THE AALC AND OTHER LUTHERANS
by The Commission on Doctrine and Church Relations
The concept of "inquiring minds" is not limited to
the audience sought by the grocery store tabloids. It also describes
those who want to know how The AALC compares to other Lutherans.
However, making such a comparison presents several challenges, not
the least of which is trying to avoid ending up with something that is
overly negative and divisive. It is the opinion of this Commission that
more negativity and divisiveness are the last things Lutheranism needs
in this day and age.
Just as challenging is the fact that The AALC is a confessional
Church. This means that we subscribe to written statements of what
we believe, teach and confess. It also means that we reject both
explicitly and implicitly teachings that are. contrary to what
we believe, teach and confess. As a result, we will be "for" some teachings and "against" others
by the very nature of our confessional position. In the language of the
Confessions, not only do we "believe, teach and confess," but
we also "reject and condemn."
In addition, this kind of comparison is complicated by the fact that
sometimes there may seem to be a wide gap between public doctrines and
individual practices. In other words, the public doctrines to which a
church body adheres may not be reflected in the actual practices of a
given member congregation or its pastor. While congregational autonomy
may be the cause of some of this, one would have to question the integrity
and honesty of any group or pastor employing private practices which contradict
their public confessional witness.
Nevertheless, there are obvious differences among those who call
themselves "Lutheran." And
the purpose of this report is to highlight some of those differences
in such a way as to help us better understand where The AALC fits
into the larger picture of Lutheranism in America today.
WHAT IS A LUTHERAN?
According to the Lutheran liturgical tradition, Lutherans claim
to be part of "The Evangelical Lutheran Church." In other words,
there seems to be some kind of unity among those who share the name "Lutheran." And
yet in the United States alone, there are just under some twenty groups
of Lutherans with separate denominational labels. Perhaps the first question,
then, ought to be, "What is a Lutheran?"
While there may be many ways to answer that question, for purposes
of this discussion a Lutheran is one who subscribes to the authority
of the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions and the three Ecumenical
Creeds (where "Ecumenical" refers to the universal acceptance
of the Apostles', the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds among Christians
throughout history and around the world). These confessional writings
and creeds are recorded in the volume, The Book of Concord, the very
purpose of which was and still is to seek "harmony" ("Concord")
among those who call themselves "Lutheran."
According to the Confessions themselves, Lutherans believe, teach
and confess that the Bible is the Word of God and that it is the "sole
rule and norm of all doctrine." Along with this understanding
of Scripture, it is uniquely Lutheran to believe, teach and confess
that all of Scripture is divided into either Law or Gospel. In fact,
without a proper distinction between Law and Gospel, the Bible remains
a closed book. And confusing Law and Gospel only frustrates the Holy
Spirit's work of bringing people to and keeping them in the one,
true, saving faith.
This work of the Holy Spirit is accomplished through the means
of grace: Word and Sacrament. While some might suggest that this
seems to place limits on the Spirit's work, the Scriptures reveal
that it is God's will to use these objective, external vehicles
by which He would carry out His desire for "all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth" (1
Along with the Scriptures, Lutherans subscribe to the Confessions
as normative for faith and life because they are "a true exposition
of the Word of God." And this confession is made by both people
and pastors who call themselves "Lutheran." So people who join
Lutheran churches subscribe to the Confessions as they have been taught
them according to the Small Catechism. Historically, Lutheran pastors
have been required to subscribe to the Confessions unconditionally because
(quia) they are a faithful witness to the Scripture. However, the issue
of confessional subscription has been clouded by those who would subscribe "in
so far as" (quatenos) the Confessions agree with Scripture.
Combine that kind of subscription with a diminished view of the authority
of Scripture held by some Lutherans today, and one is left with a
totally subjective view of what is true, not the objective truth
both the Scriptures and the Confessions claim to be.
In addition, let it be understood that to be a Lutheran is to
be "Evangelical" in
the purest sense of the word. In other words, what Lutherans believe,
teach and confess is part of their public witness to the world for the
sake of the Gospel (that is, the evangel, the "good news")
of our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And that
Lutherans into the world in response to Jesus' mandate to "Go
and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18-20). Our prayer
is that this above all else would define what it means to be a "Lutheran."
WHO ARE THE LUTHERANS?
The largest Lutheran group by far is the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA). Created in 1987, it is comprised of three
former Lutheran bodies, the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), the
American Lutheran Church (ALC), and the American Evangelical Lutheran
Church (AELC - the origin of which was "Seminex - Seminarians in Exile," the
group which left The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LC-MS) in
Every other Lutheran organization is dwarfed by the size of the ELCA,
having a membership of churches in five figures and a baptized membership
in the neighborhood of five million - plus. The LC- MS is second in size,
with congregations numbered in four figures and a baptized membership
about half of that of the ELCA (some two-and-a-half million baptized).
A distant third is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), claiming
over 1200 congregations and a baptized membership of about half a million.
The AALC is much further down the size list. With about 86 congregations
and a baptized membership of some 20,000, The AALC is much closer
in size to the slightly larger Association of Free Lutheran Congregations
(AFLC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). In addition, other
groups which identify themselves as "Lutheran" would
include (taken from WELS and Other Lutherans, page 104):
Apostolic Lutheran Church in America
Church of the Lutheran Brethren in America
Church of the Lutheran Confession
Concordia Lutheran Conference
Conservative Lutheran Conference
Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
Evangelical Lutheran Federation
Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations
International Lutheran Fellowship
Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church
Lutheran Churches of the Reformation
The Protestant Conference
THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF LUTHERAN CHURCHES (TAALC)
By the gracious blessing of Almighty God, The AALC was born
at its constituting convention in November of 1987. Comprised
of pastors and congregations in most part from the former American
Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA),
its initial focus would be on the inerrancy and infallibility
of the Scriptures, a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord
and Savior and subscription (quia, "because" they
agree with the teachings of the truth of God's Holy Word) to the
Lutheran Confessions. This confession is summarized under the
Past to Cherish - A Future to Claim in Christ." For we boldly
build on the heritage which is ours because of God's work through Martin
Luther and the other Reformers dating back to the beginning of the Reformation
in 1517. We also press on toward the heavenly call of God's kingdom and
His righteousness which is ours by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
The AALC is a national church body which has grown from an initial
12 congregations and 22 pastors to some 86 congregations and over 150
pastors located in 23 states. The Rev. Thomas V. Aadland heads The AALC;
he holds the position of Presiding Pastor.
In September of 1993, The AALC opened its own seminary in St. Paul,
Minnesota. At the 2005 General Convention of The AALC, however, the Convention
voted to accept the invitation of Concordia Theological Seminary, of
Fort Wayne, Indiana (a seminary of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod)
to relocate The American Theological Seminary (ALTS) to Fort Wayne. This
move allowed an expansion of course offerings to ALTS students. The President
of ALTS is The Rev. Franklin E. Hays.
The Seminary is our commitment to the high quality of training
necessary to fill the pulpits of churches in The AALC with men
who boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures
affirm, while both men and women are gifted by the Holy Spirit
for the work of "ministry" (i.e., "service")
in the church, The AALC ordains only men to the Holy Ministry of
Word and Sacrament.
In doctrine and practice, The AALC reflects many of its roots from
the former ALC. In our view, that places The AALC in the conservative
middle of Lutherans in America. From that position, we affirm the full
authority of the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. As
we confess in our Statement of Faith, The AALC accepts all the canonical
books of the Old and New Testaments as a whole and all their parts as
the divinely inspired, revealed, and inerrant Word of God, and joyfully
submits to this as the only infallible authority in all matters of faith
According to this same Statement of Faith, The AALC adheres
to the Lutheran Confessions because they are a true interpretation
of the Word of God, rejects homosexuality as sin requiring repentance,
and affirms the sanctity of human life at all ages. The AALC has
also adopted a well-articulated statement on The Holy Spirit and
His Gifts, rejecting all pentecostalism and any "baptism of the Holy Spirit" theology
as contrary to Scripture and detrimental to Holy Baptism as instituted
by Christ Himself in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
Built upon this foundation, we call ourselves an "association." This
term expresses our desire to walk together in doctrine and practice even
though our congregations reflect a diversity of people and circumstances
to which God has called them. This walk together also includes a strong
sense of the mission to be God's instruments for reaching the unchurched
and the lost for Jesus Christ through the work of evangelism, the planting
of new churches, and the support of missionary efforts to "reached" and "unreached" people.
To that end, The AALC lends its support to mission work in Madagascar,
Mexico, Guatemala, Estonia, Latvia, Russia and India.
This is our commitment in The AALC. It is above all a commitment
to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who died and rose again to
save us from sin, death and the devil. And we believe, teach
and confess that He is the only way to heaven, "for there is no other name under heaven
given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
We believe that this same Jesus Christ who died and rose again also
ascended into heaven, to the right hand of the throne of God, and reigns
over His Church through the power of His Word. We also believe that Jesus
is truly among us today, establishing His real presence by His Gospel
and the treasure of the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper
as they are revealed to us through His Word. These are the means the
Holy Spirit has chosen to attach us to the saving work of Christ on our
behalf and to empower us to a life of sacrificial service in response
to Jesus' call to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow
Him as His disciples.
With great joy we thank God for all that He has given us as we walk
together in The AALC.
Both the richness of our heritage as Lutheran Christians and the treasure
of all that God has revealed in His Holy Word truly give us a past to
cherish and a future to claim in Christ.
THE AALC AND THE LC-MS
Of all the Lutheran groups in America, The AALC is closest in doctrine
to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS). That has been the case
since the inception of The AALC, which included two LC-MS doctrinal statements
in our official documents, Gospel and Scripture: The Interrelationship
between the Material and Formal Principles in Lutheran Theology, and
A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles. In addition, The
AALC has had some seven meetings with the leadership of the LC-MS to
discuss doctrinal agreement sufficient for altar and pulpit status between
the two bodies. The AALC has every intention of continuing these discussions
in the future (just as we intend to open or maintain discussions with
any group of Lutherans to search for areas of commonality).
There is certainly much that the LC-MS and The AALC have in common.
Both maintain the same high view of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
Both bodies articulate the
same biblical and confessional position on the Office of the Ministry and the
role of women in the church. Both are concerned with the question of fellowship
There are also areas where further discussion is necessary,
most of which surround the application of various biblical issues.
For example, the celebration of the Lord's Supper among congregations
in The AALC could be described as "close" Communion. While the term "close" has
been used in the LC-MS in the past, the current practice is to define
this as "closed" Communion with the perception that Holy
Communion in Missouri Synod churches is only for Missouri Synod Lutherans.
In addition, there appears to be a significant level of controversy
in the LC-MS. There is, for example, pressure to move the LC-MS toward
the ordination of women. There are also some very vocal factions
in the LC-MS such as "Jesus First" and "Daystar," the
agendas of which are circulated in unofficial publications, just
as a more conservative agenda is printed in the unofficial, privately-published,
weekly newspaper, Christian News.
Nevertheless, we in The AALC praise God for the LC-MS and its role
in promoting biblical Christianity and confessional theology. May what
we share be wholly dedicated to the glory of God for Jesus' sake.
THE AALC AND THE ELCA
The formation of the ELCA is the latest in a long line of mergers among
Lutheran groups in America. More times than not, the fruit of these mergers
has proven to be church bodies which end up watering down what they believe
in order to overcome previous differences. In other words, mergers frequently
require church bodies to reach a lowest common doctrinal denominator
in order to achieve agreement. Such is the case in how the ELCA came
The ELCA has taken a more recent step towards this kind of
unity. In 1999 the ELCA approved "altar and pulpit fellowship" with
five non-Lutheran groups: the Episcopalian Church in the USA (ECUSA),
the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America,
the United Church of Christ and the Moravian Church. What is
unique about this approach is the fact that agreement was achieved
by agreeing to disagree about doctrinal differences. It was determined
that these differences were no longer sufficient to keep these
church bodies from uniting.
One facet of this agreement has proven to be much more difficult
for the ELCA: namely, the need to reconcile its position on the
Office of the Ministry with the doctrinal requirement of the
Episcopalians called "apostolic
succession." In this case, the ELCA had to yield to a three-fold
definition of ministry (bishops, deacons and priests), and the requirement
that ordinations must be traced all the way back to the Apostle Peter.
This has caused a splinter group to form within the ELCA called, the
Word Alone Network, which seeks a return to the Scriptural position of "apostolic
succession": one holy ministry, Word and Sacrament.
The sad reality is that the ELCA has become a church body which
is unrecognizably Lutheran, or "Lutheran" in name only.
At the same time, its churches and publications continue to use language that has an historic Lutheran ring to it. This only
serves to promote a high level of confusion among churches in the ELCA and
Lutherans in America.
Obviously, the ELCA has placed itself in a position that is at odds
with many Lutherans in general and with The AALC in particular. To illustrate,
the following table highlights some of the doctrinal differences between
the ELCA and The AALC: