Differences in Lutheran Churches and Synods

by Janet Mulroney Clark
Music is a vital part of worship in all Lutheran churches, regardless of their differences.

Music is a vital part of worship in all Lutheran churches, regardless of their differences.

The Lutheran Church, one of the world’s largest Protestant denominations, has approximately 59 million members worldwide, with many groups, or synods. In the United States there are four major synods: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or the ELCA; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, or LCMS; The American Association of Lutheran Churches, or TAALC; and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or WELS. While all Lutheran churches share a common history, there are many differences in beliefs about biblical inerrancy, fellowship and Communion with other Christians, the role of women in the church, and social issues such as same-sex marriage.

Biblical Inerrancy

The ELCA believes the Bible to be “the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith and life,” according to the ELCA Confession of Faith. ELCA members believe God communicates with believers through the Bible, and that by reading and studying it, people can learn more about God. While the Bible is respected as a book of faith, the ELCA does not hold to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as the other main synods do. Biblical inerrancy is the belief that the Bible is completely accurate and free from errors.

Fellowship and Communion with Other Churches

All Lutheran churches consider worship and Holy Communion to be essential parts of their religion. Each synod has formed statements of belief about sharing worship and Communion with other Christians. Members of ELCA churches are encouraged to worship with Christians from other denominations, and Communion is open to all who have been baptized. The LCMS, TAALC and WELS practice closed Communion; only people who belong to those synods or to churches that are recognized partners may receive Communion. In their belief, closed Communion is necessary in order to protect the integrity of the sacrament.

The Role of Women

In the ELCA, women serve at all levels of leadership, from church pastors and lay leaders to bishops. The LCMS, TAALC and WELS believe only men can serve as ministers. These three synods believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, which states in Timothy 2:12 that a woman cannot have authority over a man. Their belief is that women have a vital but subordinate role to play in the life of the church.

Same-Sex Relationships

Within the ELCA, same-sex marriages are accepted and celebrated. Parishes are free to choose ministers who are in a committed same-sex relationship or marriage. The LCMS, TAALC and WELS teach that homosexuality is a sin. They do not recognize same-sex marriage and believe that homosexuals need to repent to receive the grace of God.

About the Author

Janet Clark has written professionally since 2001. She writes about education, careers, culture, parenting, gardening and social justice issues. Clark graduated from Buena Vista University with a degree in education. She has written two novels, "Blind Faith" and "Under the Influence." Clark has received several awards from the Iowa Press Women for her work.

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