WELS Q&A
Faith Related Q and A

» Are there levels of heaven?
Allow me to pass along excerpts of an article I worked up a few years ago for Forward in Christ. The article addressed your question. “Your question provides the opportunity to marvel at the gracious love of God Christians enjoy in equal measure and in unique ways. “…Our works do not contribute in any way to our salvation (Titus 3:5,6). The salvation we enjoy is God’s doing. “More than that, the salvation you and I enjoy is what all Christians possess. The book of Revelation illustrates that well. In one vision, the apostle John describes Christians who had been killed for their faith being given ‘a white robe’ (6:11). The garment represents the robe of righteousness Jesus won and which people “wear” through faith in him. Each of those martyrs received a white robe. Some did not receive half a robe; others, two robes. All enjoyed salvation equally. Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) also teaches that God’s children equally enjoy his salvation. “While all Christians enjoy the same gift of salvation, Scripture speaks of God customizing his gracious blessings. “Rather than speaking of levels of heaven (as the Mormons do), we understand Bible passages like Daniel 12:3; Matthew 25:23,28,29; Luke 19:17,19; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 9:6; and Revelation 14:13 to address the subject of ‘degrees of glory.’ That expression describes the individual blessings God will graciously bestow on his followers in connection with their faithful earthly lives. We will have to wait to see what that specifically means. “What it means now is that we do not serve the Lord with the idea of getting something from him in the future…Such an attitude can easily plague Christians. “I once had a number of conversations with a person who was interested in joining the church I served. The person’s profession of faith and our church’s statement of belief matched until she brought up ‘once saved, always saved.’ In spite of citing Bible passages that speak of people falling from faith (for example, Matthew 13:20,21; 1 Timothy 1:19), she regarded apostasy as an impossibility. Hypothetically conceding to her position, I asked what reason she had to attend worship services in church. Her answer made everything clear: ‘To get more jewels in my crown.’ “Now I got it. Her stated motive for doing God’s will was to get something in return. That is an attitude we need to reject. Any way that God chooses to bless our Spirit-driven lives of love (Philippians 2:13) is grace. Pure grace.”

» Hello! Did Luther and the creators of the Formula of Concord believe that salvation can be lost? If yes, what are the proofs that show that Luther and the creators of the Formula of Concord believed that salvation can be lost? If not, what are the proofs that show that Luther and the creators of the Formula of Concord did not believe that salvation can be lost?
The Formula of Concord was written a generation after Martin Luther died. It does teach that people can lose salvation by falling away from the Christian faith. You will find references to that in the Formula of Concord. Epitome. IV. Of Good Works (Page 801 in the Concordia Triglotta) and the Formula of Concord. Thorough Declaration. IV. Of Good Works (Page 947 in the Concordia Triglotta). Martin Luther taught from Scripture that salvation can be lost. Here is a sampling of his words: “When the Gospel begins to assert its influence, everybody wants to become a Christian. All seems well, and everybody is pleased. But when a wind or rainstorm of temptation comes on, people fall away in droves.” “The Evangelist John has put this down [the account in John 6:59-60 of many followers of the Lord stumbling over his teachings] for our comfort that it may serve us as an illustration and we may know that if the Gospel runs its true course in the world, even those fall away from it of whom one had not expected it and who ought to do their best for it. The fact that Christ acts so weakly in His ministry towards His own that one falls away here and another there has dealt me many a blow, as, on the other hand, has the fact that the devil develops such great strength and opposes the Gospel with all his might so that the best people in the world persecute it and among us also the best fall away from it completely.” [What Luther Says, Volume I, pages 37-38] Because Christian faith is under attack, Luther offered this prayer in a hymn: “Defend your truth, O God, and stay This evil generation, And from the error of its way Keep your own congregation. The wicked ev’rywhere abound And would your little flock confound, But you are our salvation!” (Christian Worship 205:4)

» Can you define “free will” from a Lutheran standpoint and everything that it entails? Do we have free will truly? And could you give some back up to the idea that it’s the Holy Spirit’s work in us and not our choice to follow God?
Ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, people’s free will is limited to making decisions about their earthly lives. So, people decide what vocation they might undertake in life, where they will live—things like that. After the fall into sin, people by nature can choose only evil in the spiritual realm; they cannot choose to establish a relationship with God. The Bible explains: “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). “Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). Because of natural sin and unbelief, people are God’s enemies; they want to do only that which displeases God. Now as a child of God, my free will is much different than before my conversion. Now my new self wants to use the means of grace to strengthen my faith; now I want to follow God’s law as a tangible way of showing my thankfulness to him for my salvation in Jesus his Son. However, even when I, as a child of God, want to do those things in life that are good and godly, I recognize that it is God working in me: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). The Bible makes it very clear that faith is the Holy Spirit’s work and not ours. What Jesus first said to his disciples applies to all Christians: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16) 1 Corinthians 12:3 states that it is only because of the Holy Spirit’s work that people are able to confess Jesus Christ as their Savior. Ephesians 2:8 speaks of faith as “the gift of God.” Philippians 1:29 describes how people are on the receiving end of God’s gift of faith: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him…” Colossians 2:12 describes faith as “the working of God.” How thankful we are that the Holy Spirit did what we cannot do. Through the gospel (Romans 10:17), the Holy Spirit connects us to Jesus Christ in saving faith so that we enjoy all the blessings he won by his holy life and sacrificial death.

» My father was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to me. I was the scapegoat and my brother the golden child. Yet, my father faithfully attended Lutheran church, tithed, and volunteered at church to assist the sick/elderly etc. I finally cut off contact 25 years ago to stop the abuse. I basically had no feelings one way or the other toward him, mainly just disappointment. If something had happened to my brother, I would have always done right by my father and helped him with medical care, etc. if necessary because that is the type of person I am. Now he has died and I found out that, in a trust and will he made years before my cutting off contact, he has left everything to my brother, even any and all personal household items. It seems as if his lifetime of abuse and rejection of me is complete. Given this, I wonder if such a person is now in heaven? I know no one is perfect and that one can repent at the last minute etc., but I am truly tormented by this situation.
There is no question your experiences have been very challenging. It was saddening to read about them. Thanks be to God that he remains your refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1) even in the most difficult situations in life. God alone, of course, knows the answer to your question. You understand correctly that God, through his word, can change hearts—even as this life is coming to a close. When there is saving faith, even the weakest of faith, in the heart at death, there is the enjoyment of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. If unbelief fills the heart at death, there is an eternity of separation from God in hell. Your self-acknowledged attitudes toward your father have gone from disappointment to being tormented. Anger would not be an unusual attitude for a person in your situation; appealing to God’s justice would not be a rare request. In responding to your question (“I wonder if such a person is now in heaven?”), I also have to bring in the subjects of God’s love and repentant sinners. Again, only God knows what judgment your father faced at his death. While I do not in any way want to be insensitive to the pain you have endured, I do have to ask this: Wouldn’t it be a reason to praise God if your father died in repentance and saving faith rather than dying in impenitence and unbelief, and spending eternity in hell? Because of his sins, your father certainly deserved punishment from a holy God, but it is a gracious God who “does not treat us as our sins deserve” (Psalm 103:10). And it is a gracious God who works repentance and saving faith in the heart to enjoy the forgiveness of sins Jesus won by his holy life and sacrificial death. I write this in response to your question about the possibility of your father being in heaven. What I cannot do in a few paragraphs is help you resolve these matters. You would really benefit by speaking with your pastor or another trusted Christian counselor. A face-to-face setting like that would enable you to pour out your heart, ask more questions and then receive more complete guidance from God’s word. I encourage you to initiate that conversation. God bless you.

» Is it wrong to want evil people to suffer in hell? After reading about some extremely horrific sexual atrocities committed against children by Nazis during the Holocaust, I feel so much disgust that I can’t imagine justice for the victims if the souls of the perpetrators are not in hell. I thought I read somewhere in the Bible a passage regarding angels and others rejoicing while seeing sinners in hell, but I’m not sure where it is. Does the feeling of wanting the most evil among us who hurt, abuse, and murder children to suffer in hell make me a bad person and not a Christian?
God’s will is that people enjoy forgiveness of sins and eternal life through repentance and faith in his Son, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God’s will is also that those who reject him receive the punishment they deserve (Mark 16:16). Children of God understand that difference between the law and the gospel when they seek to spread the message of God’s love (John 3:16) to all people (Matthew 28:19-20) and when they ask that God punish evildoers (Psalm 35; Revelation 6:10). Martin Luther made this observation: “Therefore no one can pray the Lord’s Prayer correctly without cursing. For when he prays: ‘Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,’ he must put all the opposition to this on one pile and say: ‘Curses, maledictions, and disgrace upon every other name and every other kingdom! May they be ruined and torn apart, and may all their schemes and wisdom and plans run aground.’” (Luther’s Works, Volume 21, Page 101) When Christians align their will with God’s in asking that evildoers be punished, they want to avoid any personal animosity on their part that might jeopardize their own forgiveness from God (Matthew 6:15; Ephesians 4:31). Christians want to let God be the Judge of people’s hearts. As Christians, we recognize that this earthly life is a person’s only time to be brought to repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 6:2). That is why we do what we can to spread the gospel and support the spread of the gospel. Finally, it is God’s will and ours that those who ultimately reject God receive justice from God and not love. I am wondering if the Bible passage you have in mind is this: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Imagine the angels’ ongoing joy!

» As we are reading through Leviticus, why do you think God wanted us to learn about all of their laws at that time? I always have a hard time going through that part of the Bible.
I can imagine that you speak for many Christians, so thank you for your question. My sainted uncle wrote a Bible study book on Leviticus titled Shadows of Christ. He wrote this in the Preface: “Why should we study the Book of Leviticus? To many, a study of this book will appear but remotely profitable. On the surface it may appear as valuable as walking through a veil into a room of archaic objects—just vestiges of a former age and a form of worship that has completed its usefulness. Leviticus, as properly and commonly understood, is the Law of ceremonies and rites for the Church in the Old Testament. Yet, if we examine the book carefully, we can see that Leviticus has the story of man’s salvation to tell in its own way. “If we can appreciate that the ancient Egyptians expressed themselves admirably through hieroglyphics, then we will also appreciate the fact that the Lord in His own way can communicate and foretell the world’s redemption in picture form, or through Old Testament ceremonies. St. Paul, it is true, calls the ceremonies and the calendar of ancient Israel ‘shadows,’ but he never said: ‘Don’t investigate them.’ We are going to visit the old rooms of the Tabernacle (Temple) and brush away the dust. When we study these vestiges of a former age, we discover that the shadows lead to Christ. They present an amazingly precise account of salvation through faith in Christ the Crucified.” The Foreword to Connecting Sinai to Calvary highlights the importance of Leviticus with these words: “In years past, Leviticus was the first Bible book read by children in a Jewish family. Unfortunately, Leviticus is the last book most Christians read. At what cost? They won’t be able to understand as well as they ought the comparisons between the Old Testament priest and Christ, our great High Priest…They are likely to miss all the New Testament connections to the ceremony the people of Israel witnessed each year on the great Day of Atonement. That day’s high point occurred when the high priest stepped out of the sanctuary, hands red from having been dipped into a container of animal blood—at least 28 times. In plain view of all the worshipers, he wiped those bloody hands on the head of a goat, which was then led out into the desert to die. Leviticus chapter 16 gives us this graphic portrayal of Christ as the sin bearer. To overlook such details surely detracts from one’s understanding of how God forgives sin.” You and other Bible readers would also benefit by supplementing your reading of Leviticus with The People’s Bible commentary for Leviticus. I hope these thoughts provide encouragement for reading Leviticus.

» I know that when you go to heaven you are no longer married. However, once you are in heaven, does that mean that you will no longer have the desire for a relationship with someone that you might have had feelings for while on earth?
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 describes Jesus returning visibly to this world with those who died in the faith and then gathering them together with his followers who are alive on the earth. From that moment on, Christians “will be with the Lord forever” (verse 17). Other parts of Scripture provide general information about the unending life we will share with God and other Christians, but specifics are lacking. What can be said with certainty is that in eternity our love for others will be perfect and God will be the object of our greatest love (as is to be the case now, according to the First Commandment). We will enjoy perfect relationships with one another. We will not fully comprehend what this amounts to until the Lord gathers the Church to himself. Anticipating these relationships is another reason why the Church responds to Jesus’ declaration that he is “coming soon” with “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)

» Thank you for the great answer given earlier on this site to a person wondering about whether or not they could use marijuana in a God-pleasing way. However, in addition to the encouragement of being sober-minded, couldn’t we also speak strongly against getting high as being a sin also? By getting high I mean purposely taking marijuana with high doses of THC with the intent of getting high, in the same way a person drinks to excess to get drunk? Let’s face it, many take the drug for that reason. Thank you for considering this added element of the question for me.
There are two questions on the website that address the use of marijuana, so I am not sure which question and answer you are specifically addressing with your comments and question. Both responses warn against actions that dull a person’s senses and lead to loss of self-control. As we can see sin in those actions, your “added element” is certainly an appropriate emphasis to the previously-posted questions and answers. Thank you for passing that along.

» If I see that my pastor is negligent in his duties every day of the week besides Sunday (always letting phone calls go to his voicemail, not calling/visiting shut-ins monthly, not having hymns and texts chosen well in advance of the service, not reviewing forms given to him to complete, not showing up for church cleaning or decorating days), do I have the right to tell him he ought to do more for our congregation? I am a single woman, and our elders and congregation president are hesitant to discuss this problem with him. I’ve prayed for him to change, but nothing has changed.
Certainly, if you have concerns about your pastor’s ministry, do speak to him. Such a conversation will enable you to pass along your observations and receive your pastor’s explanations. If conversations like this with your pastor do not bring about resolution, then there is opportunity to speak to church leaders such as the ones you mentioned. They would then need to speak to your pastor. Because your concerns appear to be about faithfulness, let me pass along these thoughts. While God has high standards and requirements for those who would serve him in the public ministry (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9), faithfulness is all-important (1 Corinthians 4:2). Pastors are to be faithful in their ministries and faithful in all areas of life—including their personal and family life. Congregations help their pastors when they encourage their pastors to be faithful and assist them in growing in their faithfulness. One way of providing encouragement and assistance is through a “care committee for called workers.” I do not know if your congregation has such a committee. If you want more information, you and your congregation’s leaders can find resources here. A care committee for called workers provides a forum for regular communication between called workers and congregational representatives so that concerns such as the ones you listed can be addressed and resolved. Continue praying for your pastor. One of our hymns contains a nice prayer for pastors and congregations. “Keep pastors faithful, strong, and true, Not working for themselves but you. Endow them with the grace they need, The lambs to serve, the sheep to feed, The precious flock to lead and guide—The Shepherd thus is glorified. May all your people faithful be And treat your pastors rev’rently And with them work and for them pray, Rememb’ring what the Scriptures say: Receive the prophet of the Lord and gain the prophet’s own reward.” (Christian Worship 548:2-3) God’s blessings to you and your congregation.

» What is the role of women in church, and why can't women be pastors?
Your questions require more extensive responses than can be provided through this question and answer service. The Synod’s website contains good information that would be helpful for you to read. One of those resources is a doctrinal statement on Man and Woman Roles. Another is Male and Female in God’s World. God bless your reading.

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