LCMS President greets WELS and ELS Lutherans

LCMS President Matthew Harrison and WELS President Mark Schroeder. (Image: Screenshot).

USA – The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) recently held their 2021 national conventions, and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was present at both to bring greetings—the first LCMS President to do so in more than sixty years.

For almost a century, the LCMS enjoyed fellowship with both WELS and the ELS through the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference. The middle of the twentieth century, however, saw the LCMS undergo a period of doctrinal controversy, leading the ELS to end fellowship in 1955 and WELS to do the same in 1961. WELS and ELS remain in fellowship together.

LCMS President Harrison addresses the ELS convention. (Image: Screenshot).

In his greetings to the two church bodies, President Harrison acknowledged the reasons why the ELS and WELS broke fellowship with the LCMS in 1955 and 1961. “It had to be done to avoid the tragic events which would play out in the history of the Missouri Synod in the next decades,” he said to the WELS convention. “Thankfully,” President Harrison noted in his remarks to the ESL convention, “the Lord granted us a new day,” with God leading the synod through the doctrinal challenges of the mid-twentieth century to reaffirm its allegiance to the authority of Scripture.

While the reestablishment of fellowship between the LCMS and the ELS and WELS is not currently on the horizon, President Harrison said he is grateful for renewed contact between the church bodies in recent years. Since 2012, the LCMS, WELS, and ELS have held annual informal discussions which have fostered greater understanding and goodwill between the churches. A 2015 report on these meetings highlighted the discovery of significant doctrinal agreement. Each church body has also adopted synodical resolutions encouraging continued discussions between the churches.

During his greetings, President Harrison also expressed condolences to the ELS on the sudden death of President John Moldstad, who went to be with the Lord on January 29, 2021. He gave thanks to God also for continued friendship and discussion with WELS President Mark Schroeder as well as new ELS President Glenn Obenberger.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. The WELS and ELS are both members of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). Member churches of the CELC, including WELS and ELS, recently joined the ILC, LCMS, and other Lutheran churches worldwide as signatories to a joint letter expressing concern over religious freedom concerns in Finland.

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North American Lutherans continue interchurch discussions

USA – The end of 2019 saw two regular interchurch meetings between North American Lutheran church bodies.

From November 11-12, 2019, representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC), and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) held their latest round of dialogue in Columbus, Ohio. Newly elected NALC Bishop Daniel Selbo was present for the dialogue for the first time.

The dialogue featured presentations by LCMS and NALC representatives, discussing First Peter as a pillar letter of the New Testament. The dialogue between the LCMS, LCC, and NALC first began in 2011. The next meeting will take place May 20-21, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri.

In December, representatives of the LCMS, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) met together in Jacksonville, Florida for annual informal discussions. These discussions have helped the three church bodies more clearly define areas of theological agreement as well as areas where differences remain.

During this meeting, discussions focused on the doctrine of justification, particularly objective justification—an area in which the churches find full agreement. This was the eighth regular meeting between the three churches. When representatives of the LCMS, WELS, and the ELS come together again in 2020, discussion will focus on the topics of prayer fellowship and the ministry, as well as a discussion of the WELS statement “Male and Female in God’s World.”

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church–Canada are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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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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