Reformation worship focuses on God’s grace

A year ago, in anticipation of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, initial plans were made for a large celebration in Milwaukee that would include conferences for all WELS called workers and a large festival worship service for called workers and WELS members in the 15,000- seat Bradley Center. After determining the huge cost of such an event, the decision was made not to hold the event as hoped but to encourage districts and regions to plan for local celebrations that would be less costly and enable more people to participate.

That decision was blessed by God. During the last two weekends, more than 20 districts and regions held special Reformation 500 worship services. The events were very well attended and provided many more people the opportunity to join in this celebration than would have been possible with one centralized event. In each case, worshipers had the opportunity to thank and praise God for the blessings of the Lutheran Reformation. Worshipers were reminded that “grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone” is not just a slogan or motto, but the heart and center of what connects us to “Christ alone.”

Below is a slideshow of some of the special worship services and events held in our synod—both in the United States and around the world. To view more photos or contribute your own, check out the WELS Facebook page at Watch for more photos and information about Reformation 500 celebrations in the January 2018 edition of Forward in Christ magazine.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder


Reformation 500 celebrations

New set of “theses” highlights the basic teachings of Lutheranism

As part of its triennial convention in Grimma, Germany, this past summer, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) approved a new set of Ninety-five theses to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

While Luther’s theses focused on the abuse of indulgences in the church at the time, Ninety-Five Theses for the 21st Century has a different theme. “It’s really the basic teachings of the Lutheran faith organized according to the Small Catechism,” says Rev. Thomas Nass, professor at Martin Luther College and one of the men leading the development of the theses. “I think it’s what every Lutheran layperson should know.”

Fifteen pastors from sister churches around the world put together the document. “It’s something that the churches of our fellowship have done together to show how they’re united in the Lutheran faith,” says Nass.

Mr. Greg Vandermause, production studio manager at Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn., produced a video of leaders from our sister church bodies reading these contemporary statements of faith at the CELC convention in Grimma. Hymns written by Martin Luther are interspersed between the readings. The video can be viewed online.

“We pray that you are encouraged in the faith that has been passed down and that you find joy in seeing how that faith is shared by many around the world,” says Nass.

Purchase a print copy of the booklet at Watch the October WELS Connection to learn more about the CELC convention in Germany. Learn more about the CELC at




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Reformation 500 celebrations across the synod

It would be impossible not to have noticed that this October will mark the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. A variety of special events have been planned throughout the synod: Reformation tours, books and essays, presentations, the Return to Grace Luther movie, and most important of all, special worship services.

Since October is fast approaching, we encourage you to visit the special Reformation section of our synod’s website to learn about events taking place near you.

If you are aware of a special event to be held in your area and want it included in the list, you can send the information to

Serving you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder




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Special Forward in Christ issue celebrates the Reformation

In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, the October issue of Forward in Christ (FIC), the synod’s official publication, will focus on Martin Luther and the biblical teachings he rediscovered—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, in Christ alone.

“This anniversary is not just a review of past events. It’s different,” says Rev. John Braun, executive editor of Forward in Christ. “We thank God for the gospel we still possess today—a power that sustains us just as it sustained others throughout history. It’s all about Christ! We still treasure his grace, and we desire to share that grace with the world.”

Special features include a look at Luther’s far-reaching influence, a history lesson on Katie Luther, and a focus on the heart of the Reformation message: We are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ. Another feature highlights comments about being Lutheran from leaders of churches around the world that are in fellowship with WELS.

Monthly columns and features will also have a Reformation theme. The “Confessions of faith” article introduces a woman born in Eisleben, Germany, when it was communist-controlled and tells her journey of faith. The “Heart to heart” parenting column shares perspectives from two dads about ways to teach children about the Reformation.

Besides the normal 36 pages, the issue features an added keepsake pull-out insert that includes a timeline on the development of Lutheranism as well as quotes from FIC readers about what it means to be Lutheran.

“As I read all of these comments, I stand in grateful praise to God for what he has done in bringing these believers to be signposts pointing to Christ,” says Braun. “As you read their comments, I suggest you consider how many times they point to the certainty of salvation in Christ. That’s a message we strive to share in every issue of Forward in Christ.”

If you would like to subscribe to Forward in Christ, contact Northwestern Publishing House at 1-800-662-6093, ext. 5613; Or order online at




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Seminary to celebrate Reformation

To observe the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., is hosting a Hymn Festival on Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Open to all, the festival will feature 15 of Luther’s hymns. Seven will be sung by the congregation; seven will be sung by the Seminary Chorus, the Wisconsin Lutheran College Choir, and the Lutheran Chorale of Milwaukee; one will be featured in an organ solo performed by Rev. Aaron Christie, pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wis. A host of accompanying musicians will also be included.

Then, on Oct. 2-3, the seminary will hold its annual symposium for pastors. The symposium on Reformation 500 will include four essays on Luther and the Standards, Luther and the Scriptures, Luther and the Saints, and Luther and the State.

The Hymn Festival and all symposium presentations will be streamed at




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Luther movie to get national exposure

Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World, a version of the popular film A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy, will premiere on PBS at 7 p.m. CT, Sept. 12. Three hundred sixty PBS stations across the United States will show the film. The film will also be shown throughout Canada by the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to share more about Luther’s story to a broadly targeted demographic,” says Mr. Mike Trinklein, writer and co-producer of the film. “This version’s script was carefully written to be accessible to people who are not familiar with church language. The overall goal is to let Luther’s theology flow naturally from the story.” The A Return to Grace version of the film was produced for confessional Lutherans to offer a deeper dive into theological matters. Commentary from additional WELS scholars was included to further illuminate finer points of confessional Lutheran doctrine.

This is just one way congregations can see the film. Since February, at least one thousand WELS churches and other groups around the country have hosted screenings of A Return to Grace at local theaters, making it the #1 movie distributed by Tugg in 2017. More than 150 additional showings are scheduled through the end of October.

“We are very grateful to Mike Trinklein and Steve Boettcher for their efforts in producing a film that not only highlights Luther’s contributions to church and secular history, but also beautifully and accurately depicts the heart of his theology and the blessings that God brought to the church and the world through his work,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder.

Marcus Cinemas also will be hosting general admissions screenings of the film at 7 p.m., Oct. 23, 25, and 30, in more than 40 cities in eight states. Marcus will work with local schools and congregations in those areas to set up showings at different dates and times and will discount ticket pricing for groups. More information will be available soon.

You can preorder your own copy of the film through Northwestern Publishing House. Copies will be available in early November.

Learn more about the film at




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Next Interactive Faith features Martin Luther

The next Interactive Faith online Bible study will begin Wed., Oct. 4, and run every Wednesday through Nov. 8. The study will stream live twice each Wednesday at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. (central). The online Bible studies are a great opportunity to get together as a group or to participate individually in a synod-wide Bible study.

The upcoming study is titled “Luther’s Lasting Impact,” and will be led by Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor Joel Otto.

Otto says, “The fact that the world is marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses says something about the lasting impact of the Reformation. This is especially true for us who call ourselves Lutherans. What we understand—and the world often misses—is that Luther’s Reformation was theological. Luther recognized that the problems in the church stemmed from faulty teaching.”

This Bible study will examine some of Luther’s key theological emphases and note how they impacted the life of the church in areas like his translation of the Bible into the language of the people, education and his catechisms, worship, and everyday Christian living.

“Luther’s theological emphases, rooted in Scripture, continue to impact the life of the church today and the way we, as Lutheran Christians, live our faith in the face of 21st century challenges,” says Otto.

To join the study, visit




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Delegates view new Luther film

Delegates enjoyed a special screening of the popular Martin Luther film, A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy, Wednesday evening.

Produced by Boettcher+Trinklein Television Inc., this full-length film explores the life of Martin Luther and his quest for truth, bringing to life the 16th-century events of the Reformation. Funding from Thrivent Financial made it possible to produce the movie. Since February, at least one thousand WELS churches and others around the country have hosted local screenings of the film, making A Return to Grace the #1 movie distributed by Tugg in 2017.

Mr. Danny Wehmeyer, a lay delegate from Good Shepherd, Deltona, Fla., appreciated seeing all the scholars share insights on Luther, as well as the strong emphasis on grace seen in the movie. “To understand the man [Luther] and how he literally changed Christianity and to understand that it really is grace from God—it’s like the biggest weight of the world off of everybody’s shoulders once they understand it,” he says.

A question and answer session with the film’s executive producer, Mr. Steve Boettcher, and author of the companion book Luther’s Protest, Rev. John Braun, followed the screening.

Boettcher shared how one mission congregation in Michigan that normally has 40 to 50 people in worship had more than 150 people come to the movie—providing a whole new set of prospects.

At the session, Boettcher also announced that a version of the film will be airing on PBS at 7 p.m. CT, Sept. 12. Three hundred sixty PBS stations across the United States will show the film. The film will also be shown throughout Canada by the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Marcus Cinemas also will be hosting screenings of the film in October at 50 theaters across eight states.

Congregations and WELS organizations are continuing to use the movie as an outreach tool. One hundred congregations have screenings planned in September and October. St. Paul and St. John, congregations in New Ulm, Minn., have already shown the film to a sold-out theater in New Ulm. The congregations plan to host another screening for their members and then partner with Martin Luther College (MLC) in New Ulm to host a screening on MLC’s campus for the local community.

Congregations still can host local screenings of the film. Find out how at




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Reformation celebration continues

Celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation continued on Wednesday, with presentations that highlighted Reformation history as well as shared materials and ways for congregations and individuals to celebrate the Reformation.

Rev. Michael Herbst, vice president of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (ELFK) in Germany, shared more about the history of our sister church and how the EFLK continues to reach out in the land of the Reformation.

Rev. John Braun, chairman of the Reformation 500 Committee, reported on available Reformation 500 resources, including Bible studies and a children’s film taken from the popular Martin Luther film, A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy. He highlighted that the committee’s goals are to educate members on our Lutheran heritage but also to use the interest in the anniversary as a way to reach out into local communities. Learn more about these resources and special Reformation events at

Congregations around the synod have been sponsoring viewings of A Return to Grace as one way to educate members and reach out. Delegates were treated to a special viewing of the film on Wednesday evening, which included a question and answer period with the film’s executive producer, Mr. Steve Boettcher, and author of the companion book Luther’s Protest, Rev. John Braun. Learn more about the movie in tomorrow’s issue of “Together.”

To celebrate the anniversary, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) decided to prepare a new “Ninety-five Theses for the 21st century.” Fifteen pastors from around the world put together the document, which was approved by the CELC at its triennial convention in Grimma, Germany, this past summer. “The nature of these theses is very different than Luther’s original ones,” says Prof. Thomas Nass, one of the men leading the development of the theses. “It’s really the basic teachings of the Lutheran faith organized according to the Small Catechism. I think it’s what every Lutheran layperson should know.”

A video of confessional Lutherans from around the world reading some of these theses was shown to delegates Wednesday afternoon. A full video presentation of these theses will be posted online as well as streamed on Oct. 31, 2017, to give confessional Lutherans around the world an opportunity to celebrate our shared beliefs. Learn more about the CELC at

Finally, special common chests were built by Mr. Kevin Kopplin, a member of Lord of Life, DeForest, Wis., to show how Lutherans financed their needs following the separation from the Roman Church during Martin Luther’s time. “Members deposited their offerings into the chest and elected a group of directors to manage the funds,” says Rev. John Braun. “Our world is different now. Doctrine hasn’t changed, and we still collect money to carry out the work of proclaiming the gospel and helping others. But now, banks, checks, electronic giving, and combination safes are what’s common. The common chest may have disappeared, but the idea is a part of our collections, budgets, and treasurer’s reports.”

To commemorate the Reformation anniversary, the chests were used to collect the offering from the opening worship service as well as special gifts from delegates for the three Lutheran church bodies with whom WELS declared fellowship during this convention.




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