The group that became the International Lutheran Council (ILC) met on 6-10 August 1952 at Christ Church (Christuskirche) in Uelzen, Germany. Approximately, 160 people attended this meeting comprised of church bodies and free churches from around the world. The 160 people who attended the conference at Uelzen represented about 3 million Lutherans. The ILC group met after the second meeting of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) at Hannover, Germany, in July 1952.
Some of the Missouri Synod delegates to the 1952 LWF World Assembly in Hannover, also attended the ILC founding meeting in Uelzen. During World War II, the two free church congregations were severely damaged in Hannover. The independent Lutheran congregation in Uelzen was newly built after the war and was able to serve the ILC conference with new modern facilities.
Eventually, this group that met in Uelzen in 1952 formed the International Lutheran Council. The ILC had humble beginnings. Dr. Hoopmann from Australia who attended this first meeting wrote in the minutes, “The delegates at Hannover represented more than 40 million Lutherans. Those at Uelzen scarcely 3 million. We are in the minority. We stand alone; but as the men who after mature deliberation signed the Formula of Concord did so as men who desired to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with intrepid hearts, thus we are also mindful of our responsibility to God and all Christendom and of the fact that we have vowed ‘that we will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to our Confessions, but by the help of God’s grace we intend to abide thereby.'”
Dr. Werner Klän, professor emeritus of LTS Oberursel, explains some history of The Large Cross Church (Große Kreuzkirche) in Hermannsburg, Germany. Pastor Louis Harms began the mission movement in Hermannsburg by establishing a mission seminary in 1849, which led to the development of the Hermannsburg Mission. The Hermannsburg Mission was active in both South Africa and Ethiopia. Due to the Prussian Union, Theodore Harms, the brother of Louis Harms, was removed as pastor by the State. After this a large number of people formed the Large Cross Church in 1878. Eventually, the Bleckmar Mission formed out of the Hermannsburg Mission.
The Large Cross Church was founded as an independent Lutheran congregation and later became part of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), which is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). Delegates from the ILC and from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) were meeting in Bleckmar for an informal dialogue. The visit to Hermansburg and Bleckmar was to help explain a Lutheran view of mission for the church.
Dr. Ziegler described the Hermannsburg Mission theory: “Mission is the activity that originates in a living church. Harms stated in a sermon on the parable of the mustard seed and the leaven (Mt 13:31-33), that this parable contains two points: ‘The Christian church will spread over the entire world. The church shall permeate the entire world. Both things must go together in true missions, but can only go together if we who do missions are not only Christians in name but when the sourdough of the gospel has permeated interiorly hearts and we therefore have become converted people, true, living members of Christ’s body and therefore send no other messengers but those who also are permeated by the Gospel, as far as men can judge.'”
The establishment of the Large Holy Cross Church and the mission societies in Hermannsburg were connected to the awakening caused by powerful preaching. Let us remember and live the motto of the Great Cross Church, “No cross, no crown” (“Ohne Kreuz keine Krone“).
LATVIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski Luteriskā Baznīca – LELB/ELCL) celebrated the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Jānis Vanags in a special jubilee service in the Cathedral of Riga, Latvia on August 29, 2018. The anniversary coincided with the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference as well as an international gathering of church leaders for the Eastern European and Scandinavian Bishops Conference.
During the service, Archbishop Vanags preached on John 1:35-39, reflecting on Jesus’ call for all people to follow Him. “Jesus words ‘come and see’ are the most beautiful thing,” Archbishop Vanags said. “God calls. Jesus calls. He called me in my early childhood, during the Soviet era,” he reflected. “In an incredible way, He called me out of the darkness to Himself, to faith, and to ministry. It happens that God called me to serve in a unique way. But He also calls to every person, and every call is just as important… God’s call is your opportunity.”
Jesus’ words to “come and see,” Archbishop Vanags noted, are an answer to the question of the disciples: “Teacher, where are you staying?” That matters, he said, because God is not to be found everywhere, but only where He has made His dwelling. “Our church is often accused of being too conservative,” Archbishop Vanags noted, and of holding too rigidly to its doctrinal stances. “But our church does nothing of the sort,” he said. Instead, it merely seeks to ask the same thing that the disciples asked: “Lord, where do you live?” The church is called to “come and see” Christ where He has revealed Himself to be.
“Where is this place where Jesus lives?” Archbishop Vanags asked in conclusion. “Find it by listening to His preaching. For there, where Christ preaches, there is the Holy Christian church…. Let us listen again and again to hear the call of Jesus: ‘Come and see!’”
The ILC brings greetings, addresses conferences
Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, the Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), was present for the event, bringing greetings and congratulations to Archbishop Vanags and the Latvian church. Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC, was also present, joining Bishop Voigt in bringing greetings on behalf of the International Lutheran Council. Both participated, along with numerous other church leaders, especially bishops from Eastern Europe, in the service of thanksgiving and prayer at the cathedral in Riga.
During the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference, Bishop Voigt gave a lecture on “International Relations and the International Lutheran Council.” He began by noting the distinction between “nation” and “nationalism”—something all too necessary today. Anytime one adds a sense of superiority to our understanding of “nation,” he warned, then we descend into nationalism.
Such “nationalism” must not govern church relationships, Bishop Voigt said. Instead, when it comes to the topic of international relations from the perspective of the International Lutheran Council, he said, we do better to focus on the theological concept of the “catholicity” of the Church. Bishop Voigt appealed to the definition of catholicity given by the church father Vincent of Lérins, as alluded to and supplemented by the Formula of Concord—namely, that “catholicity” means what has been believed at all times, in all places, and taught by all Scripture. Such an understanding of the church will not lead to confessional arrogance, Bishop Voigt noted, but rather to repentance and humility.
Together with Dr. Collver, Bishop Voigt fielded questions about the International Lutheran Council from the pastors and bishops present. Both Bishop Voigt and Dr. Collver affirmed that they consider churches with dual membership in the International Lutheran Council and the Lutheran World Federation to be a valuable bridge between the two world organizations.
Events continued the next day in Saldus, Latvia, with the Eastern European and Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference. A major focus of discussion was the future of theological education in Europe, and the possibility of combining resources to meet challenges in that area. Plans were discussed for future meetings in the coming year. Present this year were leaders from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the United States.
During the Bishop’s Conference, Dr. Collver presented on the “Present and Future of the International Lutheran Council.” He began with a brief overview of the ILC’s history before describing some of the ILC’s plans for the future. Among other topics, he noted the development of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, an educational program which aims to assist Lutheran church bodies around the world in developing leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical leadership skills.
BELGIUM – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) will hold its 26th (11th) World Conference September 25-28, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium, meeting under the theme “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” The event will also mark the ILC’s 25th anniversary in its current form.
Among other business, the World Conference will elect officers to the ILC’s Executive Council as well as vote on the acceptance of several new members to the ILC.
“It is an honor and a blessing for our rather small Lutheran church in Belgium to host the ILC’s World Conference,” said President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België). “May the Lord of the Church bless our studies and decisions, in order to advance His Kingdom through the work of our confessional Lutheran churches.”
“We’re excited to be celebrating this special 25th anniversary for the ILC,” noted Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary for the ILC. “The International Lutheran Council has become a strong voice for confessional Lutheranism worldwide, and we’re planning to continue that forward momentum during our meetings in Belgium.”
The conference theme of “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism” will be introduced by Dr. Collver and Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler of Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS – Fort Wayne, Indiana) during the first day of the conference. Lectures on the topic over the following three days will be given by Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. (CTS); Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Emeritus, Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberursel, Germany); and Rev. Wilando T. Roa (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Baguio City, The Philippines).
Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger will also be giving a special presentation on Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology. The two-volume Confessing the Gospel, released in 2017, is the first new dogmatics published by The Lutheran Church–Missouri in nearly a century. Dr. Nafzger was General Editor for the work. He formerly served as Executive Secretary for the International Lutheran Council from 1993-2011.
Throughout the week, additional church leader from around the world will lead delegates in Matins, Bible Studies, and Vespers.
The ILC is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies, presently counting 38 members throughout the world. While this year’s conference marks the 25th anniversary of the ILC in its current form, its predecessor body—the International Lutheran Theological Conference—dates back to 1952.
The ILC as it currently exists was formed in 1993 in Antigua, Guatemala, when representatives from all six continents adopted a constitution founding the International Lutheran Council as a global council of Lutheran church bodies.
AUSTRALIA – The General Pastor’s Conference of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has rejected a draft doctrinal statement calling for the ordination of women by a vote of 119 to 96 (and one informal vote). Despite disagreement on the subject, debate was reportedly marked by a spirit of calm and gentleness. The conference was held July 10-12, 2018 in Hahndorf, South Australia,
The draft document—entitled “A Theological Basis for the Ordination of Women and Men”—was created in response to a resolution of the LCA’s 2015 General Convention of Synod. That resolution called on the church’s Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations to develop draft doctrinal statements for the church’s 2018 convention providing a theological basis for the ordination of women, as well as a theological basis for why the ordination of women need not be church divisive. The resolution came after an earlier vote to approve women’s ordination at the 2015 convention narrowly failed to receive the 2/3 majority it required to pass.
The decision of the 2018 General Pastor’s Conference to reject the draft doctrinal statement may impact the LCA’s upcoming General Convention of Synod, which is expected to vote again on the ordination of women when it meets October 2-7, 2018 in Rosehill Gardens, New South Wales. The LCA’s bylaws note that the pastor’s conference is tasked with giving “guidance in matters of doctrine and confession” to the wider church. To that end, the General Pastor’s Conference is called specifically to “consider those questions, issues and statements of a theological and confessional nature which appear on the agenda of the Convention of the General Synod,” and “voice its opinion with regard to the advisability or non-advisability of dealing with any such question or issue or of adopting a particular statement.”
The question of women’s ordination has been a longstanding subject of disagreement in the LCA. In addition to considering the matter at its 2015 General Convention of Synod, the church also addressed the subject in 2000 and 2006.
The LCA is an associate member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). The ILC does not accept the ordination of women, but it has pledged in the past to remember the Lutheran Church of Australia in prayer as it wrestles with this difficult subject—a pledge that continues to remain true.
MADAGASCAR – On May 25, 2018, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagas – FLM) voted to “more fully realize our unity as Lutheran Christians” between itself and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), with hopes that a closer relationship between the two churches will lead to the recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship in the future. The decision came during a gathering of the Committee of Highest Synod Leaders (KMSL), the highest decision making body in the Malagasy church, as they met in Antananarivo.
“We give thanks to our Lord who leads His church. I am very pleased to announce that FLM has decided to seek fellowship with the LCMS,” said FLM’s President, Bishop David Rakotonirina. “This is the first step to open the door by working together in the areas of development. We pray for the next steps. We desire to keep FLM a confessional Lutheran church. Praise the Lord.”
LCMS President Matthew Harrison greeted news of the vote with joy, calling it “one of the most significant days in the history of The LCMS and world confessional Lutheranism.”
“We are deeply humbled and deeply thankful,” he continued. “This is the result of growing love and partnership, recognizing a unity of confession of Christ, the gospel, and the truth of the inerrant scriptures, and of the Lutheran confessions,” President Harrison continued. “We have grown together through LCMS World Relief and Human Care medical mercy work, aids projects, graduate education for Malagasy leaders at our Fort Wayne seminary, the work of our Africa region missionaries, of our church relations division, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and more. The Malagasy have taught us much about zeal for outreach, and care for the most needy. And we have much more to learn. Thanks be to God.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church was founded in 1867 by Norwegian missionaries and is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary. Today, FLM is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world, with approximately 4 million members in 8,500 congregations. It counts 1,500 pastors, and has more than 1,000 schools for Christian education. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has 2 million members, and is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.
Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and Executive Secretary for the ILC, brought greetings to the KMSL on behalf of the Missouri Synod. In remarks to the assembly, he encouraged them to maintain their faithful witness in the Gospel. “Our churches are sisters, in the same family, but separated while we were both young but now we have found each other as we celebrate important jubilees,” he noted. “We are confessional Lutherans who are faithful to the Bible with a strong Lutheran identity. The Missouri Synod and our partner churches around the world are eager to walk with the Malagasy Lutheran Church. We hope to come closer to you and partner together to bear witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world.”
“This marks a historic moment in world Lutheranism, where a Lutheran church in the Global South seeks a true partnership to mutually strengthen and encourage one another,” he said of the vote. “Today, the LCMS has the ability to help build capacity, while tomorrow the Malagasy Lutheran Church will send pastors and missionaries both to Europe and to North America. In fact, they already are doing this.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will now turn their attention to planning next steps for their growing partnership.
GERMANY – A farewell service was held on Sunday, April 29, 2018 for Kristin Lange, the Managing Director of the Old Latin School (OLS) in Wittenberg, Germany. The OLS is a joint project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK). After her impending wedding Kristin Lange will be moving to Wittenberg in South Africa.
Rev. Dr. Michael Kumm, chairman of the Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Wittenberg Society (ILSW) that operates the OLS, and Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III, who supervised Lange’s work, thanked her and with prayer and benediction bade her farewell in a service at the city church of St. Mary. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the SELK served as preacher for the festival service. He noted was “Cantate Sunday” in the church year, and that song is used to express both joy and sadness, spiritual melody being a source of both consolation and joy. Kristin’s departure likewise brings both joy and sadness.
The intercessions in the service were offered by Mr. Ulrich Schroeder of Dresden, the business manager of the ILSW.
Following the church service, a festive reception in Wittenberg’s Old City Hall followed. A number of guests representing other churches brought greetings, including Lange’s designated successor, Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Weber of South Africa. Dr. Weber is not yet able to begin his work at the OLS as he is still awaiting a work permit to be granted by the German authorities. Both Dr. Collver and Bishop Voigt expressed their hope that a visa for Dr. Weber will be granted in June of this year.
At the end of the event, outgoing Managing Director Kristin Lange spoke of her gratitude for the numerous contacts and friendship she entered into during her work in Wittenberg and all over Germany. She promised not to forget them.
GERMANY – The Extraordinary General Synod of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany opened April 19, 2018 with a Service of Confession and Communion in Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Stadthagen. In the first synodical session the election of the Bishop was on the agenda. This had become necessary because the term of office for Bishop Voigt was set to expire at the end of the year.
For the proposed election the General Pastoral Conference of SELK last year nominated Bishop Voigt and Rev. Markus Nietzke as candidates. In the afternoon these candidates presented themselves to the assembled delegates and answered questions that had previously been submitted to the leadership of the synod. The election by the 47 delegates took place in the evening. On the first ballot, Bishop Voigt received 30 votes, and Rev. Nietzke 17. Therefore Bishop Voigt continues to serve as the presiding clergyman of the SELK. The term of office is not limited.
Far beyond the confines of his church, Bishop Voigt’s pastoral letters on the plight of refugees and of Christian marriage have received considerable attention in Germany. Another important issue was the process of reconciliation begun with the Union Churches in the Protestant Federation (EKD) in Germany.
A native of Dresden, Rev. Dr. Voigt was installed as Bishop in 2006. In 2012 he became chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “I regard the bishop’s office as serving the unity of the church,” Bishop Voigt explained. “I have learned that leadership in the church is always a question of teamwork. It is important to listen, accept helpful suggestions, and continue to listen. It is essential to prevent polarization and to encourage people to speak with each other.”
For his second tenure in office, Bishop Voigt considers it a goal to be a confessionally sound Evangelical Lutheran Church with a heart for missionary outreach and ecumenical responsibility. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt is married to his wife Christiane; the couple is blessed with four children.
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church Hannover, Germany
Bishop Sabutis of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania and Bishop Masvie of the Lutheran Church in Norway concluded after talks on 17 January in Vilnius that the two church bodies of which they are the bishops shared the same Lutheran confession, and, as a consequence, they declared that church fellowship exists between their two churches. The national convention of the LCN unanimously ratified the fellowship on 17 March in Oslo, opening the way for practical cooperation between the two church bodies. Norway is a favorite destination for Lithuanian expatriates. Owing to this new declaration of church fellowship, the Lithuanian church will encourage her members living in Norway to worship and receive the sacraments in LCN congregations in Norway. LCN is delighted to be able to help Lithuanian expatriates in Norway in the same way that she is working to reach out to Latvian Lutherans living in Norway.
The ELCL is the bigger church of the two with 52 congregations and 25 pastors. The LCN counts six congregations and six pastors. The ELCL and LCN are both in church fellowship with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in the United States as well as the Ingrian and the Latvian Lutheran churches. The LCN is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), while the ELCL is a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Through their new relationship, the LCN hopes to encourage the ELCL to become a member of the ILC.
WORLD – The leaders from a number of confessional Lutheran churches around the world have joined together in issuing Christmas greetings. Their greetings appear in a downloadable map highlighting the locations of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) member churches.
Among those taking part in the project is Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council and Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church. “At the Feast of the Nativity of our Saviour Christ Jesus and for the New Year 2018 we wish you contemplation, quietude and blessing,” he writes.
Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council and outgoing President of Lutheran Church–Canada also brings greetings. “In the Person of Jesus, the true God came down and took His place next to us in this dark world so that we one day could take our place beside Him on high and sing His praises forever,” he writes. “May God give you the heart and the words to hold out this Christ to people who come to worship with you this Christmas. Sincere greetings and love in Christ our Lord.”
Other church leaders taking part in the project represent Lutheran church bodies in Nicaragua, Venezeula, Brazil, South Africa, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Australia.
The Christmas Greetings map was developed by Rev. Johannes Reitze-Landau, pastor of the All Lutheran Church of Brussels, a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium.