Questions on Fellowship

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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!

Can a WELS member participate in any part of an LCMS church? Thank you!

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.

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).

Finally, here is where you can find WELS devotions for women and information on WELS Women’s Ministry. God bless your walk of faith.

What can you tell me about the Red Letter Christians?

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.

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