Doctrinal statements

As a fellowship of Christians, WELS does not issue statements that all of its members are expected to follow. From time to time, however, we find it necessary to clarify our position on certain issues. You'll find those in our formal list of doctrinal statements listed on the left-hand column of this page. We've also provided answers to some of the most common questions asked about our doctrine in the list below.

FREQUENTLY ASKED DOCTRINAL QUESTIONS

  • Why do most confessional Lutherans choose to limit leadership and authority roles in congregations to men?

    We do believe and teach that men and women enjoy equal status and importance before God. Both men and women were created in the perfect holiness of the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Although that was lost in the fall into sin when as both men and women we became equally sinful before God (Romans 3:23), yet in Christ's life, death, and resurrection for us God has restored to us our position as his justified and holy children (Romans 3:24). As far as our status and importance before him as dearly loved children and heirs of heaven, whether we are female or male makes absolutely no difference (Galatians 3:26-29).

    However, Scripture is also clear that while we are equal in status and importance before him, God has not made us duplicates or clones of each other in how we carry out our various God-given callings. Already in the perfection of the Garden of Eden he assigned unique callings or roles to the man and the woman when God made her to be helper suitable for the man and created her right from the man (Genesis 2:18ff). God gave to the man the unique calling of being a loving head and to his wife the unique calling of being a loving helper to him. In the New Testament, the inspired Apostle Paul assures us that these unique callings were indeed found already in the perfection of Eden when he writes, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3). Later Paul reminds us that what we read in Genesis 2 is indeed where this was established when he says, "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman but woman for man" (1 Corinthians 11:8-9).

    While man's headship is intended by God to be lived out in loving servant humility like Christ for us (Ephesians 5:25), yet headship also includes the God-given authority to lead (Hebrews 13:17). That is why one part of the unique calling of helper is to respect and yield (submit) to that leadership (Ephesians 5:22).

    In the church, one of the places that those charged with leadership in our congregations exercise such authority is in the voters' assembly. There those charged with setting the direction of the congregation set that path in the debate and voting that takes place. Just as Paul reminds us that teaching the Word with authority is an expression of the headship principle (1 Timothy 2:12), so also it is an exercise of authority when the governing bodies of our congregations set the direction for that congregation.

    Of course, wise heads know that God has given them helpers for a reason. The wisdom and insights, the questions and concerns of everyone in the congregation, men and women, are important. Especially when a woman may have no husband in her home, it is very important that the congregation look for ways to gain her input.

    Does WELS stand out as different among other Lutheran church bodies in so honoring the principle of head and helper? Yes. But does that mean we are closed minded and old fashioned, or does that mean others have been more affected by the culture around them than they may know? The question is never what the culture demands, but what the Scriptures teach.

  • Lutheran—that's just like Catholic, right?
    There are many things that the Lutheran and Catholic churches share: the Bible, the Creeds, the Lord's Prayer, the Lord's Supper, Baptism, and much of the liturgy used in worship. After Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, those who followed him retained the things from the Catholic Church which were good and true. They rejected only the beliefs and practices that were not scriptural. A significant percentage of the members of our church are former Catholics, so we certainly have no bad feelings toward Catholic people. But we do not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church that are not based on the Bible.

    Significant differences between the Catholic Church and ours include: the papacy, the nature and role of Mary, invocation of the saints, the doctrine of purgatory, transubstantiation, use of the Apocrypha and tradition as sources of doctrine, and justification through a combination of faith in Christ and good works.

    As Lutherans, we love to speak about the forgiveness of sin that we have in Christ. If people realize that they have complete forgiveness through Christ, they will see why there can be no purgatory for Christians. If they understand that we are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, they will understand why we do not need to pray through saints as mediators.

    All of our congregations provide obligation-free information classes that explain what we believe and why. All are welcome to attend.

    For more information about the various differences between the Lutheran and Catholic Church bodies, read Catholicism Today, a Bible study available through Northwestern Publishing House.

  • What's the difference between WELS and other Lutherans?
    WELS is grateful to God for the bond of faith that unites them with all the Lutheran church bodies belonging to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). Our fellowship, however, is limited to the CELC. Why is this?

    Christ's prayer is that his followers be brought to complete unity in order to let the world know that God the Father sent him as our Savior (John 17:20-23). God also cautions us to avoid false teachers (e.g. Romans 16:17) and people whose lives do not follow his Word (1 Corinthians 5:11). So we believe that Christ intends us to be united in doctrine and practice with other Christians before we join in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, gather together around the Lord's Table, or engage in other forms of church fellowship. This is the faith that Christ has given us, and it is the key difference between WELS and many other Lutheran church bodies.

    In general, our church body has been unable to reach agreement with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) regarding fellowship, church and ministry, and gender roles. Our areas of difference with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) also include their views on Scripture, biblical interpretation, and homosexuality.

    For a detailed explanation of the doctrinal issues that currently separate our church body from LCMS, ELCA, and others, please refer to these publications: WELS and Other Lutherans and What's Going On Among The Lutherans?, both available through Northwestern Publishing House.

  • Why do Lutherans believe it is necessary to baptize infants?
    We baptize babies because they are included in the Great Commission, which is a general command, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19, also see Mark 16:15-16).

    Scripture does not exclude infants from baptism, rather it indicates that they need to be baptized because they are conceived and born in sin, and they need to be born again to enter the kingdom of God (Psalm 51:5, John 3:5-6). Through Baptism the Holy Spirit works to create or strengthen faith and brings the gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (Titus 3:4-7, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38-39). We should never deprive children of baptism, "the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit."

    On the day of Pentecost when Peter told the gathered crowd, "Repent and be baptized." He also said, "The promise is for you and your children" (Acts 2:38-39). Children were included in the command and promise Peter spoke. St. Paul draws a parallel between Old Testament circumcision and Baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). Babies in the Old Testament were to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth.

    For more information on infant baptism you may want to read Baptized into God's Family—The Doctrine of Infant Baptism for Today and Baptism: My Adoption into God's Family, both available through Northwestern Publishing House.

  • How can we say that in communion we receive Christ's real body and blood?
    The clear promise that Christ gives to his church is, "Take and eat, this is my body," and "This is my blood" (Matthew 26:26-28). Together with the bread and wine that we receive, Jesus, the Son of God, says he gives us his body and his blood that were given into death and poured out on our behalf.

    The real presence of Christ's body and blood is a special, sacramental presence that is beyond our full understanding. We say this to avoid crass, cannibalistic ideas that have no place here. This eating is real, but it is supernatural. We do not see or taste the body and blood. It cannot be detected by our senses. We do not digest it like ordinary food.

    In summary, we believe that Christ's body and blood are present in the Sacrament and received because of the promise of Christ and because Christ’s body is the body of the Son of God.

    A more thorough study of this is available by reading Articles VII and VIII of the Formula of Concord, which deals with the connected subjects of the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper and the person of Christ, the God-man.

  • Do you believe in the rapture?
    The "secret rapture" notion of J. N. Darby and Edward Irving, the fathers of modern dispensationalism, is very popular today, but it is not scriptural.

    Scripture talks about believers being gathered to Christ on judgment day, but not about a secret rapture at an earlier time (Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 4). The being "caught up" that is described and taught in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is an event that will take place on the last day. Matthew 24:41 needs to be understood in its complete context. Earlier in this chapter Jesus said that at his second coming the world will be destroyed (Matthew 24:29). In Matthew 24:31 he said the angels will gather the elect to be with him. Then in Jesus indicated that not everyone is among the elect, so as the elect are gathered, their immediate neighbors who are not the elect will not be taken to be with Jesus (Matthew 24:40,41). In Matthew 24:51, Matthew 25:10-12, Matthew 25:30, and Matthew 25:31-46 (especially v.46) Jesus explained what will happen to the others who are not gathered with the elect.

    For further reading, please see a booklet by Pastor Harold Wicke titled "The Millennium," available through Northwestern Publishing House. "The Millenium" contrasts false teachings regarding the end times with the gospel-centered encouragement that the Bible provides for Christians. There are also several helpful online essays on the rapture on our seminary's Web site.

  • Why is marriage a better option than living together?
    Marriage, like love and procreation, is a life enhancement created by our heavenly Father. He made Eve to complete the creation of man, brought her to Adam, and joined them as husband and wife. The unconditional union of a man and a woman in marriage for as long as they both live is his design (Genesis 2:24). It has his approval and blessing (Genesis 1:27-31).

    Among the blessings that our loving Father intends for married couples are companionship, sexual happiness, chastity, and children (Proverbs 18:22, Hebrews 13:4, Psalm 127:3).

    In addition, he protects and cares for marriage in a variety of ways—not only by treating it as a lifelong union, but by forbidding sexual activity outside of this bond and by clarifying the role relationships of a husband and his wife.

    His design for marriage is that a husband loves his wife and sacrifices himself for her, motivated by the love that Christ has shown for both of them (Ephesians 5:25-28, 1 Peter 3:7). His plan also is that a wife loves and respects her husband in the same way that she shows her love for Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24, also see 5:33). If a marriage relationship is blessed with children, he intends that fathers take a leading role in bringing up their children as Christians (Ephesians 6:4).

    Our present marriage laws recognize public, present consent, not cohabitation, as that which establishes marriage. This reflects what Scripture says also. Most cohabitating couples in the United States do not regard or refer to each other as husband and wife and are not legally married no matter how long they live together.

    Even though our unbelieving society embraces living together outside of marriage as an acceptable lifestyle, it is still a sinful arrangement. A pastor or congregation will deal patiently with cohabitating people who are seeking spiritual guidance or if they are new Christians who are just beginning to grow in their Christian life of sanctification. This is done by firmly yet gently confronting them with their sin, comforting them with the joy of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ, and then guiding them to change their behavior to show their love for Christ.

  • For what reasons does God permit divorce?
    Divorce, a premature terminating of a marriage, always involves sin of some kind on the part of one and sometimes on the part of both marital partners. Each situation needs to be examined on its own. Two biblical reasons that give a wronged spouse the freedom to declare a marriage over (publicly and legally), after a guilty partner has basically ended the marriage, are marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:1-9) and malicious desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15). By "malicious" we mean a willful, unilateral, and permanent desertion.

    God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). His will regarding it is abused today whenever marriages are terminated through the public and legal divorce decree without marital unfaithfulness or malicious desertion preceding.

  • Are homosexuals accepted in WELS?
    It depends on what the question implies. Could a church member experience homosexual feelings or temptation? The answer is yes. Our society loves to debate whether an inclination toward homosexuality is due to hereditary or environmental factors, but this is utterly beside the point. The devil, the world, and our inherited sinful nature assault each one of us in different ways. One believer struggles with gambling, another with alcohol, another with a quick temper, another with indifference toward those in need, etc. The fact that a person experiences temptation in one form and not in another does not put him or her out of the kingdom of God.

    Is it possible for a church member to stumble and fall into the sin of homosexuality? The answer again is yes. Scripture does not classify sinful actions into "sins that believers commit" and "sins that only unbelievers commit." The fact that someone sinned sexually with a person of the same gender does not, all by itself, mean that the person isn't a believer, any more than would an act of heterosexual immorality, drunkenness, reckless driving, or cheating on one's taxes.

    Can a person remain a practicing homosexual in defiance of God's Word and also be a believing member of the church? The answer is no. Believers agree that what God calls "sin" is sin. They turn from their sin, receive God's forgiveness, and battle against the sin in their lives with the help of God's Holy Spirit.

    1 Corinthians 6:9,10 are perhaps the key passages on this subject in Scripture. First, note that it includes homosexuality in a catalogue of other sins, with no indication that it is any worse (or any less bad) than greed, slander, or cheating someone. Then, speaking to Christians, Paul says, "That is what some of you were" (1 Corinthians 6:11). The past tense is significant.

  • Is abortion a sin?
    The Holy Scriptures clearly teach that the living, yet unborn, are persons in the sight of God (Job 10:9-11, Psalm 139:13, Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:41-44) and are under the protection of his commandment against murder (Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:21, Genesis 9:6).

    Therefore, abortion is a sin unless it is medically necessary in order to save the life of the mother. But even when a medical abortion appears needed to preserve a mother's life, the Christian will always proceed with the intent to preserve all human life whenever possible.

    It is the degenerating result of sin in our world that creates such dilemmas in our lives. But these challenges spur us to search God’s Word and to make decisions consistent with his will. In the very sad circumstance of having to choose to preserve one life rather than lose two lives, the weight of Scripture’s message telling us to protect life compels us to try to preserve both lives, or at least one life, whichever is possible.

    All other reasons for abortion fail to reflect God's high regard for human life and our responsibility to protect it.

    Since the majority of abortions currently performed show disregard for God’s gift of life, we as Christians want to express concern and compassion for distressed, pregnant women by supporting the development of God-pleasing alternatives to abortion programs.

  • If a Christian is on life-support and wants to "pull the plug," is that a sin?

    To arrive at an answer we must clarify some points.

    1. Our role. As Christian stewards who wrestle with how to manage our time, talents, and resources to the glory of God, so also we make decisions regarding the care of life (1 Corinthians 10:31). Even decisions like "pulling the plug" are a question of managing God's blessings to his glory.

    2. God gets his way. Since our times are in God's hands (Psalm 31:15), we are not the final authority over life and death. There are times when plugs have been pulled and the patient lived, or when all the right medical things were done and the patient died. God has a time of grace for us to come to faith and to live that faith (Hebrews 9:27; Philippians 1:23,24) including caring for each other (Philippians 2:1-5).

    3. Pain. Today most pain can be managed. A standard mantra in medical circles is, "If your doctor cannot control the pain then find another doctor." It is increasingly rare that pain cannot be managed.

    4. Life support technology. Many people whose lives we enjoy are living because of the blessing of life support technology. This is one more blessing God gives to help us in our stewardship of life.

    5. How far do we go? This is the BIG question. The doctor may advise that ventilator support makes it easier for your loved one to breathe, but his kidneys and liver have begun to fail, and this is adding strain to his weakened heart. Progressive organ failure strongly suggests that a person's time on earth is coming to an end.

    6. Quality of life. What increasingly becomes the issue is concern about the quality of life a patient has because of brain damage or the need for tube feeding. We are not permitted to hurry life's end simply because life has lost quality. Even for the bedridden person who cannot communicate there is purpose to life. Sometimes that purpose is to show acceptance of challenges that have come (Psalm 46:10), and sometimes it is to receive the concern and care of others who demonstrate their love for God by caring for the patient and sharing their faith in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).

    There is no simple answer to "plug pulling" questions because medical circumstances vary greatly. In each case, though, Christians are stewards over God’s gift of life.

  • Is it okay to pray for a miraculous healing?
    It is proper to pray for healing and to ask your pastor or a fellow Christian to join you in such prayers. Nowhere has Scripture declared that divine healings have ceased, nor has Scripture anywhere advised that we should not include such matters in our prayers.

    It is wise, however, to have realistic expectations. Not all the sick and dying were healed when our Lord served among people, and not everyone was healed among the apostles or those they served. Paul was denied healing of a physical ailment he asked to be removed (2 Corinthians 12:8-10), Paul's coworker Epaphroditus almost died and was not quickly healed (Philippians 2:25). Trophimus was not miraculously healed (2 Timothy 4:20), and Timothy was instructed to use medicinal remedies rather than being healed (1 Timothy 5:23). God has always been selective and has not given a guaranteed promise of miraculous healing to his dearly loved people. Since the time of the apostles, the phenomenon of miraculous healings has apparently substantially decreased in number. Perhaps this is because one of the purposes of miracles is no longer needed. Originally God provided them to substantiate the trustworthiness and truth of the Apostolic New Testament (Mark 16:20).

    When you pray for healing, do so as a humble child of God and ask that God's will be done—and tell him you pray that healing is indeed his will. Ask confidently, knowing that he is not only fully able to heal but also able to sustain you in illness and use sickness for your spiritual and eternal good as well as for his glory.

  • May a Christian fight in a war?
    Moses, Joshua, and David all led God's people Israel in war according to God's command. In the New Testament when John the Baptist told the people to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance, he was asked by some Roman soldiers what they should do. John didn't tell them that they could no longer be soldiers. He told them, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay" (Luke 3:14).

    The Lutheran Augsburg Confession puts it this way: "Our churches teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God and that it is right for Christians to hold civil office, to sit as judges, to decide matters by the imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to swear oaths when required by magistrates, to marry, to be given in marriage" (Augsburg Confession, XVI:1,2).