Archive for the ‘Fundamentalism’ Tag

Feast of Pearl S. Buck (June 25)   1 comment

Above:  Pearl S. Buck

Image in the Public Domain



U.S. Presbyterian Missionary, Novelist, and Social Activist

Buck spent most of the first half-century of her life in China.  She, born in Hillsborough, West Virginia, on June 26, 1892, was a daughter of Southern Presbyterian missionaries Absalom Sydenstricker (1852-1931) and Caroline Stulting Sydenstricker (1857-1921).  The couple was on furlough when Caroline gave birth to Pearl.  Our saint, raised in China (except during furloughs) from infancy, grew up learning both English and Chinese.  Pearl also learned respect for Chinese culture and rejection of racism, ethnocentrism, and cultural imperialism from her parents.  Our saint attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College), Lynchburg, Virginia, from 1910 to 1914.  She returned to China shortly after graduating; her mother’s health was failing.

Our saint became a missionary in her own right.  In 1915, she met John Lossing Buck (1890-1975), a missionary from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  The couple married in 1917.  They had one child, Caroline Grace Buck (1920-1992).  She had Phenylketonuria (PKU), which caused profound mental disabilities.  The Bucks adopted a daughter, Janice, in 1925.  The family lived and taught on the campus of Nanjing University from 1920 to 1933, except during furloughs.  During the furlough of 1924-1925, Pearl earned her M.A. from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.  The marriage, unhappy for a long time, ended in divorce in 1935.

Buck, who had become a published author in the 1920s, started with essays and stories published in major magazines.  He first novel, East Wind, West Wind, went to the presses in 1930.  Richard Walsh published that book.  Her second novel, The Good Earth (1931), made our saint a household name, a best-selling author, and a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize.  Buck wrote for the rest of her life.  She composed novels, short stories, biographies (including those of her parents), autobiographies, and nonfiction.  She also won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Two of Buck’s works of nonfiction got her into ecclesiastical trouble and caused the termination of her career as a missionary.  She wrote in opposition to racism, ethnocentrism, and culturally imperialistic missionaries.  Indeed, she had encountered many of them since her childhood.  The timing of our saint’s justifiable criticism was the fundamentalist-modernist controversy within the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1870-1958), the so-called “Northern Presbyterian Church.”  (That was an inaccurate label; the PCUSA was actually national.  The old Presbyterian Church in the United States lived up to its informal name, the Southern Presbyterian Church, however.)  Many prominent fundamentalist Presbyterians objected to Buck’s criticism.  She resigned under pressure in 1934.

Our saint returned to the United States and continued her writing and her revolutionary work.  She married Richard Walsh in 1935.  The couple remained married until he died in 1960. They resided on the Green Hills Farm, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Pearl was active in the civil rights movement.  She a trustee of Howard University, wrote for publications of the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.).  She and Walsh promoted interracial adoption and modeled the practice.  They founded Welcome House, the first international, interracial adoption agency, in 1949.  She founded the Pearl S. Buck Foundation in 1964 to help Amerasian children otherwise ineligible for adoption.

Buck, aged 80 years, died in Danby, Vermont, on March 6, 1973.  Her ten children (nine of them adopted) survived her.









Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant Pearl S. Buck,

to use our freedom to bring justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37


Feast of Elias Benjamin Sanford (June 13)   Leave a comment

Above:  Flag of Connecticut

Image in the Public Domain



U.S. Methodist then Congregationalist Minister and Ecumenist

Elias Benjamin Sanford comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

Sanford was simultaneously of his time and ahead of it.  He transformed his time.

Once upon a time, in the United States of America, anti-Roman Catholicism was a dominant characteristic of Protestantism.  (It remains a dominant characteristic of fundamentalism and much of evangelicalism.  The mainline has repented of its anti-Roman Catholicism.  For example, the United Church of Christ, with Puritan/Congregationalist heritage, has become a haven for married former Roman Catholic priests seeking a way to continue in ordained ministry.)  This bias was the mirror image of a negative Roman Catholic attitude toward other branches of Christianity prior to the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), when the rest of we Christians, whether Protestant, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox, formally became “separated brethren.”  This was a declaration that echoed Pope Leo XIII (d. 1903).  Not all American Protestants were anti-Roman Catholic, just as not all American Roman Catholics thought that non-Roman Catholic Christians were bound for damnation.  Nevertheless, these hardline attitudes were baked into religious cultures.  In 1928, when the Democratic Party nominated Governor Alfred Smith for the presidency, Smith’s Roman Catholicism became a political issue.  During the primary season of 1960, when Senator John F. Kennedy campaigned for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, his Roman Catholicism became a political issue.  George L. Ford, Executive Director of the National Association of Evangelicals, wrote a pamphlet, A Roman Catholic President:  How Free from Church Control?  (I own a copy of this pamphlet.)

Above:  The Cover of the Pamphlet

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Sanford’s life and ministry played out in the culture of anti-Roman Catholic Protestantism.

That summary is objectively accurate.  Know, O reader, that I refuse to condone religious bigotry.  I come from a Protestant background, mainly United Methodism in the rural South.  I, an Episcopalian, consider myself an Anglican, not a Protestant.  To be precise, I describe myself as an Anglican-Lutheran-Catholic, for “Anglican” and “Episcopalian” cover a great range of theological ground.  I affirm Transubstantiation, all seven sacraments, and the 73 book-canon of scripture.  How can I be a Protestant?  I am too Protestant to be a Roman Catholic and too Roman Catholic to be a Protestant.  And, as anyone who follows, this, my Ecumenical Calendar, should know, names of many Roman Catholics, whether Venerables, Beati, fully canonized, or not formally recognized, are present here.  To paraphrase what Martin Luther may or may not have said at the Diet of Worms (1521), I will do no other.

Above:  The Former First United Methodist Church, Thomaston, Connecticut

Structure erected in 1866

Congregation seemingly closed in 2018

Image Source = Google Earth

Sanford was originally a Methodist.  He, born in Westbrook, Connecticut, on June 6, 1843, graduated from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut (B.A., 1865).  Our saint served as a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church (extant 1784-1939) in Thomaston, Connecticut, from 1865 to 1867.  Then he became a Congregationalist.  Our saint spent the first half of 1868 traveling in Europe.

Above:  The United Church of Christ in Cornwall, Cornwall, Connecticut

Structure erected in 1842

Image Source = Google Earth

Sanford, back in the United States, served as a Congregationalist minister in rural Connecticut.  He also studied at Yale.  Our saint’s first parish in his new denomination was First Congregational Church, Cornwall, Connecticut (1868-1872).  For the next decade, he supplied in Northfield and Thomaston, Connecticut.  Sanford’s final pastorate was the First Congregational Church in Westbrook, Connecticut (1882-1894).

Above:  First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Westbrook, Connecticut

Image in the Public Domain

Sanford made the transition to ecumenical Protestant work.  He, the Editor of Church Union magazine since 1873, served as the Secretary of the Open and Institutional Church League (founded in 1894, from 1895 to 1900), committed to opening church buildings for social service.  In that same vein, our saint served as the General Secretary of the National Federation of Churches and Christian Workers from 1900 to 1908.  Sanford generally opposed the organic union of denominations on the grounds that mergers brought branches of Protestantism closer to “submission to Rome.”  In context, Sanford’s Protestant ecumenism was a way of resisting Roman Catholicism.  He helped to found the Federal Council of Churches (1908-1950), a forerunner of the National Council of Churches (1950-).  Our saint served as corresponding secretary (1908-1913) then as a honorary secretary (1913-1932) of the Federal Council of Churches.

Sanford, 89 years old, died in Middlefield, Connecticut, on July 3, 1932.





Lord Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd, thank you for tending to us, members of your flock.

May we, rejoicing in your work of breaking down barriers,

recognize each other as sheep of your flock, and therefore, work together, for your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Isaiah 49:1-6

Psalm 95

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

John 17:20-26





Feast of Harry Emerson Fosdick (October 5)   6 comments

Above:  Harry Emerson Fosdick

Image in the Public Domain



U.S. Northern Baptist Minister and Opponent of Fundamentalism


…we cannot harmonize Christ himself with modern culture.  What Christ does to modern culture is to challenge it.

–Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism” (1935); quoted in Dewitte Holland, ed., Sermons in American History:  Selected Issues in the American Pulpit, 1630-1967 (Nashville, TN:  Abingdon Press, 1971), 377


Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the most influential ministers in the United States of America during the twentieth century.  He, controversial in life, has remained so postmortem.

Fundamentalism is inherently ahistorical.  This is not an idea original to me.  Consider, O reader, Karen Armstrong:

…fundamentalism is ahistorical:  it believes that Abraham, Moses and the later prophets all experienced their God in exactly the same way as people do today.

A History of God:  The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (1994), xx

One might also consider G. E. Mendenhall, author of The Tenth Generation (1973):

Biblical fundamentalism, whether Jewish or Christian, cannot learn from the past because in so many respects the defense of presently accepted ideas about religion is thought to be the only purpose of biblical narrative.  It must, therefore, support ideas of comparatively recent origin–ones that usually have nothing to do with the original meaning or intention of biblical narrative because the context is so radically different.

–Quoted in W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah:  A Modern Commentary, Vol. IV, Numbers (New York:  Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1979), xiv-xv

Fosdick, born in Buffalo, New York, on May 24, 1878, came from a devout family with a tradition of valuing education.  His father was Frank Sheldon Fosdick.  Our saint’s mother was Amy Inez Weaver.  His brother, Raymond B. Fosdick, grew up to become an esteemed attorney, as well as a friend and associate of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960).  Our saint, baptized at the age of seven years, thought about becoming a missionary before deciding on domestic ministry.  He, having graduated from high school in 1896, matriculated at Colgate University.  He graduated with his A.B. degree four years later, and was the class poet.  Fosdick, ordained a Baptist minister in 1903, graduated from Union Theological Seminary the following year.  He married Florence Allen Whitney (d. 1964) on August 16, 1904.  The couple had two daughters.

Fosdick served in a few congregations and taught at Union Theological Seminary.  He, from 1904 to 1915 the pastor of First Baptist Church, Montclair, New Jersey, began his 38-year-long stint of teaching practical theology at Union Theological Seminary in 1908.  He was an instructor (1908-1915), a professor (1915-1917, 1919-1934), and a part-time faculty member (1934-1946).  In 1917-1919 our saint worked as a chaplain with the Y.M.C.A. in France.  After World War I he returned to New York City, to begin duties as assistant minister (1919-1925) of First Presbyterian Church.

Fosdick became a central figure in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., a denomination to which he did not belong.  In 1922 he preached a seminal sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”  He condemned the intolerance of fundamentalism and criticized minor theological disputes (such as arguments about the Virgin Birth) as distractions

when the world is perishing for the lack of the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith.

–Quoted in Holland, ed., Sermons in American History, 347

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., liked the sermon so much that he paid for the printing and mailing of the text to every Protestant minister in the United States.  Clarence Macartney (1879-1957), conservative pastor of Arch Street Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, replied via a sermon that year.  He asked, “Shall Unbelief Win?” and accused Fosdick of heresy and intolerance.  After much controversy, Fosdick had to resign in 1925.

Above:  Park Avenue Baptist Church, New York, New York

Photographer = Irving Underhill

Image Source = Library of Congress

Rockefeller, Jr., offered Fosdick another position, though.  Our saint accepted the pastorate of Park Avenue Baptist Church on four conditions, which he established:

  1. That baptism by immersion cease to be a requirement for membership;
  2. That the congregation become interdenominational, accepting Christians of all creeds;
  3. That the congregation move to a less swanky neighborhood; and
  4. That the initial salary cap for Fosdick be $5000 ($69,900, adjusted for inflation, to 2017 currency).

Above:  Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, New York, New York

Image in the Public Domain

Rockefeller, Jr., financed the construction of the Gothic edifice of the renamed Riverside Church, located near Columbia University and Grant’s Tomb.  The congregation’s first Sunday in the new building, dedicated in 1931, was October 5, 1930.  Fosdick wrote the hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory,” for the occasion.  For 15 years 1931-1946) Fosdick was the most influential Protestant minister in the United States.  For 20 years (1926-1946) he preached on national radio.  He retired from Riverside Church in 1946.

Fosdick was a prolific author of books and articles.  Some of these were volumes of sermons.  Many other books were psychological-theological in nature.  Examples of these included Twelve Tests of Character (1923) and On Being a Real Person (1943).

Fosdick, who preferred modernism to fundamentalism, was critical of modernism, too.  In 1935 he preached a sermon, “The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism.”  Modernism, he said, was a necessary advance.  However, our saint stated, the church needed to move beyond it, for modernism was imperfect.  It was simultaneously preoccupied with intellectualism and too sentimental, according to Fosdick.  He also argued that modernism had

largely eliminated from its faith the God of moral judgment.

–Quoted in Holland, ed., Sermons in American History, 373

Our saint also asserted that modernism had accommodated too much to the world that it (modernism) had placed people at the center and relegated God to an advisory capacity.  Modernism, Fosdick argued, had also surrendered the moral high ground.  Our saint was arguing for Neo-orthodoxy.

Fosdick stood up for a range of controversial positions.  His adopted pacifism, evident in his hymn, “The Prince of Peace His Banner Spreads” (1930), was more popular at certain times than others.  Our saint also advocated for the civil rights of African Americans when doing so was often unpopular.  The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (1939-1968) thought of Fosdick as a prophetic figure.  Fosdick, eschewing anti-Semitism, also sympathized with displaced Palestinians.  He, not a Zionist, opposed the creation of the State of Israel.

Fosdick wrote four hymns, all of which have remained germane:

  1. God of Grace and God of Glory” (1930),
  2. The Prince of Peace His Banner Spreads” (1930),
  3. O God, in Restless Living” (1931), and
  4. O God, Who to a Loyal Home” (1956).

Fosdick, aged 91 years, died in Bronxville, New York, on October 5, 1969.

Perhaps the précis of Fodick’s life was the following excerpt from “God of Grace and God of Glory”:

Save us from weak resignation

To the evils we deplore;….







O God, by your Holy Spirit you give to some the word of wisdom,

to others the word of knowledge,

and to others the word of faith:

We praise your Name for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Harry Emerson Fosdick,

and we ray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14

Psalm 119:97-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16

John 17:18-23

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 720


Feast of Carl J. Sodergren and Claus A. Wendell (September 5)   2 comments

Augustana Synod Logo

Above:  Logo of the Augustana Synod

Image in the Public Domain



U.S. Lutheran Minister and Theologian

colleague of


Swedish-American Lutheran Minister and Theologian




Both saints I am adding to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days with this post were ministers of the Augustana Synod, formed in 1860 by Swedish Lutheran immigrants to the United States.

When I draft a blog post adding someone to the Ecumenical Calendar I seek to present information in an orderly manner.  This entails avoiding the temptation to chase too many proverbial rabbits.  Know then, O reader, that I understand far more about the Augustana Synod then I will reveal in this post, which is about Sodergren and Wendell, not the synod.  If you want to read more about the Augustana Synod, consult C. Everett Arden, Augustana Heritage:  A History of the Augustana Lutheran Church (1963), published during the year following the Augustana Synod’s merger into the Lutheran Church in America (1962-1987).

The Augustana Synod had several names during its lifetime.  It formed as the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America.  In 1894 the denomination dropped “Swedish” from its name.  Then, in 1948, the body became the Augustana Lutheran Church.  The Augustana Synod was originally ethnically Swedish, worshiping in that language.  By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the question of how often to use English was a subject of serious debate.  Our saints argued for the greater use of the English language in worship, for they understood that there the future of the synod lay.  The Augustana Synod made that transition, but not without much sturn und drang.  The fact of nativism in the United States during World War I did much to accelerate that process.




Carl Johannes Sodergren, born on September 5, 1870, at LaPorte, Indiana, was a child of Swedish immigrants.  His mother was Brita Sodergren (1847-1919) and his father was the Reverend Carl Henrik Sodergren (1840-1905).  Young Carl studied at Augustana College and Theological Seminary (one institution until 1948), Rock Island, Illinois, graduating as the valedictorian in June 1891.

Biographical information about Sodergren has proven difficult to find, but I have been able to determine certain facts about him:

  1. He became a minister in the Augustana Synod.
  2. On June 30, 1897, at Chesterville, Texas, Sodergren married Elizabeth Chester (1873-1958).
  3. The couple had five children:  Carl Wendell (1898-1963)Una Elizabeth (1900-1985), Miriam Agatha (1904-1978), Anita Linnea (1907-1991), and Leila Ingeborg (1909-1911).
  4. The Augustana Synod designated the Lutheran Companion as its official English-language magazine in 1911.  Sodergren served as its editor, vacating that post in 1915.
  5. In 1913 Sodergren joined the theological faculty at Augustana College and Theological Seminary.  The installation ceremony occurred on March 11.




Claus August Wendell was a Swedish immigrant.  He, born Claus August Anderson at Sodia Ving, Vastergotland, on April 24, 1866, was a child of Lars Gustav Anderson, a farmer.  The family relocated to the United States when our saint was three years old and settled at Sycamore, Illinois.  Claus attended the country school there then studied at the Academy at Augustana College and Theological Seminary then at the college proper.  (Many colleges in the United States used to have academies and high schools attached to them.)  Our saint, as a young man, persuaded his parents to relocate to Rock Island, Illinois, where he graduated from the college with his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1893.  Claus, who changed his last name legally to Wingquist then to Wendell, remained in Rock Island for a few years, filling in the chair of English literature and philosophy (who was on a leave of absence) in 1894 then working on his Master of Arts degree (awarded in 1897).

Wendell married Anna Charlotte Norlin (1872-1965) in 1897.  The couple had two daughters, Anna Theolinda (born circa 1899) and Margaret (born circa 1909).

Wendell worked as an educator then a journalist for a few years.  He taught history at Rock Island High School from 1897 to 1902.  Then he joined the fifth estate.  Meanwhile Wendell was undertaking theological studies under the guidance of Dr. Conrad Emil Lindberg (1852-1930), who taught systematic theology at Augustana College and Theological Seminary from 1890 to 1930.  Lindberg, the most influential teacher in the Augustana Synod for a time, was, according to G. Everett Arden,

a conservative Lutheran, who saw the theology of the sixteenth century through the spectacles of the seventeenth-century Lutheran orthodox scholastics.

Augustana Heritage, 249

Wendell, ordained in 1905, served as the pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Rockford, Illinois, then of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston, Illinois.  In 1914 he transferred to Grace Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, from which he retired in 1947.  Wendell doubled as a staff correspondent for the Lutheran Companion, working under the editor, Carl J. Sodergren.

In 1918 and 1919 Wendell helped to found the Lutheran Bible Institute, located in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  This proved to be ironic, for The Bible Banner, the Institutes’s official organ, championed fundamentalism, which Wendell opposed.




Sodergren and Wendell were, by the standards of the Augustana Synod in the early twentieth century, liberals.

I use that term precisely, not loosely (as many do) or as an invective (as many also do), because they were liberals, not revolutionaries.  If one uses the analogy or reinventing the wheel, one finds the following statements to be accurate:

  1. A reactionary thinks that the current wheel is nouveau and prefers the previous design.
  2. A conservative proposes that the wheel is fine as it is.
  3. A liberal agrees that the design of the wheel is generally sound yet requires some modification.
  4. A revolutionary argues that the current design of the wheel is flawed beyond repair and therefore favors reinventing it.

Sodergren and Wendell were Confessional Lutherans who belonged to a Confessional Lutheran denomination.  They affirmed such core Lutheran doctrines as baptismal regeneration and consubstantiation.  They stood within their tradition and argued by arguing for its continued relevance by avoiding the rigidity of fundamentalism on one side and the denial of Christ on the other side.  They stood in the theological lineage of St. Clement of Alexandria (died 210/215), who affirmed the validity of proved knowledge, regardless of its source.  Sodergren and Wendell stood in the best tradition of Christianity with regard to the reconciliation of faith and reason, along with luminaries such as St. Albert the Great, Robert Grosseteste, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope Sylvester II (died 1003).

Charles Darwin did not originate the Theory of Evolution, but he did write two seminal books on the subject and became a proverbial lightning rod.  The debate over the relationship of faith and science, especially evolution, spread to the Augustana Synod.  In the December 16, 1914, issue  of the Lutheran Companion Sodergren, as editor, scandalized many in his denomination by waiting the following in the publication:

The time has arrived, it appears, for someone to say that the theory of evolution is not necessarily atheistic, and that is might be quite consistent with the Bible and with a Christian belief in God as the Creator of heaven and earth.

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 285

The fact that Sodergren published that editorial in character, for he had already advocated for the acceptance of modern Biblical criticism, such as saying that Moses did not write the Torah, that the Bible contradicts itself in places, and that David did not write all those Psalms attributed to him.  Sodergren had balanced this position by arguing for the “plenary inspiration of the Bible,” meaning that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is normative for faith and practices but without committing to any particular theory of inspiration.

In 1925 Sodergren published a book, Fundamentalists and Modernists.  He affirmed Christ while rejecting fundamentalism, advocating for a form of evangelical confessionalism instead.  His evangelical confessionalism valued both faith and scholarly investigation, including history and science.  Sodergren’s form of Christianity openly rejected the verbal inspiration of the Bible.  That theory, he insisted, was inconsistent with the reality that divine inspiration has a human element to it.  The theory of verbal inspiration of scripture, Sodergren wrote, tended toward the heresy of docetism, which stated that Christ only seemed to be human.  Furthermore, Sodergren wrote, the classic Lutheran confessions of faith do not affirm the verbal inspiration of the Bible.

Wendell, in The Larger Vision:  A Study of the Evolution Theory in Its Relation to the Christian Faith (1923), also affirmed the science, especially evolution.  God is the source of both science and revelation, he wrote.  Wendell also affirmed salvation via Christ in that book and in a chapter in What is Lutheranism? (1930), edited by Vergilius Ferm.  Wendell summarized Lutheranism this way:

Lutheranism then we should say, means three things:  (1) It means adherence to the Confessions, comprising the Book of Concord, not as so many cement walls for man’s incarceration but as a witness to the faith of the fathers and a guide to their followers.  (2)  Faith in the Holy Scriptures, not as a fetish on the one hand nor a mere human document on the other, nor as an arsenal of theological polemics, nor as a textbook of history and natural science, but the inspired Word of God, whose purposes it is to make us wise unto salvation; and (3) Above all else, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not as a mere reformer or teacher or “pattern for young men,” but as the Redeemer of the world and the everlasting Rock upon which the church is built.

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 286

That answer did not satisfy ultraconservatives within the Augustana Synod.  Vocal critics were legion.  The Bible Banner heaped scorn on Ferm and Wendell, both of whom Dr. Samuel Miller, head of the Lutheran Bible Institute, attempted to have the Augustana Synod expel from the denomination on charges of heresy.




The Augustana Synod, a longtime (1870-1918) member of the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (1867-1918), withdrew from that umbrella organization rather than merge into the mainly ethnically German United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA).  Opposition to ULCA prompted mergers and closer cooperation among certain more conservative Lutheran denominations.  The American Lutheran Church (1930-1960) was the union of several relatively conservative and mostly Midwestern synods.  In 1930 this denomination, the Augustana Synod, the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Free Church, and the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (the “Sad Danes,” in some referred to them, as opposed to the “Happy Danes” of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church) constituted constituted a new alliance, the American Lutheran Conference, which disbanded 24 years later.  Three of the four members of the American Lutheran Conference merged to create The American Lutheran Church (1960-1987).  The Lutheran Free Church joined the new denomination in 1963.

The American Lutheran Conference existed to witness against ULCA.  The Conference affirmed the Galesburg Rule (1875) and the Minneapolis Theses (1925).  The former arose within the General Council over the question of pulpit and altar fellowship.  The Galesburg Rule was, verbatim:

The rule is:  1.  Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran ministers only; Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants only.  2.  The exceptions to this rule belong to the sphere of privilege and not of right.  3.  The determination of the exceptions is to be made in consonance with these principles by the conscientious judgment of pastors, as the cases arise.

–Quoted in Abdel Ross Wentz, The Lutheran Church in American History, Second Edition (1933), 328

The Minneapolis Theses (1925) came into being as part of the process of the creation of The American Lutheran Church (1930-1960).  They affirmed the inerrancy of the Bible and asserted the doctrinal content of Lutheran confessions.  Whereas ULCA recognized the Christian character of all churches confessing Christian doctrine, the Minneapolis Theses did not go that far.  No, they recognized the reality that true Christians are present in a range of Christian denominations and stated that unanimous agreement

in the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the confession of the same in word and deed

presupposes ecumenical fellowship.  Church fellowship with non-Lutherans was, in other words, out of the question.  The Minneapolis Theses also condemned secret societies and stated that no Lutheran minister should belong to one.  Furthermore, they insisted, Lutheran clergymen should try to persuade lay members who belonged to any secret society to leave it.

Sodergren and Wendell opposed the Galesburg Rule and the Minneapolis Theses.  In The Augustana Quarterly in 1937 Sodergren protested the “exclusive confessionalism” of the Minneapolis Theses.  He wrote:

In spite of appearance to the contrary, the present generation is deeply religious; but its spirit fails to find in the old forms the body in which it can dwell.  But the reply to this prayer for the means of a daring adventure in faith–the reply of the established order–is only an exaggerated emphasis of the latter, of external observances, and of the old status quo…While the priests of yesterday are looking backward to the past and laboring to conserve its values, the prophets of tomorrow are facing the future and trying to give direction to movements of today.

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 287

At its 1937 convention the Augustana Synod censured and threatened with disciplinary actions some ministers accused of laxity with regard to the Galesburg Rule and the Minneapolis Theses.  This angered Wendell, who published his protest in the September 2, 1937, issue of the Lutheran Companion.  He wrote in part:

Orthodoxy is good.  It means adherence to the truth, and no sane man would willingly surrender that.  But orthodoxy without love is dangerous.  It provides fertile soil for bigotry, hatred, spiritual pride, self-conceit, and a score of other evils which hide the Holy One from the eyes of the world.  It turns men into merciless heresy hunters, the most contemptible vermin on earth.  It aligns us with the scribes and pharisees, the priests and high priests of the time of Jesus.  Nobody ever questioned their orthodoxy, but because it was loveless, it blinded them to His divinity and made it easy for them to spike Him to a cross.  We are not worried about the trumpet calls to orthodoxy which for some reason have begun to blare among us lately, but we do fear that the blare may drown out in our hearts the still small voice which prays for unity and love among all Christ’s disciples.

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 287-288

In the longterm Sodergren and Wendell won the argument, for they and people like them influenced the next generation of leaders of the Augustana Synod.  By the late 1940s work on the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), the joint service book-hymnal of eight Lutheran denominations, including ULCA and the members of the American Lutheran Conference, was underway.  The second American Lutheran Church came into being via the merger of three bodies in 1960.  The Lutheran Church in America formed in 1962 when four denominations united.  The American Lutheran Church expanded by means of a second merger in 1963.  Eight ecclesiastical bodies had become two denominations that used the same service book-hymnal.




Language is about far more than words, for it conveys culture as well as meaning.  This is especially true for those who speak in a language other than the dominant tongue in their nation-state.  A reading of the history of the immigrant churches in the United States reveals examples of ecclesiastical bodies that functioned as both agents of evangelism and of the cultural perpetuation.  Such a reading also informs me of the manners in which many people struggled with assimilation into the dominant American culture.  One might, for example, think of the Dutch immigrants and their descendants in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the German-American Lutherans of various denominations, the Danish-American Lutherans in their two synods (the “Sad Danes” and the “Happy Danes”), and, of course, the Swedish-Americans of the Augustana Synod.  Furthermore, one might recall reading that rampant domestic xenophobia, often expressed via law and violence during World War I, accelerated the pace of the transition to English in all these cases.

Sodergren and Wendell led the pro-English language camp within the Augustana Synod.  Wendell even served as the chairman of the Association of English Churches.  In 1891 the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America, to which the Augustana Synod belonged, founded the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of the Northwest for congregations from the Great Lakes region to the Pacific coast.  The Synod of the Northwest appealed to many Confessional Lutherans who preferred to worship in English.  Ethnic enclave synods generally did a poor job of reaching out to this audience for a while, and many Midwestern and Western Lutherans who preferred to worship in English had to join non-Lutheran congregations.  Over time the geographical span of the Synod of the Northwest shrank due to territorial division.  Despite the necessity of the Synod of the Northwest its existence upset many in Augustana Synod officialdom, for they thought of it as a competitor on their home turf.

Sodergren and Wendell favored providing opportunities for younger Augustana Synod members who wanted to worship in English to do so, without depriving those who favored Swedish-language worship of those services.  Sodergren editorialized in the Lutheran Companion in the July 15, 1911, issue:

No one wishes to rob the old folks of the Swedish….In all our Swedish congregations the old folks are welcome, and will be for years to come, to half of the services, and that the better half–the Sunday morning service.  And no Christian will starve to death on this and a weekly meeting….But if we are considerate toward the old people and respect their admitted rights, we should also be equally careful not to refuse to give our young people their spiritual support.  We should be as concerned about their spiritual welfare….To have English services only once a month, or even every other Sunday evening, is almost worse than nothing.  It hurts the Swedish, and is of no conserving value to the English element.  It is merely a poor excuse….This plausible (?) selfishness which makes a language an end instead of a means is not a good conservative policy if our Synod is to live….It will not do to sacrifice souls on the altar of nationality.  Our congregations have a far higher calling than to be a mere “National-forening….”

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 245

He wrote in the August 30, 1913, issue:

Dear old Swedish language!  We all love it–but some of us don’t like it.  We feel for it a sense of loyalty and respect akin to what good children naturally feel for their parents.  Nevertheless, a new generation, born and reared far from the doughty little kingdom which once was the land of our fathers, is prone to conform to the customs of the country in which it finds itself, and to speak the language which is generally employed as a medium for the expression of thought.  The children, the young people (and ever so many old people), almost invariably use the English language in ordinary conversation….God wants us all to be saved.  Why not tell His message in an as natural and intelligible a manner as possible; in Swedish to those who think in Swedish, in English to those who think in English….What would we suggest!  That our children be taught Christianity by means of the English language, even in our Swedish congregations…None of us are in a hurry to “get rid of the Swedish,” but we are “in a hurry” to preserve these souls with or without Swedish.  And if that can be done by means of the English language we are guilty of murder or at least criminal neglect in failing to anticipate and make due provision.  The Companion stands for neither Swedish nor English.  It stands for the cause of Christ and the welfare of souls.  If shortsighted language-conservatism should prove to stand in the way of Christ and the future of our Church, we have no choice but to do as Luther did:  let the Latin go and insist on using the German in the interest of the common people.  They are or more value than much Latin.  The word of God is not Swedish; the Church of Christ is not Swedish; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not Swedish.  Nor are any or all of them English.  It is not a matter of language….

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 245-246

Both Sodergren and Wendell served on the committee that crafted The Hymnal and Order of Service (1925).  The Augustana Synod, recognizing the necessity of an English-language hymnal in 1895, ordered work on what became the Hymnal and Order of Service for Churches and Sunday-Schools (1901).  That volume, with 355 hymns, was always supposed to be an interim hymn book.  Work on the revised hymnal started in 1910 and lasted for 15 years.  The hymnal of 1925 offered 670 hymns.  Wendell, who joined the hymnal committee in 1920, wrote a paraphrase of Psalm 139:23-24 for the project.




Sodergren became involved in another controversy within the Augustana Synod.  The denomination controlled the Augustana College and Theological Seminary, Rock Island, Illinois.  Sodergren, at least as early as 1925, sided with those who wanted to separate the college from the seminary, leaving the latter under denominational control and the former with a separate board and president.  The debate, which became quite bitter, dated to 1886.  Sodergren perceived that the only way to preserve the unity of the Augustana Synod was to divorce the college and the seminary.  As the college expanded faster than the seminary the latter received fewer necessary resources than the former.  Other issues in the debate included mere conservatism and the conflict of vested interests.  The separation of the college and the seminary finally occurred in 1948.

Sodergren wrote at least 16 books; I found listings for that many at WorldCat.  Aside from Fundamentalists and Modernists (1925) he wrote a book of Bible stories for use in Sunday schools, two courses in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, and commentaries on various books of the Bible, as well as other works of theology.

Sodergren’s last residence was in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  There he died on November 2, 1949.  He was 79 years old.




Wendell, who received a Doctor of Literature degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, also received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Augustana College and Theological Seminary in 1939.  He wrote at least eight books; I found listings for that many at WorldCat.  Some of those were literary works.  There was, of course, The Larger Vision (1923), about science and religion.  Wendell also wrote books of church history.

Wendell, who sat on the board of directors of the Augustana Book Concern, was, despite the attempt of one ultraconservative to have him declared a heretic and removed from the denomination, a widely respected and much-loved man.  He died at Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 18, 1950.  He was 84 years old.




The names of these two saints came to my attention a year ago, when I was reading Augustana Heritage.  Sodergren and Wendell impressed me so much that I made a few notes about them and filed them away for future reference.  A few days ago I took many more notes then began to draft this post.

The legacies of Sodergren and Wendell can teach one several valuable lessons.  Among them is that, much of the time, one should stand within tradition and resist both the fetish of ossifying it and the temptation to dispose of it in favor of something new and shiny.  Tradition for its own sake is no virtue; the final words of a dying institution are:

We’ve never done it that way before!

Likewise, change for its own sake is no virtue either.  One risks throwing out the proverbial baby with the equally proverbial bath water.  As much as holding on to a certain tradition can constitute resisting social justice, overturning helpful traditions is destructive also.

Sodergren and Wendell understood that well.






Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of knowledge,

and to another the insight of wisdom, and to another the steadfastness of faith.

We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servants

Carl J. Sodergren and Claus A. Wendell,

and we pray that by their teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge

of the truth we have seen in your Son Jesus, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-7 or Wisdom 7:7-14

Psalm 119:89-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16 or 1 Corinthians 3:5-11

John 17:18-23 or Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 61


Trinity Sunday, Year C   Leave a comment

Above:  A Tango Postcard

May God Have This Dance?


MAY 22, 2016

JUNE 16, 2019


The Assigned Readings for This Sunday:

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Psalm 8 or Canticle 13 from The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration for Trinity Sunday:

Prayer of Confession for Trinity Sunday:

Prayer of Dedication for Trinity Sunday:

Alta Trinita Beata:

Trinitarian Benedictions:

Prayer of Confession for Trinity Sunday:

Ancient of Days:

Thou, Whose Almighty Word:


Wisdom literature, from Proverbs to Sirach/Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon, personifies divine wisdom as feminine.  Much of this imagery influenced the prologue to the Gospel of John, in which Jesus is the Logos of God; the Logos resembles divine wisdom.  Thus, in Proverbs 8, we read a premonition of the Second Person of the Trinity.  The  Second and Third Persons come up in Romans 5 and John 16.  And both possible responses address the First Person of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a fine example of theology.  The doctrine has no single, definitive passage of scripture to attest to it.  Rather, it is the product of deep Christian thinkers who pondered a number of passages carefully and put them together.  Some professing Christians disapprove of that process of doctrine-making; it is, to them, like sausage-making in the simile of laws and sausages:  it is better not to know how they are made.  But that comparison does not apply to sound doctrine, a category in which I file the Trinity.  Those who object to the process of sound doctrine-making are living ironies, for they are more attached to such doctrines than I am.  Yet the process by which the Church itself–a human institution–arrived at them–offends such people.  Such doctrines, they prefer to imagine, fall from Heaven fully formed.  Karen Armstrong is correct:

…fundamentalism is ahistorical….

A History of God:  The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), page xx

(I, alas, have had some unfortunate conversations with some rather doctrinaire and less than intellectually and historically inquisitive professing Christians.  They have rendered me even more allergic to Fundamentalism than I already was.)

I propose that the best way to understand as much as possible about God is through poetry and other art forms.  We humans, I have heard, danced our religion before we thought it.  And the doctrine of the Trinity is at least as much artistry as it is theology.  The nature of God is a mystery to embrace and experience, not to attempt to understand.  So, O reader, dance with God, who seeks you as a partner on the dance floor.