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The Evangelical Lutheran Synod traces its history back to 1853 when the “Norwegian Synod” was organized in the Midwestern United States. They practiced “fellowship”, a form of full communion, with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) during the 1850s and 1860s. In 1872, they along with the LCMS and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) formed the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America.
In 1917, the Norwegian Synod merged with two other Norwegian Lutheran groups and formed the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, later named the Evangelical Lutheran Church. This led to disagreement among members of the Norwegian Synod. The people who became the ELS had concerns regarding fellowship with those who did not share the same doctrine. The Norwegian Synod had taught that conversion and salvation were entirely the work of God without any cooperation from humans. The new merged church allowed that conversion depended in some degree on humans accepting God’s grace. A group of people therefore gathered at Lime Creek Lutheran Church near Lake Mills, Iowa, in June 1918 and reorganized as the Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (also known as “Little Norwegian” Synod) The name was later changed to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in 1957.
In 1955 the ELS suspended its fellowship with the LCMS over doctrinal disagreements, and in 1963 it withdrew from the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. It retained its fellowship with the WELS. (The WELS severed its fellowship relations with the LCMS in 1961, and also withdrew from the Synodical Conference in 1963.)
In 1993, the ELS and WELS, working with a number of other worldwide Lutheran churches, some of which had been founded through mission work by both synods, founded the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC).