When you think of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), no doubt you think of it in terms of 350,000 people in the United States and Canada united by a common faith and a common mission. Perhaps you also include the Lutheran Christians served by WELS foreign missionaries in other countries. But the fellowship we enjoy goes much further. Several dozen Lutheran church bodies around the world are a part of our precious fellowship, which comprises Lutheran Christians who share our beliefs, teachings, and mission.
Those church bodies are part of an organization called the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). The worldwide fellowship of Lutheran church bodies is committed to the Scriptures and to the teachings of the Lutheran church found in the Book of Concord of 1580. Established in 1993 with 13 churches, the CELC has grown by God’s grace to include 34 church bodies today.
Every three years, representatives from CELC churches gather for fellowship and theological study; regional meetings are held the other years. Two regional conventions were held in the past year. In May 2022, a European regional convention was held in Durres, Albania. In January 2023, an African regional convention was held in Lusaka, Zambia.
This June, the CELC will meet for its triennial convention in Seoul, South Korea, hosted by Seoul Lutheran Church. The convention will feature presentations on various doctrinal, historical, and practical ministry topics. Almost all CELC member church bodies will be sending representatives.
The churches in fellowship with WELS have a variety of origins. Some were former WELS missions that have grown and matured into independent and self-governing church bodies. Some, like the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, have been in fellowship with WELS for a century. Others are independent national church bodies that entered our fellowship after leaving other Lutheran churches that had become theologically liberal. Regardless of origin or history, these churches have all joined together as members of the CELC, united in fellowship through a common confession of faith and unity in doctrine.
What are the benefits of having an organization like the CELC? First, it is a good reminder that our fellowship with like-minded Lutherans is not limited to our own church body. It’s gratifying to know that the gospel knows no borders and God is working to build his church in countries around the world. Second, the organization provides mutual strengthening and encouragement for member churches, many of which face struggles and difficulties because of culture, isolation, and scarce resources. It also serves to solidify our common doctrinal beliefs and our confessional unity through theological and doctrinal discussion. Finally, the CELC has a commission to help coordinate and improve theological training in CELC churches.
When it comes to our spiritual brothers and sisters around the world, it’s fitting for us to join with the apostle Paul in declaring, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6).
Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 110, Number 5
Issue: May 2023
- Our worldwide fellowship - 2023/04/30
- Seize the opportunities - 2023/03/31
- The Lord takes care of his church - 2023/02/27