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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Across the wide Missouri divide

Why Lutheran kin are so separate

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the ELCA are obviously kin, though they often bicker and bruise each other the way brothers and sisters do.

The basis for ordained ministry and constitutional life in both emphasize the authority of the word of God, as in the sacred Scriptures; the ancient ecumenical creeds; and the 16th-century “confessions” in the Book of Concord of 1580, with focus on the Augsburg Confession and Martin Luther’s catechisms. The liturgies are quite similar; the beliefs about the sacraments identical. The two church bodies cooperate in numerous social ministries, devoting themselves together to works of love.

Since they share so much on these basics, why do they remain apart and why in so many ways do they feel so different? Why do they have separate listings in the Yellow Pages or among church advertisements in newspapers? Why separate conventions? Why do they so seldom speak well of each other?

To begin to answer such questions it’s most efficient to zoom in at once on the three main differences as seen and felt by members and close observers of both churches.

Probably most noticeable is that, while the ELCA welcomes at the Lord’s table baptized Christians who are living in the disciplined life of congregations, Missourians only commune fellow Missourians or those guests from a few foreign “free churches” with which they share doctrinal statements. They call this policy “close communion” (some say “closed communion”). In most LCMS churches, ELCA members will be rebuffed as they approach the altar or chided in counsel after the celebration.


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