Lutherans, are all of them the same?
There are three main bodies of the Lutheran Church in the United States. These bodies are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church belongs to the ELCA.
Likewise, there are many other smaller Lutheran bodies in the United States. The better known of these smaller bodies are the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC), Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC), Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) and the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC).
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Prior to 1988, the ELCA did not exist. The ELCA is now the largest Lutheran body in the USA with about 5 million members. The ELCA is a product of the merger of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Association of American Lutheran Churches (which broke off from the Missouri Synod). The ELCA ordains women and believes scripture to be historical and not always literal. Also, there is no set opinion of when taking Holy Communion if it is actually the Body and Blood of Christ. It is up to ones own opinion when taking it.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS)
The second largest Lutheran Church body is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and has about 2.6 million members. Originally, this church was named "The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States."
The LCMS does not ordain women, but they do allow women to serve as officers in the church. Also, the church believes communion is the true body and blood of Christ. The church also takes the Holy Scriptures as literal.
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)
The third largest Lutheran body is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, with about 400,000 members. The WELS is the most conservative of the three major Lutheran churches in the United States.
The WELS does not ordain women and does not allow women to office. They take the Holy Scriptures to be totally true. The WELS also does not consider members of the ELCA and of the LCMS to be 'legitimate' Lutherans.
The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC)
The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC) was formed in 1962 and is the fourth largest of all the American Lutheran bodies. The churches that formed the AFLC were members of the Lutheran Free Church who did not wish to join the the American Lutheran Church (ALC). The AFLC has more than 230 congregations currently.
The American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC)
The AALC were formerly churches of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and formed in 1987 due to the ELCA merger. These churches did not want to join the ELCA. AALC Lutherans believe:
The full authority of the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God;
The Lutheran Confessions as a true interpretation of Scripture;
A purpose focused on the Great Commission with priority for Evangelism and World Missions;
The authority of the local congregation as the basic unit of the church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS)
The ELS is another smaller Lutheran body and is very conservative. This church has about 21,000 members and was originally known as the "Norweigan Synod". The ELS is in full fellowship with the WELS.
The Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC)
The CLC was formed in 1963 due to the break-up of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America due to disagreements of principles. The CLC was created primarily from the WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). The CLC teaches that the Bible is the only authoritative source for doctrine. It subscribes to the Lutheran Confessions as an accurate presentation of what Scripture teaches.