WELS Q&A
Faith Related Q and A

» I am struggling with my two sisters with their lifestyles and decisions. One sister has chosen to marry a Muslim man. She told me she doesn't follow all of her husband's beliefs and she still likes to follow Christmas traditions and believes that Jesus existed but not the many things the Bible tells about his good works. My other sister commits many crimes, does not attend church but says she follows Jesus. I have tried many times to get my sisters to follow more of a Christian path, while I myself do not claim to be without sin and do not know how they feel in their heart about Jesus. Is it wrong for me to want to distance myself from them and also keep my two young children away from them so they do not see the lifestyles in which they lead ? Thank you.
You are rightly concerned about the influence your sisters’ examples might have on your children. Children can be very impressionable. But think of it this way: when your children do have contact with your sisters, you have an opportunity to talk to your children afterwards and correct any wrong ideas they might have heard or address any wrong actions they might have seen. It could also be the case that you have conversations with your children, preparing them for contact with your sisters. Contact of some kind with your sisters might help your children grow in Christian discernment and Christian witnessing. As far as you distancing yourself from your sisters, I always think of this: if Christians withdraw from people’s lives, who is going to be a positive Christian witness in their lives? Who will be a salt and a light (Matthew 5:13-16) to those people? Certainly, God can use the witness of other Christians for your sisters, but your witness is already one that is present in your sisters’ lives. You will prayerfully determine how best to safeguard your children and show love to your sisters. God bless you and your family—your immediate and extended families.

» This past Sunday our pastor denied Communion to the president of our congregation. The only reason given was that until differences between the pastor and the president are resolved, he is not allowed to attend Holy Communion. For now, my question is this, does WELS support this pastor's decision in using Lord's Supper as a threat to gain his own way (the pastor's) or be denied God's Holy Sacraments that promise us forgiveness, life, and salvation? Ever?
Seminary students preparing for service in our church body as pastors learn this in The Shepherd Under Christ: a Textbook for Pastoral Theology – “Neither the church nor its pastor has the ability or the right to examine and judge hearts. The pastor will accept the confession of the mouth and dare not judge a person to be impenitent on the basis of feelings the pastor has about that person’s sincerity. But when impenitence has become outwardly evident, the pastor must avoid becoming a partaker of another’s sin by knowingly giving communion to the openly impenitent (1 Tm 5:22). Withholding communion is then a forceful preaching of the law to call the sinner to repentance. Likewise such withholding will avoid public offense which could result from giving communion to one whose sin is public and whose impenitence is evident” (p. 81). “Suspension from Communion” is a course of action, in keeping with Matthew 18, that is available for a pastor as he works with an impenitent church member. Any disciplinary action by a pastor is not to be for personal advantage but to try to lead an impenitent sinner to repentance. The motive of church discipline is always to be that of love and concern for impenitent sinners.

» When do people who die enter heaven: when the soul leaves the body or at the "pearly gates"?
The Bible tells us that judgment takes place at a person’s death (Hebrews 9:27). At death, the body and soul separate. At death, the soul of a Christian enters the presence of God in heaven. That is why Jesus could assure the penitent thief that he would be with him in heaven that very day (Luke 23:43). The “pearly gates” is a reference to Revelation 21:21. The imagery there is of the lavish love of God as seen in the new heaven and the new earth. The language is symbolic and not meant to be taken literally.

» Did Old Testament people go to heaven when they died?
Another questioner asked a similar question very recently. Here are excerpts from that answer: The Bible teaches that, upon life’s end, Old Testament believers went to the presence of God in heaven. Rather than using those precise words—that Old Testament believers went to heaven—the Bible often stated that a person like Abraham “was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8). Still, it is very clear what happened to Old Testament believers like Abraham when they died. The writer to the Hebrews included Abraham when he wrote: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them “ (Hebrews 11:13-16). The Bible does speak of a believer going to heaven when it comes to Elijah and his fiery exit from this world: “When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal… As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:1, 11).

» Are people who don't believe in the real presence in Communion condemned to hell? It is hard for me to believe that my very devout daughter-in-law who is Methodist is going to hell because the church that she is a member of doesn't believe in the real presence. I have always felt that it is your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior that is your way to heaven.
The King James Version translated 1 Corinthians 11:29 this way: “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” “Damnation” was the translation of a Greek word that can mean “judgment” or “condemnation,” depending on the context. The “condemnation” can also be eternal, if the context speaks of God sentencing people to hell. The context of 1 Corinthians 11:29 does not speak of eternal consequences, so the “damnation” of the King James Version spoke too strongly and led to confusion over the years. It is certainly wrong and sinful when people “eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ,” but it is not a sin that automatically and instantly condemns people to hell. People who “eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ” can bring judgment or condemnation of another kind into their lives. 1 Corinthians 11:30 lists some temporal judgments of God that the Christians in Corinth brought on themselves by “eating and drinking without discerning the body of Christ.” The Bible teaches that Jesus’ body and blood are present in, with and under the bread and wine in Holy Communion. The earthly elements do not symbolize Jesus’ body and blood. The earthly elements do not turn into Jesus’ body and blood, so that the earthly elements disappear. No matter what the subject matter might be, it is sinful to change or deny what God says in his word. Any sin is serious and needs our attention by way of confessing sins to God and then receiving his forgiveness in faith. As you noted, faith in Jesus Christ saves (Mark 16:16). Only Jesus is Savior (John 14:6).

» My husband is Catholic and is under the impression that any believer that died before Jesus was waiting in a "holding place" until Jesus rose. Can you give some insight in what WELS teaches regarding Old Testament believers and if they truly did go straight to heaven.
The Bible does not teach a “limbus patrum,” a place where Old Testament believers supposedly went upon death and were then released when Jesus descended into hell. The Bible teaches that, upon life’s end, Old Testament believers went to the presence of God in heaven. Rather than using those precise words—that Old Testament believers went to heaven—the Bible often stated that a person like Abraham “was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8). Still, it is very clear what happened to Old Testament believers like Abraham when they died. The writer to the Hebrews included Abraham when he wrote: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them “ (Hebrews 11:13-16). The Bible does speak of a believer going to heaven when it comes to Elijah and his fiery exit from this world: “When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal… As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:1, 11). Old Testament and New Testament believers form that group the apostle John saw in one of the visions God gave him (Revelation 7:1-8). Whether they lived before or after the life and ministry of Jesus Christ the Messiah, the death of believers places their souls immediately in the presence of God in heaven.

» I have been doing a lot of research on the topic of veganism and have tried multiple times to come up with a more concrete answer. What I am wondering is if this type of diet is okay for me to consume on a daily basis. Would this type of diet be sinning against God and what he had intended for me to eat?
You will want a health care provider to answer your questions about any diet’s impact on your physical health. When it comes to the spiritual side of you question, Romans 14:1-8 makes it clear that dietary preferences lie in the realm of Christian freedom. The only sin that could be involved is if a person were to act against his or her conscience (Romans 14:23).

» I'm wondering what God thinks about abortion. Could you tell us what the 2011NIV says about that in Numbers 5: 21-31, as it's a highly recommended Bible and supported and sold by Northwestern Publishing House?
Numbers 5:21-25 does not in any way sanction abortion. The verses speak of a practice the Israelites could have used in the case of suspected unfaithfulness in marriage. The practice put the determination of guilt or innocence in the hands of the Lord. If the verdict was “guilty,” then there were physical consequences for the woman. Translators have rendered the Hebrew for those consequences in different ways. In the case of the NIV, the content of the footnotes of Numbers 5:22-23 (NIV84) became the text for Numbers 5:22-23 in NIV2011. The meaning appears to be that the consequences of unfaithfulness affected the part of the body involved in both adultery and fertility. In no way does that section of the Bible authorize or permit abortion. The verses speak of a practice for Old Testament Israel that addressed suspected unfaithfulness. If there were adverse physical consequences for the woman, it was the result of God rendering a “guilty” verdict in the matter.

» How long should a pastor stay in one place? Would 18+ years be considered lengthy? Our sermons are repetitive and our spirituality is stale.
There is no set time or recommended time for a called worker’s length of service in a particular congregation. Studies and surveys that I found indicated that 18 years of service in a congregation is longer than the average. It goes without saying that there can be blessings and challenges for a pastor to serve many years in the same congregation. Some of the positives are that the pastor knows the membership well, he can become a trusted friend on whom members rely, and he provides steady leadership when there might be regular changes in lay leadership. Some of the challenges are that the pastor can be tempted to become complacent and lax in carrying out the duties and privileges of his call, he might think of the congregation as “my church,” and congregational members might prove the adage that “familiarity breeds contempt.” “How long should a pastor stay in one place?” Because of the doctrine of the call and the practice we have in our church body, pastors are not able to answer that question on their own. What I mean is that some pastors might be serving for many years in the same congregation because they have not, for many different reasons, received a call that would have them think of serving elsewhere. Or, perhaps they did receive a call to serve elsewhere and they declined the call after prayerful deliberation. A change in ministry can be good for the called worker and the congregations involved when there are good reasons for that change, but change for the sake of change is ill-advised. The person who would benefit from comments about sermons is the pastor who preaches them. I encourage you to share your thoughts, comments and concerns with your pastor. And, remember him in your prayers.

» What is objective justification?
Let me pass along a few paragraphs from This We Believe, a statement of belief of our church body, that answer your question. “4. We believe that God reconciled “the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). We believe that Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The mercy and grace of God are all-embracing; the reconciliation through Christ is universal; the forgiveness of sins has been gained as an accomplished fact for all people. Because of the substitutionary work of Christ, God has justified all people, that is, God has declared them to be not guilty. This forms the firm, objective basis for the sinner’s assurance of salvation.” [from III. Christ and Redemption] “1. We believe that God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ. This is the central message of Scripture upon which the very existence of the church depends. It is a message relevant to people of all times and places, of all races and social levels, for “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18). All need forgiveness of sins before God, and Scripture proclaims that all have been justified, for “the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Romans 5:18). “2. We believe that individuals receive this free gift of forgiveness not on the basis of their own works, but only through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). Justifying faith is trust in Christ and his redemptive work. This faith justifies not because of any power it has in itself, but only because of the salvation prepared by God in Christ, which it embraces (Romans 3:28; 4:5). On the other hand, although Jesus died for all, Scripture says that “whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Unbelievers forfeit the forgiveness won for them by Christ (John 8:24).” [from IV. Justification by Grace through Faith]

WELS Q&A are topics that are submitted to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod website.  The articles here are an automatic feed from the wels.net Q&A website.  Even though we may not have generated this contect, we are in fellowship with the WELS and generally subscribe to the beliefs of the breatheryn in the synod generating these answers.

Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ Romans 5:1