The Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod (WELS) has recently come under scrutiny after presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and her family left that synod around the same time she announced her bid for the presidency. I want to explain why Michele Bachmann is not a good fit for WELS. I also want to look at the actual beliefs of WELS. It’s easier for writers to paint the Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod to be this wild, far out group than it is to dig into their beliefs.
Being raised in the Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod gives me a more intimate understanding of the synod than someone reading about it for the first time in the news. For the record, I am not, nor I have been an active member of a Wisconsin Synod church or congregation in close to 30 years.
Before I go any further with this post, let me state quite clearly that I am in no way attacking any particular church group or synod. There are plenty of good, loving people that belong to every faith. People feel attacked when their faith and/or church are questioned or judged as being bad from those outside the community. People on the defensive aren’t open to discussion and we need to get past that if we as a society are going to work together for a better future. The purpose of this post is not to attack or defend WELS or Michele Bachman. Leaving the Wisconsin Synod as a “personal preference” makes perfect sense for Michele Bachmann as I don’t think she reflected their other core beliefs regarding prayer.
There are plenty of reasons and opportunities to criticize Michele, but being part of WELS isn’t really one of them as I don’t think she’s a good “fit” for that organization. For one, WELS churches tend to keep to themselves meaning they don’t mix with other Christian denominations. They do not approve of praying with other Christian denominations. Michele Bachmann has publicly participated in prayer meetings that span many Christian groups.
There have been many articles speculating WELS position on the Pope among other things. Some have even tied WELS with being anti-Jewish. There seems to be this eagerness by the press and blogosphere to paint all WELS members as being “wing nuts”. Maybe WELS was put under that type of scrutiny because of their connection with Michele Bachmann. I’d like to see how many WELS members follow the “official line” on the Pope and the more obscure notion of not liking Jewish people. Neither one of these things are talked about very often, so I almost wonder how many people in the Wisconsin Synod even know the church’s stance on these subjects.
For a little background there are three main Lutheran synods in the United States. The Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod (WELS) is the most conservative of the three, Missouri Synod is more “middle of the road” and the Evangelic Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is the most liberal of the three.
WELS members and their church pride themselves on maintaining a separation from other churches, including other Christian denominations. They have the Lutheran Boy and Lutheran Girl Pioneers in place of the Boy and Girl Scouts. The accent in the quote below is mine. They are against universalism and salvation through deeds being taught to their members.
“We’re for man. We’re in favor of a correct understanding of man’s nature, so that young people can grow up right. That means we teach original sin, the innate inability to know God and do right that necessitates regeneration. So we baptize and instruct children. And we oppose any philosophy that suggests people are morally good or neutral by nature. Unfortunately, that’s what scouting does, reversing the prohibitions of God’s law with the self-righteous promotions of the scout law. “A scout is reverent” . . . he does his duty to God. One scouting manual adds: “You may never know what your duty to God is,” and goes on to promote religious evolution in place of revelation, all in the name of reverence to God.
We are for salvation, for the salvation of all who believe in Jesus, because the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace through faith, right? Then we must be opposed to any and all forms of work-righteous salvation. Unfortunately, scouting’s printed explanations of the scout oath and law foster universalism (the idea that everybody’s going to heaven if there is one) and work-righteousness (the notion that good deeds earn reward in the hereafter).”
The Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod supports four universities for training future pastors and teachers. Each one of these schools is owned and operated exclusively by the WELS. Please note that Oral Roberts University is not listed.
I went to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod web site for part of my research and found their thoughts on the differences between Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod. It’s located in their “Frequently Asked Questions” page.
The document I reference is “Lutherans” under the “Denominations” tab. What I found interesting is how Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod views prayer. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod allows for group prayer, even when the person next to you isn’t Missouri Synod. Wisconsin Synod Lutherans are only supposed to pray with other Wisconsin Synod members (ie: full doctrinal agreement). As a WELS member, Michele Bachmann wasn’t supposed to participate in a group prayer that included other Christian sects.
“The WELS holds to what is called the “unit concept” of fellowship, which places virtually all joint expressions of the Christian faith on the same level. In an official statement made in 1960 the WELS states, “Church fellowship should therefore be treated as a unit concept, covering every joint expression, manifestation, and demonstration of a common faith” (Doctrinal Statements of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1970, pp. 51-52). The LCMS, however, has historically not understood or practiced church fellowship in this way. Our Synod, for example, has made a distinction between altar and pulpit fellowship (for which full doctrinal agreement is required) and other manifestations of Christian fellowship, such as prayer fellowship (which do not necessarily require full doctrinal agreement). Disagreements on this issue led the Wisconsin to break fellowship with the LCMS in 1961.”
Those who know me personally know that I take the Wisconsin Evangelic Lutheran Synod to task on their ideologies, including not allowing women to vote in the church, but Michele Bachmann’s involvement in the church isn’t going to be one of them. That smacks of “guilt by association” to me.
I’ll close with the other reason I don’t believe Michele Bachmann was a good “fit” for the Wisconsin Synod. Wisconsin Synod Lutherans have a long history of putting high value on education and deep theological thought. It is the responsibility of every member to learn as much as they can about the word of God. This is not done so they can brag to the world how great they are, rather it is done to meet their own spiritual needs. Michele reminds me of the Pharisees who would do good works and put on a good show for the world. True Christianity comes from the heart and shouldn’t be used for personal or political gain.
Special thanks to Blue Cheddar and Ray Lawson for their input on this topic. Your feedback means a lot to me.