Training the next generation of Confessional Lutheran leaders: Lutheran Leadership Development Program ready to launch

WORLD – As a new year gets underway, the International Lutheran Council and its partners are preparing for the first class of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP).

This two-year certificate program aims to provide Lutheran church bodies around the world an opportunity to develop leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical skills in leadership and resource management. The LLDP is a project of the International Lutheran Council working in cooperation with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia Publishing House (CPH), and Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW).

“We’re are grateful for our partners in this project, and are excited to work with them in raising up a new generation of global Confessional Lutheran leaders,” said Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC. “We look forward to welcoming the LLDP’s first class of students in just a few weeks, and pray for God’s blessings on their studies.”

The first class of students in the LLDP will gather for instruction at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany from February 18-March 1, 2019. Future classes over the next two years will be held at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis, Missouri.

Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki of CTSFW serves as Director of the Lutheran Leadership Program. For more information on the program, including details on student learning outcomes, a description of course requirements, and admission details, click here.

Breath of God, Yet Work of Man: First LLDP resource published

Course materials for the Lutheran Leadership Development Program are being prepared in partnership between CTSFW and CPH, with the first of these new resources just unveiled. Breath of God, Yet Work of Man: Scripture, Philosophy, Dialogue, and Conflict is now available for pre-order from CPH.

Edited by Rev. Charles P. Schaum and Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (ILC General Secretary), the book features definitions, benefits, and discussions of Lutheran biblical interpretation. The authors explain tensions that underlie the use of Scripture in Christian witness, acts of mercy, and life together.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (ILC General Secretary) and Rev. Dr. Bruce Kintz (CPH President and CEO) display the new book Breath of God, Yet Work of Man.

While developed especially for use in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, the book will be of interest to a much broader audience. “The authors have assembled a massive amount of material that will challenge readers to think more carefully about how we read the Holy Scriptures and confess the faith today,” notes Rev. Dr. John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at CTSFW. “This is a provocative book that will engage both those within and outside of the Missouri Synod in coming to understand the development of modern hermeneutics.”

Download a sample of the book by visiting CPH’s website here.

Support the training of Confessional Lutheran Leaders around the world

You can support the Lutheran Leadership Development Program and its work in preparing confessional Lutheran leaders for churches around the world through online giving. Simply designate your donation for “The Lutheran Leadership Development Program.” You can make a one-time gift or set-up recurrent giving.

You can also make donations by mail to the following address:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118
United States of America


Korean Lutherans celebrate 60 years

Participants in the Lutheran Church in Korea’s 2018 convention.

SOUTH KOREA – The Lutheran Church in Korea (LCK) held its 48th regular convention October 10-12 at Luther University in Yongin, South Korea, during which time the church celebrated 60 years of Lutheran witness in Korea. The gathering took place under the theme “Arise, Shine.”

LCK President Young-Seok Jin and LCMS President Matthew Harrison sign a protocol agreement between their two churches.

The first Lutheran outreach in Korea took place in 1832, but sustained Lutheran ministry in the country did not take place until 1958, when The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) established mission work in the region. That work was undertaken by three American missionaries (Paul Bartling, Maynard Dorow, and Kurt Voss) and their families, along with one Korean clergyman, Dr. Won-Yong Ji, who had received his doctorate from the LCMS’ Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

The church achieved independence in 1971. Today, the LCK counts more than 5,000 members in more than 50 churches across the country, though it has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands more through various mass-media mission programs, like the Lutheran Hour and the Bethel Bible study program.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison was present for the event, bringing greetings to the church as it celebrates 60 years of Lutheranism in Korea. On October 10, the two churches took the opportunity to reaffirm their ties to one another, with LCK President Young-Seok Jin and LCMS President Harrison signing an updated protocol document between the two churches. The document will guide continued cooperation between the two churches going forward.

ILC General Secretary Albert Collver, LCK President Young-Seok Jin, and LCMS President Matthew Harrison.

The Lutheran Church in Korea is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC, was also present for anniversary celebrations in Korea.


A Knife, a Sheepskin, Sandals, and a Flute: Shepherds at Work in the Fields of Bethlehem

The following article was written by Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt for the 2018 Christmas issue of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Voigt is Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.


Jules Bastien Lepage’s “Annunciation to the Shepherds.”

Those shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were tough guys. Any decent person of the time would have considered them outcasts—on par with thieves and robbers. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with them. So, of course, it is to these people in the fields that the angels first appear. Luther’s words here are most fitting: “This is the first sermon about the newborn little child, our Lord Jesus, that was brought by the angels from heaven to us here on earth.”

What kind of people were those shepherds? I am reminded of four objects that such shepherds may have carried on their person; and they say a lot about those people. And what they tell us is that these shepherds were very much like you and I today.

The Knife

No doubt the shepherds carried a good knife on their belts. After all, a shepherd has to trim the hoofs of the sheep and he has to cut the sticks that close the gate at night. The Evangelist St. Luke writes: “They kept watch over their flock by night” (2:8). Back then, there were still some lions in the region around Bethlehem. And to protect the herd from the attack of lions that raided during the night, you needed at least a knife.

The shepherds were therefore tough guys. They were people who knew how to use knives and clubs well, often even frightening other people. He who is afraid often seeks to frighten others.

What are you afraid of? What makes your jackknife flip open? And how do you frighten others? Somebody once told me that we Germans are often considered to be quite anxious. Was it perhaps this “German angst” that so often caused Germans throughout history to break out their long “knives”? Is there such a thing as “Canadian angst”?

When the angel came to the shepherds, they were very much afraid. Yet the angel proclaims to them the opposite of fear and anxiety; he brings joy and peace. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day a Saviour…. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace” (Luke 2:10-11, 14).

The child in the manger, Jesus Christ, brings joy and peace despite the fear and anxiety so prevalent in our time.

A few weeks ago, we marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It was the most horrendous war that the world had seen until then. Canadians and Germans opposed each other on the battlefields of Europe as bitter enemies. I am filled with gratitude that this last November the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel shook hands right there among the war graves.

In 1914, something unusual happened in France. The war was raging in its fifth month; more than a million casualties were already mourned. But on Christmas Eve, the soldiers on both sides simply stopped shooting. For this day, at least, they wanted peace. And the Germans began to sing: “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.” On the other side the English called out: “Well done, Fritzen!” and then they began to sing: “O holy night… it is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.” Then they showed each other their little Christmas trees, and, when nobody was shooting, they dared to come out of their trenches. They exchanged gifts and put up their little Christmas trees for all to see. Later on, in No-Man’s-Land, they played soccer—unbelievable!

The birth of Christ works peace! God Himself makes peace for us by forgiving our sins. In the war this divine peace, for just a brief moment, became visible right there among the knives, the bayonets, and the machine guns. This story—it has become known as the “Christmas Peace of 1914”—is not recorded in many documents. The army commands on both sides tried to hush up the event, and they had some difficulty trying to restart the war in January. The units were re-assigned, because many of the men didn’t want to shoot anymore.

For a brief moment in history, the “knives” were put away and peace became a reality.

The Sheepskin

When I think of the shepherds, I also think of sheepskins. For me it’s hard to imagine that the shepherds did not present a soft, warm sheepskin to the Christ child. St. Luke writes: “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16). It seems likely that the shepherds brought a sheepskin with them, but we can’t know for certain.

But what we do know is the following: Christmas is not about us presenting a gift to the Christ child; instead, the Child presents us with a white, pure sheepskin. For this purpose, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, became man: to give us the gift of the sheepskin of His love and forgiveness. His love for us men is warmer than any sheepskin. His love is so warm that it covers up all your guilt and takes away all your anxiety.

If you are sad during these Christmas holidays—perhaps because you’re alone, or because the festival is not turning out as joyful as you had hoped—then just think of the warm sheepskin of Jesus’ love for you. When others have offended you and you are angry, think of the warm sheepskin of Jesus’ love.

The Sandals

In those days, shepherds wore sandals that consisted of a leather sole tied to the feet by strings. These sandals have some significance for us. After they had witnessed the scene, the shepherds used these sandals to go out to various people to tell them of that wonderful child in the manger. St. Luke reports: “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” (2:17).

The sandals are a reminder for us that at some time in the past, somebody did for us what the shepherds did in their day. Somebody brought that same message about the Child in the manger to Germany and to Canada. Let’s hope that these shepherds—the Greek word for shepherd is “pastor”—who first brought this Christmas message to Canada were wearing winter boots and not sandals! But we really should be grateful for the shepherds’ sandals; they brought us the Christmas message of the wonderful Child in the manger.

St. Mary shows us what we should do with the words of these shepherds: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Yes, the sandals of the shepherds are truly important. Speaking of these “sandals,” our Confessions say this: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted” (Augsburg Confession, Article 5).

The Flute

No doubt about it: a real shepherd has a real flute. St. Luke the Evangelist proclaims: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Yes, I can easily imagine how the shepherds went through the night and played their flutes.

It brings to mind Luther’s words from one of his Christmas sermons: “Having heard a good sermon, sing a joyful hymn.” Why? Because the child in the manger, Christ Jesus our Lord, takes away our “knives” and grants us eternal peace. Because Jesus Christ grants us His forgiving love, which is white, soft, and warm like a sheepskin. Because He sends shepherds in their sandals to proclaim Christ’s love to this day.

For this reason, we sing and play the flute, we use drums along with violins, trumpets, organs, pianos and our voices to the best of our ability, whether that be in “old Germany” or among “God’s frozen people” in Canada.


ILC sponsors theological education in Nigera

Dr. Naomichi Masaki poses the students of Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary.

NIGERIA – From November 12-23, 2018, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) sponsored a visiting scholar to the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) to provide guest lectures at Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary in Uyo. Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki (Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana) led two weeks of intensive teaching at the seminary following a request from LCN Archbishop Christian Ekong.

Dr. Masaki and the students of his Lutheran Confessions course.

Every day during his time in Uyo, Dr. Masaki taught a three-hour course on the Lutheran Confessions for a class of sixteen; a two-hour course on the Lord’s Supper for a class of eight; and a one-hour course focusing on theological questions and answers (for the entire student body, about 65 students in all). Dr. Masaki also preached for chapel every day, focusing on the subjects of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Office of the Holy Ministry.

In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Masaki also participated in congregational visits and worship services on weekends, preached and participated in communion services, and even attended the wedding of a student as well as a traditional funeral.

Dr. Masaki participates in a local communion service.

“Perhaps I am overworking here everyday, including weekends,” suggested Dr. Masaki. “But that’s what I came here for. I am grateful for the opportunities of teaching, preaching, spending time with students and faculty, visiting local villages and congregations, and, of course, great time to spend with the archbishop.”

Dr. Masaki concluded his time in Nigeria by bringing greetings to the 39th Regular Council of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria. The council, which took place November 23-25 in Obot Idim, met under the theme of “Called by Christ to Bear Fruit,” drawing on Romans 7:4-7. Among other subjects, the LCN discussed revisions to the church’s constitution as well as continuing training for seminary faculty.

LCN Archbishop Christian Ekong speaks during the LCN’s 2018 Regular Council.

Support for theological education is a key part of the International Lutheran Council’s programming. In addition to short-term projects like Dr. Masaki’s trip to Nigeria, the ILC has also recently launched a new program called the Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP). The program, which is operated in partnership with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia Publishing House, and Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), provides Lutheran church bodies around the world with an opportunity to develop leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology, as well as practical skills in leadership and resource management. Dr. Masaki is director of the LLDP.

In addition to theological training, the ILC has also begun to support Nigerian Missionary Pastors following a request from the Lutheran Church in Nigeria for aid in this area.


Papua New Guinea celebrates 70 years of Lutheran missions

Mission outreach during early missions to the Enga region of Papua New Guinea.
Sand art commemorating the arrival of LCMS missionaries to Yaramanda in 1948.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Lutherans in Papua New Guinea are celebrating 70 years since the arrival of Lutheran missionaries in the Enga province of Papua New Guinea, an event which led in time to the founding of the Gutnius Lutheran Church (GLC). A celebration was held October 31 to November 3, 2018 in Yaramanda, the site where missionaries to the region first arrived.

The event featured several guest speakers highlighting both the history of the Lutheran missions to the Enga region, missions to the Siassi Island, and the 501st anniversary of the Reformation. The GLC also presented representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) with sand art portraying a missionary giving the Bible to an Enga man, symbolizing the coming of the LCMS missionaries to Yaramanda on November 2, 1948.

The history of the GLC dates to 1947, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia requested The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) assist with mission outreach in unreached parts of Papua New Guinea. The LCMS responded positively, sending Rev. Dr. Willard Burce and Rev. Dr. Otto Hintze as missionaries in 1948, and cooperating with missionaries Rev. Harold Freund and Patrick Kleinig from Australia.

Along with 230 builders and cargo carriers, Drs. Burce and Hintze travelled 60 miles by foot from Ogelbeng to Yaramanda, where a local leader had invited missionaries to come visit. That site would serve as the staging grounds for Lutheran missionary outreach in the nearby Enga territory. They first entered the Enga area on November 3, 1948. Five days later, on November 7, they held their first worship service in the Enga region, with about 40 local men in attendance.

Lutheran missionaries Willard Burce, Harold Freund, Patrick Kleinig, and Otto Hintze.

The first baptisms in the Lutheran community took pace in January 1957, when 79 people were baptized. The church organized to become the Wabag Lutheran Church in 1961, eventually changing its name to the Gutnius Lutheran Church in 1978. Today the GLC has about 125,000 members. In addition to mission and congregational ministry, the church also runs a hospital, schools, and seminaries.

Dr. Burce, now into his nineties, sent video greetings to Papua New Guinea in 2017 on the occasion of the GLC’s commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Between one and two thousand people gathered in Irelya for the historic event.

GLC Deputy Bishop Rasak Polyo and General Secretary Ezekiel David Peter, were present for the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

The GLC is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide.

In recent years, the GLC has struggled with leadership disputes. The ILC recognizes Bishop Nicodemus Aiyene as the legitimate, duly elected head of the GLC.


The ILC’s 2018 World Conference in brief

Participants in the International Lutheran Council’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

BELGIUM – The 26th (11th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) took place September 25-28, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium, with church leaders representing more than 50 church bodies in attendance, representing more than 20 million Lutherans worldwide.

That attendance figure, which includes ILC members and guest churches, reflects the growing prominence of the International Lutheran Council on the world stage. That growth was also evident in the decision of the 2018 World Conference to accept 17 new church bodies into membership, more than doubling the number of Lutherans worldwide formerly associated with the ILC.

Present for the event were representatives of ILC member churches in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa (two member churches), the United States of America (two member churches), and Venezuela. Of those church bodies just accepted into membership at the 2018 convention, representatives were on hand from church bodies in Benin, Finland, Liberia, Madagascar, Myanmar (Burma), Norway, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Sweden, Taiwan, Uganda, and Uruguay.

Additional guests at the 2018 World Conference included representatives of the Ethiopian Evangelical Lutheran Church Mekane Yesus (Ethiopia), the Lutheran Church of Rwanda, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belarus, the Silesian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession (Czech Republic), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania, the Evangelical Lutheran Church Society (Norway), the Istanbul Lutheran Church (Turkey), the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine, and the North American Lutheran Church (USA).

Ecumenism and ILC Elections

The theme for the 2018 conference was Ecumenism and Ecclesiology. Delegates heard lectures and studies on the topic, looking at it in its historical and regional contexts, as well as considering the confessional basis for ecumenism. The convention also heard a report on the ILC’s ongoing dialogue group with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as adopted a resolution concerning relations with the Lutheran World Federation.

Discussion of the convention theme culminated in the adoption of a statement on “Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility.” “We are also driven to engage churches outside of the ILC community,” the statement notes, “because we are convinced we have an obligation to share the Gospel of Christ and all its articles—our confessional heritage—with the whole of Christianity.” Read the full statement here.

The 2018 World Conference also saw elections to the ILC’s Executive Committee. Reelected as ILC Chairman was Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church. Reelected as Secretary was President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium.

The remaining five elected positions on the ILC’s Executive Committee are filled by church bodies as opposed to specific individuals. Serving as the representative for Africa is the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa, which is led by Bishop Dieter Reinstorf. The region of Asia will be represented by The Lutheran Church in the Philippines, which is led by President Antonio Reyes. Europe will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, which is led by Chairman Jon Ehlers. The world region of Latin America will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, led by President Rudi Zimmer. Finally, the North American region will be represented by Lutheran Church–Canada, which is led by President Timothy Teuscher.

Additional appointments to the Executive Committee include Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (Past President of Lutheran Church–Canada and former Vice-Chairman of the ILC) and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

For detailed news on the 2018 World Conference, see the reports at the International Lutheran Council’s website here.


Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility: A Statement from the XXVI World Conference of the International Lutheran Council

The following statement was adopted by the International Lutheran Council at its 26th World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. It can be downloaded as a pdf here.


Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility: A Statement from the XXVI World Conference of the International Lutheran Council

The International Lutheran Council (ILC) gathered in Antwerp, September 25-28, 2018, to share papers on and to discuss the twin topics of fellowship and ecumenism, framed by devotional reflection. Members of the organization, all of which share a vigorous subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, recognize that each member body will express its confessional commitment in ways unique to its specific context.

Lutherans affirm an ecumenical approach and an ecumenical claim at the same time. This is demonstrated by the inclusion of the ecumenical creeds in the Book of Concord and expressed, for instance, in the structure of the Smalcald Articles. Here Luther states a basic consensus agreement on the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the Person of Christ, a basic dissensus on justification, and further questions to be debated. This claim for catholicity provides a basic framework for confessional Lutheran ecumenical engagement in our time and context: identify points of agreement, points of disagreement, and points for further conversation.

This approach has manifested itself in the rich and varied histories of the church bodies of the ILC. These different historical expressions challenge us to strive towards greater internal unanimity. At the same time, we are also driven to engage churches outside of the ILC community, because we are convinced we have an obligation to share the Gospel of Christ and all its articles—our confessional heritage—with the whole of Christianity.


ILC reelects Bishop Voigt as Chairman

The ILC’s Executive Committee (l-r): ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers; LCP President Antonio Reyes; LCMS President Matthew Harrison; Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC Executive Secretary;  SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the ILC; FELSISA Bishop Dieter Reinstorf; LCC President Timothy Teuscher; Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee; and ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem, ILC Secretary. Not present: President Rudi Zimmer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil.
ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt.

BELGIUM – On September 27, 2018 delegates to the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) World Conference unanimously reelected Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt as ILC Chairman for another triennium.

Chairman Voigt is Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, a position he has held since 2006. He was first elected Chairman of the ILC in 2012 and was reelected to the position in 2015. He had previously served as Interim Chairman of the ILC beginning in 2010.

The ILC also reelected President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium to serve as Secretary for the Executive Committee.

The remaining five elected positions on the ILC’s Executive Committee are filled by church bodies as opposed to specific individuals. Serving as the representative for Africa is the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa, which is led by Bishop Dieter Reinstorf. The region of Asia will be represented by The Lutheran Church in the Philippines, which is led by President Antonio Reyes. Europe will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, which is led by Chairman Jon Ehlers. The world region of Latin America will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, led by President Rudi Zimmer. Finally, the North American region will be represented by Lutheran Church–Canada, which is led by President Timothy Teuscher.

The Executive Committee has the right to appoint additional voting members to the committee, as per new bylaws adopted in 2017. On September 28, the Executive Committee reported that Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (Past President of Lutheran Church–Canada and former Vice-Chairman of the ILC) has been reappointed to serve on the Executive Committee, and that President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has also been appointed to serve.

The Vice-Chairman of the ILC is not elected by the World Conference, and is instead elected by the Executive Committee from its World Area Representatives. That election will take place during the Executive Committee’s first meeting.


Note: This story and its photo have been updated to indicate additional members appointed to the Executive Committee.

ILC World Conference: Martyrdom and Ecumenism

ELMDF Bishop Risto Soramies preaches during matins.

BELGIUM  – The second day of the ILC’s 2018 World Conference (September 26) began with a service of matins and a commemoration of the martyrs Johann Esch and Heinrick Voes. Esch and Voes were Augustinian monks who had converted to Lutheranism along with the rest of their monastery in Antwerp. For this crime, Esch and Voes would become the first Lutheran martyrs when they were burned at the stake in Brussels on July 1, 1523.

Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) preached for the service, reflecting both on the Belgian martyrs Esch and Voes and the lesser sufferings we too face as Christians. “Most of us bear lighter crosses than brothers Johann and Heinrich,” he noted. “Nevertheless the enemy of our souls is trying and tempting us in many ways. But we do not have to resign and grow weary or even be sad or sorry. Through Jesus we are God’s people, beloved, forgiven and upon us rests God’s glory, hidden to human eyes, including ours, but seen by the angels.

“Therefore,” he concluded, “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

The message took on particular poignancy for those who know Bishop Soramies’ own story: he, along with several other pastors in the ELMDF, were defrocked by the state church in Finland as a result of their faithfulness to the authority of Scripture.

The service was held in Antwerp’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Following matins, Rev. Isaiah Obare of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya presented a Bible study delving deeper into the subject of martyrdom.

Confessional Ecumenism in history and in the current moment

During the morning, the conference heard a report on the ILC’s 2017 incorporation and the bylaws adopted by the ILC Executive Committee at that time. The elevation in legal status better equips the ILC, as the bylaws themselves state, “to enable its further growth and development in the worldwide service of Confessional Lutheranism.” Later in the afternoon, the conference voted to accept the bylaws and commend the Executive Committee for their work.

Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast presents on the history of fellowship talks in the LCMS.

The morning also featured the next lecture on the theme of “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast (President, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana), gave a lecture entitled “Turning Points – A History of the Fellowship Issue in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.” Dr. Rast examined the history of the LCMS’ approach to ecumenical relationships with others Lutherans, noting that its twin desire “to avoid both separatism/schism and unionism/syncretism” manifested itself in different ways in different contexts.

“How we determine or assess agreement in confession with other church bodies can vary from situation to situation,” he explained. “Given the vastly different situations that are increasingly encountered in today’s ecclesial context, it seems necessary and appropriate to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach and instead develop different ways of assessing agreement that are appropriate to the church body or group in question.” To that end, Dr. Rast invited conference attendees to discuss how the churches of the ILC might: (1) better appreciate the relevance of each church’s individual histories in inter-church discussions; (2) identify appropriate modes for assessing confessional agreement in different contexts; (3) consider different procedures by which altar and pulpit fellowship might be declared between churches; (4) examine the relationship between public confession and public membership in a church body; and (5) consider how we might relate to confessional groups within larger church bodies.

Delegates considered these questions in smaller World Region groups, with spokesmen sharing some of the results of their discussions with the wider conference afterwards.

ILC Growth and Dogmatics Presentation

The most prominent piece of business in the afternoon was the reception of new members into the International Lutheran Council. In total, the ILC voted to receive seventeen new church bodies as members, representing 4.15 million Lutherans across the globe (full story here).

Dr. Bruce Kintz of Concordia Publishing House and Dr. Samuel Nafzger show the new dogmatics series from the LCMS.

Later in the afternoon, Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger spoke on the subject of dogmatics, noting the publication of a new two-volume dogmatics text from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod entitled Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology (published by Concordia Publishing House). Dr. Nafzger, who is editor of the series, formerly served as Executive Secretary of the ILC from 1993-2011. He also served as LCMS as director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations from 1974-2008.

In his lecture, Dr. Nafzger outlined the multi-decade development of the series and detailed the “building blocks” approach which frames the book. Each chapter considers its subject from a variety of viewpoints, including its Scriptural Foundation and Confessional Witness, a Systematic Formulation, Historical and Contemporary Developments, and its Implications for Life and Ministry.

Every participant in the ILC’s 2018 World Conference will receive a copy of the new dogmatics series.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt gives his report.

The convention also heard the report of ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, who framed his thoughts around the subject of the ILC’s ecumenical relations and the catholicity of the Lutheran Church. “Ecumenism and catholicity matter to us strongly,” he said. Drawing on the definition provided by Vincent of Lérins as adapted in the Lutheran tradition, Chairman Voigt defined catholicity as that which has been believed always, everywhere, and by all on the basis of Scripture. This understanding of catholicity gives us a platform for a “rightly understood ecumenism.” And because we have a

solid grounding in the Scriptures and the Confessions, he said, “we are strong enough to be open to ecumenical dialogue in our day.”

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to regional meetings, and reports from World Areas, with the conference hearing reports from Asia, Africa, and North America.

A return to martyrdom

LCMS President Matthew Harrison prays in preparation before giving his sermon.
The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium.

The day ended, as it began, with a service reflecting on martyrdom. LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison preached a sermon reflecting on the martyrs Esch and Voes, tying their stories back to the work of Luther, to earlier martyrs in the Church, and finally to the great Martyr, Christ Himself. In the end, President Harrison explained, it is the sacrifice of Christ alone—His death and resurrection—which gives meaning to the deaths of all the other martyrs and to our own struggles to stand firm in suffering and opposition. For it is by the blood of Christ that we are saved.

The service was held in Antwerp’s Cathedral of our Lady, a place “touched by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation,” noted Vicar General Bruno Aerts, who welcomed the ILC to the church on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antwerp. The building was subject to major iconoclastic attacks and destruction in 1566 by Calvinist iconoclasts. The church today is celebrated for its artistic beauty, including three major pieces by Peter Paul Rubens completed in the early 17th century.

President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium served as lector, while the organist and choir of the cathedral provided musical accompaniment for the service.