A retired Lutheran minister in State College is the leader of a new church body that was organized last weekend in Grove City, Ohio.
The Rev. Paull Spring, 72, is bishop of the North American Lutheran Church, which was formed by congregations that are leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Spring was the bishop for the ELCA's Northwest Synod Pennsylvania from 1988 to 2001 and also served as pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in State College and as an interim pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Huntingdon before retiring four years ago.
He said about 30 ELCA churches joined the North American Lutheran Church but he anticipates about 100 churches joining the newly formed denomination by the end of the year and another 100 in 2011.
The churches are leaving the ELCA in regard to what is the final authority of the church.
"Is it the Holy Spirit or the mood of the times?" he asked. "Our only authority is the Bible and the culture is encroaching on the authority of the Bible."
A grassroots effort, called Lutheran CORE was formed about five years ago to express concerns about changes being made by the ELCA. The intent of CORE which stands for Coalition for Renewal was to remain in the ELCA and work with the church. Spring said CORE was successful until last year when the ELCA voted to bless same- sex unions and to allow clergy with same-sex partners to serve in its churches.
He said Scriptures in Genesis and Romans make it absolutely clear that sexual relations are between a man and woman.
"For 2,000 years the church has been very clear on this matter," Spring said.
He said the North American Lutheran Church also has concerns about the ELCA changing titles for God to make them gender inclusive. He said Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been changed to Creator, Savior and Sustainer.
Spring said he doesn't mind gender inclusive language when it comes to people, but when it comes to God, it is a matter of biblical revelation.
He said masculine references to God have been changed in the new ELCA hymnals and Psalms. References to God such as king, lord or master have been changed and retranslated. He said he was shocked when comparing the words in the older hymnal and the one issued several years ago.
Only one church in the Allegheny Synod that serves Blair, Bedford, Cambria, Centre, Clearfield, Huntingdon and Somerset counties has taken steps to join the NALC.
Ninety percent of the members present June 13 at Dunmyer Lutheran church in Johnstown voted to leave the ELCA said their pastor, the Rev. Nila G. Cogan.
In order to leave the ELCA, a church must have two-thirds of the congregation agree on two votes to be taken 90 days apart and have a consultation with the synod bishop. Dunmyer Lutheran will take a second vote on Sept. 19.
Cogan said Dunmyer has dual affiliation right now, but "our hearts are in the NALC."
Cogan said offerings and attendance are up since Dunmyer took a stand on the church authority issues. About 50 people attend the 100-member church on a regular basis.
Cogan said she would remain in the Allegheny synod and leave the ELCA if she could.
At the synod's 2009 assembly held at Blair County Convention Center, representatives from the 127 churches recommended that the churchwide assembly reject the blessing of same-sex relationships and allowing clergy in same-sex relationships to serve the church.
Bishop Gregory Pile of the Allegheny Synod said congregations have discussed and continue to discuss the issues, but overall the churches are choosing to remain in the ELCA.
"I have had very few of the kind of discussions I have had at Dunmyer," he said.
Pile said the churches, not the bishop, name their pastors by a two-thirds yes vote. It occurs after the candidate has been recommended by a search committee and the church council.
Pile said churches have the opportunity to call pastors who are in long-term monogamous same-sex relationships and those pastors are held publicly accountable by the church.
"The congregations have control over their pastors. We don't appoint them," he said.
At the 2010 Allegheny Synod assembly, the representatives almost unanimously passed a resolution to work together despite their differences.
"It was to encourage us to walk together and move in unison in our mission to tell and live the story of Jesus Christ," he said.