Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions
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by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
In 1962 the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (Swedish background) merged with the United Lutheran Church (German background), the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish background) and the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church to form the Lutheran Church in America.
Although Swedish Lutherans had settled along the Delaware River in early colonial days, the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Synod was not organized until 1860. This new synod, originally composed of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian Lutherans, was organized in protest against the liberalism of the Lutheran Synod of Illinois. In 1870 the Norwegian and Danish contingent withdrew to form their own church bodies. The remaining Augustans, as they were called, restyled themselves as the Swedish evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod; in 1948 they adopted the title Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church. The name Augustana, a Latinized form of Augsburg, is intended to emphasize loyalty to the Augsburg Confession of Faith, composed by Philipp Melanchthon in 1530 and approved by Martin Luther. See AUGSBURG CONFESSION.
Until 1918 Augustana remained a distinct synod of the General Council of the Lutheran Church in North America, which had been formed in 1866. This General Council was a loose federation of Lutheran Churches that were more concerned with practical ecclesiastical matters than with theological questions. When in 1918 (as the result of ecumenical activity) this General Council was merged into the United Lutheran Church, the Augustana group withdrew and established itself as an independent body. Augustana felt that the United Lutheran Church was too liberal, not sufficiently devotional, and wrongly tolerant of membership in such groups as the Free Masons. See FREEMASONRY.
For the next decade Augustana had no direct ties with other Lutheran denominations except to carry on joint mission work with the United Lutherans in India and Puerto Rico. However, it joined, worked to organize, and supported the National Lutheran Council, a socio-religious functionary agency set up in 1918, which is today the American committee of the Lutheran World Federation. In 1930 Augustana helped form (within the National Lutheran Council) the American Lutheran Conference, a conservative consultative body, which, until its demise in 1954, was supported by about a third of the Lutherans in America.
Strict Regulations. While opposed to doctrinal extravagances, Augustana has been more concerned with moral and social issues and has frequently passed resolutions in this regard. Prohibition of dancing goes back to 1876, but in 1950 the synod had to modify its stand and admit that the problem of dancing cannot be solved by ecclesiastical regulations. But its own schools were warned that if dancing were permitted they might lose their financial subsidy. Gambling was also denounced as unchristian. Raffles, lotteries, and all games of chance were strictly prohibited.
In pre-prohibition days, distillers, brewers, and anyone doing business in the liquor trade were forbidden church membership. After prohibition was repealed, the synod readopted this legislation. All kinds of war were boldly condemned, except in the case of actual invasion of our country, and compulsory military service was said to be contrary to American tradition.
On the other hand, Augustana has taken a very liberal position on birth control and had actually pioneered in this field. In a formal resolution approved in 1954, the synod declared that the means which a married pair used to determine the number and spacing of the births of their children are a matter for them to decide with their own consciences, on the basis of competent medical advice and in a sense of personal accountability to God. It is the spirit in which the means is used, rather than whether it is natural or artificial which defines its morality.
Growth and change. Largely because of the heavy Swedish migrations to the States (over 275,000 in the 1880s), the Augustana Synod had a remarkable growth during the late nineteenth century. Congregations had risen from 70 to 1,000 by the beginning of the present century. At the time of its merger in 1962, there were about 1,200 congregations. Missions are sponsored in Japan, Formosa, Latin America, India, Africa, and Indonesia. Six colleges and seminaries, a dozen hospitals, and a highly efficient youth activities program testify to Augustanas vitality.
Until recently, Augustana had the closest ties with Europe of any Lutheran Church in the States. Partly as a reaction to its own conservatism, but mostly because of the pressing need for an updating, a spirit of cooperation and desire for greater unity with the other churches have become characteristic. Augustanas more progressive attitude is particularly evidenced in its membership in the World and National Council of Churches, and the Lutheran World Federation. See NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES; WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES.
The 1962 merger has enabled the Augustana Lutherans to expand their scope of influence while profiting from the distinctively American way of life on which Lutheranism in the United States has entered.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION read LUTHER, MARTIN; LUTHERANS.
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