Questions on Fellowship
I understand that we are in fellowship with the ELS, but are there any doctrinal differences between the WELS and ELS at all?
The fact that WELS is in fellowship with ELS means that there is doctrinal agreement between the two synods.
What you will find with the two synods is differences in practice—particularly in the corporate worship life of the synods’ congregations. There can be more chanting of the liturgy by ELS pastors. In addition, the hymnal of the ELS provides for congregational singing of the Lord’s Prayer and the kneeling of the pastor on a prayer bench. Any other differences might be explained by the historical development of both synods. The historical background of WELS is Germanic, while that of ELS is Norwegian.
As is the case with other churches in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, we treasure our fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
Is a non-WELS person (another Lutheran synod, Catholic, Baptist, etc.) permitted to solo during the funeral service of a WELS member in a WELS church?
Singers and musicians—those who serve as worship leaders in regular or special worship services in our churches—do need to be of our fellowship.
The Bible encourages us to work together with those who have a common faith and to work together to promote the truth (3 John 8). At the same time God, through the Bible, tells us to separate from and not join in fellowship activities like worship with those who are not one in faith with us (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; 2 John 10-11).
When people belong to a church, their membership acknowledges acceptance of that church’s beliefs. It is the comparison of the church’s beliefs with the Bible, not an examination of the individual’s heart, that leads to a determination of whether or not there can be the enjoyment of fellowship activities like worship.
When I answer questions like this, I like to point out that we are talking about the difference between visible churches and the invisible church, the Holy Christian Church. WELS and the churches you listed are visible churches. If a person from one of the visible churches you listed is not able to sing a song in one of our churches, we are not saying the person is not a Christian, nor are we pretending to read what is in the person’s heart. We are happy when a person’s sincere confession of Christian faith identifies him or her as a member of the Holy Christian Church, the invisible church. But only God knows who belongs to that Church; you and I operate in the realm of visible churches. So, while we may have a common membership in the Holy Christian Church with other Christians, their membership in a visible church outside our fellowship prevents us from doing the things we might like—like singing at a funeral service.
If you would like to read more about our biblical fellowship practices, this link will take you to the appropriate section of This We Believe, a statement of belief of our church body. And, finally, please do speak to one of our pastors if you have other questions related to the one you submitted.
After losing my job a few years ago, I have been struggling with depression and unemployment. If I were to apply for a job at a Salvation Army thrift store, would it be considered unionism? (cashier or other retail work involved in the operation of the thrift store). Thanks for helping me sort this through.
Providing a service and receiving compensation for that service would not be considered unionism. There is a difference between the kind of employment you mention and a person joining in the worship services of the church or promoting the church’s teachings.
Your conscience of course is something to keep in mind. The Bible instructs us not to act against our conscience (Romans 14:23). You may find it helpful to consult with your pastor in this regard.
God grant you help and healing in your struggles.
Our areal Lutheran high school sings in a civic setting with other choirs (public and parochial) in an annual "honors event" that educates the participants and recognizes their skills. This year the guest conductor picked a Mendelssohn piece that tells the biblical account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Scripture is depicted so some lyrics say "Baal is god" while later showing the Lord's victory and grace to Elijah. Two things bother a few students and parents. 1. Singing that Baal is god. 2. Concern that fellowship principles have been violated. I don't believe they have been because the setting is not an attempt to unite them in faith. That's neither the intent nor the purpose of the concert. Here's my base question you could consider. "Would it be a violation of what the Lord teaches about our fellowship in Christ and His word for a WELS member or choir to sing a Christian song in a civic choir at a civic setting with other choir members not of our faith?"
WELS’ Conference of Presidents appointed a special fellowship study committee to assist schools with situations like this. Recently, the committee developed a “toolbox” of materials and resources that features a Bible study on the doctrine of fellowship.
Area Lutheran high schools received these materials. The schools also received encouragement to develop a plan and provide an orderly process for those responsible to work through the study materials.
I would encourage you to contact individuals in the administration of your particular area Lutheran high school to learn about the ways in which the materials were used and applied to your setting.
I am a WELS member serving on the church council and department of education for our elementary school (K thru 8). We have a parent/teacher organization (PTO) that thinks it is OK to elect a non-member as an officer in the PTO. Is this OK, or is it against our church fellowship doctrine?
You would do well to find out if your PTO has a constitution and bylaws, or other documents, which provide guidance and direction for the organization. Such documents will spell out the qualifications and responsibilities of the organization’s officers. Information from those sources will explain if and how non-members are able to serve in the capacity you inquired. As your pastor is the best local resource for your question, you will want to speak with him as well.
I recently visited a local WELS area high school. While I was there, they were allowing students who were Missouri Synod to lead devotions and allowing people who were Baptist to lead devotions in a religion course. I know the WELS has the stance that we can’t worship with people who we are not in fellowship with. So my question is, why is this okay and allowed at a WELS high school, but yet I was told this isn’t okay? Why is there an exception to doctrine for WELS high schools? Why are the called workers allowing this to happen?
You are aware of a situation of which I am not. The proper course of action is for you to ask these questions of the officials of the school in question.
Some four years, WELS Conference of Presidents (COP) approved materials that were produced by a fellowship study committee. The materials were designed to help schools study the biblical principles of fellowship and apply them to their unique settings. The COP encouraged schools to make use of these resources.
What are the differences between the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod? And, as a follow-up, is it true that Lutherans from different synods cannot take Communion in a Wisconsin Synod church?
The main differences fall in the categories of church and ministry, the application of fellowship principles and the roles of men and women.
There are many essays on the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay File that provide a history of the relationship between the two synods. This link will take you to those essays.
You might also be interested in A Tale of Two Synods, a book that is available from Northwestern Publishing House.
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod enjoys fellowship with 31 Lutheran church bodies throughout the world. That fellowship includes the privilege of receiving the Lord’s Supper together. This link will take you to a listing of those churches.
It is well documented on this website that the two church bodies are not in doctrinal fellowship with one another. “Close(d) communion” is the stated practice of both church bodies.
You can benefit by examining the fellowship principles that Scripture teaches. This link will take you to one of our doctrinal statements on church fellowship that reviews appropriate Bible passages. It is always a serious matter to ignore what God says in his word.
You may be aware that representatives of WELS, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) have had informal meetings in the past few years. You can read about the latest meeting here.
Can you point to any literature or guidance for fellowship issues with a spouse of a different denomination? I'm specifically concerned with the practical aspects like giving thanks for a meal, or praying together as a family.
You could benefit from reading Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth. There is a short section on the application of scriptural fellowship principles to “Family and friends.”
It is possible your pastor or church library has a copy of the book that you can borrow. If not, the book is available from Northwestern Publishing House.
Your pastor may have other resources at his disposal. Do contact him as well.
I was a WELS member while I attended different churches, prayed with people of many different denominations, took Communion at other churches, traveled throughout the United States as a speaker for Christian conferences, schools, and church events of different denominations. While I did struggle with guilt and shame for participating in those things at first, I continued to pray and ask God for wisdom and guidance. How is it possible that I felt so shameful and guilty while simply sharing the truth of the Gospel that I learned as a member of the WELS....and as I prayed and sought God in his Word I found that I was doing what was natural to me as a Christian man...to go and tell all the world. In my experience, I find how the WELS interacts with other denominations by not interacting with other denominations bogus and not beneficial to kingdom building here on earth.
I imagine you could have been feeling shame and guilt because you recognized you were going against biblical principles. Our consciences are designed to react to our actions (Romans 2:15).
It is commendable that you want “to go and tell the world” about Jesus. At the same time, you want to do God says in his word. What God says is that Christians are not to practice church fellowship with people whose teachings are contrary to his word (Romans 16:17-18).
No one benefits and God is not glorified if people gloss over doctrinal differences and pretend there is outward unity when there is not. On the other hand, there is benefit for people and God is glorified when the truths of his word are upheld. I wish you well.
What is WELS' stand on donating to the red kettle Christmas for salvation? Is it OK for a WELS school to ask Salvation Army (SA) for names of families that we can provide for through school children's gifts? What if some of our school children already have received gifts from SA unbeknownst to our leaders, but those families never ask for help from our church.
Your question is one that people can ask at this time of the year. Here is part of a response to a similar question.
The charitable work of the Salvation Army is linked with the mission of that church, which is driven by their false doctrine. That is important to keep in mind. The work they do is in line with the mission of their church.
The Salvation Army is a self-described “holiness movement,” placing greater emphasis on the Christian’s life than on what God has done for people through Jesus Christ his Son. The Salvation Army rejects the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
2 John 10-11 (“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.”) instructs us not to support those whose teachings are contrary to Scripture. That applies to the church in your question. That applies to any church that holds to false doctrine. While we can appreciate the tenacity of the bell ringers of that church at Christmas time, we recognize that providing financial support is support for their mission. We refrain from providing that support.
There is no need to feel like a Scrooge by walking past the bell ringers. We can help meet the material needs of others (Isaiah 58:7; Galatians 6:10) through contributions to charitable agencies that are not tied to churches that hold to and teach false doctrine. We can give to our church body’s Christian Aid and Relief, for example.
In gratitude for God’s blessings and in compassionate concern for the material and spiritual needs of others, Christians have reason for charitable giving at Christmas time and every season of the year. Yes, “Let us all be cheerful givers To the glory of your name” (Christian Worship 577:3).
You would do well to encourage your church leadership to address your final questions.
While the YMCA continues to identify itself as a “nonprofit organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy, spirit, mind and body for all,” membership does not mean that people must compromise their faith. As membership is ordinarily comparable to membership in a health club, participation would not be problematic.
My wife and I attend a WELS church. She is looking for support and wants to join a church moms group. Our church does not have one and she does not have the time or resources to start one herself. There is a Missouri Synod church nearby that has a big moms group and they meet for fellowship/prayer/Bible study. During their meetings the men meet separately for Bible study/etc. Is it biblically wrong for my wife to join that group or myself to fellowship with those men? If we knew of a local WELS moms group nearby we would look into it too. I appreciate any biblical clarity and feedback you have for helping us make wise, godly decisions. Thank you!
When Christians are joined together in faith and doctrine, they are able to express their unity by joint prayer and worship, cooperative educational endeavors and shared outreach efforts (Acts 1:14; 2:42; Hebrews 10:24-25; Psalm 78:4-7; 3 John 5-8). When you and I interact with Christians whose faith differs from ours, we follow Scripture’s instructions and do not engage in those previously mentioned activities (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; 2 John 10-11). By not worshiping, studying the Bible or praying together with other Christians, you and I are not intending to say that we do not consider such people to be outside the faith. God alone can see what is in the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We readily and happily acknowledge that the kingdom of God is bigger than our synod. Refraining from prayer, Bible study and worship with people who are not united with us in faith and doctrine is, as our Catechism points out from Scripture, a matter of showing love for the truth of God’s word (2 Corinthians 13:8), love for our own souls (Galatians 5:9) and love for those who are mixing error with truth (James 5:19-20).
Because your congregation and the Missouri Synod congregation are not united in faith and doctrine, you want to refrain from those activities that you asked about: prayer and Bible study. Those activities would be possible if the congregations were in fellowship with each other.
If your wife is interested in a moms group, the burden for organizing it need not fall on her. I would suggest that you and your wife present the idea of a moms group and a men’s Bible study group to your pastor and the leaders of your congregation. Perhaps your congregation can collaborate with another WELS congregation nearby to offer spiritual and fellowship opportunities for men and women. God bless you and your family!
My nephew is getting married in an ELCA church. I'm not sure how I should handle this. I would rather not even attend, but this would cause a lot of trouble with my family. I'm thinking of going and keeping a very low profile. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.
It is certainly possible to be in attendance at a worship service in a church outside our fellowship. On an occasion such as that, you and I are observers rather than worshipers. That means that we refrain from joining in worship with others.
When I find myself in a setting like that, I am interested in not being a distraction to those who are worshiping. That means that I stand and sit when directed, but I do not participate in the liturgy, prayers or hymns. Since other people in attendance do not participate in worship for various reasons, I am not conspicuous as an observer and non-worshiper.
Unless your conscience (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8) is guiding you not to attend the wedding, you can certainly be present at the service as an observer.
Is it possible for a person to teach in a WELS elementary school if they are a member of the Missouri Synod?
While the educational backgrounds of individuals called to teach in our schools might call for “ministry certification,” synodical membership is a requirement to be called to serve as a teacher.
As a WELS member, would it be a sin for to receive Communion in a Missouri Synod (LCMS) church? The reason I ask is that sometimes when we are away from home, such as in the winter months, there is not always a WELS church nearby. Thank you and God bless.
WELS and LCMS are not in doctrinal fellowship with one another. Closed communion is the stated practice of both church bodies. Since receiving the Lord’s Supper with other people is an expression of unity of faith (1 Corinthians 10:17), we want to present an image of unity that is accurate and not forced.
It is always a serious matter to ignore what God says in his word. Violating biblical fellowship principles is always a serious matter. While there can be extraordinary and exceptional situations to a regular practice of biblical fellowship principles, those situations usually fall into the category of emergencies.
I certainly do not want to diminish your desire to receive the Lord’s Supper or downplay the preciousness of the sacrament, but we do speak of the gospel in word and sacrament. By that we mean that God offers and gives forgiveness of sins through the word alone and through the sacrament. If you are not able to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as you would like, be assured that God offers and gives you the same spiritual blessings through his word alone as he does through the sacrament.
If you have not done so already, do speak to your pastor about your circumstances. He may be aware of one of our churches that is a little farther away than “nearby” when you are traveling. God bless you also.
I have a friend of mine who is interested in attending our church and wants to know more about being WELS. Just one snag, she teaches 7-8 grade at a Roman Catholic school, but only the subjects of English and Math, and does not teach religion. If she joined the WELS, would she have to quit her job at the school? Thank you in advance!
This is something you and your friend will want to pursue with your pastor. He is in a position to receive more complete information and help you answer questions like these: Would that situation be wrong? Is it wise?
In the meantime, it would likely be helpful for you and your friend to study biblical fellowship principles. Church Fellowship—Working Together for the Truth is a book that can lead you through a study and application of those principles. The book is available from Northwestern Publishing House. Here is a pertinent section from that book: “Our members are sometimes employed by churches, religious schools, or institutions affiliated with a church. Many of these jobs, such as janitorial or secretarial work and food service jobs, usually involve no religious fellowship. Our churches and schools sometimes employ non-members in such positions. Civil rights laws requiring nondiscrimination in hiring may also come into play in some of these cases.
“Other jobs, such as teaching or musical leadership, may involve a worker in the religious ministry of the church or may require participation in worship. Accepting such a job would then involve a compromise of fellowship principles.
“Other cases may be unclear, such as some teaching or coaching positions. In such cases a person should examine each situation on its own merits or demerits. How does the employer define the job? What are the requirements of the job? We cannot necessarily assume that the requirements of the position are the same as they would be for a similar position in our churches.
“Ambiguous situations are sometimes a matter of judgment. Two Christians in very similar circumstances may come to different conclusions. As stated earlier, in such situations we should be cautious about judging the decisions made by others. Doubtful cases are not a wise place to exercise church discipline.”
The preceding thoughts can give you something to think about. Again, do contact your pastor.
Is it OK for a WELS member to play his instrument in his public high school Christmas concert if they play religious songs, or does it break the teaching of church fellowship? Please give me a yes or no answer and why. Thank you!
With the information you provided, I can say that the people involved in concerts like this usually and generally agree that the setting is not a worship setting, where we would apply biblical fellowship principles.
Still, something to be considered are the consciences of those involved. If someone views participation as sinful, then that person needs to refrain from participating. It is wrong to act against conscience (Romans 14:23).
You would do well to present more information about the concert to your pastor and seek his guidance.
We are new to WELS, having come from another denomination and joined about three months ago. Our council closed down Sunday School due to the COVID-19. With restrictions lifted, they have chosen not to reopen the program for kids due to COVID-19 concerns. They made allowance for adults through Zoom. The few WELS churches in our area are all partially closed. Wanting to keep our kids active, we attended a Sunday School at an LCMS congregation that is in a neighboring town. I think I understand how we broke fellowship, although it was not our intention. We did not fully understand WELS' doctrine on fellowship. What should be done when churches close or eliminate programs? When our pastor told us we broke fellowship and exposed ourselves to false doctrine by going to the LCMS church, we were confused on the false doctrine portion as our WELS church uses the same kids' Sunday School curriculum that is published by CPH.
COVID-19 has certainly interrupted our routines in life and congregational life. Churches are trying to meet people’s spiritual needs while also taking measures to safeguard people’s physical health. With the cancellation of some church programs, I can appreciate your concern for your children’s spiritual needs.
What you will want to do is have another conversation with your pastor to talk through your recent experience. He will help you understand the difference between the use of common printed materials and receiving spiritual instruction from churches outside our church fellowship. The content of such a discussion goes beyond the scope of this question and answer service.
If, as you stated, you do not fully understand the biblical teaching of church fellowship, you might want to read this chapter of This We Believe, a statement of belief of our church body, and include that in your conversation with your pastor.
God bless your conversation with your pastor, and God bless you and your family!
What is the WELS stand on hiring organists from outside of the WELS and ELS to play for worship services?
When it comes to organists who serve at regular worship services or special worship services, our practice is that those individuals be of our faith and fellowship. Why is that? We want to follow what Scripture says about doctrinal unity and our participation in activities in which we express a common faith (Romans 16:17). We want to send a clear signal that all teachings of the Bible are important (Matthew 28:20). We want to work together with fellow Christians when there really is a common confession of faith (3 John 8).
I can refer you to the following information from Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth. It is available from Northwestern Publishing House.
“Church musicians are public representatives of the church, with a prominent public role. They, therefore, should be members of the congregation or its fellowship.”
“Scripture teaches us that only people who agree with the teachings of the church should lead its services. Wouldn’t it be strange if we invited someone who did not agree with our beliefs to speak a message from God’s Word to us? Isn’t it just as strange to invite such a person to sing a message from God’s Word or to remind us of such a message by playing the melodies that bring it to our minds? For this reason, our practice is that we do not permit people from outside our fellowship to serve as organists and soloists during services of our churches.” (Pages 127, 130)
The Bible talks about how we should not support a false teacher or welcome them into our home. If we purchase books by heterodox teachers, are we supporting them? Are we, in effect, welcoming them into our home? My pastor has many books by non-WELS authors. Is that proper? He says we can learn some things from these authors that are not in WELS-written books. Isn't he in danger of adopting some false teachings found there? Is it a fellowship issue?
Our publishing house offers books from authors beyond our fellowship. Before those books are made available for sale, WELS pastors review them for doctrinal accuracy. It is not a violation of biblical fellowship principles for our members to purchase those materials.
On the other hand, it is a different situation if an individual provides direct financial support to a heterodox ministry and then, perhaps, receives a book in return as an expression of gratitude.
When we read any materials, we want to be aware of the author’s public confession of faith and note how that confession of faith might conflict with biblical teachings in his or her materials. Reading critically is key.
Could the reading of some books put a Christian in danger of adopting false teachings? Certainly. That is always a possibility. That is one reason, among many, why the apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy is always applicable for pastors: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Might I offer a suggestion? October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Perhaps you and your congregation could add some good books to your pastor’s personal library. That is one way your congregation could support your pastor in a very practical way that can benefit both him and the people he serves.
I recently applied to a Presbyterian college because it has an excellent nursing program. Being a WELS Lutheran, is it wrong to affiliate with them? I wouldn't conform to their beliefs but just go for the program.
It would not be wrong to affiliate with them unless you compromise your faith or ignore biblical fellowship principles.
It can often be the case that a college or university has its roots in a Christian denomination, but the institution has become a thoroughly secular institution over time. You would want to find out if there is any part of your prescribed curriculum or student life that would put you into situations where you would be forced to compromise your faith or violate biblical fellowship principles.
If a person is simply interested in receiving an education at a college with a different religious affiliation in exchange for tuition, and there are no concerns like those listed above, then enrollment in that school is possible.
God’s blessings on your preparation for your chosen vocation!
I understand the idea that humans are unable to see the hearts of others and so we base our decision to fellowship with others based on their religious affiliation. In other words, we would only pray with a person who belonged to a church that believed and taught according to the truths in the Bible as the WELS does. My question is: is it OK to pray with someone who belongs to a WELS church, but seems to have rejected some of the teachings of the Bible? In this case the teachings in question are the Biblical teachings of the sanctity of life and fellowship. I hope this question is not too vague. Thank you for your time and consideration!
You are correct in noting that membership in a visible church sends the signal that people have committed themselves to the doctrine and practice of that church. If a person’s individual profession of faith departs from the church’s doctrine and practice, one has to ask if that is because the person is weak in faith or supportive of error. If there is weakness of faith, we will try to admonish the person so that he or she can reject the error and embrace the truth (2 Timothy 2:25-26; Titus 3:10). If there is persistence in teaching or adhering to beliefs that are false, we will not practice church fellowship with them (Romans 16:17-18). Termination of fellowship is an action of the congregation.
When it comes to answering your question, there are a number of pieces of information that I am lacking. The person “seems to have rejected some of the teachings of the Bible.” If you are wondering what course of action to take, there needs to be more certainty and clarity than apparent or “seeming” rejection of biblical teachings. You can bring clarity to the situation by conversing with the individual.
If your conversations reveal that the person is indeed rejecting biblical teachings, you want to find out if that is because the person is weak in faith—but still receptive to being taught the truths of Scripture—or if the person persists in teaching or adhering to false doctrine. The person’s attitude will help determine a course of action.
Finally, I am not aware if concern for this person’s doctrinal positions is limited to you or if the congregation, through its pastor, is addressing the situation. I take it that the person is a member in good standing in one of our congregations. Praying with him would not be wrong, unless of course you cannot do that in good conscience.
I would encourage praying for the individual and speaking to him or her to clarify the concerns you have.
Hello: I am a member of a local WELS church and attend meetings and work with other Christians and we have a prayer before and after the meeting. Even though they are not members of WELS, is it wrong to participate in the group prayers? Also, if I share a meal with my family, who are all Christians, but not all WELS, what about grace before the meal? Thank you for your thoughtful response.
When Christians are joined together in faith and doctrine, they are able to express their unity by joint prayer and worship, cooperative educational endeavors and shared outreach efforts (Acts 1:14; 2:42; Hebrews 10:24-25; Psalm 78:4-7; 3 John 5-8).
When you and I interact with Christians whose faith differs from ours, we follow Scripture’s instructions and do not engage in those previously mentioned activities (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; 2 John 10-11).
By not worshiping or praying together with other Christians, you and I are not intending to say that we do not consider such people to be outside the faith. God alone can see what is in the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We readily and happily acknowledge that the kingdom of God is bigger than our synod. Refraining from prayer and worship with people who are not united with us in faith and doctrine is, as our Catechism points out from Scripture, a matter of showing love for the truth of God’s word (2 Corinthians 13:8), love for our own souls (Galatians 5:9) and love for those who are mixing error with truth (James 5:19-20).
I do not know to which churches your co-workers belong, but I imagine your faith could differ from theirs in such areas as: original sin, infant baptism, the real presence in the Lord’s Supper, the converting work of the Holy Spirit, creation, the end times, and other items. Imagine if you were to pray a prayer that reflected your Spirit-worked conviction in these areas, and your co-workers believed something differently. They might not appreciate your prayer or add their “Amen” to it. That simply illustrates why there needs to be unity among Christians before they pray together.
Praying with family members involves the same principles and application. Then again, you might be dealing with an exceptional situation in which family members belong to a church outside our fellowship, but they are not supportive of their church’s false teachings. In fact, they recognize the errors of their church and are seeking to point others to the truth of God’s word. In a situation like that, their confession of faith may match your confession of faith, and joint prayer in a private setting would not be a cause of offense to others. Exceptional situations like this are spelled out more fully in a book you might find valuable to read: Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth. It is available in hard copy or eBook format.
Standing up for the truth of God’s word and exercising fellowship principles is not always easy. God give you strength and joy to do that!
I take it that when you ask about participating in an “LCMS church,” you have in mind a worship service in an LCMS church. Building on that assumption, I can be present at such a worship service, but I will refrain from doing what I do in a worship service in a church of our fellowship: worshiping and communing. Certainly, I will be respectful of those who are worshiping and seek not to be a distraction to them.
After studying WELS’ worship and fellowship practices, my understanding is that non-WELS members are not allowed to lead the singing, play, or preach in our worship services, marriage ceremonies, etc. Yet our church uses music videos by groups such as Casting Crowns as the “hymns” in our contemporary service. If it is OK for Baptist youth ministers like the Casting Crowns to play and lead the songs in a worship service via video, would it also be OK for a Baptist minister to preach the sermon via video? Neither seems right to me. Using these videos seems inconsistent with our fellowship practices because we are advocating and promoting Christian pop musicians in our worship service when we do not share their beliefs. Shouldn’t we be using the talents and active participation of our own WELS musicians instead of giving the appearance of being in fellowship with heterodox denominations?
Your understanding of our fellowship practices is accurate. The scenario you described does provide opportunity for confusion and offense. Rather than expressing your concern only to me, it would be good for you to speak to your pastor—to share your concern with him and to hear his explanation of the congregation’s use of these videos.
Recently I went to a funeral for a family member who, to my knowledge, did not attend church. The service was led by a pastor from hospice and I believe he was non-denominational. A WELS pastor who sat next to me refrained from singing and praying the Lord's Prayer. The hymns were out of our hymnal with no chance of being improper. Why do we refrain from praying and singing with other religions?
A paragraph from This We Believe answers your question succinctly: “6. We believe that those whose confession of faith reveals that they are united in the doctrines of Scripture will express their fellowship in Christ as occasion permits (Ephesians 4:3). They may express their fellowship by joint worship, by joint proclamation of the gospel, by joining in Holy Communion, by joint prayer, and by joint church work. God directs believers not to practice religious fellowship with those whose confession and actions reveal that they teach, tolerate, support, or defend error (2 John 10,11). When error appears in the church, Christians will try to preserve their fellowship by patiently admonishing the offenders, in the hope that they will turn from their error (2 Timothy 2:25,26; Titus 3:10). But the Lord commands believers not to practice church fellowship with people who persist in teaching or adhering to beliefs that are false (Romans 16:17,18).”
My son, married, four children and raised WELS has, as it appears, fallen away from regular church attendance, still sending his four children to WELS schools, though he has joined the Free Masons. This cannot be good. I am familiar with the doctrine of fellowship, but am concerned with his spiritual wellbeing. Suggestions or thoughts? Thanks.
I am sorry to hear about your son’s declining church attendance and his affiliation with the Freemasons. You are correct when you say that his membership in that organization cannot be good. There are many elements of Freemasonry that are incompatible with Christianity. Allow me to pass along a previous response to a similar question about Freemasonry. The response may give you some talking points for a conversation you can have with your son.
“The Masonic Lodge and its affiliates are essentially deistic religious organizations. They strongly maintain that there is a Creator God who rewards good and punishes evil but do not formally acknowledge God as a gracious giver of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. Nor do they acknowledge the Triune God as the only true God, but allow that most any ‘Supreme Being’ embraced by any Mason may be seen as a legitimate deity. To them salvation is not by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, but based on good works. They also maintain that the supreme deity (‘Architect of the Universe’) may be and is worshiped in many forms and under many names by many religions aside from Christianity. Additionally, the oaths and rituals of the lodge have many features that consistent and conservative Bible students have long found incompatible with Christianity…This negative appraisal of the Masonic Lodge is shared by a number of church bodies, and is not the conclusion of only a few like the WELS.
“So although the Masons somewhat promote civic righteousness and undertake certain praiseworthy projects in society, we maintain that a Christian would compromise clear Bible teachings by becoming a member of that lodge. We are aware that people have joined such groups for the sake of business connections as well as a sense of social responsibility and say they really don’t care for or think of the religious aspects of the organization. But we maintain that to do so is still a compromise of truth, easily or inevitably causes others to stumble spiritually, and links the person to a false religious group. The Bible often testifies against such an attitude and action.
“Bottom line: to be a WELS member with the public confession involved with that membership and to be a Mason with that public confession are incompatible. We owe members of masonry a loving and courteous reply that will not compromise truth. Refraining from membership in that network of organizations and providing patient but consistent testimony to the falsehood the Masons embrace or tolerate would be right and fitting.”
Beyond that information, this link will take you to a short article that contains a side-by-side contrast between lodges and biblical teaching.
What was not clear to me in the information you supplied was whether or not your son still has membership in one of our congregations. If that is the case, his pastor needs to know about his affiliation with Freemasonry.
I encourage you to keep sharing biblical truths with your son. Pray—as, no doubt, you are doing—that God will work in his heart through the word to see the truth, confess the truth and live the truth. God bless you all.
I grew up in a WELS church but now am at a Missouri Synod church. I am told by the church I grew up in that I cannot sing at my mother's funeral. She was a life-long member. What is the thought process here? I am just being told no - that is the way it is.
May the risen Lord bring you comfort and strength by assuring you that those die in the Lord are forevermore blessed (Revelation 14:13).
There is, of course, no Bible passage that addresses your question specifically. That is, there is no Bible passage that states specifically who can and who cannot sing at a funeral service. What the Bible does present are broad principles of fellowship that we then need to apply to specific situations like funerals and weddings, and worship services in general.
The Bible does encourage us to work together with those who have a common faith, and to work together to promote the truth (3 John 8). At the same time God, through the Bible, tells us to separate from and not join in fellowship activities like worship with those who are not one in faith with us (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; 2 John 10-11).
In the situation you describe, the difficulty is that you have membership in a congregation of a synod with which WELS is not in fellowship. Your prior membership in a WELS congregation or the family connection to the funeral service does not override biblical fellowship principles.
When you joined a congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, you became part of a church body that is not in fellowship with WELS. As your synod and WELS are not in fellowship with one another, it is not possible for you to take a leadership role in a worship service in a WELS congregation.
This is not an indictment of your personal faith. Whenever I answer questions like this, I try to emphasize the difference between visible churches and the invisible church, the Holy Christian Church. WELS and LCMS congregations are visible churches. If an LCMS member is not able to sing a song at a funeral or receive Communion in a WELS congregation, in no way are we saying that the LCMS member is not a Christian, nor are we pretending to read what is in the individual’s heart. We are happy when a person’s sincere confession of Christian faith identifies him/her as a member of the Holy Christian Church, the invisible church. But only God knows who belongs to that Church; you and I operate in the realm of visible churches. So, while we may have a common membership in the Holy Christian Church with other Christians, their membership in a visible church outside our fellowship prevents us from doing the things we might like—like singing at a funeral service.
You may or may not be aware that representatives of WELS and LCMS, along with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, have had informal discussions in the past several years to clarify where there is and is not doctrinal agreement. The report closes with these thoughts: “Perhaps God may guide us to a reestablishment of fellowship at some point in the future, a goal for which we pray and work. But even if we are not able to practice church fellowship, we have found benefit in talking together about church work, in patiently trying to understand the issues better, and in providing a measure of encouragement in our lives of repentance and fidelity to Scripture.” Again, may Jesus, “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), bring you comfort and strength through his gospel.
My friend invited me to BSF - an international Bible study that is open to all faiths. Questions are answered and shared only referencing the Bible and what the Holy Spirit shows/teaches you. Is it OK to go to this Bible study, since all are God- and Bible- believing women and they support you belonging and being involved in your church? Thanks.
As is the case with a worship service outside our fellowship, you could attend and observe a Bible study without participating. Your question seems to go beyond that though.
BSF—Bible Study Fellowship—is an international organization that offers ten courses of study on the Bible. Their four-fold approach is to: “Answer daily lesson questions from Scripture. Discuss your insights in a conversation with members of your discussion group. Listen to teaching that explains what you studied and shared. Gain additional insight by reading lesson notes that further elaborate on the Scripture.”
It is with those last two points where the organization is able to inject its statement of faith into the lessons. Their statement of faith embraces millennialism. It does not mention baptism. It views the Lord’s Supper only as a memorial meal. There appears to be decision theology.
The confession of faith of this organization differs from biblical teaching. In Christian love—love for the truth of God’s word, love for your own soul and love for the souls of others—you would do well to follow the scriptural injunction: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17).
I encourage you to study the Bible with those who are united with you in faith. The Bible study you mentioned can easily be a forum where people agree to disagree on doctrinal matters. When you study the Bible with others who are united with you in faith, then what the apostle instructed can take place: “…encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Hello. I have grown up in the WELS and belong to a WELS church now. I believe that the WELS best teaches the doctrinal truths of the Bible and I have no intention of ever switching. Since I grew up WELS, it was instilled in me that we are not in fellowship with outside affiliations and if books/devotions didn't come from The Northwestern Publishing House they were not approved by the WELS. I know about fellowship and not praying with other affiliations that are not in fellowship with the WELS. I am starting to discover more Christian groups and people like If:Gathering, Deeply Rooted Magazine, Jen Hatmaker, Laura Casey, and I'll throw in K-Love. And I am torn on what should be my involvement with them. I know that it is not wrong to listen to them or participate in conversation with them. But is it wrong to apply what they are saying, about subjects like letting your light shine, being evangelists, and being strong Christian women? I know that I still need to evaluate everything they are saying against the truth of the Bible, but am I okay to still take away positive messages from them that I can apply to my life? I found these organizations because I was craving more Christian content in my life but I am not sure where the line is. I know that I should not participate in prayer with them but what about singing along to their songs, and applying their messages, take- aways to my life? Do I just need to keep a watchful eye out for mis-teachings and am I still okay to use their messages?
You will find materials, including devotional resources, at Northwestern Publishing House that originate from “outside affiliations” and other publishers. Those resources though are reviewed for their doctrinal content before being offered for sale.
Beyond that, I think you answered your own questions. You recognize that you need to “evaluate everything they are saying against the truth of the Bible.” You understand the need “to keep a watchful eye out” for wrong teachings. As you encounter and receive encouragement and positive messages, you will want to continue to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), avoiding that which is contrary to the Bible’s teachings (Romans 16:17) and not supporting such organizations (2 John 10-11).
On its web site the organization describes itself as espousing “an evangelical theology.” “Evangelical” is a broad term that individuals and churches use to mean different things. It often designates a theology that professes a set of doctrines, including decision theology and a rejection of the sacraments as means of grace, but then “agrees to disagree” in other matters of Scripture.
The goal of Red Letter Christians is: “To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.”
While that sounds laudable, the result is a liberal theology that addresses social issues in ways that depart from Scripture. The organization would do well to apply the red letter words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount in a manner consistent with the rest of Scripture and then put greater emphasis on other red letter words of Jesus—words that speak of the enslaving nature of sin (John 8:24) and words that speak of full and free forgiveness through him (Luke 7:48).
Our daughter has left the church to practice various forms of paganism. She is getting married this fall and wants us to attend. I told her we could attend and acknowledge that she and her new husband love each other. She wants us to participate in a "blessings" ritual. Each person is invited to give the couple some sort of blessing. I asked if we could offer God's blessing and she agreed. Now I have no idea how to ask God to bless this sort of thing. Are we even right to attend? I am heartbroken over the whole thing
I am saddened to hear about your daughter’s departure from your church. God willing, through your Christian witness she can be reminded of biblical truths and then embrace them again and profess them through membership in a church like ours that proclaims Jesus Christ as Savior.
Can you attend the blessings ritual? It seems like you answered your own question. You can attend and support your daughter, unless your conscience is telling you that you would be doing wrong. Scripture warns us about acting in doubt and against our conscience (Romans 14:23).
If you attend the blessings ritual, can you participate? God tells us in his word not to participate in events like that (Romans 16:17; 2 Corinthians 6:14-16). You could explain to your daughter that you will be happy to ask God, in prayer, to bless her marriage, but not in the setting of a blessings ritual of paganism. You could ask her to respect your wishes.
You are in a challenging situation. What can help direct your actions is trying to determine how you can most lovingly and most clearly testify to others about the truths of Scripture: that Jesus Christ is Savior and there is no salvation outside him (John 14:6); that God’s word is true (John 17:17); and, that followers of Jesus hold to all of his teachings (John 8:31). I would have to ask myself if taking part in a ritual blessing with pagans (as I understand it from your question) would be a clear testimony to the truths of God’s word, or would such action be misunderstood to mean that everyone participating in the ritual blessing is imparting legitimate truth of some kind? I would not want to be sending that message.
You may wish to consult your pastor about this. I will pray for God’s blessings on you and your family.
I ring handbells for a secular community choir and have recently faced difficulties with church fellowship. Many of the ringers are from non-WELS congregations and when their church choir needs a substitute, they often ask us for assistance. Am I correct in saying that acting as a substitute ringer for worship (or performing as part of a small ensemble) at a non-WELS congregation would go against fellowship principles in this case? What about substituting for rehearsals but not worship? And finally, what about playing for a non-WELS wedding at the request of a friend? I suspect that the answer for most, if not all, is that it does indeed go against our fellowship principles, but it would help set my heart at ease to be sure of my doctrinal grounds for refusing to participate.
You have a correct understanding of biblical fellowship principles. It is one thing to participate in a musical group (of singers or instrumentalists) in performance or concert settings and quite another matter for a group to pool their talents in worship service settings. In the latter, doctrinal agreement among the participants is necessary (Romans 16:17; 2 John 10, 11).
When you are not able to participate with other musicians in worship service settings, you have an opportunity to explain biblical fellowship principles to others. God bless the testimony you give with your words and actions!
I recently had a question posed to me by a teen in my church. Can you offer me some guidance on addressing it? If you marry a person with a different religion, would you take up their religion or stick with your own church? Would you go to your different churches?
Good questions – and I’m glad the teen asked them. I would offer a response by first underscoring the nature of marriage and the importance of having unity of faith and fellowship with a spouse.
According to God’s design, marriage is a union between one man and one woman. In marriage two people become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5). In marriage two people become one physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Marriage becomes a team of two people intimately joined together.
In the areas where husband and wife become one, their spiritual oneness is most important. Can there be happy and “successful” marriages, humanly speaking, when husband and wife are not united in faith? Certainly. But something is definitely lacking in a marriage when husband wife are not united in faith. (1 Peter 3:1-6 addresses how Christian wives can best treat their husbands who are not united to them in the Christian faith.) Conversely, there are great blessings in marriage when husband and wife are united in faith.
With your particular questions in mind, I would encourage the individual from one of our congregations to remain with his/her church and not join the spouse’s church. Husband and wife would most likely wind up attending their own church. That is hardly an ideal situation. The situation becomes even more challenging if/when God blesses them with children. Now, in which faith will their children be raised?
We can help our youth today greatly by emphasizing how important it is for husband and wife to be united spiritually. That means that we encourage our youth to talk about faith and church affiliation when dating. That means that we encourage our youth to put “oneness of faith” at the top of a “what is important in a spouse” list.
God bless your conversations with the teen who asked you these questions. You both may want to know that there is worthwhile reading material on this subject from Northwestern Publishing House.
I read that WELS Lutherans don't "fellowship" with Christians of other beliefs. What is meant by that? Would you not pray with a non-WELS Lutheran over a Thanksgiving meal? If you lived in an area without a WELS Lutheran church, would you be okay attending an LCMS Lutheran church?
Elsewhere on this web site you will find these statements on our fellowship practice that answer your questions. (You can read the statements in context via this link. )
“5. We believe that God directs believers to acknowledge oneness in faith with Christians whose confession of faith submits to all the teachings of Scripture (John 8:31; 1 Thessalonians 5:21,22). We believe, furthermore, that individuals through their membership in a church body commit themselves to the doctrine and practice of that church. To assert that unity exists where there is no agreement in confession is to presume to look into people’s hearts. Only God can look into people’s hearts. It is not necessary that all Christians agree on matters of church ritual or organization. About these the New Testament gives no commands (Romans 14:17).
“6. We believe that those whose confession of faith reveals that they are united in the doctrines of Scripture will express their fellowship in Christ as occasion permits (Ephesians 4:3). They may express their fellowship by joint worship, by joint proclamation of the gospel, by joining in Holy Communion, by joint prayer, and by joint church work. God directs believers not to practice religious fellowship with those whose confession and actions reveal that they teach, tolerate, support, or defend error (2 John 10,11). When error appears in the church, Christians will try to preserve their fellowship by patiently admonishing the offenders, in the hope that they will turn from their error (2 Timothy 2:25,26; Titus 3:10). But the Lord commands believers not to practice church fellowship with people who persist in teaching or adhering to beliefs that are false (Romans 16:17,18).”
Do keep in mind that if we are not able “to practice fellowship with people who persist in teaching or adhering to beliefs that are false,” that does not mean we jump to the conclusion that they are outside the kingdom of God. “The Lord knows those who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19). We simply operate with people’s outward confession.
There is much information regarding your question that I lack. Are the policies of the school designed and implemented so that it is simply a private school, or do its policies put children of other faiths into situations whereby scriptural fellowship principles need to be compromised and violated? Does the local public school system pose a lesser threat to the child’s faith than the false teachings of a religious school outside our fellowship? Would enrollment in the school blur scriptural fellowship principles in the minds of your grandchildren and wrongly minimize the doctrinal differences between the two synods?
These are some of the questions that come to mind with your inquiry. Because your pastor knows the schools in your area, he is in a much better situation than I am to address your questions with detail. I encourage you to speak to him. And I commend you for your interest in the education of your grandchildren!
I have a friend who is a pastor in the LCMS. He is trying to raise money for a mission trip. Would I be violating any church fellowship or other rules if I donated to his mission fund?
Your concern for scriptural fellowship principles, and not “church rules,” is to be commended.
Scripture provides general fellowship principles that we seek to apply to very specific situations like yours. Scripture does provide guidance such as: “ I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work” (2 John 9-11). “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 8).
Scriptural principles direct us to recognize when we do not enjoy doctrinal unity with others and to refrain from activities that we would be involved in if there were doctrinal unity. Those principles instruct us not even to give the impression that doctrinal errors are unimportant. Those principles show us that we want to work together in the gospel with those whose faith embraces the teachings of the Bible. It is clear that we are not to support, including financially, ministries that deviate from Scripture.
I am troubled following a conversation with my granddaughter who is a senior at one of our Area Lutheran High Schools. It is my understanding (and I may not have all the correct information) that the special choir from her school was scheduled to sing at one of the area WELS churches. However, prior to their participation in the scheduled service, one member of the choir was told she could not participate because she was not WELS. I also am aware of another incident within the same congregation where the sister of a member who passed away was not permitted to be the organist at the funeral because she was a member of a Missouri Synod congregation. My granddaughter (and quite frankly I too) has difficulty in finding a biblical basis for such decisions. How is it that this young choir member can regularly sing at chapel and other high school sacred concerts but not at the area WELS church? Thanks for the opportunity to present my inquiry to you.
I do not know the circumstances involving your granddaughter’s choir, so I am not able to comment on that particular situation. What I can do is provide an update on a study that has been undertaken in our synod regarding area Lutheran high schools and fellowship practices.
The WELS Conference of Presidents plans to make documents and study guides available to area Lutheran high schools this summer, so they can review their fellowship practices—especially in regard to membership in their choirs.
When it comes to organists who serve at regular worship services or special worship services like funerals, our practice is that those individuals be of our faith and fellowship. Why is that? We want to follow what Scripture says about doctrinal unity and our participation in activities in which we express a common faith (Romans 16:17). We want to send a clear signal that all teachings of the Bible are important (Matthew 28:20). We want to work together with fellow Christians when there really is a common confession of faith (3 John 8).
If someone belonging to a church outside our fellowship were to assist the worship in one of our churches as an organist, we would give a confusing and inaccurate signal about unity. While we might be united with that person in the Holy Christian Church, we are not united with that person when it comes to membership in a visible church body. And visible church bodies are the realm in which we operate. In the scenario you described, the person who wished to serve as an organist in one of our churches was a member of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). As WELS and LCMS are not in fellowship with one another, an LCMS organist assisting with worship in a WELS congregation would send the signal that differences in doctrine between the two synods are not important. For that same reason, the stated regular practice of both synods is one of close(d) Communion. We finally do not want to pretend there is complete unity when there is not.
You and your granddaughter may be interested in exploring these issues in more detail. A resource that could shed more light on these issues is Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth. It is available as a hard copy book or an eBook.
The decision of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod to suspend fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) in 1961 is well documented and scripturally supported. The doctrine and practice of church fellowship was the presenting issue that led to the split between the two synods. There is much to read on this topic at the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay File. A Forward in Christ article nicely summarizes the issues.
You will be glad to know that in 2012 and 2013 representatives of both synods met informally to clarify and understand each other’s positions better. (Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod also attended the 2013 meeting.) Another meeting is planned for this year.
A 2013 synodical convention resolution that addressed this matter resolved: “That we encourage our leadership in conjunction with the Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR) to continue discussions with the LCMS to strive for true unity based on full agreement in doctrine and practice, and that we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and bless these efforts to God’s glory and for the benefit of his church.” That remains our prayer.
I grew up going to a WELS school and church. I have always been told that we are not to join the Freemasons. I have a friend now that has joined. I don't know what to tell him because whatever I say to him he comes back that our church is against everything. Could I get some references and some information on why this is against the church? Thank you.
Our synod’s position toward Freemasonry is long standing and consistent. You can read papers at the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay File that express our concern about the Masons. While those papers are decades-old, the content is still applicable because Freemasonry has not changed.
The Masonic Lodge and its affiliates are essentially deistic religious organizations. They strongly maintain that there is a Creator God who rewards good and punishes evil but do not formally acknowledge God as a gracious giver of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. Nor do they acknowledge the Triune God as the only true God, but allow that most any “Supreme Being” embraced by any Mason may be seen as a legitimate deity. To them salvation is not by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, but based on good works. They also maintain that the supreme deity (“Architect of the Universe”) may be and is worshiped in many forms and under many names by many religions aside from Christianity. Additionally, the oaths and rituals of the lodge have many features that consistent and conservative Bible students have long found incompatible with Christianity…This negative appraisal of the Masonic Lodge is shared by a number of church bodies, and is not the conclusion of only a few like the WELS.
So although the Masons somewhat promote civic righteousness and undertake certain praiseworthy projects in society, we maintain that a Christian would compromise clear Bible teachings by becoming a member of that lodge. We are aware that people have joined such groups for the sake of business connections as well as a sense of social responsibility and say they really don’t care for or think of the religious aspects of the organization. But we maintain that to do so is still a compromise of truth, easily or inevitably causes others to stumble spiritually, and links the person to a false religious group. The Bible often testifies against such an attitude and action.
Bottom line: to be a WELS member with the public confession involved with that membership and to be a Mason with that public confession are incompatible. We owe members of masonry a loving and courteous reply that will not compromise truth. Refraining from membership in that network of organizations and providing patient but consistent testimony to the falsehood the Masons embrace or tolerate would be right and fitting.
As far as the perception that WELS is “against everything,” I would respond this way: we are “for” everything that is scriptural; we are “for” everything that is godly. Taking a stand for God and the Bible will naturally mean that we are “against” whatever is unscriptural and ungodly. It is unfortunate if some people associate WELS as only being “against” things in life. You can help dispel that inaccurate picture by explaining what we are “for.” God help you to do just that.
All my life I have been a member of a congregation. Whenever I moved I changed my membership from my previous congregation to a congregation close to where I lived. There was never a question in my mind about whether I should. However, younger people ask me why it is important to be a member. If they attend regularly and hear God's Word, why should they become a member? How can I best answer them?
Hearing God’s Word regularly is good and beneficial, and is what God instructs us to do (Hebrews 10:25). The Lord also invites and directs us to receive his holy Supper often (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-25). Intensive instruction in the word equips individuals to examine themselves before receiving the sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). That instruction can lead to confirmation, and confirmation provides communicant membership in the congregation, which affords the privilege of receiving the Lord’s Supper. When we understand the blessings the Lord wants to give us through his holy Supper, our new self will want to be a frequent and regular guest at the Supper. Church membership will then enable the reception of the Lord’s Supper at other churches of our fellowship.
In addition to church membership opening the door for the reception of the Lord’s Supper, think of the wording you might hear at the confirmation of an adult: “We invite you to participate with us in all the rights and privileges of this congregation.” Membership in a local congregation enables people to participate more fully in the life of the congregation—whether that is serving in positions of leadership, having a voice in the governance of the congregation, singing in choirs, or becoming involved in other activities that engage members in Christian service.
Ultimately, church membership is a tangible way of doing what Jesus said: “acknowledging him before men” (Matthew 10:32). In a day and age when people are tempted to view churches with a consumer mentality, your church membership is a wonderful testimony to the spirit of Christian devotion and dedication which the Lord has planted and nurtured in your heart. God bless you.
Is it wrong to give money in support of non-WELS Christian efforts...for example, regularly giving money to a Christian radio station that communicates Christ, but also has false ideas of conversion and other teachings? What about buying tickets and attending a popular Christian concert, or movie or buying music from Christian artists...are these kinds of things giving offerings to support a ministry outside our fellowship? Should I not do that?
Scripture provides general fellowship principles that we seek to apply to very specific situations today. Scripture does provide guidance such as: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 John 9-11). “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 8).
Scriptural principles direct us to recognize when we do not enjoy doctrinal unity with others and to refrain from activities that we would be involved in if there were doctrinal unity. Those principles instruct us not even to give the impression that doctrinal errors are unimportant. Those principles show us that we want to work together in the gospel with those whose faith embraces the teachings of the Bible.
It is clear that we are not to support ministries that deviate from Scripture. (And “support” includes financial support.) The course of action in some specifics of your questions will be conscience driven (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8; 10:23-33). You would do best to have a more thorough conversation with your pastor regarding those issues.