The Texas Synod was founded in 1851, on Martin Luther’s 368th birthday, in the pine meeting house of First Presbyterian Church of Houston. The founding pastors were from the Pilgrim’s Mission Institute of St. Chrischona, in Basel, Switzerland, a Lutheran/Calvinist shared school that emphasized evangelical piety and fervor over theological sophistication or confessionalism. Pastor Caspar Braun was a graduate of this school who had served in the Pennsylvania Synod before coming to Texas in 1847. The Pennsylvania Synod’s constitution was a model for the Texas Synod’s first constitution.
According to Russel Vardell’s history of Texas Lutheranism, in 1853, the Texas Synod affiliated with the General Synod, which comprised 2/3 of all U.S. Lutherans. Dissatisfaction abounded. With the rapid influx of German Lutherans, there was a desperate need for pastors, which the General Synod was unable to fill. Those who did come left too quickly. Additionally, Texas Lutherans were suspect of the confessional weakness of Schmucker’s American Lutheran movement, which they felt sacrificed confessional purity for unity. Schmucker’s desire to amend the Augsburg Confession was labeled Melanchthonism, after Luther’s friend who took more moderate and conciliatory positions with both Rome on the one hand, and the radical reformers on the other, than Luther himself.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod officially arrived in Texas when the Wends settled in Serbin in 1855. First Evangelical of Houston and Pastor Caspar Braun left the Texas Synod and affiliated with the more confessionally conservative lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
By 1866, the confessionally conservative Pennsylvania Synod, fed up with Schmucker’s movement, organized the General Council as an alternative to the more relaxed General Synod. In 1868, the Texas Synod left the General Synod for the General Council. They affirmed the Galesburg rule: Lutheran pastors for Lutheran pulpits and Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants only. Also, pastors were forbidden to join secret societies like the Lodge.
Things went well at first with the General Council, which provided more pastors than the General Synod had, but still not nearly enough (14 pastors from 1868 to 1896). The St. Chrischona school provided the majority of new pastors. This began to concern the more conservative General Council. Serious concerns were raised when it was discovered that non-Lutheran pastors were preaching in Lutheran pulpits, and Lutheran pastors with Calvinist theology were being ordained. The General Council carefully examined the Chrischona pastors for confessional orthodoxy, and some in Texas began to inquire into the Ohio Synod, the Iowa Synod and the Missouri Synod.
When, in 1890, the Texas Synod voted to stay with the General Council, six pastors and three congregations disaffiliated with the Texas Synod. Tensions festered, and a new president arrived from the Iowa Synod for the Texas Synod’s college in Brenham. In 1895 the Texas Synod, after what some called “shrewd parliamentary maneuvering,” voted to disaffiliate with the General Council and join the Iowa Synod. As the Iowa Synod did not permit pastoral candidates from Europe, an era ended. For some this break with Europe was intolerable and a group of congregations left the new Texas District of the Iowa Synod, forming the Old German Evangelical Synod of Texas of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. The fact that it was called The “Old” Synod from the outset tells you something. The Old German Synod continued to get pastors from St. Chrischona. They had eight pastors (compared to 29 in the newly formed Texas District-Iowa Synod).
With the influx of Scandinavians, the Augustana Synod of Texas grew from 895 baptized in 1886 to 2521 in 1913. After a short time of growth, dissension among pastors and congregations of the Old German Synod led to continued decline and division. Many congregations joined the Texas District-Iowa Synod, and an eventually, The Old German Synod, refusing to take up with Midwestern Lutherans, rejoined with the old General Council in the East. In 1918 the General Synod and General Council, long at odds, merged to form the ULCA. In 1930 the Iowa Synod would join the old ALC, which later became part of the new ALc (1960). In 1962, the ULCA would join the LCA. And, of course ALC and LCA joined the ELCA in 1988.
Today the 390 congregations of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is in the capable hands of District President Ken Hennings. They have 45 elementary schools, six high schools and an excellent university in Austin.
We have about the same number of congregations in our three ELCA Texas-Louisiana Synods. The Wisconsin Synod has 36 congregations in Texas. A couple dozen other Lutheran groups have congregations in Texas including 29 congregations that belong to the newly formed NALC, 45 LCMC congregations, 8 AFLC, and a couple Church of the Lutheran Confession.
I’m not sure what this says about us Lutherans. Perhaps the best construction is that we’re diverse and independently-minded. Yet, our strength will come in cooperation and unity. A house divided will not stand long. As one working for Christian unity, Lutheran unity often seems beyond reach.
One thing’s for sure: The history of Texas Lutheranism is still being written. Texas Lutherans are as ever committed to justification by grace through faith, apart from works of the law. We’re not saved by works, or by agreement, thank goodness. And, I believe, now that the boats have stopped coming, we are slowly learning what it means to be a public church, to play well with others, to speak our faith fluently, to do evangelism and to shake off our old quietistic tendencies. Some days Texan Lutheranism seems as old as the boats that carried over the first immigrants. Other days it feels like we’re just on the verge of something: Coming of age?