Merry Christmas from the International Lutheran Council!
Merry Christmas from the International Lutheran Council!
by Mathew Block
“How long, O Lord?” It’s a question I’ve asked several times over the past two years. The COVID-19 pandemic upended normal life for many across the globe, as governments established restrictions on travel, work, public gatherings, worship services, and more. Now, with a new wave sweeping the world and the rise of another variant of concern, it’s very possible those restrictions will be renewed—and just in time for Christmas.
The whole thing can leave you feeling exhausted and longing for a return to daily life as we once knew it. “How long will this last?” we cry out. “How long, O Lord?”
It’s a question that the Israelites also asked, albeit in different circumstances. It’s the cry of David, fleeing from the wrath of Saul: “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1). It’s the cry of a people watching their nation—and the promised continued kingship of David’s family—seem to fall apart: “How long, O Lord? Will You hide Yourself forever?” (Psalm 89:46). It’s the cry of the people of God weeping over the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of their enemies. “How long, O Lord? Will You be angry forever?” (Psalm 79:5).
These are the prayers of a people longing for salvation—longing for the day when God will finally come and set things right. In that sense, then, the question, “How long, O Lord?”, ultimately reflects a deeper desire: namely, the culmination of God’s promise to send a Messiah. “How long, O Lord? How long until You send the One who will redeem Israel? How long until our Saviour comes?”
An answer to this prayer was longer in coming than many people would have wished. Centuries passed before God’s promised Redeemer arrived. And even then, He did not come as the people expected. He came not as a king or a conqueror, not even as a rebel working to free the subjugated nation of Israel. He came instead as a child—as an infant so apparently unimportant that He was relegated to a manger bed because no one could be bothered to make room for Him in the inn.
And yet, this child was the fulfillment of God’s many promises throughout Scripture—the answer to all those questions asking, “How long?”, which have been posed to God ever since humanity’s first fall into sin. How long, O Lord? Just so long as God had always intended: “When the fullness of time had come,” St. Paul writes, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
How does God accomplish this salvation for His people? Not with a sword. Not by instituting an earthly kingdom. Instead, He humbles Himself. He takes on “the nature of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”—and being found thus, He humbles Himself even further “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
It is not the answer people expected. But it is the answer that they—that we—need. The waiting is over; the time of fulfillment is at hand. Our God comes. He comes in compassion, to seek and save the lost. He comes with mercy, to rescue sinners longing for salvation. He comes in humility—as a babe in a manger, as a convict on a cross.
God lowers Himself in the incarnation in order that He might raise us up through His resurrection. For the entirety of Jesus’ time on earth—His birth, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection—are all one and the same work: the work of salvation. They are all the same answer to humanity’s cry of “How long?”
How long, O Lord, until You save us? How long must we wait? The answer is no longer; He has already come. He has already saved us. And though we still face trial and tribulation in this world—though we long for an end to this or that present suffering—we know that God is with us even now, bearing us up with His grace and mercy. He has come. He has saved us. He is with us. And He will bring an end to our present sorrows, whether in this life or in the life to come.
May the knowledge of that gift of salvation—the knowledge of the love and mercy of Christ—bring you peace this Christmas and always.
Mathew Block is communications manager for the International Lutheran Council and editor of The Canadian Lutheran.
ONLINE – The final report on conversations between the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC) has now been released.
The five-year informal dialogue began in 2014 when a working group was organized by the PCPCU and the ILC. In this final report, the results of the dialogue are presented to Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the PCPCU and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the ILC.
The report contains a preamble, which treats the “normative structure” for church doctrine and life. The second part discusses “The Mass as Eucharistic Sacrificial Banquet” and the third part treats “Justification by Faith.” The report concludes by formulating “Ecumenical Tasks” that apply to both sides of the discussion.
The ILC will discuss the results of the informal dialogue at its 2022 World Conference, after which next steps will be considered in coordination with the PCPCU.
In the discussions, the Roman Catholic Church was represented by Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany), Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen and PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn, Germany), and Dom. Dr. Augustinus Sander OSB (Rome, Italy). The churches of the ILC were represented by Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Lübeck, Germany), Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil), Prof. Dr. John Stephenson (St. Catharines, Canada), and Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Ft. Wayne, USA). Prof. Dr. Thomas Winger (St. Catharines), Dr. Albert Collver (St. Louis, USA), Prof. Dr. Grant Kaplan (St. Louis), as well as the ILC chairman, Bishop Voigt, all served as part-time participants in the discussions.
The final report appears in Volume 33 (2021) of Lutheran Theological Review, a journal produced by the seminaries of Lutheran Church–Canada. German, Spanish, and Portuguese translations will be released at a later date.
Download the final report here.
USA – Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola has recently completed an American lecture tour during which he spoke on the criminal charges he faces in Finland for upholding historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.
Dr. Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). He, along with a Finnish Member of Parliament, Dr. Päivi Räsänen, has been charged with incitement against a group of people for the publication of a 2004 booklet which defends the traditional Christian understanding of human sexuality.
“I wish I could tell you a great story about how we were courageous Christians who decided to stand against the cultural revolution and ungodly practices and ideologies by publishing a shocking pamphlet with huge media coverage,” Bishop Pohjola says wryly. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is not what happened.”
The current situation had more innocuous beginnings. In the early 2000s, his church began publishing a series of catechetical booklets exploring Lutheran theology, with the first entries discussing such topics as worship, the Lord’s Supper, justification, and sanctification. “How radical and heroic does this sound?” Bishop Pohjola asks.
It was only in 2004, as Finland and the established church discussed the legalization of same-sex marriage, that the booklet series moved to discuss the subject of Christian teaching on sexuality. “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity” was the 29th volume in the series. In that sense, the booklet’s publication in 2004 was not particularly remarkable, even if its author Dr. Räsänen—as a Member of Parliament—was better known. The booklet was distributed to church members as well as to Members of Parliament but drew little attention. Like the other theological booklets in the series, it was put online where it remained without comment for fifteen years.
In 2019, however, a local Finnish theologian complained to the police about the booklet. After an in-depth investigation, Helsinki police determined that no crime had been committed, and that the booklet’s text was protected under freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Despite this determination, Finland’s Prosecutor General decided to charge Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola for the booklet’s publication. If convicted, they could face thousands of dollars in fines or even up to two years in prison. The case goes to court on January 24, 2022.
For Bishop Pohjola, the primary concern in the legal matter is the right of Christians to publicly teach historic Christian doctrine. “God, creation, the fall, atonement, and the Christian way of life have all been the teaching of the Church throughout the ages,” he explains. “As a Lutheran bishop, it is my calling and duty to hold on to this truth and publicly teach it no matter what the cost is—not because we want to wage a cultural war in society but because we want to call people to repentance, that through faith in Christ they may receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is not primarily a legal issue; the Gospel of Christ is at stake!”
“I’m not personally afraid of the court case’s outcome,” Bishop Pohjola explains. “What makes me worried is the signal already sent and received by so many, even Christians: if they come after a Member of Parliament and a Lutheran pastor, they can come after you.”
The decision to charge the pair for the booklet—Dr. Räsänen faces two additional charges as well for other public statements—has drawn concern from many quarters. Earlier this year, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) issued a public letter signed by the presidents and bishops of dozens of Lutheran church bodies around the world condemning the actions of the Finnish state in prosecuting Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen.
A group of American legal scholars have also issued a public letter encouraging the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to investigate the situation and levy sanctions against Finland. More recently, a group of six American Congress members have also issued a public letter calling on USCIRF to investigate the situation and take action.
In November 2021, the International Lutheran Council invited Bishop Pohjola to share his story with an American audience. Bishop Pohjola spoke first in Washington, D.C. in a November 10 appearance at the offices of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The ADF is advising both the bishop and Dr. Rasanan in their upcoming trials. Shawn Nelson, who serves the ADF as legal counsel for issues touching on global religious freedom, also spoke at the Washington event. The second public lecture by Bishop Pohjola took place on November 13 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. St. Paul Lutheran Church served as the venue for the event, which was livestreamed online and followed by a choral service of matins. The final lecture by Bishop Pohjola took place on November 16 at First Lutheran Church in Boston, Massachusetts, and was likewise followed by a choral service of matins.
You can watch a video of Bishop Pohjola’s Fort Wayne presentation below. The text of the bishop’s presentation can also be downloaded as a pdf here.
Participants at all three events had the opportunity to pick up an English translation of the booklet for which Dr. Rasanan and Bishop Pohjola have been charged, and judge for themselves its innocuous nature.
During his lecture tour in the United States, Bishop Pohjola also preached during a chapel service at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and further addressed two separate gatherings of faculty and students at the school. He also preached for two services in Zionsville, Indiana, and further gave a number of media interviews.
“Many people have asked: ‘What can we do for you?’” Bishop Pohjola says. “The best thing for us is that you remain faithful in your own vocations and make a good confession of natural order and biblical truth.”
“Pray also for our country and for our Prosecutor General,” he continues. “Pray that this court case will be, in the hands of our Lord, a blessing for us and bring glory to our Lord’s name.”
ONLINE – Unable to attend Bishop Juhana Pohjola’s American lecture tour in person? You can also watch online!
Bishop Pohjola’s lecture in Fort Wayne, Indiana on Saturday, November 13, 2021 will be broadcast live online at 9:30 a.m. (EST). The event will also feature a service of matins.
Simply visit the International Lutheran Council’s Facebook page here, or return to this webpage on Saturday, November 13 to watch the event live.
SPAIN – On October 9, 2021, the Spanish Evangelical Lutheran Church (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Española – IELE) celebrated the consecration of its new bishop, Rev. José Luis de Miguel, during the church’s Annual Assembly in El Escorial.
Bishop Miguel has been a pastor in the Spanish church for four years. A worker-priest, he also serves as a health promotion technician for the Spanish Association Against Cancer. He succeeds Rev. David Warner, a missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), to become the first native-born Spaniard to lead the church in Spain.
“Lutheranism has always developed in Spain through foreign missions, mainly from Argentina and the United States,” the IELE noted in a release. “The installation of the new bishop is a sign of the maturation of the Spanish Lutheran church.”
The multi-language consecration service featured involvement from churches in Finland, Portugal, and the United States, as well as from LCMS missionaries stationed in other regions. Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), President Adalberto Hiller of the Portuguese Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELP), and Fifth Vice President Christopher Esget of the LCMS all participated in the service, together with Rev. James Krikava (LCMS Eurasia Director), Rev. Joel Fritche (LCMS Dominican Republic), LCMS pastor Fred Gaede, and other church representatives.
The 2021 Annual Assembly also featured the ordination and installation of a new pastor, as well as a lecture by Rev. Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), who spoke on “Mercy in the Gospel of St. Luke.”
The IELE has four congregations and approximately 100 members. The church first began to emerge in the 1990s, when Spaniards interested in Lutheranism made contact with Lutherans in France. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA) subsequently began to send missionary pastors to Spain in 2000, followed later by missionaries from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
by Roger B. James
In Revelation 7, St. John is given a vision of the holy and glorious throne of God. In front of the throne stands a great multitude of people of every sort, clothed in the white robes of Holy Baptism and waving the palm branches of salvation, crying out acclamation to God the Father and God the Son. John is then asked who these people are. He doesn’t know. He is told an amazing thing:
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:13-17
This glorious throng of people that he saw all dazzling before God—these are the very same people that John knew on earth at the time when he lived. This crowd in heaven were the poor, struggling folks that he knew from Christian churches all around. Ordinary people who struggled with illness, persecution, poverty, temptation, and sin. Such people would one day fill the courts of the Lord’s house in heaven. “Who would think it to look at them now!” John must have thought.
Among that throng, witnessed by John so many centuries ago, you also will stand—you who have been cleansed by Jesus’ forgiving and life-giving blood, baptized into His Holy Name, and clothed in the white-robe of His righteousness. You will be there, salvation adorning your body, salvation waving in your hands, salvation on your lips as you worship the God of your salvation, singing with angels and elders and all the creatures of heaven:
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb! Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” – Revelation 7:12
Those who think that it is a small thing to stand in the presence of God and worship have little or no understanding. Those who mock and say that heaven sounds boring—that they would much rather have fun in hell—don’t grasp the insanity of what they are saying.
Just consider: if people will stand in line and in packed mobs for hours just to get a glimpse of some celebrity or, say, the president or king or queen, then how much better to be in the eternal presence of God our Saviour! If the angels who are so much more powerful and wise than we find it joy and honour constantly to be in God’s presence, then should not we agree, even though it may be hard for us to understand right now because our minds are so earth- and sin-bound?
Perhaps you can imagine waiting in a crowd to see some important or famous person, standing on tip-toes trying to see over the shoulders and heads of those in front just to get a glimpse—or, perhaps if you’re lucky, to catch the very eye of that important person—perhaps even to shake hands or to get a signature. But what does the Scripture promise? Not only will we be in the crowd and see our God and Saviour from afar; Scripture says that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” How close do you have to be to wipe away a tear? Can you remember the gentle hand of father or mother holding your face and brushing away that salty drop?
But is it possible that in such a vast throng God could or would be able to touch and speak to you so personally? Yes, for even though you are a part of this crowd—the Church, which includes believers of all generations and places—you will never be lost in the crowd; the Lord sees and loves and saves us together and also individually.
The Sacraments are proof and assurance of this. Yes, the Word is preached to crowds, but the Sacraments, even though they ordinarily take place in the congregation, always are given individually and personally. Water was poured out on your head and your name was uttered when you were born again by water and the Word. Your mouth is opened, and the Lord’s Holy and Precious Body and Blood is pressed upon your lips and tongue with the full promise that your sins are forgiven. In this way, the Lord proves that His cross and the death which He died for the whole world is also intended for each of us.
It is one thing to be able to say, “I saw the president or prime-minister!” It is another to be able to say, “He saw me. He shook my hand. He spoke my name.” But we can say far more: “God, My Saviour, the Eternal Father, the glorious Son, the Holy Spirit, knows me by name. He spoke my name. He gave me His own name in Holy Baptism. My Saviour Jesus placed in my mouth—this very mouth!—His own precious Body and Blood.”
The time will come when all believers who struggle here and now in this great tribulation will stand in the throng within the presence of the Holy Lord—not as anonymous faces in a crowd, but as those named and loved by God. At that time, with all the gentleness, intimacy, and tenderness of a father with his child, the Lord will wipe every tear from your eye. But even now, right here and now, the Lord is present among us, giving His own Body and Blood in the Supper and washing us clean in Holy Baptism.
Rev. Roger B. James is Assistant to the General Secretary for the International Lutheran Council.
WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is pleased to announce a new program dedicated to supporting Lutheran theological education worldwide: the International Lutheran Council Accreditation Agency (ILCAA).
“Lutherans from around the world—both within and outside the International Lutheran Council—have told us that they are in need of assistance in the development of pastoral training and theological education,” explains the ILC’s General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill. “This new program will help equip Lutheran seminaries and colleges worldwide to offer rigorous academic theological training, grounded in the authority of Scripture and in the Lutheran Confessions.”
The ILCAA is not intended to replace existing regional governmental accreditation, but instead to complement it, providing a basis for internationally recognized confessional Lutheran theological education. A key component of this is the development of a recommended core curriculum. Accreditation standards will also address such areas as faculty, spiritual formation, student evaluation, library resources, long-term planning, administration, financial stability, and accountability.
The rollout of an internationally recognized accreditation program will also ensure that students who wish to go on to pursue higher education at another institution have transcripts from accredited institutions.
Spearheading the new program will be Rev. Dr. Steven Schumacher, who has accepted a call to serve as the ILCAA’s Chief Accreditation Officer. In addition to serving as a missionary with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and as Academic Dean at the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, Dr. Schumacher has served as an adjunct professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana since 2011. His doctoral thesis focused specifically on the question of Lutheran theological accreditation in the African context.
“It’s a joy to be joining the ILC to help strengthen the work of Lutheran seminaries and theological institutes across the world,” said Dr. Schumacher. “The ILCAA will play a major role in the renewal of global Lutheran theological education, equipping churches to train leaders and church workers faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The International Lutheran Council Accreditation Agency comes in response to a resolution of the ILC’s 2019 World Seminaries Conference in the Philippines, which called for the development of a common theological curriculum for confessional Lutherans across the globe. A committee was subsequently struck to consider the question in greater detail. Members of the committee included Rev. Dr. Daniel Gard (North America); Dr. Steven Schumacher (North America; Africa); Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Europe); and Rev. Dr. Alexey Strelstov (Eurasia). Additional advisory members included President John Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (Africa); The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Director of Theological Education, Rev. Dr. Arthur Just (North America); Brazil’s Rev. Dr. Gerson Linden (Latin America); President Antonio Reyes of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (Asia); the United States of America’s Dr. James Wagner (North America); and Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Chairman of the ILC Seminary Relations Committee). ILC General Secretary Quill also participated as an ex-officio member.
Following the committee’s work and recommendations, the ILC’s Board of Directors approved the creation of the ILCAA in April 2021.
Additional information on the program, including the application process, will be made available at a later date.
You can support confessional Lutheran theological education and the work of the International Lutheran Council Accreditation Agency through online giving (select “International Seminary Accreditation Program”). You may also send a cheque by mail to:
International Lutheran Council
PO Box 10149
Fort Wayne, IN 46850
NOTE: Unable to attend in person? You can also watch Bishop Pohjola’s lecture live online here.
USA – In November 2021, Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola will visit the United States of America for a lecture tour sponsored by the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
On August 1, 2021, Dr. Pohjola was consecrated Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). He enters the role at a challenging time: Bishop Pohjola faces criminal charges in Finland for his role in publishing a 2004 booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.
Should it be illegal to identify homosexual activity as sinful? That’s the question facing Bishop Pohjola now, seventeen years after the booklet was first published. He and the booklet’s author, Dr. Päivi Räsänen (a Finnish Member of Parliament), have been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with “incitement against a group of people.”
What can we learn from Bishop Pohjola’s story? How should we respond to a world that is increasingly intolerant of Christian beliefs? And what does Scripture have to say to us about being persecuted on account of our faith in Christ? Come hear Bishop Pohjola in person to find out.
There are three opportunities to hear Bishop Pohjola speak:
NOTE: Those wishing to attend the Washington event are required to register in advance here: http://www.adfinternational.org/DCLecture.