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Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) is a United States religious denomination belonging to the Lutheran tradition within Christianity. Characterized as theologically conservative, it was founded in 1850 in Wisconsin. Currently (2004), it has congregations in all 50 states and 24 other countries and a membership of over 400,000 in more than 1,200 congregations and is the third largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. (see Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS)).

WELS is in fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) and is a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a worldwide organization of Lutheran church bodies. The WELS is its own independent denomination and is not to be confused with the synods of the ELCA. The term "synod" used by the ELCA refers to administrative districts in different regions of the United States. (example: Illinois Synod of the ELCA)

Organization and structure[]

Synodical government[]

The WELS is headed by a president and is supported by two vice presidents elected during its synod convention for terms of four years. The president oversees the bureaucratic administration of the synod. The current synod president is Rev. Karl Gurgel.

Beneath the president are numerous administrative divisions addressing various areas of ministries. Among these are ministerial education, world missions, home missions and various other divisions for various areas of ministry.

Synod conventions are held biennially in odd-numbered years and consist of elected male lay members, ordained pastors and certified male teachers. Half of all delegates are to be lay members while the remaining half is divided evenly between pastors and teachers. Synod conventions elect synodical leaders, and discuss and vote on synodical business.

The WELS is divided into 12 geographical districts in the United States and Canada, each headed by a district president elected in district conventions held during even years. District presidents serve terms of four years.

Ministerial and other education[]

The WELS maintains four schools of ministerial education: two college preparatory high schools Michigan Lutheran Seminary and Luther Preparatory School; a pre-seminary and teacher training college, Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota; and a seminary for training pastors, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, located in Mequon, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Lutheran College, a liberal arts college in Milwaukee, is affiliated, though not run by the WELS, and there are numerous area day and high schools maintained by WELS congregations.

Publishing and publications[]

Northwestern Publishing House([1]) is the official publishing house for the WELS. It is devoted to publishing Christian literature and WELS related religious materials, as well as several WELS periodicals.

Main WELS periodicals include:

  • Forward in Christ — The WELS' monthly family magazine.
  • Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly — A quarterly theological magazine.
  • The Lutheran Educator — A quarterly professional journal by WELS teachers.[2]


Historical background[]

The WELS' direct predecessor, known as The German Evangelical Ministerium of Wisconsin was founded in 1850 by several churches in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Many of the early pastors were educated and trained by mission societies in Germany, and the early churches in the Wisconsin Synod had a strong German background, including services and church business being conducted in German.

By 1869, the Wisconsin Synod had signed fellowship (in this context, an agreement of a unity of belief) with the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod to form the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. The Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America was later joined by the ELS in 1917. The fellowship union included sharing educational facilities and open pulpit between ministers of the different synods, and it would last for 92 years.

In 1917, the Wisconsin Synod joined with several sister synods in neighboring states, including the Minnesota, Michigan and Nebraska Synods to become the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. By 1930, the merger and other factors had pushed the WELS to becoming an English-speaking synod.

In 1962, the WELS broke ties with the LCMS over the principles of Christian fellowship. The break was traumatic for the WELS and led a small number of pastors and churches to leave the WELS and form the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Their chief complaint was that the WELS misapplied the principles of Christian fellowship by not breaking with the Synodical Conference and the LCMS after they had publicly recognized doctrinal disagreements. Both denominations remain at odds regarding this issue.

After the break, the WELS and the ELS retained fellowship, and continue to maintain it. In 1993, the ELS and WELS working with a number of other worldwide Lutheran churches, some of which had been founded through mission work by both synods, founded a new fellowship organization, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC).

WELS Presidents, past and present[]

The following is a list of Presidents of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod from 1850 to 2009.

  • 1850 – 1860 Johannes Muehlhaeuser
  • 1860 – 1864 John Bading
  • 1864 – 1865 Gottlieb Rein
  • 1865 – 1867 William Streissguth
  • 1867 – 1887 John Bading
  • 1887 – 1908 Phillip von Rohr
  • 1908 – 1933 G.E. Bergemann
  • 1933 – 1953 John Brenner
  • 1953 – 1979 Oscar Naumann
  • 1979 – 1993 Carl Mischke
  • 1993 – 2007 Karl R. Gurgel
  • 2007 – present Mark G. Schroeder

Beliefs and practice[]

Core beliefs[]

The WELS teaches that the Bible is the only authoritative and error-free source for doctrine. It subscribes to the Lutheran Confessions (the Book of Concord) not in-so-far-as but because it is an accurate presentation of what Scripture teaches. It teaches that Jesus is the center of Scripture and the only way to eternal salvation, and that the Holy Spirit uses the gospel alone in Word and Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion) to bring people to faith in Jesus as Savior and keep them in that faith, strengthening them in their daily life of sanctification.

Differences from LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod)[]

The main facets of doctrinal difference between WELS and the LCMS include:

  • Fellowship — WELS teaches that all forms of Christian fellowship require complete unity in matters of doctrine. The LCMS, meanwhile, teaches that there are different levels of fellowship among Christians, so that altar fellowship (sharing in the Eucharist together), pulpit fellowship (exchange of preaching privileges among ministers of various congregations), and other manifestations of Christian fellowship (such as fellowship in prayer), are distinct. Thus, according to LCMS doctrine, members of different church bodies can engage in greater or lesser degrees of fellowship depending on the extent of their doctrinal disagreement.
  • Doctrine of the ministry — The WELS believes that there are many different forms of ministry which are divinely established, including pastor, Christian day-school teacher, staff-minister and others. The LCMS teaches that only the pastoral office is divinely established, while all other church offices are human institutions.
  • Role of women in the church — The LCMS and WELS agree that Scriptures reserve the pastoral office for men. Unlike WELS, however, LCMS teaches that women may take on roles of lay authority in the church, such as voting in church elections and serving in "humanly established offices" such as congregation president, reader, or member of church councils.

Differences from ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)[]

  • Scriptural interpretation — WELS confesses that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God and follows an Historical-Grammatical approach to interpretation. The meaning of a portion of Scripture is discerned by paying careful attention to grammar, syntax, vocabulary and context. In this regard, the historical setting forms part of the context of Scripture, the text itself indicating how important a part. The ELCA, on the other hand, has been open to Historical-Critical Methods of Biblical interpretation which seek to understand the scriptures with primary reference to historical and social context. Most other specific doctrinal differences between the two churches stem from this overarching disagreement.
  • Creationism — WELS teaches that the account of creation given in Genesis 1-3 is a factual, historical account[3], while the ELCA has not enforced an official position, allowing members to embrace positions ranging from strict creationism to Theistic evolution.
  • Sexuality — WELS teaches that extramarital sex and homosexual relations are sins, while the ELCA and its predecessor churches have been somewhat open to multiple viewpoints on these matters. The ELCA does not (as of 2005) allow the ordination of homosexuals or the blessing of same-sex unions, although there have recently been sharp divisions within the church over these issues.
  • Fellowship — WELS teaches that churches must agree on all doctrines of Scripture before they can enjoy any form of fellowship with each other, while the ELCA teaches that agreement on all aspects of doctrine is not necessarily required as a prerequisite for fellowship. It thus practices fellowship with a handful of other mainline Protestant denominations.
  • Role of women in the church — WELS holds that, according to Scripture, women may not serve as clergy nor vote within their congregations, while the ELCA’s three predecessor churches began ordaining women into the ministry in the 1970s.

Ecumenical relations[]

Fellowship between the WELS and other church groups are established only upon investigation and confirmation that both church groups hold complete unity in scriptural doctrine and practice.

The WELS is in fellowship with the members of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, all of which meet this requirement.


The headquarters of the denomination is located at 2929 N. Mayfair Road, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53222.

See also[]

External links[]

This article was forked from Wikipedia on March 29, 2006.

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