More Q & A
Q&A set 15
What are the main doctrinal differences between the WELS and the Russian
The doctrine of the Russian Orthodox church is basically the same as
that of the Roman Catholic Church except for obedience to the pope.
The key issue, of course, is that Orthodox churches see the
works we do as part of the cause of our salvation. Their use of
icons of the saints often becomes a form of worship though it may be
rationalized as simple intercession. They also insist on a
hierarchy of bishops in succession to the apostles. They have a more
mystic approach to religion which makes it hard for people used to a
Protestant way of thinking to understand their viewpoint.
There is no distinctly WELS book on the Orthodox. A recent
evaluation from an evangelical perspective is Donald Clendinin's
Eastern Orthodox Christianty: A Western Perspective. It contains
much useful information but the evaluation is weak. A standard
reference book on denominations would have material on Orthodoxy.
Why do we celebrate a festival called Easter? "Easter" is the name of
a pagan spring goddess. If we are going to celebrate the festival we
should call it "Resurrection" and get rid of this pagan leftover.
In many European languages the name of the festival of the
resurrection is some form of the word Pesach, the Hebrew name for
Passover. The name Easter apparently originated in the Germanic
languages and was carried to England and into the English language by
the Anglo-Saxons. The idea that this word derives from the name of a
pagan goddess of the spring equinox is a very old one, traced to the
Venerable Bede, an 8th century scholar. Recent scholarship, however,
suggests that this notion is wrong.
In the Frankish church the name of the festival of the resurrection
included the Latin word alba, "white," because of the white garments
that were worn during the festival. When this was translated into
German, alba was mistaken for a Latin word for "sunrise" which also
was alba. For this reason alba was translated with the old German
word for "sunrise," which has come to us in the form "Easter" (German,
Ostern). In many languages the word for east means "rising." It
appears that the English word "east" also has this meaning. Although
the evidence is unclear and there are competing theories, it appears
that the festival of the resurrection already has the name "Rising"
since this seems to be the original meaning of "Easter."
It is possible that Bede was not entirely wrong and that there was
also a goddess named "Dawn" since many pagan religions have a god or
goddess of the sunrise. It seems highly improbable, however, that the
church authorities would have allowed the chief festival of the
Christian year to be named after a pagan goddess. They might have
been tempted to keep something heathen and call it by a Christian
name. They would hardly have taken something Christian and given it a
Even if the etymology of the word "Easter" were the name of a pagan
goddess, which is doubtful, this would not be a reason for alarm. The
majority of our day and month names, the names of the planets, and
such diverse things as mercury and cereal are all named for pagan
deities, and we refer to them all of the time without being concerned
about (or even knowing) their etymology.
There is, however, a larger issue involved here. Much of the
anti-Easter sentiment comes from an anti-festival attitude that is
promoted by fundamentalist publications, radio and TV shows. Easter
and Christmas are often condemned because they are celebrated at key
astronomical points of the year at which the heathen also celebrated
seasonal festivals. If anyone is going to find fault with celebrating
the festival of the resurrection at the spring equinox, his quarrel is
with God since God is the one who placed it there. In celebrating
Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring, the
church is simply acknowledging the fact that God chose the Passover,
celebrated at the first full moon of spring, as the time for the death
and resurrection of his Son. The Old Testament festivals like
Passover and Pentecost, which were commanded by God, were tied to
events of the astronomical and agricultural years. The Christian
festivals simply followed them.
To pass harsh judgments on fellow Christians on the basis of alleged
pagan etymology of festival names or alleged pagan origin of festivals
is at best "passing judgment on disputable matters" (Romans 14:1).
All too often it crosses over into passing legalistic judgments on
fellow Christians (Romans 14:1-23, 1 Corinthians 8:4-8). It is not
too much different than the spirit of the politically-correct school
board which would not allow Valentine's Day because it would introduce
a Christian saint's day into the public school, but did allow "Special
Person Day." We do not want to adopt the habits of those who make
harsh judgments on the basis of sketchy, uncertain historical evidence
and long-forgotten origins.
What is the WELS feelings on displaying the flag on the casket during the
funeral service ? also the playing of TAPS at the cemetary does it matter
if played before the last rites or after?
There is not any objection to veterans receiving military honors. A
chaplin of another faith could not participate in the religious
service. Military honors like TAPS are a separate thing from the
Christian burial. At the grave side it does not make an essential
difference whether the religious rite or civil ceremony is first or
Could you give me some backround information on the Anglican/Episcopal
churches, and what they believe and teach from WELS point of view?
The Anglican Church is the official state church of England. We call
the related church in the USA "Episcopal." Both of these churches
are very liberal and allow for a wide diversity of doctrine, so it is
very difficult to state their position. Theologians of these
churches are among the most liberal in their view of Scripture, but
there are also Evangelical parties. Even the most basic doctrines of
Scripture are denied by Episcopal theologians and leaders.
The main difference as the name "Episcopal" implies is that they
insist that a church must have a succession of bishops in order to
have a valid ministry. This was the main reason that the
recommendation that the ELCA church assembly this past summer
defeated the recommendation to enter full commumion with the Episcopal
All views concerning the Lord's Supper (Reformed,
Catholicism Today, and
Lutheran) are present in the Episcopal churches, but the main view is
Reformed. For this reason, we believe it would be improper for
Lutheran churches to have communion with the Episcopal churches.
I happened to turn on the radio yesterday to a Christian radio station
that was discussing the topic of gays and lesbians in the ministry.
Specifically, it talked about "Lutherans" accepting them into the ministry.
I know that the WELS and Missouri are against this, but is this true about
the ELCA church?
The ELCA does not officially approve the ordination of practicing
homosexuals to the ministry, but there is very vocal support for this
position in the ECLA, and some congregations have defied the church
on this issue. There is ongoing study and debate of the issue. Some
who oppose the ordination of homosexuals do not oppose it on moral
grounds, but because it will cause strife in the church.
My pastor (LCMS) told us about "Cursillo," but was vague as to what
exactly it is. He also said that WELS approves of their members
attendance at a Cursillo. What is a "Cursillo", and is it true that it
would be appropriate for a member of your synod to attend?
"Cursillo" is Spanish for "short course." A cursillo is a kind of a
spiritual retreat. The best known "cursillo, " which owns the trade
mark "Cursillo," is an evangelism movement of the Catholic Church (
(there is also an Anglican movement and others as well). The official
Cursillo is a worldwide movement of the Roman Catholic Church.
The home page of the National Cursillo Movement states its goal: "The
Cursillo Movement can assist each of us in developing a deeper
understanding of what it means to be fully Catholic by being fully
Christian." The Cursillo Movement in the United States was
organized on a national basis in 1965. The Cursillo Movement has
the support of the vast majority of the American Catholic
hierarchy. It is joined to the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops through an official liaison. The movement is a member of the
International Catholic Organizations of the Pontifical Council for
the Laity in Rome.
The various cursillo home pages on the Web describe its activities as
spiritual activities that involve religious fellowship. Confessional
Lutheran should not participate in such activities of the Roman
Catholic Church. The official program of the National Cursillo
Movement states that the program is intended for Catholics only.
Perhaps your pastor is referring to cursillo-like retreats sponsored
by Lutheran churches. True cursillo-courses are a spiritual exercise
and should be shared only by people of the same faith and fellowship.
WELS members should not attend cursillos sponsored by churches with
which they are not in fellowship.
I would like to know if occasional gambling is a sin. I don't spend a lot
and view it as entertainment. Is this still considered a sin?
Whether something is a sin is not, of course, determined by how often
a person does it, but by the character of the act. Scripture does
not explicitly deal with gambling, but it does warn against greed and
trying to benefit at the expense of others. In gambling there cannot
be winners without losers. In participating in organized gambling
Christians have to also consider the effect it has on society and
especially on the weak and those who fall victim to it. A Christian
should not gamble if greed or a get something for nothing spirit is
involved. Isn't it very difficult to separate gambling from these
motives? Is gambling even in moderation responsible stewardship of
what God has given us? Even if a Christian can say that none of
this applies to him or her and that gambling is only a form of
entertainment, the Christian still must consider the effect on
For these reasons we warn against gambling. There is not, however, a
scriptural basis to say dogmatically that every wager is in and of
I have heard that the Hebrew word "forever" (olam) sometimes refers
to something less than eternity. Can you give me information about
this? This comes up because of people who say God's covenants with
Israel for circumcision and for the land were "forever" and therefore
It is true that the word olam often refers to a long, indefinite time
which does, however, come to an end. An example is in Exodus 21:6
where a person becomes a servant "for life." The NIV usually uses a
translation other than "eternal" or "forever" in such cases.
Genesis 17:6-9 uses the term "an everlasting covenant" in connection
with the covenant of the land and the covenant of circumcision. We
can say that circumcision and the other Old Testament ceremonial laws
now longer apply to us, because the New Testament specifically says
so in such passages as Colossians 2 and Romans 14. The epistle to
the Hebrews is especially important in this respect because it is
addressed to Jews and so it shows that they too are free from these
Israel lost their land, not because God set aside the covenant, but
because they failed to keep the covenant by obeying him. This
covenant was conditioned on their obedience (Genesis 17:9). Those
who reject Jesus are not obeying the covenant because they are
rejecting the promised Seed to whom the sign of circumcision points.
As we see from Peter's confession in Matthew 16 and from other
incidents in the gospels, the disciples believed that Jesus was their
Savior before Pentecost, but several statements imply that they did
not receive the Holy Spirit till Pentecost (John 7:39 Luke 24:49).
How could they have faith without the Holy Spirit?
The statements that the Spirit had not yet been given refer to the
giving of the special gifts at Pentecost like speaking in tongues, as
well to as the deeper understanding of Christ's work which the
apostles would need for their mission. The apostles also would be
given the gift of inspiration so they could accurately pass on the
truth about Christ in the books of the New Testament.
When Jesus attributes the faith of the apostles to the Father (John
6:44, Matthew 16:17), he is not eliminating the role of the Spirit
since it is the Father who sends the Spirit (John 14:16, 17, 15:26).
The Scripture has many passages which refer to the activity of the
Holy Spirit in believers before Pentecost (Psalm 51:11, Luke 1:15, 41,
67, John 3:5).
Recent articles in Meditations seem to contradict each other
concerning God's relationship to evil. One said that though God is
not the author of sin, he determines how it touches our lives. It
used the example of an automobile accident. Regardless of the human
sin that may have been involved in causing the accident, God
determines whether or not it ends an innocent person's life. Another
meditation said that abortion is usurping the right of God by cutting
short an innocent person's life. Isn't God equally in control in both
Yes, God is equally in control in both cases. In neither case is God
the cause of the sin which threatens or ends the life of an innocent
victim. The sinful intent and action is the fault of the person who
commits the sin. In both situations, God either permits or prevents
the sinful taking of a life according to his wise judgment of what
will ultimately be for the good of his people.
God permitted Satan and sinful men to take Christ's life so that this
crime could serve our eternal good. He permitted the enemies of
Christ to kill Stephen, but he delivered Peter and Paul from their
enemies. Both outcomes served the good of the gospel. Ultimately,
Peter and Paul too died martyrs' deaths. Scripture contains many
other examples of God either preventing or permitting evil according
to his wise providence. In some cases, we may not be able to see why
God permitted a particular outcome, just as Job received no
explanation for the tragedies that had befallen him.
In the statement you cite above, the first author is emphasizing the
providence of God who determines the ultimate outcome. The second
author is emphasizing the guilt of the sinner, who has no right to
take a life. A short meditation (or a short answer to a question)
cannot cover all aspects of a subject.
Christians should always work to change bad laws, like abortion for
instance. Without the traders there would have been few slaves in
history -- and no slave-trading from Africa to America.
Is there anything in history where any Lutheran ever spoke up about
the sin of trading in slaves from Africa to America? Any
organization which tried to stop it? Any convention which has ever
thought of apologizing to the black community regarding apathy in
years past concerning the "them" and "us" approach the WELS took
concerning black Lutherans.
We never did anything with the sin of slave-trading. If Christians
had spoken up maybe we could have stopped slavery in America.
Obviously the Wisconsin Synod and the Missouri Synods and the
Synodical Conferenence could not have done anything to oppose the
trans-Atlantic slave trade because that trade was abolished years
before any of these church bodies existed. Protestant missionaries in
Africa, who included some German Lutherans in the employ of British
mission societies, took the lead in fighting for abolition of the
slave trade. The Lutheran countries of Germany and Scandinavia were
never engaged in slave trade and most of the first Lutherans in the US
were in the north where they had relatively little contact with
African-Americans. Before the Civil War African-American Lutherans
were members of the same congregations as whites. The earliest record
of such membership begins in 1669. Obviously not many
African-Americans were going to join Lutheran congregations that
conducted their services in German, Norwegian, and Swedish, languages
which the African-Americans did not speak.
The Synodical Conference began mission work among the black
population of the South already in 1877. In the social setting of
that era this work could be done only in separate congregations and
Undoubtedly, the sin of racism has been present also among Lutherans,
but many Lutherans have been involved in the anti-slavery movement and
in mission work to African-Americans.
An account of this activity is found in Black Christians: The Untold
Lutheran Story by Jeff Johnson, a Concordia publication. A review in
the Spring 1992 issue of the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly stated, "The
history of Black Lutheranism is one that leaves us both proud and sad.
Proud of the way our Lutheran forefathers opposed slavery, and least
to begin with, and tried to share the Word with the Black community,
sad because of the way these noble efforts were often stifled by
prejudice and paternalism."
I know that the WELS practices closed communion as my synod does
(Missouri). My question is why do you practice close(d) communion?
Also I have talked with some ELCA pastors. They have expressed to
me that it should be an individual's choice. What would be your
response to this? Any information on this topic would be
appreciated. Also might I ask that if you know some of the
arguments from ELCA or any other church that practices open
communion, could you explain what they base their argument on?
We should welcome to the Lord's Supper only those Christians who are
properly instructed, who recognize the real presence of Christ's
body and blood in the Sacrament, and who are repentant The
Sacrament must be closed to all others to guard them against eating
and drinking judgment on themselves. Scripture warns that those who
attend without proper understanding and preparation harm themselves
(1 Corinthians 11:27-31). Just as a road must be closed when a
bridge is washed out to protect travelers from harm, Communion must
be closed to those who are not prepared to receive it beneficially.
The Lord's Supper is also an expression of fellowship between all of
those who attend together. Church fellowship must be based on
agreement in all of the doctrines of Scripture. To attend Communion
with people with whom we are not in doctrinal agreement would be
unloving because we would be failing to give a clear testimony to
the truth and a strong witness against error.
Open communion is usually justified on the grounds that it is
unloving to exclude anyone from Communion. On the contrary, it is
unloving to allow people to attend the Lord's Supper to their own
condemnation. For a pastor and congregation to allow people to
choose for themselves whether or not they will attend the Lord's
Supper is as irresponsible as it would be for a doctor to let his
patients decide what medicine to take.
Lax Communion practices often are joined with a lax view of the real
presence of Christ's body and blood "in, with, and under" the bread
and wine. If people believe that all that we are receiving in the
Sacrament is bread and wine, it is not very critical who attends.
The ELCA now permits joint Communion with Reformed churches that
deny the real presence of Christ's body and blood with the bread and
the wine. Where there is no recognition of the seriousness of
partaking of Christ's body and blood in an unworthy manner, laxness
of Communion practice naturally follows.
A presentation of closed communion from a WELS perspective can be
found in the book Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth,
pages 118-124. A good presentation of the subject by a Missouri
Synod writer is Communion Fellowship by Paul McCain.
Is there a possibility that people practicing Judaism could have died with
saving faith even after the time of Christ? Since there were people in OT
times who were saved by faith, does it follow that people who died even
years after Christ was on earth could have had the Spirit in their hearts,
despite never coming into contact with what is recognized as the Christian
There was, of course, a time of transition when the apostles were
going out with the gospel to the Jewish communities which were
scattered throughout the world. When Paul went from town to town,
he regularly went to the synogogue and presented Jesus' claim to
be the Savior to those who gathered there. Often the nucleus of the
first Christian congregation in a city came from the synagogue. But
many from the synogogue rejected the gospel. They no longer could
be considered faithful Old Testament believers after they had
rejected the Messiah God had sent to them.
We can't specify a date after which it was no longer possible to be a
true "Old Testament Christian," but it is likely that most if not
all Jewish communities were reached with the gospel during the
lifetime of the apostles.
The Holy Spirit grants gifts to believers--teaching, preaching, serving,
giving, encouraging, speaking in tongues, etc. What I am confused about is
this: do "gifts" refer to an ability or to a desire? To see them as
gifts" doesn't make much sense to me since people have these gifts
naturally....and giving isn't an ability. But then to see them as "desire
gifts" doesn't make much sense to me either, since many have desired to be
preachers, but can't. And how should we encourage people to seek these
gifts....by asking them what they desire and then seeing if they have the
Everything we have is a gift of God--our natural abilities, the
willingness to use them in God's service, and the opportunities we
have to develop them and to use them. In addition, during the
apostolic era people were sometimes given extraordinary gifts, such
as the ability to do miracles or speak in tongues.
God gives different individuals different natural gifts which can be
used in his service. Through the means of grace he works in us 'to
will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil . 2:13).
To render spiritual service such as preaching and teaching an
individual needs natural gifts and the desire to use them. A
person can also grow in the ability to use these gifts through study
and training. To use those gifts publicly in the service of the
church an individual also needs another gift--a call to serve in the
ministry which comes from Christ through the church
Normally, individuals enter the service of the church (whether in
fulltime public ministry or parttime service offered by members of
the congregation) when fellow Christians notice their gifts and
willing spirit and ask them to serve or to train for service.
Sometimes individuals may have the desire to serve in a certain
area, but in the judgment of their fellow Christians he or she does
not have the necessary gifts. In such cases their fellow Christians
should help the individual who has the desire to serve to find an
opportunity to serve which is in keeping with his or her gifts.
"God's word cites many examples of believers fasting. Most notable,
of course, is our Lord's own 40-day fast in the desert. When, how, and to
what end should we fast?"
The Bible frequently mentions fasting, that is, abstaining from food
for a time, as a form of spiritual discipline. God commanded the
people of Israel to "deny themselves" on the Day of Atonement, which
was the great day of repentance (Lev 16:29). This was interpreted
as a command to fast. To this the Jews added a number of set dates
for fasting, such as the day when they mourned the destruction of
the Temple (Zech 8:19). Special fasts were declared at times of
national calamity (Joel 1:14). Individuals also fasted on days of
personal mourning or repentance.
God warned the Israelites that fasting was not a substitute for good
behavior nor was it a way to earn merit with God (Is 58:2-8).
Fasting was to be an expression of true repentance and a sign of
devotion to spiritual concerns.
Jesus' disciples did not fast as regularly as John the Baptist's
disciples did because of their joy to be in the presence of Jesus
(Mt 9:14-15). Jesus condemned the fasting of the Pharisees because
it was done as a show to impress people (Mt 6:16-17). But Jesus
implied that his disciples will fast at the right time and in the
right way. The early Christians practiced fasting in connection
with special times of prayer and devotion (Acts 13:2, 14:23).
Christians have no command to fast, but Luther recommended fasting
as a spiritual discipline. In his comments on preparation for the
Lord's Supper in the Small Catechism he stated that fasting and
bodily preparation are fine outward training. On another occasion
he said, "There should be a general spiritual fast for us Christians
to observe. It would be a good arrangement to observe a general
fast for a few days before Easter, before Pentecost, and before
Christmas, to distribute fasts over the year. But on no account
dare it be done for the purpose of making it an act of worship or a
means of meriting something." Luther also recommended fasting as a
bodily discipline. "I would also be glad if at certain times, once a
week or as often as might seem best, there were no evening meal,
except a piece of bread and something to drink, to keep everything
from being used up with the kind of incessant guzzling and gobbling
that we Germans do, and to teach people to live a little more
Christians, therefore, may fast if it helps them focus their
attention on special occasions of prayer or repentance. Fasting may
also serve as a reminder of the need for bodily self-discipline.
A recent question on WELSNET referred to Evangelical and Reformed
groups. What is meant by these terms? In what sense is the WELS
Strictly, speaking the term Reformed should be used only in reference
to Calvinistic churches. It is sometimes rather carelessly used in
reference to virtually all non-Lutheran Protestants whether
Calvinistic or Arminian. This usage is confusing and should be
In recent American usage the term Evangelical has been used for a
party in American Protestantism which wanted to hold a middle
position between the doctrinal laxity of liberalism and the strict
separatism of fundamentalism. Its best known spokesman was Billy
Graham. Evangelicalism was more Arminian than Calvinistic. In
recent years there has been significant doctrinal deterioration in the
Evangelical camp so the label Evangelical is not longer an assurance
that a person holds to even basic doctrines such as the inerrancy of
The term evangelical was a favorite label of Lutherans long before
the appearance of the American Evangelicals. It emphasized the
centrality of the gospel in Lutheran preaching and teaching and the
evangelical, gospel-centered focus of Lutheran practice.
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