The Galesburg Rule - A Contemporary Interpretation

This past week, the following papers were presented at the International Free Winkel meeting at Shepherd's Hill at the Crossroads in St. John's, North Dakota.  The documents are a contemporary interpretation of The Galesburg Rule.  What's The Galesburg Rule?  Thankfully there is a podcast from Steadfast Throwdown and an Introductory Article to help give you a context to this subject and this rule.  Enjoy this contemporary interpretation!

Introduction: A Brief History
Charles Krauth
“Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran ministers only.  Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants only.”

The thesis stated above is known as the summary for the Galesburg Rule of 1875.  The Galesburg Rule, as it became known, is a result of a series of theses on pulpit and altar fellowship by Charles Porterfield Krauth. 

Krauth, who was the main leader of the General Council in the nineteenth-century and an ardent defender of Confessional Lutheranism, had serious concerns about departure of the Lutheran Church in America from her Lutheran Confessions.  Furthermore, he was concerned with the apparent amalgamation of American Protestant tenets with Lutheran theology.  Finally, he was concerned with opening altars and pulpits without restriction.  In short, he wanted the influence of Reformed Churches removed and a return to Confessional Lutheranism for Lutheran Churches.

Was there a reason for Krauth to be concerned though?  Yes, there most definitely was. CLICK HERE to read more.

Part 1: The Neighbor of American Evangelicalism
It has been said before that America is a melting pot of spirituality, any cross-country trip will prove this as many types of churches dot the map, some with steeple rising high above the tree line others with no steeples but rather modern signage or sleek architecture.  If we focus in on the Trinitarian tradition though, Roman Catholicism as well as the Eastern Orthodoxy stand at the one side of the spectrum, while at the other side of the spectrum one will find a plethora of Reformed/American Evangelical Churches.  In the middle of this spectrum one will find the ‘lonely way,’ Lutheranism.  Indeed, Lutheranism in America finds itself being the lonely way as Rome/Orthodoxy neighbors it on the one side and Reformed/American Evangelicalism neighbors it on the other side. CLICK HERE to read more.

Part 2: The Encroachment of the Neighbors
In my first year of seminary I can recall hearing one of my professors, in the spirit of The Galesburg Rule, criticize the use of Pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, in churches of the Reformation.  At the time, hearing this critical assessment, I was deeply angered.  I thought that his actions were severely inappropriate and that it was not proper to disparage another fellow Christian who was simply attempting to promote the Christian faith.  From my reasoning, the presence of a Christian voice was better than the absence of a Christian voice and it was certainly better than a voice speaking contrary to Christian truths.  Even though my professor took the time to show me the countless errors in Warren’s book, I still concluded that a faulty Christian voice was better than no Christian voice at all.  Besides, I felt that is was rude, insincere, and un-ecumenical to criticize those within the Christian sphere; we are all on the same team after all trying to do our best for God.  CLICK HERE to read more.

Part 3: What Happens When the Neighbors Move In?
Using the metaphor from part one, Lutheranism is positioned in between the two neighbors of American Evangelicalism and Rome/Orthodoxy.  With that stated, what happens when Lutherans begin to redecorate the exterior of their houses to resemble neighboring houses, specifically American Evangelicals?  What happens when American Evangelical practices move in and upon Lutheran practices, namely the liturgy and the sacraments?

It is taught among many American Evangelicals that this is not a matter of concern, for practices (i.e., methods, the exterior of the house) are neutral, but the message typically stays the same (i.e., theology, interior of the house).  In other words, it is often taught that the message needs to stay constant while the method (i.e., liturgy, practice, etc…) can be flexible.  Thus, according to this logic, a Confessional Lutheran Church should be able to redecorate the exterior of the house (i.e., change its practices) without changing the contents inside the house.  Indeed, it is believed and taught among some that methods are neutral (i.e., they don’t matter) and can change.  If this is the case, then the implications of The Galesburg Rule do not speak to the liturgy and practices of the church, but only to its theology.  However, what if methods and practices are not neutral?  What if there isn’t a division between doctrine and practice?  What if practice is not neutral?  CLICK HERE to read more.

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