In March I wrote my "Past Imperfect" column about two denominational start ups: the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which formed in 2009, and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), which formed in 2010—indeed, yesterday.
On Friday, 1100 Lutherans, rightly and righteously disaffected from the once gigantic, now shrinking Evangelical Lutheran Church, formally adopted a constitution at a meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
Here is a key statement from the NALC's detailed press release:
‘The NALC will embody the center of Lutheranism in America. The NALC will uphold
confessional principles dear to Lutherans including a commitment to the authority of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. Members and congregations of the NALC will have direct involvement in the decisions and life of the NALC,' said the Rev. Mark Chavez of Landisville, Pa., director of Lutheran CORE.
The issue of authority surfaces three ways in Chavez's statement: (1) the role of the Bible (as contrasted with culture and the "bound conscience" of the autonomous self), (2) the role of the creeds and confessions (as contrasted with contemporary conventional wisdom), and (3) the role of the constituent churches (as opposed to bodies composed by quota systems).
On Thursday, I asked spokesman David Baer how many congregations would be part of the NALC at the beginning. He explained that under ELCA rules, congregations couldn't leave unless there was another group for them to join. Despite those rules, 18 congregations had already held congregational votes to join the NALC. Once the constitution was adopted, Baer said, the NALC "would be open for business." Over the next year, he expected those 18 congregations to grow to about 200.
This is a contrast to last year's events when several We're-not-Episcopalian groups of North American Anglicans formed ACNA. Because ACNA was a wedding of groups with hundreds of congregations, it started out with a critical mass of about 700. NALC is not a merger but an institutionalized invitation to centrist Lutheran orthodoxy.
Both the ACNA and the NALC formed after their respective mainline denominations took revisionist stances on sexuality. But both groups are clear that the real issues are not about sexuality, but about biblical authority and, in fact, the gospel.
Another interesting similarity between the ACNA and the NALC is the strong support received from sister churches in Africa. World Lutheranism's second and third largest churches are in Ethiopia and Tanzania. (Sweden has the world's largest Lutheran body, but the rate of church participation in Sweden is far below that in the African churches.) Both African bodies sent representatives to the convocation that formed the NALC, and a bishop from Tanzania participated in the installation of Paull Spring, newly elected bishop of the NALC.
Spring and four other officers were elected to single-year terms. Spring, a retired ELCA bishop from Pennsylvania, made it clear that he would not serve after that initial year. Thus as new congregations join the NALC during the coming year, they soon be able to participate in the selection of ongoing leadership.
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I was among the 800-plus attendees at a three-day theological conference that preceded the convocation at which the NALC was formed. A team of eminent Lutheran theologians was spearheaded by 81-year-old Carl Braaten, who spoke fire about the theological deficits of contemporary Lutheranism.
In a few days, I will post my reflections on the theological conference.