Iranian and Afghan converts to Christianity face mass deportation from Germany; Pastor calls hearings “kangaroo courts”

GERMANY – While most Canadians celebrated the Christmas season in relative comfort, that wasn’t the case for all people across the world. In particular, one German pastor is raising the situation of Iranian and Afghan converts to Christianity living in Germany, who are facing mass deportation despite the dangers they will certainly face if they are returned to their homelands.

Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, a member congregation of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). This congregation, along with several other SELK churches, have welcomed hundreds of converts to Christianity in recent years, mostly Iranian and Afghan refugees living in Germany. Dr. Martens and his congregation were widely covered in international media in early 2016 for their work among refugees. But the German government has recently begun to deny en masse the refugee claims of many of these converts, following what Dr. Martens is calling deeply flawed refugee hearings.

“Desperate reports have been reaching me from members of our congregation,” he writes in a letter released December 23. “At this time, the Federal Ministry for Immigration and Refugees is rejecting almost all applications for asylum from our Iranian members, and in many cases also from our Afghan congregational members and candidates for baptism, and is sending them deportation notices.”

Germany has recently increased the number of personnel responsible for hearing asylum applications—a necessary change, given many refugees have been waiting three years for their first hearing. “Yet not even in our worst nightmares could we have pictured what this change would entail,” Dr. Martens says. “Many [of those hearing the cases] are manifestly clueless about the situation of Christians in Iran and Afghanistan, and worse yet they are utterly clueless concerning questions relating to the Christian faith. But all of this does not prevent them from assuming the role of self-appointed experts, whose questions ‘unmask’ the supposedly deceitful Iranian asylum applicants one after another, even when those hearing the cases don’t even know the difference between the [Apostle’s] Creed, and the Our Father [Lord’s Prayer].”

Instead, refugees are being tasked with obscure or even irrelevant questions to determine the “authenticity” of their conversions. “Questions are put such as the names of the two sons in the parable of the Prodigal Son, or what Martin Luther died of, or the occasion of Queen Margarethe of Denmark’s recent visit to Wittenberg,” Dr. Martens reports. “In this way, Christians who learned the first elements of the Christian faith in their house church in Iran are well and truly hung out to dry. Many hearings are more like kangaroo courts in which our congregational members and candidates for baptism have absolutely no chance of presenting what is important to them.”

Dr. Martens further reports that those hearing the cases are dismissing or even mocking the refugees when they express their faith in the importance of Christ dying on the cross for their sins. “What the applicant says here makes absolutely no sense,” one official is said to write in his official reports. Those tasked with translating for the court—mostly Muslims with little knowledge of the Christian faith, and in some cases reportedly hostile to it—are also accused of incorrectly or even falsely translating what the refugees say during their hearings. Such improper questioning and translating seriously damages the applicants’ claims for refugee status, as the final decision is made elsewhere in Germany on the basis of these reports and transcripts.

Dr. Martens says the flaws in the system are so great that the situation must inevitably be raised to a higher court. “Orders have obviously been given from above no longer to recognize Iranian converts as having the right to asylum in our country,” Dr. Martens suggests. “The systematic failure of the Federal Ministry in hundreds of cases must come to the light of day through the efforts of the superior courts.”

The challenges come after a year of other difficulties, as converts to Christianity have faced increasing persecution from Muslim refugees angry at their conversions from Islam. “This year many of them suffered violent attacks from Muslim residents of their institutional homes and from Muslim watchmen once they learned of their conversion. Time and time again—most recently last week—we have had to collect people from residences, in order to prevent worse from befalling them,” he notes. The attacks even led SELKS’ bishop earlier this year to call on the government to give Christian refugees to be given separate accommodations from Muslim refugees. “But our congregational members and candidates for baptism are continually finding that those who attack them and threaten them with death have no problem securing the right of abode here in Germany, while they themselves—the ones under attack—are ‘exposed’ by the Federal Ministry as not entitled to asylum.”

As an example, Dr. Martens notes the case of six Christian converts who were beaten by a group of nearly 100 radical Muslim asylum applicants in February 2016. Police dogs had to be released in order to protect the Christians. And yet the police investigation was eventually dropped. Now, the six Christians are among those receiving deportation notices.

Despite the challenges, Dr. Martens reports good news too for his congregation. In his letter he goes on to explain the process by which refugees are instructed in the Christian faith prior to baptism—or excluded, if a genuine conversion is not evident. Currently baptisms sit at between 30 and 40 a month. And renovations to the building to accommodate more refugees continue apace.

Dr. Martens ends his letter with a request for prayer. “Please keep praying for the work here in Stegltiz,” he writes. “It is and remains in many ways a spiritual battle loaded with many afflictions and temptations. And yet for me personally, even after 25 years, it remains the most beautiful service in the world, which I would never exchange for anything else. Pray above all that all the members who have found their way to our congregation in the last years may continue to hold to Christ and not let their love for their Lord falter!”

You can download Dr. Martens’ full letter here. The translation is by Rev. Dr. John Stephenson of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario).

SELK is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

———————

Republished from The Canadian Lutheran.

Dialogue between Confessional Lutherans and Roman Catholics continues

Third Meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group between the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Participants in October's meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group of the ILC and PCPCU.
Participants in the October 2016 meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group of the ILC and PCPCU.

GERMANY – On October 14-15, the Informal Dialogue Group between the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity met. This time the gathering took place at the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institute for Ecumenism in Paderborn, Germany. Delegates on the ILC side were Rev. Dr. Albert Colver III (St. Louis, Missouri), Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Oberursel, Germany), Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil), and—standing in for Prof. Dr. John Stephenson—Prof. Dr. Thomas Winger (St. Catharines, Canada). On the Roman Catholic side were Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany), Prof. Dr. Grant Kaplan (St. Louis, Missouri), PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn, Germany), Father Dr. Augustinus Sander (Maria Laach, Germany), and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn, Germany).

The conversations centered on the Lutheran perception of the Roman Catholic liturgy. They focused particularly on the Roman Catholic understanding of the presence of Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Church in the Lord’s Supper. It became apparent that there were different ways of thinking—not only between Lutheran and Roman Catholic approaches to the topic, but also in the various Roman Catholic Eucharistic prayers themselves. The debate centered in particular on the problem whether and to what extent the Church might play a distinct, or “active”, role in the performance of the liturgy.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. In preparing for this meeting, cross-confessional pairings were formed. They are meant to engage with the following topics: the understanding of co-operation of the Church (“synergeia”) and sacrifice; the theological understanding of “time”, that is to say the relationship between the history of salvation and the “event” of salvation, or the issue of the realization of salvation in the liturgy; the understanding of sacrifice against the background of article 24 of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, and in The Examination of the Council of Trent by Martin Chemnitz,  looking also at the document “The Eucharist” (1978); and questions concerning the office of the ministry and ordination. Moreover, they plan to identify and describe areas of major agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the churches in the International Lutheran Council. The resulting texts will serve to steer the further debates in the year to come, and secure the results of this informal dialogue.

———————

World Seminaries Conference comes to an end

Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison and Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt pronounce absolution individually to conference goers at the closing service in St. Mary's Church.
Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison and Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt pronounce absolution to conference goers at the closing service in St. Mary’s Church.

GERMANY – Thursday saw the International Lutheran Council’s 2016 World Seminaries Conference draw to a close.

Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki.
Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki.

The focus of the day was the impact of confessional Lutheranism on worldview, with Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki, President of Kobe Lutheran Theological Seminary in Japan, providing the keynote address. Dr. Masaki’s presentation gave special attention to the catechism as a method of shaping a Christian worldview in both thought and daily action. Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast (LCMS) provided a response to the paper.

The afternoon featured two shorter presentations. Rev. Prof. Leonerio Faller of Brazil (IELB) spoke on “The Immigrant in the Light of the bible and Lutheran Theology,” while Rev. Dr. Sergei A. Isaev of Russia (ELCI) addressed “The Lutheran Penetration of Russia.”

The latter half of the afternoon was spent discussing future plans for the World Seminaries Conference, and exploring what specific resources the conference might provide to assist seminaries around the world in their work: the development of a common core curriculum, for example, or the facilitation of inter-seminary student exchanges.

ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver and ILC Chairman Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt install the Seminary Relations Committee.
ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver and ILC Chairman Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt install the Seminary Relations Committee.

The convention took time to give a special note of thanks to Dr. Andrea Grunhagen of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church for her work in helping to organize the convention.

A closing service for the conference then took place in St. Mary’s Church, the mother church of the Reformation. The service saw the installation of the current board of the ILC Seminary Relations Committee: Ghana’s Rev. William Adjei Boateng (Africa World Region), Germany’s Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Europe World Region), Brazil’s Rev. Gerson Linden (Latin America World Region), and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (North America World Region). The representative for the Asia World Region will be appointed at a later date and will come from the Lutheran Church of the Philippines. The convention earlier thanked Rev. Dr. Michael Adoga for his work, as he was not continuing on as the Africa World Region representative.

———————

World Seminaries Conference continues

Participants in the World Seminaries Conference gather in front of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.
Participants in the World Seminaries Conference gather in front of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.

Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa
Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa

GERMANY – The International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) Sixth World Seminaries Conference continued Wednesday, turning its attention to the subject of missions.

Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa, General Secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Mekane Yesus (EECMY), served as keynote speaker for the day, addressing the impact of Lutheranism on missions. He discussed the theological basis for missions in Luther’s thought, the history of Lutheran mission, and current practices in Lutheran mission, with special reference to the practices of the EECMY, the fastest growing Lutheran church body in the world.

Convention participants spent the afternoon in Leipzig. There they visited St. Thomas Church and St. Nicholas Church, both sites associated with the career of the church musician and composer Johanne Sebastian Bach. Kevin Hildebrand (LCMS) gave a brief organ recital at St. Thomas, the church Bach served for many years

St. Lukas Church
St. Lukas Church

Participants then proceeded held to Vespers at St. Lukas Church, a member congregation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). There they heard about the church’s work among immigrants, and the growing number of Iranian and Afghan refugees converting to Christianity and joining SELK congregations. The number of converts is so significant that last year the SELK recorded a slight increase in total membership – an arrest in what has otherwise been a multi-year decline, as has been the case with many Western churches.

Wednesday evening continued back in Wittenberg with two responses to earlier presentations. The first was from Rev. Dr. Armin Wenz (SELK), responding to Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer’s Tuesday presentation on worship. The second was from Rev. Dr. Detlev Schulz (LCMS), commenting on Dr. Ofgaa’s presentation on mission.

As was also true of the presentations at the ILC’s 2015 World Conference, all major presentations from the World Seminaries Conference will be published in a future issue of The Journal for Lutheran Mission.

———————

Shaping Confessional Lutheranism in the 21st Century: ILC World Seminaries Conference begins

 

Participants in the 2016 World Seminaries Conference visit in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Participants in the 2016 World Seminaries Conference visit at the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

GERMANY – The Sixth World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) opened Tuesday, October 11, 2016 in Wittenberg, Germany. Representatives from more than 30 ILC churches from all world regions are in attendance. In addition, nearly 30 guests representing other church bodies and institutions are present for the conference, which runs through the end of Thursday, October 13.

The choice of Wittenberg as the site of this year’s conference on theological education is an apt one. Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon were both professors at the University of Wittenberg, and it was in this educational environment that they developed many of the teachings of the Lutheran Reformation.

Dr. Werner Klän addresses the convention.
Dr. Werner Klän addresses the convention.

The theme for this year’s gathering is “Shaping Confessional Lutheranism for the 21st Century: The Impact of the Lutheran Reformation on Mission, Worship, and Worldview.” Professor Dr. Werner Klän, Rector of the Lutherische Theologische Hochschule (Oberursel, Germany), gave a keynote address on the conference theme Tuesday morning, following a service of Matins. “In all these areas, like mission, worship, and worldview, the witness of the Lutheran Reformation must be promulgated untiringly and without fear,” he said. “That is why with gratitude I realize that we share a multitude of points of view amongst our partner churches throughout the ILC, concerning the tasks that lie ahead for confessional Lutheran churches in post-modern and in some parts of the world (like Europe, as it seems to me) even post-Christian times.”

“There can be no doubt,” he continued, “that as long as we are churches bound to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and intend to remain so, we will be aware that effectiveness is not ours but the Holy Spirit’s, through God’s Word and the sacraments. It is and will be Him who creates, preserves, and strengthens faith and brings people from all races, cultures, social groups, societies, and nations to salvation.”

Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer discusses the Reformation's influence on worship.
Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer discusses the Reformation’s influence on worship.

The three areas referenced in Dr. Klän’s presentation—mission, worship, and worldview—are being developed in additional detail through the keynote addresses of three other speakers throughout the conference. Rev. Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer, Head of the School of Pastoral Studies at Australian Lutheran College (Adelaide, Australia), was the first to present, discussing the impact of the Lutheran Reformation on worship. Rev. Roberto Bustamante, Professor of New Testament at Seminario Concordio (Buenos Aires, Argentina), provided a response.

Participants also broke into small groups to discuss the challenges and opportunites facing theological education in their world regions.

The business of the day concluded with Vespers, held in the Castle Church of Wittenberg, where tradition states Martin Luther once nailed the 95 Theses to the church door. Both Luther and Philip Melanchthon lie buried in the Castle Church. A walking tour of Wittenberg followed Vespers.

———————-

20 Years of Summer Theological Seminars in Siberia

Participants in this year's Summer Seminar.
Participants in this year’s Summer Seminar.

RUSSIA – Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) and its Theological Seminary recently held their 21st Summer Theological Seminars in Siberia under the general title “1996–2016: Ad Fontes” (To the Sources). But what are the “fontes” or “sources” of the seminars themselves?

The history of the seminars dates back to meetings with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in St. Louis in 1994 and Fort Wayne in 1995. Following this initial acquaintance with confessional Lutheran theology, Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin (then a pastor of the Lutheran parish in Novosibirsk) requested the LCMS’ Rev. Dr. Wallace Shultz to provide theological education for the Lutheran people in Siberia.

Thanks to leadership from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne) and a generous grant from the Schwann Foundation, the founding of Lutheran seminars in Siberia became a reality. But the enterprise’s real success had to do with the fact that the initiative came from the local people. When asked “How can we help you?” they responded: “Please provide theological education to us. We need solid Lutheran training.”

Rev. Dr Timothy C.J. Quill was a key contact on the American side who participated in the process of selection of teachers for the Siberian program. The first two seminars of 1996 and 1997 were perhaps the most representative and best attended ones, because they were held almost exclusively in Novosibirsk. People came to Novosibirsk from as far as St. Petersburg in the west and Sakhalin Island and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east. The first speakers included, among others: Rev. Dr. William Weinrich, Rev. Dr. Arthur Just, Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Rev. Kurt Marquart, Rev. Dr. David Scaer, Rev. Dr. Horace Hummel, Rev. Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn, and Rev. Dr. Scott Murray.

During the second seminar of 1997, the first building of the Lutheran Seminary in Novosibirsk was dedicated by Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe, with classes starting in September of that year. Alexey Streltsov, aged 23 at the time, was installed as rector of the seminary. Establishing the Seminary was a major result and culmination of the Summer Seminars, as well as the ultimate realization of the initial request of Rev Vsevolod Lytkin.

But the Summer Seminars did not cease merely because a seminary was established. They continued as the ground base for providing theological education for laity and church workers. These seminars were used for different purposes: missionary, catechetical, recruitment of the new seminary students, and so forth. Over the years the seminars expanded to include such location as Tomsk, Novokuznetsk, Ekaterinburg, Khakassia, Chita, and others.

While the circumstances varied year to year, Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church was deeply committed to the Summer Seminars as a form of sharing theological expertise with the wider circles of the church. With no external funding, the activities were still performed in the local congregations and by local people. With no speakers to come from the outside, the Seminary instructors took upon themselves the responsibility of caring for the theological well-being of the SELC flock.

The 2016 Summer Seminar was like the first seminar in a number of ways. More than 110 people participated in this event with people attending from different parts of Siberia and Russia: Krasnodar and Moscow in the west, and Chita in the east. And this seminar’s speakers included three of the original teachers: Rev. Dr. William Weinrich, Rev. Dr. Arthrur Just, and Rev. Dr Timothy Quill. Also teaching was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver who has also participated in previous seminars. The topics had to do with exegetical, dogmatic, and pastoral theology. Besides lectures, there were numerous discussions of the seminar participants both with the presenters and among themselves in the small groups.

The content of the lectures and the seminar’s overall warm family atmosphere has left a long lasting impression on the clergy and laity of SELC. Now as SELC and her seminary move toward greater ecumenical engagement with the world around Siberia, it was good to remember how it all started and be reinforced in the depths of confessional Lutheran theology.

The second week of the seminar activities saw Rev. Dr Arthur Just hold a number of teaching session on a smaller scale. Dozens of Lutherans in Novokuznetsk, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Beloretsk, and Moscow were able to listen to his lectures on St. James and the theology of the Gospel of St. Luke.

Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church rejoices in such opportunities to gather around the faithful teaching of God’s work and to exercise genuine Christian fellowship at an event where doctrine and worship go hand in hand, strengthening the faithful for life in this world.

Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

———————

Norwegians celebrates publication of Sami-language New Testament

Two Sami congregants pose with the new edition of the New Testament along with The Lutheran Church in Norway's Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie (second from left) and Rev. Olav Lyngmo (far right).
Two Sami congregants pose with the new edition of the New Testament, along with The Lutheran Church in Norway’s Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie (second from left) and Rev. Olav Lyngmo (far right).

NORWAY – The classic Sami-language New Testament has now been published using the modern spelling standard, with the first presentation of the new edition in Norway taking place in a congregation of The Lutheran Church in Norway.

Rev. Olav Berg Lyngmo, a Sami-speaking pastor who has been involved in the project, presented the new edition of the New Testament during a service held August 15, 2016 in Alta, Finnmark (Norwegian Lapland). Many of those in attendance have been awaiting this edition of the New Testament for years.

The Sami are a small population in modern day Europe, a fact which has led to challenges for Sami Christians. The Sami in Norway consist of three different language groups who don’t understand each other’s languages. The New Testament project focuses on the largest of these three: the Northern Sami, who make up a group of about 20,000 people, with most living in Norway and some also in Sweden and Finland.

Producing Bibles and devotional material for small language groups has always been expensive, so recent efforts for the Northern Sami have focused on reproducing the 1895 Bible, Luther’s Small Catechism, a hymnal, and a few other books that have been published over the years.

In 1977 a new Sami spelling standard was introduced in the schools. In many ways, it was a gift, as it simplified spelling for Sami schoolchildren and also allowed non-native speakers of Sami greater ease in reading the language. But it created a gap between the new generation of Sami speakers and previously produced literature, as only a limited amount of classical devotional material has ever been made available in the new spelling system.

A new translation of the New Testament was produced in 1998 in accordance with the new spelling standard, but most Sami preferred the older translation of 1895. Bringing this classic version into modern spelling has been of great importance to the Sami people, leading the Sami Parliament in 2010 to allocate funds to make the new edition of the New Testament possible.

With the traditional version of the New Testament now in modern Sami spelling, different generations can read together from the same beloved text, each using the spelling system they are most comfortable reading. While an important step forward, the Sami know challenges remain, as the Old Testament is still only available in in the old spelling system.

The Lutheran Church in Norway is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

———————

Wittenberg’s “Old Latin School” installs new managing director

Present and former directors of the Wittenberg Project: Rev. David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, and Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson.
Present and former directors of the Wittenberg Project: Rev. David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, and Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson.

Germany – The International Lutheran Study and Visitors’ Center in Wittenberg (also known as the “Old Latin School”) bid a formal farewell to its retiring Managing Director and installed his successor in a festival service on Sunday, August 14.

The service, held at the Town Church of St. Mary, the “mother church of the Reformation,” marked the retirement of Rev. David Mahsman, a missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), who served seven years in the position. During Rev. Mahsman’s tenure, the rebuilding of the “Old Latin School” (originally built in 1567) was completed, and the new center dedicated in May 2015. Rev. Mahsman and his wife, Lois, return to the United States around September 1 to live in St. Louis, their former home before moving to Germany.

The sign at the Old Latin School, noting the center's relationship with the International Lutheran Council.
The sign at the Old Latin School, noting the center’s relationship with the International Lutheran Council.

The service included the formal induction of Kristin Lange as the new Managing Director for the Center. Lange, who hails from Kansas, studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin and works effectively in both English and German. Conducting the formal farewell and induction ceremony was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, the LCMS Assistant to the President for Church Relations. “The focus of the Managing Director’s work will obviously change now,” commented Dr. Collver, “since the building is complete. Now comes the task of shaping the Old Latin School into an active gathering point for confessional Lutherans to meet, study, and get to know church partners from around the world.” Dr. Collver went on to note that the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran churches, is working to intensify its ties with the Old Latin School—a relationship indicated clearly on the building’s signage.

Participants in the in the induction service. (Back row: Markus Fischer, Armin Wenz, Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, Thomas Junker, Bishop Emeritus Dr. Jobst Schöne. Front row: Bishop Voigt, David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, Dr. Albert Collver, President Bugbee
Participants in the in the induction service. Back row: Markus Fischer, Armin Wenz, Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, Thomas Junker, and Bishop Emeritus Dr. Jobst Schöne. Front row: Bishop Voigt, David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, Dr. Albert Collver, and President Robert Bugbee.
The “mother church of the Reformation” in Luther’s Wittenberg glows in the afternoon sunshine on the day of the ILSW induction festival
The “mother church of the Reformation” in Luther’s Wittenberg glows in the afternoon sunshine on the day of the ILSW induction festival

Serving as officiant for the service was Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) and Chairman of the ILC. The SELK and LCMS have been sponsoring churches for the Old Latin School project since its inception. Bishop Voigt was assisted at the worship by SELK pastors from parishes near Wittenberg, as well as by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, who served as the original project director prior to Mahsman’s arrival. Preacher for the service was President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church-Canada. In his German-language sermon, President Bugbee emphasized the heartbeat of the Old Latin School’s mission: to introduce needy people to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luther’s old Town Church reverberated with festive organ music provided by Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman, an LCMS missionary.

The Old Latin School’s prime location at Jüdenstrasse 38 is just steps away from the Town Church’s main portal. The center includes offices, hotel accommodations, a lecture hall, kitchen facilities, and a chapel. In addition, Concordia Publishing House has many materials for sale in the center’s bookstore. The new director, Kristin Lange, also has her residence in the building, which has a busy calendar going into the Reformation 500th Anniversary year in 2017.

———————

Lutheran churches sign agreement in Ukraine

Signatories of the Ukraine agreement: Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Vice-President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU).
Signatories of the Ukraine agreement: Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Vice-President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU).

Ukraine – Representatives of four Lutheran church bodies signed an agreement in Odessa, Ukraine on August 12, pledging closer collaboration with one another and setting the stage for possible deeper cooperation in the future.

The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) was represented by Bishop Serge Maschewski. Representing the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU) were Bishop Emeritus Viktor Graefenstein and Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, SELCU Vice-President for Church Relations. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver represented The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), while President Robert Bugbee attended on behalf of Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC). The protocol signing followed two days of meetings at SELCU’s Concordia Seminary in Usatovo, an Odessa suburb.

LCC has worked in Ukraine for more than 20 years, providing theological education for the SELCU since 1998. SELCU is a church body which began after a separation from the DELKU in the mid-1990s. Though the two Ukrainian churches have had occasional contacts since that time, the stage for stronger relations was set more recently when DELKU began expressing a desire to firm up its commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.

DELKU Bishop Maschewski had been an early student in the “Russian Project” of Concordia Theological Seminary at Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW), as the LCMS began working with developing Lutheran churches after the breakup of the Soviet Union. “It is such a joy to see to see these long term relationships grow and blossom,” noted CTSFW President Lawrence Rast. “It shows us how the gospel is ‘in the whole world’ and ‘is bearing fruit and increasing’ (Colossians 1:6), just as the Scriptures promise.” The Fort Wayne Seminary provided several continuing education seminars for DELKU pastors in the past year.

Since LCMS and LCC have a long-standing practice of cooperation in world mission areas, the recent discussions sought to foster cooperation and avoid misunderstandings in Ukraine, which has historically been an LCC mission field. President Bugbee observed, “When these talks began, the participants did not expect that we would end up signing an agreement to keep each other thoroughly informed of the work we’re doing, and to consider stronger joint efforts in the future. The discussions were marked by a great brotherly spirit. I thank God for that!”

DELKU includes congregations with history reaching back to the Lutheran Church in the Russian empire, which was extensive and well developed until the communist revolution of 1917 ushered in decades of repression. After dissolution of the USSR and Ukrainian independence, DELKU worked extensively with the Lutheran (State) Church of Bavaria in Germany, but recently began cultivating ties with the LCMS and its partners, like LCC.

LCMS and LCC are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

———————

 

Latvian Lutherans consecrate confessional Swede as Bishop

by Christopher C. Barnekov

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) has consecrated as bishop a Swedish theologian previously barred from ordination in Sweden because of his confessional Lutheran faith. Rev.

Archbishop Vanags presents Hans Jönsson with the pectoral cross of a bishop. (Photo: Rihards Rasnacis).
Archbishop Vanags presents Hans Jönsson with the pectoral cross of a bishop. (Photo: Rihards Rasnacis).

Hans Jönsson, 48, was consecrated August 6 at the cathedral in Riga to serve as bishop of Liepaja Diocese in southwestern Latvia.

Bishop Jönsson graduated from Lund University in Sweden. While studying in Lund, he supplemented his studies with lectures in Lutheran theology sponsored by the Swedish Luther Foundation, which was formed in 1955 to promote theological education grounded in the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran confessional writings, thus opposing increasingly liberal trends in the Church of Sweden.

Because of his confessional Lutheran views, Jönsson was denied ordination in the Church of Sweden. He was, however, certified as qualified for ordination by the Church Coalition for The Bible and Confessions, an umbrella organization encompassing several Swedish Confessional Lutheran movements that was founded in 1958 at the initiative of Bishop Bo Giertz to defend traditional Lutheran faith in the Church of Sweden. The Coalition was formed in the context of the debate over women’s ordination, which its members viewed as clearly contradicting Scripture.

Bishop Jönsson is also an associate member of the pastoral collegium of the Mission Province in Sweden. Dr. Bengt Birgersson, Mission Province Secretary, who attended the consecration, noted, “Sweden’s loss is Latvia’s gain. Many gifted young men were forced to leave Sweden in order to serve Christ abroad, having been denied ordination in the Church of Sweden because they were faithful to Scripture. This is why the Mission Province was formed: to provide a path to ordination and service in Sweden.” Since the founding of the Mission Province in 2003, approximately 40 men have been ordained in Sweden and in the Mission Dioceses in Finland and Norway who would otherwise have been excluded because they believe the Holy Scriptures limit the pastoral office to men.

The ELCL has a close historical relationship to the Church of Sweden. Unlike the Church of Sweden, however, the Latvian church has remained faithful to Confessional Lutheran theology. In 2000, Jönsson was invited to serve in Latvia while learning the language, receiving financial support from the Swedish Luther Foundation. He was subsequently ordained in Riga in 2003, and most recently served as pastor in Madona, about 40 miles east of Riga. He was also given responsibility for managing the national church’s finances and currently serves as chairman of the board for pastoral education.

Rev. Jönsson was elected June 3 to replace the retiring Bishop of Liepaja. The diocese consists of 124 congregations served by 40 pastors.

Bishop Jönsson with Archbishop Vanags after the consecration.
Bishop Jönsson with Archbishop Vanags after the consecration.

Archbishop Janis Vanags conducted the consecration, which was broadcast in its entirety by Latvian national television. Archbishop Vanags was assisted by Latvia’s bishops as well as Bishop Tiits Salumäe of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was represented by Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations and Assistant to the President. Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church in Norway also participated in the service. Representatives also attended from the Nordic Mission Dioceses, as well as the Swedish Luther Foundation and other confessional Lutheran movements.

With nearly 300 congregations, the ELCL is the nation’s largest church. It is in fellowship with the LCMS and also has close ties to the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany. In June, the ELCL amended its constitution to reverse a policy imposed during the Soviet domination that opened ordained ministry to women (although no women had been ordained since shortly after Latvia’s liberation).

Although ELCL is still a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), it rejected heavy pressure from the LWF in moving to limit ordination to men. Advocates of women’s ordination argued that this decision would strain relations with LWF members. In addressing the June synod, however, Archbishop Vanags expressed the intention of drawing closer to the International Lutheran Council and its member churches, including the LCMS, which ordain only men. Relations between ELCL and the Church of Sweden have also been greatly strained since the CoS accepted same-sex marriage.

———————