“AN LCMS” – An attempt to identify the various divisions within the LCMS by Rev. Neil Carlson

Not an actual map of the divisions….

Editor’s Note – This is a good attempt to identify the major divisions within the LCMS.  These are constantly shifting and so forth and Rev. Carlson wrote this a while ago.  

A – Antinomian synod.

N – Never-gonna-change nostalgia synod (aka Bronzers)


L – Liturgical synod

C – Confessional synod

M – Missional synod

S – Seminex synod

There are the six shadow synods I have identified in the Missouri Synod. It wouldn’t be a problem if they all believed the same doctrine, but they don’t. They are truly different in such a way that many of them can’t rightly call themselves a synod with the other ones.

First the Antinomians, this synod is closely related and in many ways looks like the confessional synod and the liturgical synod. These three have many things in common. Their pastors all vest and make use of the historic liturgy. They quote the scriptures and confessions ad nauseam.  However, the antinomian synods material principle is all are free in Christ.  Their formal principle is the gospel in its narrower sense. The danger of this synod is their rejection of the Law, which condemns sin and shows how a Christian ought to live.

Second the Never-gonna-change bronzers. These are the faithful few who defended the Bible in the previous century. They fought for a noble cause, but this doesn’t mean they are without issues. This synod is very conservative and uses the bible to teach their conservative views. Their material principle is to be conservative in all moral and ethical matters.  Their formal principle is the bible. Though this may sound great, the gospel in the narrower sense, is seldom heard from their pulpits.  The preach morals and as long as you fall on the right side of all the hot-button ethical issues then God is pleased with you. This synod has much in common with the Southern Baptist Convention and other Fundamentalists.  It uses the liturgy, but that is only because it doesn’t want to change to this new fancy music. It prefers the good old hymns which she has always sung such as “Just as I am”, “Rock of Ages”, “Amazing Grace” and such.

Third, the Liturgical Synod.  As the name state, this synod’s greatest concern is the historic liturgy.  This is the most likely to have her pastors go east. They aren’t too concerned with doctrine, just practice. This synod considers the marks of the church to be the length of your beard, the number of children you have, and how many times you genuflect during the mass. Properly there is nothing wrong with any of these, they are all good and salutary things, but they are certainly not marks of the church according to the scriptures. The material principle for the liturgical synod is ceremonious, historic liturgy must be conducted. The formal principle is historic church tradition. “Just as I am” will not be found here.

Fourth the Confessional Synod. This synod looks very similar to the liturgical synod. She uses the historic liturgy with great reverence. Her clergy are almost always seen in black clericals, even while mowing the law. Though she has a great respect for liturgy due to “lex orendi, lex credenda”, dogma reigns supreme. The law must be preached in full sternness and the gospel must be preached in full sweetness.  Her pastors are faithful to the scriptures even if it makes people mad.  The confessional synod’s material principle is justification by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith. Her formal principle is the Bible (all of it).

Fifth is the missional synod.  She is a daughter of the never-gonna-change bronzers and seminex-ers. Though she takes mostly after the bronzers, she didn’t inherit her never-gonna-change attitude. She is willing to change at the drop of a hat, for the mission of course.  This synod is closest related to American evangelicalism. She has many of the bronzer’s morals, but she is willing to do anything to get people.  Her material principle is to sell the organization. While her formal principle is any marketing strategy that works as long as you put “for Him” or “Kingdom” in the slogan.

Sixth the seminex synod, Missouri claims she won the battle for the Bible, but then never expelled all those pastors who were taught to reject the bible. This synod is made up of all those men who were trained in higher criticism and love it. They have learned how to speak vaguely and to be very aloof. This allows them to appear like the bronzers, but not believe in the bible, or morals or ethics.  Her material principle is anything goes in the name of any deity you like. The Seminexers formal principle is the will and whims of the community around her, or as the Bible calls it, the world.

Within these six synods is a large amount of overlap. The bronzers gave birth to the confessionals, missionals, liturgicals and antinomians. While the seminexers gave birth to the antinomians and missionals. The liturgicals, are and confessionals overlap quite a bit, but a litmus test is paedo-communion. The antinomians are essentially cryptic within the liturgicals and confessionals.  Though all six synods have much in common, they all operate under different material and formal principles and thus aren’t able to truly have unity.  Unless someone starts to discipline the synods who teach differently, there will never be unity, but a continued battle for control of the cobalt cathedral. In which every synod takes her turn pushing her teaching on the other synods and confusing the poor souls in the pews. Most of them don’t have a clue as to what synod they belong and they try to make sense of it all. But this is impossible because these poor laity don’t have a material or formal principle they have six.


“AN LCMS” – An attempt to identify the various divisions within the LCMS by Rev. Neil Carlson — 20 Comments

  1. I was raised in a mixture of (rome first decade) them “MN&S” and came of age and currently serve in a mixture of “LC&M”. I only struggle with “A” every time the old Adam in me doesn’t like the law I here so I guess that makes me a mixed up kid or ANLCMS…..so here is my quandary, in identifying with, at some lever all 6 synods am I a synergistist or maybe a narrow Unitarian. I thank you all for standing for God and His truth, and making us ponder our struggles. I think that true unity this side of heaven will always be an illusive goal that we as His saints should strive for seeking to love Him our neighbor and fellow ANLCMSers as best we can with his help.

  2. Maybe, just maybe if our preachers could stop sniping at one another, we could have unity. The congregations usually take on the personality of the pastor. Just saying.

  3. I’m a low-information layman, but it seems to me that compared to years past we’ve never had as much unity and lack of controversy as we have now.

  4. I appreciate this reflection. This could also be a commentary on the entire Christian church – although I’m sure there might be a few other letters like “H” for heretics.

  5. Personally, stuff like this drives disunity like in Corinth. Rejoice that we preach Christ crucified and battle the forces from outside of us. At the same time, give thanks that we work hard to strive toward weeding out improper doctrine and those that error. But in love as our Lord did with some extra teaching, and yes, some may and should walk away.

  6. @Jason #2

    Jason, just to spin what you said….Maybe, just maybe if our [laity] could stop sniping at one another, we could have unity. The congregations usually take on the personality of the pastor. Just saying.

    Sure that works! How about this, a pastor goes in and says solely on the basis of Scripture, we are forbidden by having women lead portions of the Service and take authority by reading Scriptures. Of course that’s what the Bible says! And just watch the people/congregations explode in reaction. Thank God for such unity (sic).

    On second thought, just go on and blame pastors, after all the latest study shows they rarely have time away, their marriages and families are suffering, 1 in 5 is mentally struggling, 1 in 4 are financially struggling. They have to daily deal with nightmares of what people confess to them. Always on call, always ready with a smile to serve. Never get to ‘enjoy’ the holidays or have any weekends off. They are ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS under attack and criticism by someone/group in the congregation. Most feel no love and appreciation from the people they serve. Yeah, its all on them. It’s on them. Remember that when you confess your sins tomorrow in the Divine Service.

  7. Pastor Carlson,

    Thank you for your breakdown of the various factions within Missouri. I note by your seminary graduations date from FTW of 2011, that you are not likely old enough (unless you are a second career guy with lots of prior years before the seminary) to have actually lived and worshiped during the Bronze Age. Being as I am 72, I did live through the 50’s and 60’s. My recollection of those years does not exactly square with your characterization of the pastors of the time. To characterize preaching during that time as primarily Law would be inaccurate. I recall hearing plenty of Law and Gospel from my pastors during this time frame. What is accurate about them was a good deal of ignorance regarding both the history and purpose of the historic liturgies. Other than being taught “how” to do the liturgy, I believe they were rarely taught either the historical background, the advantages of the liturgies, or the purpose they were suppose to achieve through usage. It is ironic because at that time TLH was virtually universally used and most folks knew page 5 and 15 of TLH by heart and many sung it in harmony. The LCMS was known then as the “Singing Church” by many inclusive of non-Lutherans. That said, in failing to understand either the history or the purpose of the historic liturgies, they also failed to teach it to their confirmands. As you’ll recall, about the mid-60’s the culture took a hard left turn into the hippie era. Without the appreciation of the importance and use of the liturgies, they quickly fell victim to the folk music fad of the time and such things as the Chicago Folk Mass were developed that quickly morphed into Polka Masses, and Cowboy Masses and Clown Services. The foundation was non-existent and the ability to resist was absent. Bronzies were very loyal to the institution of the Synod, but this was primarily due to the reality that with the exception of the St. Louis seminary faculty, the Synod was quite united in doctrine and practice. There was a great deal of pride in the faithfulness of Synod. Remember, there were no lay readers, certainly no women lectors, and no “Worship Committees”. All of that was simply unthinkable and everyone knew those things were the job of the pastor. I might also point out that it was primarily the Bronzies that stood up to the STL faculty in the 70’s Battle of the Bible…Hermann Otten being the primary example. BTW, the singing of “Amazing Grace” or “Just As I am” would never have been tolerated!

    The Seminex Synod is pretty much done for at this point. They are dieing off and most are out of the active ministry at this time. The Statement of the 44 in 1945 and the Battle of the Bible in the 70’s were fundamentally about being ecumenical. If you wanted to downplay doctrinal differences in order to be more ecumenical, then you had to have a mechanism by which to logically get that done. Higher-Critical Biblical Interpretation filled that bill very nicely. I would have to suggest that it is far more likely that the primary impetus for the Missional crowd was the Seminex faction more so than the Bronzie’s. Why? Because the Missional folks want to emulate the methods of the Reformed in an effort to obtain greater numerical growth. Numerical Growth is not only the Missional material principle, but it is also the most important “mark” of the Church. If you are not numerically growing, then you are not the Church. If you are not numerically growing, then you and/or your congregation are in need of re-education or you will become an obstruction that needs to be removed.

    While there is much in the Liturgical/Confessional Synod that is laudable, they are beginning to develop their own version of potential legalism. If you don’t cross yourself at all the appropriate times during the service; if you don’t bow the head at any mention of the Triune name of God, if you don’t believe in paedo-communion, then your credentials as a liturgical/Confessional Lutheran are in serious question. As is always the case, motivation is everything with respect to pious acts.

    Over the years I have become a Confessional pastor. I have learned a great deal about the liturgy that I never previously knew nor appreciated. During my time in the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona, many years ago I learned for sure that I never wanted to be a liberal from observing it first hand. I also learned that the promises given for “success” of Church Growth methodology were false.

    What is most certainly true it that the LCMS is not any longer a Synod. Your descriptions make that abundantly clear. Yet, there are many in every faction you’ve mentioned above that love the institution so much that they will never admit that it isn’t possible to describe Missouri in any way as “Walking Together”.
    Until and unless that reality is finally understood, there is no way forward for us.

  8. @RW #6

    First, with regard to sympathizing with the trials faced by a pastor, we are on the same team there. My brother is an LCMS pastor, so I am very familiar and respectful of the challenges that pastors are called to face. I have always supported my pastors, and do what I can to be an active participant in my congregation. In addition, I strongly believe that men must take an active role as elders, deacons, etc., in order to help take some of the burden off the pastor and to have a healthy Church. I agree with you, I do not like it when a congregation undercuts and doesn’t support their pastor.

    However, that is not what is going on here, which is what I was responding to, now is it? Nor was this article written by a layperson complaining about their pastor. This article was written by a pastor about his fellow pastors. What irks me is seeing pastors assume the worst construction about a sister congregation to whom they are not called to lead, and doing so in a public manner. You say you care about the burdens carried by pastors, but don’t blink an eye at a pastor making broad categorizations that characterize the service of fellow pastors as unfaithful in their ministry. Personally, I find that a fairly ironic position.

  9. @John Rixe #7

    Hello to you too (note back). Been busy, as you might see, new web site. Yes, I do not like labels, even the confessional web site that says, “does this church have a cross on the altar?” Well, no, and I keep it that way (got a huge one behind the altar, and I want the altar clean for the work done, consecrating the elements). Yet to some, I must be a bit less…even though I think I am more high church than others. We must be like St. Paul, strive to remind each other we are church in Christ, then of course, remind of error that will cause division.

  10. When I was Senior Pastor at Holy Cross my Associate had a good practice. When it was a communion service, no cross was on the altar (we had a crucifix) because the elements were already there on the altar and thus there wasn’t just a symbol of Christ, but (following the verba) Christ Himself was there. On non-communion services, we placed the crucifix on the altar to recognize that altars are places of sacrifice and therefore a symbol of Christ was very appropriate on the altar. On Communion services the sacrifice itself was present. FWIW.

  11. That makes no sense, because the crucifix testifies to true presence, removing it when you have communion testifies the opposite.

  12. Ben, if the Lord’s very body and blood are present on the altar (following the words of institution), what need have you of a symbol when the real thing is present?

  13. Pastor Carlson, given the last few exchanges you might need to add another category of divisions within the LCMS: Receptionists and Consecrationists…although they could be synonymous with Bronzie’s and Confessionals. 🙂

  14. See, the altar discussion, adiaphora, but made into a unity thing. St. Paul would probably say, who cares what is on the altar, it is what occurs, Eucharist, real, for the people. That comes first.

  15. And to think I was just about to pull out and quote from my copy of “Conduct of the Service” about the use of the crucifix before the new post went up.

  16. @RW #6

    I’m WELS, not LCMS so take this for whatever you think it’s worth. In the situation you’re describing, I think the primary blame would be with synodical leadership.

  17. Bronze-age Lutherans like “Amazing Grace”? I think you have that exactly backwards. Also, the phrase is “lex orandi, lex credendi.” Prosper of Aquitaine penned this phrase (sort of) to defend Augustine’s teaching on grace against the Pelagians. His point, which is a good one, is that if you want to know what someone really believes, listen to them pray. Prosper was specifically referring to the prayers of the church in the liturgy. Many theologians in the Early Church make the point that how we worship, what we do and say, expresses the faith we confess. We would all do well to think more clearly about the liturgy. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Gregory of Nyssa, Letter 24:

    “Hence we are baptized as it has been handed down to us, into Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and we believe as we are baptized—for it is fitting that our confession be of one voice with our faith—and we give glory as we believe, for it is not natural that worship make war against faith, but as we believe, so also we give glory. Now since our faith is in Father and Son and Holy Spirit, faith, worship, and baptism accord with each other.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.