The Nordic Lutheran Dioceses and the International Lutheran Council Discuss Membership

ILC-Nordic-meeting

Participants: Dr. Lawrence Rast, Chairman of LCMS CTCR; Rev. Jakob Okkels, Swedish Mission Province and Assistant to Bishop; Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of Lutheran Church Canada / Vice-Chairman of International Lutheran Council; Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of SELK / Chairman of ILC; Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations / Executive Secretary of ILC; Rev. Bengt Birgersson, General Secretary for Swedish Mission Province; Roland Gustafsson, Presiding Bishop of the Swedish Mission Province; Göran Beijer, Assisting Bishop of the Swedish Mission Province; Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the Finnish Mission Province; Risto Soramies, Bishop of the Finnish Mission Province; Lars Artman, Assisting Bishop for the Swedish Mission Province; Thor Henrik With, Bishop of the Norwegian Mission Province; Rev. Jon Ehlers, Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England / ILC Representative for Europe; Norberto Gerke, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay / ILC Representative for Latin America; Gijsbertus van Hattem, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium / Secretary of the ILC.

SWEDEN – The executive committee of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Nordic Lutheran Dioceses met January 20, 2016 to discuss future opportunities for collaboration. The three Nordic Dioceses—the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese in Norway, and the Mission Province in Sweden—all formed in response to the secularization of the National/State churches in their respective countries involving matters of both Christian doctrine and ethics. These new, independent Dioceses were formed in Sweden (6 September 2003), in Finland (16 March 2013), and in Norway (20 April 2013). On 7 November 2015 the three Dioceses declared altar and pulpit fellowship with one another and formed the Communion of Nordic Dioceses, which then quickly approached the ILC about possible membership.

Roland Gustafsson, Bishop of the Mission Province in Sweden, said membership in the ILC is important because “being in a rather small environment in the Nordic countries, we need the global fellowship of the Church of Christ. The ILC represents a Lutheran community, where we do think our Nordic Dioceses belong.”

The Nordic Dioceses hosted the representatives of the ILC, which includes 37 member churches (www.ilc-online.org), in Gothenburg, Sweden. On the eve of the meeting, Gothenburg, which typically enjoys a temperate climate, experienced a freak snow storm that slightly delayed the meetings.

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, D.D., Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council, was glad to hear the confession of the Nordic Dioceses. He said, “While we experienced the outside of Gothenburg as very cold with lots of snow, we experienced from our hosts a very warm and close confessional brotherhood during this conference. It enables us to look forward to deeper connections between the Nordic church bodies and the International Lutheran Council.”

The International Lutheran Council seeks to encourage and support confessional Lutheran churches throughout the world through education, conferences, and discussion of contemporary theological issues.

After heartfelt, serious, and collegial discussions related to the belief, confession, and practice of the Nordic Dioceses, the executive committee of the International Lutheran Council invited each church body of the Nordic Dioceses to submit an application for membership, which will then be considered at the next scheduled World Conference of the International Lutheran Council.

Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC, noted that “despite the challenges the Lutheran church faces around the world in this day and age, the Lord has opened tremendous opportunities for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the encouragement of brothers and sisters in Christ. The discussions with the Nordic Dioceses were incredibly heartening and we look forward to continuing these conversations.”

After the discussions concluded in the late afternoon, the ILC executive committee toured The Lutheran School of Theology, Gothenburg (LSTG) where the Mission Province in Sweden provides training for future pastors (http://www.ffg.se). In the Fall of 2014, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, opened an extension site at LSTG and now offers a Master of Sacred Theology (STM) degree accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (http://www.ctsfw.edu/seminary-news/ctsfw-opens-international-extension-site-in-sweden)). This program offers a unique opportunity for students in Scandinavia and other nearby countries to receive an advanced research degree in theology.

The meetings concluded with dinner at the LM Engströms Gymnasium, which was the former bishop’s palace for the Gothenburg diocese of the Church of Sweden. Bishop Bo Giertz lived here during his tenure, 1949-70. Today, the LM Engströms Gymnasium serves as a Lutheran high school with approximately 500 students. It is the largest Christian high school in Sweden.

Dr. Lawrence Rast, special consultant to the International Lutheran Council and chairman of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, participated in the discussions with the Nordic Dioceses in preparation for future fellowship discussions with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. “We are witnessing the emergence of new era of collaboration between confessional Lutherans throughout the world. As the Nordic Lutheran Dioceses and the ILC move into the future, we’re all excited to see what God has in store for his church.”

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ILC issues invitation to Scandinavian Mission Provinces; Chairman Voigt visits Finland

Participants in the 2014 meeting in Helsinki.
Participants in the 2014 meeting in Helsinki.

FINLAND – Following an invitation from the Bishops’ Conferences of the Mission Provinces of Sweden, Finland, and Norway, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt visited Helsinki as chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and as presiding bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany.

During the meeting, Bishop Voigt made two introductory presentations. In the morning he reported on the history and the purpose of the ILC. He pointed to the fact that many member churches of the ILC were founded as a result of the Lutheran confessional renewal in the 19th century; others resulted as a gathering of Lutheran refugees and settlers in the 19th and 20th century as Mission Churches.

In the course of the discussion, Bishop Voigt issued an invitation to the Scandinavian Mission Provinces to begin discussions with the Executive Committee of the ILC about the possibility and the modalities of membership in this global organization. At the same time, he expressed his understanding of the pastoral practice of the mission dioceses in not urging individual members of their parishes to leave their respective Lutheran state churches, but rather to bear those tensions that a struggle for the true unity of the church imposes.

In a further presentation during the afternoon session, Bishop Voigt spoke on developments and special challenges currently facing SELK. In the subsequent discussion he indicated his pleasant surprise to discover parallels between the Old Lutheran revival movements in Germany in the 19th century and the present-day developments in the Scandinavian mission provinces.

Bishop Risto Soramies of the hosting Evangelical Lutheran Mission Province of Finland thanked the participants for the meeting. He expressed his hope that contacts with the ILC and the member churches can be developed and intensified in the future.

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SELK-News Service