(Photo: AP / Tom Strattman)
Lutherans who have left or are pondering their exit from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have put a name to the alternate church body they plan to form – North American Lutheran Church.
A proposal for the new denominational body that is intended to provide a biblically faithful home for disaffected Lutherans was released Thursday, on the anniversary of the death of 16th century reformer Martin Luther.
"It is fitting that these proposals are being announced on the day that the Lutheran church remembers the great reformer Martin Luther. Luther brought new life and renewal to the church of his day," said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal). "We pray that God will use these proposals to bring new life and renewal to the church of our day."
The new body is being formed at the request of hundreds of Lutherans who feel the ELCA – the largest Lutheran denomination in the country with 4.6 million members – is drifting from the teachings of the Bible and traditional Christianity.
Last August, ELCA's chief legislative body voted to approve a resolution allowing noncelibate gays and lesbians to be ordained.
Some 220 ELCA congregations have taken initial votes to disaffiliate from the denomination, according to the ELCA Office of the Secretary. The majority (156 congregations) have achieved the two-thirds majority vote required to continue the process. Dozens have moved on to take the second vote and seven have already officially left. The ELCA requires congregations that want to sever ties to take two votes, at least 90 days apart, and gain approval from the synod bishop.
In response to the proposed to the rival Lutheran body, the churchwide organization of the ELCA said it will continue to commit to "conversation" with congregations that have concerns. Rather than make hasty moves, churches have been urged by the head of the ELCA, Mark S. Hanson, to remain in conversation.
But dozens are convinced the denomination has walked away from scriptural authority and their own confessional faith and have moved on toward the "reconfiguration" of Lutheranism in North America.
"There are deep divisions in the ELCA as a result of the Churchwide Assembly’s recent actions," said Ryan Schwarz of Washington, D.C., who chaired the Vision and Planning Working Group that created the proposal for the new body. "These proposals are a way for Lutherans to move forward in carrying out the true mission of the Christian Church – which is sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ – while leaving behind past struggles to reform the ELCA."
The newly proposed North American Lutheran Church will encompass congregations in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean and work in cooperation with Lutheran CORE, which is aiding the formation of NALC.
A provisional constitution for the NALC will be presented at Lutheran CORE's August 2010 convocation. An initial convocation of the NALC is scheduled for 2011.