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.
BELGIUM – On October 31, 2017, “Martin Luther Place” (Maarten Lutherplein) in Antwerp, Belgium, was inaugurated by the city’s Mayor, Bart De Wever, and Germany’s ambassador to Belgium, Rüdiger Lüdeking.
The inauguration was part of Antwerp’s celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Antwerp played an important role in the early years of the Reformation. The Augustinian monastery there had several monks who studied with Luther in Wittenberg, and brought his ideas to Antwerp. Two of them—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—became the two first martyrs of the Reformation, executed in Brussels on July 1, 1523.
President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België, EKLB), directed the ceremony, as the local Lutheran church initiated efforts to name a place after Luther.
The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. President van Hattem also serves as Secretary of the ILC’s Executive Council.
Antwerp, Belgium will be the venue of the International Lutheran Council’s next world conference in September 2018.
President van Hattem’s inauguration speech for “Martin Luther Place” follows:
We warmly welcome you to this festive inauguration of Martin Luther Place.
In particular, Mr. Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp, and Mr. Rüdiger Lüdeking, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Herzlich Wilkommen!
Today marks exactly 500 years since the monk and university professor Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis about and against indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Church doors acted as message boards at that time.
Throughout the world, October 31, 1517, is seen as the symbolic date for the start of the Reformation, a movement that has had a major impact on our Western culture and society.
Since Antwerp came into contact with the Reformation early in the 16th century, and Protestantism played a major role in the city, Antwerp might have remained a Protestant city—if it did not had been brought back under the Spanish crown in 1585. For these reasons, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation may certainly be celebrated in Antwerp.
This has already happened and is happening through many activities throughout the year, not least through the exhibition at St. Andrew Church, with its focus on the early years of the Reformation in this city.
What was missing was a visible reminder of the Reformation in the Antwerp cityscape. It is for this reason that the Lutheran church, with the support of the Antwerp Council of Churches, applied to City Council to name a street or place after the Reformer, which made the city council decide to call this place “Martin Luther Place.”
We now invite the Mayor and the Ambassador to proceed to the official inauguration of the Martin Luther Place by revealing one of the nameplates. (The mayor and ambassador revealed the nameplate.)
With this the square is inaugurated. As a souvenir at this moment and this day, we would like to present you with a figure of the Reformer. (The mayor and ambassador both received a Playmobil Luther figure.)
We thank everyone for their presence and ask you to join us in St. Andrew church nearby for a few speeches alternated with music, after which will follow a reception by the District of Antwerp with Lutherbier provided by the German Embassy.
FORT WAYNE, Indiana – The American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) recently held talks with representatives of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) on October 10-11, 2017 to discuss entering into altar and pulpit fellowship, as well as to consider potential opportunities for partnership.
Representing the SELK at the meetings were Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt and Rev. Dr. Werner Klän. Representing the AALC were Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins, Rev. Richard Shields, and Rev. Joseph Dapelo.
The meetings began the morning of October 10 on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the AALC has its national headquarters. Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins of the AALC led opening devotions. Discussions the first day focused on confessional basis and ecclesial identity, as well as the doctrines of Holy Scripture, God, sin, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, justification and sanctification, the Church, and the office of the Holy Ministry, with general agreement on the issues discussed.
Leading the SELK’s delegation was Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, who also serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide. Both SELK and the AALC are member churches of the ILC. The second day of meetings between SELK and the AALC began with devotions led by Bishop Voigt, followed by discussions on the sacraments, worship, ethics, and eschatology, with the two sides finding consensus in these areas.
Each group plans to encourage their respective church bodies to vote on entering into fellowship at coming conventions (SELK at their pastoral convention in November 2017 and the AALC at their general convention in June 2018).
Earlier in 2017, the AALC also entered into fellowship talks with Lutheran Church in Norway (Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge – LKN). March saw talks between the AALC’s President Pastor Leins, Rev. Dapelo, and Rev. Jordan Cooper and the LKN’s Bishop Torkild Msavie and Rev. Eirik-Kornelius Garnes-Lunde. On the basis of those talks, the LKN decided to enter into fellowship with the AALC. The AALC will bring the matter forward for a vote at the AALC’s general convention in June 2018. The LKN, like SELK and the AALC, is a member church of the International Lutheran Council.
CANADA – Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) held its 2017 synodical convention October 13-16, 2017 in Kitchener, Ontario, during which time they elected a new president: Rev. Timothy Teuscher. The convention also elected Rev. Thomas Kruesel to serve as LCC’s Vice President.
“I humbly bow to the will and decision of the convention and accept my election to serve as president of our synod,” said President Elect Teuscher in remarks to convention delegates the day after his election. “I ask for your patience and prayers, your understanding, your support, your counsel, and your advice.”
Rev. Teuscher currently serves as First Vice President of the East District of Lutheran Church–Canada and pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Stratford, Ontario. He succeeds Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, who had announced in early 2017 that he would not be standing for reelection. Dr. Bugbee was elected President of LCC in 2008, and was acclaimed to second and third terms without opposition in 2011 and 2014. He further served the International Lutheran Council as its Vice Chairman for several terms.
Delegates to the 2017 convention voted to restructure the Canadian church body, accepting changes to the church’s statutory bylaws, constitution, and synodical bylaws (changes to the constitution now go to congregations for ratification). Under the new structure, congregations will relate directly to synod (rather than through the previous Districts), with congregations to be grouped in at least three regions. Other changes include the move to a four-year convention cycle.
The 2017 convention also took time to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The opening worship service saw President Bugbee preach on the convention’s theme: Christ Alone, Christ Forever. Bible studies focused on texts prominent during the Reformation. Delegates took in a special Reformation concert featuring J.S. Bach’s Cantata 199 and Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony as performed by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Orchestra. And all delegates received a free copy of Saints of the Reformation, a book published by LCC to recognize the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The book is available as an e-book for free or in hard copy for less than $5 CAD.
Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council and Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) brought greetings to the convention: “It is my prayer for Lutheran Church–Canada that our Heavenly Father will always look kindly on your church,” he said, “and that He will answer our prayers for the well-being and extension of confessional Lutheranism worldwide.”
Numerous other international guests representing ILC churches were present for the event, including representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, The American Association of Lutheran Churches, the Lutheran Church in Peru, the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua, and the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod-USA. The convention also received written greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, Japan Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina, the Free Evangelical-Lutheran Synod in South Africa, the Lutheran Church of Australia, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia.
GERMANY – September 27, 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of the Prussian King Fredrick William III’s Order-in-Council, which marked the beginning of a rather distressing journey towards the formation of autonomous Evangelical Lutheran Churches in the former Prussian territories. Beginning in 1817, Frederick William III issued a series of decrees which pushed Lutheran and Reformed churches to merge. Later decrees required churches to give up the name “Lutheran” or “Reformed” in favour of the name “Evangelical,” and to adopt a new liturgy which privileged Reformed theology in the area of Holy Communion at the expense of Lutheran beliefs.
Many Lutherans protested and their pastors refused to use the new rite. When caught using historic Lutheran liturgies, these pastors were suspended from ministry. If they were further caught continuing to practice pastoral care, they were then imprisoned. The persecution of these “Old Lutherans,” as they were called, led eventually to the formation of independent confessional Lutheran church bodies throughout German territories.
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständigen Evangelisch Lutherischen Kirche – SELK) in Germany traces its origins to this movement, as do confessional Lutheran churches in other German territories. Some Old Lutherans emigrated from Germany to other nations in pursuit of religious freedom. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (SELK), for example, grew out of this exodus, as did the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). SELK and the LCMS are both member churches of the ILC, while the LCA is an associate member.
On September 27, to mark the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Prussian Union, the persecution of the Old Lutherans, and the origins of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the SELK, released the following letter. Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council. (Read the letter in German here.)
Remarks on the 200th anniversary of the Frederick William III’s Union Decree
Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt
I would not want to let this date pass without pointing out its significance. We have no cause to celebrate, because September 27, 1817 is the beginning of the suppression of Lutheran congregations and their pastors by Prussian authorities. And this is the cause for Lutheran families to become refugees, feeling compelled to flee to North America and to Australia, where they founded Lutheran churches that are now sister churches of the SELK.
No one less than Dr. Martin Luther himself, at the conclusion of the attempted union discussion at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, with great regret felt it necessary to say: “You have a different spirit!” In his order-in-council released September 27, 1817, Frederick William III called this “an unfortunate sectarian spirit,” which evidenced “insurmountable difficulties” in Martin Luther’s person. To the King’s mind, the Lutheran and Reformed Churches 300 years after the Reformation were “separated protestant churches merely by certain external differences.” Thus begun the attempt to marginalize the Lutheran Church in Prussia.
On September 27, 1817, the King still claimed: “This union will only be of real value when it is effected neither by persuasion nor by indifferentism, rather that it should arise out of the free conviction of those involved, so that it is not only a union in mere external form but indeed has its roots and vital strength in a unity of the heart, according to genuine Biblical principles.” Some time later Frederick William III dissociated himself from this position, and ordered the acceptance of a union agenda which he had authored, in which Reformed and Lutheran worship was amalgamated.
It was at this point that real persecution commenced. The congregations in Silesia still remembered the persecution that was visited upon them during the rule of the Habsburgs, less than 100 years earlier. And so most of them were still aware of what they had to do. They held their worship services in the forests. Various congregations in Pomerania and in the provinces along the Rhine followed their example. At times, every Lutheran pastor was in jail.
I want to remind all of us of this willingness on the part of the mothers and fathers of our church to suffer and of their courageous faith. They were ready to consider questions of their faith; Holy Communion was for them so important that under no circumstances were they willing to question the certainty of the body and blood of Christ under bread and wine. They were even willing, after the legalization of the Lutheran Church from 1845 on, to continue paying state church contributions, while in addition giving their own offerings for the construction of new Lutheran churches and parsonages and for the salaries of their pastors. This sacrificial spirit in hard times is exemplary. And our church today is alive because of this same sacrificial spirit.
It is of some value to remember this and keep it alive. But at the same time it is important for our church not to maintain the role of a victim. During the last several years we have engaged in dialogue with the Union of Evangelical Churches (UEK) within the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD — the Protestant Federation of the State Churches in Germany). For the first time in 200 years we have taken a look at our common history. We have drafted a Gemeinsames Wort (“Common Address”) and a Brief an die Gemeinden (Letter to the Congregations); they are still in the process of being finalized for adoption. Both of these papers are to be signed in a Service of Repentance and Thanksgiving on the Day of Repentance and Prayer, November 22, 2017 in Berlin. These documents still clearly enunciate remaining differences separating our churches, but we also express our gratitude for common viewpoints.
This process was initiated by a very moving sermon preached 50 years ago (1967) by Franz-Reinhold Hildebrandt. At the time, he was head of the Chancellery of the Evangelical Church of the Union (EKU). In that sermon, he said: “Our church stands in guilt that is still not dealt with. Rifle butts by soldiers, forcible entry into churches and the arrest of pastors, that’s what happened. And so at that time many families left their home and emigrated to Australia and North America. They wanted to keep pure their Lutheran faith, which they saw endangered in the Union. And if guilt can only be obliterated by forgiveness, then we don’t want to let this day pass without asking our Old Lutheran brethren for such forgiveness.”
All of us today have a lasting responsibility for our history. Because we participate in the blessings that our church bestows on us, so we are also responsible for any suffering and guilt in our history. This background makes it important, to grant human forgiveness—to ask for the same and to grant it.
This day fills me with mournful remembrance and great respect for the suffering the mothers and fathers of our church had to bear. But on the other hand I am full of gratitude for the Lutheran Church into which I was baptized: the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). I am also filled with gratitude for the thorough and respectful discussions with the representatives of the UEK. They will enable both churches to look at one another in a spirit different than in the past.
Translation by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson
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