Monday, July 15, 2013

The Incredible, Shrinking ELCA

Over at Steadfast Lutherans, the Rev. Kevin Vogts writes about what he calls the "Biggest Split in American Church History," referring to what has happened to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since their endorsement of homosexual pastors in 2009, homosexual “marriage” in 2011, and the election last month of their first homosexual bishop.  What has happened in the ELCA is the same thing that has happened in every formerly mainline denomination that has adopted a revisionist approach to morality in the face of current cultural pressures.

Vogts cites Dr. James Nestingen, a highly respected scholar and retired ELCA seminary professor (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN), who recently concluded that promoting acceptance of homosexuality has replaced the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the primary mission and message of the ELCA.  Those who are all too familiar with the trajectory of the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and other denominations can relate to Dr. Nestingen's perspective.

The argument is the same in every denomination:  Members are told that they 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.)  But, as Pastor Vogts points out, 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.
Read all of Pastor Vogts' article here.
One could ask, "when will the leaders of the denominations that are engaged in this mad lemmings' rush over the cliff ever learn?"  But the truth is that these same leaders are so blindly committed to their ideology that they will never learn.  Their minds were made up long ago, and even the obvious facts regarding the destruction of their denomination will not deter them.  Sadly, it follows the pattern noted by St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, nearly 2000 years ago:
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:21-32)
In stark contrast to the direction of the ELCA, the Anglican Church in North America, and three other Lutheran bodies: the Lutheran Church-Canada, the North American Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, recently issued a joint Affirmation of Marriage.  It is heartening to read.

1 comment:

Allen E Anderson said...

and that does not include people who are still members of a ELCA Cong. but like me do not attend much anymore and are not as active as they once were and do not give as much as they used to, people who may have been interested in joining a ELCA church but instead joined some other church etc.