There are some who believe that any mention of the ELCA on this blog or other media by those in the LCMS is simply ELCA bashing. As you can quickly tell from some of the comments, that is what some want to do and do at every opportunity. That is NOT my point. When I post things about the ELCA there are a number of reasons for it and none of them has to do with bashing this church body.
To the vast majority of Americans, there is no understanding of the alphabet soup by which different Lutheran groups are known. So when any Lutheran group makes news, it is presumed that this is true for every Lutheran. Missouri seems to just about never make the news and when it does, the news is generally not flattering. Perhaps some in the ELCA cringe at the thought that they may be painted with the broad brush of that less than positive picture of Lutheranism. The ELCA is always in the news -- in part due to the fact that it is substantially larger but also do its socially and ecumenically aggressive posture. Part of why I post is to remind folks that the ELCA is not the only group to wear the name Lutheran and to encourage people to get to know the confessional Lutherans who seem positively dull in comparison with the ELCA.
Part of the reason I post is because we all have families and friend in other Lutheran bodies and in many cases they do not seem to be all that different from us. We tend to judge churches anecdotally rather than by their creed, confession, and practice. I have family in the ELCA and they are good people. You have family in the ELCA and they are good people. But who the ELCA is as a church is not defined by whether or not you count friends or family in that body but by the witness of their truth and by the practice shaped by that truth. There is clearly a profound difference between the witness of confessional Lutheran bodies and the ELCA, a huge gulf in the social pronouncements, and a great divide in terms of what is enough to share Holy Communion. It is not all about sex (specifically the ELCA's embrace of the GLBTQ+ agenda) but this is one area in which one group dismisses the clear and unequivocating voice of Scripture and one hears it even when the culture is moving in a very different direction. Churches are to be judged by their confession and practice and not by whether or not you like the people who are that church. I love my friends and family in the ELCA but I am deeply saddened by the stands their church body has taken.
Part of the reason I post about the differences is to remind us of what I said above -- doctrine counts and practice counts. There are many Lutherans in confessional bodies who wonder why we talk so much about doctrine or why we are concerned with practices of neighboring pastors and parishes. It will not do for us to be parochial and to extend our care and concern only for things local. We owe it to ourselves and to those who wear our denominational name with us to be informed about and to work for our faithful witness before the world and together as a church body and the consistent practice of that witness. The old expression was all politics is local. You do not hear that as much as you once did. We should not adopt that with respect to our congregations. It is certainly possible and most likely true that there are conservative and confessional parishes in the ELCA and those in the LCMS who wish we were more like the ELCA. It is not possible to maintain either a parish or a denomination in which such dramatic divides exist and it is not healthy for either. Although I do not harbor much hope for such taking place, I think it would probably be in the best interests of all Lutherans if we were aligned with church bodies that accurately mirror our confession and practice instead of those with which we disagree. People have been saying that might happen for a long time but we are too parochial and too attached to old loyalties to see that happen in my lifetime.
Finally, it is my hope and longing for a real and substantial Lutheran renewal of faith and practice. It is my hope and prayer to see Lutherans drifting toward evangelicalism and Lutherans in sync with mainline Protestantism and Lutherans who are not sure what a Lutheran is to come together around our common Lutheran Confessions and to rediscover and confess anew our Lutheran identity before the world. The vitality of African and other Lutheran groups around the world is testament to the fact that the Reformation witness is not passe. We have just be too adept at forgetting who we are and we have learned too well to envy others while diminishing our own strengths and blessings.
To tell you the truth I am sick and tired of being told our best days are behind us. If I hear one more time that the boats are not coming anymore (at least the ones that contributed in part to Lutheran growth in the last 50-100 years), I think I will scream. There is a vast mission field around us in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and shopping areas. Most of the folks we know are not active church goers. The same problems of sin and death cry out for the same answer in Christ as they did in every generation before us and as they will in every generation to come. Once we Lutherans knew who we were and we spoke that confidently before the world and long after the boats stopped, we continued to grow through the faithful Word. Until we learn that again, we may end up fighting over the same small slice of the population pie, remembering the past and fearing the future, and reshuffling the Lutheran alphabets that identify our groups. But that would be a betrayal not only to the Lord but also to those who passed on the faith to us. We can mark our differences faithfully and we should. We can hope for a time in which we are more united in doctrine and practice than we are today and we should. But we cannot wait for that day to come before we work to strengthen the faithful witness to Christ crucified and risen to those around us. That is exactly what I have tried to do here in Clarksville. We are liturgically and educationally deliberate in our Lutheran identity (we are not Lutheran lite in any way shape or form). At the same time, we continue to welcome non-Lutherans who seek to know Christ and the fruits of His redeeming work through the vibrant means of grace that are source and summit of our baptismal calling and our common life.