National Lutheran News

Lutheran reform movement ratifies its future

Lutheran CORE sets process of discernment in motion

Lutheran CORE(Coalition for Renewal) has been a coalition of reform movements recognized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as an independent affiliated organization. That status changed after the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis in August, when CORE ended its relationship with the denomination. In late September Lutheran CORE held its previously scheduled annual convention in Fishers, Indiana, to discuss the direction this movement should take.

The stakes were identified as quite high early in the gathering of nearly 1,200 people from 41 states and three Canadian provinces. “This is the first step in a process,” the Rev. Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, said. “We don’t know how long it will take; none of us are aware of its outcome. We do know God is guiding us,” he added.

“This gathering has been 20 years in the making,” said the Rev. Ken Sauer, past bishop of Southern Ohio Synod, ELCA, and first conference keynoter. “While many of us thought that the task of forming a new church entailed working through the differences of the LCA, the ALC, and the AELC [in the 1988 merger], there were others who saw the opportunity for a radical new church body in which the role of the office of ministry of Word and Sacrament would be diminished, and the impact of multiculturalism, feminism, and flowering of the culture of the ‘60s would dominate.”

“We now have two churches within one organizational structure,” Sauer noted. Former Northwest Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Paull Spring had even stronger language to assess ELCA leadership. “The ELCA has fallen into heresy,” Spring charged. “[This] is a time of confession and a time to resist.”

The primary topic of discussion at the Lutheran CORE conference was about appropriate affiliation for congregations with the ELCA. “There have been many voices all in agreement that what has happened [the vote on human sexuality] is a catastrophe for the confessional integrity of our church. But the voices are not unanimous in giving us advice whether the structure is reformable. Thus the question of whether to stay or go.”

“We do not aim to be schismatic or sectarian,” Spring said. “We want to be church, God’s people and Christ’s body. [Lutheran CORE] will be a free- standing synod.” According to Spring, this could take various forms — choosing dual affiliation with other Lutheran church bodies, such as Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, or it could mean forming a new church body entirely.

But in the interim, Spring assured, “Lutheran CORE … will be a coalition, an association, an alternative community. … We will be a coalition of movements, congregations, and individuals.”

Attendees who were in agreement with the general thrust of Lutheran CORE were invited to vote on short-term goals for the organization. After significant debate, they decided to instruct the group’s steering committee to report back next year on whether to encourage people to stay within the ELCA, form their own denomination, or join an existing body. The current 12- member steering committee, including one layperson, was selected to develop an organizational plan over the next year.