Mathew Block serves as Editor for the International Lutheran Council's news service. He is Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada, editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and a blogger with First Things.
NORWAY – On May 25, 2017, The Lutheran Church in Norway (Den lutherske kirke i Norge – LKN) consecrated Rev. Torkild Masvie as its Bishop.
Bishop Masvie was installed into his office by Archbishop Jānis Vanags of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), assisted by Bishop Arri Kugappi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), Bishop Hanss Jensons of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, , and President Dan Gilbert of the Northern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The LKN’s Deputy Bishop Rev. Alf Danbolt led the Norwegian part of the consecration.
Prior to his consecration, Bishop Masvie had previously served the LKN as provisional bishop. The LKN is a young church with five congregations and 90 baptized members. It dates back to the 2005 founding of the Church of the Messiah. The church has four pastors in active duty and one retired pastor. It was accepted into membership in the International Lutheran Council during the 2015 World Conference in Argentina.
The LCMS and the ELCIR are fellow members of the International Lutheran Council with the Lutheran Church in Norway. The ELCL is a member church of the Lutheran World Federation, but is in fellowship with the LCMS.
NAMIBIA – The Twelfth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met May 10-16, 2017 in Winhoek, Namibia, and Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) was present as an ecumenical guest. Chairman Voigt is also Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK).
During their Assembly, the LWF celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a service in the Sam Nujoma Stadium in the Capital of Namibia. In his greetings to the assembly, Chairman Voigt expressed his gratitude for the kind invitation to attend as an ecumenical observer. He noted that the ILC’s historical roots date back to the Prussian Empire in Germany, which grew in power throughout much of Germany in the nineteenth century. As part of that consolidation of power, the Prussian King enacted the Prussian Union of Churches in 1817, which forced a merger of Lutheran and Reformed churches.
A number of Lutheran congregations rejected this Prussian Union, especially because of differences between Reformed and Lutherans on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Those who resisted the Prussian Union formed the “Old Lutheran Church” in Germany. But the Old Lutherans faced significant persecution from the government, with many of their pastors imprisoned, causing numerous Lutheran families to emigrate to the United States of America, Canada, Brazil, and Australia. In these new lands, they established Lutheran church bodies that adhered to the Lutheran Confessions—churches that today are members of the ILC. In addition to marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, then, 2017 also marks the 200th anniversary since the founding of the Union Church and the subsequent persecution of the Old Lutherans.
More recently, Chairman Voigt noted, “The origins of the International Lutheran Council proper can be traced to its foundational conference in 1952. “Today it represents 3.3 million Lutherans worldwide in 38 member churches.”
In his remarks, Chairman Voigt also addressed the confusion and mistrust which exists between some members of the ILC and the LWF. “What are the reasons for these frustrations?” he asked, noting we must take the concerns seriously. In particular, he said, we must ask: “Do we have a different understanding of hermeneutics for the use and understanding of our confessions?”
To better address these kinds of questions, the ILC and LWF began in 2005 a series of annual conversations. This year, the discussions included two theological presentations—one from each side—on the “The Importance of our Understanding of the Scriptures for the Unity of the Church.” In his address to the LWF, Chairman Voigt highlighted a selection from the LWF’s presentation (given by Rev. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans): “In the Lutheran tradition, priority was generally given to theology to express form and life out the church’s oneness and the unity of the various churches.”
Finally, Chairman Voigt noted the theme of the LWF Assembly—“Liberated by God’s Grace”—and provided two short sentences of commentary. “First we must remember, as Anselm of Canterbury says, that we should not underestimate human guiltiness and iniquity,” he explained. “Second, we must remember, as Martin Luther says, that it is nearly impossible to overestimate God’s grace; for He is like a glowing oven, full of love, reaching from earth to heaven.”
“I wish this overwhelming warm love in your hearts and into your Assembly,” he concluded.
On May 13, 2017 the LWF Assembly elected Rev. Dr. Musa Panti Filibus, the Archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, as its new President. Chairman Voigt congratulated him on his election, and expressed pleasure in having had the opportunity to meet him earlier in 2012, when Dr. Filibus represented the LWF as an ecumenical guest to the ILC’s 2012 World Conference in Niagara Falls, Canada.
JAPAN – From May 1-3, 2017, the Japan Lutheran Church (日本ルーテル教団Nihon Ruteru Kyoudan – NRK) held its 17th General Convention, during which time it reelected Rev. Shin Shimizu to another three-year term as President. In addition to serving as President, Rev. Shimizu serves as pastor of Totsuka Lutheran Church.
The next triennium will see the NRK focus on the theme “Christians as Priests and Perfectly Dutiful Servants of All—Our Reformation, Progressing from the 500th Anniversary of Luther Reformation.” The theme passage selected for the next three years was Acts 20:35—“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
“We seriously considered what we can do to serve our neighbours, others, and churches as the body of Christ,” President Shimizu explained. “Also, we considered what we can to do serve our God by each one of us praying for both our neighbours and others, as we all go back to the basics of the ‘priesthood of all believers.’”
President Shimizu expressed thanks to the churches of the International Lutheran Council for their prayers, and expressed his desire that the NRK would continue to grow into closer partnership with the ILC in the coming years. The ILC is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies of which the NRK is a member. “I would like to continue cooperating with the International Lutheran Council,” President Shimizu explains, “as we further deepen our relationship with the ILC.”
The convention also reelected Rev. Tatsuomi Yoshia (Sapporo Chuo Lutheran Church) as Vice-President, and filled a number of other Executive Committee and Staff positions for the next three years.
The Japan Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church body in Japan, with about 2,400 members in 33 congregations. In addition to being a member of the ILC, it is also a member of the Lutheran World Federation.
HANOVER, Germany – From May 1-2, 2017, Rev. Ville Typpö and Rev. Mikko Tiira of the Istanbul Lutheran Church (İstanbul Luteryen Kilisesi – ILK) visited the national office of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) in Hanover. Rev. Typpö oversees the young Lutheran church body in Turkey. Meanwhile, Rev. Tiira is stationed in Izmir, the Biblical city of Smyrna.
The Istanbul Lutheran Church numbers 200 members in four congregations: two in Turkey (in Istanbul and Izmir) and two in Bulgaria (Peshtera and Krusevo). Some ILK members from Bulgaria have emigrated to Germany in recent years. ILK pastors seek to help the transition of these people to German Lutheran congregations. The SELK’s pastoral leader, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, pledged the spiritual support of his church.
In addition there was discussion about possible cooperation between the Lutheran Theological Seminary of the SELK in Oberursel, Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Institute of Religion (ELRIM) in Istanbul. The visitors from Turkey emphasized that students from Germany are always welcome at ELRIM. There one can learn of Islam as practiced in Turkey, while cultivating contacts with the Orthodox and other Eastern churches. Lectures by visiting German professors would be very much encouraged.
Following the Hanover consultations, Revs. Typpö and Tiira traveled on to Luther’s Wittenberg to participate in a conference at the Old Latin School, a joint project of the SELK and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Bishop Voigt remarked to the SELK News Service that the Lutheran work in Turkey impresses him deeply. Along the way there was also discussion on political issues. The conversation with the visiting pastors confirmed his impression that one cannot ignore the ideologizing taking place in Turkish society.
The Istanbul Lutheran Church is a Turkish-speaking confessional Lutheran church body officially established in 2004. It carries on the tradition of the first Lutheran congregation in Turkey established in Constantinople in 1709. In addition to SELK, it has developed closer relations with the LCMS in recent years, signing a Working Agreement with them in 2015. (You can find out more about the history and work of the ILK by reading this 2013 interview between The Canadian Lutheran and Rev. Typpö).
SELK and the LCMS are member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Bishop Voigt of the SELK serves the ILC as its chairman.
With files from a SELK News story as translated by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Lutheran Church–Canada.
NIGERIA – On May 5, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) held a funeral service for the Rev. Sunday Obari Owateobe, with members of the church in attendance from across the nation.
“The late Reverend was a gallant soldier of the cross,” the LCN noted on social media. “May his soul rest in peace and may the Lord protect and preserve the bereaved.”
Rev. Owateobe served as LCN Vice-President from 2002-2008. He was 80 years old at the time of his death, having been born in 1937.
The Lutheran Church of Nigeria is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Its membership numbers more than 80,000. The LCN is also a member church of the Lutheran World Federation.
SWITZERLAND – Representatives of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met together at the LWF’s headquarters in Geneva from April 6-7 for regular annual consultations.
Representing the ILC were Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt (Hannover, Germany), ILC Chairman and Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK); Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (St. Louis, USA), ILC Executive Secretary; Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Antwerp, Belgium), ILC Secretary and President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium; Rev. Jon Ehlers (London, England), ILC’s Europe World Region representative and Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England; and Professor Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Fort Wayne, USA). Representing the LWF in the discussions were Rev. Dr. Martin Junge (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF General Secretary; Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF Director for Mission and Development; Rev. Anne Burghardt, (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF Secretary for Ecumenical Relations; and Professor Rev. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans (Münster, Germany).
Discussions began with reports of the two bodies’ respective work over the past year. For example, ILC representatives reported on the ILC’s World Seminaries Conference which took place in Wittenberg, Germany in October 2016. Among other topics, the LWF reported on its June 2016 Council meeting, which was likewise held in Wittenberg.
Participants also discussed their respective plans for activities related to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The LWF, for example, will hold its annual assembly in Windhoek, Namibia in May 2017, with ILC Chairman Voigt attending as an ecumenical guest. On the ILC side, the ILC Executive Committee, together with members of the ILC European region, will participate in the SELK’s Reformation festivities, taking place June 23-25, 2017 in Berlin and Wittenberg. ILC churches around the world are also planning national and regional events to commemorate the Reformation.
A number of other topics were raised in discussion throughout the meetings between the ILC and LWF. A special focus was two theological presentations on “The Importance of our Understanding of the Scriptures for the Unity of the Church.” Prof. Ziegler gave a lecture on the topic from the perspective of the ILC, while Prof. Grosshans presented from the LWF’s perspective. Dr. Ziegler stressed that, while the Lutheran Confessions themselves do not include an explicit article on the proper use of Scripture, such principles can be readily recognized in the ways in which the Confessions use Scripture. Dr. Grosshans for his part emphasized that the unity of the Church ought to drive our understanding of theology.
The participants expressed thanks for the ongoing conversations, with the two presentations on Scripture cited as particularly helpful in helping the two Lutheran world bodies better understand one another.
BRAZIL – On April 5, 2017, Rev. Dr. Leopoldo Heimann, former chairman of the International Lutheran Council, died in the Lord at the age of 83. Dr. Heimann served as chairman of the International Lutheran Council from 1995-1998.
Dr. Heimann was born in Erechim, a city in the south of Brazil, on December 10, 1933. A 1960 graduate of Concordia Seminary at Porto Alegre, Dr. Heimann served as a pastor in congregations in Ponta Grossa and Porto Alegre from 1960 until 1973, when he became editor of the IELB’s publications. He became President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil – IELB) in 1990, a position he held through 1998.
Dr. Heimann was elected chairman of the ILC at the 16th Conference of the International Lutheran Council, held in Adelaide, Australia in 1995. He was reelected chairman at the following conference in 1997, held in St. Louis, Missouri, and served until 1998 when he completed his tenure as President of the IELB.
He received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) in 1996. After leaving the presidency of the IELB, Dr. Heimann served as a professor and Director of the Faculty of Theology at the Lutheran University in Canoas.
He was married to Marie Luize Rotmann and had three children. A funeral service took place on April 6, 2017 in São Leopoldo.
“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’” – (Revelation 14:13).
RUSSIA – On January 18, 2017 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) and The Lutheran Church in Norway (LKN) entered into church fellowship.
The decision came following talks in St. Petersburg between ELCIR Bishop Arri Kugappi and LKN Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie. Also participating in the talks were senior advisors from both church bodies.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and The Lutheran Church in Norway are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
ETHIOPIA – The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) held its 20th General Assembly January 22-28, 2017 in Addis Ababa, during which time the church elected a new president, Rev. Yonas Yigezu.
“God is calling me into a challenge but for enormous blessings ahead,” President Elect Yigezu said follow the election. “I am a team builder and prayer warrior: I see my success in this.”
Prior to his election as president, Rev. Yigezu served the EECMY as Director for Mission and Theology. He was first ordained in 2006, and is currently pursuing a doctorate through Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).
The theme for this year’s assembly was “I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” taken from Romans 1:18. Also elected during the assembly were Rev. Dr. Kiros Lakew (President of the Addis Ababa Synod) as EECMY Vice President and Bacha Ginaas as Treasurer.
President Elect Yigezu succeeds Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idosa who served two terms as EECMY President, having first been elected in January 2009. “I am very happy that the unity of the church has been maintained and growth has been recorded during the last eight years,” President Idosa said.” The participation of the EECMY in spreading the Gospel nationally and internationally has increased. I will continue to serve the church in all my capacity.” Dr. Idosa is also president of the Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa (LUCCEA), of which the EECMY is a member church.
With 8.3 million members, the EECMY is the world’s largest Lutheran church body, and is still experiencing rapid growth. The church is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, though it has broken fellowship with several LWF churches in recent years over issues of sexuality and the authority of Scripture.
The EECMY has also been moving to strengthen ties with the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its member churches—especially the LCMS—over the past number of years, participating in the ILC’s 2015 World Conference in Argentina, for example, as well as in 2016’s World Seminary Conference in Wittenberg, Germany.
UKRAINE – The heads of several Lutheran churches in the former Soviet Union recently met together in Ukraine for the Eastern European Bishops Conference, along with the heads of their North American partner churches.
The conference, held in Odessa in late February, was hosted by the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) and its Bishop Sergey Maschewski. DELKU, long associated with the state (territorial) Lutheran churches of Germany, has in recent years begun aligning itself with more conservative bodies like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC). In addition to the presidents of LCC and LCMS, DELKU also hosted the bishops (or their representatives) from several other Lutheran church bodies in eastern Europe, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL), the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU), and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The conference also welcomed a number of ecumenical guests.
During the conference, the bishops reported on their respective churches and the challenges they face. A number of these churches have to do their work over long distances: SELC, for example, is stretched out over a vast territory spanning 7,000 kilometers. DELKU, as another example, struggles with a severe clergy shortage, currently operating 28 congregations with only nine pastors. Many of these congregations are distant from the nearest neighbouring pastor or parish.
The bishops also discussed opportunities for future cooperation between their churches. “United by much of our common history and—what is of more relevance today—by similar theological outlook, we felt that there was a need for closer cooperation in the future,” explained Rev. Alexey Strelstov, rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia. Rev. Strelstov presented on education in a confessional Lutheran context on the final day of the conference.
Part of that future cooperation may well take place on theological education. One evening of the conference, the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine invited participants to visit their seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa. Representatives of the Siberian church expressed interest in forging closer ties with SELCU on seminary education. There were discussions on assisting the Ukrainian seminary in procuring more Russian-language theological books for its library, as well as the possibility of SELC seminary professors coming to teach short-term courses in Usatovo. “The interaction between these Russian speakers, all keenly interested in the faithful biblical training of pastors, was a real joy to watch,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee. LCC has long-supported SELCU’s seminary education program.
Morning and afternoon devotions at the bishops’ conference were held in DELKU’s Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul in downtown Odessa, restored in recent years after having been destroyed by the Soviet regime decades ago. “Although this church was rebuilt on a somewhat smaller scale, it once seated 1,200 worshippers and was the centre for spiritual life of the entire German community before the communist repression,” noted LCC President Bugbee. Lutheran churches were severely persecuted during the soviet era.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church are both members of the International Lutheran Council, as are Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine is a partner church of LCC, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania are partner churches of the LCMS. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, meanwhile, has been seeking closer relations to the LCMS in recent years.
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