WELS and other Lutherans

What are the differences between WELS and other Lutheran churches?

With about 400,000 members, WELS lies at the numerical center of American Lutheran church bodies. Two much larger Lutheran church bodies number in the millions--the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There are about 20 much smaller Lutheran church bodies in the United States, each of which has only a few hundred or a few thousand members.

The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (LCMS)

For nearly 100 years (1872-1961) the LCMS and WELS were in doctrinal fellowship in the Synodical Conference. They cooperated in mission work and education. What led to the end of this fellowship?

Formerly, the LCMS and WELS agreed that agreement in all doctrines of the Bible is necessary for church fellowship, and that all forms of worship, including joint prayer, are expressions of church fellowship. In the 1930s the LCMS began fellowship talks with the American Lutheran Church (ALC) even though the ALC did not believe that complete doctrinal agreement was necessary for fellowship. The LCMS also changed its position on prayer fellowship to allow joint prayer with the leaders of other churches with whom the LCMS was not in doctrinal agreement. Efforts to resolve these differences were unsuccessful, and WELS broke fellowship with the LCMS in 1961.

Although disagreement about fellowship and the practice of fellowship in such groups as the Scouts and the military chaplaincy was the immediate cause of the break between WELS and the LCMS, other divisive issues that arose included the introduction of historical-critical methods of Scripture study into the LCMS seminary at St. Louis during the 1960s, differences concerning the doctrine of church and ministry, and disagreement about the role of women in governing bodies of the church.

WELS has also been disturbed by a seeming lack of corrective action against lax fellowship practices, such as open communion and ecumenical services, in some LCMS congregations.

Although the LCMS has made progress at rolling back the influence of historical-critical methods of Scripture study in its midst, published remarks by recent presidents of the LCMS show that the disagreement concerning fellowship practices still remains unresolved.

Summaries of the relations of WELS and the LCMS from a WELS perspective can be found in the books WELS and Other Lutherans and Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth, both available from Northwestern Publishing House.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)