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Lutherans in Germany, Latvia, and USA mark special anniversaries

WORLD – While Lutherans across the globe in 2022 are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German, several member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) are also marking other important anniversaries this year.


Germany

In 2022, the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) of Germany celebrated its 50th anniversary. The church formed on June 25, 1972—coinciding with the commemoration of the Augsburg Confession—when the majority of independent confessional Lutheran churches in Germany merged.

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt introduces a panel discussion on the SELK’s 50th anniversary.

To mark the anniversary, SELK held a two-day event from June 25-26 on the campus of its seminary in Oberursel, with events including a panel discussion, children’s programming, workshops, concerts, and more. The celebration culminated with a festival service held at St. John’s Church on June 26, with the service also broadcast live online.


Latvia

This year marks both the 500th anniversary of the Reformation’s arrival in Latvia as well as the 100th anniversary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski luteriskā Baznīca – LELB). In 1522, the city of Riga—part of what was then called Livonia—became Lutheran when the reformer Andreas Knöpken arrived in the city as its first Lutheran pastor. A conference and festive service were held June 12 to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Latvia. The event was held at St. Peter’s church, which only this year was returned to the LELB by the authorities to serve again as a dedicated church building.

Archbishop Jānis Vanags preaches during the LELB’s 100th anniversary service. (Photo: LELB/U. Muzikanta).

The 100th anniversary of the LELB was marked a little over a month later on July 16. Like the previous event, this commemoration also began with a morning service at St. Peter’s Church in Riga, following which participants marched to the church’s cathedral. Events continued throughout the day at multiple locations, and included musical performances, children’s activities, a film presentation, and much more. The day concluded with a special anniversary service at the cathedral during which two new auxiliary bishops were consecrated.

As part of other anniversary events, the Latvian church is planting oak saplings at congregations and in other locations throughout the country. These saplings have been grown from the acorns of oak trees first planted by Ernst Glück more than 300 years ago. Glück was an important Lutheran theologian who translated the Bible into Latvian in 1694.


United States of America

In the United States, meanwhile, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is also commemorating an important anniversary in 2022: the 175th anniversary of its founding. On April 26, 2022—175 years to the day since its founding in 1847—the LCMS held a special service of thanksgiving at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The theme for the anniversary is “Only Jesus: No Other Name,” drawn from Acts 4:12.

President Matthew C. Harrison preaches during the LCMS’ 175th anniversary service.

The LCMS has also provided numerous resources and activities for congregations to celebrate the anniversary in local settings as well, including a special anniversary hymn, worship resources, Bible studies, an art contest for students, resources on LCMS history, and more.

The LCMS, LELB, and SELK are all member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

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The Lutheran Reformation is about Christian certainty

Luther points to true faith in Christ. Inset from a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Younger, c. 1540.

by Matthew C. Harrison

The Lutheran Reformation was a move from uncertainty in ourselves to absolute certainty in Christ.

As a lecturer of the Bible, Martin Luther spent years studying and teaching the texts of Scripture. His growing knowledge of Hebrew and Greek led him deeper and deeper into Scripture and a clear understanding of the certainty of the Gospel. He passed through the influence of medieval scholasticism and its uncertain system of meritorious participation. German mysticism shaped him for a time. His study of Augustine deeply influenced him. Throughout, a theology of humility marked him. The great “tower experience,” which resulted from his meditation on Romans 1:16-17—the Gospel is the power of God to salvation, received by faith alone—was the finale in a series of smaller events and insights that resulted in Luther’s understanding and proclamation of the full and free Gospel.

The full Gospel and its implications were not clear to Luther when he posted the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. He hadn’t ruled out indulgences entirely but complained intensely about their misuse. He didn’t yet know how dependent church finances were on the indulgence trade. Luther was also unaware that Pope Leo X had allowed Albert of Mainz to hold a second archbishopric after Albert pledged a significant contribution of Fugger money toward the building of St. Peter’s Basilica, to be paid by the work of the greatest fundraiser of the day, the indulgence seller, John Tetzel.

Woodcut of Luther from The Babylonian Captivity, 1520.

The posting of the 95 Theses caused a storm. They were immediately translated, printed, and spread throughout Europe in a matter of weeks. The opposition to Luther and his theses were harsh and swift. Luther continued teaching on the Scriptures, and his lectures on both Paul and Hebrews pressed him to greater and greater clarity.

Luther’s “tower experience” likely occurred in April 1518. The final point in his formulation and understanding of the Reformation message came when he moved past Augustine’s doctrine of justification to imputation. The righteousness by which we are acceptable to God and certain of eternal approval is the righteousness of Christ credited to us and received only by faith. “From faith to faith,” wrote St. Paul in Romans 1:17. When Luther read these words in light of this understanding, he felt as though the gates of heaven had been opened. If God’s approval depends upon anything in me, it cannot be certain. If it depends upon the life and full satisfactory atonement of the God man Jesus Christ, then I cannot but be certain.

Later, in 1530, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession expressed the certainty of the doctrine of justification as well as any human words could:

[Our churches] teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favour, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. (Romans 3 and 4).

Our heavenly Father is pleased when a Christian is absolutely certain of His love and forgiveness now, certain of eternal life with Him upon death, and certain of a bodily resurrection like Christ’s own at the Last Day.

In the face of all the suffering and travails happening to him at the hands of people and of God, Job confesses with absolute certainty (19:23-27):

“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

I want to encourage you to be certain. Christ’s Gospel is absolutely certain. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you. He knows who you are. He knows your name. He knows the town you work in. He knows your vocation; He’s given it to you. He knows your family. He knows every difficulty you face. He knows your weaknesses. And He’s placed you where He’s placed you. He’s given you sacred vocations to fulfill, service to the Church and your community. He knows you’re imperfect. That’s why He’s perfect.

The Ten Commandments. Woodcut from Niels Hemmingsen’s commentary on the Small Catechism.

You have the certain Ten Commandments. They are absolutely clear. You shall not. They damn us all. That’s why we in the Church should not spend the majority of our time looking outside and condemning the culture, condemning the people around us, condemning others. The Church needs to speak the Law to ourselves. When Jesus said, “You brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34), He was talking to the religious people. “You brood of vipers” applies to all of us. You and I commit sins, and not just occasionally. Even when our hands and our feet do the right thing, when our mouths say the right thing, our minds are full of absolute stench and filth. We hate. We’re envious. We’re prideful. We’re unforgiving. Think of the person in your family who’s the black sheep, or how your heart is inclined negatively toward people who’ve harmed you in the past. Scripture teaches that if you hate somebody, that’s like murder (1 John 3:15). The Law damns us completely (Romans 3:21). And it’s absolutely clear. It gives us a clear path for living. It’s certain.

The Law is given to all. Its chief purpose is to drive us to repentance. It is given, says St. Paul, “that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the Law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19–20). As the hymnwriter Paul Speratus says, “The Law is but a mirror bright / To bring the inbred sin to light” (LSB555:3). Christ came for sinners. You are one. There’s no gray here. “No one is righteous. No, not one” (Romans 3:9). The Law condemns because we do not meet its demands. The Law drives us to Jesus, who met all of its demands (Romans 5:19) and died to put its punishments to death (5:9).

The crucifixion of Jesus. Woodcut from Niels Hemmingsen’s commentary on the Small Catechism.

The Creed is absolutely certain. The First Article (Creation) teaches that this world and all its inhabitants are God’s precious creation and creatures. It is certain. Our heavenly Father is the source of all that we are, have, and enjoy.

The Second Article (Redemption) teaches with all biblical certainty that Christ “has redeemed me… not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” (SC, Second Article; see 1 Peter 1:19). It is absolutely certain that Jesus really did die. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell, where He proclaimed victory. Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The deed was done 2,000 years ago. The Gospel is yours. It’s absolutely certain. Why did the Apostles all willingly die violent deaths? Because they knew Jesus rose from the grave. They had seen Him themselves. They were His witnesses. They were compelled to preach (1 Corinthians 9:16)! It’s certain. It’s absolutely certain.

The Third Article (Sanctification) teaches, “I believe that I cannot… believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel” (SC, Third Article). My salvation is certain because it’s not won by me, not worked by me, not decided by me (John 15:16), not preserved by me. It’s all God’s working, from beginning to end. It’s an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith” (1 Peter 1:4–5).

Jesus teaches the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. Woodcut from Niels Hemmingsen’s commentary on the Small Catechism.

The Lord’s Prayer is absolutely certain. You are given the Lord’s very words. Jesus promised His apostles, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do” (John 14:13). Jesus invites us to pray to Him: “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus teaches us the very words to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven” (See Matthew 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4). “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence [certainty!] we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father” (SC, Lord’s Prayer Introduction). So Jesus says, “This is my Father, and now I want you to call Him Father.” Isn’t that the most marvelous thing? These petitions are what Jesus wants you to pray. And He promises that, for His sake, your Father hears them and answers them for you, for your good. It’s certain.

Baptism. Woodcut from Niels Hemmingsen’s commentary on the Small Catechism.

Baptism is absolutely certain. By being baptized Himself, Jesus put Himself into Baptism. Jesus mandated Baptism, saying that through Baptism disciples are made of all nations (Matthew 28:19). He also taught, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). The apostles repeatedly taught that Baptism is a saving act, for it connects us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Colossians 2:6–15; Romans 6:3–5). “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (SC, Baptism 3; see Titus 3:5–8). Baptism is the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is justification. Baptism is the Gospel. It’s certain.

The Bible says we are buried with Christ in Baptism (Romans 6:3–5). Baptism connects us with Jesus (Colossians 2:12). Baptism is not a symbol; it truly forgives sins and grants the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). It delivers the goods. You are forgiven. Baptism renders your conscience clean (Hebrews 10:22). Jesus is for sinners, only for sinners. And you happen to be one. There’s a nice fit there. You’d better always be a sinner because Jesus comes for sinners. Luther once wrote in a letter, “Christ dwells only in sinners” (LW 48:13). And so He does. Absolutely certain.

Confession and Absolution. Woodcut from Niels Hemmingsen’s commentary on the Small Catechism.

You are absolved. Your pastor absolves you. Your sins are forgiven. Why confess our sins to a pastor privately and at the beginning of the Divine Service? Because Jesus mandated it. “He breathed on [His disciples] and said to them… ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them’” (John 20:22–23). Jesus said it. Jesus gave it. Faith receives it. It is the Gospel. It is certain. In fact, “this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC, Confession). This forgiveness is also meant to open our lips to speak the Gospel of forgiveness to those in our lives.

The Lord’s Supper. Woodcut from Niels Hemmingsen’s commentary on the Small Catechism.

And the Sacrament is yours. The very Body and Blood of Christ is yours. It’s absolutely certain. It’s His very Body and Blood, given and shed for you. For what? The forgiveness of sins. Jesus says, “Take, eat; this is My body… Drink of it, all of you; this cup is… My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” (SC, Sacrament of the Altar). Those who assert that “this is My body” actually means “this is not really My body” forever have the burden of explaining why Jesus did not mean what He said. Jesus’ words are clear and certain. We receive the gift believing Christ’s words. And it is absolutely certain. “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54).

The Lord gives His Gospel to us in manifold ways. Salvation was earned on the cross and is distributed by the proclaimed Word of the Gospel, Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. That certainty is more than we need in these crazy times to hold our heads high, say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and “come what may.” I know that my Redeemer lives (Job 19:25). All this He has given so that I may be absolutely certain that I am His baptized child now, and I shall enjoy the resurrection of my flesh, with Him and all the saints, into eternity (1 Corinthians 15).

This certainty is confessed in the Smalcald Articles, III.IV:

We will now return to the Gospel, which does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. God is superabundantly generous in His grace. First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world (Luke 24:45-47). This is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, “Where two or three are gathered” (Matthew 18:20), and other such verses (especially Romans 1:12).

The Lutheran Reformation is still all about certainty in Christ.

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Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and a member of the International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors.

The ILC’s 2022 World Conference in brief

Participants at the International Lutheran Council’s 2022 World Conference pose with the seminary community during a visit to Neema Lutheran College in Matongo, Kenya. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

KENYA – The 27th (12th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) took place September 13-16, 2022 in Kisumu, Kenya, during which time the council elected a new chairman: Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF).

A New Chairman for the ILC

Bishop Juhana Pohjola presents during the ILC’s 2022 World Conference.

Bishop Pohjola was acclaimed as the ILC’s new chairman without opposition. Bishop Pohjola was catapulted to worldwide media attention in 2021 after Finland’s Prosecutor General charged him and a Finnish M.P., Dr. Päivi Räsänen, with hate crimes for the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. While the two were subsequently acquitted in early 2022, Finland’s Prosecutor General has since appealed, meaning the case is not yet over.

Chairman Pohjola succeeds Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Bishop Voigt, who announced earlier in the World Conference that he would not be standing for reelection, served as ILC Chairman for twelve years from 2010-2022. Prior to that, he served the ILC as Vice Chairman and as Europe Region representative, for a total of 15 years of uninterrupted service on the board.

Elected to serve as ILC Secretary during the 2022 World Conference was Bishop John Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana. Acclaimed to serve as World Region representatives were: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya) for Africa; President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Lutheran Church in the Philippines) for Asia; Chairman George Samiec (Evangelical Lutheran Church of England) for Europe; President Alceu Alton Figur (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay) for Latin America; and President Timothy Teuscher (Lutheran Church–Canada) for North America.

The International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors for the new triennium. Left to right: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Kenya); President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Philippines); Chairman George Samiec (United Kingdom); Bishop John Donkoh (Ghana); Past President Robert Bugbee (Canada); Bishop Juhana Pohjola (Finland); President Timothy Teuscher (Canada); ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill; President Alceu Alton Figur (Paraguay); and President Matthew Harrison (USA). LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

The ILC’s board of directors also includes two other members who are appointed under other criteria. Past President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) remain on the board in this capacity.

ILC welcomes new members

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and General Secretary Timothy Quill welcome the newest members of the ILC. Left to right: Chairman Voigt, Archbishop Jānis Vanags of Latvia, President Limberth Fernandez Coronado of Bolivia, Pastor Patricio Mora Reyes of Panama, and General Secretary Quill.

The conference brought together church leaders representing 55 church bodies from around the world, including members and guests. Reflecting the ILC’s continued growth, the 2022 World Conference voted to accept two church bodies as full members and one as an associate member. The conference also formally welcomed ten new observer members accepted into the ILC since the last world conference.

The Christian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bolivia (previously accepted as an Associate Member in 2001) was welcomed as a full member. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (accepted as an observer in early 2022) was also accepted as a full member. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Panama, meanwhile, was newly accepted as an associate member.

Observer membership in the ILC can be granted by the Board of Directors without needing to wait until a world conference. In total, the board has accepted ten new observer members—all from Africa—since the last World Conference in 2018: the Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burundi; the Lutheran Church in Africa – Burundi Synod; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Congo; the Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium of Kenya; the Lutheran Church in Africa – Côte d’Ivoire; the Confessional Lutheran Church – Malawi Synod; the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in Rwanda; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan and Sudan. The Lake Tanganyika Diocese and the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania make up the remaining two new observer members (accepted as “recognized organizations”).

Welcoming new observer members accepted into the ILC since the 2018 World Conference.

Liturgy and Ecumenical Relations

The theme for the ILC’s 2022 World Conference was “Liturgy and Culture: How Worship Shapes our Life Together and Why We Do What We Do.” Serving as essayists were Bishop Juhana Pohjola of Finland; Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki (Fort Wayne, USA); and Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov (Novosibirsk, Russia), with an additional presentation by Bishop Juan Pablo Lanterna of Chile.

Based on these presentations and ensuing discussion, the conference ultimately adopted a summary Statement on Liturgy and Culture. It further decided unanimously to produce a statement rejecting virtual communion.

Among other business, the World Conference also received a report on the results of the ILC’s recent ecumenical discussions with the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The Final Report on those discussions was published in 2021, and found significant convergences between the two traditions in a number of areas.

In light of this report, and taking into account the written recommendation of Cardinal Kurt Koch of the PCPCU and ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, the ILC World Conference adopted a resolution calling for continued ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church in the leadup to the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030.

Additional news on the ILC’s 2022 World Conference can be found here.

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ILC 2022 World Conference: Conference ends with Installation of Board Members

LCMS President Matthew Harrison preaches during the closing service of the ILC’s 2022 World Conference in Kisumu, Kenya. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

KENYA – The International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference came to a close the evening of September 16 with a service of Vespers, during which time the chairman, secretary, and other board members for the new triennium were installed.

Serving as liturgist for the service was ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill, with President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) preaching. In his sermon, President Harrison—who also serves as an appointed member of the ILC’s board—pondered what it means to be worthy. Drawing on the words of St. Paul, he noted that overseers in the church are to be “above reproach.”

“Yet, I’m not,” President Harrison said simply. Addressing his fellow church presidents and bishops, he outlined the qualifications for overseers according to the scriptural witness, highlighting the many ways he—and, indeed, all leaders in the church—fail to fulfill their office as they ought.

“Are you worthy to stand before the throne of God?” he asked. “Be honest: you are condemned by the Law…. ‘Oh, wretched bishop that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?’”

“It’s Jesus,” he said at last. “It’s Jesus, who is the Bishop. He is the one who fulfilled the office faithfully. He is the one who never fails those seeking His grace, His forgiveness, and His healing.”

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” he proclaimed. “I tell you now, repent and believe the good news: ‘There is now no condemnation for those bishops who are in Jesus Christ!’ The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins! All your shortcomings, all your weaknesses, all your failures are covered by the blood of the Lamb.”

Outgoing ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt installs the newly elected and reelected members of the board of directors. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

The service concluded with the installation of the ILC’s newly elected and reelected board members for the new triennium. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, outgoing Chairman of the ILC, conducted the installation. Installed to serve were:

  • Chairman Juhana Pohjola (Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland)
  • Secretary John Donkoh (President/Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana)
  • Africa Representative Joseph Ochola Omolo (Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya)
  • Asia Representative Antonio del Rio Reyes (President of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines)
  • Europe Representative George Samiec (Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England)
  • Latin America Representative Alceu Alton Figur (President of the Lutheran Church of Paraguay)
  • North America Representative Timothy Teuscher (President of Lutheran Church–Canada)

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2022 World Conference: ILC approves further ecumenical discussions with the Roman Catholic Church

Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Germany), joined by Rev. Dr. Gerson Linden (Brazil), reports on the results of the ILC’s theological conversations with the PCPCU.

KENYA – On September 16, 2022 the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference adopted a resolution calling for continued ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church, and approving the Final Report of the conversations of the ILC and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) which was published in 2020.

Discussion of the topic began the morning of September 14, 2022, when Rev. Dr. Werner Klän of Germany reported on the results of the theological discussions between the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (which has recently been renamed the Dicastery from Promoting Christian Unity). The Final Report on the conversations was jointly published by the ILC and the PCPCU in 2021, and found significant convergences between the two traditions in a number of areas.

In a written response to the report, Cardinal Kurt Koch of the PCPCU expressed pleasure at the warming of relations between the churches of the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church. On the basis of the report’s “valuable theological contribution to Concordia Lutheran-Catholic ecumenism”, he went on to encourage “the founding of a joint Concordia Lutheran-Catholic working group” as a forum for continued conversation between the PCPCU (now the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity) and the International Lutheran Council. In particular, he suggested such a working group take on the task of providing a joint rereading of the Augsburg Confession (AC) between Roman Catholics and the ILC in the leadup to the 500th anniversary of the publication of the AC in 2030.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt likewise welcomed the results of the international discussions after the Final Report was released, writing that the “process of reception [of the Final Report] in the churches of the ILC has already begun.” He concurred with Cardinal Koch’s suggestion of the founding of a working group, calling it a “very appropriate way of deepening common theological work.”

Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue

In his report to the conference, Dr. Klän went on to note the positive response to the Final Report already seen in ILC churches in Germany and Australia, while Rev. Dr. Gerson Linden of Brazil—another member of the dialogue group—likewise commented on its usefulness in the Latin American context. Dr. Klän encouraged the 2022 World Conference to receive the suggestions of Cardinal Koch and ILC Chairman Voigt, and adopt a resolution committing to continued ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church.

That resolution came before the World Conference on September 16, during which time the ILC adopted a resolution “To Approve the Report of the ILC/PCPCU Dialogue Group and to Carry Forward their Work.”

In the resolution, the 27th ILC World Conference notes “its sincere thanks both to the Roman Catholic and the confessional Lutheran representatives in this dialogue for their efforts and preparation of the Final Report.”

“The ILC herewith approves the Final Report and supports the continuation of contacts and conversations in appropriate ways and formats,” it continues.

“The 27th ILC World Conference expresses hope that further theological work be done between representatives of the ILC and the PCPCU in the leadup to the 500th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030,” the resolution goes on to say. To that end, it instructs the ILC’s board “to begin planning (including funding appropriation) for our Council to continue this theological engagement between confessional Lutherans and the Catholic Church,” encouraging “particular focus on the issues of apostolicity and catholicity.”

You can download the full resolution here.

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2022 World Conference: ILC issues statement on Liturgy and Culture, plans for statement rejecting virtual communion

ILC Chairman Elect Juhana Pohjola preaches during matins on the final morning of the ILC’s 2022 World Conference.

KENYA – The final morning of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference saw the adoption of a Statement on Liturgy and Culture, as well as a unanimous decision to produce a statement rejecting virtual communion.

The first session of the day began with a service of matins. Rev. Roger James, the ILC’s Assistant to the General Secretary, served as liturgist, while incoming Bishop Juhana Pohjola, incoming ILC chairman, preached. Bishop Pohjola’s sermon focused on John 10:11-16, noting the commemoration of St. Cyprian.

After matins, Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov, Rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia, presented the final paper of the conference: “Lord, to Whom Shall We Go? The Revision of Liturgical Space and Time in a ‘Virtual Worship’ Era.”

Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov

“My proposition is that there is a discrepancy between our subscription to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and reliance on the virtual format for conducting worship services (especially ones containing the Lord’s Supper),” Dr. Streltsov said during his lecture. And, while he recognized that, during the pandemic, many Lutheran churches around the world relied on online technology to reach members, Dr. Streltsov warned that allowing “virtual worship” to become part of the norm is a decision “pregnant with philosophical and theological dimensions.”

“Our traditional Lutheran liturgy emphasizes the real presence of Jesus in the Word and Sacraments made available to us in a concrete, earthly setting,” he noted. “An alternative understanding of worship would centre rather on perceived personal spiritual and emotional comfort of the worshipper, on the sense of self-fulfillment, self-realization on behalf of the worshipper…. My thesis is that these two different understandings of worship are incommensurable.”

A spirited discussion on the subject of virtual worship followed the presentation.

Report on Liturgy and Culture

Following a break, the conference considered a summary statement on Liturgy and Culture, which distills key points from the presentations and subsequent discussions. This summary was adopted by common consent. Key passages include:

  • “The Church fundamentally is the gathering of people around the Lord of the Church to encounter him, hear him, receive him, and be blessed by him for another week ‘out in the world’. The liturgy involves words and actions by which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present to the glory of the Father.”

    “Conscious that the Word of God constitutes and our Confessions shape our worship, the Church balances the truth of Jesus’ presence with his people and clearly speaking the Word of God to the world. This is particularly pertinent in liturgical reviews and the production of new rites, new hymnals, and changes to permissive rubrics. The Church has the responsibility to communicate clearly Jesus and not sacrifice Jesus in the process! The Church’s catholicity must be maintained against the deceptions of the new.”

    “As language and identity are increasingly fluid today; as the Church is increasingly aware that the world is always opposed to the God who loves her; as God’s Word sadly is always challenged by others who also say ‘Thus says the Lord’ so the Church can ‘sail such storms’ when the liturgy is faithful to the Lord of the Church who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. In the liturgy, Jesus draws all people to himself so that they can live life in all its fulness—because an embodied God comes to embodied humanity with embodied grace creating an embodied community and witness—no matter when or where people are found.”

The full summary will be released online in the days to come.

Virtual Communion

Later in the day, the world conference also approved a procedure for the publication of a statement rejecting virtual communion as contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

A proposed text was unanimously accepted in principal, with additional direction given to the board to prepare a final version for release in mid-December 2022.

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2022 World Conference: Works of Mercy

ILC World Conference participants arrive at the Lake Diocese cathedral in Kisimu.

KENYA – Late on September 15, participants in the ILC’s 2022 World Conference visited the cathedral of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya’s (ELCK) Lake Diocese in Kisimu, where they joined in worship and learned about the Kenyan church’s works of mercy.

Provost Martin Orende preaches.

After a welcome from diocesan Bishop Titus Okoda, the church held a service of vespers. Provost Martin Orende of the ELCK preached on John 1:29-34, while Rev. Charles Froh served as liturgist.

Following the service, delegates heard from representatives of four of the ELCK’s mercy projects. First, they heard from Rev. Isaiah Apeyo of Capstone Ministry, an agency which helps to reunite street children with their families and provide reconciliation work. Children can end up on the street for a number of reasons, Rev. Apeyo noted, and so successful reintegration requires regular follow-ups and family counseling. A key part of the work is encouraging children and their families to engage with local congregations, Rev. Apeyo said, as helping people to heal their relationships with God also helps them to heal their relationships with each other.

Deaconess Lorna Meeker of Point of Grace Academy was next to speak. Point of Grace Academy provides education for underprivileged and needy children who otherwise could not afford an education, including orphans, disabled children, and those suffering from HIV/Aids. The school has almost 800 students in total, with nearly 350 of these from the local area, and just over 450 of these coming as boarding students from elsewhere in Kenya. Point of Grace Academy not only cares for needy children, Deaconess Meeker noted, but also provides care for elderly people, the addicted, and widows in the local area. As part of their care for the whole person, Grace Academy provides regular catechesis to children, teaching them about Jesus. More than 300 children have been baptized through their encounters with Point of Grace Academy. (Conference participants were invited to visit the school on the following day, as part of a selection of excursions.)

Presenters speak on mercy projects of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya.

Deaconess Rispah was next to speak, highlighting the work of Project 24, a joint project of the ELCK and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Project 24 has eight boarding sites throughout Kenya that care for orphans with nowhere else to go. Deaconess Rispah, who is the director of one of Project 24’s sites, noted that the proclamation of the Gospel is central to this ministry’s work as well, recognizing that children have not only physical needs but spiritual needs too.

Finally, conference attendees learned about the ELCK’s school for at-risk people with intellectual disabilities. This school, which is on the same campus as the ELCK’s cathedral in Kisumu, accepts children and adults on the recommendation of the government, and helps them to achieve greater independence. Students have often previously not learned how to clothe themselves, bathe, or use the washroom. Beginning with these basic life skills, students advance to higher skills, culminating in vocational training. The school also seeks to offer a sheltered workshop where graduates of the program can continue to find meaningful work together in a safe and loving environment. Teaching the students about Jesus is a key part of this wholistic ministry.

Students sing and dance.

Conference attendees visited the school after the presentations, where they were greeted by students eager to share their musical gifts and say hello. The choir of students sang two songs, with conference participants considering it a highlight of the trip. Following the performance, participants had the chance to tour dormitories, classrooms, and the workshop for handicrafts.

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2022 World Conference: Theological Education and Liturgy in Culture

ELCK Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo preaches for the ILC’s 2022 World Conference during a visit to Neema Lutheran College.

KENYA – On the morning of Thursday, September 14, 2022, participants in the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference made an excursion to Matongo to visit Neema Lutheran College, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK), the conference’s host church.

There they joined members of the seminary community for a service of Matins in Swahili. The service also featured a hymn in Swahili which conference participants have been learning throughout the conference: “Yesu Wangu Simwachi.” A seminary student served as liturgist, while ELCK Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo preached on John 4, drawing out what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth. A Bible study on 1 Kings 8:22-30 followed, led by Rev. Joseph Abuor, a doctoral student from Kenya.

Rev. Dr. Steven Schumacher (right), Chief Accreditation Officer of the ILCAA and Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo, Principal of Neema Lutheran College.

Following this, the conference heard a report from Rev. Dr. Steven Schumacher of the ILC’s International Accreditation Agency (ILCAA). The ILCAA is a new initiative of the ILC that will “strengthen confessional Lutheran theological education,” he explained. The program will ensure that participating seminaries and colleges all provide robust theological training that is recognizable and transferable to other institutions for higher academic study.

In addition to providing standards for an institutions’ educational program and mission and integrity, the ILCAA will also provide standards for: governance, administration, and finances; planning and review; faculty, education, and staff; student services; and resources.

Liturgy, Theology, and Culture

Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo speaks on theology, liturgy, and culture.

The morning session continued with the third of four major presentations on the conference theme. Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo, Principal of Neema Lutheran College, gave a lecture entitled “The Relationship Between Liturgy, Theology, and Culture.”

Dr. Omolo argued that, for Christian worship to be appropriately brought into a given culture, it is necessary to “balance the local and the universal natures of Christian liturgy, so that the overarching meaning in liturgy is neither lost nor communicated unintelligibly to the people.” Key to striking this balance is careful fidelity to the doctrine which underlies liturgical expression: “the content of worship,” he explained, must remain “consistent with the church’s doctrine and the overall Christian narrative.”

“Meaningful w­orship is that in which Christ’s gift of life and salvation is offered to the sinful man in a clear and intelligible language so that the people experience this gift in an understandable way,” Dr. Omolo concluded. But when pursuing such adaptation, he cautioned, “care must be taken so that the liturgy remains Christian in its core and purpose, and continues to bear the marks of the catholicity of the church of Christ. To attain such balance, inculturation must take seriously the complementary dynamics between liturgy and doctrine, so that celebration of the liturgy in different cultures is done within the framework of the Christian language anchored in the biblical narrative.”

ILC-Chile Bishop Juan Pablo Lanterna (left) speaks on the new Spanish Lutheran hymnal.

Following Principal Omolo’s presentation, Bishop Juan Pablo Lanterna of the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile (ILC-Chile), also addressed the subject of liturgy and culture, providing a concrete example in the recently published Spanish hymnal produced in Latin America: Himnario Luterano. The hymnal was first conceived by the Chilean church 14 years ago, eventually growing to become a joint project of the ILC-Chile, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (IELP), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA).

The new hymnal is “a contribution from the mission field to the mission field,” said Bishop Lanterna, “a contribution from Latin America to Latin America, and from confessional Lutherans to confessional Lutherans.”

Himnario Luterano.

Indeed, Bishop Lanterna continued, the new hymnal can justly be considered the third most important confessional Lutheran publication ever published in Spanish, preceded by Casiodoro de Reina’s classic 1569 translation of the Bible as well as the Spanish translation of the Lutheran Confessions.

The hymnal, which incorporates hundreds of classic and contemporary hymns as well as newly provides services for Matins, Vespers, and Complines, has been received with joy by Spanish-speaking Lutherans. Asked what impact the hymnal will have, the missionaries who began the project were clear: “They unanimously responded,” Bishop Lanterna explained, that it will help Spanish-speaking Lutherans to “revalue and discover confessional Lutheran liturgical theology.”

The morning session concluded with a lunch on the grounds of the seminary.

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2022 World Conference: Bishop Pohjola elected as ILC Chairman

Bishop Juhana Pohjola addresses the conference after being elected the ILC’s new chairman.

KENYA – During the afternoon of September 14, 2022, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held elections for its board of directors, during which time the ILC acclaimed Bishop Juhana Pohjola without opposition as its new chairman.

In remarks after the decision, Chairman Elect Pohjola expressed thanks to the assembly as well as his prayer that the Holy Spirit would work through him despite his weakness. He further gave thanks for the example of Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, his predecessor in office, who announced earlier in the conference that he would not stand for reelection.

“I know that I have big shoes to fill because Bishop Voigt has been such an example,” Chairman Elect Pohjola said. “If I can imitate him in even some respects, I will be happy to do so.”

“Dear brothers, pray for me and for the ILC,” the Chairman Elect continued. “I look forward to working with you all very much.”

Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola has been Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) since 2021. He previously served as the ELMDF’s Diocesan Dean from 2013 until his election, and before that as dean of the Luther Foundation Finland from 2000-2001 and 2012 until his election. He has served as a pastor in Helsinki and as a visiting scholar at Canada’s Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. He holds a Master of Theology from the University of Helsinki (1997), a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (1998), and a Doctor of Theology from the University of Helsinki (2014). He was further awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne) in 2022 in part “for his calm and bold witness in the face of government persecution and pressure.”

Bishop Pohjola was catapulted to worldwide media attention in 2021 after Finland’s Prosecutor General charged him and a Finnish M.P., Dr. Päivi Räsänen, with hate crimes for the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. In response, the ILC issued “A Protest and Call” signed by the leaders of Lutheran church bodies around the world, expressing deep concern over Finland’s infringement on the freedoms of religion and speech. Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen were subsequently acquitted in early 2022 by a panel of judges who found they had committed no crimes, but Finland’s Prosecutor General has since appealed, meaning the case is not over.

Bishop Pohjola succeeds Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, who has headed Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church since 2006. He was elected to serve the ILC as Europe Region representative in 2007 and 2009, following which he was named Vice Chairman. When the Chairman’s seat became vacant in 2010 between World Conferences, he was automatically advanced to become interim Chairman. The 2012 World Conference elected him to continue serving as Chairman, and he was subsequently reelected to the position again in 2015 and 2018. In total, he served 12 years as ILC Chairman and 15 years in total on the board.

After Bishop Voigt announced he would not stand for reelection, attendees gave him a standing round of applause in gratitude for his long and faithful service.

Secretary and World Region Representatives

The ILC Board of Directors for the new triennium: LCP President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Asia); IELP President Alceu Alton Figur (Latin America); LCC President Timothy Teuscher (North America); ELCG Bishop John Shadrack Donkoh (ILC Secretary); ELCE Chairman George Samiec (Europe); ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola (ILC Chairman); LCMS President Matthew Harrison (Founding Member); ELCK Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Africa); LCC Past President Robert Bugbee (Member-at-Large); and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (ILC General Secretary).

The September 14 afternoon session of the ILC’s 2022 World Conference also saw the election of Bishop John Shadrack Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG) to serve as Secretary of the ILC. Bishop Donkoh has been head of the ELCG since 2018. He succeeds President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB), who had served in the role since 2004.  The assembly recognized President van Hattem for his years of service with a round of applause.

During the afternoon, the ILC also acclaimed world region representatives to the board of directors for the new triennium. Serving as representative for Africa is Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK). Asia will be represented by President Antonio del Rio Reyes of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP). The European representative is Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). Latin America will be represented by President Alceu Alton Figur of the Lutheran Church of Paraguay. And North America will be represented by President Timothy Teuscher of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC).

The ILC’s board of directors also includes two other members who are appointed under other criteria. Past President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) remain on the board in this capacity.

An installation service for the new triennium’s Board of Directors will take place on the conference’s final date.

Other business

Following the elections, President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) reported on the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, which is a joint project of the LCMS, Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), and the ILC.

Regional meetings followed, after which four World Region reports were given. LCP President Reyes gave the report from Asia. ELCE Chairman Samiec reported on Europe. Finally, LCC President Teuscher, accompanied by LCMS President Harrison, reported on the North America region.

The conference then heard a brief report on Concordia Israel from Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church in Norway and Iceland. Following this, Rev. Roger James, the ILC’s Assistant to the General Secretary, then addressed the conference as well.

The day closed with a service of Vespers. President Geraldo Schüler of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) preached on the theology of the cross, tying in to the commemoration of Holy Cross Day, while conference chaplain Rev. Charles Froh served as liturgist.

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