WELS, ELS and LCMS continue fruitful fellowship talks

America’s three largest ‘Confessional’ Lutheran church bodies released a joint update about their ongoing quest for reunion:


All of those agreements seem pretty substantial. What issues are prohibiting full communion between these three Lutheran bodies?

There is a LCMS parish not too far from where I live. I went to it a few times. Really enjoyed the experience. I love the liturgical style. I also tend to agree with the LCMS on abortion, gay marriage, women pastors, and the book of Genesis being a literal account.

Awesome!:slight_smile: thanks for posting.

The ELS is a pretty small denomination (~150 churches?).closely aligned to the WELS church.already. My cousin is actually married to a ELS pastor and some cousins and Aunt and Uncle are (or were) WELS.

Interesting that they’ve come to some pretty substantial agreements, but also recognize they’ve got some big differences and that they don’t expect they’ll work them out any time soon. The document doesn’t go into detail on what those differences are but what they describe on the surface doesn’t seem as tangible as the things they all seem to agree on (which is a pretty fundamental and extensive list even in the generalities of this document).

WELS and ELS already are, actually. They broke fellowship with the LCMS in the 50’s and 60’s for fear (rightfully) of the LCMS’s sizable Liberal faction which practiced Historical Criticism. Most of that sort left in the 70’s to lay the groundwork for what would become the ELCA in the 80’s. That left the orthodox Confessionals in Missouri - but the damage had been done. WELS and ELS had already broken fellowship with the LCMS, and were hesitant to believe Missouri had righted its ship.

Since those turbulent times, the twin synods established somewhat reactionary and certainly more conservative practices to safeguard against suffering a Missouri-like schism. One example is that WELS and ELS, unlike LCMS, will not even pray with other Christians, because it could appear as if they condone sycretism or unionism. There also exists some differences in how the groups understand the pastoral office - Missouri says Christ specifically instituted the pastoral office, while the twins say it’s simply a special manifestation of the general priesthood of all believers. Naturally, Missouri considers that a departure from the Lutheran Confessions and Holy Scripture. There’s still some work to do, but convergence will be found.

I don’t know your exact background and no offence is intended if I happen to do so unintentionally. But some of this kind of history makes me quite sad, especially not praying with other Christians so as not to look improper. I’ve experienced this exact WELS/ELS tenant in my own extended family.

Differences in denomination certainly do and still matter. But sometimes it feels like we spend more time arguing among those who have heard Christ’s call and not reaching out to those who haven’t.

No offense taken. I agree wholeheartedly. That’s why I’m on this forum. :smiley:

For the record, I’m a Confessional LCMS Lutheran, and the son of an LCMS pastor.

So LCMS is more liberal? I didn’t expect that. Do the WELS and ELS view themselves like a Catholic or Orthodox might view themselves? As the one true church body on earth?

Liberal is not at all the word that I would use to describe the LCMS; it has recover and stabilized into a solidly conservative, confessional church. A better description might be more ecumenical. But even that can be misleading, as the LCMS is not one to compromise on doctrine for the sake of empty ecumenical relations.

This has a complicated answer. Obviously they’d believe themselves to be the truest church, but they wouldn’t deny the Christianity of heterodox synods or bodies, nor necessarily the existence of true Christians in flagrantly heretical bodies. After all, they’re bound to the Lutheran Confessions too. Simple answer? Kinda.

Okay, so my dad was Baptized at St Paul Lutheran church in Davenport, Iowa in 1961. Could you tell me the difference between these Lutheran denominations?

I really hate these sort of labelings. However since I have virtually every Lutheran denomination represented in my family, including my spouse who is an ELCA pastor and a cousin who is married to an ELS pastor, I should probably respond.

Of the 3 major churches, the biggest to smallest and most “liberal” to most “conservative” are as follows:


The are a number of other smaller ones like the ELS also mentioned here. Many of the divisions between the churches go back centuries and break along linguistic and/or theological lines. Mind you that we are dealing with Germans and Northern Europeans in general (my heritage BTW); divisions and grudges can be quite long lasting. So there have been many splits and mergers over the years,

It’s probably best that you go back and read for yourself if you are really interested as the full history of this is quite long. There are also mine fields that can be unknowingly stepped on as a number of denominations define themselves against the beliefs of other Lutheran denominations. Lutheranism is as diverse as Catholicism, the major difference being that there is one major joining factor in the Catholic world and that is the Pope. Therefore the true Catholic church does not splinter.

Yes. I am a WELS Lutheran but I really disagree with them on this. Plus my sons weren’t allowed to join the Boy Scouts, either.
I live in a rural area and dh and I originally wanted to find a LCMS church but the closest one is 45 minutes away.
We’re confessional Lutherans and the we Love our WELS family, though.

Another new and small one is NALC or North American Lutheran Church.

As well as LCMC which, according to one I was recently attending focuses on mission projects.

I actually know St. Paul’s well. In college, I used to visit a friend there occasionally. Today, that congregation is unfortunately part of the ELCA, but it used to be solidly Confessional when your dad would’ve been baptized. It also planted a few other churches nearby, as different waves of immigrants needed Divine Worship in different languages. Lutheranism is a lot like Orthodoxy in that respect.

The LCMS has actually held talks with both of these bodies, which are semi-Confessional splinters from the ELCA. They exited that body when the ELCA made pulpit-altar fellowship with Reformed bodies and began condoning openly-gay, practicing pastors and hosting gay “weddings.” Of course, they’re considerably farther Left of Missouri (NALC and LCMC ordain women, and practice open communion) than Missouri herself is from WELS and ELS. While reunion is an actual possibility with LCMS-WELS-ELS, there is absolutely no chance NALC or LCMC will ever find unity with “the big three.”

Nalc is hardly "semi confessional " it’s just confessional, as for cummunion , it requires belief in the real presence , hardly " open " .

Any “Lutheran” body that ordains women subscribes to some degree of historical criticism, since it jettisons Holy Scripture’s clear direction regarding men and the Office of Holy Ministry. Such a body cannot rightly be called Confessional.

‘Open Communion’ means that they do not necessarily require pastoral examination or membership in the church to commune. This is not the historical Lutheran practice. See the Confessions and the Small Catechism.

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