Lutherans/ECLA and WELS


I was just wondering what are the main differences between the ECLA and the WELS? I know that ECLA is more accepting of other religions than WELS, and that the ECLA looks at scripture in a historical sense, but are there any other key differences? And were these two religions once under the same religion but then split for some reason? Thanks


Thank you for your question.

The WELS and ELCA denominations of Lutherans were never actually together, but came from different immigrant stock in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Probably no other denomination is so impacted by their previous immigrant experience as are Lutherans.  We came over from at least six different expressions of European/Scandinavian State Churches.  The ELCA is a formation of a variety of Scandinavian churches: Swedish, Norwegian, Danish (two different branches), plus one German one (southern German Lutherans).  Missouri and Wisconsin's roots are in northern Germany, mostly Upper Saxony and Prussia. Once they all got here in the 18th-19th cent., they pretty much stayed to their own.  Only later in the 1960's did significant mergers begin, with a final one creating the ELCA in 1987. The ELCA tends to be more moderate to liberal theologically and is far more tolerant of a diversity of opinions among it's members.  We are open to a historical-critical interpretation of the bible, looking at how it was view in the era it was written.  We are not literalistic. We would often see the story of Creation as a "truth story" that tells us WHO created the heavens and the earth, but not necessarily a literal 6-day creation. We accept women as pastors and leaders within the church, and are often more LGBT friendly, although this depends on the congregation.  We are a "big tent" sort of denomination and seek different opinions among our members.

The Missouri and Wisconsin denominations never merged with anyone else.  They remain much more conservative theologically (strict literalistic interpretation of the Bible and no women pastors, for instance) and far less tolerant of contrary opinions to the official ones.
WELS is the most conservative, so much so that they do not pray with other Christians.  This is out of of a concern for remaining orthodox and pure. They would see the ELCA as far too liberal in how we see both the Bible and Lutheran theology.  They see that by maintaining a pure, orthodox faith, they are being caretakers of good stewards of the faith that has been committed to them.

I hope that this is helpful.



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Martin W. Eldred


I have been a Lutheran Christian for 56 years and a Lutheran pastor for almost 28. I can answer most general questions about Luther, Lutheran History, Lutheran Theology, and a Lutheran approach to Biblical Interpretation. I am ELCA, for those who know what that means, and I tend to be moderate theologically. I hope that I can converse with those that are either more conservative or liberal than I, and especially with those who are really just seeking.


Pastors are "generalists" and generally have a working knowledge on many subjects. We are also used to working with a variety of answers from a variety of people. I teach a great deal, especially in the area of the New Testament. I particularly enjoy the Pauline literature. I have a PhD in New Testament and my dissertation was on II Corinthians.

I have been a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, an international gathering of biblical scholars and teachers, since the late 1980s.

I have written a few book reviews for the journal, "Lutheran Quarterly."

I have a B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University in Religion (Biblical Studies)and a Master of Divinity from Wartburg Theological Seminary. I also have PhD in New Testament.

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