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General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States of America, The.

1. Organized at the October 22–24, 1820, conv. at Hagerstown, Maryland; 1820 constitutional name: “The Evangelical Lutheran General Synod of the United States of North America,” changed 1869 to “The General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States of America.” Other names used include Gen. Syn. of the Ev. Luth. Ch. in the US; Gen. Syn. of the Ev. Luth. Ch. in the US of Am.; Gen. Syn. of the Ev. Luth. Ch. in the US of N. Am. It was the 1st fed. of Luth. syns. in America. Syns. participating in the organization of the gen. body: Maryland-Virginia Syn., New York Ministerium, North Carolina Syn., and Pennsylvania Ministerium (see also United Lutheran Church in America, The, Synods of, 11, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29).

2. The idea of a gen. body, apparently first suggested 1807 by J. H. C. Helmuth,* was promoted since ca. 1812 esp. by G. Schober* and C. A. G. Stork* of the North Carolina Syn. and took definite shape in the Planentwurf adopted 1819 in Baltimore by the Pennsylvania Ministerium (sometimes called the “mother syn.”) and representatives of other syns. The Tennessee Syn. (see also Henkels, The; United Lutheran Church in America, The, Synods of, 16) objected to the organization on doctrinal grounds; the Ohio Syn. (see Ohio and Other States, The Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of) did not join the movement for practical reasons. Eleven pastors and 4 lay delegates attended the organization meeting. The New York Ministerium withdrew after the 1st meeting because of lack of interest and was not again represented till 1837.

3. The Pennsylvania Ministerium receded from the Gen. Syn. 1823 because it feared centralized authority and because some of its congs, feared infringement of their liberties; it did not return till 1853. It was due chiefly to efforts of S. S. Schmucker* that the Gen. Syn. survived its critical initial yrs. When the Pennsylvania Ministerium withdrew, a new syn. was formed W of the Susquehanna R., the Syn. of W Pennsylvania (see also United Lutheran Church in America, The, Synods of, 22, 23; abbreviated ULC, Syns. of in rest of this par.), which joined the Gen. Syn. 1825. The Hartwick* Syn. joined 1831; the SC Syn. (see also ULC, Syns. of, 27) joined 1835; the New York Ministerium returned 1837; the Virginia Syn (see also ULC, Syns. of, 29) joined 1839. Other syns. joined as follows: Syn. of the West* 1841; Eng. Dist. Syn. of Ohio 1843 (called East Ohio Syn. of the Evangelical Lutheran Ch. from 1857; see also Ohio and Other States, The Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of, 4, and ULC, Syns. of, 19); E Pennsylvania Syn. 1843 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 22, 23); Allegheny Syn. 1843 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 23); Western Virginia Syn. 1843 (see also Synods, Extinct; ULC, Syns. of, 29); Miami* (Ohio) Syn. 1845 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 8, 19); Illinois Syn. 1848 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 7); Wittenberg* Syn. 1848 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 19); Ev. Luth. Syn. of the Southwest* 1848 (see also Kentucky Synod, 2; Synods, Extinct); Olive Branch Syn. 1850 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 8); Pittsburgh Syn. 1853 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 24); Texas Syn. 1853 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 28); N Illinois Syn. 1853 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 7); Pennsylvania Ministerium returned 1853; Cen. Pennsylvania Syn. joined 1855 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 23); Eng. Dist. Syn. of Ohio 1855 (the minority group that continued as a dist. 1840 when the majority of the dist., which was organized 1836, resolved to become indep.; see also Ohio and Other States, The Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of, 4; ULC, Syns. of, 19); Kentucky* Syn. 1855; N Indiana* Syn. 1857 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 8); Iowa Syn. 1857 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 9); S Illinois Syn. 1857 (see also Illinois, Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Southern; ULC, Syns. of, 7); Melanchthon* Syn. 1859; Ev. Luth. Syn. of New* Jersey (I) 1862: Franckean* Syn. 1864 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 15); Minnesota Syn. 1864 (see also Minnesota Synod, 1); Susquehanna Syn. 1866 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 23); Ev. Luth. Syn. of New* York 1868 (see also ULC, Syns, of, 15); Cen. Illinois Syn. 1868 (see also Illinois, Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Central); Kansas Syn. 1869 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 3); Nebraska Syn. 1875 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 3); Ger. Ev. Luth. Syn. of Maryland* and Adjacent States 1875; Swed. Ansgarius Syn. 1875 (see also Evangelical Covenant Church, The); Wartburg Syn. 1877 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 30); Middle Tennessee* Syn. 1879; California Syn. 1891 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 21); Rocky Mountain Syn. 1891 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 25); Ger. Nebraska Syn. 1893 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 3); Syn. of New York 1909 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 15; W. Virginia Syn. 1913 (see also ULC, Syns. of, 31).

4. Admission of the liberal Melanchthon Syn. 1859 contributed to reasons for withdrawal of conservative Scands. (Swedes) from the N Illinois Syn. 1860 (see also Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, 8). In 1863, because of the Civil War, the S syns. (North Carolina, SC, Virginia, and Southwestern Virginia) withdrew and the Georgia Syn. (see also United Lutheran Church in America, The, Synods of, 5), organized The Gen. Syn. of the Ev. Luth. Ch. in the Confederate* States of Am. Reception of the un-Luth. Franckean Syn. 1864 led to disruption of the Gen. Syn. The Pennsylvania Ministerium withdrew 1866 and helped form the Gen. Council 1867. See also General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in (North) America, 2.

5. From its beginning the Gen. Syn. did not adhere to strict Luth. confessionalism (see Fellowship, B; Lutheran Confessions, D 2). The Bible and the Confessions of the Luth. Ch. were not mentioned in its const.; that the omission was intentional is evident from the fact that the Gen. Syn. remained silent in regard to its confession despite vigorous protests of the Tennessee Syn. and its refusal to join the Gen. Syn. on that account. Yet the Gen. Syn. served as a rallying point for those who wanted to be Luth.; it fostered a Luth. self-consciousness and helped prevent submergence of Lutheranism in Am. sectarianism. In opposition to rationalism in the NY Ministerium it confessed Jesus Christ as “the Son of God, and ground of our faith and hope,” thus acting as check on inroads of Socinianism.*

6. On the other hand, the platform of the Gen. Syn. was so broadly “evangelical” that it lost sight of some essentials of Lutheranism. The AC was recognized as a Luth. Conf., but distinction was made bet. “fundamental” and “non-fundamental” doctrines. S. S. Schmucker, theol. leader of the Gen. Syn. for ca. 40 yrs., repeatedly said that the AC was not to be followed unconditionally; its binding force was limited expressly to fundamentals. The confessional statements of the Gen. Syn. from 1820 till 1864, when the disruption of the Gen. Syn. began, may be summarized: The fundamental doctrines of the Bible, i. e., the doctrines in which all evangelical (non-Socinian) Christians agree, are taught in a manner substantially correct in the AC The doctrines concerning baptismal regeneration and the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper, e.g., were rejected. The Ref. view of the Christian Sabbath was gen. adopted. See also “American Lutheranism.”

7. Those who defended the Confessions were decried as “Henkelites” (after the Henkels*) and “Symbolists.*” In 1855 S. S. Schmucker prepared the “Definite* Synodical Platform,” which included a substitute for the AC B. Kurtz* sponsored it in the Lutheran Observer. But a confessional reaction that had begun to set in ca. 10 yrs. earlier (see United States, Lutheran Theology in the, 5) prevented gen. adoption of this document and even induced the Gen. Syn. 1864 to propose a constitutional amendment (see York Amendment) requiring syns. applying for membership to receive and hold “the Augsburg Confession, as a correct exhibition of the fundamental doctrines of the Divine Word, and of the faith of our Church founded upon that Word”; this amendment became part of the const. 1869. In course of time the official doctrinal basis of the Gen. Syn. conformed more and more to that of the Luth. Ch. In 1895, at Hagerstown, Maryland, the Gen. Syn. defined “the unaltered Augsburg Confession as throughout in perfect consistence with” the Word of God. In 1901, at Des Moines, Iowa, the Gen. Syn. resolved “that to make any distinction between fundamental and so-called non-fundamental doctrines in the Augsburg Confession is contrary to that basis as set forth in our formula of confessional subscription.” In 1909, at Richmond, Indiana, the Gen. Syn. resolved that “the General Synod in no wise means to imply that she ignores, rejects, repudiates or antagonizes the Secondary Symbols of the Book of Concord, … On the contrary, she holds those Symbols in high esteem, regards them as a most valuable body of Lutheran belief, explaining and unfolding the doctrines of the Augsburg Confession, …” In 1913, at Atchison, Kansas, all Symbols of the Luth. Ch. were formally and officially adopted, thus paving the way for merger with the Gen. Council. Still there remained a wide gap bet. formal adoption and actual recognition of the Confessions; un-Luth, doctrine and practice were tolerated without official censure. Freemasons among clergy and laity occupied positions of trust and honor in the Gen. Syn. Leading men of the Gen. Syn. included D. H. Bauslin,* J. A. Brown,* J. G. Butler* (b. 1826), F. W. Conrad,* L. A. Gotwald,* C. Philip Krauth,* C. Porterfield Krauth* (until 1866), B. Kurtz.* F. P. Manhart,* J. G. Morris,* W. M. Reynolds,* J. W. Richard,* D. F. Schaeffer,* S. S. Schmucker,* J. A. Singmaster,* S. Sprecher,* V. G. A. Tressler,* M. Valentine,* G. U. Wenner,* E. J. Wolf.*

8. Besides Home Miss. work carried on chiefly through dist. syns., the Gen. Syn. conducted a miss. at Guntur, India, and another in Liberia, Afr. Educational institutions included Carthage* Coll., Pennsylvania Coll. (see Gettysburg Coll.), Gettysburg* Sem., Hamma* Divinity School, Hartwick* Sem., Martin* Luther Sem. (Lincoln, Nebraska), Midland* Coll., Susquehanna* U., Arthur G. Watts* Mem. Coll., Western* Sem., Wittenberg Coll. (see Universities in the United States, Lutheran, 7). Other institutions included a number of homes for orphans and the aged, and a deaconess motherhouse at Baltimore, Maryland

9. In 1918 the Gen. Syn. entered the merger of various Luth. bodies, which had its origin in the movement for a joint celebration of the 1917 Reformation Quadricentennial. Largely as a result of action by laymen the planning committee resolved April 18, 1917, to issue a call for union of “the General Synod, the General Council and the United Synod of the South, together with all other bodies one with” them in their Luth. faith. The Gen. Syn. approved this plan in Chicago June 23, 1917. The merger was consummated in NYC November 14–18, 1918. At the time of this merger the Gen. Syn. consisted of 24 dist. syns., ca. 1,440 pastors, ca. 1,850 tongs., ca. 370,300 confirmed mems. See also United Lutheran Church in America, The.

See also Lutheran Foreign Mission Endeavors in the United States, Early; Sunday School, 5; Union and Unity Movements in the United States, Lutheran; United States Lutheranism in the.

E. L. Hazelius, History of the American Lutheran Church, from Its Commencement in the Year of Our Lord 1685, to the Year 1842 (Zanesville, Ohio. 1846); S. S. Schmucker, The American Lutheran Church, Historically, Doctrinally, and Practically Delineated, in Several Occasional Discourses, 5th ed. (Philadelphia, 1852); J. L. Neve, The Formulation of the General Synod's Confessional Basis (Burlington, Iowa, 1911); J. A. Singmaster. “The General Synod,” The Distinctive Doctrines and Usages of the General Bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 4th ed., rev. and enl. (Philadelphia, 1914), pp. 36–68; V. Ferm, The Crisis in American Lutheran Theology (New York, 1927); E. J. Wolf, “History of the General Synod” and “Lutheranism in the General Synod,” The Quarterly Review of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, XIX (July 1889), 420–458. and XXI (April 1891), 285–303; “Our General Synod,” The Evangelical Review, V, No. 18 (October 1853), 239–280.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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