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Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

1. This body is a consolidation of several separate and indep. Luth. syns.: Wisconsin,* Minnesota,* and Michigan.* Organically it has passed through 2 distinct stages of development, an earlier one in which the constituent syns. retained their individuality and indep., being assoc., with one another only in certain phases of their work, and the present one in which they have reconstituted themselves as one syn. with a number of dists. The first assoc., was formed 1892, the amalgamation took place 1917.

2. The Joint Ev. Luth. Syn. of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Other States (name changed to Ev. Luth. Joint Syn. of Wisconsin and Other States 1919; Wisconsin Ev. Luth. Syn. [WELS] 1959) was organized October 11, 1892, in Milwaukee. It united into one body the aforementioned neighboring syns. without destroying their identity, but provided for joint use of their several educ. institutions. Wisconsin was at that time replacing its old Milwaukee sem. with a new bldg. in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin This new theol. sem. now became the property of the Joint Syn., with G. A. T. F. Hönecke* as director. Minnesota's Dr. Martin Luth. Coll. at New Ulm, Minnesota, was converted into a teachers sem. under the directorship of J. Schaller.* Michigan's theol. sem. was supposed to be discontinued and reorganized as a prep. school (Progymnasium). Northwestern Coll., Watertown, Wisconsin (A. F. Ernst,* pres.), was relieved of its normal dept.. but provided the presem. course for the ministerial students of the entire body. Home missions were coordinated, but remained under the jurisdiction of the constituent syns. As a new venture the Joint Syn. undertook the evangelization of the Apache Indians of Arizona, first planned by Wisconsin alone. Wisconsin and Minnesota had both taken part in the founding of the Synodical* Conf., 1872. Michigan had joined 1890. Their doctrinal position and confessional declarations were those of the Syn. Conf. In 1904 the Nebraska Conf. of the Wisconsin Syn. was given the status of a Dist. Syn. (see also Nebraska, German Evangelical Lutheran District Synod of). In the meantime the Joint Syn. had suffered a loss. A majority of the congs. and pastors of the Michigan Syn. had not taken kindly to the thought of closing their theol. sem. Other internal difficulties led to a split within this body, and in 1896 the majority left not only the Joint Syn. but also the Syn. Conf. A minority remained with the Joint Syn. as one of its dists. Ten years later the two groups reconciled their differences, with the result that since 1909 Michigan resumed its old place as a member of the Joint Syn. and also the Syn. Conf. In the following year Michigan Luth. Sem. at Saginaw, which had been closed for some time. was reorganized under the leadership of O. J. R. Hönecke as a prep. school in the growing educ. system of the Joint Syn..

3. By this time the need for redistricting was becoming obvious. As a result a new const. was presented in 1915, approved by the several constituent syns. and dists. 1916, rev. 1917, finally accepted 1919, when the name Ev. Luth. Joint Syn. of Wisconsin and Other States was adopted. The complete amalgamation which this new const. provided was a fruit of the ever closer cooperation that had been practiced by the member syns. and the mutual understanding which grew out of their joint work. In the new body the old Wisconsin Syn. accounted for 4 dists.: Northern, Southeastern, and Western Wisconsin, and the Pacific Northwest Dist. (formerly a Wisconsin miss.). Minnesota was made into 2: Minnesota and Dak.-Montana; Michigan and Nebraska (see also Nebraska, German Evangelical Lutheran District Synod of) each represented one dist.. The Arizona-California Dist. was added 1954, and the South Atlantic Dist. 1973. The special needs of the Dak.-Montana Dist. were recognized by the founding in 1928 of Northwestern Luth. Academy at Mobridge, South Dakota In the following year the theol. sem. was transferred from Wauwatosa to a new set of bldgs. near Thiensville (Mequon), Wisconsin, its present location. The educ. institutions of the WELS now represent a well-integrated system: academies and prep. depts. (on the high school level) at Saginaw, Mobridge, New Ulm, and Watertown; a 2-yr. coll. at Milwaukee, a teachers coll. at New Ulm, and a full 4-year coll. at Watertown; a theol. sem. at Mequon.

During the middle 20s a serious controversy occurred which grew out of some cases of discipline. As a result, a considerable number of pastors and congs, severed their connection with the syn. to form The Protes'tant* Conf., Inc. In 1961 the syn. terminated fellowship with the LCMS, and in 1963 it withdrew from the Syn. Conf. Since ca. 1965 the syn. has experienced vigorous growth, with expansion into all parts of the US and to other countries. The syn. is noted for its strict orthodoxy and its repudiation of unionism.*

4. Presidents during the first phase of the synod's existence were A. F. Ernst,* 1892–1901; C. F. W. Gausewitz,* 1901–07 and 1913–17; F. Soll, 1907–13. Since the reorganization of 1917: G. E. Bergemann,* 1917–33; John Brenner, 1933–53; Oscar Naumann, 1953–. Statistics (1972): congregations 990; pastors serving parishes 787; baptized members 385,077; communicant members 278,442; contributions for home purposes $26,587,709, for work at large $8,204,693 (for statistics on educ. see Parish Education, D 9, E 10, G 1). Official publications include The Northwestern Lutheran (established by Joint Synod 1913); Wisconsin Theological Quarterly (established in 1903 as Theologische Quartalschrift). The syn. also owns and operates Northwestern Pub. House, Milwaukee. Charitable institutions include homes for the aged in Belle Plaine, Minnesota; Milwaukee and Fountain City, Wisconsin; and Holt, Saginaw, and South Lyon, Michigan ER

J. P. Köhler, Geschichte der Allgemeinen Evangelisch-Lutherischen Synode von Wisconsin und andern Staaten (Milwaukee, 1925), tr., rev., and updated by author, “The History of the Wisconsin Synod,” Faith-Life, XI, 2–XVII, L (February 1938–January 1944), ed. L. D. Jordahl and pub. in book form 1970; A. P. Sitz and G. A. Westerhaus, “Brief History of the Wisconsin Synod,” Northwestern Lutheran, May 5, 1940; Martin Lehninger, Continuing in His Word, 1951.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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