Guest Article — ELCA Has Biggest Split in American Church History

July 12th, 2013 Post by

by Rev. Kevin Vogts

Since shortly after its formation in 1988 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been fixated on deviant sexual behavior, culminating in the endorsement of homosexual pastors in 2009, homosexual “marriage” in 2011, and the election last month of their first homosexual bishop.  Dr. James Nestingen, a highly respected scholar and retired ELCA seminary professor, recently concluded that promoting acceptance of deviant sexual behavior has actually replaced the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the primary mission and message of the ELCA.

Those within the ELCA demanding these radical changes asserted it is necessary for the ELCA’s very survival.  Supposedly, they simply must move into the 21st century on these issues, or otherwise they will be so out-of-step with modern society that it would mean the demise of their denomination.  By the way, this is the same deceptive reasoning behind similar disturbing changes recently in the Boy Scouts of America.

However, the ELCA has now released some startling statistics that show the exact opposite has actually happened:

  • When the ELCA was formed in 1988 they had 5.2 million members, but they are now down to only 4 million members–a staggering loss of over 1.2 million members, or 23% of their membership.  They have also lost 1,500, or 13%, of their congregations, from approximately 11,000 to 9,500.  As they “celebrate” this year the 25th anniversary of the ELCA, the fact is that during that time they have lost more members and congregations than make up many entire denominations!
  • Of these losses, over 500,000 members and 1,000 congregations have left the ELCA in just the last four years, triggered by their endorsement of homosexuality beginning in 2009.  This is actually the biggest denominational split in American church history, and is directly attributable to that decision.
  • Another measure of the ELCA’s decline is that in 1988, 2.1% of all Americans were members of the ELCA, but by 2011 that figure had fallen to 1.3%.  The National Council of Churches reports that the ELCA has “the sharpest rate of membership decline” among all mainline Protestant denominations.  Like Avis car rental which used to advertise “We’re Number 2–But We Try Harder!” the LCMS has historically always been the second-largest American Lutheran church body.  However, at the ELCA’s current rate of losing members–nearly 6% in 2010–in just a decade the LCMS will surpass the ELCA as the largest American Lutheran church body, and a few decades after that the ELCA will cease to exist.
  • Even among those congregations remaining in the ELCA average weekly worship attendance from 2003 to 2011 dropped 26%.  The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has 2.3 million members and the similarly conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has 300,000 members, yet even with our smaller combined membership of 2.6 million the LCMS and WELS have more people actually sitting in the pews each Sunday than the ELCA with 4 million members.
  • Donations to the ELCA on the national level were $88 million in 2008 but plunged to only $40 million in 2011.
  • Luther Seminary, the ELCA’s largest seminary, located in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced that last year they had a $6 million operating deficit on a budget of $27 million.  This was due largely to a recent sharp decline in donations to the seminary, reportedlyincluding a couple that for many years had given $1 million a year to the seminary but stopped their donations after the ELCA’s endorsement of homosexuality.  The seminary was forced to cancel many of its programs and lay off a third of the faculty and staff.
  • Since the ELCA’s endorsement of homosexuality, many other Lutheran church bodies around the world have severed their historic ties with the ELCA, and are instead seeking new relationships with the LCMS.  This includes many of the largest and fastest-growing Lutheran church bodies in the world, such as the Lutherans in Ethiopia with over 6 million members–nearly as many as all American Lutheran church bodies combined.  The center of world Lutheranism is shifting from Europe and America to Africa, Asia, and South America, and the LCMS is becoming the theological leader of these growing Lutheran church bodies.  While the ELCA is becoming increasingly isolated in world Lutheranism, at our national convention this month the LCMS will enter into formal fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia, Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church of Togo.

The Lord warns:

“There will be false teachers among you, who will surreptitiously introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their shameful, licentious ways.”  (2 Peter 2:1-2)

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you formerly had when you lived in ignorance.  Instead, just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-15)

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

These passages show how misdirected and sinful it is to accommodate the church’s doctrine and practice to the world’s wicked ways.  It is also foolish and futile.

On the one hand, the world will never be satisfied–until Christians completely renounce their faith.  More importantly, the Lord will never bless such unfaithfulness to Him and His Word.

We see from the sad example of what’s happened to the ELCA–the biggest split in American church history–that whatever churches and other organizations such as the Boy Scouts imagine they will gain by giving in to the world is dwarfed by what they will surely lose.


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  1. “LC-MS Quotes”
    July 13th, 2013 at 21:33 | #1

    @ #20

    The average young man today looks at an attractive young woman and assumes she is artificially infertile.

    Mark Regnerus
    Ruth Institute
    “Pre-Marital Sex in America: The Social Science Evidence on Why Hooking Up Doesn’t Make People Happy”
    May 31, 2013

    Nearly 99% of all women have used contraception.

    U. S. President Barack Obama
    White House Briefing
    February 10, 2012

    “…the people of the LCMS have followed the broader Anglo culture in marrying much later (or not at all) and in having far fewer children.”

    Matthew C. Harrison
    “Baptized for this Moment”
    Lutherans Engage the World
    May-June 2013

    The current American society assumes — even expects — the vast majority of women to be “artificially infertile” (Mark Regnerus). That is the only way the American society can have the so-called “Middle Class.” This is true from economic theories right down to the summer family vacation and all matters in-between. Everything in American life assumes a contraception on-demand mentality. Everything.

    When it comes to the persecution of conservative Christians in the United States for such things as resistance to homosexual marriage, the natural married couples who “let God do the planning” of children (Robert D. Preus) and have large families are better prepared than the average Christian and average Lutheran. They are better prepared for persecution for the simple fact that they are already accustomed to not being acceptable to the mainstream of American society. These large Christian families are, therefore, in a position to give encouragement to the majority of Christians who are far more accustomed to blending in with the broader culture than sticking out like a sore thumb. “Let us learn to look upon children as a blessing, not as a misfortune or a curse. With Scripture let us envy large families, not pity them” (Gerhard Aho).

  2. David Speers
    July 13th, 2013 at 23:05 | #2

    @Terrye Newkirk #45

    Yes, that is the whole phrase, et tu, quoque. Although I kind of wonder if when arguing for Jesus against Jesus, as some do, that Jesus does not feel a bit like Caesar.

  3. July 14th, 2013 at 23:47 | #3

    When i lived in the USA I attended an Episcopal church, and it is uncanny how similar the TEC and ELCA experiences have been. It is also sad to see two churches that have contributed so much to the history and heritage of the USA heading so blindly down a road which anyone with some common sense can see ends in decline and not growth.

  4. E. W. Sumner
    July 15th, 2013 at 08:01 | #4

    It would be more obvious to the rest of Christendom that you stand with Christ and the Scriptures if your ranking leadership would issue a formal writ of excommunication to those who have apostasized into favoring of Sodomites, anti-Christian theology and the like. This way, there will no question that you not only stand with Christ, but disapprove of the actions of those claiming Christ, but working for the Evil One.

  5. E. W. Sumner
    July 15th, 2013 at 08:18 | #5

    @Paul of Alexandria #44

    Welcome brother to the Land of Unwalled Villages (where everything gets in because there is no protection, precisely because they have abandoned THE TRUTH). Everything there is a sham ‘lovefest’. It’s high time as Christians (of which I am) to kick these people to the curb as pseudo-Believers. Continuing to call them Christians is ludicrous.

  6. #4 Kitty
    July 15th, 2013 at 08:48 | #6

    @E. W. Sumner #4
    Yes, but that would cause “the biggest split in American church history”.

  7. E. W. Sumner
    July 15th, 2013 at 09:01 | #7

    @#4 Kitty #6

    So what! Is it not written to excommunicate those who walk all the time in open sin to preserve the body of Christ?

  8. E. W. Sumner
    July 15th, 2013 at 09:01 | #8

    As BELIEVERS, not Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc infinitum ad nauseum, there comes a time when we must ask ourselves: “How long can we continue to segregate ourselves from other Bible-believing Christians?”

    Is it not written: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you, but [that] you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s [household], that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.”

    Are we today not doing the exact same thing when we say: “I am of Luther,” “I’m of Knox,” “I am of Rome,” and so forth and so on? And if we are doing the same thing, are we not then entitled to the same rebuke:

    “For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I [am] of Apollos,” are you not carnal?”

    I ask the same question Paul asked: “Who are Knox, Calvin, Luther, Peter but ministers through whom you believed?” Who is the focus of our faith? Is not supposed to be very Jesus Christ, the One who gave Himself as a ransom for us? The One who saved us from the wrath of God by the sacrifice of His blood? It seems from this angle that some Believers stand on formalities, while at the same time DENYING REALITIES. Luther was right to leave Rome in his day, but excommunication is not supposed to be permanent; it should end upon proof of repentance, should it not? Sometimes, I think we swallow camels and strain over gnats.

    Given the state of the world, and the need for Christ, we as Believers might just want to take a long look at why we fail to stand together behind Christ as our head. Small differences can be overcome through study and fellowship. Magog is surrounding us my friends, and we haven’t even figured out there is a war on yet. How pleased can our Lord be with us when we quibble over the smallest thing and allow the greater evil to go unchecked?

    As long as one is faithful to Christ, IS HE NOT YOUR BROTHER?

  9. David Speers
    July 15th, 2013 at 09:32 | #9

    @E. W. Sumner #8

    The problem with your suggestion is that it is, in part, the exact position that got the ELCA in the position it is in today, going back into the way their predecessor bodies acted and thought. It was not only the battle for the bible, but also the doctrine of the church/ecumenism, over which the LCMS split, in which many in the LCMS were using the same kind of argument that you are using in your appeal. Discussions are going on, but for some “little things” are really big things.

  10. E. W. Sumner
    July 15th, 2013 at 09:52 | #10

    @David Speers #9

    Obviously, someone was NOT being faithful. The Bible of course is the supreme test of faith and doctrine. Whatever doesn’t line up with it is cancerous and must be cut out. I don’t support an ‘ecumenical Church’. In fact, it’s what I often refer to as the Land of Unwalled Villages. Anything gets in, nothing is kept out in the name of ‘love’ and you wind up with with an ELCA. I support a grass-roots Church, devoid of the majority of formalities, where any FAITHFUL Bible-believer can find fellowship and help in time of trouble. I’d rather support a FAITHFUL Presbyterian brother, who while he might believe in paedo-baptism (for example) is true to Scripture, then some wishy-washy “Evan-jellyfish” who claims to believe in the Bible, but supports homo marriage.

    A split is nothing more than excommunication. There are times when it’s necessary, even of entire bodies of Believers who refuse to adhere to the historic faith.

  11. wineonthevines
    July 15th, 2013 at 10:01 | #11

    Thought this an appropriate article in response to the matters at hand:
    http://thefirstpremise.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/are-we-still-lutheran-2/

  12. wineonthevines
  13. David Speers
    July 15th, 2013 at 10:18 | #13

    @E. W. Sumner #10

    The problem is that the false alternative that you offer is just that, “I would rather…” It is not up to you to create unity, and in this place your opinion is of no real value. The unity of the church is the
    Spirit’s unity, (cf Ephesians 4:1ff). He creates it through the word and not human opinions rooted in fundamentalism, which, in effect, is no different, materially, from the worst of the ecumenism we have seen in the ELCA et al. It is based on the same standard of authority, human arbitrary opinion. God does not care how we would do it, but has made it clear where we find the church. (Cf AC V, VII, VIII, (note the end of art VIII which condemns Anabaptists, because they deny the testimony of the Word, which states definitively that God works through means, against those who reject infant baptism). Again, just to make the obvious connection, the enthusiastic theology of the Anabaptists, is of a kin with that of churches like the ELCA (and even the Papacy (cf SA III. VIII)), in that enthusiasm produces exactly what we see in churches like the ELCA today).

  14. E. W. Sumner
    July 15th, 2013 at 10:37 | #14

    David, the Spirit’s unity comes from the WORD. If the unity you speak of has no Scriptural base, IT AIN’T UNITY OF THE SPIRIT. All those articles you mention mean little to me, because I’m not Lutheran. I’m a hybrid. I don’t reject paedo-baptism, I just don’t UNDERSTAND why you’d baptise someone who has no clue why someone’s trying to drown them. I believe it’s an orthodox teaching, but as a Southern Baptist/Reformed Presbyterian trained Believer, I don’t practice it.

    Wineonthevine, I read that second WordPress article…I agree with 99.9% of what it says, and the other .01, I don’t disagree with, I find it irrelevent to me as a Believer.

  15. David Speers
    July 15th, 2013 at 11:02 | #15

    @E. W. Sumner #14

    The Spirit works through the means of grace, Word and Sacrament. That is exactly what Paul states in Eph 4.

    Wrt someone who has no clue, that would be everyone before they are born “from above”, adult, child, infant. NOBODY has a clue, and UNTIL they are converted, born from above/again etc, they do not understand. Nicodemas, in John 3 offered to Jesus his opinion about Jesus. Jesus effectively told him that he did not understand ANYTHING. This notion of rational understanding preceding new birth is as absurd of saying that a baby is not born unless it understands what is happening to it in natural birth. I am not going any further with this. There is plenty on this site for you to chew on if you want to get Lutheranism, written by many more facile with words than I am.

    Simply put, unless one has a biblical doctrine of the means, not calvinistic, arminian, especially not Wesleyan, or romish, one will always slip into enthusiasm. That will lead to decisions like the ELCA has recently made. It is a warning against those who have swallowed holy spirit feathers and all.

  16. David Speers
    July 15th, 2013 at 11:12 | #16

    @E. W. Sumner #14

    All those articles should mean something to you, if you believe in the bible, so which is it? Do you confess them or not? A biblical confession of the Ministry, the Church, and Confession, about the Papacy. These articles are truly ecumenical confessions of the church of all time.

  17. E. W. Sumner
    July 15th, 2013 at 11:25 | #17

    My confession is that Jesus Christ is Lord. He came as a man, he lived amongst us as a man full of grace and truth, He died under Pontius Pilate, He was laid in the grave and rose on the third day according to the Scriptures. He lived amongst us again after His resurrection, and then ascended into His Heaven, where He remains at the Right Hand of His Father until the time of the restoration of all things, at which time He will come in flaming fire with His Holy angels and tens of thousands of His Saints, to judge the Living and the dead.

    All the historic creeds are important. I believe what they say, even if I can’t quote them word for word. As for the Papacy…he’s one more bishop. I owe him nothing, neither allegiance nor obeisance. On the rare occasion when he’s correct, I give him kudos. Most of the time, I find him wrong and I ignore him.

    Since there was no Papacy in the Original Church that’s a moot point. He’s NOT ‘the antichrist’, if that’s what you’re getting at. There IS no ‘the antichrist’, the Church has built an entire doctrine around a word mentioned by one single apostle a mere five times. Antichristos was even defined by John, and the pope doesn’t fit the description.

  18. David Speers
    July 15th, 2013 at 11:36 | #18

    @E. W. Sumner #17

    E.W., as I said, search the site, read the Lutheran Confessions, and when you have something substantial to say about these matters offer a discussion based on more than “my confession”. There are many out there in America, eg nondemoninationals, who cannot seem to find another group of Christians to agree with, contra scripture, who claim to have their own ways of looking at things, sui generis. (again contra 1 Peter1:20). Hope you find a place to stand that transcends yourself.

  19. Ben Johnson
    July 15th, 2013 at 12:04 | #19

    @E. W. Sumner #8

    A man may be my brother in Christ even though he sins against the Gospel – just as much as I do.

    However, I won’t let him teach my children, nor will I let him teach me his own new errors from the pulpit. I have enough sin already, thank you.

  20. Son of a former monk, Scvott
    July 20th, 2013 at 07:14 | #20

    Thanks for letting the truth be known…I will send privately some excerpts from a “sexuality book” being used by a large ELCA church…disgusting and just plain indoctrination of kids!

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