Finnish Lutherans under investigation for upholding biblical teachings on sexuality

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 Lutheran 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 Deacon of the ELMDF. “It is our job to teach the entire Word of the Bible in peace, including on marriage as created by God.”

Dr. Päivi Räsänen

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.”

Additional information on the case, including links to English reporting on the situation, are available from the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. A pdf of the booklet in English translation can be read online here.

The ELMDF is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which uphold the authority of Scripture in all aspects of faith and life.

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World Seminaries Conference explores a common curriculum for Lutheran education

Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley speaks during the 2019 World Seminaries Conference.
ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem and LCMS President Matthew Harrison sign an agreement for altar and pulpit fellowship between their two church bodies.

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.”

Rev. Samuel R. Fuhrmann speaks on missions in the favelas of Brazil.

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.

Bishop Hanss Martin Jensons reports on a confessional Lutheran education conference in Latvia.

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.

Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley speaks on the diaconate during the ILC’s 2019 World Seminaries Conference.

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.

The day ended, as it began, with worship.

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World Seminaries Conference considers spiritual warfare, declining religiosity

Participants in the ILC’s 2019 World Seminary Conference engage in discussions.

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.”

African Context

Rev. Dr. Nicholas Salifu presents during the 2019 ILC World Seminaries Conference.

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

Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann speaks on the state of religiosity in the United States of America.

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.

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ILC BOD to consider membership applications, appoint new General Secretary

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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Evangelical Lutheran Church of England declares fellowship with Finnish and Norwegian churches

ELMDF Bishop Risto Soramies and ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers sign documents recognizing fellowship between their two churches.

United Kingdom – The 65th Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) was held September 27-28 at Christ Church (Petts Wood), during which time the ELCE recognised church fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese in Norway (DELSiN). These church fellowship recognitions are the culmination of five years of discussion, together with the Mission Province of Sweden and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.

Attending the ELCE Synod was Bishop Risto Soramies of the ELMDF and together with ELCE Chairman, Rev. Jon Ehlers, they signed documents and extended the right hand of fellowship. Bishop Soramies spoke about the situation in Finland, the history of his church, and their priorities in establishing worship places so that folk only have to travel up to one hour to attend worship. He also mentioned that the ELMDF was prioritising investing in personnel rather than buildings.

Bishop Thor Henrik With of the DELSiN at the last minute was unable to attend the Synod. Nevertheless the ELCE delegates also resolved recognition of church fellowship with the DELSiN.

The ELCE, ELMDF, DELSiN are all members of the International Lutheran Council.

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Latvia hosts international Bishops Conference

Participants in the 2019 Northern European Conservative Bishops Conference. (Photo: ELCL).

LATVIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) held the Northern European Conservative Bishops Conference August 21-24, 2019, meeting both in Riga and at the church’s retreat centre in Mazirbe.

“It was a joy to gather with church leaders in Latvia to discuss issues of cooperation between conservative Lutheran church bodies,” said Chairman Jon Ehlers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). “The Latvian church is to be commended for its work in bringing together confessional Lutherans annually for this regional conference, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to attend.” Chairman Ehlers serves on the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) Executive Council as the Europe World Region representative. This was the second consecutive year that the ILC has sponsored the Bishops Conference.

A major focus of the event was identifying opportunities for greater cooperation between conservative Lutheran churches. One particular subject discussed was the possibility of shared theological education initiatives, a conversation hosted at the ELCL’s Luther Academy.

The conference featured opportunities for each church partner to report on their joys and challenges, and to join together in worship. Archbishop Jānis Vanags, head of the Latvian church, also presented a paper on postmodernism and the church’s response, and one evening was spent visiting with the ELCL’s governing board.

The 2019 Northern European Conservative Bishops Conference hosted leaders from Lutheran churches in Belarus, England, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Siberia (Russia), and Ukraine. A pastor of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod was also in attendance.

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Ethiopian Lutherans terminate partnership with PC(USA) over same-sex marriage

ETHIOPIA – The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) held its 15th Council in Addis Ababa from August 20-24, 2019, during which time the church reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate only with churches that accept the biblical understanding of marriage. As a consequence of that decision, the EECMY has terminated its long-term partnership with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Concerns over the relationship arose following the PC(USA)’s decision to approve same-sex marriage in 2014. The EECMY responded at its 13th Council in 2017, deciding to send a pastoral letter to the PC(USA) encouraging them to remain faithful to the Word of God in matters of human sexuality.

The EECMY reports it has waited more than a year for a response from the PC(USA), and so has confirmed during its 15th Council the decision to end the partnership between the two churches. The Presbyterian Church has a century-long history with the Ethiopian church, having helped to found one of the EECMY’s predecessor bodies.

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus previously broke fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Church of Sweden over human sexuality in 2013.

The EECMY’s 15th Council met under the theme of 2 Timothy 4:5—“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Among other business, the Council elected Ato Fekadu Begna as Associate General Secretary.

The EECMY is the largest Lutheran church body in the world with more than 9 million members. In recent years, the Ethiopian church has established friendly relations with the International Lutheran Council and some of its member churches, especially The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa, who recently completed service as General Secretary of the EECMY in 2018, has regularly represented the EECMY as a guest at ILC events for several years, including most recently at the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Belgium. The EECMY’s current General Secretary, Rev. Teshome Amenu, is a participant in the ILC’s Lutheran Leadership Development Program.

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Former ILC Chairman passes on to glory

Rev. Dr. Johannes Hermann Gedrat

BRAZIL – On July 29, Rev. Dr. Johannes Hermann Gedrat, former Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), passed on to glory. A funeral service was held July 30 in Dois Irmãos, Brazil.

Rev. Dr. Johannes Hermann Gedrat.

Dr. Gedrat was born August 8, 1934 in Moreira, Brazil, where his parents were missionaries. He was ordained in 1958. He was elected President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil – IELB) in 1974. He would hold the position for four terms, ending his service in 1990. He later served as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Secretary for Latin America from 1990-1997.

Dr. Gedrat was first elected Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (then still called the International Lutheran Conference) during the 1984 gathering in Obot Idim, Nigeria. He first attended an ILC conference in 1975 after his election as president of the Brazilian church. He would also serve as host of the conference that year, as the 1975 conference took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

During his tenure as ILC Chairman, Dr. Gedrat oversaw 1986’s world conference in Berlin, Germany (meeting under the theme “Effective Gospel Proclamation”) and 1989’s conference in Seoul, Korea (meeting under the theme “Confessing Christ in a Pluralistic Age”). The latter conference saw the adoption of Guiding Principles which helped the ILC better articulate its mission.

Over the years, Dr. Gedrat also presented major papers during ILC World Conferences on “Ecumenical Involvement” (1981) and “Holy Baptism in the Life of the Church” (1984).

Dr. Gedrat’s chairmanship of the ILC came to an end in 1991, following the completion of his service as IELB president in 1990.

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LCMS commends the International Lutheran Council, pledges continuing support

USA – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has commended the work of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), pledging its continued support as the ILC expands its operations in service of confessional Lutheranism worldwide. The LCMS’ resolution came during the church’s 67th regular synodical convention, taking place in Tampa, Florida.

“The ILC has become a beacon to worldwide Lutheranism by upholding the Holy Scriptures as the infallible Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions,” notes Resolution 5-08: To Commend and Support the International Lutheran Council. In the resolution, the LCMS gives thanks to God for the ILC and its continuing expansion.

The LCMS resolved “that the ILC be commended for its work to provide a place for worldwide Lutheran churches to be strengthened in the Holy Scriptures and in Lutheran identity as it bears witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.” The LCMS also resolved to encourage greater knowledge of the ILC within the LCMS, and pledged its continued support for the ILC’s work, resolving: “that the LCMS encourage its members to learn more about the work of the ILC, continue its involvement in the ILC, and support the ILC so that Lutheran churches worldwide will have a place to be encouraged, strengthened, and encouraged to remain faithful and bold witnesses.”

The resolution was adopted unanimously.

“It is gratifying to see the work of the International Lutheran Council be recognized in this way,” said ILC Interim General Secretary Darin Storkson following the vote. “The LCMS is an important ally in service of confessional Lutheranism worldwide, and we are thankful for their continued strong support.”

ILC Vice Chairman Timothy Teuscher (President of Lutheran Church–Canada) also expressed gratitude. “The International Lutheran Council is at a critical point in its history,” he said. “A growing number of Lutherans around the world are seeking to reembrace their confessional heritage. The ILC, thanks to the support of its members like the LCMS, is in a key position to assist these churches to stand more firmly on the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. May God give us strength for this task, and use us as He sees fit.”

The LCMS convention runs July 20-25, 2019.

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