We are a church that is deeply rooted and always being made new. Our roots are in Scripture and a collection of writings called the Book of Concord, as well as in the rich histories of our congregations. We’re a church that strives to be faithful to the gospel and work toward more justice and wholeness in the world.
We are equipped to live and serve in the world with all its complexities, tensions and ambiguities. All are welcome here.
We believe that all people are imperfect and are saved (made right with God) by God’s grace and God’s grace alone, through Christ. There is no special prayer you need to pray, no special state of mind you need to achieve and no good deed you need to perform. We believe that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God became one of us and took upon himself the sin and suffering of all the world. God did this to demonstrate God’s love for us. We believe that we receive the gift of grace by faith alone on account of Christ. We live in the tension of still being sinful but trusting that we are forgiven and that God is at work in us. The gift of grace expresses God’s unconditional love, and in response to that love we are set free to live gratefully and lovingly.
An important date in the Lutheran tradition is Oct. 31, 1517, when a German monk named Martin Luther started a movement known as the Reformation. He insisted the Bible showed that salvation could not be earned or bought, which was contrary to church teachings at the time. Luther believed salvation was a gift and a sign of God’s never-ending love. The most influential documents for our church were written by him and other Lutheran reformers. These are compiled in the Book of Concord. Key writings there include the Augsburg Confession and Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. We don’t believe that you are born or are baptized Lutheran, but if you participate in the Lutheran tradition, you identify as a Lutheran Christian.
We believe it’s important to have relationships and understanding with other Christian faiths, and with other religious traditions and worldviews too. With other Christians we read the Bible, gather in congregations for worship services and affirm core Christian beliefs.
The ELCA has established “full communion” agreements with six Protestant denominations: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the Moravian Church in America (Northern and Southern Provinces), The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. These agreements mean that we share enough essential understanding to participate in common mission. We exchange clergy and encourage opportunities to work together toward justice and peace. We acknowledge that differences remain, but we can talk about these, learn from each other, challenge each other and just agree to disagree.
In our multireligious world, the ELCA is committed to working with people of other religions and worldviews toward mutual understanding and for the common good. Learn more.
The Lutheran movement was born as a reform effort in the heart of the medieval Christian church in Europe. The framework for our beliefs began in the 16th century, in what became known as the Protestant Reformation. American Lutherans trace their roots back through the mid-17th century, when early Lutherans arrived from Europe, settling in the Virgin Islands and present-day New York.
The ELCA was formed in 1987 when three Lutheran churches merged to form one denomination. The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America came together to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Lutheran women were first ordained as pastors in the United States in 1970, in churches that eventually formed the ELCA. The first woman of color was ordained in 1979. In 2009, after a long period of studying the Scriptures and discerning our theological understanding of human sexuality, the barrier for ordination of LGBTQIA+ individuals was removed even as the church affirmed a variety of convictions. People of all sexual orientations and gender identities can serve as pastors and deacons in the ELCA. The gifts of all people called to ministry are received with joy.
Explore more notable ordination anniversaries in the ELCA.
Looking for a specific piece of Lutheran history? Try searching the ELCA Archives.
The ELCA has repudiated Martin Luther’s anti-Judaic writings and is committed to Jewish relations and combating anti-Semitism.