Can’t we just remove Illinois? Or maybe Iowa? LCMS, WELS, ELS


A friend of mine in the ELS let me know a few weeks ago about a conference which deserves attention.  It is called the Emmaus Conference.  On May 5-6th this year in Tacoma, Washington the Presidents of the three major confessional Lutheran Synods (LCMS, WELS, and ELS) will be either lecturing (WELS) or reacting (LCMS, ELS).

You can view their website here.

It has been a number of years since these kind of things have been able to happen, but it is good to see the heads of these church bodies at least in the same room.  One of the things that was very valuable in the old days was the ability of one of the church bodies in the Synodical Conference to rebuke another.  The outside rebuke had greater weight than a lot of inside rebuke.

Only after the breakup of the Synodical Conference did special interest groups from within the LCMS begin to be the only voice for certain issues.  Their effectiveness is oftentimes related more to politics than to rebuke.  Before that, an entire Synod could call another to repentance over an issue of doctrine or the practices which flow out of it.

Each side of this has issues with the other:  LCMS will go after Church/Ministry of WELS and ELS; WELS and ELS will go after LCMS on a number of things (fellowship, women’s roles, scouting, military chaplaincy) and so forth [For a good summary of WELS issues with LCMS see John Brug’s book “WELS and other Lutherans, second edition”].  I will say that it would be an interesting future if each body gets serious about doctrinal discussion, especially since most of the pastors and many of the laity involved have never experienced the gift of the Synodical Conference.  The value of having so many other Lutherans calling others to repentance would be very good.  More than that, it is nice to see our Synod represented in the same conference with WELS and ELS instead of ELCA (or LCMC and NALC for that matter).

So this conference could be a good step along the way of working toward a greater confessional Lutheran association, or maybe not.

I would invite anyone who attends the conference in May to let me know about it at:   [email protected]

Of course, if the matter was only as easy as removing a state or two we could manage something, bringing these Synods together again is up to the Lord.

No offense was intended to the residents of Illinois or Iowa, nor the congregations of the

Northern Illinois, Central Illinois, and Southern Illinois, Iowa East, and Iowa West Districts in the titling of this article.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He manages the work of BJS in cooperation with KFUO and is a regular host of Concord Matters (and is also the regular guest on His Time to discuss BJS articles each week). He also oversees the great work done for Steadfast Throwdown. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Can’t we just remove Illinois? Or maybe Iowa? LCMS, WELS, ELS — 37 Comments

  1. I have no idea what this means. Would somebody please explain? I get the synod stuff, but not the state stuff.


  2. Johannes :
    I have no idea what this means. Would somebody please explain? I get the synod stuff, but not the state stuff.

    Not sure, but I would venture to guess the following. Since each of the three synods have headquarters in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (ELS) and Iowa and Illinois are geographically between them, the author is alluding to those states as being stumbling blocks to relations and doctrine between them, metaphorically of course.

  3. @Perry Lund #4
    Thanks Perry for explaining it. Sometimes a pastor’s humor is just a little too dry. Seriously this is about the relationship between the confessional lutherans of old beginning to get better. I am not sure if it will ever manifest in fellowship (that is God’s work), but it can’t hurt to be spending more time with them than the other lutherans out there.

  4. I’m not from the ACELC (although I very much appreciate their efforts and their doctrinal stance), but I am registered for the Emmaus Conference, and really looking forward to it.

  5. I would like to see them accuse each other of being the biggest promotor of false Church Growth theology.

  6. One might hope they would, Carl, as individuals, not as organizational reps.
    I am looking forward to hearing more about this. I’m glad lcms is going to be represented!

  7. It is refreshing to have dialog with WELS and ELS instead of the E?CA. Did anything fruitful ever come from all the dialogs with the E?CA? If it did I sure missed what it might have been.

  8. “Did anything fruitful ever come from all the dialogs with the E?CA?”

    Don’t know. People haven’t posted anything new lately on this BJS thread.

  9. Would it be fabulous to have WELS & LCMS in open/ public dialogue, of any kind? Most certainly, more fruitful & valuable, than El~A or the up & coming ACNA/LCMS public forums.

    It is about time, many have waited decades to see, even anything remotely like this.

    Look forward to updates on this conference. Many at BJS, represent both LCMS & WELS, if we can do it here, one would think….

  10. I hope the example of our synod presidents will encourage more free conferences among us. Perhaps even in Iowa.

  11. As a former LCMS and former WELS parishioner, I have to say the recently elected Presidents of both Synods give reason for hope. I am unfamiliar with Pres. Molstad, but I’ve met President Schroeder and heard him speak, and certainly at the time we were in WELS held high hopes for his Presidency. Even though we ultimately left Lutheranism altogether, I pray such discussions will bear much fruit.

  12. Given the state of the LCMS right now my wife and I have visited the WELS congregation in our area. The Pastor there is up front about our differences, in other words HONEST, and seems to be a highly effective Pastor in and out of the pulpit. When we need a little injection of real liturgy we make a visit. We just cant get past the exclusiviity of social ministry and the whole fellowship definition although it is easy to see what being too open has done to us.

  13. When you say “reactor” what do you mean by that designation? Sorry if I sound less than educated, I’m just knew to this. And I think this is great that they are all getting together.

  14. The Emmaus Conference has been going on for a few years at least. If I understand correctly, there’s usually one paper/essay that is presented by someone from ELS, LCMS or WELS, and then each of the other synods has a representative who “reacts” to the main presentation, that is, critiques it. Often the presenters/reactors are seminary profs. This is the first year that it’s the three presidents. I believe the main presentation this year (by Pres. Schroeder) will be on the matter of “fellowship.”

  15. If Kieschnick was still the LCMS president, I don’t think that this meeting would take place. It makes a big difference to have President Harrison leading the LCMS.

    At least the three presidents are strong confessional Lutherans. That is a great start!

  16. James #9:

    Neither President Schroeder nor President Harrison are going to point their fingers at each other with blame for the CG movement.

    Both men view CG as a threat to the church. Both men are humble enough to want to put a stop to it. Both SP’s know that complacency is what leads to church growth.

    Many of us will be in prayer during the meetings.

  17. @Lloyd I. Cadle #20
    Both SP’s know that complacency is what leads to church growth.

    Somehow, I don’t think that’s exactly what you meant?

    Complacency may allow the CG movement to take root, as planting a garden and not tending it allows weeds to take over. It doesn’t help real growth.

  18. @helen #1
    Oh, please! Don’t refer to Texas as an *elephant*! Those Texans already have a thing about the size of their state! :)

    Did my vicarage there and loved it, btw. Truly enjoyed the state, along with having a great vicarage. Glad to be a Hoosier, though.

  19. @Rev. David Mueller #23

    The state of Texas is not an issue in this discussion, David.

    I suppose its oversize ego does carry over to the natives in Texas district lcms. :(
    As does its schizo reputation as a homeground of Baptists… and a tribe of hard drinkers!
    [You’d have to be one or the other to swallow some of the programs imported here.] :(((

  20. @Lloyd I. Cadle #25
    Complacency gets us into all sorts of trouble, I agree.

    My point was that when you used church growth in small letters, I assumed you meant real growth of congregations. I don’t believe complacency (or CG) leads to real growth, numerically or spiritually.

    @T. R. Halvorson #26
    Amen to that.

  21. @helen #24

    Helen, I bring this to you as a poor, miserable sinner, convinced of the mercy that is mine through Christ Jesus alone:

    Wow. Do you not see how offensive that is?

    Perhaps the better question is…how could you not? You just stereotyped almost 25,000,000 people as ignorant alcoholic egolomaniacs.

    Regardless of your own “observations,” there is no room in Christ’s kingdom for such insults.

  22. One thing I don’t understand about us is that we conservatives in the LCMS seem to approve WELS (and ELS), at least somewhat, as confessional Lutherans. I know they believe in a “quia” subscription, but they still teach false doctrine, don’t they? I know the ELCA is much farther from us theologically (to put it mildly), but doesn’t a little leaven work its way through all the dough? Should we not be just as concerned about WELS’s false doctrine concerning ministry and Christian fellowship, and their legalism concerning women’s suffrage in the church?

    The teachers in WELS and ELS, from what I understand, are schismatics at best, and false teachers at worst. Yet we seem a lot more willing to be kissing cousins with them just because we’re closer to them theologically. Jesus was very close to the Pharisees theologically, but He railed against them more than any other group for their legalism; He didn’t just say “Oh, unlike the Sadducees, these guys believe in both the Torah AND the Prophets, and they believe in the resurrection of the dead. They aren’t perfect, but I like them.” Instead, He rebuked them repeatedly and told people to be on their guard against them.

    Maybe this isn’t the right thread to bring this up, and maybe I just don’t see the cases where we have actually rebuked them and warned others against their false doctrine. Yet from what I’ve seen here, we seem all too eager to align with them against all the liberal forces in Christendom.

  23. @Nathan92 #29
    I really am glad you asked this question, and I hope there are still regular BJS readers who are following this thread and will answer. As a WELS pastor who speaks highly of the LCMS (at least one version of it), I hear the same question from fellow WELS members. “How can you talk about dialogue with a church body that sanctions working together with the ELCA and allows women not only to exercise authority over men with their votes in the congregation, but by being elders and presidents of the congregation?”

    Two quick comments: First, I think you’ll find that WELS official doctrine does not deviate in any way from Walther’s doctrine. His theses on church and ministry were accepted long ago by the WELS, and his theses on church fellowship were the very thing that brought the WELS and the LCMS together back in the 1870’s. The WELS doctrine on the roles of men and women is the same as the pre-1960’s LCMS doctrine.

    This is not to imply that false statements, wrong practices and legalistic applications haven’t been made (and even sanctioned!) over the years. They surely have. The Church Growth movement (along with a spirit of pietism in general) has also caused a general decline in theological interest and acuity, a problem which infects both our synods. But it might be argued that the WELS, at least officially, has not moved as far from Walther’s LCMS as the LCMS itself has.

    Second, I don’t find anyone suggesting that we should just open up the Communion rails this Sunday and pretend that we are already in fellowship with one another. What I do find on the part of many here and in the WELS is a serious desire to get our doctrine straight and in line with confessional Lutheranism (i.e., with the Scripture and the Church catholic). What I do find is a fervent desire to engage more seriously in dialogue regarding the articles of doctrine over which we have had disagreements in the past. Perhaps, with a good dose of Christian humility on both sides, we will both find our way back to the unity of the Synodical Conference.

  24. @CJ #28
    Wow. Do you not see how offensive that is?

    Wow! That did need some emoticons, didn’t it!?

    First, there is no denying that we are mostly a Baptist state. Count the churches, and look at the size of them. [We’ve got some beautiful Catholic & Lutheran churches a century old, too]

    Second, I don’t really believe the “hard drinking” slur on the whole. There are some I know, among Lutherans, also, who are reputed to overdo it but they don’t predominate and they get a certain amount of “concern” from their friends.

    Third, I didn’t characterize 25 million as anything… only the ones who swallowed some of the “programs” I’ve seen pedaled in the last 20 years. (Goodness, make that almost 40! Seminex was the first that caught my attention.) I doubt most of the 25 million down here even noticed, even if they were lcms, perhaps! :( [Lcms only has 3.5 million altogether; they usually credit Texas with 10% of that.]

    And, incidentally, egomaniac looks better w/o the ‘lo’ and you said that; I didn’t.
    [I may have been tempted to think it about just a few, I admit.]

    “WE’RE TEXAS” does take a bit of ego (and I’m one of ’em, but not to maniac level). :)

  25. @ Helen:

    1. The majority of a state cannot speak for the whole. Plain and simple.

    2. Whether or not you believe does not negate the fact that you said it.

    3. And yes, you did stereotype 25 million people as something. You can’t pretend that you didn’t. It’s right there, on the page.

    4. If I misspoke by using ‘egolomaniac’ rather than ‘egomaniac,’ I think you still understood my intention to draw attention to the fact that YOU were the one that made that leap.

    5. “We’re Texas” is also not a state-wide thing. “Don’t Mess With Texas,” perhaps, but “We’re Texas” is a motto from UT. Surely you know that, if you are one of us.

  26. @CJ #32

    5. I am sitting here in PCL, with tickets to a UT baseball game (which may give way to a thunderstorm). :( I commented on “We’re Texas” precisely because it sounds like “everybody” but in fact refers to this university. 😐

    In the same way, the “programs” of LCMS are not a concern of most Texans so there is no point in saying I mischaracterized 25 million people!

    Neither UT nor LCMS is anything like “the majority” …. we may have more illegal aliens (S’cuse me, “undocumented workers”) than Lutherans of any stripe in Texas.

    “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said,
    but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

    Now, come down off your high horse, Texan! :)

    Helen E. Jensen, MLIS
    Perry-Castaneda Library
    University of Texas at Austin

  27. BTW: Heaven graciously permitted a baseball game w/o a rain delay. It “misted” a little but no thunderstorm tonite. UT took it in 9 inninings, 2-1.

    Good night! God bless! –helen

  28. BTW: Heaven graciously permitted a baseball game w/o a rain delay. It “misted” a little but no thunderstorm tonite. UT took it in 9 innings, 2-1.

    Good night! God bless! –helen

    Gracious, you’re catching!

  29. Pastor Rydecki #30,
    Oh thank you so much for that post! You wrote, exactly my hope for the Emmaus conference. It is my prayer, we see something on Emmaus on BJS.
    I pray if laity, is allowed to attend, those who live in that state or area attend (shout out to Jim P) and will we see something on I.L.?

    A LCMS/WELS Hybrid,

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