LCMS Congregation Becoming an ELCA Congregation

The Rev. Ronald Koch in front of his church sign, which now displays the ELCA banner.

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gilroy, California, is changing denominational affiliations from the LCMS to the ELCA.

Although Good Shepherd is Missouri Synod, the congregation doesn’t function like one, says Ron.

Callers “need to know that we use the worship book from the ELCA, that we involve women in our worship and that we welcome all the baptized to receive Holy Communion,” says Ron. “I need to say all of these things because Good Shepherd is not where it belongs.”

So after years of feeling misplaced, members of Good Shepherd are finally moving to their rightful home. On March 18, 2012, members voted to adopt the ELCA constitution as their own and, in a somewhat parallel process, Ron is working to becoming a pastor of the ELCA.

Many of the issues driving the decision seem to be what one might expect — open communion, acceptance of homosexual behavior, fellowship with non-Lutheran church bodies, and the role of women in the life of the church.

It’s about time

Good Shepherd was founded in 1951 as a Missouri Synod parish.

But since 1970 “my predecessor, and then myself in 1978, have had a much more open and inclusive ministry in our community” that was unlike the Missouri Synod, says Ron, who summed up some of the ways in which Good Shepherd was unlike its parent denomination in a 2010 congregational newsletter.

He wrote that the ELCA is open to ecumenical relationships with other Christians; the ELCA offers Holy Communion to all the baptized; the ELCA is a member of The Lutheran World Federation; the ELCA has male and female pastors; and the ELCA “would have no problem with Good Shepherd participating in Gilroy’s annual pulpit exchange every January for the ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,’” wrote Ron. He also wrote that the “ELCA is far more open to the gay and lesbian community.”

“We welcome all, and Jesus has shown us what it means to serve all people,” says Ron. “We do not discriminate or restrict the Eucharist — this is not the way Jesus started things off.”

As the congregation took steps to disaffiliate with the Missouri Synod, Ron says that “we have had hardly any resistance or dispute with the change. Only one family has moved on. Our intentional discernment process has taken about a year and a half. I guess that is a testimony to the people ‘getting it’ over the long haul of a consistent pattern of inclusive ministry.”

Obviously there are numerous theological claims made in the article which are unsupportable from Scripture and which have been refuted on this site many times. However, does anyone else find this honesty refreshing? If a congregation believes as the ELCA teaches — and the statement that only one family was lost over the move seems to confirm that — doesn’t it make sense to join them officially? Of course it does raise a question about how such a congregation was permitted to remain in fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod when the article indicates that they have been wrestling with these issues for more than 30 years and have been practicing contrary to the teaching of the LCMS. Nevertheless, they did eventually realize that their belief and practice stood apart from those of the LCMS and I, for one, appreciate their integrity in leaving.

About Pastor Daniel Hinton

Pastor Hinton is associate pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, having majored in poultry science, and of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained on Holy Trinity 2011. He has been married to Amanda for ten years, and has three daughters (Elizabeth, Anastasia, and Isabella). He grew up in the ELCA, and left in 2004 over issues of scriptural authority. It was because of a faithful Lutheran campus ministry that he was exposed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Much of his ministry at Trinity involves the instruction of the 117 students at Trinity Lutheran School, which has been open since 1892 and now uses a classical model of instruction. He will be writing on situations around “Steadfast in School” and “Steadfast among Others”.

Comments

LCMS Congregation Becoming an ELCA Congregation — 41 Comments

  1. It is my hope and prayer that they, along with all ELCA churches, find it in their hearts to distance themselves from the LCMS COMPLETELY and remove the word Lutheran from their names entirely! Please.

  2. I’d much rather see a church leave the LCMS for the ELCA than use the LCMS label and act like an ELCA church.

  3. “Of course it does raise a question about how such a congregation was permitted to remain in fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod when the article indicates that they have been wrestling with these issues for more than 30 years and have been practicing contrary to the teaching of the LCMS.”

    Yes. Yes, it does.

  4. It’s interesting to note that the congregation did not choose to become ELCA.

    “But since 1970 “my predecessor, and then myself in 1978, have had a much more open and inclusive ministry in our community” that was unlike the Missouri Synod, says Ron, who summed up some of the ways in which Good Shepherd was unlike its parent denomination in a 2010 congregational newsletter.”

    This congregation was led astray by unfaithful shepherds who forsook their ordination vows. I feel sorry for the sheep who followed the ones they were supposed to have trusted.

  5. What took them so long?

    He says they have basically been ELCA since 1970.

    Pastor Koch
    Concordia Seminary (LCMS) – Saint Louis, MO
    Master of Divinity 12/31/1972

    Only one family left?

    Hmm.

    Attendance is down 25%. Seems like a lot for one year.

    2011
    This Year 1st 6 months
    Ave. attendance: 33

    2010
    Last Year 1st 6 months
    Ave. Att.: 44

    http://goodshep.hypermart.net/pdf/201110_Newsletter.pdf

    minus another 10% in 2012

    through February, 2012 Average attendance for 9 Weeks: 30

    http://goodshep.hypermart.net/pdf/201203_Newsletter.pdf

    Seems kind of sad, really.

    I will give you they are being honest, at last.

  6. @Rev. Josh Osbun #4

    This congregation was led astray by unfaithful shepherds who forsook their ordination vows. I feel sorry for the sheep who followed the ones they were supposed to have trusted.

    good point.

    How many of us had we been born into that congregation could have been in that situation? I mean you could be like 50 years old now and for almost as long as you can remember, this pastor has been your pastor whom you trusted, after all he promised when he was ordained.

  7. It is refreshing to see some honesty about who they are and what they believe. At the same time, I would also say that they are in my prayers. I pray that they would be enlightened by the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to repent of the false doctrines that they have embraced and come back to the orthodox faith.

  8. I am grateful for the honesty and finally that this congregation and their pastor had the integrity to leave (finally). By running down the LCMS they will fit right in with the ELCA (I wonder if that was a requirement of membership).

    Of interesting note – each member of this congregation has now joined the ELCA. It is not this way in the LCMS. Laity join congregations in the LCMS (not the LCMS) and the congregations are members of the LCMS. This afford some protections to members. If only members of ELCA congregations knew that they can’t hide behind their congregation, but that they are full fledged members of the ELCA as a whole, national organization.

  9. Frankly, I’m pretty relieved they are leaving so as not tear at the unity of Synod. In a lot of the denominations who’ve gotten more liberal over time, it’s been the conservative congregations who’ve left. Hopefully, those in the group Ordain Women Now & the congregations who allow them to persist in error will follow them out the door.

    But of course it does raise the question as to why no district president or circuit counseler came up to them and had a conversation with them as to the direction they were going. That’s what really important.

  10. By comparison:

    “As of January 1, 2012 we show 617 congregations that have successfully taken the required two votes to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since August 2009.   Another 31 congregations have successfully taken one sucessful vote to date. The total members lost to the ELCA from these congregations stands at 313,930.  ”  – David Barnhart

  11. @John Rixe #14
    As of January 1, 2012 we show 617 congregations that have successfully taken the required two votes to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since August 2009.

    I suspect that the vast majority of them still mock the LCMS as rigid and unloving, and have joined one of the newer “Lutheran” synods, which amount to ELCA without the homosexual thing.

    @Jason #13
    Yes, I’ve often wondered how many ELCA-minded pastors from that era (just before Seminex) are still in the LCMS.

  12. <blockquote cite=Ted Crandall :
    <a href="#comment-311208" rel="nofollow"
    @Jason #13
    Yes, I’ve often wondered how many ELCA-minded pastors from that era (just before Seminex) are still in the LCMS.

    Many more than there should be!

  13. Jason :

    Mrs. Hume :
    Pastor Koch Concordia Seminary (LCMS) – Saint Louis, Master of Divinity 12/31/1972

    Well, that says it all…

    I would be remiss if I did not stand up for at least one outstanding pastor that came from CSL in that era.

    My vicarage supervisor was a first-year student the year of the walkout. When all of this was going down many (if not all) of his friends were planning on participating in the walkout. And so he called his pastor for guidance.

    His pastor told him that he could not tell him what to do. He had to make that decision for himself. All he had to do was search Scripture and the Confessions and he would find his answer.

    And so my supervisor did just that. He sat down with the Word of God. He sat down with the Book of Concord and he read.

    And then he refused to participate in the walkout.

  14. @Rev. Josh Osbun #4 :

    “But since 1970 “my predecessor, and then myself in 1978…”
    This congregation was led astray by unfaithful shepherds who forsook their ordination vows.

    That church was in the California-Nevada-Hawaii District of the LCMS. According to Wikipedia, the CNH District presidents since 1970 have been:

    Rev. Paul E. Jacobs, 1959–77
    Rev. Orval M. Oswald, 1977-91
    Rev. Walter C. Tietjen, 1991-2003
    Rev. Robert D. Newton, 2003-present

    Jacobs resigned in protest in January 1977 following widespread criticism for his having ordained graduates of Seminex, and became bishop of the Pacific Regional Synod of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) before his death in September of that year.

  15. Maybe we could work out a mass swap deal with them. Do the lines need to be drawn any clearer? Pastor Harrison has thoroughly repudiated Higgins Street and we stand behind him.

    We would not be stealing sheep – rather saving them. We need to be open about this.

  16. @Ted Crandall #15 I believe congregations leaving ELCA more often use the term ‘dysfunctional’ rather than ‘rigid and unloving’ when referring to LCMS.

    Having been burned by ELCA they don’t wish to be burned again. The fact this congregation has existed within LCMS for 30 years only makes their point! I thank God that we have the hope that President Harrison is turning things around and LCMS loses this stigma.

  17. @Mrs. Hume #6

    Are the people leaving to join other churches. If so, then which ones? The ELCA has gained nothing. At the rate of membership losses, that congregation will have to close in another three years.

    Perhaps Good Shepard could have been revived numerically and restored to confessional Lutheranism. Have the district presidents of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District been sleeping for the past 30+ years?

  18. @Ted Crandall #15

    “The NALC fervently desires to take the Scriptures and the Lutheran confession seriously. These men are creedal Christians who share our own convictions on fundamental issues of life and sexuality. We do have real differences and they will not be easily overcome. But the outcome is the Lord’s.”  – Pr Matt Harrison

  19. @Jerry #20

    Self-righteous arrogance on the part of a vocal LCMS minority often discourages interest from just about all non-members e.g. use of disparaging terms such as methobapticostal.

  20. Many ELCA parishes have gone to the LCMC which seems to be a missional pro church growth
    gathering although not a synod as of yet. They also oppose the recent gay decisions but support women in all aspects of worship. Many LCMS congregations seem to be moving in this direction as well with women on councils and boards I would expect if the LCMS moves to a more confessional Lutheran body I would expect some of the LCMS missional CG seeker sensitive transforming mega churchs to join as well in the next ten years.

  21. @Ted Crandall #15 : “I suspect that the vast majority of them still mock the LCMS as rigid and unloving, and have joined one of the newer “Lutheran” synods, which amount to ELCA without the homosexual thing.”

    Run this statement through the Theologo-Diplomatic Translator and you get:

    “The NALC fervently desires to take the Scriptures and the Lutheran confession seriously. These men are creedal Christians who share our own convictions on fundamental issues of life and sexuality. We do have real differences and they will not be easily overcome. But the outcome is the Lord’s.”

  22. @Jerry #20
    That this congregation has existed within the LCMS for 30 years does indicate dysfuntional tendencies — in the LCMS!

    @John Rixe #23
    “Self-righteous arrogance on the part of a vocal LCMS minority often discourages interest from just about all non-members e.g. use of disparaging terms such as methobapticostal.”

    Isn’t “self-righteous arrogance” disparaging — and mighty close to name-calling? Are you as critical of the LCMS when the synod twice in convention declared ELCA to be no longer Lutheran? I have a brother who is so absorbed with being attractive to refuges from the ELCA that he glosses over the differences in adult instruction. His LCMS church has become filled with ELCA-minded Lutherans who run back and forth whenever one pastor or the other annoys them. Seekers from the ELCA should fully understand that there are substantial differences, that their old church abandoned Lutheranism long before they embraced sodomy and the United Methodists.

    http://lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=1098

  23. The honestly is wonderful, though sad. But thankfully, these pastors recognize that the LCMS has beliefs contrary to their own and are deciding to leave (a novel concept!) rather than stay seeking to change the nature of the synod, as these pro-women’s ordination groups. A breath of fresh air, really.

  24. John Rixe :
    @Jerry #20
    Self-righteous arrogance on the part of a vocal LCMS minority often discourages interest from just about all non-members e.g. use of disparaging terms such as methobapticostal.

    Throwing stones from glass houses is a waste of perfectly good rocks.

  25. We left the ELCA and joined the LCMS, sort of. Our congregation, ELCA, wrestling with the direction the ELCA was going went through the process of leaving. Our votes were unsuccessful. The majority wished to join the LCMS but we did not have the required supermajority to leave the ELCA. The congregation then experienced a split.

    Aided by local pastors and congregations from the LCMS, we and folks from other local ELCA congregations have formed a new congregation and joined the LCMS in 2011.

    These faithful pastors, mostly from the SELC Dist., have led our services, administered the Sacraments and led classes teaching the Catechism. What a blessing.

    What was truly amazing was the preaching we heard from these LCMS pastors. We actually heard the Gospel preached each sermon. For years all we ever heard what was important was what we were to do in response to God’s love and we never heard any law.

    Christ is using the LCMS to heal us from the pain of our separation.

  26. John Rixe :
    @Jerry #20
    Self-righteous arrogance on the part of a vocal LCMS minority often discourages interest from just about all non-members e.g. use of disparaging terms such as methobapticostal.

    John,

    I am not so sure about the “self-righteous arrogance” part. The most vocal confessional Lutherans grew up with the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal and remember how the divine service used to be done. It is natural for them to fight to keep those traditions and not to see them erased or displaced by “big hair” Evangelical preacher theology. Otherwise, you may be on to something here.

    Most LCMS laypeople are blissfully unaware of the “Missionals” versus “Confessionals” battles. What is the likelihood of a non-LCMSer getting exposed to the internal politics of the LCMS? Would it affect his or her decision to join the LCMS? Would they comprehend such terms as “methobapticostal”, or do they even care.

    @Jim Pierce #31
    Hey Jim, what is preventing the Evangelicals from stampeding into the LCMS? What should the LCMS be doing to attract disaffected Evangelicals?

    @Jeff C. #32
    Jeff C.: Your testimony is heartwarming and inspiring. What is preventing disaffected ELCAers from choosing the LCMS? What should the LCMS be doing to attract disaffected ELCAers (and NALCers and LCMCers)?

    Can the LCMS engage in effective marketing to ex-ELCA Lutherans and disaffected Evangelicals without changing/displacing traditional and confessional LCMS Lutheran theology?

  27. I would love to see Steadfast publish an article: “Remnants of a Divided ELCA Congregation Starting an LCMS Congregation.”

  28. Lumpenkönig :
    @Jim Pierce #31
    Hey Jim, what is preventing the Evangelicals from stampeding into the LCMS? What should the LCMS be doing to attract disaffected Evangelicals?

    We are to be faithful to the Word of God and be content with sound doctrine. The Holy Spirit, working through His Word, will “attract disaffected Evangelicals.” Standing firm in our confession of faith will keep the Evangelicals “from stampeding into the LCMS.” The bottom line is solid catechesis and repentance.

  29. Jim Pierce :

    Lumpenkönig :
    @Jim Pierce #31
    Hey Jim, what is preventing the Evangelicals from stampeding into the LCMS? What should the LCMS be doing to attract disaffected Evangelicals?

    We are to be faithful to the Word of God and be content with sound doctrine. The Holy Spirit, working through His Word, will “attract disaffected Evangelicals.” Standing firm in our confession of faith will keep the Evangelicals “from stampeding into the LCMS.” The bottom line is solid catechesis and repentance.

    Jim, I meant that it would be a desirable outcome for disaffected Evangelicals to seek refuge from the big haired preachers and the incessant law pounding. They would yearn for something deeper and embrace the LCMS and its unaltered confessional doctrine. By “stampeding”, I meant that they would join the LCMS in large numbers.

  30. “Jeff C.: Your testimony is heartwarming and inspiring. What is preventing disaffected ELCAers from choosing the LCMS? What should the LCMS be doing to attract disaffected ELCAers (and NALCers and LCMCers)?

    Can the LCMS engage in effective marketing to ex-ELCA Lutherans and disaffected Evangelicals without changing/displacing traditional and confessional LCMS Lutheran theology?”

    What is preventing ELCAers from choosing the LCMS are mostly what you would expect: close(d) communion and women’s issues. The ELCA has been in existence for 24 years and its predecessors were ordaining women and practicing open communion before that. Years of welcoming all baptized christians to the table irregardless of membership creates a sense of entitlement. A sense that how dare anyone prevent me the sacrament.

    We have some who have come with us question this. We have had some question the Real Presence. Much credit is due to the pastors who are sheparding us, the are not merely leading worship but leading well attended adult education after our services. The simple fact is, at least in my congregation, over the last 25 years we ceased being lutheran and became a protestant congregation with a liturgy.

    You have to understand we didn’t leave the ELCA over women’s ordination and open communion, we left over redefinition of sin and redefinition of marriage. We left because of the lack of Biblical authority. The blessing has been becoming lutherans again. The catechisms weren’t important in at least our old congregations. One of the big issues for our leaving was ecumenical arrangements. If a United Meth. pastor presides over communion in an ELCA church with the belief that it is for rememberance only is it real presence for those receiving. Questions like this are very awkward for ELCAers.

    How to approach ELCA folks? A District President came to our ELCA church and gave a presentation. He and I spent a lot of time beforehand and I submitted questions to him to address. The presentation became a session on how much the LCMS and the ELCA were similar and how little we would have to change. This was more our fault than the DP’s. He was simply trying to address all our questions. What should have been given was a presentation on the strengths of the LCMS. On how different it is. How caring it is about the authority of the Bible. How serious you are about preaching Christ crucified for me/you. How sin matters and why women aren’t ordained and communion is closed. Because of our arrangement we have had 6 or 7 LCMS pastors lead us taking turns. We meet on Sunday evenings and pastors who preached that morning come and work some more in the evening giving up their personal/family time. Some retired men also preach. Some of the pastors travel 1-2 hours to do this. What a group and ALL are good preachers. These pastors care about being good pastors. The presentation should have been on how the LCMS and the ELCA are different.

    I don’t know how you can market to folks who aren’t interested but when they do give you the chance and my guess is you will see more individual ELCAers show them who you truly are and how great the LCMS is.

  31. @Jeff C. #37
    Your testimony deserves a dedicated article on BJS or even on Issues, Etc. Fascinating stuff! Thank you for sharing.

    Jeff C. wrote: We left because of the lack of Biblical authority.

    This issue confuses me. The NALC and the LCMC continue to embrace the ELCA practice of Historical/Higher Criticism. They use it as a tool to justify practices such as Women’s Ordination and Open Communion. The ELCA uses that tool to embrace homosexuality. They pick and choose church doctrine based on Historical/Higher Criticism. Remove the practice of Historical/Higher Criticism from these church bodies, and they might as well be LCMS.

    I suppose we should count ourselves blessed, as most of the problems within the LCMS pale in comparison to those faced in other church bodies. Welcome!

  32. @Lumpenkönig #39

    Thanks for your kind welcome. You are truly blessed through the LCMS as we have been since our association began in 2010 and joining in 2011.

    Our older folks remark joining the LCMS was like returning to the the church they grew up in. (The ALC of the 1950’s and 60’s) They feel like they went back home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.