The Predestination Controversy

This was a major issue in American Lutheranism from the 1870s well into the twentieth century.


To over-simplify, it arises over the question of whether God's gift of saving grace to man depends

to any degree on some action--or even decision--by man to accept (or at least not reject) that gift.


If man does anything at all, salvation is arguably not by grace alone; man contributes to it, if only

a little bit. But if man does nothing at all, man is arguably predestined by God.


The Missouri Synod, following its noted theologian C. F. W. Walther, adopted the latter position.

In an 1881 synodical meeting in Fort Wayne, delegates voted to sever ties with church bodies

which disagreed with its view. This forced Missouri's fellow members of the Synodical

Conference--The Joint Synod of Ohio and the Norwegian Synod–to make a choice.


Ohio disagreed with Missouri on the issue and withdrew from the Conference.

The Norwegians also withdrew in 1883, but for a peripheral reason. Its members were greatly

offended that their Official Delegate to the 1882 Synodical Conference meeting was refused a seat

without having a chance to defend himself against charges that he had accused Missouri of

Calvinism–a reasonable accusation..


On the central question of predestination about two thirds of the Norwegian Synods' pastors and

congregations agreed with Missouri. That's perhaps understandable since many Norwegian

pastors had studied theology under Walther at Missouri's Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

Among them were most of the Synod's officials, including Herman A. Preus, U. V. Koren,

Lauritz Larsen and Johannes Ylvisaker--familiar names in the history of Luther College.


Among the leading advocates of the anti-Missourian position were Bernt J. Muus, J. N. Kildahl,

Thorbjorn N. Mohn (all St. Olaf College Presidents) and Luther Seminary Professor M. O.



The dispute led to hard feelings and a polarized church body. There were depositions of pastors

by their congregations, squabbles over ordinations and the editorial policies of periodicals,

disputed elections of district officers and the like. The Anti-Missourian Brotherhood began to

function as an entity within the Synod and established its own seminary at St. Olaf in 1886.


Pastors and congregations began withdrawing from the Norwegian Synod in 1887. By 1890,

about one-third had done so and then joined with The Conference (the Norwegian-Danish

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and the Norwegian Augustana Synod to form the

United Norwegian Lutheran Church in America. Its membership of 152,200 compared with the

Norwegian Synod's 94,166.


Incidentally, when the United church and the Norwegian Synod re-united (along with the Hauge's

Synod) in 1917, they side-stepped the predestination problem in the so-called Madison

Agreement. It provided that both views were acceptable. Missouri condemned this as doctrinal



Some Norwegians agreed with Missouri and left to form the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Norseland Lutheran Church, where Ole Lodversen Scheie was buried in 1884, is a congregation

of that synod.


(For much more, see The Lutherans in North America by E. Clifford Nelson et al., Fortress Press,

Philadelphia, 1975, pp. 315-ff.


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