There would gave been a time when the creation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) would have given me heart palpitations. I would have groaned about the schismatic nature of a newly formed Lutheran denomination; and waxed on about how churches formed in protest tend to create a culture of dissension that permeates the whole organization’s DNA. Any protestant should know this.
But now I realize that, in my little corner of Christianity, the creation of a new Lutheran body creates mild interest in me, and nothing more. Mainly because I’ve found that the exit of some Lutheran congregations from the ELCA and ELCIC to the new NALC (or CALC or LCMC or...) affects my congregation not at all. Worship, programs, education, Stephen Ministry, ChristCare, etc, remain unaffected. We keep on keeping on.
That’s the joy of being a Lutheran. We are autonomous congregations bound together in a somewhat free association. If a pastor in - say - Edmonton (won’t mention any names) presides over a same-sex blessing, I might be affected in a guilt by association sort of way by those who worry about such things. But I’ll also be lumped in with the LCC pastor who preaches that women shouldn’t have leadership positions in the church. The non-Christian world doesn’t sit still long enough to make distinctions among Lutherans.
Which is why I find the whole NALC affair so interesting. To my mind, the premise of the newly created Lutheran denomination is that the ELCA (and to a lessor extent the ELCIC) have deviated from traditional, biblical norms, especially around sexuality.
This is an argument that will never be settled.
But what witness does the creation of a new Lutheran body bear except to re-affirm in some peoples’ minds that Christians are a squabbling mass of malcontents. And when they (we) can’t agree among themselves as to their core message, why should anyone else listen to them (us)?
However, I’m guessing that NALC’s purpose is to bear witness to other Lutherans rather than to the world. Because the world doesn’t care about the intra-ecclesial battles over theology and sexuality. The creation of a NALC will not necessarily advance the Kingdom of God. An unbelieving world isn’t impressed with affirmations of traditional doctrine.
This is because the most effective evangelism happens at ground level. People come to faith by person-to-person contact when they hear and experience God’s love through a family of believers - the Body of Christ.
This is why I’m not too worried about the creation of NALC. I don’t agree that this sounds the death-knell of the ELCIC. Even if NALC takes the majority of our churches with them the cause of the gospel will go forward. People will still hear Jesus’ message of new and everlasting life, and will receive the sacraments of new creation.
This may take different form. But God has not given up on us. And never will.