What Is the Most Conservative Lutheran Synod

By Paul King •  Updated: 10/13/23 •  15 min read

In the realm of conservative Lutheran synods, various branches of the faith exist, each with their distinctive beliefs and practices. To determine the most conservative Lutheran synod, we must turn to the Holy Bible for guidance and examine the teachings and practices of these different synods in light of biblical principles.

One prominent synod that upholds conservative Lutheran beliefs is the Missouri Synod. They emphasize the authority of Scripture and hold a strong commitment to traditional Lutheran teachings. As stated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ The Missouri Synod seeks to faithfully adhere to the teachings of the Bible, considering it the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice.

Another conservative Lutheran synod is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). Like the Missouri Synod, they place great importance on the authority of Scripture and hold to traditional Lutheran teachings. WELS believes that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, as expressed in 2 Peter 1:20-21, ‘Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

To further illustrate the conservative nature of these synods, let us turn to the story of Noah and the flood found in Genesis 6-9. God saw that the wickedness of mankind was great and decided to bring a flood upon the earth. However, Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord because he was a righteous man who walked with God. God commanded Noah to build an ark and bring his family and a pair of every living creature into it. Through Noah’s obedience, God preserved a remnant of humanity and creation.

This story highlights the importance of obedience to God’s commands and the preservation of traditional values. Conservative Lutheran synods like the Missouri Synod and WELS seek to uphold the teachings of Scripture and preserve the faith handed down through generations.

When it comes to the role of women and LGBTQ+ individuals in these synods, it is essential to refer to specific biblical passages. In 1 Timothy 2:12, it states, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.’ This verse is often cited by conservative Lutheran synods to support their position on gender roles within the church.

Regarding LGBTQ+ individuals, the Bible teaches that sexual relations are to be reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. In Genesis 2:24, it says, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ This understanding of marriage as a union between a man and a woman forms the basis for the conservative Lutheran view on homosexuality.

It is important to note that these conservative beliefs and practices have not been without challenges and controversies. The issue of women’s ordination, for example, has sparked debates within these synods. However, the commitment to biblical authority and the preservation of traditional teachings have remained central to their identity.

In conclusion, the Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod are considered among the most conservative Lutheran synods. Their adherence to the authority of Scripture and their commitment to traditional Lutheran teachings set them apart. By examining biblical principles and stories, we gain a deeper understanding of the conservative Lutheran landscape and the beliefs that shape it.

Key Takeaways

The History of Conservative Lutheran Synods

The history of conservative Lutheran synods is deeply rooted in the teachings and principles of the Holy Bible. As the centuries unfolded, theological disputes arose, challenging the core beliefs and practices of these synods. However, through their commitment to upholding orthodox beliefs and maintaining a conservative theological stance, these synods have remained steadfast in preserving the traditional teachings of the Lutheran tradition.

One such dispute that shaped the identity of conservative Lutheran synods was centered around the interpretation of scripture. The synods firmly believed in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible as the Word of God. They held fast to the words of 2 Timothy 3:16, which states, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’ This belief in the divine inspiration of scripture guided their understanding and application of biblical teachings.

Another significant dispute revolved around the sacraments, particularly Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Conservative Lutheran synods held to the belief that these sacraments were not mere symbols, but rather, they were means of grace through which God’s presence and forgiveness were experienced. They drew their understanding from 1 Peter 3:21, which says, ‘Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’

The role of the church in society also sparked theological debates within conservative Lutheran synods. They emphasized the importance of the church as the body of Christ, called to proclaim the Gospel and engage in acts of mercy and justice. They found guidance in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus instructs his disciples, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’

To illustrate the significance of these disputes, let us turn to the story of Martin Luther, the key figure in the Lutheran Reformation. Luther’s study of the Bible led him to challenge certain practices of the Catholic Church, such as the selling of indulgences. His famous quote, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other,’ encapsulates his unwavering commitment to biblical truth and his refusal to compromise his beliefs.

In addition to Luther’s story, the Bible is filled with narratives that exemplify the importance of holding fast to orthodox beliefs. The story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6) showcases his unwavering faith in God, even in the face of persecution. Similarly, the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) demonstrates their refusal to bow down to false gods, even at the risk of their lives.

Key Beliefs and Doctrines of Conservative Lutheran Synods

One of the central tenets of these Lutheran groups is the affirmation of traditional Christian doctrines and the authority of scripture. As it is written in 2 Timothy 3:16, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’

The key beliefs held by conservative Lutheran synods can be summarized as follows:

  1. Inerrancy of the Bible: These synods firmly believe that the Bible is without error and is the inspired word of God. In Psalm 119:105, it is written, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’

  2. Salvation by Grace: They emphasize that salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned through good works. As Ephesians 2:8-9 states, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ To illustrate the importance of God’s grace, we can look to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. This parable showcases the unconditional love and forgiveness of the father, representing God’s grace towards sinners.

  3. Sacraments: Conservative Lutheran synods hold a high view of the sacraments, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, as means of God’s grace. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands his disciples, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ The sacrament of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is also of great significance. In Luke 22:19-20, Jesus institutes the sacrament, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’

  4. The Priesthood of all Believers: These synods emphasize the priesthood of all believers, affirming that each individual has direct access to God through Christ. As 1 Peter 2:9 states, ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’

These beliefs, rooted in the scriptures, shape the theology and practices of conservative Lutheran synods, guiding their understanding of God, salvation, and the Christian life. By adhering to these key beliefs and doctrines, they seek to honor and follow the teachings of the Bible.

Comparing Conservative Lutheran Synods: Differences and Similarities

A significant aspect of comparing conservative Lutheran synods is examining the differences and similarities in their beliefs and practices. Worship practices in conservative Lutheran synods vary, but they generally emphasize traditional liturgy, hymn-singing, and sacraments such as baptism and the Eucharist. These practices are rooted in the teachings of the Holy Bible.

In the book of Psalms, it is written, ‘Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day’ (Psalm 96:2). This verse highlights the importance of hymn-singing in worship, as it allows believers to glorify God and proclaim His salvation to others.

The sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist hold great significance in conservative Lutheran synods. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commands His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, saying, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19). Baptism symbolizes the cleansing of sins and the initiation into the Christian faith.

Similarly, the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper, is a practice that conservative Lutheran synods hold dear. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus institutes this sacrament during the Last Supper, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19). The Eucharist serves as a means of grace and a spiritual nourishment for believers.

Evangelism and outreach efforts in conservative Lutheran synods are deeply rooted in the Great Commission given by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’ (Mark 16:15). This commandment drives believers to share the Gospel message and invite others to join their faith communities.

One biblical story that illustrates the importance of evangelism is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch found in the book of Acts. Philip encountered the eunuch, who was reading the book of Isaiah but did not understand its meaning. Philip then explained the Scriptures to him and baptized him, leading the eunuch to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior (Acts 8:26-39). This story showcases the power of evangelism in bringing individuals closer to God.

Conservative Lutheran synods may engage in various activities to spread the teachings of Lutheranism and bring people closer to God. These activities can include door-to-door visitations, community events, and distributing religious literature. By reaching out to others and sharing the message of salvation, believers fulfill their calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

Understanding these worship practices and evangelism efforts helps to develop a comprehensive understanding of conservative Lutheran synods. By adhering to the teachings of the Holy Bible and following the examples set by Jesus and His disciples, these synods strive to live out their faith and bring others into a personal relationship with God.

The Role of Women and LGBTQ+ Individuals in Conservative Lutheran Synods

Women and LGBTQ+ individuals within conservative Lutheran synods often face restrictions and limitations in terms of their roles and participation within the church community. These restrictions are deeply rooted in biblical interpretations and theological beliefs. Let us explore the current state of their roles within conservative Lutheran synods through the lens of relevant biblical teachings and stories.

  1. Limited leadership opportunities: Women are often excluded from leadership positions such as ordained ministry and serving on church boards. While some may argue that this exclusion is based on biblical principles, it is important to note that there are instances in the Bible where women played significant leadership roles. For example, Deborah, a prophetess and judge, led the Israelites with wisdom and guidance (Judges 4:4-5). This demonstrates that women are capable of serving in leadership positions within the church.

  2. Gendered theology: Theological interpretations within conservative Lutheran synods often emphasize gender roles and complementarity, which can reinforce traditional gender norms and restrict women’s involvement. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that Jesus himself challenged societal norms and treated women with respect and equality. He engaged in meaningful conversations with women, such as the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), highlighting their value and worth. These examples remind us that gender should not be a barrier to full participation in the church.

  3. Inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals: Conservative Lutheran synods typically adhere to traditional teachings on sexuality, viewing same-sex relationships as sinful and excluding LGBTQ+ individuals from full participation in the church. While it is important to respect differing interpretations of biblical teachings, it is crucial to approach this issue with compassion and understanding. Jesus taught us to love one another unconditionally (John 15:12), and it is essential to extend that love and acceptance to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.

  4. Ongoing debates: These issues have sparked ongoing debates within conservative Lutheran synods, with some advocating for greater inclusion and others holding firm to traditional interpretations. It is vital for these debates to be approached with open hearts and minds, rooted in biblical teachings. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) teaches us the importance of embracing those who may be seen as outsiders or different from us. This story reminds us to prioritize love and compassion above all else.

Challenges and Controversies Within Conservative Lutheran Synods

Challenges and controversies within conservative Lutheran synods arise due to differing interpretations of biblical teachings and theological beliefs. These debates revolve around crucial issues such as the role of women and LGBTQ+ individuals, the authority of scripture, and the nature of salvation. In order to address these challenges, it is essential to turn to the relevant facts and quotes from the Bible.

One biblical story that sheds light on the role of women is the story of Deborah. Deborah was a prophetess and a judge in Israel during a time when women were not typically in positions of authority. In Judges 4, we see how Deborah led the Israelites to victory in a battle against their enemies. Her leadership and wisdom were recognized by the people, demonstrating that women can play significant roles in God’s plan.

Regarding LGBTQ+ individuals, the Bible clearly states in Leviticus 18:22, ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.’ This verse highlights the traditional interpretation of homosexuality as being contrary to biblical teachings. However, it is essential to approach this topic with compassion and empathy, remembering that all individuals are created in the image of God and deserve love and respect.

When it comes to the authority of scripture, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ This verse emphasizes the importance of scripture as the ultimate guide for Christians. However, interpretation of scripture can vary, leading to disagreements within conservative Lutheran synods.

The nature of salvation is another crucial topic of debate within these synods. Ephesians 2:8-9 states, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ This verse highlights the belief in salvation through faith alone, as opposed to salvation through good works. This belief is central to conservative Lutheran theology.

In navigating these challenges and controversies, it is important to approach them with humility, compassion, and a desire for wisdom. Proverbs 9:9 says, ‘Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.’ This verse reminds us of the importance of learning from one another and engaging in respectful dialogue.

While these debates can lead to division and tension, they also provide opportunities for growth and understanding. Romans 14:1 advises, ‘As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.’ This verse encourages us to welcome those with different opinions and engage in discussions that promote unity amidst diversity.

Paul King

I post written versions of my powerful sermons exploring topics like prayer, praise, biblical truths, and more expressions of faith. My church has a deeply spiritual culture, which I try to convey through vivid storytelling and applications in our everyday life. I spread the Good Word with lots of conviction and passion.