John 3:16 has been called the gospel in a nutshell—and for good reason. In that one verse we're told all that we need to know for our salvation. God loves us. He sent his son to die for us. Believe it. So why do we need any further statements of belief?
Throughout the history of the Christian Church, errors have crept in challenging basic beliefs established in God's Word—including that Christ is true God and the concept of the Trinity, that God is in fact Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The early church fathers drafted creeds, or statements of belief, to clarify these biblical truths. As WELS Lutherans, we hold to three main creeds that have been the pillars of Christianity for centuries: the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
In the 16th century, Martin Luther and other reformers addressed the false teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther came to see that sinners are saved by the grace of God as a result of Jesus Christ's perfect life and perfect death on the cross—not through any merit or effort of their own. Luther and others authored the six Lutheran confessions—to which we as WELS Lutherans still subscribe today because we believe they are a correct explanation of biblical truth.
In modern times, leaders within our own synod found it necessary to clarify the differences between us and other church bodies, particularly those that also call themselves Lutheran. We're confident you'll find our statement "This We Believe" helpful in understanding those differences.
"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:32). With these words Jesus indicates that he wants Christians to confess publicly what they believe in their hearts.
This We Believe is one way the members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod have chosen to confess their faith in Christ. It publicly summarizes the main teachings of our church body.
This We Believe was first published in 1967. A minor revision was undertaken in 1980. In consultation with the Conference of Presidents, the Commission on Inter-Church Relations completed the present revision in 1999. This second revision seeks to simplify the language and to add some important points of doctrine not addressed in the first two editions. The current revision was not undertaken because of doctrinal disagreement with the previous editions.
The current document does not claim to be a full treatment of all the Bible's teachings. For a fuller exposition of the doctrines of Scripture, the reader is referred to other sources, including the pamphlet Doctrinal Statements of the WELS (Northwestern Publishing House, 1997).
It should also be noted that This We Believe was not specifically designed to serve as an outreach tool for unchurched people, but as a basis for doctrinal discussions with other church bodies and informed individuals.
It is our conviction that over the years This We Believe has been a great blessing to the church. This revised edition is presented with the fervent prayer that it may continue to serve Christ’s church, to the glory of his name and for the extension of his kingdom.