Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Overview
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran
Lutheranism
Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation...

 Synod
(WELS) is a North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

n Confessional Lutheran
Confessional Lutheran
Confessional Lutheran is a name used by certain Lutheran Christians to designate themselves as those who accept the doctrines taught in the Book of Concord of 1580 in their entirety, because they believe them to be completely faithful to the teachings of the Bible...

 denomination of Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. Characterized as theologically
Christian theology
- Divisions of Christian theology :There are many methods of categorizing different approaches to Christian theology. For a historical analysis, see the main article on the History of Christian theology.- Sub-disciplines :...

 conservative
Conservative Christianity
Conservative Christianity is a term applied to a number of groups or movements seen as giving priority to traditional Christian beliefs and practices...

, it was founded in 1850 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

. As of 2008, it had a baptized membership of over 389,364 in more than 1,290 congregations, with members in all 50 U.S. state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

s and 4 provinces of Canada. It is the third largest Lutheran denomination in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, following the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a mainline Protestant denomination headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The ELCA officially came into existence on January 1, 1988, by the merging of three churches. As of December 31, 2009, it had 4,543,037 baptized members, with 2,527,941 of them...

 (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is a traditional, confessional Lutheran denomination in the United States. With 2.3 million members, it is both the eighth largest Protestant denomination and the second-largest Lutheran body in the U.S. after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Synod...

 (LCMS).

WELS is in fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Synod
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod or ELS is a US-based Protestant Christian denomination based in Mankato, Minnesota, USA. It describes itself as a conservative, Confessional Lutheran body.-Membership:...

 (ELS), a smaller denomination based in south-central Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

, and is a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
The Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference is the successor to the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America except that it is international in scope rather than restricted to North America....

 (CELC), a worldwide organization of Lutheran church bodies.

WELS and ELS are independent Lutheran denominations and are not part of the ELCA, which is structured to have "synod
Synod
A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not...

s" within the denomination.
Encyclopedia
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran
Lutheranism
Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation...

 Synod
(WELS) is a North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

n Confessional Lutheran
Confessional Lutheran
Confessional Lutheran is a name used by certain Lutheran Christians to designate themselves as those who accept the doctrines taught in the Book of Concord of 1580 in their entirety, because they believe them to be completely faithful to the teachings of the Bible...

 denomination of Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. Characterized as theologically
Christian theology
- Divisions of Christian theology :There are many methods of categorizing different approaches to Christian theology. For a historical analysis, see the main article on the History of Christian theology.- Sub-disciplines :...

 conservative
Conservative Christianity
Conservative Christianity is a term applied to a number of groups or movements seen as giving priority to traditional Christian beliefs and practices...

, it was founded in 1850 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

. As of 2008, it had a baptized membership of over 389,364 in more than 1,290 congregations, with members in all 50 U.S. state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

s and 4 provinces of Canada. It is the third largest Lutheran denomination in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, following the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a mainline Protestant denomination headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The ELCA officially came into existence on January 1, 1988, by the merging of three churches. As of December 31, 2009, it had 4,543,037 baptized members, with 2,527,941 of them...

 (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is a traditional, confessional Lutheran denomination in the United States. With 2.3 million members, it is both the eighth largest Protestant denomination and the second-largest Lutheran body in the U.S. after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Synod...

 (LCMS).

WELS is in fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Synod
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod or ELS is a US-based Protestant Christian denomination based in Mankato, Minnesota, USA. It describes itself as a conservative, Confessional Lutheran body.-Membership:...

 (ELS), a smaller denomination based in south-central Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

, and is a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
The Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference is the successor to the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America except that it is international in scope rather than restricted to North America....

 (CELC), a worldwide organization of Lutheran church bodies.

WELS and ELS are independent Lutheran denominations and are not part of the ELCA, which is structured to have "synod
Synod
A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not...

s" within the denomination. Thus, the term "synod" as used by the ELCA refers to middle level administrative
Middle judicatory
A middle judicatory is an administrative structure or organization found in a religious denominations between the local congregation and the widest or highest national or international level...

 districts in different regions of the United States (example: Illinois Synod of the ELCA), whereas in the case of WELS and ELS, "synod" refers to the entire church body.

Beginning

The WELS's direct predecessor, known as The German Evangelical Ministerium of Wisconsin was founded in 1850 by several churches in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Many of the early pastors were educated and trained by mission societies in Germany. The early churches in the Wisconsin Synod had a strong German background; services and church business were conducted in German. Many of the pastors and congregations brought with them a tolerance towards forming joint congregations with the Reformed, similar to the Union Churches
Prussian Union (Evangelical Christian Church)
The Prussian Union was the merger of the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church in Prussia, by a series of decrees – among them the Unionsurkunde – by King Frederick William III...

 they left behind in Germany. In 1864, the German Evangelical Lutheran synod of Wisconsin was incorporated by an act of the state legislature.

General Council

In the 1860s, the Wisconsin Synod became increasingly conservative along the Lutheran viewpoint and against the Reformed. In the synod convention of 1867, the synod joined the General Council
General Council (Lutheran)
The General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America was a conservative Lutheran church body, formed as a reaction against the new "Americanized Lutheranism" of Samuel Simon Schmucker and the General Synod....

, a group of Neolutheran synods that left the General Synod
General Synod
-Church of England:In the Church of England, the General Synod, which was established in 1970 , is the legislative body of the Church.-Episcopal Church of the United States:...

 because it sought to compromise Lutheran doctrine in order to join with non-Lutheran American Protestantism. However, some pastors in the Wisconsin Synod agreed with the "open questions" position of the Iowa synod that some doctrines could be left unresolved and good Lutherans could agree to disagree about them.

The 1868 convention witnessed a meaningful discussion on the topic of pulpit and altar fellowship, one of the Four Points in American Lutheranism. Although there were several dissenting opinions, most of the pastors and lay delegates realized that they could not in good conscience exchange pastors with non-Lutherans or invite them to commune at their altar. They felt that the position the General Council took on this subject was inadequate. They resolved that, unless it changed course, they would withdraw from the General Council.

Synodical Conference

Following the 1868 convention, representatives of the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods held a meeting in Milwaukee during October 21–22, 1868. They discussed various points of doctrine, writing an agreement recognizing the Missouri and Wisconsin synods as orthodox Lutheran
Lutheran Orthodoxy
Lutheran orthodoxy was an era in the history of Lutheranism, which began in 1580 from the writing of the Book of Concord and ended at the Age of Enlightenment. Lutheran orthodoxy was paralleled by similar eras in Calvinism and tridentine Roman Catholicism after the...

 church bodies and that they have pulpit and altar fellowship together. The agreement noted that in the event a doctrinal error arose in one of the two synods, they would not question each other's orthodoxy as long as they both used all Christian means at their disposal to resolve the problem. This agreement was later adopted by each of the synods in convention.

The Ohio Synod invited the Wisconsin Synod, Illinois Synod, Missouri Synod, and Norwegian Synod, to Chicago on January 11–13, 1871. There the synods drew up a document of association for the synods to vote on at their next convention. They also invited the entire membership, both teachers and pastors, of all the synods to attend a general convention the next year. This first meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America
Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America
The Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America was a Lutheran joint fellowship organization between the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod , the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod...

, commonly called the "Synodical Conference", was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 10–16, 1872. They wrote the constitution to the Synodical Conference, which arranged the synods together as a federation and did not vest any real authority with the Synodical Conference, either at the convention or board level. The fellowship union included full communion among members, the sharing of educational facilities, joint mission and benevolence work, and open pulpit between pastors of the different synods.

Reorganization

The first convention of the Synodical Conference also endeavored to reduce the severe competition between synods. The delegates planned to reorganize all Synodical Conference Lutherans into separate state synods, although allowing for separate organization along the lines of the three languages—German, Norwegian, and English. The 1876 and 1877 conventions also took up this cause, and added to it the goal of providing centrally located ministerial and teacher education campuses. The Minnesota Synod favored the approach of organizing state synods, but only if they would be independent of the larger Ohio and Missouri Synods. Likewise, the Wisconsin Synod desired organization along state lines, but only on the condition that they would be prohibited from joining any larger synodical body, that is, the already existing Ohio and Missouri Synods. The Wisconsin Synod also did not think that it could derive any benefit out of a centrally run seminary. In response to this strained relation between the Wisconsin Synod and the other synods, the Synodical Conference elected a committee made up of Wisconsin Synod delegates and other synods' representatives to repair relations with the Wisconsin Synod in time for the next convention in 1878.

In 1878, the Wisconsin Synod withdrew its demand that the state synods had to be independent of the Missouri or Ohio Synods. The Missouri Synod needed to build a new seminary, since location at its current campus was strained. Although there was considerable plans to build a new joint Synodical Conference seminary outside of Chicago, because of the hesitance of the Wisconsin Synod on this subject and the inability of any of the other members besides Missouri to contribute financially to the new project, it was tabled, and ultimately never happened.

The 1878 convention voted in favor of establishing state synods. These state synods were to organize into two or three larger synods, one for the east (corresponding to the Ohio Synod), one for the southwest (corresponding to the Missouri Synod), and one for the northwest (which would include all congregations in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas and all parts west). This formed three larger synods, which solved the longstanding concern that if either the Missouri or Ohio synods were allowed to keep their identity, they would dominate the rest of the Synodical Conference, or, even worse, the Minnesota or Wisconsin Synods would be forced to join one of them. This new organization did not apply to congregations speaking Norwegian, and English speaking congregations were to organize as separate district synods within one of the three larger synods

Schism

The Synodical Conference split when the Ohio Synod left the Synodical Conference in 1881 over the issue of whether God predestined people according to his foreknowledge of whether they would come to faith. The Ohio Synod had some pastors that allowed for this position, while the Missouri Synod declared it to be false doctrine. Likewise, the Norwegian Synod left the Synodical Conference in 1883. However, the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods stood together in cooperation and harmony during this period of fierce debate.

Bennett Law

Along with other ethnically German denominations, the Wisconsin Synod successfully spoke out in opposition to the Bennett Law
Bennett Law
The Bennett Law was a very controversial state law passed in Wisconsin in 1889, that required the use of English to teach major subjects in all public and private elementary and high schools. It affected the state's many German-language private schools , and was bitterly resented by German-American...

, which outlawed education in German in Wisconsin. Enacted in 1889, it was repealed in 1891.

Apache Mission

In 1893, two Wisconsin Synod missionaries began work in Arizona at Peridot
Peridot, Arizona
Peridot is a census-designated place in Gila and Graham counties in the U.S. state of Arizona. The population was 1,266 at the 2000 census.Peridot is named for the mineral peridot, found in basalt flows nearby.-Geography:...

 and Old San Carlos
San Carlos, Arizona
San Carlos is a census-designated place in Gila County, Arizona, United States. The population was 3,716 at the 2000 census.San Carlos is the largest community in and the seat of government for the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation....

 in the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation
San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation
The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, in southeastern Arizona, United States, was established in 1871 as a reservation for the Chiricahua Apache tribe. It was referred to by some as "Hell's Forty Acres," due to a myriad of dismal health and environmental conditions.-Formation:President U.S....

 among the Apache
Apache
Apache is the collective term for several culturally related groups of Native Americans in the United States originally from the Southwest United States. These indigenous peoples of North America speak a Southern Athabaskan language, which is related linguistically to the languages of Athabaskan...

 people. Congregations were soon established. Currently there are nine Wisconsin Synod congregations on the reservation.

1917 Merger

In 1892, the Wisconsin Synod had federated with the Michigan and Minnesota synods to form the General Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Other States. The Nebraska Synod joined the federation in 1904. In 1917 the synods voted to turn their federation into a formal union, known as the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States. By 1930, the merger and other factors had pushed the Wisconsin Synod to become a primarily English-speaking synod. The present name was adopted in 1959.

Protes'tant Controversy

From 1926–29, a small group of persons and congregations were expelled or voluntarily left the WELS in an incident known as the "Protes'tant Controversy." They formed the Protes'tant Conference
Protes'tant Conference
The Protes'tant Conference is a loose association of Lutheran churches and churchworkers in the United States. It was organized in 1927 by suspended former members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod following an intrasynodical controversy...

.

Breakup of the Synodical Conference

Doctrinal differences among the synods of the Synodical Conference, especially concerning the doctrine and practice of church fellowship, surfaced during the 1940s and '50s. Problems began when the LCMS began exploratory talks with leaders of the American Lutheran Church
American Lutheran Church
The American Lutheran Church was a Christian Protestant denomination in the United States that existed from 1960 to 1987. Its headquarters was in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Upon its formation in 1960, the ALC designated Augsburg Publishing House , also located in Minneapolis, as the church publisher...

 (ALC). The ALC differed on their doctrine of Predestination and therefore did not share doctrinal fellowship with the Synodical Conference. Since there had been no recent change on the ALC's doctrinal position, the LCMS was then charged by some within the Synodical Conference of changing its position on church fellowship. After years of continued talks, the ELS severed its fellowship relations with the LCMS in 1955 and withdrew from the Synodical Conference. Two years later the WELS publicly recognized the same doctrinal disagreements with the LCMS, but rather than break fellowship, decided to "admonish" the LCMS to return to its former practice.

Church of the Lutheran Confession

Dissatisfaction over this decision led about 70 pastors and a similar number of congregations to leave the WELS, ELS, and LCMS to form the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC)
Church of the Lutheran Confession
The Church of the Lutheran Confession is a conservative Christian religious body theologically adhering to confessional Lutheran doctrine. Founded in 1960 in Minnesota, it has approximately 75 congregations in 24 U.S...

. Their chief complaint was that the WELS misapplied the principles of Christian fellowship by not breaking immediately with the Synodical Conference and the LCMS after it had publicly recognized doctrinal disagreements. While the WELS broke fellowship with the LCMS in 1961, the CLC and the WELS remain at odds regarding this issue to this day.

Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference

In 1993 the ELS and WELS, working with a number of other Lutheran synods around the world—some of which had been founded through mission work by both synods—founded a new fellowship organization which is the theological successor of the Synodical Conference: the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
The Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference is the successor to the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America except that it is international in scope rather than restricted to North America....

 (CELC).

WELS Presidents

The following is a list of Presidents of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod from 1850 to the present.
Years of Service President
1850–1860 Johannes Muehlhaeuser
1860–1864 John Bading
1864–1865 Gottlieb Rein
1865–1867 William Streissguth
1867–1887 John Bading
1887–1908 Phillip von Rohr
1908–1933 G.E. Bergemann
1933–1953 John Brenner
John W.O. Brenner
Rev. John William Otto Brenner was a pastor of Saint John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and president of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod from 1933–1953.-External links:*...

1953–1979 Oscar J. Naumann
1979–1993 Carl Mischke
1993–2007 Karl R. Gurgel
2007–present Mark G. Schroeder

Synodical government

The WELS is headed by a president and is supported by two vice presidents elected during its synod convention for terms of four years. The president oversees the administration of the synod. The current synod president is Rev. Mark G. Schroeder.

Beneath the president are numerous administrative divisions addressing various areas of ministry. Among these are ministerial education, world missions, home missions, parish services, and fiscal services.

Synod conventions are held biennially in odd-numbered years and consist of elected male lay members from individual congregations from within the synod, ordained pastors and certified male teachers. Half of all delegates are to be lay members while the remaining half is divided between pastors and teachers. Synod conventions elect synodical leaders, and discuss and vote on synodical business. The WELS Synodical Council
WELS Synodical Council
The WELS Synodical Council is the governing body of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod when the synod is not in convention. The Council is made up of twenty-three WELS members including eleven clergy and thirteen laymen...

 governs the church when the church is not in convention.

The WELS is divided into 12 geographical districts in the United States and Canada, each headed by a district president elected in district conventions held during even-numbered years. District presidents serve terms of two years.

Ministerial and other education

The WELS maintains four schools of ministerial education: two college preparatory schools Michigan Lutheran Seminary
Michigan Lutheran Seminary
Michigan Lutheran Seminary is a private preparatory boarding high school affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod located in Saginaw, Michigan...

 and Luther Preparatory School
Luther Preparatory School
Luther Preparatory School , established in 1995, is a residential four-year secondary school located in Watertown, Wisconsin, USA and is owned and operated by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod...

; a pre-seminary and teacher training college, Martin Luther College
Martin Luther College
This article deals with the WELS-affiliated tertiary institution in Minnesota. See Luther College for the ELCA institution in Iowa.Martin Luther College is the college of ministry operated by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod...

 in New Ulm, Minnesota; and a seminary for training pastors, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary
Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary
Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary is located in Mequon, Wisconsin and trains pastors for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod .The campus consists of twenty two buildings, including a library with over 58,000 volumes, including a collection of rare pre-18th century theological...

, located in Mequon, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Lutheran College
Wisconsin Lutheran College
Wisconsin Lutheran College is a liberal arts college affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It has an enrollment of approximately 840 undergraduate students. Its nine-building campus sits on the border of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, with some buildings in each city...

, a liberal arts college in Milwaukee, is affiliated with, though not run by, the WELS, and there are numerous area Lutheran high schools, Lutheran elementary schools, and early childhood education centers maintained by WELS congregations.

Publishing and publications

Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) is the official publishing house for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee is the largest city in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, the 28th most populous city in the United States and 39th most populous region in the United States. It is the county seat of Milwaukee County and is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. According to 2010 census data, the...

, it produces a wide variety of materials including curriculum, periodicals, books, and worship resources. the publications are mainly for use of churches, schools, pastors, and members of the WELS. Its retail store, NPH Christian Books and Gifts, is also located in Milwaukee. It is devoted to publishing Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 literature and WELS related religious materials, as well as several WELS periodicals.

Since June 23, 1891, Northwestern Publishing House has served the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and its members with a variety of products and programs. The mission of NPH is to publish and provide biblically sound material that communicates, fosters, and supports the Christian faith and life.

Main WELS periodicals include:
  • Forward in Christ: A Lutheran Voice — The WELS's monthly family magazine.
  • Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly — A quarterly theological magazine.

Membership trends

The WELS experienced significant growth during much of the twentieth century. In 1925, there were 139,226 members in 662 churches. By 1950 there were over 300,000 members. Membership peaked in the early 1990s at just over 400,000 and has declined slightly since that time. In 2006 the denomination reported 395,497 members in 1,276 congregations. Wisconsin remains the geographic center of the denomination, with over 400 churches and over 200,000 members. Other than Wisconsin, the states with the highest rates of adherence are South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska.

Doctrinal Sources and Standards (Formal Principle)

The Wisconsin Synod subscribes to the Lutheran Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 teaching of Sola scriptura
Sola scriptura
Sola scriptura is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Consequently, sola scriptura demands that only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid...

—"Scripture alone." It holds that the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 is the final authority by which church teachings can be judged. It also holds that the Holy Scripture is explained and interpreted by the 16th century Book of Concord
Book of Concord
The Book of Concord or Concordia is the historic doctrinal standard of the Lutheran Church, consisting of ten credal documents recognized as authoritative in Lutheranism since the 16th century...

because it teaches and faithfully explains the Word of God. As such, pastors and congregations within the WELS agree to teach in accordance with it.

The Wisconsin Synod also agrees with the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy
Biblical inerrancy
Biblical inerrancy is the doctrinal position that the Bible is accurate and totally free of error, that "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact." Some equate inerrancy with infallibility; others do not.Conservative Christians generally believe that...

, that Bible is inspired by God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 and is without error. For this reason, they reject much of modern liberal
Liberal Christianity
Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onward...

 scholarship.

Differences from LCMS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod)

The main facets of doctrinal difference between WELS and the LCMS include:
  • Fellowship — WELS teaches that all forms of Christian fellowship require complete unity in matters of doctrine. The LCMS, meanwhile, teaches that there are different levels of fellowship among Christians, so that altar fellowship (sharing in the Eucharist
    Eucharist
    The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

     together), pulpit fellowship (exchange of preaching privileges among ministers of various congregations), and other manifestations of Christian fellowship (such as fellowship in prayer), are distinct. Thus, according to LCMS doctrine, members of different church bodies can engage in greater or lesser degrees of fellowship depending on the extent of their doctrinal disagreement.
  • Doctrine of the ministry — The WELS believes that there are many different forms of one, divinely established Ministry. These forms of the Ministry include pastor, Christian day-school teacher, staff-minister and others. The LCMS teaches that only the pastoral office is divinely established, while all other church offices are human institutions.
  • Role of women in the church — The LCMS and WELS agree that Scriptures reserve the pastoral office for men. In "This We Believe," published in 1999, WELS states that "women may participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where that work involves authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11,12). This means that women may not serve as pastors nor participate in assemblies of the church in ways that exercise authority over men (1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:33–35).". WELS does not allow women suffrage in congregational matters that would exercise authority over men. LCMS teaches that women may take on roles of lay authority in the church, such as voting in church elections and serving in "humanly established offices" such as congregation president, reader, or member of church councils, including elected executive roles in the church.

Differences from ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

  • Scriptural interpretation — WELS confesses that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God and follows a Historical-Grammatical
    Historical-grammatical method
    The historical-grammatical method is a Christian hermeneutical method that strives to discover the Biblical author's original intended meaning in the text. It is the primary method of interpretation for many conservative Protestant exegetes who reject the so-called historical-critical method used...

     approach to interpretation. The meaning of a portion of Scripture is discerned by paying careful attention to grammar, syntax, vocabulary and context. In this regard, the historical setting forms part of the context of Scripture, the text itself indicating how important a part. The ELCA, on the other hand, has been open to Historical-Critical Methods of Biblical interpretation which seek to understand the scriptures with primary reference to historical and social context. Most other specific doctrinal differences between the two churches stem from this overarching disagreement.
  • Creationism — WELS teaches that the account of creation given in Genesis 1–3 is a factual, historical account, while the ELCA has not enforced an official position, allowing members to embrace positions ranging from strict creationism
    Creationism
    Creationism is the religious beliefthat humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being, most often referring to the Abrahamic god. As science developed from the 18th century onwards, various views developed which aimed to reconcile science with the Genesis...

     to theistic evolution.
  • Sexuality — WELS teaches that extramarital sex and homosexual relations are sins, while the ELCA and its predecessor churches have been somewhat open to multiple viewpoints on these matters. The ELCA officially permits the ordination of monogamous non-celibate homosexuals and the blessing of homosexual couples. In 2008, 37% of ELCA pastors were found to support same-sex marriage
    Same-sex marriage
    Same-sex marriage is marriage between two persons of the same biological sex or social gender. Supporters of legal recognition for same-sex marriage typically refer to such recognition as marriage equality....

    .
  • Fellowship — WELS teaches that churches must agree on all doctrines of Scripture before they can enjoy any form of fellowship with each other, while the ELCA teaches that agreement on all aspects of doctrine is not necessarily required as a prerequisite for fellowship. It thus practices fellowship with a handful of other mainline Protestant denominations.
  • Role of women in the church — WELS holds that, according to Scripture, women may not serve as clergy nor vote within their congregations where authority is exercised over men (see above), while the ELCA’s three predecessor churches began ordaining women into the ministry in the 1970s.

Church Fellowship

Fellowship between the WELS and other church groups is established only upon investigation and confirmation that both church groups hold complete unity in scriptural doctrine and practice.

The WELS is in fellowship with the members of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
The Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference is the successor to the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America except that it is international in scope rather than restricted to North America....

, all of which meet this requirement.

In 1959 the WELS formally issued its Statement on the Antichrist, a doctrinal statement
Doctrinal statement
A doctrinal statement is a statement of doctrine made by a church or other religious institution which quantifies precisely its core beliefs on certain issues...

 that declared, "we reaffirm the statement of the Lutheran Confessions, that 'the Pope is the very Antichrist'". This identification of the Antichrist with the Pope is part of traditional Protestant amillennial historicism. The Roman Catholic Church is also amillennialist, but, unlike the WELS, holds to the view that the Antichrist will come near the end of the world. Mark Schroeder, president of WELS, affirmed in 2011 that "WELS does hold to the historic Lutheran position that the Roman Catholic papacy fits the biblical characteristics of the Antichrist."

See also

  • Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
    Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
    The Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference is the successor to the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America except that it is international in scope rather than restricted to North America....

  • Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary
    Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary
    Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary is located in Mequon, Wisconsin and trains pastors for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod .The campus consists of twenty two buildings, including a library with over 58,000 volumes, including a collection of rare pre-18th century theological...

  • Northwestern Publishing House

External links

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