What is a Lutheran?
The ELCA, along with other Lutheran churches, can trace its roots directly to the Protestant Reformation that took place in Europe in the 16th century. Martin Luther, a German monk, became aware of differences between the Bible and church practices of the day. His writings, lectures and sermons inspired others to protest church practices and call for reform.
By the late 1500s the Reformation had spread throughout Europe. Followers of Martin Luther’s teachings were labeled “Lutherans” by their enemies and adopted the name themselves. Lutheran beliefs became widespread, especially in Germany and the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland), later spreading throughout the world as early explorers took their faith with them on their voyages. Lutheranism came to the Americas that way; some of the earliest settlers in the Americas were Scandinavian, Dutch and German Lutherans. Their first permanent colony was in the West Indies, and by the 1620s there were settlements of Lutherans along the Hudson River in what are now the states of New York and New Jersey.
ELCA is formed.
The 1978 ALC and LCA conventions adopted resolutions aimed at the creation of a single church body. The AELC joined them, and the ALC-LCA Committee on Church Cooperation became the Committee on Lutheran Unity (CLU) in January of 1979.
Presiding Bishop David Preus (ALC), Bishop James Crumley (LCA) and President and later Bishop William Kohn (AELC) met with the CLU over the next 16 months, and the 1980 conventions of all three church bodies adopted a two-year study process.
Documents were in the hands of congregational leaders by November of that year, and by 1982 all the pieces were in place for the three churches to have simultaneous conventions so that, on September 8, 1982, with telephone hook-ups so each could hear the others’ votes, all three church bodies voted to proceed on the path toward a new Lutheran church.
The CLU proposals included the structure and operating procedures for a new group, the Commission for a New Lutheran Church (CNLC), and a timetable for the churches:
The 1984 conventions to discuss, review, and respond to a statement of theological understandings and ecclesial principles, and a narrative description of the new church;
The 1986 conventions to discuss, review, and respond to the articles of incorporation of the new church, the constitution and bylaws of the new church, and be able to take action to cease functioning by December 31, 1987.
The 70-member CNLC, its members deliberately chosen to be widely representative of the membership of all the merging bodies, met 10 times over the next five years, making full reports which were widely disseminated to church members.
By August 1986 the CNLC had completed its work and again the three church bodies met in simultaneous conventions, again with telephone hook-ups, and voted overwhelmingly to accept the constitution and bylaws of the new church as well as the proposed agreement and plan of merger, thus creating the fourth largest Protestant body in the United States.
William Kohn had retired, and the new AELC bishop, Will Herzfeld, steered that church body through its final vote and the months of transition to follow. The 10-member Transition Team met 15 times in the process, hiring a coordinator and settling issues such as specific location, staffing and budget for the new church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was finally born at its constituting convention in Columbus, Ohio, April 30-May 3, 1987. The three churches had “closing conventions” the day before, taking care of constitutional matters and saying good-bye. In the four days of the first convention of the new church voting members finalized legal details and elected the ELCA’s first bishop, Herbert Chilstrom, other officers, and 228 other people to various boards, councils and committees.
At 12:01 a.m., Central Standard Time, January 1, 1988, the ELCA became the legal successor to its predecessors, a mosaic reflecting not only the ethnic heritages of traditional Lutherans through its original churches, but also the full spectrum of American and Caribbean cultures, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
The Luther seal or Luther rose is a widely-recognized symbol for Lutheranism. It was the seal that was designed for Martin Luther at the behest of Prince John Frederick, in 1530, while Luther was staying at the Coburg Fortress during the Diet of Augsburg. Luther saw it as a compendium or expression of his theology and faith.
Black Cross - reminds us of the crucifiction.
Red Heart - reminds us of the natural human condition and faith which sustains us.
White Rose - reminds us of joy, comfort, and peace which faith in the risen Christ provides to us.
Sky Blue Field - reminds us that faith is the beginning of hope and a heavenly future.
Golden Ring - reminds us that blessedness in heaven lasts forever and has no end.