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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Splinter groups mark divides

Denominational splinter groups, caused by differences over everything from sexuality to ecumenical agreements, exist in many denominations — not just the ELCA.

In the ELCA, those groups go by names such as WordAlone or Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.

Some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations are part of a one-year-old Confessing Church Movement. They join by affirming salvation through Jesus Christ alone, the authority and infallibility of the Bible and sexual purity within the context of marriage. Dismayed by a perceived liberal drift in church leadership, movement leaders say they'll fight to reform their church from within.

In the Episcopal Church, officials call Anglican Mission in America "schismatic." Parishes that have joined the group are upset over church discussions of gay ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Extrapolating from what is known about congregational divisions, Gil Rendle of The Alban Institute, Bethesda, Md., says these movements can be seen in several ways, such as:

• Helping prepare the faith for the next generation.

• A "clarifying fire" to sharpen the identity of the denomination.

• An "unanswerable theological division between liberal and fundamental theology with philosophical roots that predate Christianity and cannot be reconciled."

• "Large congregations that don't feel served well" by denominations.

• A distancing from old methods such as the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.

"The literature ... suggests that the [congregation] that splits off usually does well immediately," he says. The congregation left behind "usually does not do as well in the first several years, because they are left to cope with feelings of abandonment and heavy feelings of negative evaluation," he adds. "However, after about three years the wondering and wandering seems to prompt a new clarity in this old, remaining congregation."


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