Doctrinal differences between LCMS & WELS: A concise comparison

What happened to the Arians in that trope by which they made Christ into a merely nominal God? What has happened in our own time to these new prophets regarding the words of Christ, “This is my body,” where one finds a trope in the pronoun “this,” another in the verb “is,” another in the noun “body”? What I have observed is this, that all heresies and errors in connection with the Scriptures have arisen, not from the simplicity of the words, as is almost universally stated, but from neglect of the simplicity of the words, and from tropes or inferences hatched out of men’s own heads.

—Martin Luther
Bondage of the Will, J. J. Pelikan, Oswald, H. C., Lehmann, H. T., ed.;
Luther’s Works, Vol. 33: Career of the Reformer III; Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1999, p. 163

Major differences between Missouri and Wisconsin

Doctrinal divisions between the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) include two long-standing differences in official statements:

Other possible differences are either more recent or less clear.

Church and ministry

For an example of what may be another long-standing difference between the two synods, many within the LCMS hold the WELS doctrine of doctrine of church and ministry to be in conflict with the position adopted by the LCMS. The differences between their interpretation and the WELS doctrine of church and ministry arise from different ways to understand a few passages of Scripture.

Acknowledgement: Much of the material of the posts on church and ministry arose from discussions with Daniel Gorman, Paul Jecklin, Rolf Preus, and David Jay Webber. The opinions expressed are my own.


As Luther observed, doctrinal divisions do not arise from ambiguity in Scripture but rather from insufficient regard for the passages that teach on the topics of controversy. Every article of the faith is directly derived from perfectly clear passages of Scripture. That is why the history of theology is only helpful to the extent that it points back to the word of God.

It does not follow that no preparation is needed. In evaluating doctrinal differences, prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, and the cross are essential.