The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a new, but old denomination. Although the ELCA came into existence in 1988, the roots of Lutheranism go back to 1517, and in fact when Martin Luther placed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg this denomination came into beginning as the first Protestant Reformation. This thesis, the invention of the printing press, the trial of Martin Luther in Worms, and the re-discovery that salvation comes through faith alone and not by works sparked a movement in Europe creating new churches and denominations. Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, Menno Simons and others were affected by Luther’s new theology and spread its impact throughout the world.
In the late 1980’s a survey found 79% of Lutheran Church in America clergy, 62% of American Lutheran Church clergy, and 58% of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod clergy surveyed agreed that “a merger of all Lutheran groups in the United States into one organization is desirable.” After much discussion, on This January 1, 1988, a formal merger came between the Lutheran Church in America, American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. Missouri Synod Lutherans who were part of the discussion pulled out at the last minute worried the new denomination would be too diverse.
The ELCA is a diverse church body, becoming more so every day. This church is committed to growing in diversity and strengthening its global, ecumenical and interfaith relationships around the world. As can be imagined when different churches merge, there have been a number of disputes over social and doctrinal issues between clergy and churches.
This has resulted in some divisions and factions which continue to discuss social justice, confessional Lutheranism, charismatic revivalism, and biblical inerrancy. Independent factions within the organization call themselves: independent organizations such as ReconcilingWorks, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, Lutheran Coalition For Renewal (Lutheran CORE), Society of the Holy Trinity, WordAlonenetwork, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, Alliance of Renewal Churches and the Order of Lutheran Franciscans.
Diversity is driven by the fact that Evangelical Lutheran Church in America place great emphasis on freedom of faith. This in spirit is similar to what drove Martin Luther. Luther was tormented by the demand for righteousness before God. in the midst of that struggle with God, the message of the Scriptures became clear, like a long-shut door opening wide. When he realized that a “merciful God justifies us by faith … I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
What Luther discovered is the freedom of Christians trusting God’s mercy in Christ. As he later wrote, “Faith is God’s work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God. This faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that believers would stake their lives on it a thousand times.” The freedom discovered by Martin Luther has led to a freedom within the ELCA, each church of this denomination will have it’s own uniqueness; each church will be a little different.
However, a Lutheran church is allowed to stray only so far from it’s foundation and founder. Churches of this denomination are tied to three historic ecumenical creeds: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These creeds originate from the earliest centuries of the Christian church’s history, a time when theological and philosophical questions about the identity of Jesus were widely debated among Christians. All three creeds affirm that God is fully present in Jesus, that Jesus Christ is both God and human (not a semi-divine or superhuman creature that is neither). These three creeds are called ecumenical because they are all accepted and used by the overwhelming majority of the world’s Christians. All three are affirmed in the Lutheran confessional writings and in the ELCA’s governing documents.
Lutherans don’t say “It doesn’t matter what you believe, just so you life right.” Their way of faith explains right living is a byproduct of right believing. The Society of the Holy Trinity reminds Lutherans that the Lord’s Word and the Son’s Cross should stir and sustain Lutheran pastors to be faithful carriers and reflectors of the Lord’s Life. The Lord’s Word come through the Scriptures and impacts members at Baptism. It continues to stream into congregant’s lives through the Lord’s Supper and Forgiveness. Through the practice of prayer and worship on a daily and weekly basis, the Word continues to make its way into the church’s life and for the sake of the world’s people. The Word is most visibly expressed in the Son’s Cross which breaks the world’s life apart and sets people within the Life bursting from his Resurrection. This is why, in a time of doctrinal confusion and moral uncertainty, we encourage and support one another in remaining faithful to the promises spoken at ordination into the church’s ministry.
The Lutheran Church began in a blaze of doctrine. Martin Luther discovered from Romans 1:17 Salvation is through faith alone, not works, not obedience to a Pope, and certainly not through payment of indulgences. Martin Luther placed much importance on the liturgy, the mass and the Eucharist. He revised the worship service to carry his theology, and the Apostle Paul’s, into every worship service. Teaching and theology were the most important aspect of Luther’s ministry as he explained to the people where the Catholic Church had erred, that salivation comes through faith and each and every believer is a priest.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the largest denomination of Lutherans in the United States. Their publishing house is called Augsburg Fortress, and is dedicated to provide top quality Christian materials that communicate the Gospel, enhance faith, and enrich the life of the Church and the communities Each purchase is said to give support to the ministry through reinvesting all profits into the development of new quality ministry resources for the church.