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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ILC committed to financial stewardship

USA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. As it goes about that work, the ILC is committed to faithful stewardship of the resources entrusted to it.

To that end, the ILC recently invited UHY LLP Certified Public Accounts to conduct an external audit of ILC financial statements, going back to mid-2017. UHY LLP has now issued its report, confirming that the ILC’s financial statements are all free from misstatement or error.

“The International Lutheran Council supports confessional Lutheran projects around the world—through initiatives like the Lutheran Leadership Development program, seminary education, missionary support, and more,” noted Darin Storkson, Interim General Secretary of the ILC. “Our members can be confident that every dollar is carefully accounted for and used for its intended purpose.”

You can support the work of the International Lutheran Council through online giving. 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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Hong Kong’s Lutherans reelect President Yung

LCHKS President Allan Yung speaks at a 2014 event marking 65 years of Lutheran ministry in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG – The Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod (LCHKS) held its General Conference on April 28, 2018, at which time Rev. Dr. Allan Yung was reelected as President.

This will be Dr. Yung’s eighth term as president. He has served the LCHKS as President since 1997.

A major subject of discussion during the 2018 General Conference were recent decisions by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) to relocate its Asia region headquarters from Hong Kong to Taiwan, and to sell three Hong Kong properties. The LCMS announced in February its decision to relocate in order to “reduce costs and increase the church’s effectiveness in reaching the lost,” noting that Hong Kong is among the most expensive places in the world to work and live.

The move to Taiwan was also intended to “encourage and build up the LCMS partner church in that republic, the China Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC),” the announcement notes. CELC President Andrew Miao welcomed the transition to Taiwan, saying he looked forward “to better and increased cooperation and partnership with the LCMS in the work of the Gospel here.”

At the time the relocation was announced, LCMS Director Charles Ferry pledged that LCMS support for the Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod would remain unchanged. “We remain committed to supporting our partners in the Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod,” he said. “Our church partners in Hong Kong and surrounding communities will notice no interruption in our work together.”

During their recent convention, the LCHKS recognized the LCMS’ legal right to sell properties it owns in Hong Kong, but expressed a desire for greater consultation in the future, especially since the LCMS owns several properties that are utilized by LCHKS congregations. To that end, the convention resolved unanimously to pray for the LCMS; to work for a greater relationship between the two synods founded in “Christian love cooperation, and mutual respect;” and to direct the LCHKS’ Executive Council to seek the legal transfer of LCMS properties used by LCHKS congregations from the LCMS to the LCHKS.

The Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod was born out of LCMS missions, which first began in China more than a century ago. Both churches are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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LCMS-NALC Dialogue Produces new book on Law and Gospel

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.

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Nigerian Lutherans remember former vice-president

Funeral banner marking the passing of LCN Vice President Emeritus Sunday Obari Owateobe.

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.

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ILC leaders meet with LWF for annual consultations

Participants in the 2017 consultations between the ILC and LWF.

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.

Discussions at the 2017 consultations between the ILC and LWF.

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.

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20 Years of Summer Theological Seminars in Siberia

Participants in this year's Summer Seminar.
Participants in this year’s Summer Seminar.

RUSSIA – Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) and its Theological Seminary recently held their 21st Summer Theological Seminars in Siberia under the general title “1996–2016: Ad Fontes” (To the Sources). But what are the “fontes” or “sources” of the seminars themselves?

The history of the seminars dates back to meetings with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in St. Louis in 1994 and Fort Wayne in 1995. Following this initial acquaintance with confessional Lutheran theology, Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin (then a pastor of the Lutheran parish in Novosibirsk) requested the LCMS’ Rev. Dr. Wallace Shultz to provide theological education for the Lutheran people in Siberia.

Thanks to leadership from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne) and a generous grant from the Schwann Foundation, the founding of Lutheran seminars in Siberia became a reality. But the enterprise’s real success had to do with the fact that the initiative came from the local people. When asked “How can we help you?” they responded: “Please provide theological education to us. We need solid Lutheran training.”

Rev. Dr Timothy C.J. Quill was a key contact on the American side who participated in the process of selection of teachers for the Siberian program. The first two seminars of 1996 and 1997 were perhaps the most representative and best attended ones, because they were held almost exclusively in Novosibirsk. People came to Novosibirsk from as far as St. Petersburg in the west and Sakhalin Island and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east. The first speakers included, among others: Rev. Dr. William Weinrich, Rev. Dr. Arthur Just, Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Rev. Kurt Marquart, Rev. Dr. David Scaer, Rev. Dr. Horace Hummel, Rev. Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn, and Rev. Dr. Scott Murray.

During the second seminar of 1997, the first building of the Lutheran Seminary in Novosibirsk was dedicated by Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe, with classes starting in September of that year. Alexey Streltsov, aged 23 at the time, was installed as rector of the seminary. Establishing the Seminary was a major result and culmination of the Summer Seminars, as well as the ultimate realization of the initial request of Rev Vsevolod Lytkin.

But the Summer Seminars did not cease merely because a seminary was established. They continued as the ground base for providing theological education for laity and church workers. These seminars were used for different purposes: missionary, catechetical, recruitment of the new seminary students, and so forth. Over the years the seminars expanded to include such location as Tomsk, Novokuznetsk, Ekaterinburg, Khakassia, Chita, and others.

While the circumstances varied year to year, Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church was deeply committed to the Summer Seminars as a form of sharing theological expertise with the wider circles of the church. With no external funding, the activities were still performed in the local congregations and by local people. With no speakers to come from the outside, the Seminary instructors took upon themselves the responsibility of caring for the theological well-being of the SELC flock.

The 2016 Summer Seminar was like the first seminar in a number of ways. More than 110 people participated in this event with people attending from different parts of Siberia and Russia: Krasnodar and Moscow in the west, and Chita in the east. And this seminar’s speakers included three of the original teachers: Rev. Dr. William Weinrich, Rev. Dr. Arthrur Just, and Rev. Dr Timothy Quill. Also teaching was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver who has also participated in previous seminars. The topics had to do with exegetical, dogmatic, and pastoral theology. Besides lectures, there were numerous discussions of the seminar participants both with the presenters and among themselves in the small groups.

The content of the lectures and the seminar’s overall warm family atmosphere has left a long lasting impression on the clergy and laity of SELC. Now as SELC and her seminary move toward greater ecumenical engagement with the world around Siberia, it was good to remember how it all started and be reinforced in the depths of confessional Lutheran theology.

The second week of the seminar activities saw Rev. Dr Arthur Just hold a number of teaching session on a smaller scale. Dozens of Lutherans in Novokuznetsk, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Beloretsk, and Moscow were able to listen to his lectures on St. James and the theology of the Gospel of St. Luke.

Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church rejoices in such opportunities to gather around the faithful teaching of God’s work and to exercise genuine Christian fellowship at an event where doctrine and worship go hand in hand, strengthening the faithful for life in this world.

Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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