Presidents of two U.S.-based Lutheran church bodies addressed convention delegates on Tuesday.
Rev. Glenn Obenberger brought greetings from WELS’ sister synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). Obenberger became ELS president after former president Rev. John Moldstad Jr. unexpectedly passed away in January. “We still grieve but do not grieve without hope,” said Obenberger. “John shall rise again for Jesus’ sake, so we go forward.”
Obenberger encouraged the synod to continue to stand on God’s Word. “WELS, like the ELS, is committed to carrying out the mission of the church which Jesus has given us, making the same bold confessions based on the Word of God: That grace alone is the truth which sets sinners like us eternally free,” he said. “May God grant you the strength and wisdom to continue taking that bold, old Lutheran stance in the face of all opposition.”
He then presented Pres. Mark Schroeder a commemorative book on the history of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), also addressed convention delegates, calling it an honor and privilege to attend and speak at a WELS synod convention.
WELS, ELS, and LCMS representatives have been meeting annually for informal doctrinal discussions since 2012. This is the first time that Harrison has attended a WELS synod convention.
In his historic address, Harrison brought up “tragic things” in the synods’ past, referring to the break in fellowship in 1961 and events that occurred following the break. Yet he stressed the Missouri Synod’s stance on the Word: “The Missouri Synod confesses Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture. And the Lord blesses us despite ourselves.”
He also expressed appreciation for the continuing dialogue among the three church bodies, even though significant issues still separate the synods. “I thank you, Mark [Schroeder], for reaching out to me and the Missouri Synod, despite our challenging past,” he said. “We deeply appreciate your prayers and you have ours.”
Following Harrison’s address, WELS President Mark Schroeder mentioned the importance of these informal doctrinal discussions. “From the start, we believed that it was a debt of Christian love that we needed to pay for us to be talking with our friends in the Missouri Synod about important issues in doctrine and practice. I think you can sense from what Pres. Harrison said that it has truly been a mutually encouraging and beneficial set of conversations, and we pray that they will be able to continue.”
Harrison and Obenberger are two of five special guests at this year’s convention. Rev. Paul Tiefel representing the Church of the Lutheran Confession and two other representatives from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Rev. Dr. Jonathan Shaw and Rev. Dr. John Wohlrabe Jr., also are attending.