More than 1,100 Lutherans, many of whom split from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, established a new denomination on Friday.
The North American Lutheran Church was born after an overwhelming vote during a meeting in Grove City, Ohio.
"Our Lord’s reconfiguring of the Lutheran landscape not only in North America, but worldwide, is breathtaking and exciting," said the Rev. Mark Chavez of Landisville, Pa. "It has been wonderful to witness the joy and hopeful excitement of so many Lutherans to move forward and do the main thing – proclaim Jesus Christ and His Gospel to make disciples."
Conservative Lutherans began forging the new body just weeks after the ELCA gave the green light in 2009 for non-celibate gays and lesbians to serve as clergy. Over the last year, hundreds of congregations have moved toward severing ties with the ELCA, which is the largest Lutheran denomination in the country with 4.5 million members.
The ELCA experienced its biggest-ever drop in membership last year, with 90,000 less members than the year before.
The vote on Friday to forge a new body took place during the annual Convocation of Lutheran CORE, a renewal group that seeks the renewal of Lutheran churches according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
Lutheran CORE leaders have said that the problems in the ELCA are not about sexual behavior but rather about an ongoing movement away from the authority and teaching of the Bible throughout the ELCA. But they have noted that the vote on sexuality "opened the eyes of many to how far the ELCA has moved from Biblical teaching."
"The issue that really presented itself was the issue of sexuality, but back of that was the broader issue: Which is the authoritative voice of the church today?" said Paull Spring, NALC's first bishop, as reported by The Associated Press.
"Is it Holy Scripture, which Lutherans have always confessed; Scripture alone; or is [it] supposed to be some combination, that as well as some mood of the times?" he posed.
Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus – which are the second and third largest Lutheran churches in the world – attended the convocation and showed their support for the new body.
Spring commented, "Their presence among us is a reminder that we are not alone in our ministry and that we intend to forge strong ties and relationships with other Christian communities as we go forward in the North American Lutheran Church."
Provisional leaders were elected to one-year terms Friday. Participants also adopted a constitution for the NALC and voted to request membership in the Lutheran World Federation.