ILC Chairman brings greetings to LWF Assembly, welcomes deeper conversations

Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the International Lutheran Council poses with a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, which hosted the 2017 Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation. The banner quotes a portion of Luther’s German translation of the Bible: “Gottes Wort bleibt in Ewigkeit”—”The Word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:25).

NAMIBIA – The Twelfth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met May 10-16, 2017 in Winhoek, Namibia, and Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) was present as an ecumenical guest. Chairman Voigt is also Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK).

During their Assembly, the LWF celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a service in the Sam Nujoma Stadium in the Capital of Namibia. In his greetings to the assembly, Chairman Voigt expressed his gratitude for the kind invitation to attend as an ecumenical observer. He noted that the ILC’s historical roots date back to the Prussian Empire in Germany, which grew in power throughout much of Germany in the nineteenth century. As part of that consolidation of power, the Prussian King enacted the Prussian Union of Churches in 1817, which forced a merger of Lutheran and Reformed churches.

A number of Lutheran congregations rejected this Prussian Union, especially because of differences between Reformed and Lutherans on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Those who resisted the Prussian Union formed the “Old Lutheran Church” in Germany. But the Old Lutherans faced significant persecution from the government, with many of their pastors imprisoned, causing numerous Lutheran families to emigrate to the United States of America, Canada, Brazil, and Australia. In these new lands, they established Lutheran church bodies that adhered to the Lutheran Confessions—churches that today are members of the ILC. In addition to marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, then, 2017 also marks the 200th anniversary since the founding of the Union Church and the subsequent persecution of the Old Lutherans.

More recently, Chairman Voigt noted, “The origins of the International Lutheran Council proper can be traced to its foundational conference in 1952. “Today it represents 3.3 million Lutherans worldwide in 38 member churches.”

In his remarks, Chairman Voigt also addressed the confusion and mistrust which exists between some members of the ILC and the LWF. “What are the reasons for these frustrations?” he asked, noting we must take the concerns seriously. In particular, he said, we must ask: “Do we have a different understanding of hermeneutics for the use and understanding of our confessions?”

To better address these kinds of questions, the ILC and LWF began in 2005 a series of annual conversations. This year, the discussions included two theological presentations—one from each side—on the “The Importance of our Understanding of the Scriptures for the Unity of the Church.” In his address to the LWF, Chairman Voigt highlighted a selection from the LWF’s presentation (given by Rev. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans): “In the Lutheran tradition, priority was generally given to theology to express form and life out the church’s oneness and the unity of the various churches.”

Finally, Chairman Voigt noted the theme of the LWF Assembly—“Liberated by God’s Grace”—and provided two short sentences of commentary. “First we must remember, as Anselm of Canterbury says, that we should not underestimate human guiltiness and iniquity,” he explained. “Second, we must remember, as Martin Luther says, that it is nearly impossible to overestimate God’s grace; for He is like a glowing oven, full of love, reaching from earth to heaven.”

“I wish this overwhelming warm love in your hearts and into your Assembly,” he concluded.

On May 13, 2017 the LWF Assembly elected Rev. Dr. Musa Panti Filibus, the Archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, as its new President. Chairman Voigt congratulated him on his election, and expressed pleasure in having had the opportunity to meet him earlier in 2012, when Dr. Filibus represented the LWF as an ecumenical guest to the ILC’s 2012 World Conference in Niagara Falls, Canada.

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ILC leaders meet with LWF for annual consultations

Participants in the 2017 consultations between the ILC and LWF.

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.

Discussions at the 2017 consultations between the ILC and LWF.

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.

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ILC Chairman brings greetings to LWF Council Meeting

LWF-logo

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.

ILC Chairman Voigt addresses the LWF assembly.
ILC Chairman Voigt addresses the LWF assembly.

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.

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ILC leaders report, delegates discuss ecumenical relations

Discussion at the ILC's 2015 World Conference spill into the coffee break. Bishop Hans Jorg Voigt (ILC Chairman and head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany) and Chairman Jon Ehlers (Evangelical Church of England) speak with General Secretary Ofga Berhanu (Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus).
Discussion at the ILC’s 2015 World Conference spills into the coffee break. Bishop Hans Jorg Voigt (ILC Chairman and head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany) and Chairman Jon Ehlers (Evangelical Church of England) speak with General Secretary Ofga Berhanu (Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus).

ARGENTINA – The 2015 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) continued the afternoon of September 24 as delegates heard reports from the Executive Council and discussed ecumenical relations.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt gave his report to the conference in the afternoon, highlighting various successes of the past triennium, including joint relief and aid following Typhoon Haiyan, the ILC’s 2013 World Seminaries Conference held in Lithuania, new contacts between ILC churches and other Lutheran churches, and the 2015 Wittenberg Conference on global confessional leadership.

In his report, Chairman Voigt also noted the challenges the Church will face in the years to come. Among these challenges he identified the fact that faith in Christ continues to decrease in Western society; that worldwide persecution of Christians is on the rise; and the rise of the global refugee crisis. We must also learn anew to speak Christian wisdom and insight into the world around us, he suggested, stressing the importance of Christian though to the cultures in which we find ourselves. Finally, he suggested, the ILC must learn to look further forward and consider what form the International Lutheran Council should take going into the future.

That last topic led into the ILC’s Executive Secretary Al Collver’s report. Dr. Collver noted that the ILC has been undertaking in depth Strategic Planning over the past triennium. He indicated that he would be bringing the details of their findings forward to the Conference to discuss in the days to come.

Ecumenical relations

Among other subjects raised by Chairman Voigt in his report was that of ecumenical relations. He noted that planning meetings between the Pontifical Council for Promoting of Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the ILC have finalized the start date for informal theological dialogue between the two bodies. The first official meeting between the two dialogue groups will begin October 7. Representing the ILC are theologians from Germany (Werner Klän), Brazil (Gerson Linden), the United States of America (Roland Ziegler), and Canada (John Stephenson).

Delegates then turned their attention to a discussion of the document “From Conflict to Communion,” a reflection on Lutheran-Catholic dialogue produced by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church. The ILC’s dialogue representatives feel that providing a confessional Lutheran statement on “From Conflict to Communion” may serve as an appropriate first step in the informal dialogues between the PCPCU and the ILC. Such a statement might also be a productive means of engaging the LWF as well, it is hoped. Discussion of the response statement will continue into Friday’s business sessions.

The LWF is represented at the ILC’s World Conference in an observer capacity by Rev. Dr. Gloria Vargas, LWF Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean region. Dr. Vargas will have the opportunity to greet delegates on behalf of the LWF during Friday’s sessions.

World Area meetings

Following these discussions, delegates broke for World Area meetings. After this, the Conference heard World Area reports from Latin America. Each member church had the opportunity to discuss a bit of their church’s history as well as their present work. A recurring theme among many of the Latin America churches was many churches and mission opportunities but too few pastors to fill them—a situation where “the harvest is ready but the workers are few.”

Latin America church leaders report to the ILC.
Latin America church leaders report to the ILC.

The day ended with Vespers. President Lawrence Rast of Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) served as liturgist, while ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver gave a homily reflecting on angels and the devil. In the face of the evil in this world—war, sickness, suffering—it can feel as though Christ is not really victorious, Dr. Collver noted. But we must remember that Satan and his armies already stand defeated by the blood of Jesus and the Word of God. This is how St. Michael and his angels prevailed against the devil (Revelation 12:11), Dr. Collver explained. So too, we can trust that the blood of Christ and His Word have defeated Satan on our behalf too. This promise gives us comfort and hope to stand up against the suffering and evil we experience in this world.

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New Presiding Bishop for Tanzanian Lutherans

Outgoing Presiding Bishop Alex Malasusa waves with Bishop Elect Frederick Shoo after the latter’s election to serve as head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania.
Outgoing Presiding Bishop Alex Malasusa waves with Bishop Elect Frederick Shoo after the latter’s election to serve as head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania.

TANZANIA – On August 16, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) elected a new Presiding Bishop at its 19th Church Assembly at Makumira University near Arusha. Rev. Dr. Frederick Onael Shoo was elected to a four-year term as head of the ELCT.

Prior to his election, Bishop Elect Shoo served as bishop of the ELCT’s Northern Diocese. He earned the moniker “the tree bishop” due to his work planting trees to help preserve the shrinking glaciers of Kilimanjaro. PBS featured this work in a 2012 report. Bishop Shoo was first ordained for pastoral ministry in 1986.

Bishop Shoo succeeds Bishop Alex Gehaz Malalusa, who has retired after completing two four-year terms as head of the ELCT.

The ELCT is the world’s second largest Lutheran church body, with a growing membership of more than 6.5 million members as of 2014. The church body is affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation. A number of the ELCT’s bishops have in recent years also developed friendly relations with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), a member church of the International Lutheran Council.

One such area of cooperation has been the ELCT’s Bishop Emmanuel Makala Training Center in northern Tanzania. The Center has been a joint venture of the ELCT’s South-East of Lake Victoria Diocese and the LCMS, with the LCMS providing financial support for the training program as well as providing theological professors. That partnership culminated in March with the first graduating class of the Center, as 21 new pastoral candidates were ordained and seven deaconesses commissioned for service in the ELCT.

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ILC and LWF leaders meet in Switzerland

Representatives of the ILC and LWF meet in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2015.
Representatives of the ILC and LWF meet in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2015.

SWITZERLAND – On January 14, representatives of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) met with representatives of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Geneva for regular meetings.

As is customary with these meetings, the ILC and LWF took time to highlight important work taking place in each of their organizations. How each intends to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation was a key topic for discussion, given that the anniversary will take place in 2017. The ILC noted its appreciation for the document From Conflict to Communion (prepared by the LWF and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), indicating that the ILC intends to engage in further study of the document.

The meeting also addressed areas that continue to be challenges between the two groups. In particular, differing understandings of the theology of mission and disagreements over the concept of the unity of the church were frankly addressed, with plans to follow up on these topics in the future.

Meetings between the ILC and LWF.
Meetings between the ILC and LWF.

Representing the ILC were Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany); ILC Secretary, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver; ILC Representative for Africa, Archbishop Christian Ekong of Nigeria; and ILC Secretary Gijsbertus van Hattem, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium. Representing the LWF were General Secretary, Rev. Martin Junge; Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations/Director for the Department for Theology and Public Witness, Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka; Director for the Department for Mission and Development, Dr. Carlos Gilberto Bock; and Area Secretary for Africa, Rev. Dr. Elieshi Mungure.

The LWF and ILC signed a memorandum of understanding in 2005 which has led to regular meetings between the two bodies since then. This was the fourth regular meeting since 2011. The ILC and LWF agreed at their most recent meeting to continue holding annual meetings in the future.

The next meeting will be hosted by the ILC and will be held February 25-26, 2016.

Download the communiqué from the meeting here.

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New resource available: A review of LWF hermeneutics

ONLINE – The International Lutheran Council has made available a new resource reviewing a recent Lutheran World Federation (LWF) study document on hermeneutics.

you-have-the-words-webThe document in question, “You have the Words of Eternal Life”: Transformative Readings of the Gospel of John from a Lutheran Perspective  (Documentation 57/2012)henceforth Transformative Readings—, is edited by Rev. Dr. Kenneth Mtata, the LWF’s Study Secretary for Lutheran Theology and Practice in its Department for Theology and Public Witness. In a preface to the work, LWF General Secretary Martin Junge notes that, “in 2011, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) embarked on a hermeneutics program in order to nurture [the] desire to ‘read’ shared sacred texts and contexts.” “It is vital to take seriously the witness of past interpretations,” he writes, “and to relate them to contemporary ones.” To that end, Transformative Readings represents “the result of the LWF’s first, international hermeneutics consultation.”

The International Lutheran Council is pleased to provide a new resource reviewing Transformative Readings, prepared by Rev. Dr. Christopher Wright Mitchell (editor of Concordia Publishing House’s Concordia Commentary series and author of a commentary on The Song of Songs in the same series). While noting the strengths of particular essays in the collection, Dr. Mitchell’s assessment of the book as a whole is a word of caution: “The book… discourages the pursuit of traditional hermeneutics,” he writes, “namely, the importance of understanding the biblical text more fully so as to be able to proclaim its message more faithfully.” Instead, he suggests, “various essays attack the idea that the biblical text is truth, or even that its original message can be discerned by readers today.”

“Authors clearly urge churches not to place the highest priority on preaching the biblical teachings about the person and work of Christ for our salvation,” he continues. “Instead, they urge churches to be open to novel interpretations of the Word which the Spirit allegedly is inspiring in the Church today.” “The result,” he says, “is an open-ended view of the Word of God as something flexible and always changing or in need of change.”

Dr. Mitchell’s review is now available in the Resources section of the International Lutheran Council’s website.

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ILC and LWF hold meetings in Luther’s Wittenberg

ILC-LWF-2013
Representatives of the ILC and the LWF meet together in Wittenberg, November 2013.

GERMANY – Executive members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met together in Wittenberg, Germany from November 12-13, 2013 to discuss issues of common interest. Propst Dr. Johann Schneider (Wittenberg-Regional Bishop of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany) hosted the representatives at an opening dinner, November 12.

The LWF was represented by Rev. Martin Junge (General Secretary of the LWF), Rev. Dr. Nicholas Tai (Dean of Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong), OKR Norbert Denecke (LWF German National Committee), Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka (LWF Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations), and Rev. Dr. Carlos Bock (Director of LWF Department for Mission and Development). Representing the ILC were Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany), Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (Executive Secretary of the ILC), Asia World Area Representative Rev. James Cerdeñola (President of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines), and ILC Secretary Gijsbertus van Hattem (President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium).

Of particular concern was the recent disaster in the Philippines. Each organization noted that it is encouraging its member churches to support relief efforts and pray for those affected by the typhoon. Representatives also took time to celebrate the reunification of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines. The church had previously suffered 24 years of divisions but took a historic vote to reconcile in October, 2012. The LWF and the ILC committed to “continue to encourage and to pray for the Lutheran Church of the Philippines as it continues to strengthen and grow in its unity.”

The ILC and LWF also discussed their relationship with one another, noting that 11 churches hold dual membership in the two organizations. “Both the LWF and the ILC encouraged these churches to see themselves as a bridge of understanding between these organizations,” notes the official communiqué of the meeting. Recognizing some of the differences that exist between the ILC and the LWF, representatives at the meeting also “engaged in theological discussions regarding their respective positions and agreed that future theological discussion could be beneficial.”

Other business included discussion of both the Wittenberg Project and 500th anniversary commemorations of the Reformation in 2017.

The ILC and LWF first committed to regular meetings together as part of a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2005. The next ILC-LWF meeting will be hosted by the LWF in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2015.

More information on the November 2013 meeting is available in the official communiqué.

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