History is filled with loose ends and lost opportunities. One of those represents the loose end and lost opportunity of some closer tie and even fellowship between the General Council (under the leadership of Charles Porterfield Krauth) and the Missouri Synod. In the backdrop of the General Synod and its more "liberal" approach, Krauth prepared a series of theses on pulpit and altar fellowship. It became known as the “Akron-Galesburg Rule (short hand - Galesburg Rule),” and it basically said “Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran ministers only, and Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants only.” This Rule was not without its permitted exceptions but it was a watershed moment in the seemingly relentless drive of Lutheranism (General Synod) toward ecumenical relationships that ignored, overlooked, or wrote off Lutheran distinctives.
The dates for this are long ago: the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the General Council) began in 1867 at the efforts of seven regional Lutheran bodies who had left the General Synod. Krauth stood in opposition to Samuel Simon Schmucker (not the jelly and jam kind) who had led Lutheranism in America away from its Confession and toward a theological understanding more at home with the Protestantism of the US at that time.
History is a cycle and if we fail to learn its lessons the first time, it will come around again and offer us another shot at it. So we face a situation remarkably similar today. On one hand we have a Lutheranism willing to forgo all sorts of Lutheran distinctives in favor of a broad ecumenical endeavor in which diversity is more the organizing principle than unity of confession. This same group has jumped on the bandwagon of social change and expressed support for same sex marriage and opened the ministerium to gay people in PALMS (publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships). On the other hand, we have a Lutheranism which is united in opposition to these but not so much united together (LCMS, WELS, ELS, et. al.).
Which gets me back to the Galesburg Rule -- once a hallmark of Lutheran identity and confession. We continue to await a person like Krauth who can rally those opposed to the Schmuckerisms of our present day situation (in the ELCA toward mainline Protestants and in Missouri toward evangelicals) and lead us back to some unanimity and unity about what it means to be Lutheran in this place and at this time.
We are in a crisis situation -- a crisis of leadership. This is not only because we face of dearth of individuals with national identity, authority, and persuasive character to lead us. This is also because we do not want to be led. It seems now more than ever we are content with the fractures as long as they hold out a place for each of us as Pastors and parishes in which to hide and do our own things. We in Missouri face a group of people who are constantly moving the markers of purity to make it a smaller and smaller path. They in the ELCA face people who are constantly moving the markers of openness until no one is excluded no matter what they believe (except perhaps, traditionalists). Yet we have not united or sought the unanimity which allows us to become a force for reckoning the way the Galesburg Rule became a force to rally and reframe the American Lutheran identity for years to come.
Ahhhh for a Krauth to be raised up today and take advantage of the environment in a way that our fore bearers did not in the middle and late 1800s....
Just some Monday thoughts as it rains cats and dogs outside...