We are a synodical federation, fellowship, and association of Centrist Evangelical Lutheran congregations and pastors. The point of origin for most of us has been the former Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and its successor body the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We made the decision to leave the ELCA in November of 1991. Since that time we have searched for a Lutheran Church body to become part of that would be "centrist" in stance. While we searched we successfully planted our congregations and engaged in ongoing Mission efforts. Ours has been a wandering Aramean search and we found no truly "Centrist" Lutheran alternatives in existence.
For the first 6 months of our existence we were Independent Free Lutherans and then we gave The Association of American Lutheran Churches (TAALC) a trial membership. Next we were part of a trial effort to establish the Lutheran Ministerium & Synod - USA (LMS-USA) and then we were back to "an Independent Free Lutheran" stance hoping that some of our relation from the Muhlenberg/General Council/Augustana/Suomi/United Synod of the South Lutheran tradition might join us (or we might join them) in forming a genuinely centrist (Moderate to Middle Conservative in range of views) Evangelical Lutheran Synodical federation, fellowship or association.
The criteria in our looking for a Lutheran Synodical federation, fellowship, or association home was that it be one that would have and hold to similarities we treasured from the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA) and its predecessors (The General Council, Ministerium of New York, and the Ministerium of Pennsylvania as well as from the former Augustana Lutheran Synod, Suomi, and United Synod of the South tradition.) days. A number of folk in our fellowship are former Augustana Synod Lutherans. We are thus a blend of Berkenmyer, Muhlenberg, and Augustana tradition Lutheran descendants.
With these points of origin in mind "Centrist Lutheran" for us means "Lutherans who span a range from Moderate to Middle Conservative; who represent a middle ground between ELCA on the one hand and the other various Conservative Lutheran bodies on the other such as LC-MS, WELS, ELS, CLC etc. We attempt to represent a bit "larger tent concept" than the approaches presently held by virtually all the other Lutheran alternative options to ELCA. Our experience has been that groups such as the AFLC, TAALC, LMS-USA, LCS, are more to the Middle Conservative-Conservative end of the spectrum and thus are not truly "Centrist" in stance. Smaller groups that have formed in the past with a desire to be "Centrist" often have found themselves pulled more and more toward the conservative end of the spectrum primarily, we believe, because these were the only other Lutherans to talk too and dialogue with.
We see ourselves as "Biblical, Confessional, Liturgical, Traditional, Congregational in polity, holding to a high view of the Office of Ministry minus hierarchy, and Evangelical Lutheran with a strong emphasis upon Freedom in Christ and upon Mission". We also understand ourselves as being open to a span or range of Theologies from Moderate positions on the one end to the Middle Conservative positions on the other end. While this is a narrower spectrum (smaller tent) than that supposedly held to in ELCA it is also a much broader concept (larger tent) than that held to in most of the other Lutheran Alternatives to ELCA. Thus we believe we have some claim to being truly "Centrist" Lutheran.
There are indeed other Lutheran denominational and association groupings (some mentioned above) that emphasize many of the aspects we identify with in our definition of "Centrist Lutheran" however, these also have other emphases added that we do not share such as, for example, a pronounced "Pietistic" orientation or a "Charismatic" focus, or a "Hierarchical" polity of one form or another. Much of what we set forth in our organizational principles and constitutions has been molded and shaped by what was encountered while we were in the ELCA. But we discovered a number of areas from our sojourns in TAALC and in LMS-USA that caused us deep reflection and consideration. The result of these reflections are thus also included in our organizational principles and constitutions. We have discerned patterns in other Lutheran groupings with whom we have been associated that we believe ultimately lead ultimately to a recreation or replication of many of the same difficulties encountered in ELCA.
In our sojourns since leaving ELCA we have noticed and indeed, encountered first hand, various pronounced fears of contamination by pastors and congregations coming out of ELCA or other groupings of Lutherans. These various fears result in what amounts to a kind of 2nd class membership for former ELCA pastors and congregations. Trial or probationary membership becomes the rule and we believe such truly undermines the Evangelical proclamation of freedom as well as unity in Christ. Thus our ELCM polity and constitutional organization has been an intentional attempt to eliminate all such probationary or trial membership devices and yet to guarantee that the basic doctrines of the One, holy, catholic (Christlicht) and Apostolic faith (Una Sancta) may not be overturned by majority votes.
We are very open to exploring possibilities for joint efforts with others sharing a similar orientation to our own. We are also open to folks (Pastors and Congregations) needing and seeking only a temporary safe haven to be a part of our fellowship while they decide where to permanently align or affiliate themselves.
We had been in the process of deciding whether or not to pursue further organization of a little Mustard Seed "Centrist Lutheran Church Body". Then the events taking place at the Denver, Colorado ELCA Assembly coupled with the actions that were taken at the earlier Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ELCA Assembly finally convinced us to proceed immediately to organize and to Incorporate the Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium (ELCM). ELCM for the first several years shall also be the Non Geographical Synod of ELCM.
The focus of Luther's great hymn continues, we believe, to be most relevant to our own day and age. We are to pass on only that which we have first received and so:
God's word is our great heritage,
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Be this our chief endeavor;
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay;
Lord, grant while time shall last
Thy Church may hold it fast:
Throughout all generations.
Hymn Lyrics by Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, 1783-1872 set to the tune of Ein' Feste Burg by Martin Luther, 1483-1546
We trace our roots of origin back to the American Lutheran Christians of Colonial American strand who were present prior to but first organized by Pastor Henry Melchior Muhlenberg . (Some of us - especially our ELCM President - actually have roots of origin to the late 17th and early 18th Century Dutch & German orthodox Lutheran Congregations on the New York Hudson river.)