Nearly 500 years ago, the Christian church was corrupted by many false teachings. A man named Martin Luther led people back to the teachings of the Bible. His work, and that of his friends, is called the Reformation. Through Luther God restored the church to purity of doctrine and a new life of faith in Christ.
The doctrines of the Lutheran Church are not new. They are the teachings of the Bible. Thus the Lutheran Church is not a new church. It is not a sect or cult. It is a church whose teaching is based on the words written by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament. The Bible tells us about Jesus Christ.
The teachings of the Lutheran Church are those of the original, ancient church of the apostles and early Christians.
The Bible and Lutherans teach that the Bible is the true word of God. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. This means that God breathed into the writers the exact thoughts and words they were to write. As a result every statement in the Bible is the truth. One part of the Bible explains another part. It is the only guideline for the faith and life of Christians. We are to read and study it diligently. It clearly teaches all we need to know in order to obtain our eternal salvation.
The Bible and Lutherans teach that there is only one true God. This God is invisible, holy, eternal, and has all power and wisdom. In the Bible God reveals himself as three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is why he is called “Triune.” These three persons in one God are all God. They are equal in power, glory, and in every other quality. To deny or ignore one person is to deny all of them. It is God who created, redeemed, and sanctified us.
The Apostles’ Creed is a brief statement of gospel truths taught by the apostles. It was not formulated by theologians, but out of the needs of the Christian church. Christians used it to tell others what they believed and also to confess their faith with one another as they met for worship.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Nicene Creed was written around A.D. 325 in defense of the true Christian faith. The Council at Nicea developed it, expanding on the deity of Christ, in order to safeguard the apostles’ teaching.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who in unity with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
This creed is named after St. Athanasius, a staunch defender of the Christian faith in the fourth century. It was prepared to assist the Church in combating two errors that undermined Bible teaching. One error denied that God’s Son and the Holy Spirit are of one being or Godhead with the Father. The other error denied that Jesus Christ is true God and true man in one person. The Athanasian Creed continues to serve the Christian Church as a standard of the truth. It declares that whoever rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of Christ is without the saving faith.
Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold to the true Christian faith. Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever.
Now this is the true Christian faith: We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God, without mixing the persons or dividing the divine being. For each person—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—is distinct, but the deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory and coeternal in majesty. What the Father is, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated; the Father is infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite; the Father is eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal; yet they are not three who are eternal, but there is one who is eternal, just as they are not three who are uncreated, nor three who are infinite, but there is one who is uncreated and one who is infinite. In the same way the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, and the Holy Spirit is almighty; yet they are not three who are almighty, but there is one who is almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord. For just as Christian truth compels us to confess each person individually to be God and Lord, so the true Christian faith forbids us to speak of three Gods or three Lords. The Father is neither made nor created nor begotten of anyone. The Son is neither made nor created, but is begotten of the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeds from the Father and the Son. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And within this Trinity none comes before or after; none is greater or inferior, but all three persons are coequal and coeternal, so that in every way, as stated before, all three persons are to be worshiped as one God and one God worshiped as three persons. Whoever wishes to be saved must have this conviction of the Trinity.
It is furthermore necessary for eternal salvation truly to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ also took on human flesh. Now this is the true Christian faith: We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and man. He is God, eternally begotten from the nature of the Father, and he is man, born in time from the nature of his mother, fully God, fully man, with rational soul and human flesh, equal to the Father as to his deity, less than the Father as to his humanity; and though he is both God and Man, Christ is not two persons but one, one, not by changing the deity into flesh, but by taking the humanity into God; one, indeed, not by mixture of the natures, but by unity in one person; for just as the rational soul and flesh are one human being, so God and man are one Christ. He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.
This is the true Christian faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved.
The Small Catechism (1529 A.D)
Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism as a brief summary of the basic truths of the Christian faith. It was primarily intended to educate the laity and was designed as a tool that parents could use to teach their children. It provides summaries or explanations of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar (Holy Communion), and the Ministry of the Keys and Confession.
The Large Catechism (1529 A.D)
Covering in greater depth the same doctrines and subjects as the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism was really a series of edited sermons of Martin Luther. It was intended primarily as a tool that could be used by pastors and teachers to broaden their knowledge of the teachings of the Bible.
The Augsburg Confession (1530 A.D.)
Written by Luther’s colleague Philip Melanchthon, this statement of faith is often viewed as the chief Lutheran confession. It was presented by the followers of Luther to Emperor Charles V at the imperial diet (assembly) meeting in Augsburg, Germany. It was intended to be a summary of the chief articles of the Christian faith as understood and taught by Lutherans in contrast to the errors that were being taught by the Roman Catholic church.
The Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession (1531 A.D.)
After the Roman theologians had condemned many of the teachings of the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon authored this lengthy defense of the Augsburg Confession.
Smalcald Articles (1536 A.D.)
The Smalcald Articles were written by Luther in late 1536 for presentation and discussion at a church council that had been planned by Pope Paul III. . On June 4, 1536, Pope Paul III announced that a council would be held to deal with the concerns of the Protestants. In these articles Luther indicated on which points Lutherans would not compromise. Lutherans at once recognized their value as a statement of pure evangelical and biblical doctrine.
The Formula of Concord (1577 A.D.)
In the years following Luther’s death, Lutherans had become divided over a number of doctrinal issues. Written primarily by Jacob Andreae, Martin Chemnitz, and David Chytraeus, the Formula of Concord (or “agreement”) was a detailed restatement of many of the truths contained in the Augsburg Confession and was intended to be a statement that all genuine Lutherans could adopt. It was signed by over 8,100 pastors and theologians, as well as by over 50 governmental leaders. The Solid Declaration is the unabridged version. The Epitome is an abridged version intended for congregations to study.
As a synod we do not formulate doctrinal declarations on a regular basis. We believe that the Bible is the final authority in all matters of doctrine, that it is fully inspired by God and without error. The three ecumenical creeds, the primary creedal statements of historic Christianity, summarize well our faith. In addition, we wholeheartedly subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions (contained in the Book of Concord of 1580) because they are correct expositions of biblical truth. In essence, the Bible, the creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions all speak the same truth: we are declared to be right with God by his grace alone through faith in Jesus.
Since our Christian and Evangelical Lutheran forefathers have left us such accurate and comprehensive doctrinal affirmations, we seldom feel the need to draft additional ones. But from time to time, issues arise that need to be clarified because they aren’t specifically addressed in other doctrinal statements. Sometimes those issues stem from differences between us and other church bodies, and sometimes they stem from differences between us and prevailing attitudes within our society as a whole.
The following statements are doctrinal declarations that have been formally endorsed by our synod in the 20th century. Part of our Christian responsibility is to clarify the truth when confronted by questions, and to affirm the truth as an encouragement to those who struggle against falsehood. These doctrinal statements testify that our synod saw the need to set forth the truth in the face of controversy at various times in its history. We pray that members and non-members alike find them useful in better understanding what God’s Word says about critical issues of our time.
Theses on church fellowship
Introduction to the Theses
Already during the early 1940s differences began to disturb the unity within the Synodical Conference on the doctrine and practice of church fellowship. Since 1872, when this confessionally sound federation of Lutheran synods was founded, the member synods were fully agreed on the fellowship principles that had brought them together. All held that complete confessional unity is the necessary scriptural basis for all practice of church fellowship, that is, for pulpit, altar, and prayer fellowship.
In the 1930s the Missouri Synod held meetings with the American Lutheran Church, a merger of Lutheran synods not in doctrinal agreement and not in fellowship with the Synodical Conference. Following the practice of the ALC, these meetings included joint prayer among all participants. Objections to this fellowship practice were answered by a Missouri Synod resolution in 1944, asserting that not all joint prayers are a practice of prayer fellowship. In regard to prayer, Missouri was allowing for a different practice and establishing different principles than those jointly held throughout its history by the synods of the Synodical Conference.
As this and other problems threatened the unity of the Synodical Conference, this body in its 1956 convention called upon its president to call a joint meeting of the union committees of the four member synods. One of the purposes was to draw up doctrinal statements faithful to Scripture in order to reestablish the fact that the synods of the conference were indeed in doctrinal agreement.
To the Wisconsin Synod’s 1959 convention the Standing Committee on Matters of Church Union (see footnote 1) could report that six meetings of the Joint Union Committees for a total of 18 days had been held since 1957. A doctrinal statement on Scripture and another on the Antichrist had been successfully completed. (See earlier sections in this booklet.) The subject of church fellowship had also been discussed on the basis of the presentation of theses by the Wisconsin Synod. These had been prepared by the subcommittee of eight in full consultation with the entire Standing Committee. In the meetings of the Joint Union Committees most of the points had met with approval. The Missouri representatives, however, were not ready to acknowledge “the scriptural correctness of the basic point of our Wisconsin Synod presentation . . . that all joint expressions and demonstrations of a common Christian faith—call them church fellowship or by any other term—are essentially one, that they involve a unit concept, and that they are therefore all [also prayer] governed by one set of principles”(Proceedings, 1959, p. 165). In view of the seriousness of this subject for the future relations of the two synods, the convention requested the Joint Union Committees to give primary consideration to the area of fellowship.
In 1960, the Missouri men submitted their “Theology of Fellowship” to the Joint Union Committees. On the crucial point noted above, this document spoke of a “growing edge of fellowship” and contended that “in reaching out to those not yet in confessional fellowship with us there is the possibility of the beginning of the practice of fellowship.” This was the start of what has become Missouri’s position on “levels of fellowship.” In the meetings in May 1960, after three days of discussions, the Wisconsin delegation recognized that the consideration of this subject had reached an impasse.
The doctrine of church fellowship became the primary divisive issue that resulted in the 1961 Wisconsin Synod resolution suspending fellowship with the Missouri Synod. The resolution recognized the “Theses on Church Fellowship” as “an expression of the scriptural principles on which the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has stood and which have guided it in its practice for many years.” Since their appearance the theses have been and are still recognized as such.
Statement on the Lord’s Supper
Introduction to the Statement
The 1970 edition of Doctrinal Statements of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod did not contain a statement on the Lord’s Supper since there had been no controversy among us on this doctrine.
In September of 1977, however, a communication from President Wilhelm Petersen of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod expressed a desire of the ELS Doctrine Committee to meet with the WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations in order to discuss a doctrinal question regarding Holy Communion which had arisen in the Lutheran Confessional Church in Sweden. This meeting was held on June 9–10, 1978, in West Allis, Wisconsin.
In the West Allis discussion on Holy Communion attention was given to questions dealing with the moment of the real presence, the function of the pastor’s words of consecration, and the relationship between the pastor’s recitation of the words of institution and Christ’s original institution of the sacrament. Following this discussion the CICR felt that further elaboration and clarification was needed on some of the points under discussion. The CICR then drew up a lengthier statement on the subject titled “Lord’s Supper: Consecration and Moment.” Copies of this statement were forwarded to the ELS Doctrine Committee in January 1979, and a second joint meeting was held in Minneapolis on November 8–9, 1979.
In a third meeting between the two groups in Milwaukee on April 24, 1980, it was resolved to appoint a subcommittee from the ELS Doctrine Committee and the WELS CICR to draw up a statement of agreement on the subject under discussion.
Although each group formulated a separate statement, agreement was reached by the subcommittee on the basis of Thesis Nine of the ELS Doctrine Committee statement: “We hold that we cannot fix from Scripture the point within the sacramental usus when the real presence of Christ’s body and blood begins, yet we know from Scripture and acknowledge in the Confessions that what is distributed and received is the body and blood of Christ.” In this statement the sacramental union of Christ’s body and blood and the bread and wine during the usus (consecration, distribution, reception), a matter which was not under discussion, is presupposed.