It is an honor to be asked to add the occasional ELS perspective to the Steadfast Lutherans.
The ELS is the little “sister synod” of the Wisconsin Synod (WELS). The ELS consists of 132 member congregations in 19 states, for a baptized membership of just over 19,000. Not to be overshadowed by its big sister, the ELS has its own history, identity and character.
The ELS traces its roots to the original “Norwegian Synod” of 1853. Among the leaders of the Norwegian Synod were Hermann Amberg Preus, Jacob Aal Otteson, and Ulrick Vilhelm Koren aka, “The Norwegian Walther.” The Norwegian Synod soon found a like-minded confessional presence in America in the Missouri Synod. For many years, Norwegian Synod pastors were trained in St. Louis. In 1872, the Norwegian Synod was a founding member of the Synodical Conference, along with the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods, among others.
The first four decades of the Norwegian Synod were ones of doctrinal controversy, from slavery to absolution, from the Sabbath to predestination. The controversy over predestination (election) and conversion became very heated in the 1880’s and 1890’s. On the one side were those who taught that election was “intuitu fidei,” “in view of fatih.” This meant that God elected those whom He saw were going to come to faith, making faith the cause of their election. On the other hand, there were those who taught election according to the Formula of Concord, that faith is the result of our election in Christ. Eventually, the various Norwegian church bodies adopted a compromise teaching on election that allowed for both forms of the teaching, known as “Opjor” or “settlement.” This “settlement” became a blueprint for a pan-Norwegian Lutheran merger in 1917. All the pastors and congregations of the old Norwegian synod, save 13 pastors and 10 congregations joined the merger church, the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America or E.L.C. At Lime Creek Lutheran Church near Lake Mills IA in 1918, the minority reorganized on the same basis of the old Norwegian Synod and is now known as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS).
The ELS is unique among Lutheran synods in that our conventions are held annually and each congregation may be represented by its pastor(s) and two lay delegates. The synod conventions are like big family reunions. All the pastors in the ELS know each other by name. Like our Norwegian Synod forefathers, the ELS still gets mired in lengthy doctrinal discussions, such as the doctrine of the church in the 1970’s, the doctrines of the Lord’s Supper and men and women’s roles in the 1980’s and 1990’s and the doctrine of the ministry in the 2000s. The ELS is currently discussing worship: a committee on ELS worship produced a statement regarding an ELS by-law recommending the use of the Norwegian-Danish rite or the Common Order of Service by each congregation.
The ELS has a unique liturgical heritage based around the Norwegian Danish rite of 1685/1688. This rite is based on an order of service by Luther’s pastor Johannes Bugenhagen. Unique features of this order are that the Kyrie is sung between the confession and the absolution, and that the Gloria is verse one of Decius’ “All Glory Be to God on High” This order of service is rite 1 in the ELS hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary. The Common Order is found as rite 2. Other hymnals used in the ELS are the Lutheran Hymnal, Christian Worship, and Lutheran Worship.
The ELS owns and operates Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, MN, a solidly confessional liberal arts college, and Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, also in Mankato. The college draws many students from WELS and LCMS. The first graduate of the seminary was Robert Preus in 1947. Through its annual Reformation Lectures, Bethany draws confessionally minded Lutherans into a free conference discussion of Reformation history and its implication for today’s teaching and practice.
Associate Editor’s Note: With this post we introduce Pastor Shawn Stafford to BJS as a regular writer. Pr. Stafford and I (and our respective families) became good friends while I served at my first parish in Bagley, Minnesota. He also helped me form the “Ecumenical Lutheran Pastor’s Reading Group of Bagley, MN”, which was featured here at BJS under our “reading groups”. When I thought of someone to write from the ELS perspective, it was easy for me to pick him. Here is some biographical information for him:
Pastor Shawn Stafford was born on March 4, 1974 in Rochester, MN. He was baptized on March 24, 1974 at Grace Lutheran Church (WELS) in Oronoco, MN. He was confirmed there on April 24, 1988. He graduated from Pine Island High School in 1992. He graduated from Bethany Lutheran College in 1994, and received his BA in History and Ancient Studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN in 1996.
He began his studies at Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary in the fall of 1996. During his middler year of seminary, 1997-1998, he served as vicar at Christ Lutheran Church (WELS) in Zumbrota, MN. After completing his classroom work in 1999, he served as vicar at Reformation Lutheran Church in Hillsboro, OR. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Bethany Seminary in June 2000. He was assigned to St. Paul Lutheran in Lengby, MN and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Bagley, MN, where he was ordained and installed on July 9, 2000. He served there until June 2011. He also served as Alternate Circuit Visitor and later Circuit Visitor. In May 2011, Shawn was called as to serve Hartland and Manchester Lutheran Churches. He was installed there on June 19, 2011.
While attending Bethany Lutheran College, Shawn met Amy Rasmussen of Monticello, MN, in 1993. They were married on December 28, 1996 at Trinity Chapel on the Bethany campus. Shawn and Amy have three children: Solveig (12), Jonah (9), and Anju (4).