German Lutherans declare fellowship with six new church bodies

SELK Bishop Voigt (far right) greets (front l-r) DELSin Bishop With, ELMDF Bishop Soramies, and AALC Presiding Pastor Leins following the vote to recognize fellowship. (Photo: Dörte Pape via DELSiN.)

GERMANY – The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche) held its 14th National Church Synod from May 21-26, 2019 in Balhorn, Germany, during which time the church declared fellowship with six church bodies from Europe, North America, and South America.

The SELK’s new fellowship partners include the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway (DELSiN), and the Mission Province in Sweden. (The Mission Province still needs to ratify the agreement with SELK before fellowship between the two churches will take effect.)

SELK also declared fellowship with Concordia Fellowship, an Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Celle, Germany.

“It’s a joy to recognize fellowship with our brothers and sisters around the world,” noted SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. “We look forward to nurturing the growing relationships between our various church bodies, and looking for new opportunities for cooperation and partnership in our proclamation of the Gospel.”

The resolution to declare fellowship was followed by a standing ovation and a hymn of thanksgiving. The heads of three of the new partner church bodies—Bishop Thor Henrik With (DELSiN), Bishop Risto Soramies (ELMDF), and Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (AALC)—were all on hand for the event.

SELK’s 2019 Synod met under the theme: “Good News in a Fake News World. Speakers for the event were Professor Dr. Christian Neddens (Oberursel, Germany) and Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb (St. Louis, Missouri). Among other business, the church accepted a new document from SELK’s Theological Commission on “The Lutheran Church and Judaism,” discussed the role of women in the church, and conducted elections for various boards and commissions.

SELK, the AALC, IELA, ELMDF, ILSN, DELSiN, and the Mission Province are all members of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran churches around the world.

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LCMS reelects President Matthew Harrison

President Matthew C. Harrison (Photo: LCMS Communications).

USA – On June 26, 2019, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) announced that Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison has been reelected as President of the church for a fourth term.

President Harrison was first elected to office in 2010, and his fourth term runs from 2019-2022. He was reelected with 51.76% of the vote (3,014 votes).

Other candidates for the position, Rev. Dr. David P.E. Maier (President of the LCMS’ Michigan District) and Rev. Timothy M. Klinkenberg (Senior Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange, California), received 39.89 percent and 8.35 percent of the vote respectively (or 2,323 and 486 votes).

The LCMS holds its presidential elections in advance of its synodical convention. Nominations for president were due in February 2019, with the three candidates receiving the highest portion of votes and consenting to serve if elected added to the slate. Voting was held June 22-25, 2019.

The LCMS will hold its 67th regular synodical convention July 20-25, 2019 in Tampa, Florida.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. In addition to his service to The LCMS, President Harrison has served on the ILC’s Executive Committee since 2018.

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Swedish Lutherans consecrate new bishop

Bishop Bengt Ådahl (centre right holding a crosier) of the Mission Province of Sweden, along with church leaders who participated in his consecration.
Bishop Bengt Ådahl.

SWEDEN – On April 27, 2019 Rev. Bengt Ådahl was consecrated as bishop of the Mission Province in Sweden at a festive service in Gothenburg.

Bishop Ådahl was installed by Bishop Roland Gustafsson, who has retired after nine years of service leading the Mission Province. Assisting Bishop Gustafsson were Bishops Göran Beijer and Lars Artman, as well as the Mission Province’s first Bishop Arne Olsson.

Also participating in the service were Bishop Thor Henrik With of the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway, Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Bishop Hans Jönsson bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.

Bishop Ådahl introduced his personal episcopal mission with the encouragement to “Look to Jesus,” drawing on Hebrews 12:2. “In all true Christianity, Jesus Christ is at the centre,” he explained. For this reason, Jesus must remain the centre of all Christian faith and practice. He must remain central in our individual lives. He must remain central in our understanding of Scripture. And He must remain central in the life of the Church.

“It is tempting,” he acknowledged, to follow “what is politically correct, what is liked in media coverage, to feel out which way the wind is blowing right now.”

Bishop Ådahl is consecrated.

“But it is fatal,” he warned. Instead, he said, “we must look to Jesus, search into His Word. We shall be faithful to and adhere to everything that He has shown and made clear to us in His Word. This is precisely what the Lord expects of us: to remain faithful to Himself, to His Word, faithful to the doctrines and confessions of the Church.”

This challenging call to stand firm on Christ and His Word is one the Mission Province in Sweden knows only too well. The Mission was founded first as a reform group within the Church of Sweden in 2003 by those attempting to remain faithful to the Scriptures while the state church increasingly secularized. Their first bishop, Arne Olsson, was installed in 2005. The Church of Sweden responded by defrocking Bishop Olsson.

The state church has continued to punish those holding confessional views, barring confessional candidates from ordination. One of those barred from ordination by the state Church of Sweden was in attendance at the consecration of Bishop Ådahl—Bishop Hans Jönsson, who was subsequently welcomed into the Latvian church and made a bishop there in 2016.

The Mission Province in Sweden is a member of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses, together with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. In 2018, the Mission Province and the other members of the Communion of Nordic Dioceses became members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. During that time, Bishop Emeritus Roland Gustafsson announced his intention to retire as head of Mission Province, having successfully brought the church into membership with the ILC.

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Supporting Theological Education in Nigeria

Students at the Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary in Nigeria.
During class at JEML Seminary.

NIGERIA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is working with the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) to support seminary education at the Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran (JEML) Seminary in Obot Idim Ibesikpo, Uyo, AKWA Ibom State, Nigeria.

In a recent interview, LCN Archbishop Christian Ekong spoke of the opportunity and need for seminary education in Nigeria. “Theological education and the training of pastors remain critically important for the support, growth, and missionary activity of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria,” he said. “Our congregations and the mission field need pastors. We have many candidates for seminary admission, but we often have to delay or deny admission to qualified students because of lack of funding.”

The Sacrament of the Altar.

Grants from the International Lutheran Council will supplement student fees and make it possible for eligible men to attend the seminary for training as Evangelists and Pastors in the LCN. “I have fallen in love with these young men who have come to the seminary with such passion and commitment to preaching the Gospel of Christ in Nigeria,” said Rev. Peter C. Bender, Visiting Professor at JEML Seminary and Director of the Concordia Catechetical Academy (Sussex, Wisconsin).  “The work of this seminary is vital, not only for the LCN, but for the confessional Lutheran churches in all of Africa. The Lord has blessed the seminary with an outstanding curriculum and the unwavering leadership of Archbishop Ekong. Having lectured all over the world, JEML is worthy of the support of all who cherish the Gospel of Christ and Lutheran mission work on the continent of Africa.”

The Lutheran Church of Nigeria is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies around the world.

You can support the training of pastors in Nigeria by making a donation online. Simply designate “Seminary Support in Nigeria” as you make your gift.

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

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

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Repairs to Latvian church continue following fire

St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (Pinki, Latvia) during the 2018 fire, repairs, and now.
Repairs to the roof of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church.

LATVIA – Repairs to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pinki, Latvia continue, thanks in part to a gift from the International Lutheran Council (ILC). St. John’s Church is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL).

On September 25, 2018 a fire caused significant damage to the historic church’s towers and roof. News of the fire emerged while the International Lutheran Council (ILC) was holding its 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. ELCL Archbishop Jānis Vanags was at the ILC World Conference at the time.

The conference paused while ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt led prayers for the affected congregation. In response to the fire, the ILC offered a small gift of $5,000 USD to assist in repairs to the damaged building.

Repairs to the tower and roof completed.

Since then, the church has completed some of the renovations to the tower and roof, but renovations to the church exterior and the installation of thermal insulation in the tower continue.

Other entities which have provided funds for repairs include Latvia’s government, the European Union, and individual donations. Additional funds are currently being sought to cover remaining expenses for the repairs.

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ILC works with Nigerian Lutherans to plant churches

LCN missionary pastor, Rev. Barile Kagbor, and the mission congregation in Ugep in southern Nigeria.

NIGERIA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is working with the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) to support mission outreach in cities and urban areas across the country.

While well-established in rural areas, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria has identified greater emphasis on urban outreach as a growing mission need. Responding to a request for assistance from the LCN, the International Lutheran Council agreed in 2018 to partner with the LCN, providing financial support for Nigerian pastors as they establish new mission plants in urban centres throughout Nigeria, including in Yenegoa, Warri, Asaba, Ekiti, Alagbole, Ugep, Bonny, and Akpet Central.

“One of the biggest challenges to the growth of the church in Nigeria is a lack of missionary pastors,” noted LCN Archbishop Christian Ekong. “Through the assistance of the International Lutheran Council, we are pleased to be able to send more workers into the mission field, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout our country.”

Accomodations for Rev. Kagbor and his family in Ugep.

Grants from the International Lutheran Council will supplement LCN mission funds in order to pay rent for worship space in mission sites, as well as to pay the salaries of missionary pastors. Through this project, the LCN hopes to establish ten new congregations in urban centres over the next five years.

“It is a joy to be able to support the Lutheran Church of Nigeria as its mission field expands to include new urban centres across Nigeria,” said Darin Storkson, Interim General Secretary of the ILC. “May God bless the work of the LCN’s missionary pastors, and open hearts to receive the message of salvation with joy.”

The Lutheran Church of Nigeria is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies around the world.

You can support missionary pastors in Nigeria by making a donation online. Simply designate “Missionary support in Nigeria” as you make your gift.

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

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

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ILC commends Dr. Collver for faithful service, names Interim General Secretary

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver speaks at the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has named Darin Storkson as Interim General Secretary, taking over for Rev. Dr. Albert Collver who announced his resignation as General Secretary earlier this month.

In a farewell letter to members of the ILC Executive Committee, Dr. Collver cited a desire to pursue other opportunities. “I appreciate your service on the Executive Committee,” he wrote to his colleagues, “and believe that the ILC is important for worldwide Lutheranism. I wish you all well.” Dr. Collver first joined the ILC as its Executive Secretary in October 2012.

The Executive Committee received his resignation with great regret. “Dr. Collver’s service to the International Lutheran Council and world Lutheranism has been extraordinary, with far reaching results and accomplishments,” noted Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the ILC. “We thank him for his invaluable work, and we pray every blessing upon him as the Lord places him in his next field of service to the church.”

Dr. Collver’s tenure as General Secretary saw the International Lutheran Council dramatically increase its presence on the world stage. During his service, the ILC entered into an international informal dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; officially incorporated, and adopted new bylaws; welcomed 20 new church bodies into membership over two successive world conferences; and launched the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, among other accomplishments.

Darin Storkson at the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

On March 19, the ILC Executive Committee appointed Darin Storkson to serve as Interim General Secretary. Prior to this, Storkson served as ILC Deputy General Secretary. He began working with the ILC in 2017.

“Darin Storkson brings great knowledge of the work of the International Lutheran Council, having served with Dr. Collver for some time,” noted ILC Chairman Voigt. “He will ensure the important work begun in recent years not only continues but thrives. May God bless him in this new role, and through him the witness of confessional Lutherans worldwide.

Storkson has a strong background in international affairs, formerly serving as a diplomat with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a foreign direct investment consultant, and a director in various international roles for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod for fourteen years.

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ILC welcomes Tanzanian Lutheran diocese into membership

Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala, Rev. Dr. Daniel Mono, and ILC General Secretary Albert Collver.

GERMANY – On February 27, 2019, the International Lutheran Council (ILC)) welcomed the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania – South East of Lake Victoria Diocese (ELCT-SELVD) as a Recognized Organization observer member. Their acceptance was formally declared in Wittenberg, Germany following a decision of the ILC’s Executive Committee.

“We are so joyful that we have been accepted as a member of the ILC in an observer status,” said ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala. “Through our authorized decision-making Assemblies, we have found that the ILC is a safe place for encouragement and learning.”

The Pastor’s Committee of ELCT-SELVD voted to seek ILC membership in January 2019.

The Pastors’ Committee of ELCT-SELVD voted unanimously to seek membership in the ILC on January 24, 2019.

“We understand that there is a big contradiction between the teachings and practices of African churches and much of world Lutheranism today,” Bishop Makala continued. “We pray for and witness to those who would change the church into a secular entity focused solely on human rights rather than on being the Church.” For that reason, he said, the ELCT-SELVD is grateful for the work of the International Lutheran Council. “The ILC remains faithful to the Scriptures and the Confessions. We remain also in that understanding and will not abuse our consciences.”

ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala and ILC General Secretary Albert Collver

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC General Secretary, welcomed Bishop Makala and the ELCT-SELVD warmly. “It is a joy to welcome the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese into the ILC family,” said Dr. Collver. “Bishop Makala is a faithful leader of the church and we look forward to the ELCT-SELVD’s participation in the life and work of the International Lutheran Council.”

The decision to seek affiliation with the ILC has been a natural progression for the ELCT-SELVD, with Bishop Makala having been a regular guest at ILC world events over the past five years. Most recently, Bishop Makala and another member of the ELCT-SELVD are participating in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program.

“I congratulate Bishop Dr. Emmanuel Makala and his beloved diocese for joining the ILC,” said Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, Associate Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) and Director of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program. “It has been my highest privilege to know him very closely over the course of so many years. Bishop Makala has always been a faithful confessor of doctrine and in all its articles. All he has done as bishop has been motivated not by some personal gain but for the sake of his people.”

“I agree with many who consider him as a Luther for this age in Tanzania,” Dr. Masaki continued. “His people rejoice with him on this occasion because they know that they will continue to be cared for by their Savior through faithful administration of the pure Word of God and sacraments according to Christ’s institution. I join with all of the beloved saints in his diocese in praising the Lord for His faithfulness to them and all of us!”

The decision of the ELCT-SELVD to affiliate with the International Lutheran Council received praise from other African Lutherans as well. “I would like to express my sincere congratulations to Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Joseph Makala, Bishop of the ELCT-SELVD, because you have been accepted as a member of the International Lutheran Council,” said General Secretary Teshome Amenu of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. “This is a historic and special moment because this agreement was made in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses and called the church back to the authority of the Holy Scriptures five hundred years ago. Let us remain faithful to the Holy Scriptures and Lutherans Confessions!”

Rev. Dr. Daniel Mono, a District Pastor in the ELCT-SELVD, also expressed joy at their diocese’s welcome into the ILC. “It was such good news for all of us to be accepted as members of the International Lutheran Council,” he said. “We are looking forward to being active and faithful members; faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, administering sacraments as instituted and mandated to us by Jesus Christ.”

“With no doubt, God has heard the prayers of pastors and members of ELCT- South East of Lake Victoria Diocese,” he continued. “We all regard the ten documents in the Bok of Concord as true interpretations of the Bible. We are looking forward to cooperating in various ways.”

While the South East of Lake Victoria Dioceses is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania, it is also an independently constituted legal entity, allowing it to affiliate with the International Lutheran Council. The diocese has approximately 23,000 members, 72 congregations, and 72 pastors. The diocese was established in 2012 and officially inaugurated in 2013 as a result of rapid growth in the region.

At its 2018 World Conference, the ILC announced new membership categories that allow for a wider variety of observer members. One of these classes—Recognized Organizations—allows “ecclesiastical organizations other than or at a different level than organized church bodies” to seek observer membership, allowing “councils, districts, dioceses, organized movements, and individual congregations” to affiliate with the ILC.

More information on the different membership categories in the International Lutheran Council, including how to apply, is available here.

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Commentary: Methodist rejection of same-sex marriage is a victory for Christians of the Global South

by Mathew Block

News that the United Methodist Church (UMC) has reaffirmed the historic teaching of Christianity on same-sex relationships is a welcome surprise, and represents a victory for Christians of the Global South.

The 2019 General Conference of the UMC, which just met in St. Louis, Missouri, was widely expected to be a turning point for Methodists. A vast majority of bishops were pushing for the adoption of the “One Church Plan,” which would have seen the church strike prohibitions on the marriage of same-sex couples and the ordination of practicing homosexual ministers in the United States, and open up the possibility for other countries to follow suit.

The plan, however, was defeated by a vote of 449 to 374 (about 55 percent to 45 percent). Instead, delegates voted in favor of the Traditional Plan, reaffirming the church’s historic position on gender by a vote of 438 to 384 (about 53 percent to 47 percent).

So what happened? How did the historic Christian understanding of sexuality carry the day against the wishes of most UMC bishops? The answer is simple: Africa said no.

For a long time, the affluent church in the United States has pressed dependent churches in Africa and elsewhere to adopt the progressive ideologies of western mainline Protestantism. But the churches of the Global South have resisted, culminating in the recent votes at the UMC General Conference.

That experience is hardly unique to Methodism. We see the same thing happening in world Lutheranism. A few years ago, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council, published an article entitled “Colonialism in the Global South: The Imperialism of Western Sexual Ethics.” There he argues that the imposition of western progressive theology on churches in places like Africa represents a new form of colonial oppression by western churches.

And yet, many mainline Protestants seem to think the opposite. In his article, Dr. Collver notes a 2014 essay from the Lutheran World Federation which argued that “the rejection of homosexual love” was itself “another form of colonialism.”

This position leads to the incongruous image of western Protestants accusing their African brethren of colonialism, even as they attempt to push western progressive theology on their dissenting historic colonies. What is more, western mainline Protestants are increasingly tying financial support for churches in places like Africa with the acceptance and promotion of progressive ideology on issues like sexuality—an apparent attempt to starve out dissenters.

Despite this pressure, many churches of the Global South have firmly resisted attempts by westerners to impose progressive theology. Churches like the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, for example, have made their opposition to same-sex marriage clearly known, rebuking western church bodies which have departed from Scriptural teaching in this matter.

Their position will only become stronger, given the rapid growth of Christianity in the Global South. This is especially true as mainline Protestantism in the West continues its long decline.

It was precisely this sort of situation—the growth of Christianity in the Global South and the decline of mainline Protestantism in the West—which led to the dramatic showdown at the United Methodist Church’s recent General Conference. Unlike many denominations which have separate national church bodies in different countries, the UMC functions as a single church body throughout multiple nations. So while western progressives planned to push through divisive doctrinal change on the issue of sexuality, the growth of Methodism in the Global South meant Africans (who now make up more than 40 percent of all United Methodists worldwide) had a much stronger voice than in years past—and a much greater share of voting delegates.

Their voice was powerfully present during the General Conference. This was particularly true during a speech by the Liberian theologian Dr. Jerry P. Kulah on the morning of February 23. “We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics,” he said. “We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to ‘grow up.’”

His words are a stunning rebuke to the colonialist ideologies of western mainline Protestantism. He continued:

“We Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.

We stand with our Filipino friends! We stand with our sisters and brothers in Europe and Russia! And yes, we stand with our allies in America.

We stand with farmers in Zambia, tech workers in Nairobi, Sunday School teachers in Nigeria, biblical scholars in Liberia, pastors in the Congo, United Methodist Women in Cote d’Ivoire, and thousands of other United Methodists all across Africa who have heard no compelling reasons for changing our sexual ethics, our teachings on marriage, and our ordination standards!

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!”

That stance may mean some financial difficulties for orthodox Methodists in Africa and elsewhere if western Christians choose to withhold funding. But that doesn’t mean African Methodists will back down. Dr. Kulah continued:

“Some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.”

These are powerful words, and well worth reflecting on in our own Lutheran circles. Many Lutheran church bodies today face similar pressures to submit to western ideologies contrary to the teachings of Scripture. You who resist are to be commended for your faithfulness in the midst of great challenges. I pray that the words of the great Lutheran hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt will give you strength to meet whatever challenges you may face:

If God Himself be for me,
I may a host defy;

For when I pray, before me
My foes, confounded, fly.
If Christ, my Head and Master,
Befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster
Can drive me from His love?

May that love of God be your strength as you continue to stand firm in His Word. And as you stand firm, know that we in the International Lutheran Council stand with you. May God bless you and your churches with every good thing in Christ.

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Mathew Block is editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine and communications manager for the International Lutheran Council.