Steadfast ELS — Contending for the Faith

February 26th, 2012 Post by

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 Stafford and his wife Amy

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).

Rules for comments on this site:

Engage the contents and substance of the post. Rabbit trails and side issues do not help the discussion of the topics.  Our authors work hard to write these articles and it is a disservice to them to distract from the topic at hand.  If you have a topic you think is important to have an article or discussion on, we invite you to submit a request through the "Ask a Pastor" link or submit a guest article.

Provide a valid email address. If you’re unwilling to do this, we are unwilling to let you comment.

Provide at least your first name. Please try to come up with a unique name; if you have a common name add something to it so you aren't confused with another user. We have several "john"'s already for example.  If you have a good reason to use a fake name, please do so but realize that the administrators of the site expect a valid email address and also reserve the right to ask you for your name privately at any time.

If you post as more than one person from the same IP address, we’ll block that address.

Do not engage in ad hominem arguments. We will delete such comments, and will not be obligated to respond to any complaints (public or private ones) about deleting your comments.

Interaction between people leaving comments ought to reflect Christian virtue, interaction that is gracious and respectful, not judging motives.  If error is to be rebuked, evidence of the error ought to be provided.

We reserve the right to identify and deal with trollish behavior as we see fit and without apology.  This may include warnings (public or private ones) or banning.

  1. February 26th, 2012 at 08:42 | #1

    Pastor Stafford, it’s nice to see you on here.

  2. Wallenstein
    February 26th, 2012 at 14:38 | #2

    I have always thought that the divisions between the ELS and the WELS were only ethnic, with church doctrine being the same. Do they both enjoy altar and pulpit fellowship. If not, did both bodies recently break fellowship? Is the ELS a Scandinavian version of the WELS? I am looking forward to reading your blog posts, Pastor Stafford!

  3. February 26th, 2012 at 16:09 | #3

    The ELS and WELS currently are in pulpit and altar fellowship. The ELS are / were known as the “Little Norwegian” synod.

  4. CDJ
    February 26th, 2012 at 17:22 | #4

    Are there any mega churches in the ELS?

  5. Shawn Stafford
    February 26th, 2012 at 17:51 | #5

    As Perry Lund indicated, the ELS and WELS are in pulpit and altar fellowship. The ELS produces its own doctrinal statements after going through its own doctrinal study and debate. The doctrinal statements of the WELS and ELS are not identical, sometimes using different terminology, but are in agreement in what they teach.
    I would object to calling the ELS a Scandinavian version of WELS. In its early days, the ELS was closely aligned with the LCMS, establishing a professorship at St. Louis. The ELS severed fellowship ties with Missouri in 1955. Since the break-up of the Synodical Conference, the ELS and WELS have been drawn closer together within a worldwide fellowship known as the CELC.

  6. Shawn Stafford
    February 26th, 2012 at 17:54 | #6

    There are no ELS megachurches. The few ELS churches with membership over a thousand would include King of Grace in Golden Valley, MN; Mt. Olive in Mankato, MN; and in Holy Cross in Madison, WI.

  7. Pastor Shawn Stafford
    February 26th, 2012 at 18:01 | #7

    Due to the Norwegian Synod’s close alliance with the Missouri Synod during the Election Controversy of the 1890’s, a splinter group formed called the “Anti-Missourian Brotherhood.” They founded St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.

  8. CDJ
    February 26th, 2012 at 18:15 | #8

    Which hymnal enjoys the widest use in the ELS? The only ELS parish I ever visited used TLH, this was about seven years ago. Are any using Lutheran Service Book?

  9. Pastor Shawn Stafford
    February 26th, 2012 at 18:51 | #9

    As far as I know, there aren’t any using the Lutheran Service Book. The TLH remains widely used. The TLH is by the far the most familiar and popular among the laity. Many ELS parishes are using the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, produced by the ELS worship committee in 1997. The ELH combines the best of the TLH and the Lutheran Hymnary produced by the Scandinavian synods in 1913.

  10. February 26th, 2012 at 20:51 | #10

    Shawn Stafford :
    As Perry Lund indicated, the ELS and WELS are in pulpit and altar fellowship. The ELS produces its own doctrinal statements after going through its own doctrinal study and debate. The doctrinal statements of the WELS and ELS are not identical, sometimes using different terminology, but are in agreement in what they teach.
    I would object to calling the ELS a Scandinavian version of WELS. In its early days, the ELS was closely aligned with the LCMS, establishing a professorship at St. Louis. The ELS severed fellowship ties with Missouri in 1955. Since the break-up of the Synodical Conference, the ELS and WELS have been drawn closer together within a worldwide fellowship known as the CELC.

    Agreed on the Scandinavian comment. Otherwise, those German WELS folk would have sold me to the ELS given my Norwegian ancestry and name. Glad to have you blogging on BJS.

  11. Wallenstein
    February 26th, 2012 at 21:09 | #11

    The ELS believes in Election/Predetination.
    The ELS and the WELS are in altar and pulpit fellowship.
    Therefore, the WELS also believes in Election/Predestination(!)

    God knew before I was born whether or not I am going to heaven or hell? How nice. I can picture Charles Stanley preaching this, but a Lutheran?

    How did a staunchly Calvinist doctrine come to be accepted by two orthodox, Lutheran denominations?

    Since I have a hunch that your response may be a long one, please feel free to save my question for a future dedicated blog post. Thanks!

  12. February 26th, 2012 at 21:44 | #12

    @Wallenstein #11
    Lutherans do believe in Predestination/Election. Go ahead and read the Formula of Concord, Article XI on Election.

    Also, check out the definition of the type of predestination that Lutherans believe, single predestination.
    From the LCMS Christian Cyclopedia:

  13. February 26th, 2012 at 21:48 | #13

    @Wallenstein #11

    Predestination has always been the teaching of the Lutheran Church. See Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” (that and the Catechisms he considered to be the only works worth anything). The older Philipp Melanchthon and his follows rejected election in favor of a wider view of free will. But the “Gnesio” or Genuine Lutherans won out and wrote the final confessional document of the Book of Concord, the Formula of Concord, which holds firmly to election and predestination. Early in the 17th century, the doctrine fell by the way side (primarily because of the influence of certain Wittenberg theologians, notably Leonard Hutter). People also stopped reading Luther for a couple of centuries. Later, in the 19th century the Neo-Lutheran theologians in Germany, as well as the founders of the Synodical Conference rediscovered the doctrine of election, and fought against American Lutherans who rejected election. The WELS, LCMS, and ELS were all part of the orthodox party who accepted the FC’s teaching of election and therefore were part of the Synodical Conference. And this is why the Church bodies you mentioned teach election.

    BTW, in my experience, even in the ELCA, the doctrine of election is pretty firmly upheld. So no major American Lutheran Church body that I am aware of rejections election.

  14. CDJ
    February 26th, 2012 at 22:18 | #14

    @Pastor Shawn Stafford #9
    I have all of the hymnals you listed in my collection. My favorite will always be TLH 1941. After that I would choose The Lutheran Hymnary or Lutheran Service Book. Two close seconds for various reasons.
    I was reared in the WELS and am now LCMS.

  15. helen
    February 26th, 2012 at 22:37 | #15

    One of our larger LCMS churches has ELH in the pew racks. [Not a “mega”; its Pastor is confessional.] However, since they use a complete worship folder each Sunday; those hymnals will last a long time!

  16. Wallenstein
    February 26th, 2012 at 22:58 | #16

    @Dr. Jack Kilcrease #13
    If so, then such a doctrine is not taught, nor promoted within the LCMS. IMHO, I believe Philipp Melanchthon was right. I was taught in my LCMS church that it is possible for me to lose and gain my salvation many times within a lifetime. Is it wrong to believe so?

  17. February 27th, 2012 at 06:42 | #17

    @Wallenstein #16

    The LCMS was part of the Synodical Conference along with the ELS and WELS, and therefore teaches the same doctrine which is in the Formula of Concord.

    “IMHO, I believe Philipp Melanchthon was right.”

    Well, then you are out of accord with orthodox Lutheranism then. Moreover, you must live under the threat of the fact that your salvation depends on something you do, i.e. maintain your faith.

    “I was taught in my LCMS church that it is possible for me to lose and gain my salvation many times within a lifetime. Is it wrong to believe so?”

    The best way to think about election is to recognize that our knowledge of God’s electing activity does not come from outside the Word and the sacraments, but in and through them. This is the fallacy of the Calvinist position, which turns election into an abstract decree, which one has to sort of guess at through looking for internal signs.

    Through Word and sacrament, God gives us knowledge of his saving will and promises to redeem us. Since God’s redemption and justification are unconditional, they must be the result of his unconditional election will. As long as I stand in a relationship of grace by trusting in God’s promise to redeem me (present in Word and sacrament), I can be certain that I am one of elect. If I reject God and lose my faith, this of course does not mean that God has ceased to will my salvation, but I become alienated from his redeeming judgment and I can no longer be certain of his redeeming judgment in my favor. If by God’s saving providence, I am thrust back into relationship with him via Word and sacrament, I can reconnect with his saving and electing will to redeem me. In effect, as long as I believe that I am elect because of the promises of God present in Word and sacrament, then I can be certain of my election.

    In talking about “losing” and “gaining” salvation, one should avoid speculating about God’s abstract will. God’s electing will in Word and sacrament is something one is either connected to by faith or disconnected to by unbelief. As to why some are converted, and others not, or why some are able to maintain their connection and others not, it is pure speculation on our part to try to answer this question. The best one can say is that some resist God’s election, though this is not an entirely satisfactory answer insofar as under sin this is all our impulses. One therefore should not speculate, but proclaim God’s grace in the promise of our baptism.

  18. February 27th, 2012 at 08:59 | #18

    The ELH is the best hymnal out there. It doesn’t have Amazing Grace, and it does have “Christ Alone is Our Salvation,” “In Jesus I find Rest and Peace,” “Like the Golden Sun Ascending,” “When Sinners See their Lost Condition,” and others that are either not at all in the LSB or only have a few stanzas.

    Also, the ELH’s liturgical setting is beautiful. The tune for the Lord’s Prayer is great. Even before my dad joined the ELS, we chanted the Lord’s Prayer to that tune at the dinner table.

    Another hymn LCMSers should consider singing on Trinity Sunday is “Who Ever Should Be Saved,” by Pastor Bartel (I’m not sure if I spelled his name correctly.); it is to the tune of “My Maker Be Thou Nye.” This hymn beautifully declares the Athenasian Creed in a very nice tune.

    I won’t add anything to Dr. Kilcrease’s and Pastor Scheer’s explanations other than this: Romans 8:29-30 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Also, look at Ephesians 1:3-10.

    Notice in the Ephesians text that Paul does not take away the predestination from the preaching of the Gospel, that is, “making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ…”

  19. Pastor Roepke
    February 27th, 2012 at 10:26 | #19

    Remember that their are many differences between ELS and LC-MS.

    The biggest is the Office of the Ministry.

    A good resource to understand this is the following, “The Old Ministry Debate in the Synods of the Synodical Conference and in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod Today” By Rolf Preus, Presented at the 10th annual Pieper Lectures of September 2005. It can be found in The Pieper Lectures, Call and Ordination in the Lutheran Church, Copyright 2006 by Concordia Historical Institute and The Luther Academy.

  20. February 27th, 2012 at 13:08 | #20

    @Pastor Roepke #19
    If anyone is interested in the entirety of the debate, specifically leading up to the injustice done to my father in 2006 for refusing to accept the Wauwatosan formless position on the office of the ministry, you can go on the Christ for us website, and then go to the papers link; the papers, including the one Pastor Roepke refers to, are under the heading Ministry.

    BTW, Pastor Stafford continually defended the Old Norwegian/LCMS/Book of Concord/Bible position on Church and Ministry. I am happy to see him on BJS.

  21. Joe Krohn
    February 27th, 2012 at 22:02 | #21

    @Dr. Jack Kilcrease #17
    Though I won’t disagree here…it would have been nice to see more of an emphasis on the Holy Ghost…you almost sound synergistic in parts. Just sayin…

If you have problems commenting on this site, or need to change a comment after it has been posted on the site, please contact us. For help with getting your comment formatted, click here.
Subscribe to comments feed  ..  Subscribe to comments feed for this post
Anonymous comments are welcome on this board, but we do require a valid email address so the admins can verify who you are. Please try to come up with a unique name; if you have a common name add something to it so you aren't confused with another user. We have several "john"'s already for example. Email addresses are kept private on this site, and only available to the site admins. Comments posted without a valid email address may not be published. Want an icon to identify your comment? See this page to see how.

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