The Evangelical Lutheran Synod has its origin among the early settlers of Norwegian descent who came to America during the 19th century. As they settled in the wilderness of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and other states, they had no churches, no pastors, no schools, no spiritual leadership. But by God’s grace, help soon came. Pastors from their homeland arrived and helped organize congregations. One of the first pastors held services in a barn and also outdoors under two oak trees at a place called Koshkonong near Madison, Wisconsin. Finally, in 1853 the first church body among these settlers was organized. It was known as the Norwegian Synod.
The pioneers of the synod soon came in contact with other Lutherans in this country. Many of these were found to be very lax in doctrine and practice. In the latter 1850s, however, they met an outstanding Lutheran leader named Dr. C.F.W. Walther and recognized in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod of that day a truly Lutheran church body with whom they could safely fellowship. In July of 1872, they joined with the Wisconsin Synod, the Missouri Synod, and other synods in forming the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference.
The church Militant here on earth will never find perfect peace and rest. In the 1880s, a controversy over the doctrine of election divided the Synod. In 1917, a merger brought together various groups of Norwegian churches into a new church body without doctrinal agreement. A small group of pastors and congregations, however, refused to enter into this merger because it was based upon the false teaching that man could somehow cooperate in his conversion. The doctrine that our conversion is due to God’s grace alone was therefore compromised. In order to retain the truth, this little group bravely determined to reorganize the old Synod on the basis of the clear teachings of Scripture. They therefore gathered at Lime Creek Lutheran Church near Lake Mills, Iowa, in June of 1918 and reorganized as the Norwegian Synod. The name was later changed to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
The Lord blessed this little flock. It soon began to grow and become strong and healthy. In 1927, it began operating Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. In 1946, it established its own theological seminary, also at Bethany. It carries on an active home mission program and now has more than 130 congregations throughout the United States. It also has missions in Peru and Chile in South America; in Ukraine, Latvia, and the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe; and India and South Korea in Asia.
Having left the old Synodical Conference for doctrinal reasons, in 1993 the Synod joined in establishing a new alliance known as the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, composed of sixteen church bodies from around the world, including the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in the USA. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod therefore represents conservative, confessional Lutheranism, and its prayer is that God by grace will preserve it in its total allegiance to the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
ELS headquarters are located in Mankato, Minnesota.
Church Body Statistics
Mission Congregations: 8
National Pastors: 171
Current Church Body President: Rev. John Moldstad (serving since 2002)