Polishing the silver: On ELCA’s 25th year

Publicado: febrero 16, 2013 en Luteranismo, opinión

The ELCA is celebrating its silver anniversary under the theme, “Always Being Made New.” Press releases trumpet the very good things the ELCA has been doing and continues to accomplish. But there seems to be an important element missing. And that element is Lutheran theology, specifically its emphasis on repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Martin Luther began his 95 Theses by declaring, “The entire life of a Christian should be a life of repentance.” We call upon the ELCA to set aside a month for reflection, repentance, and renewal. Lutherans know that we are made new as we return to the promises of God in Holy Baptism, dying to our sins and hearing the Word raise us with Christ to new life. Could October be a month for such an emphasis, culminating in a celebration of the Reformation?

We are not saying that the ELCA is a particularly bad church, but that Lutherans know we live by the forgiveness of sins. We believe in a Theology of the Cross, not a Theology of Glory. And we understand that any good works we may accomplish only are achieved because of God working in and through us.

While the public relations technique of accentuating the positive may work in the world, the reality is that the ELCA needs to take time to stop and reflect, and yes, to repent where necessary. Another twenty-five years of “being made new” like the last twenty five, and there may be no ELCA left.

The recent announcement of the breaking of fellowship by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus should initiate deep soul-searching, beyond the feigned shock of the official responses (see report on page 2). Can God teach proud North Americans through faithful African Christians?

Numbers aren’t everything, but every number represents a precious human person for whom Jesus died. The ELCA started with almost 5.3 million members, but now reports barely over 4 million, and statistics on worship attendance give no indication the downward trend is changing. The National Council of Churches Yearbook stated that the ELCA had the “sharpest rate of membership decline” of mainline protestant denominations for 2012.

While the ELCA celebrates the formation of 435 new congregations, this equates to just 17 per year, and roughly twice as many congregations have left the ELCA as were formed by it. We wonder how many of the 435 are the result of splits from congregations that left. Certainly the mission in Hutchinson, Minnesota, highlighted in the most recent mailing from the ELCA, fits this description. Should we pray about how to focus again on our Lord’s Great Commission?

In every level of the ELCA, we need to deal with the matter of the cost of seminary education and the massive debt of too many students, who are then unable to serve at the salaries more and more congregations can afford.

Seminaries themselves are facing financial crises, aggravated by the reality that the ELCA has never come close to the 50% funding from the national church envisioned 25 years ago. Should we pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His field?

One could address the replacement of “pioneer evangelism” in global missions—which seeks to call people to repentance and faith in Jesus—with an “accompaniment” model in which mission is mostly limited to social services. Do we believe it matters whether people believe in Jesus?

There is a lot of anger and hostility over recent withdrawals from the ELCA. Pastors have been disciplined for providing care to such congregations, and some have been forbidden even to preach in them. The demand to pay back mission funds has hurt the ability to proclaim the Gospel.

Can the ELCA forgive the LCMC and NALC and seek ways to move forward in mission as a partner with them? (And yes, a similar question needs to be asked of NALC and LCMC.)

Lutheran CORE wants to see the ELCA fulfill the great hopes and dreams from its founding. We believe it is God’s will for His Church always to be made new as the Spirit creates repentance and renewal through the Word. As silver is not polished with dainty soaps, a church is made new not by easy slogans and denial of hard realities but by the burnishing of God’s Word of Law and Gospel.

=-So we urge that October or another month of this anniversary year be set aside as a time of heart-felt prayer, reflection, and repentance, as the ELCA seeks to fulfill the wonderful call of God to be made new every day in Christ and in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.


Pr. Steve Shipman, director of
Lutheran CORE, can be reached at
sshipman@lutherancore.org or


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