QUESTIONS: Why do we call ourselves “Evangelical Lutheran?” What does it mean to be a “Synod?”
ANSWERS: The name “Evangelical Lutheran Synod” was chosen in 1957 after some deliberation. Prior to that, we were known as “The Norwegian Synod of the American Lutheran Church” or the “little Norwegian Synod.” The committee working on the name change decided the following four characteristics would be desirable in the name of our church body:
- It should be a distinctive name that has historical significance.
- The name should be short.
- Since churches, societies, and corporations today tend to be identified by abbreviations, the natural abbreviation must be satisfactory.
- The name should be broad enough so that it would not need to be changed in the foreseeable future (E.L.S. Synod Report 1955, pages 85-86).
The committee proposed this resolution: “Resolved, that the Synod consider the name Evangelical Lutheran Synod of America (ELSA) as the name that would most adequately serve our church and also retain its historical and confessional significance.” In 1957, we adopted the name Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
This name adequately serves our church. “Evangelical” is the name by which the Church of the Lutheran Reformation was known in Germany. Followers of the Reformation did not call themselves Lutherans. Enemies of the Reformation applied the name as an insult. Dr. Luther opposed calling the church after himself. He said, “I ask that my name be left silent and people not call themselves Lutheran, but rather Christians. Who is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. I have been crucified for no one. St. Paul in I Cor. 3:4-5 would not suffer that the Christians should call themselves of Paul or of Peter, but Christian. How should I, a poor stinking bag of worms, become so that the children of Christ are named with my unholy name?”
“Evangelical” has historic connections to the true Church of the Reformation. It means “of the Gospel” and all that pertains to the Gospel. It is from Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written. St. Paul’s words should guide everything Christian and especially Lutheran: For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2).
The Gospel, the good news, is this: God sent His only begotten Son into this world to redeem or rescue all sinners from sin, death, and damnation. Jesus accomplished the rescue by providing for us His life of holiness as if we had lived it. He paid our debt by His “innocent suffering and death.” He paid in full our debt of sin so that His Father declared a world of sinners justified. The resurrection affirms our justification. Good news to troubled hearts, this is the message of all we teach and confess.
Many Protestant Christians are also known as Evangelicals even though they do not completely or adequately teach the truths of the Lutheran Reformation. To call ourselves Lutheran lets the world know we teach, believe, and confess that the Bible is truly God’s inerrant and infallible Word and that the Lutheran Confessions are an accurate presentation of what the Scriptures teach. We are the Church of the Lutheran Reformation.
The word “Synod” has several meanings. We understand it to be from Greek, meaning “walking together.” Before the name change in 1957, we were known as the “Synode.” The committee proposed its retention because the word “’Synode’ was used alone quite extensively to designate that group of Lutherans who wanted to remain faithful to the Lutheran Confessions” (E.L.S. Synod Report 1955, page 85-86). We are a group of Christians and congregations who walk together teaching and confessing the same things –the great truths of the Bible and the ancient church restored in the Lutheran Reformation.
Rev. Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Winter Haven, FL