The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
We are the church that shares a living, daring confidence in God's grace. For us, as the ELCA, this faith comes through the good news of Jesus Christ and gives us the freedom and the courage to wonder, discover and boldly participate in what God is up to in the world.
We are a church that is always being made new, and at the same time, is deeply rooted in Scripture, Lutheran theology and Lutheran confessions. We are also rooted in the vibrant, diverse communities and rich histories of our congregations. It's through these roots that the Holy Spirit guides and nourishes us so that we can be a church that is both resilient and always new.
We welcome you to join this community of faith - the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - regardless of your age, race, gender, life experience, complexities and questions. You have a unique story that can only add to the richness of the larger story that makes up the ELCA. There is a place for you here!
A merger of three Lutheran churches formed the ELCA in 1988. They were The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America. Now 25 years later, the ELCA is a church that shares a living, daring confidence in God's grace. As members of the ELCA, we believe that we are freed in Christ to serve and love our neighbor. With our hands, we do God's work of restoring and reconciling communities in Jesus Christ's name throughout the world. We trace our roots back through the mid-17th century, when early Lutherans came to America from Europe, settling in the Virgin Islands and the area that is now known as New York. Even before that, Martin Luther sought reform for the church in the 16th century, laying the framework for our beliefs.
Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations
The ELCA is committed to fostering unity among the children of God for the sake of the world. The ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations team is responsible for encouraging the activity of ecumenical and interreligious life in this church and enhancing the public commitments of this church in Lutheran, ecumenical and interfaith circles.
The ELCA is committed to promoting understanding among Christians and greater unity among Christ's people. Brokenness can be healed and divisions can be overcome. To this end, the activity of ecumenical life in the ELCA is one of cooperation, facilitation, accompaniment and formation within this church, and with our ecumenical and interreligious companions.
What does this mean?
All of our work is grounded in our statement, The Vision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
"…that they may all be one." — John 17:21
The ELCA confesses the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In our preaching and teaching the ELCA trusts the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. ELCA teaching or theology serves the proclamation and ministry of this faith. It does not have an answer for all questions, not even all religious questions. Teaching or theology prepares members to be witnesses in speech and in action of God's rich mercy in Jesus Christ. Scriptures, Creeds and Confessions The ELCA's official Confession of Faith identifies the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (commonly called the Bible); the Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian Creeds; and the Lutheran confessional writings in the Book of Concord as the basis for our teaching. ELCA congregations make the same affirmation in their governing documents, and ELCA pastors promise to preach and teach in accordance with these teaching sources. This Confession of Faith is more than just words in an official document. Every Sunday in worship ELCA congregations hear God's word from the Scriptures, pray as Jesus taught and come to the Lord's Table expecting to receive the mercies that the Triune God promises. Throughout the week ELCA members continue to live by faith, serving others freely and generously in all that they do because they trust God's promise in the Gospel. In small groups and at sick beds, in private devotions and in daily work, this faith saturates all of life. Teaching for a life of faith This connection to all of life is the clearest demonstration of the authority that the canonical Scriptures, the ecumenical Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions have in the ELCA. The Holy Spirit uses these witnesses to create, strengthen and sustain faith in Jesus Christ and the life we have in him. That life-giving work continues every day, as Martin Luther explained in the Small Catechism: the Holy Spirit "calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith."
Full Communion Partners
Full communion is when two denominations develop a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith and a mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing of the Lord's Supper. This does not mean the two denominations merge; rather, in reaching agreements, denominations also respect differences. These denominations worship together, may exchange clergy and also share a commitment to evangelism, witness and service in the world. Each entity agrees that even with differences, there is nothing that is church-dividing.
A central document to Lutherans is the Augsburg Confession. Article VII of the Augsburg Confession states that "the true unity of the church" is present where the gospel is rightly preached and sacraments rightly administered. The ELCA is committed to this model of full communion as an authentic expression of Christian unity.
Characteristics of full communion
For the ELCA, the characteristics of full communion are theological and missiological implications of the gospel
that allow variety and flexibility. These characteristics stress that the church act ecumenically for the sake of the
world, not for itself alone. They will include at least the following, some of which exist at earlier stages:
Full Communion partners
Presbyterian Church (USA) Full Communion partner since 1997.
Reformed Church in America Full Communion partner since 1997.
United Church of Christ Full Communion partner since 1997.
The Episcopal Church Full Communion partner since 1999.
The Moravian Church Full Communion partner since 1999.
United Methodist Church Full Communion partner since 2009.
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." — Ephesians 2:19
A Formula of Agreement (1997)
As churches of the Reformation the ELCA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ entered into full communion in 1997. After 32 years of dialogue - and in light of identified doctrinal differences and consensus - these churches worked together to form a foundational document titled, "A Formula of Agreement." The work of reception is carried forward by the Lutheran-Reformed Coordinating Committee.
The agreement declared these four churches together in full communion on the basis of a common calling, a desire to bear visible witness to the unity of the church and a need to engage together in God's mission. These four churches pledge themselves to living together under the gospel in a trusting relationship in which respect and love for the other will have a chance to grow and flourish.
Among other things, the agreement means that the four churches:
Called to Common Mission (1999)
In 1999, the ELCA entered into full communion with The Episcopal Church. "Called to Common Mission: A Lutheran Proposal for a Revision of the Concordat of Agreement" is the document that describes that relationship. The Episcopal Church took its final action on this relationship at its 2000 General Convention in Denver. The work of reception is carried forward by the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee.
In the introduction to "Called to Common Mission" there is an important statement about the spirit of this agreement. "Our churches have discovered afresh our unity in the gospel and our commitment to the mission to which God calls the church of Jesus Christ in every generation. … Our search for a fuller expression of visible unity is for the sake of living and sharing the gospel. Unity and mission are at the heart of the church's life, reflecting an obedient response to the call of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Following Our Shepherd to Full Communion (1999)
In 1999, the ELCA entered into full communion with the Moravian Church as it was described in the document, "Following Our Shepherd to Full Communion." The Southern and Northern Provinces of the Moravian Church in America also approved this document. In 2007, the ELCA extended a full communion invitation to the Alaska Province of the Moravian Church in America. The invitation was not accepted by this Province. The work of reception is carried forward by the Lutheran-Moravian Coordinating Committee.
Lutheran churches and Moravian Provinces worldwide have for decades been in virtual full communion, including the interchangeability of ordained clergy and Eucharistic hospitality. Moravians and Lutherans regard themselves as distinct members of a single flock who are following their Shepherd in mission and ministry. Themes of "the Good Shepherd," of following Jesus, and of fellowship through discipleship were at the forefront of the Lutheran-Moravian Dialogue leading up to the full communion agreement.
Confessing Our Faith Together (2009)
In 2009, the ELCA entered into full communion with the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church General Conference had approved the agreement in 2008. "Confessing Our Faith Together" is the full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church. This marked the first time that the ELCA had moved into a full communion relationship with a church that had a membership larger than that of the ELCA. The work of reception is carried forward by the ELCA-United Methodist Church Coordinating Committee.
U.S. Lutherans and United Methodists began official dialogue in 1977. About four years later, this first round of dialogues had produced a common statement between the denominations on the Christian sacrament of Baptism, which affirmed the validity of baptism administered in accord with Scripture in our churches. From 1985 to 1987, a second round of dialogues concluded with a common statement on the role of bishops in both church bodies. A third round of dialogues began in 2001, resulting in a proposal for Interim Eucharistic Sharing between the two churches at a 2004 meeting - the final step before the adoption of the full communion agreement by both churches.
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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America