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The 1955 Conventions of the WELS and ELS

One aspect of the discussion surrounding the “Joint Statement,” which will again be before us
at our 2020 convention, is how much importance to give to the events that took place around the period 1955-1961
that led to the formation of the CLC. In this seven-part series, Professor Emeritus David Lau provides a digest of
these events, excerpted from his book, “Out of Necessity.” We urge all CLC members—and particularly convention
delegates—to re-familiarize themselves with this important period in our fellowship’s history.

From 1920 until 1963 the Synodical Conference had four member synods: the Wisconsin Synod, the Missouri Synod, the Norwegian Synod (later ELS), and the Slovak Synod.
The Common Confession
The differences between the synods came to a head at the 1952 meeting of the Synodical Conference. The debate centered on whether the Common Confession did in fact resolve the past doctrinal differences between the Synodical Conference and the American Lutheran Church. By a vote of 154 to 62 the delegates voted to postpone action until the Missouri Synod and the American Lutheran Church could present Part II of the Common Confession. This postponement of action was unacceptable to the representatives of the Wisconsin Synod and the Norwegian Synod. The Wisconsin Synod delegates met after the convention and solemnly stated: “We, therefore, declare, in order to guard our own faith and to remain true to our God, that, though we do not at this time disavow our fellowship with the Missouri Synod in the Synodical Conference, yet, because the confessional basis on which the synods of the Synodical Conference have jointly stood so far has been seriously impaired by the Common Confession, we continue to uphold our protest and to declare that the Missouri Synod by retaining the Common Confession and using it for further steps toward union with the ALC is disrupting the Synodical Conference. . . . Hence we find ourselves in a STATE OF CONFESSION.” (Armin Schuetze: The Synodical Conference, p. 302).
The Norwegian Synod’s 1955 convention resolution
In 1955 both the Norwegian Synod and the Wisconsin Synod held conventions. The Norwegian Synod met first and passed the following resolution: “We hereby declare with deepest regret that fellowship relations with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are suspended on the basis of Romans 16:17, and that the exercise of such relations cannot be resumed until the offenses contrary to the doctrine which we have learned have been removed by them in a proper manner” (Armin Schuetze: The Synodical Conference, p. 321). In spite of this resolution, however, the Norwegian Synod continued its membership in the Synodical Conference, and through that relationship continued its fellowship with the Missouri Synod.
If the Wisconsin Synod had taken the same step as the Norwegian Synod in its 1955 convention, the Norwegian Synod would have been strengthened in its stand, and perhaps the two synods could have moved forward together in sound confessionalism. . . . The Wisconsin Synod’s Union Committee recommended the following resolution: “Resolved: That with deepest sorrow, taking notice of the fact that the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is causing divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which we have learned, we, in obedience to God’s injunction to avoid such, declare the fellowship which we have had with said synod to be terminated” (Armin Schuetze: The Synodical Conference, pp. 323-324).
The Standing Committee on Church Union, of which Edmund Reim was the secretary, declared in its preliminary report to the convention: “We have . . . arrived at the firm conviction that, because of the divisions and offenses that have been caused, and which have until now not been removed, further postponement of a decision would be a violation of the apostolic injunction of Romans 16:17” (Reports
and Memorials—Thirty-Third Convention, p. 79).
The Wisconsin Synod’s 1955 convention
The 1955 convention of the Wisconsin Synod, meeting in Saginaw, Michigan, made a good beginning by unanimously passing the following statement: “A church body which creates divisions and offenses by its official resolutions, policies, and practices not in accord with Scripture also becomes subject to the indictment of Romans 16:17-18. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has by its official resolutions, policies, and practices created divisions and offenses both in her own body and in the entire Synodical Conference. Such divisions and offenses are of long standing” (Wisconsin Synod 1955 Convention Proceedings, p. 85).
At this point, however, the convention decided to postpone action until 1956 for two reasons: “1. This resolution has far reaching spiritual consequences. 2. This continues to heed the Scriptural exhortations to patience and forbearance in love by giving the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod opportunity to express itself in its 1956 convention” (Armin Schuetze: The Synodical Conference, p. 325).
The Northwestern Lutheran of September 4, 1955, reported that the preamble was “unanimously adopted” and that “all were firmly convinced and fully agreed that the charge of unionism against the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod was valid and that the Romans passage is applicable.” The vote on postponement was 94 to 47, with 24 voting delegates and 19 advisory delegates recording their names in protest.
Basic unity broken
Many Wisconsin Synod members who later joined the Church of the Lutheran Confession were convinced that the synod had made itself guilty of disobedience to the clear Word of God. . . . There were not many withdrawals from Synod yet, but the basic unity within the Wisconsin Synod was broken at this point.
The time had come for members of the Wisconsin Synod to take a stand, not only against the Missouri Synod, but against the majority in their own synod who had postponed action on separation until 1956. Pastor Winfred Schaller, Jr. of Cheyenne, Wyoming, later to become editor of The Lutheran Spokesman, had already submitted a protest to the 1955 convention against a Wisconsin Synod action taken in 1953 (Reports and Memorials—Thirty-Third Convention, p. 16). Several members of the floor committee at that convention that had proposed postponement stated: “We . . . are of the conviction that the reasons stated for delay do not warrant postponement of action” (Reports and Memorials—Thirty-Third Convention, pp. 86-87). Among these committee members was Paul F. Nolting, later to become longtime secretary of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Among the other voting delegates and advisory delegates who registered their protest against postponement were Egbert Albrecht, Edwin Schmelzer, Ivan Zarling, J. B. Erhart, Gerhard Pieper, William Wiedenmeyer, Robert Dommer, Paul G. Albrecht, M. J. Witt, Egbert Schaller, Otto J. Eckert, Christian Albrecht, and Edmund Reim, all of whom later became involved in the formation of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Arthur Voss of the Thiensville seminary also registered his protest, but died of a heart attack on October 19, 1955. His widow and sister later became members of the CLC congregation in Milwaukee.
David Lau is a retired pastor and professor. He lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.