Lutherans have history of offshoots

The Lutheran faith is the oldest Protestant denomination.

A monk named Martin Luther, who never intended to start a new faith, has been considered the founder ever since he protested the Roman Catholic sale of indulgences – the removal of temporal punishment for sins – in 1517.

Worldwide, there are about 66 million Lutherans. But differences of opinions over the decades have led them to form numerous offshoots.

Lutherans often call themselves "the alphabet soup people" because they have so many denominations, all with their own acronyms.

The largest current denomination is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Formed in 1988 from a merger of three Lutheran denominations – Lutheran Church in America, American Lutheran Church and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches – the ELCA has 4.6 million members and is the seventh-largest religious body in the country.

It is in full communion with Episcopalians and United Methodists, meaning the three denominations can exchange clergy and offer Holy Communion to confirmed members of all three faiths.

Up to 60 other Lutheran denominations exist in the United States. The next largest are the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod with 2.4 million members and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod with 390,000. Both LCMS and WELS are more conservative in their beliefs about homosexuality than the ELCA, and neither ordain women.

A newer denomination is the 7-year-old Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. A brand new denomination, North American Lutheran Church, plans to form next week.

The Rev. Jeffray Greene of Rantoul helped write constitutions for both LCMC and NALC.

He said LCMC was formed to be independent, with everything determined by individual congregations, and tends to appeal to larger churches; while the NALC would be hierarchal, with a bishop.

NALC is expected to be formed by the COalition for REnewal (CORE) next week in Ohio. Pastors from the Rantoul, Flatville and Royal churches that have taken initial votes to leave the ELCA plan to attend the Ohio meeting.

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