Guest Article — ELCA Has Biggest Split in American Church History

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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