PHILIPPINES – The 7th World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) opened Tuesday morning in Baguio City. The conference runs from October 15-18, 2019.
The morning began with Divine Service at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, which will be the venue for regular worship during the conference. President Antonio del Rio Reyes of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines, the host church, took the opportunity to welcome participants.
ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt also brought greetings to the conference.
In the morning, Rev. Dr. Werner Klän introduced the theme which will guide discussion in the first part of the conference: “Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts.” Dr. Klän is Professor Emeritus of Lutheran Theological Seminary (Lutherische Theologische Hochschule) in Oberursel, Germany, a theological institution of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany.
“All the confessional Lutheran churches in the ILC are committed to determining our decisions solely on the basis of the Word of God, and not on social, cultural or practical considerations,” Dr. Klän explained. But the challenge remains: “What is demanded of us is a theological answer to the challenges we as confessional Lutheran churches, pastors, and scholars are facing in our time and day, and to our specific situations and living conditions in our various countries, continents, and climes.”
In a follow-up, Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler expanded on the theme of “Doctrinal Identity in Cultural Context.” Dr. Ziegler is Professor of Systematic Theology and Confessional Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri SYnod.
“In the ILC we find churches that recognize in other churches… doctrinal identity in different cultural contexts,” he explained. “For Lutherans, the Book of Concord is of continuing importance as a true exposition of Scripture, that serves the unity of the Church by confessing the truth and rejecting error in whatever context the church finds itself.”
Asian and European Contexts
Over the course of the course of the conference, five presenters will address their common Lutheran faith and identity from within their own regional context. The afternoon saw the first two of these presenters speak.
Rev. Dr. Samuel Thompson spoke first, presenting on “Christology in an Asian Context.” Dr. Thompson is Professor of Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Nagercoil, India, a theological institution of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Dr. Thompson outlined the varying approaches Asian cultures have taken in their approaches to Christology, with special reference to the situation in India especially among liberation theologians and theologians focuses on inter-religious dialogue. In these schools’ justifiable desire to be relevant to Asian concerns, he lamented, “sometimes fidelity to the biblical message is compromised to the extent that one ends up creating a novel ‘Christ’ fashioned after one’s own imagination.”
“The task ahead for a Lutheran theologian operating in an Asian context is two-fold,” he concluded; it requires first of all “an unconditional commitment to God’s witness as revealed in the Scriptures,” as well as “serious attempt to engage and relate the biblical message to contextual realities.” The Lutheran Confessions and the Ecumenical creeds have an important role to play in this work, as they ensure Asian cultural wrestling with the doctrine of Christology remains within “the boundaries within which authentic Christian theology and life take place.”
The second half of the afternoon saw Rev. Dr. Christoph Barnbrock provide a European perspective on the theme, presenting on “Lutheran Identity in a Post-Christian Context.” Dr. Barnbrock is Professor of Practical Theology at Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberursel, Germany.
Dr. Barnbrock noted the irony that a speaker from Germany, the birthplace of the Reformation, must now speak of his cultural context as that of a post-Christian nation. He outlined some of the symptoms of contemporary German culture, explaining that the ultimate “welfare and woe of Lutheran churches depend less on our ability to lead this church than on whether we trust in Christ as Lord of the church—even against all trends that are emerging.”
The work on articulating confessional Lutheran identity is never finished, he concluded, because the cultural contexts in which we live are continually changing. “At the same time,” he said, “we may know that our identity as children of God and brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ no longer has to be worked out, but is given with baptism and remains the decisive point of reference for our identity throughout our lives. All work on ecclesial and denominational identity is then secondary, without becoming obsolete.”
After each presentation, time was scheduled for plenary discussion by the wider conference.
The day ended with a service of vespers.