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First Evangelical Lutheran Church

(608)784-3867
Email:church@firstlacrosse.org
400 West Avenue South
La Crosse, WI  54601

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History

The Early Church
The Middle Ages
The Lutheran Reformation
The Wisconsin Synod
First Lutheran Church
Praise the Lord!

The Early Church

Shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven, His followers began to carry out His instructions that they should be His "witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). But soon there was opposition. Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:57-60). This persecution did not destroy the Christian Church. Rather "those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went" (Acts 8:4). During the first three centuries of the Christian era, there were numerous persecutions in which many Christians died for their faith. Nevertheless, Christianity spread through the Roman empire. Finally in 313 A.D. under Emperor Constantine, Christianity was declared a legal religion. Persecution came to an end.

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The Middle Ages

Already before the time of Constantine the Christian Church had to contend with religious errors. After persecutions ended, false teachings increased. A man named Arius taught that Jesus was not true God equal to the Father. The Christian Church rejected this error and produced creeds which sum up the true faith. The Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, which are still used today, come from this period of history.

With the passing of time more errors crept into the church. The Lord's Supper was changed into the Mass, a daily unbloody sacrifice for the living and the dead. People were told that their good works could gain God's favor. Jesus was pictured as a stern Judge who could best be approached by praying to Mary and other saints. The Church imposed punishments (penance) for sin. If a person did not bear his punishment in this life, he was told that he would have to suffer a long time in purgatory after his death. Indulgences were sold to reduce the punishment in purgatory. The truth that Jesus is our Savior was still taught, but it was obscured by many false teachings.

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The Lutheran Reformation

Martin Luther, who was born in 1483 was, in his early life, deeply troubled by the question, "How can I escape God's wrath and find His forgiveness?" He hoped to find the answer by becoming a monk. This position did not bring relief to his troubled conscience. A short time later he was appointed professor of religion at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. As he studied the Bible, he discovered the most important truth: we are saved by God's grace alone through faith in Christ, not by any works we do. On October 31, 1517, Luther began to reform the church by posting his 95 Theses on a church door. The Roman Church rejected his teachings and excommunicated him. But God blessed his work and restored the truth of Scripture to His Church. At this time other religious leaders broke away from the Roman Church. They came to be called Reformed churches, but they did not accept all Biblical truth (e.g. the real presence of Jesus' body and blood in the Lord's Supper.) Most Protestant churches today trace their history back to the Lutheran or Reformed churches at the time of the Reformation.

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The Wisconsin Synod

After the Reformation, Lutheranism spread to many countries in Europe and later to America. The Lutheran immigrants who came to the United States founded congregations and church bodies or synods, which often were named after a state. Over the years many of these smaller synods merged into larger ones. The three largest are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

The WELS was organized in Milwaukee in 1850. Today the WELS includes 1250 congregations with 403,345 baptized members. It operates four ministerial education schools at which future pastors and teachers are trained. WELS congregations also support the fourth largest parochial school system in the United States. In the area of missions, WELS supports 243 congregations in its home mission program. It also supports 71 world missionaries and 22 teachers working in 36 different languages in 23 countries on 5 continents. In addition there are 109 national pastors, 34 vicars, and 97 evangelists and assistant pastors working along side the missionaries, serving 442 congregations and 133 preaching stations.

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First Lutheran Church

First Ev. Lutheran Congregation was organized shortly after the founding of the Wisconsin Synod. On April 22, 1859, German immigrants in La Crosse organized a congregation, which they called "The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of La Crosse." Because they had no pastor, church council members conducted "Reading Services" and Sunday school classes. On August 1, 1859, a traveling missionary of the Wisconsin Synod arrived in La Crosse. His name was Pastor Gottlieb Fachtmann. He became the first pastor and also started a Lutheran elementary school.

During the first year of the church's existence, the congregation worshipped in a rented school building. In April of 1860, they purchased a used wooden church building and moved it to 5th and Jay Streets. In 1867, construction began for a new house of worship on 5th and Cass. The final move began in 1904 when the foundation of the present church was laid on the corner of West Avenue and Cameron.

Throughout our congregation's existence, the Lord has blessed the us with many faithful pastors and teachers and many dedicated church members. At the preset time, the congregation numbers around 1,200 baptized members and 1,000 communicants.

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Praise the Lord

As we look back at the history of the Christian Church, the history of the Lutheran Church, the history of the Wisconsin Synod, and the history of First Lutheran Church, we can clearly see the wisdom and grace of God at work in our world. The Christian Church started out with 120 members (Acts 1:15). Today there are approximately 2 billion Christians in our world. The Lutheran Church began with one man protesting against religious error. Today there are about 58 million Lutherans around the world. The Wisconsin Synod was organized by 5 pastors and 18 congregations. Today there are 1,250 congregations with more than 400,000 members. First Lutheran Church started out with a handful of immigrants and no pastor. Today there are more the 1200 members.

Statistics and numbers are not the sole indication of God's wisdom and grace. But, there is no doubt that His wisdom and grace are at work among us. For that reason, it surely is right that we should exclaim with David, "Sing to the Lord, you saints of His; praise His holy name" (Psalm 30:4).
 
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