I should make it clear that when I speak of “the Lutheran church” in this blog, I’m usually speaking of the Lutheran denomination in which I was raised and of which I am again a member today—the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, abbreviated as the LCMS. Except for a short time when I attended an ALC church after I moved to Seattle in the late 1970’s I’ve never really known any other kind of Lutheran church.
The ALC is (or was) the American Lutheran Church, one of the liberal Lutheran groups which merged in 1988 to form the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. today. It has 3.4 million members in 9,091 congregations. In addition to the ALC, the merger that resulted in the ELCA also included the LCA (Lutheran Church in America) and the AELC (Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches), a liberal splinter group that had left the LCMS in 1975. The LCMS is the second largest denomination in the U.S today, with 2 million members in 6,046 congregations. Third largest is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), generally regarded as a little more conservative than the LCMS, with 360,000 members in 1,281 congregations. These numbers are all according to Wikipedia as of December 2019. There are also a lot of smaller Lutheran groups or denominations, most of which are spin-offs of one of the three larger denominations.
The ALC and the LCA had moved so far leftward even in the 1970’s that they held no attraction for me when I became dissatisfied with the LCMS. In those days—the late 60’s through the mid-70’s—it was not clear to me that the fidelity of the LCMS to Luther’s teaching, which is nothing if not a high view of the Scriptures, would survive the onslaught from theological liberalism, in this case meaning liberalism’s advocacy of the historical-critical method, a method of studying the Scriptures which does not regard them as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, but instead as a collection of purely human documents, fragmentary in nature, uncertain in meaning, and filled with mistakes, contradictions, and outdated concepts. Fidelity to the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God was one thing which I did retain from my upbringing in the LCMS. It was partly because of that fidelity that Pentecostal teaching became more attractive to me in those days when the LCMS seemed to be wavering on the point. And had the LCMS not reaffirmed its commitment to the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, firmly rejecting the historical-critical method, I never would have become interested in rejoining it later.
I will have more to say in the future about the differences between Lutheran denominations (and even about differences between groups within the LCMS today), but for now I wanted to make my theological orientation clear in regard to the several very different beliefs that go under the name of “Lutheranism” nowadays.