The Word of God and social responsibility in the Lutheran Church in the United States of America

Roger H. Black, Marquette University


Since 1820 the Word of God has played a significant role in the creation of social responsibility within the Lutheran Church in the United States of America. Although societal changes have often led the church to a response, the Word of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ and as interpreted through the Scriptures, has significantly motivated and shaped a particular response. When the Word of God was interpreted through the Lutheran Confessions and as an outgrowth of individual preaching of the law and the gospel (1820-1930), the earlier Lutheran churches responded with mercy (Inner Missions). Since that time, an interpretation of the Word as having a social dimension and the use of modern methods of scriptural interpretation have led the church to extend its response into social justice. This study examines the relationship of the Word and social responsibility against the broad landscape of Lutheran history in the U.S.A. up until 1988. The thesis is developed through an analysis of five major Lutheran churches: the General Synod, the General Council, the Augustana Lutheran Church, the United Lutheran Church in America, and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). The first four churches eventually all lead into the Lutheran Church in America, a church which exhibits productive social ministry. The relationship between Inner Missions and social justice is a constant theme that runs through the history of Lutheran social responsibility. Although Inner Missions dominates in all of the churches studied until the Lutheran Church in America, there is a growing social justice response. As the church rediscovered the teachings of Luther and the Confessions regarding God ruling over both realms of church and state, its response became more social. At the same time in the LCA (1962-1987), there develops a conflict between the interpretation of the Word related to what Christ is calling the church to do today, and the interpretation of Scripture through the evangelical teachings of individual responsibility. This study directs the church to keep both interpretations closely tied together in order to be faithful to "God's Word and God's world."

Recommended Citation

Black, Roger H., "The Word of God and social responsibility in the Lutheran Church in the United States of America" (1996). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9717057.