Churches that split in 1870 reunited in 1988
A story is told of the Apostle John when he was a very old man. He was the last of the original Twelve Apostles alive around the year 100. People traveled from all around to see him, and some came with questions. Yet his answer to the questions was always the same: “Love one another.” Finally someone asked him why he didn’t answer the questions, and he replied, “Because when you love one another, the questions don’t matter.” This can be true of individuals and also of churches. Within Christianity is the story of a group of churches which split in 1870 and came together again in 1988. The denomination which was formed in 1988 is known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The names of the smaller groups who split are more complicated because they went through many variations.
Before we begin you need to know that we will go through a lot of different names and abbreviations. It will be complex, but the beauty of its complexity is that in the end most of the groups come together. So from the beginning. The Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America formed in 1860. It changed its name to the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1948 (AELC). It split in 1870 into the AELC, the Conference of the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (N-DC), and the Norwegian Augustana Synod (NAS).
In 1890 the N-DC and the NAS joined with the Anti-Missouri Brotherhood (A-MB) to form the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (UNLCA). The A-MB had split from the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also known as the Norwegian Synod (NS) in 1886. The NS itself had formed in 1853 and joined with some Lutherans from Missouri, Wisconsin, and Ohio to form the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference in North America (ELSCNA) in 1872. It was from this group that the A-MB split in 1886 and eventually joined with the NAS and the N-DC to form the UNLCA in 1890.
In 1917, the UNLCA and some NS joined with the Hauge’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Synod in America (HS) to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America; it changed the name to the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) in 1946. The HS was formed in 1876 when a group separated from the Eielsen Synod, which was formed in 1846.
In 1960, the ELC joined with the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (UELC) to form the American Lutheran Church (ALC). Yes, it adopted the name of one of the groups. The original ALC was formed in 1930 when the Iowa Synod (IS; established 1854)), the Buffalo Synod (BS; est. 1845), and the Joint Synod of Ohio (JSO; est. 1818) joined together. The UELC was formed in 1896 when the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Association of America (DELAA; est. 1884) and the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (DELCNA; est. 1894) joined together.
The new ALC added a member in 1963, the Lutheran Free Church (LFC). This group formed back in 1897 when they split from the UNLCA, which had formed in 1890 when the A-MB, the NAS, and the N-DC came together.
And finally, in 1988, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed when the ALC joined with the Lutheran Church in America (LCA; est. 1962) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AsELC; est. 1976).
And the 118 years separation part? When the AELC split in 1870, it formed three groups, the AELC, the NAS, and the N-DC. The AELC went one way, and the NAS and the N-DC went another way. But they were joined together in 1988 as the ELCA. So they separated in 1870 and came together again in 1988.