LCMS, WELS, and ELS leaders report significant doctrinal agreement

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USA – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) have released a report noting significant doctrinal agreement between the three synods, following three years of informal dialogue.

Following a fourth meeting held December 2, 2015, leaders of the three synods agreed to the publication of A Report on the Meetings of ELS, LCMS, and WELS Leaders 2012-2015. Among the representatives present for the event were LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison, WELS President Mark Schroeder, and ELS President John A. Moldstad.

Primary among the contents of the report is an assessment of the doctrinal agreement already shared by the three synods. “We agree that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God and the only source of authority for doctrine and practice,” the report notes. “We agree that the chief message of the Bible is justification by grace through faith in the merits of Jesus Christ, and that the entire Bible is Christ-centered. All of us also confess without reservation (quia) that the Lutheran Confessions are a correct exposition of the Holy Scriptures.”

The LCMS previously enjoyed fellowship together with the ELS and the WELS until 1955 and 1961, the document notes, before breaking fellowship as a result of doctrinal controversies in the LCMS that peaked in the 1970s. Today, the three synods share such a level of doctrinal agreement that there is a strong desire for further discussion “with the hope that we may be able to come to full agreement under the guidance and blessing of the Holy Spirit.” They note, however, that a number of issues still need to be resolved, writing, “All of us are convinced that church fellowship requires complete agreement in doctrine.”

“It has been a joy to meet with and talk with faithful Lutherans from the WELS and ELS,” said Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, Director of LCMS Church Relations. “We pray that the Lord would continue to bless this endeavor and, Deo volente [God willing], grant a restoration of fellowship between the three synods at some point in the future.”

Read the full report here.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member church of the International Lutheran Council and has approximately 2.1 million members. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (approximately 400 thousand members) and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (approximately 20 thousand members) are American churches in full-fellowship with each other. WELS and ELS are member churches of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.

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Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus and the LCMS announce formal discussions

EECMY and LCMS leaders, including President Harrison (left of cross banner) and President Idosa (right of cross banner) meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
EECMY and LCMS leadersincluding LCMS President Harrison (left of cross banner) and EECMY President Idosa (right of cross banner)—meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – Representatives and leaders from the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) met at the Mekane Yesus Seminary, the EECMY headquarters, and the Gudina Tumsa Wholistic Training Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 23-26 to discuss the relationship between the two church bodies.

Representatives at the meetings included Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idosa, (President of the EECMY); Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa (General Secretary of EECMY); Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison (President of the LCMS); Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver (LCMS Director of Church Relations and Regional Operations); and LCMS missionaries Rev. Dr. Carl Rockrohr (Dean of the School of Theology at Mekane Yesus Seminary) and Deaconess Dr. Deborah Rockrohr.

Although the churches have diverse histories and developed in different contexts, the EECMY and the LCMS have discovered that both church bodies believe that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and the only source and infallible norm of all Church doctrine and practice. Both churches also subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions.

Article 2 of the EECMY constitution states the following: “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments are the Holy Word of God and the only source and infallible norm of all Church doctrine and practice; the Church adheres to the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed …; the Church sees in the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, which was worded by the Church Reformers, as well as in Luther’s Catechisms, a pure exposition of the Word of God.”

Article 2 of the LCMS constitution states: “The Synod, and every member of Synod, accepts without reservation: The Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice; all the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, to wit: the three Ecumenical Creeds (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Large Catechism of Luther, the Small Catechism of Luther, and the Formula of Concord.”

Although the two church bodies recognize they have differences in doctrine and practice in certain specific areas, both believe that the common confession they share about the Holy Scriptures and acceptance of the ecumenical creeds, the unaltered Augsburg Confession, and the Small and Large Catechisms justifies, even demands, that the two churches engage in more formal discussion regarding areas of agreement and disagreement.

As an outcome of the meeting, the EECMY and the LCMS agreed to appoint a three-member team from each church body, along with the church bodies’ respective presidents, to begin formal doctrinal discussions. This six-person team, plus the two church body presidents, will begin doctrinal discussions within the next nine months and have the authority to form other ad hoc committees for particular topics as needed.

President Idosa said he hopes that, “through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the study of the Holy Scriptures, both church bodies would come closer to each other.”

President Harrison said: “Contact between our church bodies began almost a decade ago. We have been tremendously encouraged by Mekane Yesus’ public confession of the Holy Scriptures regarding issues of sexuality. Their zeal in outreach is something the Missouri Synod can learn from. I am glad that we have come by God’s grace to this moment of serious dialogue.”

While the church bodies engage in dialogue, both will look for areas where they can mutually support one another.

The EECMY was formed in 1959 as various synods started by several different mission societies merged into one church. In the 1970s, the EECMY developed the theme “Serving the Whole Person,” now often quoted and referred to as holistic ministry. This has been a guiding principle for all evangelistic or developmental church work. Beginning with 20,000 members in 1959, the EECMY has grown to 6.35 million members.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, founded in 1847, is a biblical, confessional, witness-oriented Christian denomination with 2.3 million members – 600,000 households – in 6,200 congregations. Through acts of witness and mercy, the church carries out its mission worldwide to make known the love of Jesus Christ.

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