WELS Q&A
Faith Related Q and A

» My WELS church announced they were providing ashes for those who wanted it. Is this a synod suggestion for all WELS churches, or is it being suggested for individual churches who want it?
I am thinking your question addresses the imposition of ashes for worshipers during Ash Wednesday worship services. With that understanding, let me say that the practice is entirely optional for congregations of our synod. WELS Commission on Worship does provide resources for congregations who utilize that practice or are considering it. This link will take you to the WELS Resource Center and an “Explanation of the Imposition of Ashes.”

» How does WELS feel about Compass International? Differences, similarities? Thanks.
The organization describes itself as “an evangelical…non-denominational ministry.” That brief description is enough to alert people of doctrinal concerns. Their website explains that the organization teaches the rapture, a literal seven-year period of tribulation, a literal 1,000-year reign of Jesus in Jerusalem and “once saved, always saved.” There was no mention of the sacraments. Being a non-denominational ministry, one would expect them to speak of “ordinances” instead of sacraments. They state: “We always defend what we write from a dispensational, pre-tribulational, and pre-millennial position.” Romans 16:17 applies to this organization.

» I was raised in the CLC and later, in my thirties, started attending WELS congregations. For many of those years I never fully believed the Lutheran teaching on the real presence. The Bible did not convince me that it was the proper understanding. I left the Lutheran church several years ago, however, I'm not afraid of being wrong and changing my position if the Scriptures show me that I'm wrong. My question: I was told as a Lutheran that the simple words of Christ himself, "This is my body, this is my blood" is sufficient proof to support the teaching of the real presence. However, in John 6 Christ talks about himself and of eating his body and drinking his blood. Yet in "The People's Bible" the author says that this language was to be understood figuratively, not literally. I am in agreement with the author and think that it would be supportive of my understanding of the Lord's Supper if Christ's words in Matt. 26:26 were not taken literally. So the question becomes: Why is Matt. 26:26 taken literally and John 6:53 figuratively?
Recognizing and understanding context is so critical to accurate biblical interpretation. Consider the context of John 6:53. Going back to John 6:25, we see that that John is describing what happened after Jesus miraculously fed thousands with just five loaves of bread and two small fish. In his conversation with the crowds who were looking for more “miracle food” (John 6:26), Jesus shifted his language from literal to figurative. He spoke of the “bread of God” (John 6:33), and he identified himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48, 51). Jesus spoke of the importance of believing in him (John 6:35, 40, 47). In John 6:51 Jesus describes faith in him as eating “the living bread that came down from heaven.” In that same verse Jesus shifted the metaphor from bread to “my flesh,” and in verse 53 he describes believing in him as eating “the flesh of the Son of Man and drink[ing] my blood” – “consuming” him in faith. (Also of interest at this point is the fact that Jesus spoke of his “flesh” and not his “body,” as he would in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The original Greek has two different words for “flesh” and “body.”) The context of John 6 clearly shows the figurative language Jesus was using to describe the importance of believing in him. In addition, we need to keep in mind the historical context: at the time of John 6 Jesus had not yet instituted the Lord’s Supper. When we look at the context of Matthew 26:26, we recognize a narrative in which Jesus is not using figurative language; his words were meant to be taken literally. There was nothing symbolic or figurative when Jesus took bread and wine and said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” In short, we derive accurate and intended meaning of Scripture when we pay attention to the context.

» Is Holy Communion symbolic?
If you are asking if the earthly elements, the bread and wine, symbolize or represent Jesus’ body and blood, the answer is “no.” The Bible teaches that Jesus’ body and blood are in, with and under the bread and wine when people receive the sacrament (Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:27).

» Can a non-Lutheran guest, who regularly attends a Presbyterian church, receive Communion at a WELS church?
The guest would be welcome to attend the worship service but not receive the Lord’s Supper. The reason for that is people express their closeness in faith and oneness with one another when they receive the sacrament together (1 Corinthians 10:17). If people who are not united in the faith were to receive the sacrament together, there would be a false picture of unity. Presbyterians and Lutherans have entirely different beliefs about the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the sacrament. The Bible explains how serious it is to deny the real presence of the Lord’s body and blood (1 Corinthians 11:29). If the guest were to receive the sacrament in one of our churches, he would be confessing by his actions that he believed in the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood. Is that the confession he wants to make? If it is, there is a way for him to receive instruction in the Bible, join one of our congregations and then receive the sacrament—along with other Christians who are making the same confession of faith. Pastors of our congregations stand ready to explain all this to guests and to provide opportunities for instruction in God’s word.

» I grew up WELS and am still a member of a WELS church. My boyfriend attends an EFCA church. We have had discussions on the differences in what we believe, and the largest areas we struggle with are Baptism and Communion. He believes that they are only symbols and not means of grace. I have been struggling with how we differ in these views. In another question (difference between WELS and EFCA), it was mentioned that "doctrinal errors—any errors—are serious and potentially destructive of saving faith." Would this be able to be further explained? Does that mean that believing in one way means you do not go to heaven? Also, as my boyfriend and I continue these discussions, are there any devotions that would assist us as we dive further into these topics? Thank you for your assistance.
Your boyfriend is accurately representing his church. The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) teaches: “The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer.” What his church is not doing is accurately representing the Lord. The Bible teaches that God offers and gives forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Matthew 26:28). The EFCA also teaches “the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus explained to Pontius Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). From its Statement of Faith one can also observe that the EFCA embraces ecumenism, and confuses the invisible church and visible churches. “Doctrinal errors—any errors—are serious and potentially destructive of saving faith (Galatians 5:9)” is how one response to a question similar to yours ended. What that sentence means is that it is always dangerous to deny what the Bible teaches. Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). He did not qualify the truthfulness of God’s word by saying that some of it or most of it is true; he said all of it is true. In addition, God warns people not to change his word (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19). When the Bible states that “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9), it means that one false doctrine can lead to others. Left unchecked, false doctrine in one area of the Bible can ultimately lead to false doctrine regarding Jesus Christ and salvation. That is why any false doctrine is important. What could be a good Bible study for you and your boyfriend is going through your respective churches’ statements of faith. His is online. Yours is as well. This link will take you to This We Believe, a statement of belief of WELS. You will find many Bible passages in This We Believe that provide biblical support for what we believe. I encourage you both to look up those passages and discuss them. See what God says for himself in his word. God bless your study of his word!

» Is theater-going sinful? A Methodist is telling me that theater-going is sinful.
It depends what movies are playing. There is plenty of objectionable content in movies today: sex outside marriage, violence, abusive behavior—just to name a few. We do well to keep our distance from such “entertainment.” Scripture clearly teaches that sinful thoughts are every much deserving of God’s condemnation as sinful words and actions (Matthew 5:21-22, 28; 1 John 3:15). Because what we read and watch and listen to affects us, there is good reason to implement this biblical instruction: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Condemning and banning all theater-going puts all movies into the same category. That is not an accurate assessment and is an attack on Christian freedom.

» What is the Book of Jubilees? Thank you.
The Book of Jubilees belongs to a group of writings called pseudepigrapha. Those writings were never seriously considered to be part of the canon. The Book of Jubilees purports to cover historical events from creation to the Exodus in Moses’ time.

» What is Baptism, and what does it do?
Martin Luther asked and answered that question in his Small Catechism. “What does Baptism do for us? Baptism works forgiveness of sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. What are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’” Other Bible passages that answer your question are Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:26-27; Titus 3:5-7; and, 1 Peter 3:20-21.

» Can some funds in a cemetery endowment fund be used to replace cemetery markers, repair cracked gravestones, or be used for special projects? Or, are the funds in a cemetery endowment fund untouchable?
Ideally, your congregation has spelled this out in the “purpose” section of the endowment fund. Or, perhaps the bylaws for your congregation or its cemetery designate how the proceeds can be spent. These are details that are going to vary from congregation to congregation. A good resource for your congregation is the Congregational Planned Giving Manual available from the WELS Resource Center. A section of the manual addresses “how to establish and administer an endowment fund.”

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