The ELCA is not Lutheran!
Lutherans began to come to America as early as 1624. They settled in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York at first, later in Georgia and South Carolina and the upper Midwest: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota. Some of the Lutheran settlers were confessional Lutherans, but most of them were greatly influenced by pietism and rationalism. One of the earliest leaders was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who organized some of the early Lutherans into a church body known as the Pennsylvania Ministerium.
There have been many different Lutheran church bodies in America through the years, but today the majority of Lutherans are found in one very large church body known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which began its existence in 1988.
The ELCA claims that it is a Lutheran church and that it honors the Lutheran confessions. But what is actually taught and practiced by these churches is not confessional Lutheranism. A look at their own website supplies the evidence that the ELCA is a grossly false-teaching church body. The following books are also valuable in showing the errors in the ELCA: What’s Going On Among the Lutherans? (1992) and WELS and Other Lutherans (1995).
The Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture:
The Bible itself teaches that all Scripture has been breathed out by God and is therefore inspired. Since all of Scripture is God’s Word, it is clear that all of it is true. There are no errors or contradictions in the Bible. We confess that the Bible is God’s Word; to say that the Bible contains God’s Word is insufficient.
The dominant position in the ELCA is that there are human errors and contradictions in the Bible. When the ELCA was organized, its founders very carefully and deliberately left out any reference to the Bible as the "inerrant" Word of God. None of its seminary teachers or leaders proclaim that the Bible is truth in everything that it says. This, of course, influences everything else that the ELCA does. When a doctrinal controversy arises, the ELCA has no final court of appeal, that is, no inerrant Bible from which to draw its teachings and practices.
• 2 Samuel 23:2; John 14:26; 16:13; 17:17; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:21.
The primary theological textbook used in the ELCA seminaries indicates what is being taught in ELCA: "Today it is impossible to assume the historicity of the things recorded. What the biblical authors report is not accepted as a literal transcript of the factual course of events. Therefore, critical scholars inquire behind the text and attempt to reconstruct the real history that took place."
The Bible teaches that God created all things, including man, in six ordinary days. Therefore to say that man evolved from lower forms of life is plainly contrary to Scripture. It is also clear from Scripture that Adam and Eve were real persons, and that their fall into sin took place just as Genesis describes it.
• Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31; Genesis 1:12,21, 24-25; Exodus 20:9-11; Psalm 33:6; 104:24; Jeremiah 32:17; Colossians 1:16-17.
Most ELCA teachers, however, consider the story of creation in Genesis to be a myth. That is, it is a nice story to try to explain how we got here, but, of course, it did not really happen. The ELCA tolerates and even promotes the concept of theistic evolution – the idea that God created things by means of evolution. Adam and Eve are presented as symbols of humanity, not real people. Other stories in the Bible, such as the stories of Noah, Jonah, and Job are also myths intended to teach some moral lesson – not factual.
The Words of Jesus:
As disciples of Christ, we of course believe that Jesus actually said all the statements attributed to Him in the New Testament. He Himself said that He would give the Holy Spirit to His apostles to remind them of the things He had said to them, so that we might know them and come to faith in Christ through these words.
• Luke 1:1-4; John 14:26; 16:13; 17:17; 20:31; 21:24; Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 John 1:1-3.
Many teachers in the ELCA, however, take the position that most of the statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were not actually spoken by Him but were added to the Bible by early Christians in their desire to honor their Lord. Of course, this means in plain English that they were liars. The "Jesus Seminar" is a group of scholars who have put out a book of five Gospels (including a Gospel of Thomas with the usual four) that claim to separate the real teachings of Jesus from the teachings that are found in the Gospels. These scholars have concluded, for example, that the only word of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus actually said was the word "Father." The ELCA is represented among the scholars of the "Jesus Seminar."
The Virgin Birth of Christ:
The Bible teaches clearly that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, and that therefore He did not have a biological father on this earth.
• Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:31-35.
The ELCA, however, tolerates the view that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but that later Christians ascribed His birth to a virgin in order to honor His name. They say that the real facts are that either Joseph or perhaps a Roman soldier was His father. The ELCA textbook says this about the virgin birth: "The primary interest of dogmatics is to interpret the virgin birth as a symbol and not as a freakish intervention in the course of nature."
The Deity of Christ:
The Bible teaches clearly in many places that Jesus is God, even as we confess in the Nicene Creed.
• Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 16:13-17l 26:63-66; Luke 1:35; John 1:1; 10:28-30; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; 1 John 5:20.
Many in the ELCA, however, are willing to concede that the doctrine of Jesus’ deity is not taught in the Bible but that it was a doctrine developed by the early Christians in order to honor Jesus. On this point the ELCA textbook says: "The notion of the preexistent Son of God becoming a human being in the womb of a virgin and then returning to his heavenly home is bound up with the mythological picture of the world that clashes with our modern scientific world view." And again the textbook says: "The preexistence of Christ is an integral part of the myth of the incarnation." We have to realize that when ELCA theologians talk about Jesus being God, they do not really mean that Jesus was and is true God from all eternity. They mean only that He is given the name of God in order to honor Him as someone special.
We believe, as the Bible teaches, that God punished Jesus on the cross in our place. Jesus died for our sins as our Substitute. God forgives us our sins for Christ’s sake, that is, because Jesus died in our place. Jesus was our Substitute also in His life, keeping the law of God and being perfectly obedient throughout His life.
• Isaiah 53:4-12; Mark 10:45; Rom. 3:19-26; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Gal. 4:4-5; Eph. 1:7-10; Col. 1:19-20; Hebrews 10:1-10.
Many ELCA theologians, however, teach only that Jesus died for us as a man might die for his friends. They do not want to think that God would be so "unjust" as to punish Jesus for our sins. One ELCA theologian taught in an ELCA textbook: "Jesus came and died because God is merciful, not to make God merciful. We killed him because he forgave sins, not to make forgiveness possible."
The tomb was empty on Sunday morning, because Jesus rose physically from the dead and showed Himself alive to His disciples. Our bodies also will rise from the dead on the Last Day.
• Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:10-12; Luke 24; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 1 Peter 1:20-21.
Some ELCA teachers, however, present Jesus’ resurrection as a spiritual resurrection, not as a physical resurrection. Whether the tomb was empty or not is no concern to them. They would maintain that we can believe in Jesus’ resurrection even if His body remains in its tomb. One graduate from an ELCA seminary claims that when he graduated from the seminary, he did not believe in Jesus’ physical resurrection, nor did most of his classmates, nor did any of his teachers. The Bible, however, teaches us that if we deny Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we are not Christians at all.
The New Morality:
The Bible clearly teaches that fornication is a sin. This includes extramarital and premarital sexual intercourse. Homosexuality is condemned in Scripture, both the lust for it and the act itself. There is forgiveness for the penitent adulterer and the penitent homosexual. The Holy Spirit gives power to the repentant Christian to amend his sinful life and change his ways.
• Is. 55:7; Ez. 18:30; Luke 13:1-5; Acts 26:19-20; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:16-25; Eph. 5:5-11; Hebrews 13:4; Rev. 21:8.
The ELCA, however, tolerates and even supports the view that extramarital and premarital sexual relations are not always sinful, and that homosexuality is an alternate lifestyle. The ELCA has also formally voted to accept pastors who openly promote homosexuality and practice it in their lives.
The Way to Heaven:
The Bible clearly teaches that there is only one way to be saved. Jesus is the Way; no one goes to the Father except through Him. He is the only Savior for all mankind. Those who die without faith in Him are lost eternally.
• Mark 16:16; Luke 10:16; John 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:11-12; Romans 10:9; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 John 2:23; 5:12; 2 John 1:9.
The ELCA, however, tolerates the increasingly popular view that sincere followers of non-Christian religions may also get to heaven (pluralism). In fact, universalism is very popular today which says that eventually all will go to heaven, and that there is no eternal hell.
Other Doctrines and Practices:
Almost all ELCA churches practice open communion; that is, the Lord’s Supper is given to anyone who happens to be present at a service. The practice of infant communion is gaining headway.
• Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 10:16-17; 11:26-29; Romans 16:17-18.
The practice of woman suffrage is universal in the ELCA; the ELCA makes no distinction between men and women in their calling of pastors and teachers.
• Genesis 2-3; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-14; 1 Timothy 3:2,12.
Abortion is considered a viable option for expecting mothers. One ELCA statement declares: “This church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion.” Among such reasons they list: threats to the physical life of the mother, cases of rape or incest, and the likelihood of fetal abnormalities.
• Ex. 20:13; 21:22-23; Psalm 31:15; Job 33:4; Acts 17:24, 25.
Another ELCA statement says: “We question whether the death penalty can be administered justly. … We oppose the death penalty.”
• Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13-14.
The ELCA calls itself Lutheran, but the above paragraphs give evidence that the ELCA is not confessionally Lutheran, by any means. This is further evidenced by the fact that the ELCA practices fellowship with many non-Lutherans. At its 1997 convention the ELCA adopted a formula of agreement with the following non-Lutheran church bodies: The Presbyterian Church (USA); the Reformed Church in America; the United Church of Christ. This agreement means that all of these church bodies consider themselves in full communion with one another.
In August of 1999 the ELCA approved full communion with the Episcopalian Church. The agreement makes provision for all ELCA pastors in the future to be ordained by a bishop in the “historic episcopate.” This agreement makes necessary something that is certainly not commanded in Scripture as being necessary: namely, ordination by a bishop who has in turn been ordained by someone who can trace his ordination back to the apostles. At the same time the ELCA likewise approved full communion with the Moravian Church in America.
Now, at their August 2009 convention the ELCA finally approved full communion with the United Methodist Church. The agreements with these church bodies include, among other things: “a mutual recognition of Baptism and a sharing of the Lord’s Supper, allowing for joint worship and an exchangeability of members.”
Clearly, these agreements ignore or make light of the historical doctrinal differences between Lutherans and other Protestants. These doctrinal differences have not been resolved on the basis of Scripture, rather, they have been ignored. In reality these churches are in basic agreement that the Bible is NOT the Word of God, and therefore they can be sure of no doctrine, nor do they really have a doctrinal position anymore.
Similarly, representatives of the ELCA were on hand in Augsburg, Germany on October 31, 1999, to sign a document together with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. The document declares that Lutherans and Catholics are basically agreed on the doctrine of justification by faith. This agreement is made possible by the fact that certain words such as “grace” and “justification” are not clearly defined. The Roman Catholic representatives said that there is nothing in the document that differs from the decisions of the Council of Trent. Since the Council of Trent plainly cursed the teaching of justification by faith alone, without the deeds of the law, it is clear that this agreement does not at all resolve any doctrinal differences. Nevertheless, the leaders in the ELCA hail the agreement as a historic resolution of the conflict between Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church. What it really indicates is that the ELCA and its sister congregations in the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are no longer confessional Lutheran church bodies.
The above teachings of the ELCA are NOT what Lutheranism is! How can one be Lutheran and have fellowship agreements with both Reformed churches and the Catholic Church? It was separation from both the Roman Catholics and Reformed churches that brought about true Lutheranism in the 1500's. How can one be Lutheran and reject the above stated teachings of Christianity? The ELCA’s own teachings show them to be no longer Lutheran, no longer Christian. The ELCA is everything that true Lutheranism is not.
We – the members of the CLC – are true Lutherans who continue to hold on to the Truth of God’s inspired Word. May the Lord preserve His truth among us, and help us, individually and collectively, to be effective witnesses of true Lutheran (Christian) teaching to the world around us!
“Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
we keep its teachings pure
throughout all generations!”
Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew
and was based in large part on work done by Pastor David Lau.
If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew