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Lutherans/Lutherans vs. Presbyterian Church USA


Greetings to you Pr.

I was raised LCMS(with a little side trip to UMC for about 1.5yrs then back to LCMS)now within the last 5yrs I left the LCMS for the ELCA(due to personal reasons with what the LCMS teaches about homosexuality) I like being a member of the ELCA but, I have a sense of calling to be in the ministry.

I have expressed my desire to possibly explore the idea of going into the ministry(it has been a dream of mine since the age of 6) and, my pastor more or less "laughed" at the very idea of such a thing.  He more or less told me that " I didn't even know you were the studious type".  Now, I've been worshiping with a small Presbyterian Church with still being a member of the ELCA.  I have even spoken to the CRE(Commissioned Ruling minister to us, Lutherans)about this idea and he is rallying around me to do this.

I'm really curious as to what the differences are between Lutherans and the Presbyterian Church USA.  I know it took a long way to ask this very short question so sorry about that..hope I didn't confuse you.

Peace and New Years Blessings to you;



Thanks for your question.  

If you were asking about LCMS vs. PC-USA, there would be a number of differences to list.  With the ELCA, it's a little more difficult to nail down because neither the ELCA nor the PC-USA have a high degree of uniformity from congregation to congregation.  

If we look at their doctrinal statements, we would see that the ELCA technically has a Lutheran doctrinal statement, although they now differ from the Lutheranism of the Reformation on several points.  Likewise, the PC-USA technically has a Reformed/Calvinist doctrinal statement, although they now differ from the Calvinism of the Reformation on several points.  Additionally, neither denomination holds its clergy and congregations to their doctrinal statement very strictly, resulting in a high degree of diversity on many doctrinal positions.  

The two big differences between the denominations' official statements would be regarding predestination and the Sacraments.  The ELCA's Lutheran heritage would hold to a "single predestination" which says salvation is all God's work and condemnation is all the condemned person's fault, while the PC-USA's Reformed heritage would say that God is responsible for both salvation and condemnation, a statement commonly referred to as "double predestination."  

Regarding the Sacraments, the ELCA's Lutheran heritage would teach that Baptism and the Lord's Supper both forgive sins and that Jesus' body and blood are really present, here on earth, in the Lord's Supper.  The PC-USA's Reformed heritage would usually agree that the Sacraments are vehicles for God's grace, but there would be considerable variety regarding whether this means they forgive sins.  For example, the Reformed typically say that Baptism does not forgive sins, but that it does connect children to the "Covenant," which results then in their sins being forgiven.  Similarly, they would say that Jesus' body and blood are present only in a spiritual sense in the Lord's supper, and in Calvin's words, "our hearts ascend to heaven to feed on the body and blood of Christ."

Regarding the more practical aspects of their teaching, it will vary considerably from congregation to congregation and pastor to pastor in both denominations.  The ELCA officially approves of homosexual behavior among its clergy and people, but many congregations within the denomination disagree with this position.  They officially pay for elective abortions in their health plan, but many congregations also oppose this.  The PC-USA as a whole has not officially approved of homosexual relationships among its clergy and members, but it has allowed each Presbytery to decide this issue for themselves.  They also have provision for elective abortions in their health plan, but they do provide a way for individual congregations to opt out of this provision if they are not supportive of such procedures.

Both denominations even have a broad spectrum of variety among their professors and pastors on such issues as the authorship of the Old Testament (did Isaiah or Moses really write the books attributed to them, or were they written later?), the virgin birth (did Mary really conceive Jesus without a human father or is that just a myth?), creation (did God really create the world in 6 days by speaking it into existence, or did everything evolve, with or without his guidance?), the miracles of Jesus (did he really perform them or are they myths or exaggerations?), and the Resurrection (Did Jesus really rise from the dead or is that a myth?)

Although I'm not sure of your age, background, or abilities, I would be unsure why your pastor would not have supported your consideration of pursuing the ministry.  I know that when I attended seminary, over half of my classmates were "second career," meaning they had graduated from college some time ago and worked in secular professions or non-pastoral church work roles for a period of time before coming to the seminary.  My classmates ranged anywhere from 22 year old college graduates to 67 year old retirees who were attending seminary while collecting social security.  Some of my classmates were very academic and enjoyed the work, while others were more practical and struggled to succeed, but embraced the task because of their desire to serve in ministry, so I would think your own assessment of the desire to perform the task and ability to handle the studies would be sufficient to determine whether you should attend.  

In summary, I think when you compare the ELCA and the PC-USA, you will find there are really very few differences between the two.  They do come from different histories, but both today are characterized by a high degree of diversity.  They even have an official "full communion" agreement (along with the Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, and a few others), which means that members may participate in the sacraments of one another's congregations, and clergy may serve congregations of the other denomination.  

I hope this helps give you an idea of how the two compare and gives a perspective for your consideration of studying for the ministry.  Feel free to post a follow-up if you desire more details on a given point.  


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Rev. Jason P. Peterson


I welcome the opportunity to answer questions regarding the beliefs and practices Lutheran Christians, especially questions comparing Lutherans with other Christian denominations or questions which contrast between various kinds of Lutherans. I am especially familiar with the more conservative Lutheran denominations (LCMS, ELS, WELS, etc.). I also take a great interest in examining new Christian movements and popular trends in Christianity from a Lutheran perspective. In addition, I can answer most questions about the original Greek text of the New Testament and its meaning, as well as questions regarding liturgy, evangelism, and preaching. A special area of interest in my ministry is race track chaplaincy/ministry, and I would love to provide information and guidance for anyone interested in this area.


I have been a pastor in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod for the past six years at St. John's Lutheran Church in Burt, IA. I currently serve as chairman of the Commission on Ministerial Growth & Support of the Missouri Synod's Iowa District West and as Track Chaplain at Algona Raceway in Algona, IA. I also write as a religion columnist for two local newspapers.

Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Algona Upper Des Moines (newspaper) Bancroft Register (newspaper)

B.A. Concordia University - Ann Arbor, MI (Biblical Languages) M.Div. Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (Exegetical Theology, Pastoral Ministry & Missions)

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Zion Lutheran Church (Columbia City, IN) Zion Lutheran Church (Altamont, IL) St. John's Lutheran Church (Burt, IA) Zion Lutheran Church (Lu Verne, IA) Algona Raceway (IA) Fairmont Raceway (MN) Hancock County Speedway (Britt, IA) Clay County Fairgrounds Raceway (Spencer, IA)

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