Frequently we are told that there is no difference between the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). This opinion is expressed and promoted by the WELS, but is rejected by the CLC. Meetings were held between representatives of the two bodies in 1972. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s discussions were held for the second time between representatives of the two bodies. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) with whom the WELS is in fellowship also participated in the meetings between 1988 and 1992.
After what appeared to be a promising start toward resolution of the historic difference, the meetings of 1988 - 1992 ended, as in 1972, without any settlement.
The following demonstrates from historical material what the difference was that led to the formation of the CLC in 1960, as well as the fact that the original doctrinal difference still exists.
The issue that caused many to sever fellowship with the WELS revolved around the question of termination of fellowship with church bodies and teachers who had forsaken the old paths.
The subject of fellowship-- with whom we join in worship and church work-- may seem to some to be of little consequence. We would agree -- if God’s Word did not make it important, or did not instruct us on the subject. Furthermore, the church in general, and the Lutheran Church in particular is in part in the sorry state it is today because the Scriptural doctrine of church fellowship (Romans 16:17-18) has become seriously watered down, adulterated, and simply rejected. The leaven of error that leavens the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5: 6) has infected the church today with what is known as unionism. Unionists are more interested in union than they are in holding fast to the faithful Word. The lack of a Scriptural fellowship position on one hand, and the inroads of unionism on the other, is sadly apparent in the deterioration of the formerly staunch Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS), and to an even greater degree in the demise of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Our concern for the truth of God’s Word among us as well as for the continuation of the precious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ among us, and for the generations that follow us, causes us to review the circumstances that led to the division in the WELS in the late 1950s, and by the grace of God, the subsequent formation of the CLC.
We present this review with an abiding realization of our own weaknesses, and our unworthiness before God. The CLC has never promoted itself as the only church in which God has His children, or as the church outside of which there is no salvation. Fully aware of the accusation of being schismatics we, nevertheless, will not shrink from witnessing to the truth of God’s Word. We know of nothing that will heal divisions with former brethren short of honest agreement in what caused the division, and honest and established agreement on what Scripture teaches in all subjects of which it speaks. This includes the doctrine which is called the doctrine of “fellowship.”
We are compelled to this review -- not because we delight in dredging up the past -- but because of the danger of forgetting it. We are further compelled by the necessity to set the record straight concerning any suggestion that there is no difference between the CLC and the WELS.
In excerpts from official reports we learn:
The committee said, “by its persistent adherence to its unionistic practice” the Missouri Synod “has brought about the present break in relations that is now threatening the existence of the Synodical Conference…” (WELS Proceedings, pp. 103,104).
We note that Romans 16:17,18 is quoted. In the same report the president said, “We implore the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us as we try to decide in the face of all the reports whether the Lord would have us apply His definite command “Avoid them!” or whether we still have an unpaid debt of love to those whose fellowship we have cherished so many years” (Proceedings, page 14).
The Standing Committee in Matters of Church union reported to the same convention, “We have, however, arrived at the firm conviction that, because of the divisions and offences that have been caused, and which have until now not been removed, further postponement of a decision would be a violation of the apostolic injunction of Romans 16:17 (I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them).”
In view of longstanding divisions and offenses, the Standing Committee in Matters of Church Union proposed the resolution, “that with deepest sorrow…we, in obedience to God’s injunction to avoid such, declare the fellowship which we have had with said synod to be terminated” (Proceedings, page 79).
The Floor Committee at the convention responded, “The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has by its official resolutions, policies, and practices created divisions and offenses both in her own body and in the entire Synodical Conference. Such divisions and offenses are of long standing…” This Preamble to the Committee's report with its indictment of the LC-MS was adopted unanimously!
Then followed: “Out of love for the truth of Scripture we feel constrained to present the following resolution to this convention FOR FINAL ACTION IN A RECESSED SESSION IN 1956 (emphasis added): Resolved, that whereas the Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod has created divisions and offense by its official resolutions, policies, and practices not in accord with Scripture, we, in obedience to the command of our Lord in Romans 16:17-18, terminate our fellowship with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.”
A two-to-one majority adopted this part of the resolution. This began the delaying action on the part of WELS. It continued until 1961. So while the indictment was unanimous, the resolution to apply Romans 16: 17-18 was delayed for further consideration in a recessed convention! Hence the obedience that was urged instead became disobedience! Admonition and protest continued within the framework of fellowship.
Note that the WELS-- whose president in convention had previously described the LC-MS as causing “divisions and offences,” and whose floor committee in 1955 had concluded that obedience called for separation-- nevertheless concluded it would continue on with the LC-MS, albeit in a “protesting” fellowship. The resolution in 1955 called for action in 1956, but the recessed convention delayed the termination action again.
Though using Romans 16: 17-18, which speaks of separation on the basis of existing “division and offenses” (which the WELS had recognized for many years), suspension was declared in a large part on the basis of the subjective opinion that an “impasse” had been reached. This resolution passed, though not with an unanimous vote.
In 1972 the WELS acknowledged a doctrinal difference!
Another point said, “We reject the view that permits the use of human judgment to prolong fellowship with persistent errorists contrary to the principles of Scripture.”
However, a troubling expression in the “Joint Statement” was the WELS consistent use of the expression “persistent errorist.” Historically, that expression was a catchword used within the WELS. Its use contributed to the delay in terminating fellowship with the LC-MS. The CLC representatives accepted WELS verbal explanation of “persistent errorist.” However, as has been borne out by subsequent words and actions of the WELS, acceptance of that expression was ill advised..
The CLC proposed that a preamble be added to the “Joint Statement.” The thrust of the CLC preamble was, “Any previous expressions or actions which may not be in conformity with it (the “Joint Statement”) are hereby set aside and rejected.”
This preamble was rejected by the WELS. It countered with a longer preamble, which said that acceptance of the “Joint Statement” -- when accepted by the three church bodies-- “supersedes any and every previous statement that might appear to be in conflict with this document. Any and all such conflicting or possibly conflicting statements are herewith disavowed.”
So how did the preamble of the CLC and that of the WELS differ?
In the Lutheran Confessions as well as in the Brief Statement doctrines contrary to the truth are clearly rejected. To reject a contrary doctrine clearly declares that what is contrary to Scripture has no standing whatever with the truth. Without a clear, unequivocal, and unambiguous rejection of past statements contrary to Scripture, the question was open, namely, what is the position of the WELS -- that of the “fathers” or the expressions of the unadopted “Joint Statement”?
A summary of the existing difference:
Incidentally, the above web site reports that meetings in the “late 1980s and early 1990s failed to reestablish fraternal relations.”
THE “JOINT STATEMENT” never was presented to the constituency of the CLC or its Convention for action.
Before the “Joint Statement” could have been adopted as a settlement, each body would have had to review it. Each body may have suggested changes. Any changes suggested by one body would have required review by the other two. This was not done, certainly not by the CLC. The CLC through its president made the choice not to present the “Joint Statement” for action by the Convention, largely because of the position expressed in the August 8 letter. The “Joint Statement” never was officially adopted. It has no standing as an official statement, much less a settlement. The status quo exists.
The WELS may disagree with the CLC on the status of things today. That is their prerogative.
On the basis of the history, as well as subsequent words and actions of the WELS, the CLC has not changed its conclusion: