If someone asked you to tell about the ELCA's first 25 years, how would you tell the story? As I have listened to the stories of many who served as "midwives" in the ELCA's birthing, this is what I hear.
There was a commitment to a stronger Lutheran witness to the gospel in a rapidly changing world. There was a desire to focus on the vitality and ministry of congregations and on the growth in faith of all the baptized, while at the same time growing in our awareness of and deep engagement in God's mission for the life of the world. That hope included being a strong companion to other Lutheran churches in the world, particularly through the Lutheran World Federation. It was time for an evangelical Lutheran witness less identified with preserving the traditions of immigrant ancestors and more focused on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in an increasingly diverse North American context.
Perhaps your story of the ELCA's first 25 years would be a chronology of significant decisions at assemblies — social statements, full communion agreements, "The Use of the Means of Grace," the Study of Ministry, and the election of leaders. Or your narratives may focus on controversies and the resulting tendency to define the ELCA by issues that divide us rather than the faith that unites us.
For others the major theme may be the story of losing members and congregations, decreasing resources for mission and an aging membership that is still predominantly white. Responsibilities for these realities rest with all of us. Together let us engage in the critical analysis that leads to change and a strengthening in our witness to the good news of Jesus Christ and service to our neighbors.
Finally, an evangelical church — a church that lives by faith, with a living, daring, confidence in God's grace — will tell an evangelical story. An evangelical narrative of our 25 years will tell the story of God's gracious presence and work among us, though not in pious platitudes detached from reality. An evangelical narrative discovers in real people, real life situations and real events who we are as Christ's body, what the Spirit has been doing among us with the gospel promise, and where God is taking us into the world for its good in coming years.
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers