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ILC World Conference draws to a close, issues statement on ecumenism

LCSA Bishop Modise Maragelo preaches during matins.

BELGIUM – The final day of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2018 World Conference opened with a service of matins in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Antwerp. Bishop Modise Maragelo of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa preached for the service, looking forward to the commemoration of St. Michael and all Angels on September 30. Rev. Timothy Quill served as liturgist.

Following matins, Rev. Milton Huatuco, outgoing President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Peru, presented a study on Latin American Lutheranism and ecumenism. His report highlighted how local context affect the ecumenical efforts. In Latin America, for example, he noted that Lutherans make up only 0.15 percent of the Latin American population, making Lutherans a small player on the ecumenical scene. Likewise, historic persecution of Protestants make some groups skeptical of rapprochement with Roman Catholics, the major Christian church in Latin America. Intra-Lutheran discussions, however, have been a fruitful ecumenical project, especially in Brazil and Argentina.

Outgoing President Milton Huatuco of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Peru leads a study on Lutheran ecumenism in Latin America.

The morning session saw greetings to the ILC from Bishop Mark Lieschke, on behalf of Bishop John Henderson and the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). The LCA is preparing for its triennial convention, which is scheduled for the coming week. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt thanked Bishop Lieschke for his remarks, and offered his prayers that God would bless the LCA and send His Holy Spirit to guide them during their forthcoming convention.

Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church of Norway (LKN) reported on Concordia Israel, a recent project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) undertaken in partnership with the LKN. Concordia Israel provides Lutheran education for the evangelical Lutheran church in Israel, including support for pilgrim trips and study tours to Israel; Lutheran education to congregations and congregation members in Israel; and online theological university training.

Later in the day, the convention voted to receive the invitation from the ELCIR and LKN to host the 2021 World Conference of the ILC in Israel, directing the Executive Committee to explore the feasibility of the proposal. In the event the location proves too difficult to arrange, the Executive Committee was authorized to select another location for the 2021 World Conference.

Ecumenism in the Confessions, Ecumenism in Practice

A highlight of the final day’s session was a report on the International Lutheran Council’s informal international dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). Rev. Dr. Werner Klän, who serves as the Lutheran co-chairman of the dialogue, addressed the convention on the work accomplished over the past several years. He noted that the initial idea for dialogue came from the Roman Catholic side, leading eventually to discussions in Rome in 2013, a preperatory meeting in 2014, and finally the official beginning of the dialogue group in 2015.

The most recent round in the ILC-PCPCU’s informal international dialogue took place September 17-21 in Bleckmar, Germany. A report on those discussions will be published online by the ILC soon. The concluding meeting of the current round of discussions is scheduled for 2019, at which time the dialogue group will present a final report summarizing their findings and making recommendations to the ILC and the PCPCU about future possibilities for continued dialogue.

Professors Roa and Klän answer questions on their respective presentations to the ILC World Conference.

Following Dr. Klän’s report, Rev. Wilando Roa presented the convention’s final lecture on its theme of ecumenism and ecclesiology. In his talk, Rev. Roa explored the Lutheran Confessions as the basis for faithful dialogue with other Christians. The conclusion of his lecture provided a roadmap for future ecumenical opportunities, noting that “those closest to us in the household of faith… deserve our first attention.” To that end, he encouraged member churches of the ILC to initially focus their ecumenical efforts inwards—working with those estranged in our own denominations—before moving outward: first by seeking greater dialogue with partner churches; then dialoguing with church bodies no longer in fellowship with us; then looking to other Lutheran churches; and finally looking out to groups outside the Lutheran tradition.

Later in the day, the convention distilled some of the week’s discussions of ecumenism and adopted a brief statement on “Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility.” Read the full statement here.

Putting that ecumenical concern into practice, the convention also adopted a resolution on ILC relations with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), noting that “the ILC Executive Committee remains open to conversation with the LWF Council to help clarify points of confusion and to facilitate an ongoing exchange of information.” The full resolution is available to download here. The 2018 resolution reaffirms the position on dual membership in the ILC and LWF first taken at the 2007 World Conference in Accra, Ghana (see the 2007 resolution here).

Closing Service and the Installation of the Executive Committee

LCC President Timothy Teuscher preaches the final sermon of the 2018 World Conference.

The convention concluded with a final service of evening prayer, with President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium serving as lector and Rev. Timothy Quill as liturgist. Serving as cantor and organist this day, as every day of the conference, was Matthew Machemer.

As with matins earlier, the service of evening prayer f focused on biblical texts surrounding the ministry of angels, with President Timothy Teuscher of Lutheran Church–Canada preaching. The passage under discussion focused on the angels’ conflict with the devil. Because that ancient serpent is the father of lies, President Teuscher noted, one of the most important weapons of the angels is the Sword of Truth, the Word of God—and this is a weapon that we too are called to wield against the devil’s lies. It is natural that angels should adopt such a weapon, President Teuscher explained, since the very meaning of their name—“angel”—is “messenger.” And the message they proclaim is Christ, God incarnate and Saviour of the world.

The service concluded with the rite of installation for the newly elected and appointed members of the International Lutheran Council’s Executive Committee.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC Executive Secretary, installs the officers of the new triennium’s Executive Committee. (Photo: S. van Hattem).

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Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility: A Statement from the XXVI World Conference of the International Lutheran Council

The following statement was adopted by the International Lutheran Council at its 26th World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. It can be downloaded as a pdf here.

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Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility: A Statement from the XXVI World Conference of the International Lutheran Council

The International Lutheran Council (ILC) gathered in Antwerp, September 25-28, 2018, to share papers on and to discuss the twin topics of fellowship and ecumenism, framed by devotional reflection. Members of the organization, all of which share a vigorous subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, recognize that each member body will express its confessional commitment in ways unique to its specific context.

Lutherans affirm an ecumenical approach and an ecumenical claim at the same time. This is demonstrated by the inclusion of the ecumenical creeds in the Book of Concord and expressed, for instance, in the structure of the Smalcald Articles. Here Luther states a basic consensus agreement on the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the Person of Christ, a basic dissensus on justification, and further questions to be debated. This claim for catholicity provides a basic framework for confessional Lutheran ecumenical engagement in our time and context: identify points of agreement, points of disagreement, and points for further conversation.

This approach has manifested itself in the rich and varied histories of the church bodies of the ILC. These different historical expressions challenge us to strive towards greater internal unanimity. At the same time, we are also driven to engage churches outside of the ILC community, because we are convinced we have an obligation to share the Gospel of Christ and all its articles—our confessional heritage—with the whole of Christianity.

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ILC World Conference: In Worship and Study

President Martin Jautzy preaches during matins, while Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee translates.
Rev. Wilando Roa leads a Bible study on Ephesians.

BELGIUM – August 27, the third day of the ILC’s 2018 World Convention, began with a service of matins, with President Martin Jautzy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church-Synod of France preaching on the nature of the Church. We are individually stones in the building that is the Church, he said, and are held together by Christ, “the Stone that the builders rejected” which stands as the capstone. Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Past President of Lutheran Church–Canada and an appointed member of the ILC’s Executive Committee, served as liturgist for the service and as translator for President Jautzy.

Among the first item of business for the day was greetings from Bishop John Bradosky of the North American Lutheran Church, who expressed gratitude for the friendships which have developed between his church and those of the ILC.

The morning also saw a Bible study on St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, led by Rev. Wilando Roa, Director of Theological Education by Extension at Lutheran Theological Seminary (Baguio City, The Philippines).

President Matthew Harrison presents delegates with a gift of books.

President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) then addressed the conference, presenting a gift of books to delegates. One of these books was the new 2017 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism published by Concordia Publishing House (CPH). While the text of the catechism proper remains the same as in the previous edition, the Explanation to the Catechism has been updated and expanded to tackle new issues facing the Church today. The second book gifted to delegates was Closed Communion?, edited by President Harrison and John T. Pless, and also published by CPH. The work collects classic and valuable new essays on the subject of admission to the Lord’s Supper, all from a Biblical Lutheran perspective.

Delegates also received from the ILC their copies of the new two-volume dogmatics series Confessing the Gospel which was presented on a day earlier.

The morning’s work then turned to the matter of elections, with Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany being unanimously reelected as ILC Chairman. (See the full results of elections to the ILC Executive Committee here.)

Prof. Dr. Werner Klän gives his lecture on ecumenism in the European context.
Martin Luther Place in Antwerp. The church visible in the background is built on the site of the former Augustinian monastery of Esch and Voes.

A featured part of the morning was the next keynote lecture on the convention’s theme of “Ecumenism and Ecclesiology.” Prof. Dr. Werner Klän, Professor Emeritus of Germany’s Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberusel, Germany, unpacked the current status of Lutheran ecumenism and fellowship in Europe, both among the churches of the ILC and those outside it, taking time to examine some of the larger ecumenical agreements which currently hold sway among European Lutheran church bodies.

From there, he turned to consider the challenges of responsible confessional Lutheran ecumenism within the complicated context of the contemporary era, with special reference to examples from the German church.

In the afternoon, delegates enjoyed a walking tour of Antwerp. Of particular interest was a visit to Maarten Luther Plein (Martin Luther Place), a site dedicated in 2017 to remember the influence of the Lutheran reformation in Antwerp. Nearby once stood an Augustinian monastery which, in the early 16th century, saw all of its monks adopt the Lutheran faith. They were subsequently arrested, and two—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—would later become the first martyrs of the Reformation, being burned at the stake in Brussels in 1523. Reflections on Esch and Voes, and martyrdom more generally, provided a focus to the sermons and presentations given a day earlier.

President Orozco preaches before Compline.

Thursday closed with worship at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, with President Abdiel Orozco of the Lutheran Church in Guatemala preaching. He encouraged delegates to remember that we do not need to seek the approval of men, because, through Christ, we have already received the approval of God.

A service of Compline, led by Rev. Timothy Quill, followed.

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ILC reelects Bishop Voigt as Chairman

The ILC’s Executive Committee (l-r): ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers; LCP President Antonio Reyes; LCMS President Matthew Harrison; Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC Executive Secretary;  SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the ILC; FELSISA Bishop Dieter Reinstorf; LCC President Timothy Teuscher; Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee; and ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem, ILC Secretary. Not present: President Rudi Zimmer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil.
ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt.

BELGIUM – On September 27, 2018 delegates to the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) World Conference unanimously reelected Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt as ILC Chairman for another triennium.

Chairman Voigt is Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, a position he has held since 2006. He was first elected Chairman of the ILC in 2012 and was reelected to the position in 2015. He had previously served as Interim Chairman of the ILC beginning in 2010.

The ILC also reelected President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium to serve as Secretary for the Executive Committee.

The remaining five elected positions on the ILC’s Executive Committee are filled by church bodies as opposed to specific individuals. Serving as the representative for Africa is the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa, which is led by Bishop Dieter Reinstorf. The region of Asia will be represented by The Lutheran Church in the Philippines, which is led by President Antonio Reyes. Europe will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, which is led by Chairman Jon Ehlers. The world region of Latin America will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, led by President Rudi Zimmer. Finally, the North American region will be represented by Lutheran Church–Canada, which is led by President Timothy Teuscher.

The Executive Committee has the right to appoint additional voting members to the committee, as per new bylaws adopted in 2017. On September 28, the Executive Committee reported that Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (Past President of Lutheran Church–Canada and former Vice-Chairman of the ILC) has been reappointed to serve on the Executive Committee, and that President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has also been appointed to serve.

The Vice-Chairman of the ILC is not elected by the World Conference, and is instead elected by the Executive Committee from its World Area Representatives. That election will take place during the Executive Committee’s first meeting.

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Note: This story and its photo have been updated to indicate additional members appointed to the Executive Committee.

ILC pledges gift to Latvian church following fire

The fire in St. John’s church in Pink, Latvia.

LATVIA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has pledged a small gift to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) to assist with repairs following a fire September 25 at St. John’s church in the town of Pinki, just outside Riga.

News of the fire broke during the ILC’s World Conference in Belgium, at which two members of the ELCL are present as guests: Archbishop Janis Vanags and Rev. Andris Kraulins, who serves the ELCL in its international relations. Rev. Kraulins is pastor of the affected congregation, and had to depart the conference early to assess the situation.

The convention paused from its work as ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt led a prayer for the building and the people of the congregation.

“We are deeply moved to hear about the fire at this congregation,” said Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council. The ILC has offered a small gift in the amount of $5,000 to assist in repairing the damage.

Thanks to the work of firefighters, damage to the church was not as severe as it could have been.

The International Lutheran Council and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia enjoy a growing relationship, with Dr. Collver and the Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt recently visiting the Latvian church to address their General Pastors Conference on the work of the ILC.

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ILC World Conference: Martyrdom and Ecumenism

ELMDF Bishop Risto Soramies preaches during matins.

BELGIUM  – The second day of the ILC’s 2018 World Conference (September 26) began with a service of matins and a commemoration of the martyrs Johann Esch and Heinrick Voes. Esch and Voes were Augustinian monks who had converted to Lutheranism along with the rest of their monastery in Antwerp. For this crime, Esch and Voes would become the first Lutheran martyrs when they were burned at the stake in Brussels on July 1, 1523.

Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) preached for the service, reflecting both on the Belgian martyrs Esch and Voes and the lesser sufferings we too face as Christians. “Most of us bear lighter crosses than brothers Johann and Heinrich,” he noted. “Nevertheless the enemy of our souls is trying and tempting us in many ways. But we do not have to resign and grow weary or even be sad or sorry. Through Jesus we are God’s people, beloved, forgiven and upon us rests God’s glory, hidden to human eyes, including ours, but seen by the angels.

“Therefore,” he concluded, “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

The message took on particular poignancy for those who know Bishop Soramies’ own story: he, along with several other pastors in the ELMDF, were defrocked by the state church in Finland as a result of their faithfulness to the authority of Scripture.

The service was held in Antwerp’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Following matins, Rev. Isaiah Obare of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya presented a Bible study delving deeper into the subject of martyrdom.

Confessional Ecumenism in history and in the current moment

During the morning, the conference heard a report on the ILC’s 2017 incorporation and the bylaws adopted by the ILC Executive Committee at that time. The elevation in legal status better equips the ILC, as the bylaws themselves state, “to enable its further growth and development in the worldwide service of Confessional Lutheranism.” Later in the afternoon, the conference voted to accept the bylaws and commend the Executive Committee for their work.

Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast presents on the history of fellowship talks in the LCMS.

The morning also featured the next lecture on the theme of “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast (President, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana), gave a lecture entitled “Turning Points – A History of the Fellowship Issue in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.” Dr. Rast examined the history of the LCMS’ approach to ecumenical relationships with others Lutherans, noting that its twin desire “to avoid both separatism/schism and unionism/syncretism” manifested itself in different ways in different contexts.

“How we determine or assess agreement in confession with other church bodies can vary from situation to situation,” he explained. “Given the vastly different situations that are increasingly encountered in today’s ecclesial context, it seems necessary and appropriate to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach and instead develop different ways of assessing agreement that are appropriate to the church body or group in question.” To that end, Dr. Rast invited conference attendees to discuss how the churches of the ILC might: (1) better appreciate the relevance of each church’s individual histories in inter-church discussions; (2) identify appropriate modes for assessing confessional agreement in different contexts; (3) consider different procedures by which altar and pulpit fellowship might be declared between churches; (4) examine the relationship between public confession and public membership in a church body; and (5) consider how we might relate to confessional groups within larger church bodies.

Delegates considered these questions in smaller World Region groups, with spokesmen sharing some of the results of their discussions with the wider conference afterwards.

ILC Growth and Dogmatics Presentation

The most prominent piece of business in the afternoon was the reception of new members into the International Lutheran Council. In total, the ILC voted to receive seventeen new church bodies as members, representing 4.15 million Lutherans across the globe (full story here).

Dr. Bruce Kintz of Concordia Publishing House and Dr. Samuel Nafzger show the new dogmatics series from the LCMS.

Later in the afternoon, Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger spoke on the subject of dogmatics, noting the publication of a new two-volume dogmatics text from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod entitled Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology (published by Concordia Publishing House). Dr. Nafzger, who is editor of the series, formerly served as Executive Secretary of the ILC from 1993-2011. He also served as LCMS as director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations from 1974-2008.

In his lecture, Dr. Nafzger outlined the multi-decade development of the series and detailed the “building blocks” approach which frames the book. Each chapter considers its subject from a variety of viewpoints, including its Scriptural Foundation and Confessional Witness, a Systematic Formulation, Historical and Contemporary Developments, and its Implications for Life and Ministry.

Every participant in the ILC’s 2018 World Conference will receive a copy of the new dogmatics series.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt gives his report.

The convention also heard the report of ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, who framed his thoughts around the subject of the ILC’s ecumenical relations and the catholicity of the Lutheran Church. “Ecumenism and catholicity matter to us strongly,” he said. Drawing on the definition provided by Vincent of Lérins as adapted in the Lutheran tradition, Chairman Voigt defined catholicity as that which has been believed always, everywhere, and by all on the basis of Scripture. This understanding of catholicity gives us a platform for a “rightly understood ecumenism.” And because we have a

solid grounding in the Scriptures and the Confessions, he said, “we are strong enough to be open to ecumenical dialogue in our day.”

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to regional meetings, and reports from World Areas, with the conference hearing reports from Asia, Africa, and North America.

A return to martyrdom

LCMS President Matthew Harrison prays in preparation before giving his sermon.
The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium.

The day ended, as it began, with a service reflecting on martyrdom. LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison preached a sermon reflecting on the martyrs Esch and Voes, tying their stories back to the work of Luther, to earlier martyrs in the Church, and finally to the great Martyr, Christ Himself. In the end, President Harrison explained, it is the sacrifice of Christ alone—His death and resurrection—which gives meaning to the deaths of all the other martyrs and to our own struggles to stand firm in suffering and opposition. For it is by the blood of Christ that we are saved.

The service was held in Antwerp’s Cathedral of our Lady, a place “touched by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation,” noted Vicar General Bruno Aerts, who welcomed the ILC to the church on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antwerp. The building was subject to major iconoclastic attacks and destruction in 1566 by Calvinist iconoclasts. The church today is celebrated for its artistic beauty, including three major pieces by Peter Paul Rubens completed in the early 17th century.

President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium served as lector, while the organist and choir of the cathedral provided musical accompaniment for the service.

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ILC welcomes 17 new member churches representing 4.15 million Lutherans worldwide

The ILC’s Executive Committee pose with representatives of new member churches.

BELGIUM – On September 26, 2018, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) welcomed seventeen new church bodies into membership, representing approximately 4.15 million Lutherans across the globe. Their addition more than doubles the number of Lutherans worldwide associated with the ILC, bringing the total to approximately 7.15 million members.

Votes to accept the new churches took place September 25-26, 2018, during the ILC’s 2018 World Conference meeting in Antwerp, Belgium.

In total, the ILC received ten new member churches from Africa, three from Europe, and four from Asia (including Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church, which succeeds the now defunct Lanka Lutheran Church). That brings the total number of church bodies holding membership in the International Lutheran Council to 54.

Two additional church bodies applying for membership were declined at this time.

Of the new church bodies aligning with the ILC, eleven were received as full members and six as observer members. A synopsis of each new member church, including information on its history, membership numbers, leadership, and ILC membership class, appear below in alphabetical order by country.

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Benin: Lutheran Church in Africa—Benin Synod
The Lutheran Church in Africa—Benin Synod (Eglise Luthérienne en Afrique—Synode du Bénin – ELA-SBe) has 400 members in five congregations throughout Benin. The church itself was established in 2012 and officially registered in 2014, but its history goes back to 1996, when The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod began supporting missionary work begun by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana. The ELA-SBe was born out earlier attempts to establish a confessional Lutheran church body in Benin. The church is led by President Abona Legue Koumbi. The ELA-SBe was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Burkina Faso: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Burkina Faso
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Burkina Faso (Eglise Evangelique Lutherienne du Burkina Faso – EELBF) has approximately 1,400 members in eight parishes and four preaching points throughout Burkina Faso. The church was officially established and recognized in 1996. It was born through the pioneering mission work of the evangelist Rufus K. Kormah, who passed away in early 2011. The EELBF is led by President Tanpo Tchiriteme. The EELBF was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Finland: Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland
The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) has approximately 2,000 members in 33 congregations throughout Finland. The Mission Diocese was founded in 1999 as method to support confessional groups within the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and transitioned into an independent church body in 2013. The ELMDF is led by Bishop Risto Soramies. The ELMDF was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Indonesia: Indonesian Lutheran Christian Church
The Indonesian Lutheran Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Luther Indonesia – GKLI) has almost 21,000 members in 102 congregations throughout Indonesia. The church was founded in 1965 and emerged out of a reform movement that began within the Protestant Christian Batak Church. The GLKI is led by Bishop Esra Sinaga. The GKLI was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

Liberia: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia (ELCL) has more than 7,300 members in 91 congregations throughout Liberia. The church officially began as a mission project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in 1978, but also traces its history to earlier work by Lutheran Bible Translators beginning in 1969. As a result of civil wars in Liberia, the Lutheran presence was scattered, resulting in four separate church bodies. These groups merged in 2009 to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia. The ELCL is led by President Amos Bolay. The ELCL was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Madagascar: Malagasy Lutheran Church
The Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) is one of the largest Lutheran church bodies in the world, with approximately 4 million members in 8,500 congregations. The church’s history dates back to the work of Norwegian missionaries in 1867, and was officially established as the FLM in 1950. The church is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. The FLM is led by Presiding Bishop David Rakotonirina. The FLM was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Myanmar (Burma): Myanmar Lutheran Church
The Myanmar Lutheran Church (Myanmar Lutheran Kamkawm – MLC) has more than 3,400 members in 14 congregations throughout Myanmar. The church was founded in 1998, and has been a member of the Lutheran World Federation since 2010. The MLC is led by Bishop Mang Lone Andrew. The MLC was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

Norway: Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway
The Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway (Det evangelisk-lutherske stift i Norge – ELDiN/DELSiN) has 150 regular communicants in five congregations throughout Norway. The church began as a confessional movement in the Lutheran Church of Norway, eventually leading to the creation of the “Church of Norway in Exile” under the counter-bishop Børre Knudsen. In 2013, the movement formerly organized as the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. The ELDiN is led by Bishop Thor Henrik With. The ELDiN was accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Rwanda: Lutheran Mission in Africa—Synod of Thousand Hills
The Lutheran Mission in Africa—Synod of Thousand Hills (Misioni y’Abaluteri muri Afrika—Sinodi y’imisozi igihumbi – LMA-STH) has more than 2,000 members in 22 congregations throughout Rwanda. The church came out of the Lutheran Church of Rwanda over doctrinal concerns in late 2014 and established a new church body at the end of that year. The LMA-STH is led by Bishop Selestine Munyentwari Seburikoko. The LMA-STH was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

South Africa: St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Synod of South Africa
The St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Synod of South Africa (CLCSA) has 22,000 members in congregations and 15 preaching stations throughout South Africa. The church grew out of mission efforts centered in the town of Middelburg. The CLCSA is led by Bishop John Mandla Khumalo. The CLCSA was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

South Sudan: South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church
The South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church (Kanitha de Yibenyjelikol Ludheran de Junub Thudan – SSELC) has approximately 5,000 members in 15 congregations. The church was formed in 2011, when 21 former ministers of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan left the church over doctrinal issues. The church is led by Bishop Nathaniel Boi Nyok Apar. The SSELC was accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

Sri Lanka: Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church
The Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) has 500 members in 15 congregations throughout Sri Lanka. The church was officially founded in 2017, and succeeds the Lanka Lutheran Church, which was founded in 1978 but went defunct in the mid-2000s. The CELC is led by Chairman Roger B. James. The CELC has been accepted as a full member of the ILC. At the same time, the ILC has voted to remove the former Lanka Lutheran Church, which no longer exists, from its membership.

Sweden: Mission Province in Sweden
The Mission Province in Sweden (Missionsprovinsen i Sverige) has sixteen congregations throughout Sweden, and serves several other independent congregations in that country as well. The Mission Province was founded in 2003 as a reform group within the Church of Sweden by those attempting to maintain the biblical understanding of the ministry, after several decades of increasing pressure on ministers who sought to remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. The Mission Province is led by Bishop Roland Gustafsson. The Mission Province has been accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Taiwan: The Lutheran Church of the Republic of China
The Lutheran Church of the Republic of China (財團法人台灣中國基督教信義會總會 – LCROC) has 640 members in 11 congregations throughout northern and northeastern Taiwan. The church was founded through the work of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission in Taiwan, with congregations founded in the early 1950s. The church has been fully independent since 2006. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. The LCROC is led by Bishop Nong-Ruay Chen. The LCROC has been accepted as an observer member of the ILC.

Togo: Lutheran Church of Togo
The Lutheran Church of Togo (Eglise Luthérienne du Togo – ELT) has 8,000 members in 45 congregations throughout Togo. It emerged out of mission work first begun by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in 1980. The church body was officially founded in 2009. The church is led by President Kolani Lambon Lare. The ELT has been accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Uganda: Lutheran Church of Uganda
The Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU) has more than 50,000 members in 140 congregations across Uganda. It emerged in 1993 out of mission work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana working in partnership with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The church is led by Bishop Charles Bameka Isabirye. The LCU has been accepted as a full member of the ILC.

Uruguay: Lutheran Church of Uruguay
The Lutheran Church of Uruguay (Iglesia Luterana del Uruguay – ILU) has approximately 200 members in 3 congregations throughout Uruguay. The church arose out of the mission work of Argentinian Lutherans beginning in 1936. Depending on external circumstances, the original congregation was first a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil. The church became independent in 2004, and by 2010 was established a national church body. The church is led by Principal Pastor André Luiz Muller. The ILU has been accepted as a full member of the ILC.

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ILC 2018 World Conference opens in Antwerp, Belgium

Our Lady’s Chapel at the Elzenveld, site of the opening worship service of the International Lutheran Council’s 26th (11th) World Conference.

BELGIUM – The 26th (11th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) opened the morning of September 25, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium. The event also marks the 25th anniversary of the ILC in its current form. The conference runs until September 28.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt preaches during the opening service of the International Lutheran Council’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

An opening service was held in Our Lady’s Chapel, a fifteenth century chapel of the medieval St. Elizabeth convent (now the Elzenveld Hotel and Conference Centre). ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church) served as preacher for the service, with Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (ILC Executive Secretary) serving as liturgist.

Following the service, the ILC received greetings from several local political and ecclesiastical dignitaries, including Antwerp’s Mayor, Bart De Wever; Antwerp’s Vice-Mayor of Culture and Religion, Jan Rombouts; Vicar General Bruno Aerts on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antwerp; and Chairman John van der Dussen of the Antwerp Council of Churches.

Each was presented with a copy of the book 450 Years – Lutheran Church in Antwerp: 1566-1586 and Beyond, a new history by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium. It details in both Flemish and English the early history of Lutheranism in Belgium.

Ecclesiology and Ecumenism

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver speaks on ecumenism.

The morning of the first day of the ILC’s 2018 World Conference focused on a discussion of the convention theme: “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” Dr. Collver introduced the topic, joined by Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Professor of Systematic Theology and Confessional Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana).

In his remarks, Dr. Collver noted that the very first meeting of the group that would become the ILC likewise focused on the topic of church fellowship. The 2018 convention’s focus on ecclesiology and ecumenism is therefore a return to a discussion that has been ongoing for decades.

He went on to note that the first arrest of Lutherans took place 497 years ago this week in Antwerp. Two years later, the first Lutheran martyrs—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—were burned at the stake in Antwerp. And yet the opening of the ILC World Conference in 2018 saw greetings from the local Roman Catholic Archdiocese. So too the ILC has for several years been participating in an informal international dialogue group with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “Times have changed,” Dr. Collver reflected, “yet our Confessions remain the same.”

Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler continues the introduction of the convention theme.

Dr. Ziegler continued the discussion, noting that a confessional Lutheran understanding of ecumenism begins first by remembering the unity of Christ’s body which already exists, and recognizing that spiritual reality to be the work of God and not man. From that foundation, he turned to a discussion of the seventh article of the Augsburg Confession, unpacking what it means for the unity of the visible church to be dependent on the Gospel being taught purely and the sacraments rightly administered. Dr. Ziegler outlined four different interpretations of this article, ultimately arguing that agreement on the Gospel and the sacraments includes agreement not only on the teachings of the Confessions but also in all teachings of Holy Scripture.

Beginning from such a point, confessional Lutheran ecumenism seeks to determine what schisms in the church are justified (as a rejection of errant doctrine) and which are unjustified (where people prefer one human tradition over another), while ultimately seeking resolution to both forms of division through: the preaching of the Gospel in its fullness, seeking opportunities to speak with one another through the work of groups like the ILC, praying for the unity of the Church, and working to preserve unity in our own individual church bodies. At its heart, confessional Lutheran ecumenism is grounded in both truth and love, Dr. Ziegler said: “Love and truth belong together,” he explained. Both are necessary “in our striving for unity.”

The theme will be further unpacked through three keynote lectures over the next days of the conference.

Growing to meet the needs of confessional Lutherans worldwide

Work in the afternoon was overshadowed in part by the report of a fire in the tower of a Lutheran church in Latvia. ILC Chairman Voigt led the World Council in prayer for the affected congregation and community.

The afternoon featured the report of the ILC’s Executive Secretary, who traced the history of the ILC from earlier confessional Lutheran inter-church assemblies in the 19th century down to the present day, where the ILC is celebrating 25 years in its current form. “In 25 years, much has remained the same about the ILC,” noted Dr. Collver in his report, “particularly the ILC’s commitment to the inspired, inerrant Word of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and unreserved acceptance of the Lutheran Confessions found in the Book of Concord.” But one thing that has changed, he noted, is ever-growing interest in the work of the ILC by Lutheran churches around the world.

“Back in 1993 when the ILC was formed, it represented approximately four million Lutherans worldwide,” Dr. Collver noted. By contrast, he said, the current gathering in Belgium “has church leaders in attendance representing around 20 million Lutherans worldwide.” That number includes current member churches, 19 churches currently seeking membership in the ILC, and church bodies represented at the conference which are not yet seeking membership in the ILC, but whose leaders have grown close to the ILC in recent years as a result of the organization’s defense of the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

President Antonio Reyes of The Lutheran Church of the Philippines preaches during vespers.

The ILC is expanding its capacity to meet the growing interest and needs of confessional Lutherans around the world, Dr. Collver noted. Some of these initiatives—the formalization of the ILC’s legal status, for example, and the Lutheran Leadership Development Program—will be discussed in greater detail over the coming days.

Other business attended to in the afternoon of the first day of the conference included initial votes on the acceptance of new members to the ILC, World Region breakout sessions, and the report of the European World Region.

ILC Chairman Voigt (left) greets the publication of a new history of Lutheranism in Antwerp, following an introduction by Dr. Guido Marnef (centre). The book was written by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (right).

The day’s business closed with Vespers, held in the historic St. Anne’s Chapel (also known as the Emperor’s Chapel), first built in 1512. The church is notable not only for its remarkable Counter-Reformation artwork, but also because it served as a Lutheran church from 1578 until the fall of Antwerp in 1585. President Antonio Reyes of The Lutheran Church of the Philippines preached the sermon, with Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana) serving as liturgist.

Following dinner, attendees of the ILC convention were presented with copies of President van Hattem’s new history of Lutheranism in Antwerp, which was revealed earlier in the day when it was given as a gift to several dignitaries attending the ILC World Conference’s worship. Professor Guido Marnef of the University of Antwerp introduced the book, saying that “this fascinating but not well-known history deserves a broad circulation within the Lutheran community and far beyond.”

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The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. Every three years, member churches of the ILC and friends gather for the ILC World Conference, where they conduct business, hold elections, and discuss challenges and opportunities facing the confessional Lutheran church around the world.

ILC History: First ILC Meeting at Christ Church in Uelzen, 1952

Christ Church in Uelzen, Germany, Site of the first ILC Meeting in 1952.

GERMANY – The group that became the International Lutheran Council (ILC) met on 6-10 August 1952 at Christ Church (Christuskirche) in Uelzen, Germany. Approximately, 160 people attended this meeting comprised of church bodies and free churches from around the world. The 160 people who attended the conference at Uelzen represented about 3 million Lutherans. The ILC group met after the second meeting of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) at Hannover, Germany, in July 1952.

Some of the Missouri Synod delegates to the 1952 LWF World Assembly in Hannover, also attended the ILC founding meeting in Uelzen. During World War II, the two free church congregations were severely damaged in Hannover. The independent Lutheran congregation in Uelzen was newly built after the war and was able to serve the ILC conference with new modern facilities.

The Missouri Synod Delegates to the 1952 Lutheran World Federation World Assembly in Hannover, Germany.
Remodeled Altar at Christ Church in Uelzen.

Eventually, this group that met in Uelzen in 1952 formed the International Lutheran Council. The ILC had humble beginnings. Dr. Hoopmann from Australia who attended this first meeting wrote in the minutes: “The delegates at Hannover represented more than 40 million Lutherans. Those at Uelzen scarcely 3 million. We are in the minority. We stand alone; but as the men who after mature deliberation signed the Formula of Concord did so as men who desired to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with intrepid hearts, thus we are also mindful of our responsibility to God and all Christendom and of the fact that we have vowed ‘that we will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to our Confessions, but by the help of God’s grace we intend to abide thereby.'”

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ILC Visit to The Large Cross Church — Dr. Werner Klän

Dr. Klän lecturing to an ILC and PCPCU delegation at the Large Cross Church in Hermannsburg.

GERMANY – In the above video, Dr. Werner Klän, professor emeritus of LTS Oberursel, explains some history of The Large Cross Church (Große Kreuzkirche) in Hermannsburg, Germany. Rev. Louis Harms began the mission movement in Hermannsburg by establishing a mission seminary in 1849, which led to the development of the Hermannsburg Mission. The Hermannsburg Mission was active in both South Africa and Ethiopia. Due to the Prussian Union, Theodore Harms, the brother of Louis Harms, was removed as pastor by the State. After this a large number of people formed the Large Cross Church in 1878. Eventually, the Bleckmar Mission formed out of the Hermannsburg Mission.

The Large Cross Church was founded as an independent Lutheran congregation and later became part of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), which is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). Delegates from the ILC and from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) recently met in Bleckmar for an informal dialogue. The visit to Hermansburg and Bleckmar was to help explain a Lutheran view of mission for the church.

Dr. Roland Ziegler, Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, at the Large Cross Church in Hermmansburg.

Dr. Ziegler described the Hermannsburg Mission theory: “Mission is the activity that originates in a living church. Rev. Harms stated in a sermon on the parable of the mustard seed and the leaven (Matthew 13:31-33), that this parable contains two points: ‘The Christian church will spread over the entire world. The church shall permeate the entire world. Both things must go together in true missions, but can only go together if we who do missions are not only Christians in name but when the sourdough of the gospel has permeated interiorly hearts and we therefore have become converted people, true, living members of Christ’s body and therefore send no other messengers but those who also are permeated by the Gospel, as far as men can judge.'”

The establishment of the Large Holy Cross Church and the mission societies in Hermannsburg were connected to the awakening caused by powerful preaching. Let us remember and live the motto of the Great Cross Church, “No cross, no crown” (“Ohne Kreuz keine Krone“).

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