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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ST LOUIS , Missouri – On July 24, 2016 Rev. Dr. Ralph A. Bohlmann was received into eternal rest at the age of 84. Dr. Bohlmann had served as President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) from 1981-1992, and was the first to be given the title President Emeritus.
A funeral service was held Wednesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m. on the campus of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.
Prior to serving as LCMS President, Dr. Bohlmann served as President of Concordia Seminary from 1975-1981, after having served as professor of systematic theology there since 1960. Dr. Bohlmann was one of five seminary faculty members who remained on the faculty during the confessional crisis over the authority of Scripture there in 1975, which resulted in the walkout of multiple faculty and students. Under his leadership, the school focused on resolving differences and encouraging doctrinal integrity. By the time his presidency came to an end, the seminary population was greater than that prior to the confessional crisis.
LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison expressed the synod’s deep gratefulness to President Emeritus Bohlmann. “Ralph is the last of the faithful who stood against the faculty majority for the truth of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions,” President Harrison told the LCMS Reporter. “The Synod is deeply indebted to Dr. Bohlmann,” he added, “and all these years later, we can hardly imagine the difficulties and trials which faced the men who were faithful. Dr. Bohlmann was resolute on these issues to the end.”
In addition to service as President of the LCMS and President of Concordia Seminary, Dr. Bohlmnan served as Executive Secretary of the church’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) from 1971-1974. He also served on the CTCR as a member from 1965-1971 and 1975-1981.
Dr. Bohlmann was the author of “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles,” a document which helped to ensure doctrinal fidelity in the seminary. It was later adopted by the LCMS in convention as a clear explanation of the Lutheran teaching on the authority of Scripture. Throughout his ministry, he was the author of a number of other books and articles, including Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Lutheran Confessions. He also represented the synod in ecumenical dialogue with other church bodies.
President Emeritus Bohlmann is survived by two children Paul (New York City) and Lynn (Jacksonville, Illinois), as well as two grandchildren. Dr. Bohlmann’s wife, Pat, entered into glory in 2012.
USA – On June 8, the Lutheran Church of the Philippines (LCP) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) signed a protocol agreement during a meeting in St. Louis, Missouri.
The agreement outlines how the two church bodies will work together going forward in such areas as higher education (theological education), cooperation in mission work, communications, and other programs. It further highlights that the basis for fellowship between the two churches is their joint witness to the authority of Holy Scripture and subscription to the Book of Concord.
The protocol agreement was signed by LCP President Antonio Reyes and LCMS President Matthew Harrison, as well as LCP Vice President Felipe Ehican and LCMS Director of Church Relations Al Collver.
The Lutheran Church of the Philippines has approximately 25,000 members. The LCMS has approximately two million members. Both churches are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.
WITTENBERG, Germany—The Council of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met June 15-21, 2016 in Wittenberg, Germany. In his address, LWF President Bishop Munib Younan (Jerusalem) called upon LWF member churches to carry out a critical dialogue on the foundation and mutual responsibility involved in church fellowship. “The crises facing the world demand more than our politeness. They demand action,” he said. “But we cannot act fully without interrogating our foundational assumptions and motivations.”
As the meeting of the governing body of the LWF communion got underway, Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, LWF’s re-elected General Secretary, emphasized the importance of ecumenism. This 2016 Council meeting is the last full gathering of the LWF’s highest governing body before the 12th General Assembly in May of 2017 and prior to the commemorations for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The General Secretary stressed the intention of this Lutheran communion to mark the anniversary around the world and in the spirit of ecumenical responsibility.
A joint Catholic-Lutheran Reformation event in Lund Cathedral and in Malmö, Sweden on October 31, 2016, will mark a notable high point. The fact that this event is being carried out jointly—on the Lutheran side by LWF President Younan and General Secretary Junge and on the Roman Catholic side by Pope Francis—“represents a historic turning point in our relationships, in view of the clear commitment to leave conflict behind and open up to the communion that God invites us for and holds prepared for us, while dealing with differences that remain,” according to General Secretary Junge. His report also underscored the significance of diaconal work. To be Lutheran is to be diaconal. Thus the LWF is currently supporting 2.3 million refugees.
Bishop Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), took part in the Council meeting as an ecumenical guest and observer. In his greeting, Bishop Voigt, spiritual head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK), called attention to the fact that 2017 also marks the 200th Anniversary of the founding of independent Lutheran churches which resisted the repressive religious politics of the Prussian state after 1817. Lutherans fled to North America, Australia and Latin America. Years later, the ILC was formed by these church bodies, together with others.
Bishop Voigt expressed joy that some participants in the LWF Council meeting were being housed in Wittenberg’s “Old Latin School” and conducted a number of smaller meetings there. The Old Latin School is a joint project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (USA) and the SELK. Bishop Voigt did not gloss over the reality that the LWF-ILC relationship has been marked by certain tensions. Thus the annual consultations between the two global fellowships are all the more important. In this spirit the ILC gratefully and joyfully gave theological attention to the dialogue paper, From Conflict to Communion, published by the LWF and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). In conclusion, Bishop Voigt said, “May God show us His way for coming closer together between the two focal points of truth and love—love and truth.”
The LWF is a global fellowship of Lutheran churches. It was founded in 1947 and now numbers 145 member churches in 98 countries, with more than 72 million members. The ILC is an association of confessional Lutheran churches throughout the world, representing 3.3 million Lutherans in 35 member churches and is thus the second-largest international Lutheran fellowship.
USA – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has announced that Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison has been reelected as President.
President Harrison was elected on the first ballot, receiving 56.96 percent of the votes cast. This is President Harrison’s third term, having first been elected to serve as president of the LCMS in 2010.
Also nominated were Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer and Rev. Dr. David P.E. Maier, who received 36.66 percent and 6.38 percent of the votes respectively.
News of President Harrison’s reelection comes several weeks before the LCMS holds its 2016 national convention. In the LCMS, presidential elections are held four weeks in advance of the national convention. Voting delegates from each congregation in the synod were invited to vote electronically from June 11-14, and the results of the election were made public June 15.
Delegates will gather in Milwaukee at the Wisconsin Center for the 66th convention of the LCMS from July 9-14, 2016. Elections for Vice-Presidents and other synodical officers will take place during the convention.
The LCMS, an American church body with more than two million members, is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.
POLAND – The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (ECACP – Kościół Ewangelicko-Augsburski w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) has rejected opening ordination to women, after a vote on the issue was defeated during the 2016 Spring Synod of the Church in Warsaw.
In total, 38 people voted in favour of the change and 26 voted against it, with four abstentions. According to the church’s bylaws, altering this aspect of church teaching in the Polish church would have required a 2/3 majority vote—a target missed by eight votes.
The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland notes that the discussion of female ordination has a long history in their church, going back more than seven decades. In 2008, the ECACP’s Commission on Theology and Confession reported its opinion that there were no theological objections to introducing female ordination in the ECACP. Despite their finding, female ordination has not been adopted by the Polish church. Women have been able to serve in the office of deacon in the church since 1999.
The question of opening pastoral ordination to women had been raised in the Autumn 2015 Synod of the Church by Bishop Jerzy Samiec, head of the ECACP. He announced his intention to open discussion of the topic during a conference in Warsaw discussing the Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) Gender Justice Policy.
With approximately 60,000 members, the ECACP is Poland’s largest Protestant church in a predominantly Roman Catholic country. Prior to Communist oppression following World War II, the church counted a membership of approximately one million members.
The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland is a member church of the LWF, though it also has ties to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a member church of the International Lutheran Council. Churches in the ILC do not ordain women.
WITTENBERG, Germany – On April 7, representatives of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) met with the new Director of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW), Kristen Lange, in Wittenberg’s Old Latin School.
Since the historic building in Wittenberg’s Old Town was restored and renovated as a study and welcome center, it began serving in its new role during the past year. The comprehensive building phase was headed up by Rev. David Mahsman. Now, as things transition into the programming phase, Kristen Lange has assumed responsibilities as its director. The SELK works together in the ILSW with its U.S. partner, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS’ mission department employs Director Lange as a missionary to Germany.
Director Lange, an academically-trained linguist (in German and English), had opportunity to visit with SELK Bishop Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, SELK District Presidents Peter Brückmann (of Berlin) and Thomas Junker (of Weissenfels), Rev. Markus Fischer (of Trinity Lutheran Church, Leipzig, which has responsibility for Wittenberg), Ulrich Schroeder (of Dresden) and Dr. Andrea Grünhagen (of Hannover, a theological resource executive). The SELK delegation took the opportunity to get acquainted and extend a sincere welcome to Germany. Rev. Mahsman also participated in the conversation, which, in addition to information about SELK church structures and procedures, considered upgrading a preaching presence in Wittenberg, as well as public relations, outreach, and preparations for the “World Reformation Exhibition,” planned for Wittenberg as part of the 2017 Reformation anniversary.
Bishop Voigt explained to SELK-News that he is filled with gratitude every time he visits the Old Latin School. “The strong LCMS engagement, which also involved the SELK, has brought results. I wish Kristen Lange a good adjustment to Germany and the Lord’s blessing for her work.”
GERMANY – Minorities are repeatedly targeted by radical Muslims at refugee shelters in Germany. In addition to single mothers traveling with children, Christians are also being affected. Dr. Gottfried Martens, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church—a congregation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Berlin-Steglitz—has furnished multiple reports of radical Muslim attacks on Christians and converts to Christianity. Members of his parish, composed primarily of refugees from Iran and Afghanistan, have appealed to Dr. Martens to rescue them from such shelters. Along with violent physical attacks, Christians are regularly insulted as “Kuffar” (unbelievers); necklaces adorned with baptismal crosses are wrenched from their necks, their Bibles torn up, and access blocked to kitchens in the shelters. As recently as this past Saturday such violent attacks took place in the refugee facility located at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin.
The SELK’s national bishop, Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, has responded by demanding separate accommodations for Christians as long as the state cannot ensure that all refugees may freely practice their faith in asylum facilities without disturbance. “Religious freedom is a constitutionally protected right, comparable to freedom of the press,” Bishop Voigt said. “The state has the obligation and duty to permit, ensure, and protect freedom of religion.” If this is only possible in the short term by providing separate accommodations for refugees according to religion, then this is the necessary solution for the time being. “It must not be permitted that Christians are oppressed in refugee shelters because of their faith.”
The spiritual leader of the SELK added that influential groups in society, various associations, and politicians are either downplaying this abuse or silencing it completely. The problem is that Christian churches in Germany represent a majority over against Muslims and, as a result, are legitimately concerned to protect a religious minority. In refugee shelters, however, the proportions are the other way around so that the Christians form the minority. Their need for protection is urgent. As a matter of principle, Bishop Voigt stressed that integration can only succeed when the faith of other people is respected and tolerated. Despite sharp differences in faith convictions it must be the goal of everyone to shape a peaceful life within the community.
Bishop Voigt, who also serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Evangelical Lutheran churches, hailed statements on religious freedom contained in the February 12 declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia, signed at the close of their recent meeting in Cuba. Among other things, it states, “In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions.” In response, Bishop Voigt commented: “We are committed to strengthening Christian refugees in this respectful spirit, but expect that Muslim spiritual leaders will stand up for religious freedom in the same way among their own adherents.”
SELK News February 16, 2016 Translation: Robert Bugbee
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