Mathew Block is Communications Manager for the International Lutheran Council. He is also editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and formerly served as Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada.
GERMANY – Catastrophic flooding in Europe in mid-July destroyed homes and infrastructure in several countries, and led to the deaths of more than 200 people. Germany was particularly hit hard, with at least 170 people dead, many more currently unaccounted for, and widespread damage in the western part of the country.
Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) reports that while some members of their church body have been affected by the flooding, none of their church buildings were damaged by the water. One family from the St. Johannes congregation in Cologne, for example, has had to relocate to a hotel due to damage at their home. At a parishioner’s home in Wuppertal, meanwhile, the basement has flooded with rainwater and sewage, though the situation there may be repairable. The full extent of damages incurred by members of SELK congregations is not fully clear at this time, however, as a result of partial communications interruptions.
SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt—who is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC)—has expressed gratitude for the several inquiries he has received from SELK’s partner churches and ILC members. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, for example, offered assistance from their disaster relief fund, but Bishop Voigt explained there did not seem to be a need for interchurch aid at present.
Speaking to selk_news, Bishop Voigt said he was impressed by this expression of worldwide solidarity in prayer for those affected by the flooding and willingness to help. He said this was just as moving and a sign of hope as the people who came to help from neighboring towns in the affected communities with rubber boots and shovels.
Church leadership and the diaconal work of the SELK has invited its congregations and parishioners to support internal relief efforts through an appeal for donations for the victims of the flood disaster.
EUROPE – The 26th European Lutheran Conference (ELC) was held online from June 2-4, 2021, following a year’s delay due to the pandemic. Participants gathered under the theme “Sharing Hope in Times of Fear.”
The conference featured three keynote presentations: Rev. Sebastian Gruenbaum of Finland presented on “Living in My Generation: Hopes and Threats of Our Time in the Light of Christ’s Word;” Rev. Dr. Christian Neddens of Germany spoke on “Living with Hope in Daily Life: How the Christian Faith Shapes Our Actions and Witnessing to Our Generation;” and Rev. Dr. Asger Christian Hoejlund of Denmark lectured on “Hope as Drawn from Martin Luther’s Writings of 1520.”
“The presentations stimulated lots of discussion,” noted Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who participated in the event. In addition to the pandemic, he said, topics of discussion included personalities, the Last Judgement, looking to the future with fear or love, and the question of whether society is becoming increasingly intolerant. “It occurred to me that our conference theme is applicable all the time and not just in a pandemic,” Chairman Samiec continued, “because our world is full of mishap and mayhem, sudden death and chronic conditions where injustice and the grave seem to have the last word. Jesus has a message for all time because His love can cast out fear (1 John 4:18).”
The conference also featured morning and evening devotions, reports from member churches, group discussions of presentations, and the writing of a paper on the conference theme.
The next conference is set to take place in 2023 in Aarhus, Denmark. The Executive Committee members for that event are the same as for 2021’s: Rev. Klaus Pahlen of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch—Lutherische Kirche – SELK) will serve as ELC President; President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (Den evangelisk-lutherske Frikirke i Danmark – ELFD) will serve as ELC Vice President; and Rev. Claudio Flor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England will serve as ELC Secretary.
The ELC is an association of Confessional Lutheran church bodies in Europe. Delegates at this year’s conference included representatives of member churches in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, all of whom are also members of the International Lutheran Council. The event also saw guests from churches in the Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, and Switzerland.
Additional information on the European Lutheran Conference is available on their website at: euluthconf.org.
ONLINE – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held regular meetings online on June 29, 2021.
“As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, we are preparing to continue and expand our work in support of confessional Lutheran churches across the globe,” said ILC Chairman Hans -Jörg Voigt. “There are a number of projects and initiatives we have been at work on over the past year, and we hope to unveil these in the coming months.”
Among other regular business, the board adopted a new budget for the coming year and considered several applications for membership in the ILC. The meeting also heard regional reports from world area representatives, and discussed possibilities for upcoming regional ILC conferences.
The next ILC World Conference remains tentatively scheduled for 2022.
EUROPE – Corpus Christi will hold its annual conference virtually this year, gathering online from July 30-31, 2021.
The decision to hold an online conference comes following the difficulties posed by current pandemic restrictions. 2020’s conference was postponed as a result of the pandemic.
This will be the 12th Corpus Christi Conference, and it will gather under the theme “Sharing in God’s Holiness.” Rev. Dr. John W. Kleinig of the Lutheran Church of Australia will be guest lecturer for the event.
“What happens when people no longer have a sense for God’s holiness, when they live as if nothing was sacred any longer?” Dr. Kleinig asks in promotional material. “They are unable to enjoy him and his goodness in the church and in the world. In these two sessions I intend to examine the surprising teaching of holiness in the Bible and show how the triune God purifies us from spiritual pollution and shares His holiness with us through His most holy Word by the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments in the divine service, so that as His saints we can have access to His holy presence together with His holy angels and serve Him as His holy priests already now here on earth.”
Dr. Kleinig taught at Australian Lutheran College from 1982-2009, and is widely recognized for his work as a biblical expositor and pastoral theologian. He is the author of Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, as well as commentaries on Hebrews and Leviticus for the Concordia Commentary Series.
In the leadup to Corpus Christi’s online conference, Dr. Kleinig presented a prefatory lecture entitled “Borrowed Holiness” on May 22, 2021.
In addition to Dr. Kleinig’s lectures, the schedule for Corpus Christi’s 2021 conference also lists times of bible study, prayer, and more.
Corpus Christi is an independent Evangelical Lutheran association which pursues churchly and biblical renewal among young adults in Europe. For more information on Corpus Christi, or to register for the online conference, visit their website at corpuschristi.eu.
While Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517 was the spark that ignited the Reformation, it wasn’t until the presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25, 1530 that there emerged what might be termed a distinct Evangelical Lutheran Church. For it is in this confession made at the Diet (or meeting) of Augsburg that the Reformation principles of grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone are clearly articulated and set forth.
The first part of the Augsburg Confession itself presents in twenty-one articles a clear and concise statement of the faith held by the Lutherans—articles in common with the Roman Catholics, in common with the church fathers, in opposition to the unscriptural teachings of Rome, and in distinction from the Zwinglians, Anabaptists, and other radical Reformers. The second part rejects, in seven articles, those abuses in the Roman Church which were deemed most objectionable and had already been changed and corrected among the Lutherans.
Following the first part, we read these words: “This is just about a summary of the doctrines that are preached and taught in our churches for proper Christian instruction, the consolation of consciences, and the amendment of believers. Certainly we should not wish to put our own souls and consciences in grave peril before God by misusing His name or Word, nor should we wish to bequeath to our children and posterity any other teaching than that which agrees with the pure Word of God and Christian truth…. Therefore, those who presume to reject, avoid, and separate from our churches as if our teaching were heretical, act in an unkind and hasty fashion, contrary to all Christian unity and love, and do so without any solid basis of divine command or Scripture.”
After the public reading of the Augsburg Confession, a refutation was prepared by Roman Catholic theologians, to which Luther’s colleague, Philip Melanchthon, responded the following year with what is called the Apology (or Defense) of The Augsburg Confession. In reading and studying the Augsburg Confession, it is important to thus note what the Roman Confutation says regarding the various articles and how the Apology answers. The Diet of Augsburg itself closed soon after the Lutheran representatives had left; the last item of business being a resolution to proceed with violent measures against them if they should not return to the Roman Catholic faith.
For various reasons, however, this would not be initiated until a year after Luther’s death in 1547. Although the Lutheran forces were defeated on the field of battle, the imposition of Roman Catholic teachings and practices, called the Interim, could not change the faith of a whole generation of pastors and people who had espoused the teachings of the Augsburg Confession. Finally, at another Diet of Augsburg in the year 1555, it was simply agreed to accept the religious divisions that had by now become entrenched.
The crisis faced by the Lutherans during these years sadly revealed a weakness in Philip Melanchthon who had been willing to give up fundamental principles of the Augsburg Confession in order to achieve outward peace with the Romanists by supporting the Interim. After a period of internal controversies among the Lutherans concerning the Interim and other issues, unity was restored under the leadership of “the second Martin”—Martin Chemnitz—with the adoption of the Formula of Concord. Three years later, on June 25, 1580, fifty years to the day after the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, the Book of Concord containing all the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, including Luther’s Catechisms, would be published and initially signed by three electors, two bishops, eighteen princes, twenty-four counts, four barons, thirty-eight cities, and more than 8,000 clergy… and since that time also by all of the church bodies in the International Lutheran Council and their congregations and pastors.
What, however, does such subscription mean? Just this: as the true Church is gathered not simply around the Bible, but around the rightly understood and correctly proclaimed Bible, so the Augsburg Confession expresses the right understanding of the Scriptures and does not supplant God’s Word, but simply expresses the central teachings of the Bible in an orderly fashion. This is why we say we subscribe to the Augsburg Confession and the other confessional writings because they are in agreement with the Scriptures, not insofar as they agree. In other words, we don’t pick and choose which ones we will abide by and which ones we can dispense with—a symptom of our post-modern society. An insofar subscription is, however, really no subscription at all; interpreted in this way, after all, we could “subscribe” to the texts of any religion.
In the Preface to the Book of Concord we thus read the following words which are just as timely and necessary for our own day. And, if we actually took them to heart, they would go a long way to help us address and deal with some of the problems and issues facing our churches: “Our disposition and intention has always been directed toward the goal that no other doctrine be treated and taught in our lands, territories, schools, and churches than that alone which is based on the Holy Scriptures of God and is embodied in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, correctly understood, and that no doctrine be permitted entrance which is contrary to these.” And further: “We are reminded by the grace of the Holy Spirit to abide and remain unanimously in this confession of faith and to regulate all religious controversies and their explanations according to it. We have resolved and purpose to live in genuine peace and concord with our fellow-members, and to demonstrate toward everyone, according to his station, all affection, service, and friendship. We likewise purpose to cooperate with one another in the future in the implementation of this effort at concord in our lands, according to our own and each community’s circumstances…. If the current controversies about our Christian religion should continue or new ones arise, we shall see to it that they are settled and composed in timely fashion before they become dangerously widespread.”
On this day of June 25, we not only thank and praise God for the example of the fearless confessors of Augsburg (who, by the way, were all laymen), but also ask Him to preserve us in that same confession of faith and to pass on this saving faith to future generations. This we do mindful of our Lord’s own words: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Rev. Timothy Teuscher is President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.
JAPAN – The Japan Lutheran Church (日本ルーテル教団Nihon Ruteru Kyoudan – NRK) held its 18th General Conference online on April 29, 2021, after a year’s delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the conference, the NRK elected Rev. Tatsuomi Yoshida as the church’s new president.
“We, as part of the body of Christ, will serve the Lord and pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as we utilize the leadership and talents of these servants,” President Yoshida said of himself and other newly elected Executive Committee members. “I would appreciate it if you would keep us in your prayers.”
Prior to his election, Rev. Yoshida served as Vice President of the NRK. He succeeds President Shin Shimizu, who was first elected to the position in 2014. President Yoshida will also continue to serve as pastor of Sapporo Chuo Lutheran Church.
The International Lutheran Council (ILC) sent greetings to President Yoshida on his election following the NRK’s recent convention. “It is an honour to congratulate you,” write ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and General Secretary Timothy Quill. “We are keeping you in our prayers, beseeching our Lord to grant you wisdom and strength to lead your church during these very difficult days. It is important to courageously face today’s spiritual, cultural, and political challenges with the confidence and certain hope that can only be found in Christ Jesus and the Gospel.”
“United in our commitment to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions,” the letter continues, “we look forward to working together joyfully in making a united witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we encourage and strengthen one another in preaching the pure Gospel clearly and boldly to the entire world.”
During its convention, the Japan Lutheran Church chose a new theme for the coming triennium: “Love our Neighbour Churches as We Love Our Church,” drawing on Romans 15:2—“Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.” To that end, the church also adopted the following action points: to “reflect on why our congregations were assembled by God and how we can serve Him,” to “cooperate with each other,” and “to walk with people who face difficulties, such as those who are impacted by natural disasters and the pandemic.”
The Japan Lutheran Church is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
AUSTRALIA – Bishop John Henderson of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has announced that he will not be seeking reelection at the church’s Convention of General Synod later this year.
Bishop Henderson was first elected to head the LCA in April 2013. He was also the first leader of the Australian church to hold the title of bishop, as the same convention which elected him also voted to change the title of synodical head from president to bishop. He was reelected to a second term in October 2018.
Bishop Henderson formerly served as Vice President of the LCA from 2006-2011, and as a member of the General Church Council from 2003-2011. He also served as Principal of Australian Lutheran Council from 2009 until his election as bishop. He was first ordained in 1982.
In addition to not seeking reelection, Bishop Henderson has announced his intention to retire from active pastoral ministry.
The next steps in the search for a new bishop will take place in July 2021, when delegates to the General Pastors Conference will nominate candidates for the position of bishop. Nominees with at least 25 percent of the vote at the Pastors Conference will be added to the slate for election at the Convention of General Synod, which is scheduled for September 28 – October 3 in Melbourne. Candidates may also be nominated from the floor under a special provision.
Update: In light of ongoing concerns related to the pandemic, the Lutheran Church of Australia has announced a change in format for its upcoming convention. The Convention of General Synod will now be held in two parts: essential business, including the election of a new bishop, will be held online in October 2021, with an in-person event to follow in 2022. The 2021 General Pastors Conference will likewise be unable to meet in person.
The Lutheran Church of Australia is an Associate Member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
INDIA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is encouraging Christians around the world to continue to remember India in prayer as the country struggles with a deadly wave of COVID-19.
On April 5, India reported another 387,000 new cases of the disease, continuing a two-week trend of new infections exceeding 300,000 per day. Only a day earlier, on April 4, India officially became the second country to pass the 20 million mark of confirmed cases overall; approximately 3.5 million of these cases are estimated to still be active. The official death toll sits at 226,000, but there are suggestions the actual number of fatalities may be much higher.
The most recent wave has proven particularly deadly, with hospitals having to turn people away due to a lack of supplies to care for the infected—notably, oxygen and hospital beds. Media have reported people dying outside hospital doors, unable to gain admittance, as well as funeral homes and crematoriums overwhelmed with the dead.
Among those suffering in the midst of the crisis are members of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC). “We are losing our dear ones every day,” writes IELC President Y. Suvisesha Muthu. “Our members, young and old, are dying almost daily. Many have tested positive and are waiting to get treatment.”
Two of the church’s pastors have died in this wave so far, as has a retired pastor. Others are sick. Several faculty members of the IELC’s Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil are receiving treatment for COVID-19, with the seminary’s principal currently in critical care.
“The situation is very grave,” noted Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council. “We call on Lutherans worldwide to lift up India in prayer, that God would provide relief from the current crisis. In particular, pray that God would continue to bless the work of medical providers in the country, that He would provide assistance from within and without the country in the provision of needed medical supplies, and that He would bless the rollout of India’s vaccination program. May God have mercy on a suffering people.”
WORLD – April 18, 2021 marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s testimony before the Diet of Worms, with Lutherans around the world observing the event in different ways.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (Iglesia Evangelical Luterana Argentina – IELA), for example, held an online conference April 16-18, 2021 to mark the event, featuring three lectures by faculty members of the IELA’s seminary in Buenos Aires. Professor Antonio R. Schimpf spoke on reflection on the Word of God in relation to the anniversary, Professor José A. Pfafenzeller discussed the historical context of the Diet of Worms, and Professor Sergio R. Schelske addressed the event’s continued significance for the church today.
In the United States, meanwhile, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) officially designated April 18 “Here I Stand Sunday.” The LCMS made a number of materials available to mark the date on its website, including a Bible Study and bulletin insert.
The church also released several videos highlighting the anniversary. LCMS President Matthew Harrison, for example, highlighted how the faith which inspired Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms also led in time to the founding of the LCMS, which will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2022. “It’s quite impossible to imagine the existence of the Missouri Synod or any Lutheran churches in the world without the events of this week 500 years ago,” he explained. “500 years later the church is increasingly called to confess before the world and even political authorities. We stand firm with the confession of Luther. We believe in the Scriptures, and our conscience is bound to those Scriptures, which teach us the free forgiveness of Christ in His cross and resurrection.”
President Harrison also conducted an interview with Rev. Dr. Cameron MacKenzie to discuss the history of Luther’s confession at the Diet of Worms. Dr. MacKenzie is a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Diocesan Dean and Bishop Elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) has been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with incitement against a group of people. The charges stem from a 2004 booklet published by Luther Foundation Finland (the legal entity behind the ELMDF) which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.
“As a Christian, I do not want to and cannot discriminate against or despise anyone created by God,” Dean Pohjola said in reaction to being charged. “Every human being, created by God and redeemed by Christ, is equally precious.”
At the same time, he continued, “this does not remove the fact that, according to the Bible and the Christian conception of man, homosexual relations are against the will of God, and marriage is intended only between a man and a woman. This is what the Christian church has always taught and will always teach.”
Finland’s Prosecutor General began an investigation of the ELMDF in 2019 for its booklet “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” despite an earlier investigation by Helsinki Police which concluded no laws had been broken. The booklet was published in 2004; Finland legalized same-sex marriage in 2017.
The booklet argues that homosexual activity must be identified as sin by the church on the basis of the teachings of Scripture. The author, Dr. Päivi Räsänen—a Finnish Member of Parliament—further argues that a failure to recognize sin as sin undermines the very need for a Saviour.
Dr. Räsänen has now been charged with incitement by the Prosecutor General, both for the booklet and for other comments on human sexuality. As Dean Pohjola is editor-in-chief of Luther Foundation Finland’s publications—including the booklet “Male and Female He Created Them”—he also was charged.
“This decision of the Prosecutor General says a lot about our time,” Dean Pohjola commented. “While I am concerned about the state of religious freedom in our country, I trust that the judiciary will make the right decision.”
The International Lutheran Council has earlier expressed concern about the investigation of Lutherans in Finland for upholding historic Christian teaching. That concern is deepening. “Recent actions in Finland have created an international scandal which continues to grow,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council. “The implications of the decision to charge Juhana Pohjola and Päivi Räsänen are clear: if the authorities are willing to do this to a respected pastor, reverend doctor, and Bishop Elect, as well as a Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, then that sends a message of fear and intimidation to everyone in Finland who follows the Scripture’s teaching on human sexuality.”
“Faithful Christians need to demonstrate solidarity with their suffering Finnish Lutheran brothers and sisters,” General Secretary Quill continued. “We must not be silent but express righteous indignation at the actions of the Finnish authorities and demand an end to the persecution of those who adhere to historic Christian teaching on sexuality. I encourage Christians around the world to pray for Juhana and Päivi, and to follow the example and command of Jesus: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44).”
The ELMDF is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies representing millions of Lutherans worldwide.