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.
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.
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.
The road was paved with compromises leading to the overwhelming majority decision for same-sex marriage liturgy at the General Synod of Church of Norway January 30. A year ago the preliminary decision was made, and now the new liturgy was accepted. The new liturgy became legal on February 1 and the first homosexual couple was married minutes after midnight on that same date.
What is the decision, and why would the bishops who were against same-sex marriages vote for it and agree to enforce it in every single congregation in Church of Norway?
The new liturgy is a non-gender specific liturgy to allow the marriage of people independent of gender. It is meant to be used for same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. The liturgy contains no reference to the biblical texts of marriage being between one man and one woman. The two are to say yes to their “spouse”, not to a “husband”/”man” or “wife/woman”. There are Scriptural passages that are optional readings, and among them are some relating to the marriage of man and woman.
The majority at the General Synod first insisted on only allowing this new liturgy and take the old one out of use. It became, however, a part of the compromise to allow the old liturgy with clear language of marriage between man and woman to still be allowed to be used — for the time being. This way the more conservative bishops hoped to create space for the group of pastors that have a classical understanding of marriage. There should be continued room for them even after the new same-sex, gender-irrelevant liturgy had been introduced.
But to achieve this compromise, the more conservative bishops agreed that all congregations in Norway must offer same-sex marriages. The local pastor can refuse to perform the same-sex marriage, but then another pastor will come in and perform the wedding. The compromise was agreed upon to avoid a split in the Church of Norway.
What can explain this rapid change in the Church of Norway where both Lutheranism and Pietism have experienced such a long and strong history? The Lutheran School of Theology (MF) was established in 1907 in reaction to the liberal theology of The School of Theology at the University. The pastors from this new Lutheran School of Theology became organized into the Fellowship for Bible and Confession (FBB in Norwegian). The irony is that today the vast majority of clergy in the Church of Norway are educated at MF, and all the bishops are educated at MF, and many of today’s liberals once were members of the FBB, some of them even were board members and chairmen.
The theological change is obviously from within the church, but the speed of change is due to external pressure. The Church of Norway is as of January 1, 2017 separate from the State. But the politicians did not allow the Church of Norway to receive independence without some system to secure liberal development in the church.
One change is the request for high voter attendance when electing delegates to the General Synod. Formerly the elections, in effect, allowed those worshiping to have more influence since they were present at the worship services where the elections were held. Now the elections happened together with the national political elections.
At the same time, a group of ultra-liberals organized themselves, designed a program with the intention to take control of the church and did lobbied to get state funds to finance their operation. Other groups with different agendas did not receive money when they applied.
The public campaign from the ultra-liberals was strong. The aim was to convince the 73% of Norwegians who had voting rights at political elections and also were members of the Church of Norway to vote for one of the liberal candidates for the General Synod. It changed the game. Now you could vote without going to church. Now you no longer have to be among the 2 percent of church members who attend the Sunday worship service in order to vote. Remember, there is no requirement for a delegate to the General Synod to adhere to the Lutheran confessions of the church. You don’t even have to believe in God, and don’t have to ever attend church.
The result of the election was overwhelming. A total majority at the General Synod implied a full control of the Church of Norway. The majority at General Synod implies that one decides the liturgy of the church and elects the National Church board. The ultra-liberal majority of the Synod put the ultra-liberals in complete majority control of the National Church board that elects the bishops.
When the decision on same-sex rite was decided at the General Synod about 1300 people resigned from membership in Church of Norway using the electronic on line service you can use both to resign and to become member. The people resigning were some of the core people in local congregations in Church of Norway, including some pastors.
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.