Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) was organized in 2001 by 31 congregation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that for some time had been dissatisfied with the theological drift of the ELCA. These congregations had previously been part of a reform movement within the ELCA called the WordAlone Network (which still exists), but finally decided that they could no longer remain within the ELCA when the ELCA, together with its ecumenical partner the Episcopal Church, adopted “Called to Common Mission.” This agreement brought into the ELCA a requirement that all bishops be consecrated according to the requirements of the historic episcopate (sometimes referred to as “apostolic succession”) and that all pastors be ordained by such bishops.
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod is sympathetic with this particular concern. The details of how a church body is governed are matters of adiaphora, and at least one of the ELS’s sister churches abroad is led by a “bishop.” But the ELS formally rejects “any teaching that the apostolic authority of the Public Ministry of the Word or the validity of the sacraments depends on or is derived from ordination by a bishop standing in an unbroken chain of succession from the apostles, or the necessity of maintaining a ‘historic episcopate.’”
The structure of the LCMC is non-hierarchical and decentralized, emphasizing the autonomy of the congregation. The LCMC has no president, but is administratively managed by a “service coordinator.” It operates no seminaries, but does maintain a list of approved seminaries (both Lutheran and non-Lutheran). The LCMC has within it several “districts” through which some congregations join together for closer cooperation, either on the basis of geographical proximity or on the basis of a shared emphasis in mission and theology. The non-geographical Augustana District, for example, holds its pastors to a higher level of commitment to traditional Lutheran theology than what might be found in the LCMC as a whole.
The LCMC adopted the ELCA’s statement of faith, but believes that it adheres to this statement more consistently than does the ELCA. According to this ELCA/LCMC text,
The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.
We believe, teach, and accept the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the sole authoritative source and norm of our proclamation, faith, and life.
Compare this somewhat vague wording to what the ELS states in “We Believe, Teach and Confess”:
We confess that the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, in their original form as written by the prophets, apostles, and evangelists, were given by inspiration of God. The Holy Scriptures are without error in everything they teach, … and they are the only infallible rule and norm of Christian doctrine and practice. … Since the term “inspired” is often used in a loose sense, we frequently use the expressions “verbally inspired” and “inerrant” in describing the authority and reliability of these sacred documents which God caused His servants to write.
The ELCA/LCMC statement also recognizes the Ecumenical Creeds as “true declarations of the scriptural faith we believe, teach, and confess,” the Augsburg Confession and the Small Catechism as “true witnesses to the Word of God,” and the other Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord as “further valid expositions of the Holy Scriptures.” The ELS position, with respect to all the Confessions, is firmer and clearer: “We accept these Confessions, not insofar as but because they agree with Scripture, and we believe that they are a correct exposition of the teaching of God’s Word.”
The LCMC describes its place on the American Lutheran spectrum as “centrist” and “mainstream.” Yet it has taken few stands on specific doctrinal or moral issues and allows a fairly high degree of diversity in belief and practice among its member churches. The LCMC encourages its congregations to enter into ecumenical relationships with other churches according to their own judgment and local circumstances. It has no official policy on altar fellowship, but open communion seems to be the norm. Also, women serve as LCMC pastors and in all other offices of the church. Some congregations are traditional and liturgical in their worship practices while others are more “evangelical” and even “charismatic” in their style and format.
One area where the LCMC has spoken with some clarity is in regard to same-sex relationships. It requires all its pastors to affirm “that God created us male and female, and that it is God’s will and intention that human sexual expression and fulfillment take place only within the boundaries of marriage between one man and one woman.” Indeed, the membership of the LCMC grew dramatically after the ELCA voted to allow practicing homosexuals to serve in the ministry and ELCA clergy to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. The LCMC today numbers 970 congregations in 41 states, two U.S. territories, and 15 foreign countries.
-David Jay Webber