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, recently returned to Papua New Guinea in 2017, to serve as guest speaker for 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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ILC welcomes 17 new member churches representing 4.15 million Lutherans worldwide

The ILC’s Executive Committee pose with representatives of new member churches.

BELGIUM – On September 26, 2018, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) welcomed seventeen new church bodies into membership, representing approximately 4.15 million Lutherans across the globe. Their addition more than doubles the number of Lutherans worldwide associated with the ILC, bringing the total to approximately 7.15 million members.

Votes to accept the new churches took place September 25-26, 2018, during the ILC’s 2018 World Conference meeting in Antwerp, Belgium.

In total, the ILC received ten new member churches from Africa, three from Europe, and four from Asia (including Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church, which succeeds the now defunct Lanka Lutheran Church). That brings the total number of church bodies holding membership in the International Lutheran Council to 54.

Two additional church bodies applying for membership were declined at this time.

Of the new church bodies aligning with the ILC, eleven were received as full members and six as observer members. A synopsis of each new member church, including information on its history, membership numbers, leadership, and ILC membership class, appear below in alphabetical order by country.

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Benin: Lutheran Church in Africa—Benin Synod
The Lutheran Church in Africa—Benin Synod (Eglise Luthérienne en Afrique—Synode du Bénin – ELA-SBe) has 400 members in five congregations throughout Benin. The church itself was established in 2012 and officially registered in 2014, but its history goes back to 1996, when The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod began supporting missionary work begun by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana. The ELA-SBe was born out earlier attempts to establish a confessional Lutheran church body in Benin. The church is led by President Abona Legue Koumbi. The ELA-SBe was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Burkina Faso: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Burkina Faso
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Burkina Faso (Eglise Evangelique Lutherienne du Burkina Faso – EELBF) has approximately 1,400 members in eight parishes and four preaching points throughout Burkina Faso. The church was officially established and recognized in 1996. It was born through the pioneering mission work of the evangelist Rufus K. Kormah, who passed away in early 2011. The EELBF is led by President Tanpo Tchiriteme. The EELBF was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Finland: Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland
The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) has approximately 2,000 members in 33 congregations throughout Finland. The Mission Diocese was founded in 1999 as method to support confessional groups within the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and transitioned into an independent church body in 2013. The ELMDF is led by Bishop Risto Soramies. The ELMDF was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Indonesia: Indonesian Lutheran Christian Church
The Indonesian Lutheran Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Luther Indonesia – GKLI) has almost 21,000 members in 102 congregations throughout Indonesia. The church was founded in 1965 and emerged out of a reform movement that began within the Protestant Christian Batak Church. The GLKI is led by Bishop Esra Sinaga. The GKLI was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

Liberia: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia (ELCL) has more than 7,300 members in 91 congregations throughout Liberia. The church officially began as a mission project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in 1978, but also traces its history to earlier work by Lutheran Bible Translators beginning in 1969. As a result of civil wars in Liberia, the Lutheran presence was scattered, resulting in four separate church bodies. These groups merged in 2009 to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia. The ELCL is led by President Amos Bolay. The ELCL was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Madagascar: Malagasy Lutheran Church
The Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) is one of the largest Lutheran church bodies in the world, with approximately 4 million members in 8,500 congregations. The church’s history dates back to the work of Norwegian missionaries in 1867, and was officially established as the FLM in 1950. The church is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. The FLM is led by Presiding Bishop David Rakotonirina. The FLM was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Myanmar (Burma): Myanmar Lutheran Church
The Myanmar Lutheran Church (Myanmar Lutheran Kamkawm – MLC) has more than 3,400 members in 14 congregations throughout Myanmar. The church was founded in 1998, and has been a member of the Lutheran World Federation since 2010. The MLC is led by Bishop Mang Lone Andrew. The MLC was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

Norway: Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway
The Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway (Det evangelisk-lutherske stift i Norge – ELDiN/DELSiN) has 150 regular communicants in five congregations throughout Norway. The church began as a confessional movement in the Lutheran Church of Norway, eventually leading to the creation of the “Church of Norway in Exile” under the counter-bishop Børre Knudsen. In 2013, the movement formerly organized as the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. The ELDiN is led by Bishop Thor Henrik With. The ELDiN was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Rwanda: Lutheran Mission in Africa—Synod of Thousand Hills
The Lutheran Mission in Africa—Synod of Thousand Hills (Misioni y’Abaluteri muri Afrika—Sinodi y’imisozi igihumbi – LMA-STH) has more than 2,000 members in 22 congregations throughout Rwanda. The church came out of the Lutheran Church of Rwanda over doctrinal concerns in late 2014 and established a new church body at the end of that year. The LMA-STH is led by Bishop Selestine Munyentwari Seburikoko. The LMA-STH was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

South Africa: St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Synod of South Africa
The St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Synod of South Africa (CLCSA) has 22,000 members in congregations and 15 preaching stations throughout South Africa. The church grew out of mission efforts centered in the town of Middelburg. The CLCSA is led by Bishop John Mandla Khumalo. The CLCSA was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

South Sudan: South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church
The South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church (Kanitha de Yibenyjelikol Ludheran de Junub Thudan – SSELC) has approximately 5,000 members in 15 congregations. The church was formed in 2011, when 21 former ministers of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan left the church over doctrinal issues. The church is led by Bishop Nathaniel Boi Nyok Apar. The SSELC was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

Sri Lanka: Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church
The Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) has 500 members in 15 congregations throughout Sri Lanka. The church was officially founded in 2017, and succeeds the Lanka Lutheran Church, which was founded in 1978 but went defunct in the mid-2000s. The CELC has been accepted as a full member of the ILC. At the same time, the ILC has voted to remove the former Lanka Lutheran Church, which no longer exists, from its membership.

Sweden: Mission Province in Sweden
The Mission Province in Sweden (Missionsprovinsen i Sverige) has sixteen congregations throughout Sweden, and serves several other independent congregations in that country as well. The Mission Province was founded in 2003 as a reform group within the Church of Sweden by those attempting to maintain the biblical understanding of the ministry, after several decades of increasing pressure on ministers who sought to remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. The Mission Province is led by Bishop Roland Gustafsson. The Mission Province has been accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Taiwan: The Lutheran Church of the Republic of China
The Lutheran Church of the Republic of China (財團法人台灣中國基督教信義會總會 – LCROC) has 640 members in 11 congregations throughout northern and northeastern Taiwan. The church was founded through the work of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission in Taiwan, with congregations founded in the early 1950s. The church has been fully independent since 2006. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. The LCROC is led by Bishop Nong-Ruay Chen. The LCROC has been accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

Togo: Lutheran Church of Togo
The Lutheran Church of Togo (Eglise Luthérienne du Togo – ELT) has 8,000 members in 45 congregations throughout Togo. It emerged out of mission work first begun by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in 1980. The church body was officially founded in 2009. The church is led by President Kolani Lambon Lare. The ELT has been accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Uganda: Lutheran Church of Uganda
The Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU) has more than 50,000 members in 140 congregations across Uganda. It emerged in 1993 out of mission work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana working in partnership with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The church is led by Bishop Charles Bameka Isabirye. The LCU has been accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Uruguay: Lutheran Church of Uruguay
The Lutheran Church of Uruguay (Iglesia Luterana del Uruguay – ILU) has approximately 200 members in 3 congregations throughout Uruguay. The church arose out of the mission work of Argentinian Lutherans beginning in 1936. Depending on external circumstances, the original congregation was first a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil. The church became independent in 2004, and by 2010 was established a national church body. The church is led by Principal Pastor André Luiz Muller. The ILU has been accepted as a full member of the ILC.

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ILC 2018 World Conference opens in Antwerp, Belgium

Our Lady’s Chapel at the Elzenveld, site of the opening worship service of the International Lutheran Council’s 26th (11th) World Conference.

BELGIUM – The 26th (11th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) opened the morning of September 25, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium. The event also marks the 25th anniversary of the ILC in its current form. The conference runs until September 28.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt preaches during the opening service of the International Lutheran Council’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

An opening service was held in Our Lady’s Chapel, a fifteenth century chapel of the medieval St. Elizabeth convent (now the Elzenveld Hotel and Conference Centre). ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church) served as preacher for the service, with Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (ILC Executive Secretary) serving as liturgist.

Following the service, the ILC received greetings from several local political and ecclesiastical dignitaries, including Antwerp’s Mayor, Bart De Wever; Antwerp’s Vice-Mayor of Culture and Religion, Jan Rombouts; Vicar General Bruno Aerts on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antwerp; and Chairman John van der Dussen of the Antwerp Council of Churches.

Each was presented with a copy of the book 450 Years – Lutheran Church in Antwerp: 1566-1586 and Beyond, a new history by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium. It details in both Flemish and English the early history of Lutheranism in Belgium.

Ecclesiology and Ecumenism

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver speaks on ecumenism.

The morning of the first day of the ILC’s 2018 World Conference focused on a discussion of the convention theme: “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” Dr. Collver introduced the topic, joined by Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Professor of Systematic Theology and Confessional Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana).

In his remarks, Dr. Collver noted that the very first meeting of the group that would become the ILC likewise focused on the topic of church fellowship. The 2018 convention’s focus on ecclesiology and ecumenism is therefore a return to a discussion that has been ongoing for decades.

He went on to note that the first arrest of Lutherans took place 497 years ago this week in Antwerp. Two years later, the first Lutheran martyrs—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—were burned at the stake in Antwerp. And yet the opening of the ILC World Conference in 2018 saw greetings from the local Roman Catholic Archdiocese. So too the ILC has for several years been participating in an informal international dialogue group with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “Times have changed,” Dr. Collver reflected, “yet our Confessions remain the same.”

Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler continues the introduction of the convention theme.

Dr. Ziegler continued the discussion, noting that a confessional Lutheran understanding of ecumenism begins first by remembering the unity of Christ’s body which already exists, and recognizing that spiritual reality to be the work of God and not man. From that foundation, he turned to a discussion of the seventh article of the Augsburg Confession, unpacking what it means for the unity of the visible church to be dependent on the Gospel being taught purely and the sacraments rightly administered. Dr. Ziegler outlined four different interpretations of this article, ultimately arguing that agreement on the Gospel and the sacraments includes agreement not only on the teachings of the Confessions but also in all teachings of Holy Scripture.

Beginning from such a point, confessional Lutheran ecumenism seeks to determine what schisms in the church are justified (as a rejection of errant doctrine) and which are unjustified (where people prefer one human tradition over another), while ultimately seeking resolution to both forms of division through: the preaching of the Gospel in its fullness, seeking opportunities to speak with one another through the work of groups like the ILC, praying for the unity of the Church, and working to preserve unity in our own individual church bodies. At its heart, confessional Lutheran ecumenism is grounded in both truth and love, Dr. Ziegler said: “Love and truth belong together,” he explained. Both are necessary “in our striving for unity.”

The theme will be further unpacked through three keynote lectures over the next days of the conference.

Growing to meet the needs of confessional Lutherans worldwide

Work in the afternoon was overshadowed in part by the report of a fire in the tower of a Lutheran church in Latvia. ILC Chairman Voigt led the World Council in prayer for the affected congregation and community.

The afternoon featured the report of the ILC’s Executive Secretary, who traced the history of the ILC from earlier confessional Lutheran inter-church assemblies in the 19th century down to the present day, where the ILC is celebrating 25 years in its current form. “In 25 years, much has remained the same about the ILC,” noted Dr. Collver in his report, “particularly the ILC’s commitment to the inspired, inerrant Word of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and unreserved acceptance of the Lutheran Confessions found in the Book of Concord.” But one thing that has changed, he noted, is ever-growing interest in the work of the ILC by Lutheran churches around the world.

“Back in 1993 when the ILC was formed, it represented approximately four million Lutherans worldwide,” Dr. Collver noted. By contrast, he said, the current gathering in Belgium “has church leaders in attendance representing around 20 million Lutherans worldwide.” That number includes current member churches, 19 churches currently seeking membership in the ILC, and church bodies represented at the conference which are not yet seeking membership in the ILC, but whose leaders have grown close to the ILC in recent years as a result of the organization’s defense of the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

President Antonio Reyes of The Lutheran Church of the Philippines preaches during vespers.

The ILC is expanding its capacity to meet the growing interest and needs of confessional Lutherans around the world, Dr. Collver noted. Some of these initiatives—the formalization of the ILC’s legal status, for example, and the Lutheran Leadership Development Program—will be discussed in greater detail over the coming days.

Other business attended to in the afternoon of the first day of the conference included initial votes on the acceptance of new members to the ILC, World Region breakout sessions, and the report of the European World Region.

ILC Chairman Voigt (left) greets the publication of a new history of Lutheranism in Antwerp, following an introduction by Dr. Guido Marnef (centre). The book was written by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (right).

The day’s business closed with Vespers, held in the historic St. Anne’s Chapel (also known as the Emperor’s Chapel), first built in 1512. The church is notable not only for its remarkable Counter-Reformation artwork, but also because it served as a Lutheran church from 1578 until the fall of Antwerp in 1585. President Antonio Reyes of The Lutheran Church of the Philippines preached the sermon, with Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana) serving as liturgist.

Following dinner, attendees of the ILC convention were presented with copies of President van Hattem’s new history of Lutheranism in Antwerp, which was revealed earlier in the day when it was given as a gift to several dignitaries attending the ILC World Conference’s worship. Professor Guido Marnef of the University of Antwerp introduced the book, saying that “this fascinating but not well-known history deserves a broad circulation within the Lutheran community and far beyond.”

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The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. Every three years, member churches of the ILC and friends gather for the ILC World Conference, where they conduct business, hold elections, and discuss challenges and opportunities facing the confessional Lutheran church around the world.

ILC History: First ILC Meeting at Christ Church in Uelzen, 1952

Christ Church in Uelzen, Germany, Site of the first ILC Meeting in 1952.

GERMANY – 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.

The Missouri Synod Delegates to the 1952 Lutheran World Federation World Assembly in Hannover, Germany.
Remodeled Altar at Christ Church in Uelzen.

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.'”

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Latvia celebrates 25th anniversary of Archbishop’s consecration; ILC brings greetings, addresses Eastern European bishops conference

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Jānis Vanags of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. (Photo: Ulda Muzikanta)

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

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (left) and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (centre) bring greetings to the gathering on behalf of the International Lutheran Council.

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.

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt presents on International Relations and the International Lutheran Council.

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.

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Preparing for the 2018 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council

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.

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