Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Classification Protestant
Orientation Mainline Lutheran
Theology Combination of Old and Neo- Lutheranism with Confessing Movement, Evangelical Catholic, High Church, Haugean, Pietist, charismatic, progressive, Christian left, Christian feminism, some Wesleyan and moderate to liberal influences
Polity Modified episcopal polity with some powers reserved to the congregation as in congregationalism
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton
Region United States and Caribbean
Headquarters Lutheran Center, Chicago, Illinois
Origin Constituting Convention on April 30, 1987, in Columbus, Ohio,[1] operations began January 1, 1988[2]
Merger of
Congregations 9,320[3]
Members 3,668,034 baptized members (2015),[4]
Missionaries About 150 fully supported, including 9 evangelists[5]
Official website www.elca.org

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a mainline Protestant denomination headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The ELCA officially came into existence on January 1, 1988, by the merging of three Lutheran church bodies. As of 2015, it has approximately 3.7 million baptized members in just over 9,300 congregations.[4] In 2015, Pew Research estimated that 2.1% of the U.S population self-identifies with the ELCA and mainline Lutheranism.[6] It is the seventh-largest religious body[7] and the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States.[8] The next two largest Lutheran denominations are the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) (with approximately 2.1 million members[9]) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) (with approximately 370,000 members).[10] There are also many smaller Lutheran church bodies in the United States, some of which came into being composed of dissidents following the major 1988 merger. The ELCA belongs to the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church, Moravian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.[11]


Lutheranism in the United States
 Lutheranism portal

In 1970, a survey by Strommen et al. found that 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".[12] The ELCA formally came into existence on January 1, 1988, creating the largest Lutheran church body in the United States. The Church is a result of a merger among The American Lutheran Church (ALC) with its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) (centered in New York City, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) (which had earlier withdrawn from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod after 1975), all of which had formally agreed in 1982 to unite after several years of discussions. The ALC and LCA were themselves the product of previous mergers.[13]

The American Lutheran Church

In 1960, the American Lutheran Church, formed 1930 (ALC), the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (UELC), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) merged to form The American Lutheran Church, with the Lutheran Free Church (LFC) joining in 1963. The ALC brought approximately 2.25 million members into the ELCA. Its immigrant heritage came mostly from Germany, Norway, and Denmark. It was the most theologically conservative of the forming bodies, having a heritage of Old Lutheran theology.[14] It joined in fellowship with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and officially held to biblical inerrancy in its constitution, although it seldom enforced it by means of heresy trials and other doctrinal discipline. Its geographic center was in the Upper Midwest, especially Minnesota. Some congregations in the ALC opted not to join the merger and instead formed the American Association of Lutheran Churches.

The Lutheran Church in America

In 1962 the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA), formed 1918, the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC), the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (FELCA), and the Danish American Evangelical Lutheran Church (D-AELC) formed the Lutheran Church in America. The LCA brought approximately 2.85 million members into the ELCA. Its immigrant heritage came mostly from Germany, Sweden, Slovakia, Denmark and Finland. Its demographic focus was on the East Coast (centered on Pennsylvania), with large numbers in the Midwest and some presence in the Southern Atlantic states. There are notable exceptions, but LCA-background churches tend to be more liturgical than ALC-background churches. Its theological orientation ranged from moderately liberal to neo-orthodox, with tendencies toward conservative Pietism in some rural and small-town congregations. Its theology originated in the Neo-Lutheran movement.[14]

The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches

In 1976 the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) was formed from congregations that left the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in a schism precipitated by progressive-traditionalist disputes over higher criticism, academic freedom and ecumenism. Its establishment was precipitated by the controversy at the LCMS's Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri in 1974, which resulted in the formation of a separate institution "Concordia Seminary-in-Exile" known as "Seminex". The AELC brought approximately 100,000 members into the ELCA. Its immigrant heritage came mostly from Germany; the complexion of its theology generally resembled that of the LCA, as the dissenting former "moderate" faction of the LCMS.


Then-Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson speaking at the inauguration of a new Augsburg College president in 2006

The ELCA is headed by a Presiding Bishop, who is elected by the Churchwide Assembly for a term of six years (it was a four-year term until 1995). To date, four people have been elected to the position of Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. Herbert W. Chilstrom served as the first Presiding Bishop from 1987 to 1995. He was followed by H. George Anderson (1995–2001), who had previously been the President of Luther College. The third Presiding Bishop was Mark Hanson, who is the past president of the Lutheran World Federation. Hanson began his tenure as Bishop of the Church in 2001 and was re-elected in August 2007 for a second term. Elizabeth Eaton was elected Presiding Bishop in August 2013 and took office on November 1, 2013.

In addition, there is the body of the Church Council composed of representatives elected for a stated number of years from the various synods which meet regularly with legislative powers in between sessions of the Churchwide Assemblies.

The Conference of Bishops is formed of the elected synodical bishops from each of the constituent synods and is often consulted by the Presiding Bishop and the Church Council.

A map of the nine ELCA regions. Note that the Slovak Zion Synod falls under Region 7 and the Bahamas and the Caribbean under Region 9.

The ELCA is divided into 65 synods, one of which is non-geographical (the Slovak Zion Synod) and 64 regional synods in the United States and the Caribbean, each headed by a synodical bishop and council; these synods are in turn grouped into nine regions.[15] Within the ELCA the term synod refers to the middle judicatory, which is referred to in some other denominations as "presbyteries", "districts", "conferences" or "dioceses" (the most ancient and traditional term). In other Christian churches, the term "synod" is used for a meeting or conference of ministers such as priests or bishops of a diocese, province (region) or nation or in some Protestant churches as the term for their annual governing convention. Some Evangelical Lutheran denominations overseas continue to use the ancient church title of "diocese".

Outside of the United States, ELCA also has congregations in the Caribbean region (Bahamas which is combined with Florida in one synod, Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and one congregation in the border city of Windsor, Ontario, a member of the Slovak Zion Synod. Before 1986, some of the congregations that form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada were part of the ELCA's predecessor churches.

Within the church structure are divisions addressing many programs and ministries. Among these are support for global mission, outdoor ministries, campus ministries, social ministries, and education. They include the Lutheran Peace Fellowship, Lutheran Women's Caucus, Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and the Lutheran Youth Organization ELCA Youth Gathering (formerly known in predecessor denominations as the Luther League). They cooperate with an ecumenical inter-Lutheran college/university student organization known as the Lutheran Student Movement-USA founded in 1922 and reorganized in 1969. The denominational publishing house is Augsburg Fortress, and the official denominational magazine is The Lutheran. ELCA predecessor bodies established twenty-six colleges and universities now affiliated with the ELCA and a large number of associated theological seminaries, some of which are associated with neighboring universities or theological consortia.

Most local congregations are legally independent non-profit corporations within the state where they are located that own their own property. Actual governing practice within the congregation ranges from congregational voters' assemblies or annual and special congregational meetings to elder-and-council-led, to congregations where the senior pastor wields great, if informal, power (more common in larger churches).[16]

Churchwide Assemblies

The Churchwide Assembly meets biennially in odd-numbered years and consists of elected lay and ordained voting members; between meetings of the Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA Church Council governs the denomination, along with the advisory Conference of Bishops. At the Assembly, elections are held for general officers of the Church such as the Presiding Bishop, Vice President and Secretary, Budgets are adopted, Social Statements examined and approved and various other church business enacted along with reports made and ecumenical visitors acknowledged. A constitutional amendment passed in 2011 that will switch it to a triennially meeting after 2013. In both predecessor churches, the Assembly was known as the "General Convention" in The ALC and the "Biennial Convention" in the LCA.

1987 Columbus, Ohio (ELCA Constituting Convention)
1989 Chicago, Illinois
1991 Orlando, Florida
1993 Kansas City, Missouri
1995 Minneapolis, Minnesota
1997 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1999 Denver, Colorado
2001 Indianapolis, Indiana
2003 Milwaukee, Wisconsin
2005 Orlando, Florida
2007 Chicago, Illinois
2009 Minneapolis, Minnesota
2011 Orlando, Florida
2013 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
2016 New Orleans, Louisiana



Lutheranism is associated with the German reformer Martin Luther, with its official confessional writings found in the Book of Concord. The ELCA accepts the unaltered Augsburg Confession (not the variata) as a true witness to the Gospel. The ELCA is less conservative than the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) or the even more conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), the second and third largest Lutheran bodies in the United States respectively.[17] Although having a sizable conservative minority, most ELCA Lutherans are theologically moderate-to-liberal. Most other Lutheran bodies in the U.S. hold more strictly to Confessional Lutheranism, Pietism, or a combination of the two, than the ELCA does.

Differences within the ELCA

The ELCA has many differences of opinion among its constituent congregations, which have caused a number of disputes over social and doctrinal issues. In part, this is due to the fact that it assimilated three different Lutheran church bodies, each with its own factions and divisions, thus inheriting old intra-group conflicts while creating new inter-group ones. Differences on issues usually reflect theological disputes between various parties.

The ELCA is a very broad denomination. It contains groups of socially conservative or liberal factions with emphases on various topics such as liturgical renewal,[18][19] confessional Lutheranism, charismatic revivalism, moderate to liberal theology, and liberal activism. The socially liberal segment of the ELCA is represented by independent organizations such as Lutherans Concerned/North America, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus. A socially conservative Lutheran organization, once within, and now departed from the ELCA opposed to the denomination's stance on openly-gay clergy is the Lutheran Coalition For Renewal (Lutheran CORE). Adherents of Evangelical Catholicism practice High Church Lutheranism and include the members of the Society of the Holy Trinity. Those oriented toward Confessional Lutheranism, Evangelicalism, or an admixture of the two include the WordAlone network and those involved with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. Members of the Charismatic Movement include congregations and pastors associated with the Alliance of Renewal Churches. Additionally, there has been a recent growth in Franciscan spirituality in the ELCA through the Order of Lutheran Franciscans.


The ELCA constitution states: "This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life."[20]

ELCA clergy tend not to subscribe to a doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, but see validity in various scholarly methods of analysis to help in understanding the Bible.[21] This is in concord with most moderate Protestant bodies and in contrast to the LCMS and WELS, which practice the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation.


Like other Lutheran church bodies, the ELCA confesses at least two Sacraments: Communion (or the Eucharist) and Holy Baptism (including infant baptism). Confession and absolution is often included as a Sacrament; however, as it is a return to the forgiveness given in baptism, strictly speaking there are only two sacraments. Guidance on sacramental practices in the ELCA is provided in The Use of the Means of Grace, a statement adopted by the 1997 Churchwide Assembly.[22]

In addition to the two sacraments, ELCA churches also practice acts that are sacramental in character, or sacramentals. These include confirmation, ordination, anointing the sick, confession and absolution, and marriage. Their practice and their view as "minor sacraments" varies between churches of a "high" and "low" church nature.

With respect to the eucharist, the ELCA holds to the Lutheran doctrine of the sacramental union, that is, that Christ's body and blood is truly present "in, with and under" the bread and wine.[23] All communicants orally receive not only bread and wine, but also the same body and blood of Christ that was given for them on the cross.[24] Members of other denominations sometimes refer to this as a belief in consubstantiation. Lutherans, however, reject the philosophical explanation of consubstantiation, preferring to see the presence of the Lord's body and blood as mysterious rather than explainable by human philosophy. The Lutheran belief in the mysterious character of the consecrated bread and wine is more similar to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief than most Protestants. In contrast, most Protestant church bodies doubt or openly deny that the true body and blood of Christ is eaten in the Lord's Supper.

Unlike certain other American Lutheran church bodies, the ELCA practices open communion, permitting all persons baptized in the name of the Trinity with water to receive communion. Some congregations also commune baptized infants similarly to Eastern Orthodox practice. The ELCA encourages its churches to practice the Eucharist at all services, although some churches alternate between non-communion services with those containing the Lord's Supper.

Social issues

The ELCA's stances on social issues are outlined in its Social Statements and Messages.[25] Social Statements, which must be adopted by a two-thirds majority of a Churchwide Assembly, have been adopted on the following topics:

  • Abortion (1991)
  • Church in Society (1991)
  • Death Penalty (1991)
  • Economic Life (1999)
  • Education (2007)
  • Environment (1993)
  • Genetics (2011)
  • Health and Health Care (2003)
  • Human Sexuality (2009)
  • Peace (1995)
  • Race, Ethnicity & Culture (1993)

Role of women

The ELCA ordains women as pastors, a practice that all three of its predecessor churches adopted in the 1970s. Some have become synod bishops. In 2013, Elizabeth Eaton became the first woman to be elected Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. The most recent ELCA hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, includes alternate gender-neutral invocations and benedictions in all settings. All of the psalms and many of the hymns and parts of the liturgy have been altered to remove masculine pronouns referring to God.[26] In 2000, the Cooperative Clergy Study Project surveyed 681 ELCA pastors and found that 95% of ELCA clergy thought that all clergy positions should be open to women, while 2% disagreed.[27]

Augustana Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C. is a "Reconciling in Christ" congregation, meaning they welcome all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ordination of LGBT clergy and blessings of same-sex marriages

On August 21, 2009, the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis voted to allow congregations to call and ordain gays and lesbians in committed monogamous relationships to serve as clergy.[28] By a vote of 559 to 451, delegates approved a resolution declaring that the church would find a way for people in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships" to serve as official ministers. Congregations that do not wish to call these persons to ordained ministry are not required by these policy changes to do so.[29]

In reaction, Lutheran CORE, which opposed the decision, stated that it would, "initiate a process that we hope will lead to a reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism."[30] In February 2010, Lutheran CORE announced that it would secede from the ELCA and form a new denomination to be named the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).[31] As of 2008, 37% of ELCA pastors were found to support same-sex marriage.[32]

The ELCA, in removing sexual orientation as a bar for candidacy in the professional ministry, joined most of its Lutheran sister churches in Europe, including in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Austria.[33] The ELCA is also among a growing number of Christian churches in the United States to make this move.

In contrast, the board of one of the ELCA's partner churches, October 2009, the Evangelical Mekane Yesus Fellowship in North America, voted to declare disunity with the ELCA. A press release stated that the board was no longer "in good conscience" "able to commune and partner with ELCA Church that has willfully disobeyed the word of God and regrettably departed from the clear instructions of the Holy Scriptures" that "marriage is only between a man and a woman."[34] This was followed by the general synod of Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus also breaking links with the ELCA.[34]

In April 2010, The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted revisions to ministry policy documents to bring them in line with the August 2009 vote, as well as adding sections on integrity, substance abuse and addiction.[35] The release noted that the revised ministry policies would be posted on the church's website by the end of April 2010.[35]

Since August 2009, according to the office of the ELCA secretary, over 600 congregations have left the ELCA through January 2011. Income has declined, with a projected income of 48 million in 2011, down from a budgeted 51 million in 2010, and a total budget of 88 million in 2005.[36]

On May 31, 2013, Guy Erwin became the first openly gay man to be chosen bishop in the ELCA when he was elected to a six-year term as bishop of the Southwest California Synod.[37] In 2015, the denomination ordained, officially, the first transgender pastor.[38]

Also in 2015, after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally in the US, the office of the presiding bishop released a letter informing members that each congregation is free to marry same-gender couples or to choose not to do so.[39]

Since 2009 blessings of same-sex marriages are allowed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.[40]

Creation and evolution

The ELCA has not adopted an official position on creation or evolution, but there is general agreement on interpreting the Bible within its historical contexts and applying critical methods of research. In 2000, the Cooperative Clergy Study Project surveyed 681 ELCA pastors and found that 26% of ELCA clergy thought Scientific Creationism should be taught alongside evolution in biology classes, while 57% disagreed.[27]

Reproductive cloning

The ELCA has not yet taken an official position regarding reproductive cloning. However, Task Force on Genetics of the church's "Church in Society" initiative is studying the theological and ethical issues that the world is likely to face in coming years as a result of Genetic Science. The task force has issued a draft report[41] for comment and discussion. The draft statement covers a wide range of topics, from genetic testing to GMOs. A section in this report which has been described by an independent reviewer as "a remarkably nuanced analysis and statement regarding a very complex scientific, social, and religious issue."[42] The task force recommends opposition to reproductive cloning, as almost all religious groups currently do. However, the main theological reasoning is unique. Lewis D. Eigen explains:[42]

The argument they articulate is not the common but weak argument that it would be "offensive to God," "against the will of God" or "man encroaching into God's domain", but they observe that the clone would be denied the dignity of possessing a unique human genotype. This is an extremely interesting argument—that each and every human being has the right to his or her own uniqueness—particularly a unique genotype.

The draft statement further asserts that any clones that might be created should have full acceptance as human beings and access to rites of the church.


The issue of abortion is a matter of contention within the ELCA. In a Social Statement adopted in 1991,[43] the church set out its position on the matter as follows. The ELCA describes itself as "a community supportive of life," and encourages women to explore alternatives to abortion such as adoption. However, the Social Statement asserts that there are certain circumstances under which a decision to end a pregnancy can be "morally responsible." These include cases where the pregnancy "presents a clear threat to the physical life of the woman," situations where "the pregnancy occurs when both parties do not participate willingly in sexual intercourse," and "circumstances of extreme fetal abnormality, which will result in severe suffering and very early death of an infant." Regardless of the reason, the ELCA opposes abortion when "a fetus is developed enough to live outside a uterus with the aid of reasonable and necessary technology." The ELCA opposes "laws that deny access to safe and affordable services for morally justifiable abortions," and "laws that are primarily intended to harass those contemplating or deciding for an abortion." The statement emphasizes the prevention of circumstances leading to abortion, specifically encouraging "appropriate forms of sex education in schools, community pregnancy prevention programs, and parenting preparation classes." In 2000, the Cooperative Clergy Study Project found that one fifth of ELCA clergy favored banning abortion with a constitutional amendment.[44]


The ELCA official statement on "End of Life Decisions", adopted on November 9, 1992, disapproves euthanasia: "We oppose the legalization of physician-assisted death, which would allow the private killing of one person by another. Public control and regulation of such actions would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. The potential for abuse, especially of people who are most vulnerable, would be substantially increased."[45]



ELCA ministers, Richard and Bonnie Jensen

As a Lutheran church body, the ELCA professes belief in the "priesthood of all believers" as reflected in Martin Luther's To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, that all baptized persons have equal access to God and are all called to use their gifts to serve the body of Christ. Some people are called to "rostered ministry", or vocations of church leadership and service. After formation, theological training, and approval by local synods these people are "set aside, but not above" through ordination or commissioning/consecration.[46] More and more ELCA congregations are employing specialized and even general ministers outside of this national oversight. An extensive "Study of Ministry" was embarked upon immediately after the 1988 merger as it became apparent that there were still discordant viewpoints and influences, especially by the pressure for a renewal of the office of deacon and its different manifestations to a more ancient and traditional view predating the Reformation into the earliest days of Christianity. The ELCA currently has four types of rostered ministers:

Pastor (clergy)

An ordained minister is called to the "office of public ministry" of "Word and sacrament" and considered a "steward of the mysteries" of the Church (i.e., the means of grace). Pastors primarily serve congregations, but this role has been expanded to include other forms of ministry as well (e.g., hospital and military chaplains). Pastors are ordinarily trained at one of eight ELCA seminaries located throughout the United States, although there are alternative paths for ordination to serve particular communities in which it is difficult to provide trained leaders or to allow rostering of clergy transferred from other denominations. Pastors generally hold a Bachelor of Arts degree or its equivalent, as well as a four-year master of divinity degree, are required to learn biblical Hebrew and Greek, spent at least a summer doing clinical pastoral education—an intensive program that gives them time to reflect on their pastoral craft, usually in a hospital setting, and are required to complete a one-year internship of full-time service in pastoral ministry. A bishop is a pastor called to serve either a synod or as presiding bishop of the ELCA. A bishop is only a bishop as long as he or she serves in that office and returns to being known simply as a pastor when service as a bishop ends.

Diaconal minister

Diaconal ministers are "ministers of Word and Service" who may serve as a chaplains, youth ministers, or in some aspect of social justice or advocacy work, along with an assisting role in the various church liturgies and services. This is the newest category established by the ELCA. A Diaconal minister is similar to the role performed by permanent deacons in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church (and Anglican Communion) and the United Methodist Church, of which the restoration and revisions of the concepts of the office resulted from reforms initiated in the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. A variety of formation models with education and training were adopted by various programs, synods, diaconate orders and seminaries.


A deaconess is a lay woman, married or single, who serves the church in a variety of ways. Traditionally, deaconesses served in the caring professions as nurses, social workers, or teachers. The office of deaconess, or the female diaconate, was established in several predecessor ELCA bodies beginning in the 1840s under influence from Germany and William Passavant.

Associate in ministry

Serves local congregations, synods or other ministries in a variety of roles as parish administrators, parish musicians, youth ministry leaders, or other positions.


Published in 2006, Evangelical Lutheran Worship is the main hymnal used in congregations. Some congregations, however, continue to use the older Lutheran Book of Worship published by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship in 1978, and some even continue to use the older Service Book and Hymnal (SBH) of 1958 or its antecedent precedent-setting Common Service of 1888 which laid out a traditional American Lutheran liturgy and later was included in subsequent worship books and hymnals of various churches especially The Common Service Book of 1917, adopted by the old United Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor of the LCA to 1962, and The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH-1941) of the LCMS. Many congregations also make use of supplementary resources recently published as well besides those authorized for the LBW by Augsburg-Fortress, Publishers. Many ELCA congregations are classically liturgical churches. Their liturgy is rooted in the Western liturgical tradition, though recent international Lutheran-Orthodox dialog sessions have had some minimal influence on Lutheran liturgy. Because of its use of the Book of Concord of 1580, with the Confessions, documents and beliefs of the Reformers, including the Augsburg Confession of 1530, Luther's Small Catechism of 1529 and the Large Catechism and its retention of many pre-Reformation traditions, such as vestments, feast days and the celebration of the Church Year, the sign of the cross, and the usage of a church-wide liturgy, there are many aspects of the typical ELCA church that are very catholic and traditional in nature. Many Evangelical Lutheran churches use traditional vestments (cassock, surplice, stole for services of the Word or non-Eucharistic liturgies or alb, cincture, stole, chasuble (pastor) or dalmatic (deacon), cope (processions) for Eucharists (Mass, Holy Communion), etc.). On special rare occasions even a bishop's cross/crozier and mitre (bishop's headpiece) have been used to designate the ancient robes and traditions of the Church originating in Roman times of which Luther and his fellow Reformers like Phillip Melancthon considered as "adiaphora" or of permissive use. Since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, most major parts of the ELCA's popular liturgies are worded exactly like the English language Mass of 1970 of the Roman Catholic Church. Many ELCA congregations use informal styles of worship or a blend of traditional and contemporary liturgical forms.

Springing from its revered heritage in the Lutheran Chorale, the musical life of ELCA congregations is just as diverse as its worship. Johann Sebastian Bach, the most famous Lutheran composer and African songs are part of the heritage and breadth of Evangelical Lutheran church music. The musical portion of the Lutheran liturgy includes metrical psalter, metrical responses and hymns. Evangelical Lutheran Worship has ten settings of Holy Communion, for example. They range from plainsong chant, to Gospel, to Latin-style music. Congregations worship in many languages, many of which are represented in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Other books used in ELCA churches include the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), and its supplements: With One Voice, This Far by Faith, and for Latino/Hispanic congregations: Libro de Liturgia y Cántico.

Ecumenical relations

The ELCA is a member of the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and Christian Churches Together and is a "partner in mission and dialog" with the Churches Uniting in Christ (formerly the Consultation on Church Union) formed in 1960.

Full communion

The Church maintains full communion relationships with other member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (which is a communion of 140 autonomous national/regional Lutheran church bodies in 78 countries around the world, representing nearly 66 million Christians) which was reorganized in 1948 from the earlier Lutheran World Convention of 1923. Also the ELCA has established official relationships with other Christian denominations such as the Moravian Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, and The United Methodist Church.

In 2013, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus severed ties, including communion and pulpit fellowship, with the ELCA over the issue of homosexuality.[47]

Roman Catholic Church

On October 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany, the Lutheran World Federation – of which the ELCA is a member – signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Roman Catholic Church. The statement is an attempt to reconcile a historical theological divide between the two faiths. The Declaration also states that the mutual condemnations between 16th century Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church no longer apply to those that have signed onto the document. This was part of a series of "Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues" have been taking place on an official basis every few years with statements and booklets on various theological topics published since 1966.

Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

The differences between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) arise from theological, historical, and cultural factors. The LCMS was briefly in fellowship with the former The American Lutheran Church, one of the ELCA predecessor bodies from 1969 to the early 1980s. Although the denominations cooperate through Lutheran World Relief and some university/college student ministries and military chaplaincy, they are not officially in communion with each other.

When the first Lutheran immigrants came to North America, they started church bodies that reflected, to some degree, the churches they left behind in Europe. Many maintained until the early 20th century their immigrant languages. They sought pastors from the "old country" until patterns for the education of clergy could be developed here. Eventually, seminaries and church colleges were established in many places to prepare pastors to serve congregations.

The earliest predecessor synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was constituted on August 25, 1748, in Philadelphia under the influence of Henry Muhlenberg, known as the "Patriarch of American Lutheranism". It was known as the Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States. The earliest nationwide "synod" or "union of synods" was established in 1820 as the General Synod, followed later by the General Council. The ELCA was created in 1988 by the merging of the 2.85-million-member Lutheran Church in America (1962), 2.25-million-member The American Lutheran Church (1960), and the 100,000-member Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (1978). Previously, the ALC and LCA in the early 1960s came into being as a result of two mergers of eight smaller ethnically-based Lutheran bodies composed of German, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Slovak, Dutch, and others organized over 150 years. Some of these smaller ethnically based bodies previously had ecumenical arrangements involving the Missouri Synod.

The LCMS was established in 1847 by German immigrants fleeing the forced Prussian Union between Lutherans and Reformed church members in European Germany, who later settled in Perry County, Missouri. It grew through immigration, offspring, and church mergers while participating in some, but not all of the dialogues, controversies, and compromises which affected the various predecessors of the ELCA during the 19th and 20th Centuries. In the mid-1970s the Seminex controversy at their Concordia Seminary in St. Louis over use of historical-critical biblical study led to the formation of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, later one of the predecessor bodies of the ELCA. The LCMS is the second largest Lutheran church body in North America with 2.1 million adherents.

The ELCA tends to be more involved in ecumenical endeavors than the LCMS, which prohibits its clergy from worshiping in ecumenical gatherings. The ELCA is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA. The LCMS rejects these as being unionist.

Both the LCMS and the ELCA have policies relating to clergy sexual misconduct. Perry C. Francis, a former ELCA pastor turned professor, along with psychology professor Tracy D. Baldo, published the results of their 1994 study of clergy sexual misconduct in the journal Pastoral Psychology. Out of 270 ELCA and 117 LCMS clergy surveyed, 13.7% of ELCA clergy and 4.3% of LCMS clergy admitted to sexual misconduct with another person since they began their ministry.[48]

Results from the Pew Research Center U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 2008:[49]

Pew Survey Results by Denomination LCMSELCA
Number of adults surveyed out of total of 35,556: 588 869
Percent of adults in the United States: 1.4% 2.0%
Percent of adult Protestants in the United States: 2.7% 3.8%
Do you believe in God or a universal spirit? Absolutely Certain: 84% 77%
Fairly Certain: 12% 19%
Do not believe in God: 1% 0%
Don't Know/Refused/Other: 1% 1%
The Bible Word of God to be taken literally word for word: 42% 23%
Word of God, but not literally true word for word/Unsure if literally true: 39% 48%
Book written by men, not the word of God: 15% 20%
Don't Know/Refused/Other: 4% 9%
Abortion Abortion should be legal in all cases: 16% 18%
Abortion should be legal in most cases: 35% 42%
Abortion should be illegal in most cases: 32% 26%
Abortion should be illegal in all cases: 13% 6%
Don't know/Refused: 5% 7%
Interpretation of Religious Teachings There is only ONE true way to interpret the teachings of my religion: 28% 15%
There is MORE than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion: 68% 82%
Neither/Both Equally: 1% 1%
Don't Know/Refused: 3% 2%
Homosexuality Homosexuality should be accepted: 44% 56%
Homosexuality should be discouraged: 47% 33%
Neither/Both Equally: 4% 3%
Don't Know/Refused: 5% 3%

Comparison to LCMS in ELCA's point of view according to the Honoring Our Neighbor's Faith[50] These conclusions are not agreed upon by the WELS or LCMS.

1 Believe in triune God Same
2 Accept Lutheran Confessions as true teachings of biblical faith Same
3 Believe that God comes to us through the Word and the sacraments Same
4 Teach justification by grace through faith Same
5 Believe that the Bible should not be subject to higher critical methods Many within the ELCA believe that the Bible can speak effectively through the use of higher critical study.
6 Believe that the Bible restricts women from certain church positions including ordained ministry Believes the Bible permits, even encourages, full participation by women in the life of the church
7 High degree of doctrinal agreement necessary before fellowship is possible Agreement on a more basic level is sufficient for fellowship.


Results from the Pew Research Center U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 2008:[51]

Demographic Results for 2008ELCALCMSTotal Population
Age 18-29 8% 11% 20%
30-49 36% 32% 39%
50-64 29% 31% 25%
65+ 27% 26% 16%
Marital Status Never Married 11% 11% 19%
Married 63% 60% 54%
Living with Partner 3% 5% 6%
Divorced/Separated 10% 11% 12%
Widowed 13% 13% 8%
Children at home under 18 No Children 70% 72% 65%
One Child 11% 11% 13%
Two Children 13% 10% 13%
Three Children 5% 5% 6%
Four or more Children 1% 2% 3%
Race White (non-Hispanic) 97% 95% 71%
Black (non-Hispanic) 1% 2% 11%
Asian (non-Hispanic) 1% 1% 3%
Other/Mixed (non-Hispanic) 1% 1% 3%
Latino 1% 1% 12%
Region Northeast 19% 7% 19%
Midwest 51% 64% 23%
South 16% 16% 36%
West 14% 13% 22%
Gender Male 44% 47% 48%
Female 56% 53% 52%
Level of Education Less than High School 6% 9% 14%
Graduated High School 38% 38% 36%
Some College 26% 25% 23%
Graduated from College 19% 18% 16%
Post-graduate 11% 9% 11%
Family Income Less than $30,000 24% 24% 31%
$30,000-$49,999 24% 20% 22%
$50,000-$74,999 21% 20% 17%
$75,000-$99,999 15% 18% 13%
$100,000 or more 17% 17% 18%


Over 500,000 people have left the ELCA since the church's human sexuality decision in 2009.[52] Approximately 700 congregations have voted to withdraw from the ELCA, representing about 7% of its 2009 congregational membership. The ELCA currently has a baptized membership of 3,668,034 people.[3] In 2015, Pew Research estimated that 1.4% of the U.S population, or roughly 4.4 million adherents, identify with the ELCA, and another .7%, or 2.2 million adherents, identify with mainline Lutheranism in general.[6] Today, the ELCA has approximately 9,320 congregations.[3]

See also


  1. ELCA Constituting Convention
  2. ELCA Family History 1900s
  3. 1 2 3 http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/ELCA-Facts
  4. 1 2 "ELCA Facts". ELCA.org.
  5. David Neff. "'It's Not About the Past'". ChristianityToday.com.
  6. 1 2 "Religious Landscape Study". pewforum.org. Pew Research. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  7. "NCC's 2010 Yearbook chronicles church trends". WFN. February 12, 2010.
  8. "Quick Facts". ELCA. Retrieved December 13, 2007.
  9. LCMF Fact Sheet The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
  10. "WELS ANNUAL REPORT 2015". Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  11. "Full Communion Partners". ELCA.org. Retrieved 2016-05-01.
  12. For laity, the figures were 70% LCA, 70% ALC, and 62% LCMS. Including clergy and laity, 4,745 Lutheran adults between the ages of 15 and 65 were surveyed. See Merton P. Strommen et al., A Study of Generations (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1972), p. 283.
  13. See Lowell Almen, One Great Cloud of Witnesses, (Minneapolis:Augsburg Fortress, 1997) p.9-12 for a brief recounting of the formation of the ELCA; or the Roots of the ELCA Archived April 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. is available online (retrieved March 27, 2007)
  14. 1 2 Nelson, E. Clifford. The Lutherans in North America. Revised ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1980. p. 509
  15. For further information about the ELCA's structure and organization, see 2005 ELCA Constitution (pdf document, retrieved March 27, 2007)
  16. See the Model Constitution for Congregations (retrieved March 27, 2007) - especially Chapter 5 "Powers of the Congregation" and Chapter 7 "Property Ownership".
  17. See also http://archive.elca.org/questions/, http://archive.elca.org/communication/brief.html and http://archive.elca.org/communication/faith.html
  18. "Institute of Liturgical Studies". Valpo.edu. Valparaiso University. 2013-07-18. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
  19. Cimino, Richard. Lutherans Today, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2003, 81-101.
  20. For more information on the history and current documents of the ELCA, look at other resources linked to the "About the ELCA" section of the [ELCA] http://www.elca.org Web site. See the series of essays, "With Confidence in God's Future" for more on ELCA's ecumenical outlook. Get it in [Word]http://archive.elca.org/communication/WithConfidence.doc, or [PDF]http://archive.elca.org/communication/WithConfidence.pdf format.
  21. See The Bible on the ELCA website or Higher Criticism in the Christian Cyclopedia.
  22. http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Learning-Center/The-Use-of-the-Means-of-Grace.aspx Archived October 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article 8, The Holy Supper, paragraph 38.
  24. Cf. unaltered Augsburg Confession, Article 10: Of the Lord's Supper.
  25. "Faith and Society". ELCA.org.
  26. ELCA/ELCiC Celebrate New Hymnal. The Lutheran Hedgehog 1(5). Sept.-October 2006. p 6.
  27. 1 2 "Summary - The Cooperative Clergy Study Project - Data Archive - The Association of Religion Data Archives".
  28. Archived November 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  29. Luo, Michael; Capecchi, Christina (August 22, 2009). "Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy". The New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2010.
  30. Spring, Paull W. Update on Lutheran CORE's Convocation Accessed online on September 27, 2009 at http://www.lutherancore.org/papers/spring_pre_convoc_ltr.shtml
  31. "A Vision and Plan for The North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran CORE"
  32. Robert P. Jones, Ph.D. and Daniel Cox. Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues: Findings from the 2008 Clergy Voices Survey. p. 7. Accessed online on September 26, 2009 at
  33. Accessed 17 January 2011
  34. 1 2 Ethiopian Church Severs Ties With Lutherans Over Homosexuality Accessed March 8, 2016.
  35. 1 2 "ELCA Council Adopts Significant Revisions to Ministry Policies" (Press release). Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 2010-04-11. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  36. Archived January 21, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  37. "Lutheran assembly elects first openly gay bishop". The Virginian-Pilot. June 1, 2013. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  38. "Meet the First Trans Pastor Officially Ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church". 2015-07-06. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  39. "ELCA presiding bishop offers letter on Supreme Court marriage ruling". www.elca.org. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  40. "Same-sex unions accepted by Evangelican Lutherans".
  41. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Draft Social Statement on Genetics to be considered by the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, March 2010, http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements-in-Process/Genetics/Draft-Social-Statement.aspx
  42. 1 2 Lewis D. Eigen, "Rights & Protections of Coming Human Clones: A Remarkable Lutheran View", Scriptamus, March 19, 2010, http://scriptamus.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/rights-protections-of-coming-human-clones-a-remarkable-lutheran-view/#more-475
  43. Archived March 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  44. Pulpit and Politics: Clergy in American Politics at the Advent of the Millennium edited by Corwin E. Smidt
  45. "Page Not Found". ELCA.org.
  46. Information on the Division's work and the various types of rostered ministry can be found at the Division's webpage.
  47. "Ethiopian Church Severs Ties With Lutherans Over Homosexuality". Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  48. Francis, Perry C. Baldo, Tracy D. (1998) Narcissistic Measures of Lutheran Clergy Who Self-Reported Committing Sexual Misconduct Pastoral Psychology 47 Issue 2 pp. 81-96
  49. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Diverse and Politically Relevant. Washington D.C.: Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. June 2008. Accessed online on September 27, 2009 at http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf.
  50. p. 86 Honoring Our Neighbor's Faith, Robert Buckley Farlee (ed.), Chicago: Augsburg Fortress, 1999. ISBN 0-8066-3846-X
  51. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Diverse and Politically Relevant: Detailed Data Tables. Washington D.C.: Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. June 2008. Accessed online on November 21, 2009 at http://religions.pewforum.org/reports/detailed_tables.
  52. Dias, Elizabeth (August 18, 2013). "Meet the Woman Who Will Lead Evangelical Lutherans: "Religious but Not Spiritual"". Time Magazine. Retrieved August 19, 2013.

Further reading

A history of many of the bodies that merged to form ELCA:

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