ONLINE – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) have partnered together to develop a Bible reading plan entitled Reading the Word of God.
“In order to encourage the people of our church bodies in the daily reading of Holy Scripture, we have compiled a three-year plan of daily Bible readings and a year-long series of weekly readings on Martin Luther’s approach to the Scriptures,” an introduction to the reading plan explains. “The suggested readings are offered for one reason only—to enhance devotional life as an individual or a family daily examines, and is examined by, the Word of God, and then responds in prayer to the heavenly Father.”
Each day features a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm (or portion of a Psalm), and a reading from the New Testament. The guide will take readers through the entire Old Testament one time in three years, with the exception of Psalms, which are read twice each year. The New Testament will be read twice in the three years. Certain church festivals—Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and so forth—have special readings appointed for the specific occasions.
A selection of brief weekly readings on Martin Luther are also included as a companion in helping Christians better understand the value of reading God’s Word regularly. “While we in no way intend for these to replace or be understood as equal to the value of daily Bible reading, we do believe they will be helpful, especially for Lutherans,” the introduction notes. The selections, which come from Johann Michael Reu’s classic work Luther on the Scriptures, “speak to us of the clarity, simplicity, trustworthiness, and infallibility of Scripture,” the introduction goes on to say. “It is our hope and prayer that each member, household, and congregation will turn daily to the biblical readings with renewed desire for the Word which is a ‘lamp to our feet and a light to our path’’ (Ps. 119:105).”
Download the Introduction to the Bible reading guide, as well as the selection on Luther’s understanding of Scripture, in pdf form here. The daily Bible reading calendar is available to download in three parts, one for each year of the plan: 2018, 2019, and 2020.
The three-year Bible reading guide arose out of ongoing LCC/LCMS/NALC dialogues, which resulted in 2016 in the publication of a document recognizing the three church’s common understanding of the nature and authority of the Holy Scriptures. The newly released reading plan builds on that work, effectively saying “We don’t just affirm Scripture as God’s Word; we want to see it actively used.”
The LCMS and LCC are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
ENGLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) held its 63rd synodical convention September 29-30, 2017 in Cambridge, during which time delegates commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.
That focus complemented a number of other Reformation projects the ELCE has undertaken in 2017, including the publication of a new translation of Luther’s Small Catechism, available for free use by anyone. See the translation, and further information about using it under its Creative Commons Licence, at www.thesmallcatechism.org.
Rev. Dr. Robert Rosin, Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) served as guest speaker for the September synodical convention, speaking on the ongoing relevance of the Reformation. Delegates also enjoyed a series of sermons reflecting on key teachings of the Reformation, including Jesus Alone; Scripture Alone; Grace Alone; and Through Faith Alone. Other Reformation projects from the ELCE in 2017 include the creation of a Reformation Bible, Luther Reading Roadshows, numerous Reformation events, and the publication of a book on early Lutheran martyrs in the United Kingdom.
A key topic of discussion during the synodical convention was the need to review the church’s current organisational structure. Other important business included several elections for open positions on the Executive Council, as well as various boards and committees.
The 64th synodical convention of the ELCE will take place in Fareham, England in September, 2018.
The ELCE has congregations throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, and is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. In addition to increased participation in inter-Lutheran discussions in Europe in recent years, the ELCE has also become increasingly active in ecumenical discussions throughout the United Kingdom, bringing a clear Lutheran witness to these events.
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.
USA – When representatives of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) started meeting together more than five years ago, it was decided that the group would sponsor a book of essays on the proper distinction of God’s Law from His Gospel. That book will be available from Concordia Publishing House in August 2017.
Edited by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III (LCMS), Rev. Dr. James Arne Nestingen (NALC), and Prof. John T. Pless (LCMS), The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law & Gospel contains thirteen essays on the relationship of the law/gospel distinction to preaching, pastoral care, missions, ethics, and the Christian life. Essayists include Mark Seifrid, William Cwirla, Peter Brock, Larry Vogel, Mark C. Mattes, Naomichi Masaki, James Arne Nestingen, Stephen Hultgren, John T. Pless, Steven Paulson, Albert Collver III, and Roland F. Ziegler.
“I’m pleased that we have brought together a variety of confessional Lutheran scholars from North America and Australia to provide our churches with vigorous and fresh discussion of a theme at the heart of Lutheran theology,” said the work’s editor John T. Pless. “It is our hope that this book will be used in pastoral gatherings throughout the NALC, LCC, and LCMS to challenge and better equip pastors to engage the fine art of distinguishing Law and Gospel in all that they do.”
The book’s forthcoming publication has garnered praise from a number of theologians and church leaders. “These authors take Christ, the Scriptures, and our confessions seriously,” President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada noted. “They are not carbon copies of each other. They put you through your paces, even if you wrestle with certain details of their views. Pastors as well as informed lay theologians will profit from them. What a welcome contribution to the 500th Reformation anniversary year!” In addition to serving the Canadian church, President Bugbee also serves as Vice Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.
“When participants of the LCMS, LCC, NALC consultation first discussed the need for a book on the distinction between Law and Gospel, we couldn’t have conceived this collection of essays would be so practical, direct, helpful and accessible!” explained Rev. Dr. David M. Wendel, NALC’s Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism. “In our day, when many Lutherans seem to have lost their way biblically, this book is much needed. It is for those who preach the Word and those who hear the Word, for pastors and laity, for the theologically trained and those who aren’t. It is a gift to our churches and to all who are committed to the ‘necessary distinction.’”
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church–Canada are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
JAPAN – From May 1-3, 2017, the Japan Lutheran Church (日本ルーテル教団Nihon Ruteru Kyoudan – NRK) held its 17th General Convention, during which time it reelected Rev. Shin Shimizu to another three-year term as President. In addition to serving as President, Rev. Shimizu serves as pastor of Totsuka Lutheran Church.
The next triennium will see the NRK focus on the theme “Christians as Priests and Perfectly Dutiful Servants of All—Our Reformation, Progressing from the 500th Anniversary of Luther Reformation.” The theme passage selected for the next three years was Acts 20:35—“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
“We seriously considered what we can do to serve our neighbours, others, and churches as the body of Christ,” President Shimizu explained. “Also, we considered what we can to do serve our God by each one of us praying for both our neighbours and others, as we all go back to the basics of the ‘priesthood of all believers.’”
President Shimizu expressed thanks to the churches of the International Lutheran Council for their prayers, and expressed his desire that the NRK would continue to grow into closer partnership with the ILC in the coming years. The ILC is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies of which the NRK is a member. “I would like to continue cooperating with the International Lutheran Council,” President Shimizu explains, “as we further deepen our relationship with the ILC.”
The convention also reelected Rev. Tatsuomi Yoshia (Sapporo Chuo Lutheran Church) as Vice-President, and filled a number of other Executive Committee and Staff positions for the next three years.
The Japan Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church body in Japan, with about 2,400 members in 33 congregations. In addition to being a member of the ILC, it is also a member of the Lutheran World Federation.
NIGERIA – On May 5, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) held a funeral service for the Rev. Sunday Obari Owateobe, with members of the church in attendance from across the nation.
“The late Reverend was a gallant soldier of the cross,” the LCN noted on social media. “May his soul rest in peace and may the Lord protect and preserve the bereaved.”
Rev. Owateobe served as LCN Vice-President from 2002-2008. He was 80 years old at the time of his death, having been born in 1937.
The Lutheran Church of Nigeria is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Its membership numbers more than 80,000. The LCN is also a member church of the Lutheran World Federation.
SWITZERLAND – Representatives of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met together at the LWF’s headquarters in Geneva from April 6-7 for regular annual consultations.
Representing the ILC were Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt (Hannover, Germany), ILC Chairman and Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK); Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (St. Louis, USA), ILC Executive Secretary; Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Antwerp, Belgium), ILC Secretary and President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium; Rev. Jon Ehlers (London, England), ILC’s Europe World Region representative and Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England; and Professor Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Fort Wayne, USA). Representing the LWF in the discussions were Rev. Dr. Martin Junge (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF General Secretary; Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF Director for Mission and Development; Rev. Anne Burghardt, (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF Secretary for Ecumenical Relations; and Professor Rev. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans (Münster, Germany).
Discussions began with reports of the two bodies’ respective work over the past year. For example, ILC representatives reported on the ILC’s World Seminaries Conference which took place in Wittenberg, Germany in October 2016. Among other topics, the LWF reported on its June 2016 Council meeting, which was likewise held in Wittenberg.
Participants also discussed their respective plans for activities related to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The LWF, for example, will hold its annual assembly in Windhoek, Namibia in May 2017, with ILC Chairman Voigt attending as an ecumenical guest. On the ILC side, the ILC Executive Committee, together with members of the ILC European region, will participate in the SELK’s Reformation festivities, taking place June 23-25, 2017 in Berlin and Wittenberg. ILC churches around the world are also planning national and regional events to commemorate the Reformation.
A number of other topics were raised in discussion throughout the meetings between the ILC and LWF. A special focus was two theological presentations on “The Importance of our Understanding of the Scriptures for the Unity of the Church.” Prof. Ziegler gave a lecture on the topic from the perspective of the ILC, while Prof. Grosshans presented from the LWF’s perspective. Dr. Ziegler stressed that, while the Lutheran Confessions themselves do not include an explicit article on the proper use of Scripture, such principles can be readily recognized in the ways in which the Confessions use Scripture. Dr. Grosshans for his part emphasized that the unity of the Church ought to drive our understanding of theology.
The participants expressed thanks for the ongoing conversations, with the two presentations on Scripture cited as particularly helpful in helping the two Lutheran world bodies better understand one another.
RUSSIA – On January 18, 2017 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) and The Lutheran Church in Norway (LKN) entered into church fellowship.
The decision came following talks in St. Petersburg between ELCIR Bishop Arri Kugappi and LKN Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie. Also participating in the talks were senior advisors from both church bodies.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and The Lutheran Church in Norway are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
ETHIOPIA – The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) held its 20th General Assembly January 22-28, 2017 in Addis Ababa, during which time the church elected a new president, Rev. Yonas Yigezu.
“God is calling me into a challenge but for enormous blessings ahead,” President Elect Yigezu said follow the election. “I am a team builder and prayer warrior: I see my success in this.”
Prior to his election as president, Rev. Yigezu served the EECMY as Director for Mission and Theology. He was first ordained in 2006, and is currently pursuing a doctorate through Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).
The theme for this year’s assembly was “I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” taken from Romans 1:18. Also elected during the assembly were Rev. Dr. Kiros Lakew (President of the Addis Ababa Synod) as EECMY Vice President and Bacha Ginaas as Treasurer.
President Elect Yigezu succeeds Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idosa who served two terms as EECMY President, having first been elected in January 2009. “I am very happy that the unity of the church has been maintained and growth has been recorded during the last eight years,” President Idosa said.” The participation of the EECMY in spreading the Gospel nationally and internationally has increased. I will continue to serve the church in all my capacity.” Dr. Idosa is also president of the Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa (LUCCEA), of which the EECMY is a member church.
With 8.3 million members, the EECMY is the world’s largest Lutheran church body, and is still experiencing rapid growth. The church is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, though it has broken fellowship with several LWF churches in recent years over issues of sexuality and the authority of Scripture.
The EECMY has also been moving to strengthen ties with the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its member churches—especially the LCMS—over the past number of years, participating in the ILC’s 2015 World Conference in Argentina, for example, as well as in 2016’s World Seminary Conference in Wittenberg, Germany.
The road was paved with compromises leading to the overwhelming majority decision for same-sex marriage liturgy at the General Synod of Church of Norway January 30. A year ago the preliminary decision was made, and now the new liturgy was accepted. The new liturgy became legal on February 1 and the first homosexual couple was married minutes after midnight on that same date.
What is the decision, and why would the bishops who were against same-sex marriages vote for it and agree to enforce it in every single congregation in Church of Norway?
The new liturgy is a non-gender specific liturgy to allow the marriage of people independent of gender. It is meant to be used for same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. The liturgy contains no reference to the biblical texts of marriage being between one man and one woman. The two are to say yes to their “spouse”, not to a “husband”/”man” or “wife/woman”. There are Scriptural passages that are optional readings, and among them are some relating to the marriage of man and woman.
The majority at the General Synod first insisted on only allowing this new liturgy and take the old one out of use. It became, however, a part of the compromise to allow the old liturgy with clear language of marriage between man and woman to still be allowed to be used — for the time being. This way the more conservative bishops hoped to create space for the group of pastors that have a classical understanding of marriage. There should be continued room for them even after the new same-sex, gender-irrelevant liturgy had been introduced.
But to achieve this compromise, the more conservative bishops agreed that all congregations in Norway must offer same-sex marriages. The local pastor can refuse to perform the same-sex marriage, but then another pastor will come in and perform the wedding. The compromise was agreed upon to avoid a split in the Church of Norway.
What can explain this rapid change in the Church of Norway where both Lutheranism and Pietism have experienced such a long and strong history? The Lutheran School of Theology (MF) was established in 1907 in reaction to the liberal theology of The School of Theology at the University. The pastors from this new Lutheran School of Theology became organized into the Fellowship for Bible and Confession (FBB in Norwegian). The irony is that today the vast majority of clergy in the Church of Norway are educated at MF, and all the bishops are educated at MF, and many of today’s liberals once were members of the FBB, some of them even were board members and chairmen.
The theological change is obviously from within the church, but the speed of change is due to external pressure. The Church of Norway is as of January 1, 2017 separate from the State. But the politicians did not allow the Church of Norway to receive independence without some system to secure liberal development in the church.
One change is the request for high voter attendance when electing delegates to the General Synod. Formerly the elections, in effect, allowed those worshiping to have more influence since they were present at the worship services where the elections were held. Now the elections happened together with the national political elections.
At the same time, a group of ultra-liberals organized themselves, designed a program with the intention to take control of the church and did lobbied to get state funds to finance their operation. Other groups with different agendas did not receive money when they applied.
The public campaign from the ultra-liberals was strong. The aim was to convince the 73% of Norwegians who had voting rights at political elections and also were members of the Church of Norway to vote for one of the liberal candidates for the General Synod. It changed the game. Now you could vote without going to church. Now you no longer have to be among the 2 percent of church members who attend the Sunday worship service in order to vote. Remember, there is no requirement for a delegate to the General Synod to adhere to the Lutheran confessions of the church. You don’t even have to believe in God, and don’t have to ever attend church.
The result of the election was overwhelming. A total majority at the General Synod implied a full control of the Church of Norway. The majority at General Synod implies that one decides the liturgy of the church and elects the National Church board. The ultra-liberal majority of the Synod put the ultra-liberals in complete majority control of the National Church board that elects the bishops.
When the decision on same-sex rite was decided at the General Synod about 1300 people resigned from membership in Church of Norway using the electronic on line service you can use both to resign and to become member. The people resigning were some of the core people in local congregations in Church of Norway, including some pastors.
The Lutheran Church in Norway
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