What does WELS stand for?
WELS is an acronym for Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
A name can be very descriptive. It can also be misleading.
The word Lutheran in our synod’s name, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, is not merely a word. We call ourselves Lutheran because it clearly identifies what we believe and describes how we carry out the work that God has entrusted to his church on earth. We call ourselves Lutheran, in spite of the fact that others using that name have departed from many of the essential truths that God revealed in the Scriptures—the same truths Martin Luther believed and taught.
By adopting the name Lutheran we are saying that we stand, as Luther did, on the truth of the Scriptures alone. No hesitation. No qualification. No evasive explanation. A Lutheran church believes that God’s Word is true in all it teaches. A Lutheran church bases all that it teaches and all that it does on the Scriptures and on nothing else.
As Lutherans we proclaim Christ crucified. We proclaim a message that is not packaged to be palatable and not soft-pedaled to be acceptable. Rather, we proclaim a message that, as Paul said to the Corinthians, is utter foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). The theology of the cross was not a message that itching ears wanted to hear in Paul’s day, nor is it at all attractive in our postmodern, self-gratifying world. The people in the world we live in look for a message that doesn’t make them uncomfortable. The people in our world look for things that make sense to their own way of thinking and that build up the esteem they have for themselves. They won’t find that in the harsh condemnation of God’s law. Neither will they find that in the sweet message of the gospel. They won’t find that in the news of a Savior who offers to give them the perfection that they think they can achieve on their own.
As Lutherans we recognize that doctrine—what you teach—is important. And we recognize that practice—what you do—flows from correct teaching. It’s interesting to note that our Wisconsin Synod did not hold that view from the start. The first synod president was very quick to point out that “denominational fences” were not important to him. A draft of the first constitution of our synod contained words that pledged the synod to the Lutheran Confessions, but later those words were crossed out and replaced with a generic pledge to “pure Bible Christianity.” It was only later that God provided leaders who would guide the synod to the confessional Lutheran church that it is today.
As Lutherans we recognize that we hold on to the truth of God’s Word and defend the gospel against all foes. We do that, however, not merely to keep that Word for ourselves but in order to share that message with a world that desperately needs to hear it. Holding on to the Word can be pitted against sharing the Word. In reality, however, the two are inseparable. We treasure and defend the Word in order to have a pure message to share. Lutherans who know and appreciate the beauty of the gospel will immediately see the need to share that gospel. Lutherans are committed to preserving the Word and to sharing that Word.
Some have suggested that we not use the word Lutheran in our name because it has been misused by others and can be misunderstood. I believe the name Lutheran says much, as long as we are committed to explaining what it really means to be Lutheran.