American Lutheran Church (ALC) has been known as the quiet, mild-mannered partner in the Lutheran Big Three. It has served to some extent in a buffer and even mediative role between the 2.9-million-member Lutheran Church in America (LCA) on its left and the 2.7-million-member Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) on its right. The nearly 5,000-congregation ALC maintains “pulpit and altar fellowship” with both groups; the LCMS and the LCA do not have such fellowship, mostly because LCMS leaders feel the LCA is too liberal theologically.

In recent years, because of the doctrinal controversy going on in the LCMS, tensions have built up between the Missouri Synod and the ALC. ALC people dislike the much-publicized disruption being caused by what they consider is narrowness on the part of the LCMS; Missouri Synod leaders question the theological integrity and ecumenical openness of the ALC. The LCMS has in recent years withdrawn support from a number of cooperative programs it engaged in as a joint member with the ALC and the LCA in the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A., and this has upset ALC leaders. Even though ALC president David W. Preus and LCMS president J. A. O. “Jack” Preus are cousins, each thinks the other is going down the wrong path.

Relations may have become more strained at the ALC’s biennial convention last month in Washington, D.C. Normally, the time set aside at such events for special visitors to bring fraternal greetings is a yawn period for delegates. But when Jack Preus’s turn came, he woke up everybody. He challenged the ALC to uphold its constitutional position on biblical inerrancy, the issue at the center of the LCMS controversy. In quoting the ALC’s constitution, he noted that the ALC is on record as accepting “all the canonical books of the Old and the New Testament as a whole and in all their parts as the divinely inspired, revealed, and inerrant Word of God, and [it] submits to this as the only infallible authority in all matters of faith and life.”

In an almost light aside he said he was “sorry to say that Missouri’s constitution is not as concise or as clear a statement on this important subject.”

He said he would like to believe that the ALC’s rank and file “believes with Missouri that God’s Book is inerrant.” But, said he, “I must be frank to tell you that certain statements and positions taken in recent years cause us to wonder whether there are those in the ALC who have departed from the position of their church.”

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The issue of inerrancy is the main reason for the “great conflict” in the Missouri Synod, he stressed. Therefore, said he, LCMS people were “very distressed” when the ALC’s David Preus a few months ago described the adoption of a doctrinal statement on inerrancy by the LCMS as having “the effect of narrowing down the confessions of the Lutheran Church,” and of being “divisive and destructive … tearing down instead of building up fellowship.”

“While we gladly forgive this allegation, we also categorically reject it,” declared the LCMS president. The statement, he explained, was adopted “in order to help the teaching and worship life of our church, and in order to help us remain faithful to our confessional heritage and faithful in confessing the Gospel before the world.” He said an LCMS commission has called for a meeting with ALC representatives to discuss the ALC president’s statements.

Preus suggested that a number of ALC pastors might feel more at home in Missouri, and he invited them to get in touch. “We have a very large number of vacant congregations,” he said. At the same time, he added, an invitation by the ALC to the “casualties” leaving the LCMS could be “a very practical and loving action.” He seemed to indicate that David Preus had already given such an invitation. He warned, however, that not all LCMS dissidents are casualties. “There are some who have been the very cause of our problems,” he said, and he expressed hope that “the small minority which disagrees with our mutual doctrinal position would not be permitted to drive a wedge between our two church bodies.”

Explained Preus: “We are anxious to strengthen the bond of fellowship and to remove misunderstandings and differences. We do not wish to have our fellowship weakened through damaging stereotypes and false impressions.”

He told the ALC delegates that the Missouri Synod controversy is in its final stages, with “a few” seeking to set up a new church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC).

He pledged continued LCMS membership in the Lutheran Council, and he closed with an appeal that all “refrain from making irresponsible statements about one another.… Let us emphasize the positive aspects of our faith and our fellowship.…”

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David Preus thanked his cousin for being “open, frank, and forthright.”

In the closing minutes of the convention, ALC vice-president Fred Meuser, president of Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, publicly took exception to Jack Preus’s remarks. Contrary to the apparent allegation made by Preus, Meuser said the ALC president never invited LCMS dissidents to join the ALC. The ALC in no way has encouraged schism, he asserted. There have been inquiries from congregations anticipating departure from the LCMS, he acknowledged, but ALC officials have replied “that we might receive such congregations as a non-geographic district for a limited number of years, not permanently.”

In his presidential report to the ALC, David Preus said the ALC will offer “appropriate assistance” to the new body emerging from the LCMS while continuing as “good partners” with the LCMS. The LCMS controversy, he pointed out, has been a source of concern and grief to the ALC. It is not clear how many congregations will join the AELC, he said, but the ALC has indicated its intention to maintain fellowship with both those who leave Missouri and those who stay. As for what he meant by “appropriate assistance,” he told a reporter later, “I intended only to say that the ALC expects to act as a good partner with the new church body just as we are with the LCMS and the LCA.”

In other convention action, the nearly 1,000 ALC delegates:

• Endorsed an emphasis on evangelistic outreach during 1977, in conjunction with a similar LCA effort.

• Adopted without debate a social-action-oriented “Manifesto for Our Nation’s Third Century” that calls for loyalty to Christ, repentance for national failings, ALC involvement in social systems and structures with an eye to changing them, and a redirection of “the American Dream.” (Republican congressman Albert H. Quie, an ALC member active in the Washington prayer movement, argued in a major address that socio-political involvement should be on an individual, not church, basis.)

• Rejected attempts to make the denomination’s 1974 middle-of-the-road position on abortion more limiting.

• Asked the President and Congress to grant “pardon” (rather than “immediate and unconditional amnesty” as recommended in the resolution’s initial draft) to non-violent “resisters” of the Viet Nam war.

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• Encouraged the development of programs and encounters aimed at a better understanding of the charismatic movement.

• Cited a “serious and persistent threat” to large numbers of people posed by marginal religious movements or cults, and called for study of the cults, as well as for ministry to persons who have been involved in them.

• Approved a record budget for 1977 of $30 million, up from $28.2 million this year.

• Approved some changes to eliminate “sexist language” in church documents (for example, “a member of the clergy” instead of “clergyman”).

Meanwhile, the schism in the Missouri Synod is still in its formative stages. About fifty churches have applied for membership in the breakaway AELC so far, and leaders predict they will have 200 by the time the AELC’s constitutional convention is held in Chicago next month.

Among those in the forefront of the AELC are four men who resigned as LCMS district presidents over the past few months amid tumultuous circumstances: Harold Hecht, English District; Herman Neunaber, 57, Southern Illinois District; Rudolph P. F. Ressmeyer, 52, Atlantic District; and Robert J. Riedel, 58, New England District. All have urged restless LCMS congregations to join the AELC, and some are already performing leadership chores. A majority of delegates at the English District convention last spring voted to become the English Synod of the AELC, and Hecht has become the president of that unit. Ressmeyer may emerge from the AELC’s December meeting as the chief helmsman of the new denomination.

The LCMS Commission on Constitutional Matters has decreed that congregations, pastors, and teachers cannot be affiliated with the AELC without forfeiting their membership in the LCMS, but the ruling will not become effective until next September in order to work out pension matters and other problems of transition.

Not all of the dissidents in the Missouri Synod are ready to join the AELC. Most have been part of a protest movement within the LCMS known as ELIM (for Evangelical Lutherans in Mission). ELIM’s main projects were to support Seminex (the school set up in 1974 in opposition to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis), a mission program, and a 150,000-circulation biweekly, Missouri in Perspective. At the recent annual meeting of ELIM, its leaders recommended phasing out the group in favor of joining the AELC, a move rejected by the majority of the 1,100 delegates (there were 3,000 last year). They simply were not yet ready to throw in the towel—even though there is no reason to believe that conservatives in the LCMS can be ousted from power in the foreseeable future.

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Only a six-month budget ($732,000) was approved for ELIM, however. From now on, backers are to send their donations directly to Seminex, to ELIM’s mission program, and to the newspaper. The move is seen as a way to ease transition of the programs from protest status within the LCMS to official functions of the new denomination—while leaving the door open to outside contributions.

Seminex in the meantime is trying to raise $1 million for its current academic year. Enrollment is 345, down 50 from last year (Concordia is back up to 354—about four times the number who remained on campus when the majority left).

The anguish and bloodletting in the LCMS is far from being over, but the worst of the upheaval is apparently past, and there are signs that the respective parties now are interested more in attending to the work to be done than in picking a fight.

Lutheran Concerns

“Evangelical outreach … is currently a high-level concern” among the 6,100 congregations of the Lutheran Church in America, according to a study by the LCA’s parish-services unit. Apathy, poor morale, and diminishing membership ranked at the top of complaints by clergy and laity alike in recent surveys. Of the 3,400 congregations reporting goals last year, more than half specified evangelism goals—higher than any other area of interest listed.

A related trend, the study points out, is “growing concern on how to help inactive members become involved in congregational life.” Last year more than 101,000 LCA members were taken off the rolls because of inactivity.

There is also a “long-standing concern about involving young people in the life of the congregation.” Sunday-school enrollment has declined by more than one-third in the last decade.

This year the LCA is promoting an outreach program that emphasizes both evangelistic witness and congregational nurture.

Religion in Transit

A guide to “non-sexist interpretation of the Bible,” believed to be the first of its kind, has been published by Westminster Press for the National Council of Churches. The ninety-six page, $3.95 volume of essays and suggested guidelines was written by women scholars and theologians for use in planning worship services, church-school classes, group Bible studies, and seminary work. The idea is to study and explain the Bible without “sexist bias.”

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A glossary substituting “non-sexist language” for masculine terms used in the prayerbooks and liturgy of Reform Jewish congregations has been proposed by a women’s-equality task force of the 102-member New York Federation of Reform Synagogues. Examples: “Lord” would become “God” or “Almighty” or something similar; “fathers” would become “ancestors”; “he” referring to God would be changed to second-person “you, God”; “Shield of Abraham” would become “Shield of our ancestors.” Rabbi Chaim Stern of Chappaqua, New York, a Reform prayerbook editor, says: “I am now persuaded that it is illegitimate to use masculine language about God.”

Congress passed a measure that removes the threat of a cut-off of federal revenue-sharing funds for certain day-care centers, hospitals, and other charitable organizations that are operated by religious groups. The legislation makes applicable not only the same prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of religion that are contained in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 but also the same exemptions.

At least four more states must ratify the Equal Rights Amendment before it becomes part of the U. S. Constitution, and a campaign to help get them to do so has been launched by the Religious Committee for the ERA. Target states: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, and Florida. Committee members represent thirty-one religious agencies. They include General Secretary Claire Randall of the National Council of Churches and President Margaret Sonnenday of Church Women United.

The Good News Bible (the Bible in Today’s English Version) will be released December 1. Its New Testament segment was published in 1966; more than 50 million copies are in print.

Thirty-eight Christian liberal arts colleges from across the country have joined together to form the Christian College Coalition. The coalition’s purpose is to provide united positions on issues affecting Christian colleges and to conduct legal research into matters affecting educational freedom. It will cooperate closely with the Washington, D.C.-based Christian College Consortium, whose fourteen members are also coalition members.

Grace Wallace, director of the Nurses Christian Fellowship in the United States, was elected president of Nurses Christian Fellowship International, which has twenty national organizations of nurses and nursing students. More than 200 persons from twenty-five countries met in Ghana for the NCFI quadrennial conference. The U.S. fellowship, based in Madison, Wisconsin, is a division of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. It has seventeen staffers and is represented at some 150 schools and hospitals.

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A study by two Loyola University psychologists in Chicago concludes that Catholic bishops are “more satisfied” and happier being bishops than priests are being priests. The study is based on returns from 161 of the nation’s 300-plus bishops. The bishops are seen as goal-oriented workaholics though somewhat colorless. They like their independence and have difficulty in identifying with the problems of their priests. Mass is central in their religious life, but they have difficulty with private prayer. An earlier study found that priests tend to have strong personal faith but have problems of adjustment and achievement.

Leaders don’t go to church as much as the rest of the people, according to a survey by the Washington Post and a Harvard research unit. While 42 per cent of the 1,521-person survey reported attending religious services once a week or more, and 22 per cent reported attending never or almost never, only 29 per cent of leadership groups reported attending weekly or more, and 36 per cent reported never or almost never. Among leaders, farm groups and blacks ranked highest in attendance; university students and feminist leaders ranked lowest.

Minnesota governor Marvin Anderson estimates that $10 million in state aid will go to private and parochial educational institutions this year. At an outdoor mass recently he pledged to continue efforts to help parochial schools. He cited tax deductions, shared-time support, special-education programs, and other forms of “sharing.”

More than one million teen-agers—10 per cent of all girls 15 to 19 in the United States—become pregnant each year according to a study published by Family Planning Perspectives magazine. More than one-third of the births are to unmarried mothers, the report says, and nearly one-third of the pregnancies end in abortion. Meanwhile, Playboy notes in a survey of students at twenty colleges that virginity is claimed by only 26 per cent of the women students this year (compared to 49 per cent in 1970) and by 26 per cent of the males (up from 18 per cent).

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Note to Sunday-school planners; the national school population kindergarten through twelfth grade will drop to 41.3 million by 1980 (it was 45 million in 1974), according to official estimates.

In an attempt to avoid schism in the 800-member Guess Road Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, church officers have asked members who speak in tongues not to accept any teaching assignments. Sterner measures may be taken if the request is unheeded or if charismatic members try to promote glossolalia in other ways, warned pastor Ernest Holt.

The Evangelical School of Theology, Myerstown, Pennsylvania, almost doubled its enrollment over last fall, jumping from 44 to 79. It has more than doubled its library with the acquisition of 30,000 volumes from the former Evangelical Seminary, Naperville, Illinois, which merged with another liberal United Methodist seminary to form Garrett-Evangelical seminary in Evanston, Illinois. The Myerstown school is sponsored by the 30,000-member Evangelical Congregational Church, a theologically conservative German-American body that was once part of the same group as the founders of the Naperville school.

Three-year-old Douglas Owens, whose infant sister died of pneumonia, was made a ward of the court in Oklahoma City because his parents’ religious beliefs would forbid medical aid if he became ill. The boy will remain with his parents, members of the Church of the First Born, but under welfare-department supervision.

An evangelical non-profit group has begun plans to launch a full-time Christian television station in the nation’s capital. So far, there are sixteen Christian TV stations on the air in twelve states.

The French Baptist Hour, sponsored by Southern Baptists in Louisiana, is now heard on thirteen radio stations by an estimated 200,000 of the 900,000 French-speaking citizens in eighteen Louisiana counties, according to a spokesman.

Last spring, the board of Allen University, an African Methodist Episcopal school in Columbia, South Carolina, voted 18 to 7 to oust president Benjamin J. Glover on charges he made unauthorized payments of $27,000 to himself and took other actions without board approval. Glover insisted the money was for job-related expenses. When board member James Holmes virtually accused Glover of embezzlement in an AME newspaper article, Glover sued for libel and won. He was awarded $1,600. Holmes said he will appeal, and he ordered an audit of university funds.

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That 1972 ad in Playboy for recruits for the Trinitarian religious order didn’t pay off after all. Initially, there were many inquiries, and a couple of men came to the forty-member Catholic order but were later dismissed when they failed to measure up, according to Trinitarian officials. They say they regret the ad—and all the criticism it brought.

Pity the poor church secretaries trying to keep the membership directories up to date. A government study shows that between 1970 and 1974 (4.5 years) nearly one-half of the 71 million American households moved to a new address. More than one-fourth of these movers represented new households (newlyweds, young singles establishing their first independent residences, changes caused by divorce and death).

An appeal to raise $6.25 million in Britain to rescue the Canterbury Cathedral from 900 years of decay is still $2.5 million short. A fund-raising drive has begun in America, headed by George W. Ball, former undersecretary of state.


Adolph Coors IV walked out of his family’s Colorado brewery nearly a year ago looking for a new life—and found it in Christ. Coors, 33, tells church audiences that he was beset by business problems, a failing marriage, and despair. His wife became a Christian after heavy discussions with friends at the brewery. Following an auto accident in which he was seriously injured, Coors too accepted Christ. He keeps busy with a weekly TV Bible-study program but is willing to return to the brewery “if the Lord leads” (he sees no conflict with his faith, and he describes his relatives running the business as “good Christians”).

World Scene

A group of ninety-seven Soviet Pentecostals appealed recently to the World Council of Churches to intercede with the Soviet government about their wish to emigrate, according to documents received by the Keston College research center in England. They speak of constant persecution of Pentecostals over the years. Earlier, the center received emigration appeals from several hundred other Pentecostals.

Thaw in the Soviet Union? About twenty Pentecostal congregations have been permitted to register as autonomous bodies over the past two or three years in the Soviet Union, mostly in Ukraine, according to researchers at Keston College in England. Prior to that time, Pentecostal congregations could register (and therefore function legally) only if they became part of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists.

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Weekly mass attendance in Ireland is 91 per cent of the population, the highest of any predominantly Catholic country, according to a church survey.

Jesuit priest Joao Bosco Penido Burhier and Spanish-born bishop Pedor Casaldaliga went to the police barracks in Ribeirao Bonito in western Brazil to protest the alleged torture of two women being held for questioning by the police. A military policeman shot and killed the priest, and the bishop was threatened, according to Vatican Radio.

The government of Laos has outlawed birth control. War and the flight of many into neighboring countries has decimated the population; hence the ban on contraceptives.

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