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In a soon-to-be-released Bible study from Lutheran Hour Ministries, We the Church: The Priesthood of All Believers, the focus is on The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The study concentrates on how the LCMS has responded to key dynamics—both inside and outside the denomination—during its history in the U.S., according to scriptwriter Rev. Michael Newman. He maintains it was by encouraging a healthy balance between laity and clergy that the LCMS met the challenges of its new "American" context. Integral here too was the International Lutheran Laymen's League, which played a pivotal role in this relationship. Also considered in this study is the state of the LCMS today, the challenges before it, and its expectations for the future.

The story begins with some 700 Saxon immigrants from Germany arriving in Perry County, Missouri, in 1839, under the leadership of Pastor Martin Stephan. Following issues of judgment and behavior that got Stephan ousted, another pastor, C.F.W. Walther, played a critical role in the lives of these believers. It was his faithfulness to God's Word and the Lutheran Confessions, his debating ability, and his stance on how Jesus' followers should be communicating the Gospel that guided the direction these Lutheran Christians would take. In time, these immigrant Lutherans affiliated with a missionary contingent sent from Germany by Pastor Wilhelm Loehe, which led to the eventual formation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. As Newman says, "Both groups treasured sound biblical and confessional doctrine. And both groups brought a keen awareness of, and deep passion for, the eternal welfare of people's souls."

Early LCMS church growth is shown by the numbers and is directly attributable to congregations sharing the Gospel. In the last half of the 19th century, the LCMS in the U.S. grew from 14 congregations to nearly 3,000, including nearly 750,000 members. Overseas missions were conducted in China, India, and the Middle East, while outreach was extended to Native Americans here as well. Abbreviating this vigorous growth, however, was World War I and a general mood shift toward Germans and those arriving from Europe. Anti-German sentiment, a flu pandemic claiming many Lutheran lives in the U.S., the war itself, and immigration restrictions led in part to the LCMS' first recorded decline in membership in 1919. As a result, new church starts dropped dramatically. Still, even during this downturn, the LCMS kept its focus on the Gospel and the Great Commission.

The years that followed witnessed LCMS domestic mission work broadening to reach others beyond those of German descent. John H.C. Fritz, a pastor and later professor at the St. Louis seminary, had this to say: "A Lutheran missionary who ferrets out only the former Lutherans, or the people of a certain nationality, as those of German extraction, is not doing his mission work in accordance with his Lord's explicit directions." Later in 1937 Pastor L. Meyer restated the case, emphasizing each person's duty to share the Gospel: "What have you as laymen done to prove to the world that your faith is a moving, living faith? What have you done to bring the Good News of salvation to the world? How many of you can claim the distinction of having been the means of winning one soul during the past year?"

It was around this time the Lutheran Laymen's League and Dr. Walter A. Maier realized radio would be an optimum vehicle for sharing the Gospel. Sounding forth the Good News beginning in 1930, The Lutheran Hour soon began broadcasting on stations in numerous locations. During the 1940s and 50s, believer numbers were on the rise; new LCMS churches were launched, and this increase was marked by many unchurched or dechurched adults coming to—or returning to—faith in Jesus Christ.

As a result, the LCMS was on an upward arc in membership numbers. According to Newman, "Being the priesthood of all believers and taking on the task of being workers in God's great harvest field led both people and pastors to speak and reach out in the same spirit of the followers of Christ in the book of Acts when they declared: 'For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard'" (Acts 4:20). The ingredients for this growth—the DNA, if you will—was readily passed along through vibrant discipleship in both Lutheran congregations and the widening network of Lutheran grade schools and high schools around the country. Organizations such as the Walther League, the Lutheran Laymen's League (Lutheran Hour Ministries), and the Lutheran Women's Missionary League all contributed during this time.

The 1960s and 70s were not without their effect on the church, however. Theological controversies, racial issues, youth unrest, attitudes of anti-institutionalism, and other factors made denominations everywhere hard-pressed to counter the backlash these concerns generated. Even today the force of these issues—and others—is still felt, as people question the relevance of the church in a world in flux. While the situation might appear overwhelming, such is not the case.

Great things are happening as God's love in Christ Jesus is reaching hearts and minds in life-changing ways. Lives are being transformed—even in the most unlikely and dire of circumstances—whether it's in a small town along the Mexican border or a besieged village in northern Syria. No matter the obstacle, we are given grace sufficient to meet the challenge each day brings. As Peter said, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).

We the Church is a study that educates, detailing the marvelous work of God within the LCMS. Utilizing expert narrative, instructive graphics, insightful commentary, and the uplifting story of a church that's grown and matured in the face of difficult odds, We the Church will showcase the dynamic mission—and potential—of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Watch for more information in the coming weeks regarding the release date of this new study.

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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