WELS is theologically and socially conservative, much more so than the ELCA and even more so than the LCMS. WELS shares the following similarities with other Lutheran churches:
- Belief in the Trinity.
- Belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the second person in the Trinity who died for the sins of mankind, was resurrected, and will return again to judge mankind.
- Belief in the Bible as the Word of God containing all that is necessary for the salvation of mankind.
- Belief that the Bible is the only authority on matters of faith, doctrine, and practice.
- Belief that mankind is saved through God's grace by faith alone and not the works of mankind.
- Practice of baptism for infants or adults. Baptism is an outward sign of inward grace and grants membership into the Christian church. Baptism is traditionally practiced by pouring water on the head.
- Practice Holy Communion using bread and wine. The body and blood of Jesus are mystically united with the bread and wine, said to be in, with, and under the bread and wine.
Differences between WELS and the ELCA:
- WELS believes the scriptures to be inerrant and divinely inspired with the text meaning what it says it means. The ELCA however approaches interpretation of scripture in light of historical context, biblical criticism, and reason.
- WELS believe in a literal 6 day creation 6,000 years ago and that Genesis is literal history. The ELCA does not have an official interpretation, however, theistic evolution is largely accepted.
- The ELCA allows for a spectrum of belief and differing opinions on doctrine and practice. Thus the ELCA joins in ecumenical relations with other churches. WELS believes that the churches must be in complete doctrinal harmony.
- The ELCA ordains women, where WELS believes that is contrary to scripture.
- The ELCA allows for the ordination of gay and lesbian people and the blessing of the relationships of gay couples, though the decision is left up to the individual congregations. WELS believes homosexuality is sinful and contrary to God's will.
- The ELCA practices open communion, meaning all baptized Christians may partake. WELS practices closed communion meaning only those of the church or a Lutheran church with similar beliefs.
Differences between WELS and the LCMS:
- As mentioned before, WELS believes there must be complete doctrinal harmony for fellowship within the church. Thus they do not engage in relations with other bodies except for other Lutheran bodies with the same doctrine and practices. The LCMS believes there are differing levels of fellowship and engages with some levels of interfaith work.
- Women may not vote in church matters or exercise authority over any post believed to be reserved for a man in WELS. In the LCMS, women may not be pastors, but may participate in any other church function including voting in church functions.
Given these little lists above, I was a little concerned about this church. Did my hesitation prove to be founded?
Of the three Lutheran churches I've visited, this was the most simple. Both the ELCA and LCMS churches were finely decorated and the chapels looked very similar to Catholic chapels with the altar as the central focus.
The exterior of this church is very simple and unassuming. The signs and crosses on the outside wall being the only indication that it's a church.
Coincidentally, the church is located just down the road from Faith Baptist Church, which I visited last week.
The chapel was quite simple, though lovely. The central focus of the chapel was a very large, wooden cross which was back lit. Directly underneath it was a very simple altar with a bible on it and two three branched candlesticks. To the right side of the altar was a pulpit, and a few banners decorated the whitewashed walls of the chapel. Aside from this, there weren't any other major decorations or accents.
Overall, I enjoyed the look of the church. It was bare bones of the required elements, without feeling stark and underdecorated. It was lovely and felt very warm and welcoming.
Nobody really went out of their way to greet us except during the Peace at the beginning of the service. That being said, I didn't get the impression anyone was looking at us like we didn't belong, nor did I feel unwelcome at any point in time.
The pastor at the end came and introduced himself to us. He is the new pastor there, this was his first Sunday conducting the entire service apparently. He seems like a very pleasant sweet hearted man with an optimistic outlook on life. I have no doubt he'll do well in this post. He also seems to do well with children just based on how he interacted with them during the service. More on that later.
Overall, they seem like a pleasant congregation and I felt welcomed though I didn't really talk to any of the members.
The service was very traditional. It followed the traditional format of a Mass, but was more stripped down to the essentials. The music was traditional hymns accompanied by piano music.
It began with an opening hymn and then moved into a confession of sin. The confession was pretty guilt ridden and even included the phrase: "I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child." I couldn't believe the level of guilt that was thrust into this confession. I don't get why Christians make guilt a fetish. Yes, guilt has its place. We should feel guilty if we wrong somebody. But Christianity goes way overboard with the guilt thing to a radically unhealthy degree in most situations. Why? Do they think it makes them better people walking around feeling guilty all the time? After the confession, the pastor read a prayer of absolution, then a quick hymn of praise was sung.
Afterward, they began the scripture readings. The first reading was from Joel and talked about the Lord coming to harvest mankind. The second reading was from Romans and talked about prayer. The Gospel reading was from Matthew and was the parable of the sower of good seed. In the parable a man sows good seed, but weeds come in representing the wicked. At the end, there's a great harvest and the weeds are cast into the fire while the good wheat is kept. This is symbolic of the righteous being taken in by God and the wicked being cast into the fire and burned.
After that there was a children's sermon. All the children came and gathered around the pastor. The pastor asked them some very general questions about prayer, what they pray for, when they pray, what it feels like to pray, etc. Then he said it was important to pray and the children returned to their parents.
The pastor then gave his sermon.
After the sermon, there were some general prayers for the country and needs of the community, a final blessing, and a closing hymn.
In all, the whole service took about 45 minutes. It was very beautiful, well done, and I actually enjoyed myself at it.
The pastor's sermon was on prayer. When I heard that I rolled my eyes because in the past month I've heard two sermons on prayer and didn't want a third one that was virtually identical to the other two. But I was in for a bit of a surprise with this one.
He started by asking, "What's your perfect Sunday?" he said most people will be able to answer that easily and come up with all sorts of ideas. But if he asked, "What's your perfect prayer?" he said he doubted anybody could really answer that.
He then talked about how we pray, and we don't pray how scripture says we ought to. Instead, we pray for our needs and only do it when we feel inclined. He said, "I'm not a prayer warrior. I don't have callouses on my knees."
So far it felt just like the other sermons. Then, he said that that was okay. That what matters is that we pray, not how we pray. Because the Holy Spirit will take our prayers and make them fit into the will of God. No prayer is the wrong kind of prayer. There was no secret formula, just you going before God.
This was quite the opposite message I got from the other churches which gave recipes for what is a good prayer that will be pleasing to God. They talked about how we needed to talk to God like a friend and how we needed to make sure we did these things in the prayer to make it a better prayer. Here, the pastor said, just pray, God will do what he will with your prayer.What mattered was that you were praying to God.
I don't believe in any sort of power behind prayer, but I do see benefits to it psychologically and physiologically, so I don't discourage people from praying. And given the choice between this message and the one in the other two churches, I'd much rather go for this one. I liked that this one didn't make prayer seem like some formula for hitting God up, or that there was a clear cut way to pray to God, but rather God would take what you had and make it work. This seems more in line with a being that is omnipotent and compassionate, rather than a God that demanded a certain style of prayer and a certain mindset.
Overall, quite a positive message for the congregation and one I was happy to see. Given the scripture readings, this Sunday's message could have been about God's wrath and gloom and doom. But instead it was about approaching God in prayer and doing so however you could. I liked that that became the focus.
Though the doctrinal statements above had me on guard and I can't agree with them, I was pleasantly surprised by this church and really enjoyed myself. It was a pleasant group, a pleasant message, and you could feel genuine love radiate in the service.
All three Lutheran churches I visited felt this way making me think that it might be an attitude Lutherans have in the US that spans the denominations. I would like to see more of that in churches in this country.
I would definitely return to Light of the Valley Church and say, "Hello," to them again.
After slacking off, I'm finally caught up with these. Expect the blogs to follow the normal format from here on out of pre-service blog and blog about the service.
Until next time, peace be with you.