WORLD – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, many member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) are providing resources for Christians in the midst of this crisis.
The following churches and associated agencies have set-up dedicated webpages with free resources for churches, families, and individuals affected by the pandemic. Additional resources in other languages may be available directly from other member churches of the ILC.
Readers may also wish to read Martin Luther’s open letter “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” available in English here. You may also read a letter from ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt here.
USA – The end of 2019 saw two regular interchurch meetings between North American Lutheran church bodies.
From November 11-12, 2019, representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC), and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) held their latest round of dialogue in Columbus, Ohio. Newly elected NALC Bishop Daniel Selbo was present for the dialogue for the first time.
The dialogue featured presentations by LCMS and NALC representatives, discussing First Peter as a pillar letter of the New Testament. The dialogue between the LCMS, LCC, and NALC first began in 2011. The next meeting will take place May 20-21, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri.
In December, representatives of the LCMS, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS)met together in Jacksonville, Florida for annual informal discussions. These discussions have helped the three church bodies more clearly define areas of theological agreement as well as areas where differences remain.
During this meeting, discussions focused on the doctrine of justification, particularly objective justification—an area in which the churches find full agreement. This was the eighth regular meeting between the three churches. When representatives of the LCMS, WELS, and the ELS come together again in 2020, discussion will focus on the topics of prayer fellowship and the ministry, as well as a discussion of the WELS statement “Male and Female in God’s World.”
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church–Canada are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has announced updates to the representatives for the Latin American and European World Regions.
Appointed to serve as the World Region Representative for Latin America is President Eugenio Wentzel of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana del Paraguay – IELP). President Wentzel had previously served as the Latin American representative until the spring of 2018, but was ineligible for reappointment because he had announced he wouldn’t seek reelection as President of the Paraguayan church. In the end, he consented to stand for reelection of the IELP and was elected, making him eligible for reappointment to as the ILC’s regional representative.
Appointed to serve as the World Region Representative for Europe is Chairman Georg Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). This seat was previously held by the ELCE’s Chairman Jon Ehlers, but Chairman Ehlers had announced he would not seek reelection. Chairman Samiec was subsequently elected, and consented to serve as the ILC’s regional representative for Europe.
In total, five World Regional Representatives serve on the ILC’s Board of Directors (formerly known as the Executive Committee), along with the ILC Chairman, Secretary, two appointed members, and the ILC’s General Secretary (as a non-voting, ex-officio member).
VENEZUELA – The Lutheran Church of Venezuela (Iglesia Luterana de Venezuela – ILV) has announced that their former president, Rev. Luis Gregorio Coronado, has been murdered.
Rev. Coronado was reported missing on December 12. He was found deceased, with his hands and feet bound, on December 16 in a vacant missionary residence building owned by the church.
“The blood of a saint cries out,” the Venezuelan church wrote, announcing his death. “His work for both the local and national church was faithful and constant…. As a national church, we thank God for his service, his friendship, and his love.”
Rev. Coronado was elected to a two-year term as President of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela in November 2009. He had previously served the ILV as Vice President, and was pastor of Lutheran Church Fountain of Life (Iglesia Luterana Fuento de Vida) in Puerto Ordaz (Guayana City) for more than two decades. At the time of his death, Rev. Coronado was also serving as Pastoral Counsellor for southern Venezuela.
Rev. Coronado is survived by his wife and three children.
The ILV issued a prayer remembering Rev. Coronado and asking comfort for his family which reads in part:
“O God of grace and glory, we remember our pastor who is now in your eternal presence. We thank You for making him a shepherd of your flock, and for giving us the opportunity to know him as your servant in our pilgrimage on earth. In your kind compassion, comfort the Coronado family and your church in these moments of grief. Give us faith to see that death is the door to eternal life, so that with confidence we can continue our journey here on earth, until You call us to meet with those who have gone in the faith before us—through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.”
The Lutheran Church of Venezuela is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
FINLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) is under investigation by Finland’s Prosecutor General for the publication of a booklet upholding historic Christian teachings on human sexuality.
The Luther Foundation Finland (Suomen Luther-säätiö)—the legal entity behind the ELMDF—is being investigated for its 2004 booklet “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity.” The Prosecutor General alleges that the booklet incites hatred against homosexual people, despite an earlier decision by Helsinki Police which concluded no crimes had been committed. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Finland since 2017.
“The decision of the Prosecutor General to conduct a preliminary investigation of our publication is surprising, as I believe the police have already thoroughly investigated and concluded that this is not a criminal offense,” said Rev. Juhana Pohjola, the Dean of the ELMDF. “It is our job to teach the entire Word of the Bible in peace, including on marriage as created by God.”
The booklet’s author, Dr. Päivi Räsänen is also under investigation by the Prosecutor General. Dr. Räsänen is a Member of Parliament in Finland and former Minister of the Interior.
The booklet, which has recently been made available in English translation online, argues that homosexual activity must be identified as sin by the Church on the basis of the teachings of Scripture. A failure to recognize sin as sin undermines the very need for a Saviour, Dr. Räsänen writes. “If God is not the Holy God who condemns sin as described in the Bible—including homosexual behaviour—why did the Son of God have to die?” Dr. Räsänen asks. “If we deny people the right to feel guilt for their sin, we also deprive them of the joy and assurance of the Gospel. The certainty of heaven rests on Christ’s assured atonement for our very real sins and on His resurrection from the dead.”
PHILIPPINES – Thursday saw the ILC 2019 World Seminaries Conference’s final presentation on the conference theme, before transitioning the conclusion of the conference theme before transitioning to the second topic of the conference: a common-ground Lutheran curriculum for theological education.
Following morning devotions, President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België) took the opportunity to sign a protocol document finalizing altar and pulpit fellowship between their respective church bodies.
ILC Chairman Hans Jörg Voigt then announced that Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill has been appointed the new General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council.
Latin American Context
The morning saw the fifth and final presentation under the theme of “Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts.” Rev. Samuel R. Fuhrmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil – IELB) brought a Latin American perspective to the topic, speaking on “Ecclesial Lutheran Identity and the Church’s Mission in the Face of the Reality of Favelas.”
In explaining the history of favelas, Rev. Fuhrmann noted that they are “an urban built environment where one encounters a rich ethnic and cultural diversity, and often the problems of violence and poverty.” The Brazilian Lutheran church by contrast was founded by immigrants in a rural setting. While the IELB is present in urban centres today, Rev. Fuhrmann said, “one of the challenges is that the church needs to cross cultural, social, and even geographic boundaries to fully account for the reality of favelas in its mission practices.”
Christians are called to a “cruciform engaged presence in the world,” said Rev. Fuhrmann, which is “related to God passively and related to others and the world actively.” The latter—relations with others on a horizontal level—must often be contextualized to recognize differences in culture. “If congregations neglect the horizontal dimension of the cruciform life and the characteristics of our humanity,” Rev. Fuhrmann warned, “this neglect hinders the distinctive task of the Church: the preaching of the Gospel.” In the case of missions in favelas especially, it is necessary to recognize and embrace the deeply relational life which is the core of favela culture, in which spaces are made for frequent socialization and people support one another in the midst of challenges like poverty and violence.
A Lutheran Curriculum for Theological Education
During the rest of the day, attention turned to the second focus of the event: an exploration of what a common-ground Lutheran curriculum for theological education recognized by all ILC member churches would look like. Rev. Dr. Werner Klän of Germany and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, the ILC’s new incoming General Secretary, moderated discussion of the theme, and multiple presenters provided insight.
Rev. Dr. Stephen Schumacher presented on “A Lutheran Curriculum for Theological Education.” A basic foundation is important for all levels, he said, but learning styles may vary. African students for example learn by watching, copying, and repeating. Research indicates that, for theological education in Ghana, several areas need reinforcement, including a more in-depth study of pastoral theology. At the same time, a biblical and confessional structure is necessary, he said. Dr. Schumacher is a LCMS missionary and theological educator at the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana.
Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov reported on “Lutheran Seminary Curriculum: Challenges and Opportunities.” He suggested that one or two years of training is inadequate for proficiency in Scripture and theology, and that residential training is the best way to go. He then provided several challenges and suggestions for theological education, finally reporting on the curriculum that is used in their seminary. Dr. Streltsov is rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia, the theological institute of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In the second session of the afternoon, Dr. Klän led a discussion of “A Lutheran Curriculum for Theological Education.” He summarized the findings of the ILC’s 2001 conference on this theme, and then reported the results of a new questionnaire on curriculum sent to ILC seminaries. Those that responded reported student populations ranging from six students to 615, and faculties from three to 34. A recurring challenge noted in the results are recruitment and enrollment. Most of the seminaries responded that they would like to see a common curriculum, although two said it was not possible or advisable.
Bishop Hanss Martin Jensons of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia reported on a meeting on Confessional Lutheran Church Education which was held March 26-28, 2019 in Latvia. Eight entities from around Europe were represented and they discussed the minimum standard for theological education, as well as how to facilitate mutual recognition and the possibility of one educational program in the future with combined resources. They are also investigating the idea of developing an English language distance learning program. Bishop Jenson explained how, at Latvia’s Luther Academy, they began with the Professional Standard, and from there worked toward the Educational Standard, and then to Curriculum. The worked through the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary for the pastoral officeholder.
Later in the day, Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley gave a presentation on the history of deaconesses and their service in the church today. Dr. Lumley is principal of Westfield House in Cambridge, England, the theological institution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England.
Rev. Dr. Douglas Rutt presented on the topic: “Mission in the Age of Migration.” He emphasizes that much of contemporary missiological literature deals with the fact that there are 272 million refugees and immigrants in the world today, and these movements are resulting in the expansion of the gospel worldwide. Dr. Rutt is Provost and Professor of Practice Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri—a theological institution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
After the various presentations, there was time for plenary discussion. Questions of expected workload were reflected on, including the expected workload of faculty members. Some highlighted that legitimate diversity needs to be taken into consideration. It was suggested that the starting point should be the description or characteristics of a Lutheran pastor. A further question was whether there was the possibility of a mutual accreditation program for the institutions of member churches of the International Lutheran Council.
The results of these discussions and are to be drafted into a concluding statement or resolution which will be commended to the ILC Seminary Relations Committee for further consideration.
PHILIPPINES – The International Lutheran Council’s 2019 World Seminaries Conference continued on Wednesday.
The morning began with a service of Morning Prayer, following which participants heard additional presentations on the conference theme: “Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts.”
The first presenter of the day was Rev. Dr. Nicolas Salifu of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, whose presentation on “Spiritual Warfare in a Lutheran Perspective” provided an exploration of Lutheran doctrine within an African context.
“The early church accepted the influence of the demonic realm with great seriousness,” noted Dr. Salifu. And while Western culture has downplayed or even denied this aspect of historic Christian theology, Dr. Salifu said that the reality of spiritual warfare is readily apparent in the African context—and, indeed, in much of the rest of the world. “The West needs to realize that it is the only contemporary society that denies the reality of evil spirits,” he said, quoting the New Testament scholar Clinton Arnold.
When the reality of spiritual warfare is recognized, the Church is in a better position to respond appropriately to the spiritual needs of its people. “The weapons of our warfare are not guns,” Dr. Salifu noted. “The reason why physical weapons are useless in a spiritual war is because the real enemies are not people of flesh and blood but spiritual powers of wickedness.” The Christian’s true weapons for spiritual warfare are instead Word and Sacrament, Dr. Salifu continued, because through these “the Lord fights the devil.” We are to pray in Jesus’ name, for He is the one who conquers.
North American Context
In the afternoon, Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann led the conference’s fourth presentation on the conference theme, discussing “The Role of the Church in the Face of Declining Influence of Christianity in North America.” Dr. Biermann is Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri—a theological institution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Dr. Biermann’s analysis of the state of religion in the United States of America identified three key aspects: 1) the decline of Constantinianism which has “stripped Christianity of its former prestige and clout; 2) the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as a replacement faith with only the “remotest superficial resemblance to orthodox Christianity;” and 3) a dominant cultural mood of normal nihilism in which all values are mere preferences or opinions, easily dismissed or changed.
In light of this situation, Dr. Biermann asked: “What, precisely, is the church—the orthodox, faithful church that follows Christ and treasures the legacy of Luther and all other faithful disciples of Jesus—supposed to do?” The answer: “Resolutely follow her Lord with tenacity, trust, and a seeming indifference to the clamor of the world around.” This means neither retreating from the world, nor confronting it on its own terms, nor capitulating to the culture, but simply living out the calling of the Church in all times and places: preaching the Word of God and living lives “that are inherently and unarguably compelling through their simple and consistent witness to the reality of Christ at work in and through them.” “A rich and nuanced grasp of Luther’s insights into God’s rule of the world in terms of the two realms,” Dr. Biermann concluded, “allows Lutheran believers to understand and undertake with zeal their place and role in this world.”
Each of Wednesday’s major presentations was followed by plenary discussion. The convention also heard regional reports on the state of seminary education in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America throughout the day. It further took in several short parallel sessions during the final part of the afternoon before breaking for Vespers at St. Stephen Lutheran Church.
PHILIPPINES – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) will hold meetings concurrent with the 2019 ILC World Seminaries Conference meeting in Baguio City, Philippines from October 15-18, 2019.
Among other business items, the Board of Directors will consider a number of new applications for membership in the International Lutheran Council, primarily from church bodies in Africa. It is also envisioned that the Board will appoint a new General Secretary to replace Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, who resigned in early 2019.
“Our consultations in the Philippines will be crucial,” noted Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee “because there is an ever-growing number of church bodies and groups who want to work with the International Lutheran Council. We are excited to expand and move our work forward under the leadership of a new General Secretary.” Dr. Bugbee is former President of Lutheran Church–Canada and a Member at Large on the ILC’s Board of Directors.
The Board is led by Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, who serves as its Chairman. Each of the ILC’s five world regions—Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America—is represented on the Board by the head of one of the ILC member churches in that region.
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