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The Intersynodical Controversy Collection

Identifier: S017
Records consist of minutes from Church Union Committee meetings from 1951-1960, correspondence between the leadership of the WELS, the LCMS, the ELS, and overseas synods, reports from various conventions and meetings, study documents aimed at doctrinal unity in controversial topics, and newspaper articles and other notes describing both the events and mood of these years of intersynodical controversy.

Also included in this collection are records of the conflict within the WELS itself regarding when to break fellowship with the LCMS. Included are many letters from concerned WELS pastors to the WELS leaders, along with documents both pointing out the errors in the LCMS and criticizing the WELS for not breaking fellowship sooner.

Finally, some records are included that demonstrate attempts at doctrinal unity even after the WELS broke with the LCMS in 1961. Materials and minutes from the “Theologians’ Conclaves” of 1962-1963 are included, as well as minutes and records from free conference meetings held in Mequon, WI from 1961-1965.


  • 1950 - 1965

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1 Box : 1 record box containing 22 file folders.

Biographical / Historical

The Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America was organized in 1872 by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Norwegian Synod (later known as the ELS). For over 75 years the Synodical Conference served as a haven and beacon of confessional Lutheranism in the United States. United in faith and doctrine, the member synods of the Synodical Conference collaborated together in many areas, including Christian education and mission work.

In the late 1940s, however, strife began to hit the members of the Synodical Conference. Various issues began to threaten the unity shared, especially by the two largest member synods—the LCMS and the WELS. The theological liberalism prevalent in mainstream Christianity began to infiltrate the ranks of the LCMS. The result was a gradual shift in its doctrinal positions from those which the Synodical Conference had consistently held. Two main issues were church fellowship and the doctrine of church and ministry. Those issues presented themselves in varying positions on prayer fellowship, cooperation and union with other Lutheran denominations, the Boy Scouts, and military chaplaincy.

The WELS began to note the doctrinal shifts already in the 1940s, but the most concerted effort to combat those shifts began in the 1950s, as the WELS publicly questioned doctrines taught in the LCMS and called for action. Committees on church union were established both within the individual synods and within the Synodical Conference itself, and regular meetings aimed at restoring doctrinal unity were held throughout the 1950s. Those meetings failed to result in unity, however, and the WELS cut its fellowship ties with the LCMS in 1961.

Much heartache was caused by this intersynodical controversy. Not only did it spell the end of the Synodical Conference, but a number of WELS pastors and congregations left the WELS because they felt it did not break with the LCMS soon enough. WELS leaders found themselves in a difficult position between doing everything possible to restore union with the LCMS and trying to retain unity within their own church body.

Pastor Irwin Habeck found himself at the middle of that struggle. Habeck served as pastor at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI, but he was also a vice president of the WELS from 1950-1966 and was involved in all the major attempts at unity through his vice-presidency and his membership on the WELS Commission for Doctrinal Matters. The records in this collection were collected by him.

Repository Details

Part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod Archives Repository