But hidden in the story was this: the 3.7 million-member church. . . There is it in black and white and official, right from the denomination itself. Just 3.7M members still counted as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America! So why am I, a member of a church body with 2.3M members fixating upon this statistic? When this church body began with great fanfare, it boasted 5.3M members. Now, 27 years later, they have bleed off a third of their membership. Who even knows what else hides behind this current statistic of 3.7M baptized members. The ELCA has nearly dropped a church body almost the size of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Now, I am not suggesting that the picture of Lutheranism in other jurisdictions of all that much rosier but in the case of the ELCA perhaps half of this number came in the past several years following the 2009 CWA decision to mainstream GLBT folks into all positions of membership, leadership, and clergy. Literally two church bodies have been born of this split (the North American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ). This from what was supposed to end Lutheran divisions and become the blueprint of unity to thrust the churches forward.
My point is not to pile on the ELCA and its sad story. My point is that a church body thrives only when its people are fully united in doctrine and practice and not through much celebrated diversity. Reconciled diversity lasts only as long as the other options are less appealing that staying where you do not feel at home. At some point the ELCA was abound to divide. Compromises that were fashioned together to glue an ALC, LCA, and AELC together could not weather the major storms of mission, ministry ecumenical agendas, and social justice positions that left the past behind in the dust of a church body scrambling to find a new identity.
The warning is clear -- commonly agreed upon and confessed doctrine and uniformity of practice do not prevent unity but make unity possible and even strong. We hear over and over again that we don't need doctrine and practice police enforcing rules upon unwilling congregations. We all agree on this. But what we do need are pastors and parishes vigorously teaching and confessing the common faith and willing to flaunt the direction of the world to practice this unity. We have nothing to fear from our Lutheran confessional identity and our willingness to practice in conformity with that confessional identity. Being the Lutherans we claim to be is our best and biggest hope for the future. Authentic to the Scriptures and to our Confessions, we know both the questions and the answers that the world is yearning to know. This is the robust Lutheranism which, when it has practiced, has thrived and can still be our best hope for the future, for our children, and for our grandchildren.
We are surrounded by the examples of once vibrant church bodies who have forgotten who they were and now have nothing left to celebrate but a diversity that does not even honestly reflect the statistics of who they are now -- church bodies who once produced faithful confessors and vibrant preaching now are left to mirror the stale old politically correct social advocacy of the liberal left. We will all end up there unless we rediscover our confessional heritage and embrace this with the confidence the world longs to hear and know. The sad truth is that Lutheranism was much more united in our divisions of the 1950s than the pale imitation of unity that passes for the wilting flower of a 27 year old merger and an LCMS that sometimes seems unsure what kind of Lutheran it wants to be.
Could it that the largest Lutheran Church in the United States is the U2BLs -- those who used to be Lutherans and fell away? Think about it...