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 The LCMS has in recent years withdrawn support from a number of cooperative programs it engaged in as a joint member with the ALC and the LCA in the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A., and this has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. ...

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