Steadfast WELS — It begins on paper

I’ve been graciously asked to bring a little bit of WELS history and an occasional WELS perspective to the Steadfast readers. I’m quite sure most of my brothers in the WELS would agree that I’m not exactly your stereotypical (or even typical) WELS pastor. There. Now you know. This should be interesting.

Let’s begin with the most important thing in the Holy Christian Church on earth – numbers.

Here’s how the WELS looks on paper:

  • Congregational membership: 389,545
  • Churches: 1279
  • Elementary Schools:334
  • Pastors: 1305
  • Teachers: 1846
  • Staff ministers: 106
  • The synod operates one seminary, one pastor/teacher training college and two prep schools.
  • Congregations also support 23 Lutheran high schools and 1 Lutheran college.

A few other pieces of trivia:

  • Practically all our churches used TLH from roughly 1941-1993. A few still do. Most of the rest use Christian Worship. Others “improvise.”
  • Twice-a-month Communion is by far the most common practice.
  • For ministry, most pastors wear a business suit. Some wear a polo shirt. A very few renegades use a collar.
  • For worship, most pastors vest in alb and stole or Geneva and stole. Some wear shirt and tie. A very few don a chasuble. A growing number wear a Hawaiian shirt and jeans.

One more thing. Like Missouri, the WELS maintains, on paper, a quia (“because it’s true”) subscription to the Book of Concord.

On paper, the Wisconsin Synod, since its very beginning in 1850, has subscribed to the entire Book of Concord, although it’s no secret that the paper hasn’t always matched the reality.

The WELS as it exists today is the result of a 1917 merger of the Synods of Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The beginnings of the original Wisconsin Synod are quite different from the beginnings of the Missouri Synod. Whereas it was confessional resistance against the Prussian Union that brought the founders of the Missouri Synod from Germany to the United States, the Wisconsin Synod came into existence through the efforts of German mission societies that were content to live with the Lutheran-Reformed compromise for the sake of “evangelism.”

So Missouri represented the “Old Lutherans” who wanted strict adherence to the Lutheran Confessions, while Wisconsin was content to be identified with the “New Lutherans” who didn’t want to be so constrained by 16th Century dogmatic formulations that were written to wage 16th Century doctrinal battles.

And yet, when it came time to organize the synod on paper, it began pretty well.

The 1850 founding constitution of the Wisconsin Synod includes confessional provisions like the following: All congregational arrangements must be “in harmony with the pure Word of the Bible and the Confessions of our Evangelical Lutheran Church.”

What began well on paper didn’t really describe the reality for many years to come. It was a confessional ideal held by some, but not by others, including the synod’s first president, Rev. John Muehlhaeuser, who (unofficially) scribbled out all references in the constitution to confessional writings and replaced them with such wordings as “pure Bible Christianity” and “pure Bible Word.”

But the paper beginning still mattered. Rev. John Bading, the second president of the Wisconsin Synod, admonished his brothers in 1862, “It is one thing to have the truly pure doctrine on paper and another thing to possess it in one’s own clear understanding and one’s own childlike faith.” Eventually the conviction of “Old Lutheranism” grew from minority status to majority status, and by 1872, the synod would come around to embrace what was written on paper at the beginning, encouraged also by faithful men in the Missouri Synod to understand that “Old Lutheran” = the catholic faith = the Gospel of Jesus Christ purely taught.

Now, a synod cannot appeal solely to paper to prove its orthodoxy. Novel synodical statements or practices may well overshadow or even contradict what’s written in the foundational documents. A synod can only claim to be as orthodox as the least orthodox teacher or teaching it chooses to tolerate.

But it begins on paper. As long as the foundational documents are recognized as binding, there is hope for profitable discussion. A common confession about the role of inspired Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions can be the starting point for much fruitful dialogue among Lutherans, both the intra- and the inter-synodical kind.

Ultimately, it is my hope and prayer that all Lutherans, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, can find their way back, in humble and steadfast faith, not just to the beginning of the Synodical Conference or of synods at all, but to the beginning of the Lutheran Church itself – all the way back to Concord. That’s some sturdy paper to begin with.

 

 

Associate Editor’s Note:  With this posting Pastor Rydecki joins the writing crew here at BJS in a segment called “Steadfast WELS”.  Pr. Rydecki recently was given the honor of the “Sabre of Boldness” from Gottesdienst.

Rev. Paul Rydecki is originally from Stevensville, Michigan. Although baptized in the LC-MS, he joined a WELS congregation with his parents at an early age. He graduated from Northwestern College in 1995 and from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2000, when he was ordained and commissioned as a world missionary to Puerto Rico. After four years in Puerto Rico and three in Mexico, Rev. Rydecki accepted a call in 2007 to Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he now lives with his wife, Amy, and his four sons, Nathan, Jacob, Samuel and Lucas.

We are glad that in an age where LCMS folks are free conferencing with WELS folks to also have some of that same discussion here at BJS.  As you can see from his clerical shirt and collar, he is a “renegade” according to his description of clergy in the WELS.  Should fit in well with some of the sorts here.

About Pastor Paul Rydecki

Rev. Paul Rydecki is originally from Stevensville, Michigan. Although baptized in the LC-MS, he joined a WELS congregation with his parents at an early age. He graduated from Northwestern College in 1995 and from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2000, when he was ordained and commissioned as a world missionary to Puerto Rico. After four years in Puerto Rico and three in Mexico, Rev. Rydecki accepted a call in 2007 to Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he now lives with his wife, Amy, and his four sons, Nathan, Jacob, Samuel and Lucas.

Comments

Steadfast WELS — It begins on paper — 50 Comments

  1. Thank you Paul for posting – welcome aboard. Something you wrote scares me –
    “A synod can only claim to be as orthodox as the least orthodox teacher or teaching it chooses to tolerate.” It is good to be hearing from someone outside of Missouri on this.

  2. So what, do you think, is the reason that so many WELS pastors eschew the clergy collar in favor of the tie?

  3. There are many reasons. Take your pick from those below. These all reflect real sentiments in the WELS, but they’re stated a bit tongue-in-cheek. No offense intended!

    Top Ten Reasons why so many WELS pastors eschew the clergy collar in favor of the tie:
    10) We’re very traditional in the WELS. (Tradition = what I’m used to)

    9) If I wear a collar, someone might actually call me “Father.” Then lightning would be sure to strike me dead.

    8 ) We’re afraid people we meet on the street might know we’re pastors. We prefer stealth mode.

    7) Because uniforms get in the way of our rugged individualism.

    6) Can’t be “all things to all men” wearing a collar. Because that’s exactly what St. Paul was referring to. Exactly.

    5) Decades ago, the collar used to be eschewed by confessionals and embraced by liberal Lutherans. Nobody bothered to inform us when that changed.

    4) Why distinguish the pastor as minister when every member is a minister?

    3) Seriously, why distinguish the pastor as minister when every member is a minister?

    2) It’s too Missourian.

    1) It’s too Catholic.

  4. “A synod can only claim to be as orthodox as the least orthodox teacher or teaching it chooses to tolerate.”

    Exactly right. Which is why it is an utter scandal that the Pr. Becker has not been removed from the roster.

  5. Thank you, Pastor Rydecki, and welcome aboard! Considering their “rigid” reputation, I never would have guessed WELS was founded on being content to live with the Lutheran-Reformed compromise for the sake of “evangelism.”

    When I was a Navy chaplain (LCMS) at Parris Island, the senior chaplain (Southern Baptist) called me for some insight on a pastor (WELS) who was coming to visit his Marine recruit. My Baptist boss was really worried, because he had heard a few things about Wisconsin. Being the nice guy I am, I did my best to put him at ease.

    I said to him, “Well, you know what they say about the LCMS?”

    Nervously he stammered, “Yes…”

    “Well, it’s TRUE about the Wisconsin Synod!”

    When I greeted the WELS pastor at the gate to Parris Island and led him to his recruit/parishioner, we had a really good laugh together over that story.

  6. @Chryst #3
    If I may add a little less tongue-in-cheek response to Pastor Rydecki’s very able response to your question about why WELS pastors generally don’t wear the collar, there is a historical factor that I have found many in the LCMS (WELS, too) are unaware of.

    And that is that the clerical collar we’re used to today has not been the “uniform” of confessional Lutheran clergy for a very long time at all. As the 20th century moved into its first decades, the common “beffchen” worn by most Synodical Conference pastors (according to the pictures I’ve seen) was becoming less popular and was being replaced by the formal attire of the day, the tie. Around the middle of the century, some Lutheran pastors of the Synodical Conference began to adopt the clerical collar that the Anglican/Episcopalian and the Roman clergy wore (and that was already being adopted by other American Lutherans). Pr. Rydecki’s reason 5 correctly notes that it was the more liberal-leaning pastors and professors of the LCMS who were the first, which certainly added a disincentive to its adoption by what we might call the “anti-liberal” pastors in the Synodical Conference.

    The basic truth, however, is that the pastors of the LCMS gradually adopted the clerical collar over the last half of the 20th century, to the point where it became seen as the normal “uniform” of the clergy (especially those more “confessionally” and “liturgically” minded), but that this simply never happened in the WELS. Certainly the reasons Pr. Rydecki gives all play in to one extent or the other, but my point is that the collar has, historically, never been “normal” for our pastors or a part of our congregational/synodical culture. Thus the situation in our synod is roughly the opposite of yours: the man choosing the collar in the WELS is departing from tradition/the norm, while the man choosing the tie in the LCMS is departing from tradition/the norm.

    Just an anecdote you might find interesting: The walls of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary classrooms and halls are filled with pictures of the graduating classes, all the way back to the beginning. Somewhere in the early 60s (could be the late 50s, but I don’t think so), the picture of one graduate has been altered: for whatever reason (I have no knowledge of why), he had chosen to wear a clerical collar for his photo, and his classmates apparently took it upon themselves to take pen and ink and draw in a tie for him. The collar, with its then-current connection to liberal theology and practice, was a “habit” they were yet unwilling to have associated with their class or the WELS pastorate.

    (And wrap your mind around this: I have published comments from the 1950s from the orthodox Lutherans (non-WELS) condemning the wearing of the alb as a sure sign of liberalism and, therefore, affirming the wearing of a Geneva gown as a sign of orthodoxy. Things have changed!)

  7. Very interesting indeed. I always thought there was more in common with the history of the LCMS with WELS than there appears to be. Both churches do one thing in common with authentic Christianity. They both proclaim Christ crucified!

  8. Pastor Joshua Scheer :Thank you Paul for posting – welcome aboard. Something you wrote scares me -“A synod can only claim to be as orthodox as the least orthodox teacher or teaching it chooses to tolerate.” It is good to be hearing from someone outside of Missouri on this.

    Bingo, I third or fourth is (whichever it is by now). Scary indeed! Reflections on Matt Becker come to mind.

  9. Thank you Pastor Rydecki for your contribution. I look forward to reading posts from a WELS point of view. Interesting to me that most wear a business suit – I personally love when pastors rock a sweet vestment. My wife grow up CLC and I grew up ELCA – we are now both LCMS – do you know anything of the relationship between WELS and the CLC? thanks

  10. @Nathan R. #17
    I’m afraid I don’t know about any recent dialogues between WELS and CLC. The last I remember hearing (several years ago) was that doctrinal committees from both synods sat down and agreed that they had no doctrinal differences. But the CLC still didn’t want to restore fellowship until the WELS would admit it waited too long to break fellowship with the LC-MS back in 1961. I admit my knowledge of the CLC is limited, having never lived or served near one of their congregations.

  11. @Pastor Paul Rydecki #18
    What a silly formality. Admitting that they waited too long to break fellowship with the LCMS 50+ years ago sounds like an easy way for the WELS to re-absorb the CLC. Someone over in WELS should publish a letter and be done with it.

  12. Pastor Rydecki, do the members tend to call their pastor by his first name or “Pastor”? First name would seem to be more in keeping with the goal of not distinguishing the pastor as minister when every member is a minister.

  13. @Ted Crandall #23

    From my vantage point, I’m hearing more pastors referred to as “Pastor first name” and I’m seeing more pastors leave the pulpit (with or without gown on) to wander the aisle while preaching. In my opinion these are signs of a shift in philosophy of ministry in WELS.

    Pastor “Ski” of the CORE http://www.gotocore.com is considered the cutting edge in WELS. He is a frequent presenter at various conferences to teach his philosophy of ministry.

  14. @Rev. James Schulz #24

    I just checked out that site — very trendy! I dug a little and found an explicit reference to the Lutheran Confessions (endorsing them), but I really had to search for the word Lutheran anywhere. That I find annoying, but I was pleased to see solid Lutheran teaching — even if any connection to Lutheran seems studiously avoided.

  15. @Ted Crandall #25

    “Time of Grace” http://www.timeofgrace.org is fast becoming the face and philosophy of the WELS. Pastor Jeske’s philosophy of ministry can be seen in these “Change or Die” conferences for which he served as moderator:

    2011:

    http://www.siebertfoundation.org/pdfs/Change%20or%20Die%20Brochure%202011%20-%20FINAL%20EDITION.pdf

    2012:

    http://tentalentsforchrist.com/#/change-or-die-conference

    By the way, Time of Grace applied for and received LCMS RSO status.

  16. I was under the impression that Rev Jeske and TOG were under disciplinary review for the LCMS RSO status. At least I thought I had read something to that effect a while back on LutherQuest.

  17. @CDJ #27
    Word on the street is that the praesidium of the WELS Southeastern Wisconsin District, which has oversight of Pastor Jeske and Time of Grace, does not see a conflict with the RSO status. It is my understanding that Presidents Schroeder and Harrison will be meeting to hash it out.

    Official word at conferences is “we’re working on it.” It has been explained that from the LCMS point of view RSO status really doesn’t mean anything, so it really does no harm to have LCMS RSO status for a WELS ministry.

  18. How many WELS pastors have left for LCMS in recent years, due to doctrinal and practical issues? Or, another way of putting it, how many WELS pastors would like to leave WELS for the same reasons now? Is it true that WELS will have women pastors before they will let women vote? Their doctrine of the ministry isn’t Confessional, that’s for sure.

  19. @J. Milller #29

    Have you ever heard the saying, “The LCMS is six times bigger than WELS, six times better than WELS, and six times worse than WELS”?

    I think it’s that “worse” part – real or imagined – that plays a role in keeping some WELS pastors put.

    Re: “How many WELS pastors have left for LCMS in recent years,” I wonder if there is a record somewhere that would reveal that statistic.

  20. Check the records at the purple palace to determine prior affiliation of pastors who converted to LCMS. Can someone like the secretary at hq provide this? Thanks. And, perhaps somebody in the WELS headquarters could provide the same information for pastors who have left WELS for other churches. Was this information provided at the recent WELS/LCMS conference on fellowship talks?

  21. Rev. James Schulz :
    @Ted Crandall #25
    “Time of Grace” http://www.timeofgrace.org is fast becoming the face and philosophy of the WELS. Pastor Jeske’s philosophy of ministry can be seen in these “Change or Die” conferences for which he served as moderator:
    2011:
    http://www.siebertfoundation.org/pdfs/Change%20or%20Die%20Brochure%202011%20-%20FINAL%20EDITION.pdf
    2012:
    http://tentalentsforchrist.com/#/change-or-die-conference
    By the way, Time of Grace applied for and received LCMS RSO status.

    Of course. Pastors Jeske and “Ski” are leading the Church Growth Movement in the WELS. WELS considers it a sin to pray with other Christians outside of their fellowship; however, it is “ok” to import evangelical worship and study materials. The contradiction is intriguing. “Change or Die!” is a popular WELS slogan among their “missional” people. WELS has its worship wars, too.

    RSO status means that “Time of Grace” can ask for (and receive) funding from the LCMS. Some WELS pastors receive money from the LCMS. Someone at LCMS headquarters should be able to provide us with a dollar amount. Since there is no fellowship between the WELS and the LCMS, how does the LCMS justify giving money to support “Time of Grace.”

  22. As Thrivent gives money to radical groups within the ELCA, I can understand the position of the CLC.

  23. as well as non-lutheran groups such as Salvation Army & Habitat for Humanity among others. My personal opinion is that there were some WELS churches that relied on (esp back when it was AAL) the matching donations as primary funding rather than supplemental funding. The church became salespeople to their members encouraging Thrivent membership in order to get matching funds. I can’t say I fully disagree with the CLC.

  24. Wallenstein :

    Rev. James Schulz :@Ted Crandall #25 “Time of Grace” http://www.timeofgrace.org is fast becoming the face and philosophy of the WELS. Pastor Jeske’s philosophy of ministry can be seen in these “Change or Die” conferences for which he served as moderator:2011:http://www.siebertfoundation.org/pdfs/Change%20or%20Die%20Brochure%202011%20-%20FINAL%20EDITION.pdf2012:http://tentalentsforchrist.com/#/change-or-die-conferenceBy the way, Time of Grace applied for and received LCMS RSO status.

    Of course. Pastors Jeske and “Ski” are leading the Church Growth Movement in the WELS.
    RSO status means that “Time of Grace” can ask for (and receive) funding from the LCMS…Since there is no fellowship between the WELS and the LCMS, how does the LCMS justify giving money to support “Time of Grace.”

    Yes, especially when their website has absolutely no reference to Lutheran. I guess that’s part of their “change or die” survival plan…

  25. @Wallenstein #34

    Being a Thrivent leader for six years now (congregational and chapter leader) I have noticed a few entities that I object giving money to receive, as well as some the LC-MS would like to support but have been denied. So I think there have been a handful of questionable decisions made, and they seem to get worse the further up the food change you go.

  26. @Joe Krohn #38

    That’s interesting. So, because WELS broke from LCMS, but LCMS did not break from WELS, LCMS approves of WELS (Time of Grace RSO), cooperates with WELS (Bethesda, etc.), even communes WELS (so I’ve heard). Therefore, some in WELS are saying re Time of Grace RSO status, “We don’t want your official approval because we don’t approve of you.”

  27. Is it just the RSO status in objection or is that just the biggest factual proof? Is there anything objectionable in the Time of Grace “sermon” messages?

    If it is because of speaking engagements at various LCMS churches by TOG, how is that much different than having a WELS pastor blogging with LCMS pastors on this LCMS focused website? Besides the title “Change or Die”, the conference is also objectionable due to the fact it is bringing together Pastors of various congregations that are not in fellowship and promoting use of their techniques across synod lines. On the opposite side of the coin are pastors uniting across synod lines to promote confessional Lutheranism. I can see many people wondering how the two sides are really not that much different.

  28. @Jean #40

    I doubt that Pastor Jeske has or will preach on the following subjects in any of his Time of Grace broadcasts:

    1) The “unit concept” of Church Fellowship
    2) The Office of the Holy Ministry
    3) Women’s suffrage in the church

    In my opinion, the main problem with the “Change or Die” conferences is the premise that numerically growing churches are somehow more faithful than numerically declining churches. Also, that Pastor Jeske as a representative of WELS takes a leading role in these conferences. Is WELS taking the lead in promoting Church Growth methodologies?

  29. You know what is said about WELS as compared to LCMS? WELS is six times smaller than LCMS, six times better than LCMS, and six times worse than LCMS. Puff on that one for some time.

  30. Judge the merits of each pastor in LCMS and WELS on its own. There are good and bad in each. Some are faithful. Some are not. Pedigree and brand label are not indicators of faithfulness.

  31. I always, have found it interesting, that regarding WELS/ELS the women voting thing, is generally brought up….by a suffergette, or a guy.

    I don’t miss it, had it for decades in LCMS, & don’t miss it one wit. I have a voice, it’s so very much heard, I don’t need to say yea or nay, or raise an arm, to have a voice, for anyone to see my talents, gifts, or anything I have been given could offer?

    A vote is a one time thing, my voice, is quite different. And that voice, is valued & heard, in WELS, just as it was in LCMS.

  32. @Rev. James Schulz #39
    I would say you are correct. After our involuntary dismissal from WELS, we approached our current LC-MS pastor about attending Holy Communion and becoming members. After qualifying that we believed in the Real Presence and not receptionism (apparently this is a problem in some ‘Lutheran’ circles) , he had no problem communing us. He quipped that it was WELS that broke fellowship with Missouri afterall. I would assume LC-MS feels similarly about many issues regarding WELS.

  33. Joe # 44
    That’s what we heard, when we were chased out of LCMS for defending the Solas, Concord, Confessions, & Liturgy.

    I’ve read what has been done to you, by your own site & others.
    Please don’t compromise what those in 2 Synods, have endured, to bring Ichabod to BJS. Joe, both Synods, & those in them, have bigger battles to fight, than those quibbled on by a synod, unto it’s own, proclaimed & supported, unto it’s self.

    This is bigger than ego, and names, this is souls here. Keep Ichabod over there, don’t bring it here or to Intrepid.

  34. @Dutch #45
    If I am in error on something, by all means tell me. Otherwise, I really don’t see the point to your comment nor do I understand what you are trying to say.

  35. Joe K,
    That really depends on what site we’re chatting about or on. I visit IL & Ichabod.

  36. There are three issues between the CLC and WELS.
    1 was correctly mentioned – Thrivent. I have spoken to so many people in WELS that believe Thrivent is wrong, so Pastor Rydecki’s comment applies – if you think it’s wrong, what are you still doing in that synod? Thrivent’s own definition is all you really need to see what’s wrong there a “faith-based lutheran fraternity (brotherhood” – how is that not making you a partaker of their evil works (abortion, ELCA supporting and so much more).
    2 is the issue of their on-the-books doctrine about women in society. Everyone in WELS seems to say “no one believes that.” So why is it still on your website?!?!?! How can you be ok with that? No, Paul is not saying that the roles of men and women in the church apply in society (which would certainly mean that women couldn’t be the boss of men at work or vote in public elections).
    3 is the fellowship issue. And I can tell you that there is a TON of misinformation about this. WELS has long held and taught that the only difference we claim is that they “waited too long.” That is a very unfortunate view. It isn’t even a little bit true. As my Grandpa (Roland Gurgel) used to say, a church body becomes false teaching when their teaching (not their practice) is wrong. For WELS that happened when they tried to cover up what they had done. At the WELS convention (I think in 1957, maybe 59?) a resolution was brought which was essentially this “Whereas LCMS has by it’s false teaching caused divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine we have learned, therefore be it resolved that we sever fellowship with the LCMS.” This is a simple, straightforward thing. It’s Romans 16:17-18 in resolution form. They approved of the whereas and then voted down the resolved. That is ridiculous. If they weren’t sure (as they often contend) that LCMS was a false teaching church body then why did they pass the whereas? You cannot say, yes Romans 16:17 applies but no we won’t follow through. And that is exactly what happened. Then to try and cover what they did, they changed their doctrine. They inserted a step into Romans 16:17-18. It is no longer “mark and avoid” it’s “mark, admonish, avoid.” And “admonish” is a red herring for the whole process is admonishment, before there is admonishing, IT is admonishing and the admonishing goes on after by the very fact of your separation!

    So no, it is not at all true to say that the CLC is only separate from the WELS because we insist they admit they waited too long and they won’t. Their refusal to admit they were wrong is a refusal to admit that the use of such phrases as “persistent errorist” and “separation is called for when you have reached the conviction that admonition is of no further avail” (a ridiculous phrase that I could rag on for a while) were misguided or wrong.

  37. @Pastor Jeff Samelson #12
    (And wrap your mind around this: I have published comments from the 1950s from the orthodox Lutherans (non-WELS) condemning the wearing of the alb as a sure sign of liberalism and, therefore, affirming the wearing of a Geneva gown as a sign of orthodoxy. Things have changed!)

    In the late 40’s we got a new Pastor, who had to explain that the surplice he wore over his Geneva gown did not mean he had Roman tendencies! [That was the old German ALC.]

    Did you swipe those “10 points” from Motley Magpie? :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.