ILC to celebrate 30th anniversary as a council

GERMANY – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is celebrating its 30th anniversary as a council this year, and will hold formal events to mark the anniversary in Wittenberg, Germany on October 14, 2023. The ILC adopted its current form on September 9, 1993, when 23 Lutheran church leaders from across the globe gathered in Antigua, Guatemala and unanimously adopted a Constitution and Guiding Principles. Today, the International Lutheran Council has grown to include 59 member churches representing more than 7.2 million Lutherans around the world.

“Wittenberg is of course the historic home of Martin Luther and the Reformation,” noted ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. “From that epicentre, the Lutheran witness to the Gospel—grounded in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions—has gone out into the whole world. It is fitting then that confessional Lutherans from across the globe should gather again in Wittenberg to mark this important anniversary. The International Lutheran Council has grown to play a vital role in world Lutheranism, strengthening and supporting confessional churches in their witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.”

The anniversary events in Wittenberg will begin in the morning with a festive service of Choral Matins at St. Mary’s Church, the church where Luther regularly preached. ILC Chairman Juhana Pohjola (Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland) will serve as liturgist for the event, and General Secretary Timothy Quill will preach. Georg Mogwitz of St. Lukas Church in Leipzig will serve as cantor and organist, and the choir of St. Lukas Church will provide special music.

The service will also see a rite of prayer and blessing for the establishment of the ILC’s Accreditation Agency, a ministry that will assist Lutheran seminaries around the world in providing pastoral training and theological education grounded in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

Later in the afternoon, participants will gather for the keynote address. Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Past President of Lutheran Church–Canada and a member of the ILC’s Board of Directors,will speak on the history of the International Lutheran Council. A panel discussion will follow, led by members of the ILC’s board. Chairman George Samiec (Evangelical Lutheran Church of England) will serve as moderator, and panel members will include President Matthew Harrison (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), Archbishop Joseph Omolo (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya), President Antonia Reyes (Lutheran Church in the Philippines), and President Timothy Teuscher (Lutheran Church–Canada).

Finally, ILC Chairman Juhana Pohjola will provide concluding thoughts about where the ILC goes from here.

The ILC anniversary celebration itself will come at the culmination of a multi-day gathering of international Lutheran church leaders in Wittenberg organized by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

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 Scripture and to the Lutheran Confessions. While the ILC is celebrating its 30th anniversary as a “council,” the full history of the organization goes back more than seven decades. The first large international gathering of Lutheran church leaders which gave birth to the ILC took place in Uelzen, Germany in 1952. At the third meeting of this group—in Cambridge, England in 1963—the gathering adopted the name “International Lutheran Theological Conference.” At the ninth gathering of the group—in Wabag, Papua New Guinea in 1978—the name was shortened to the “International Lutheran Conference.”

Finally, at its 15th gathering in Antigua, Guatemala, the ILC formally constituted itself as the International Lutheran Council. Since that time, the ILC has grown to play a major role in supporting confessional Lutheran churches around the world.

For further details on the International Lutheran Council’s 30th anniversary commemoration in Wittenberg, please contact the ILC.


Appeal hearings in Finnish “Bible Trial” come to a close

Bishop Juhana Pohjola (left) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen (right) at the appeal hearings in Helsinki. Photo: ELMDF.

FINLAND – The latest round of hearings in Finland’s “Bible Trial” have now come to a close. Hearings were held August 31 to September 1 at the Helsinki Court of Appeals.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Finnish Member of Parliament, Dr.  Päivi Räsänen, have been charged with hate crimes for their articulation of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. The statements objected to by the prosecution include a 2004 booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen and published by Bishop Pohjola, a radio discussion by Dr. Räsänen, and a tweet by Dr. Räsänen which included a picture of a Bible verse.

The trial has drawn international concern over the state of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland. The International Lutheran Council is urging continued prayer for the defendants.

“I’m overwhelmed by the support and prayers pouring out from all over the world,” said Bishop Pohjola. “This is very encouraging for us in the ELMDF, and for Dr. Räsänen and me personally.”

Bishop Pohjola speaks to supporters outside the Helsinki Court of Appeals. Photo: ELMDF.

The two were first investigated in 2019, charged in 2021, and put on trial in 2022. They were ultimately acquitted by a three-judge panel who declared: “It is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” The prosecution appealed the decision, however, leading to the new hearings in Helsinki.

“This has been a tiring process—already four years since its beginning—and in many ways the process itself is punitive,” noted Bishop Pohjola. “But it is also an opportunity for us to give good witness to biblical truth, to God’s created order, and to His grace in Christ Jesus.”

The appeal hearings did not see the prosecution present any substantial new evidence, instead arguing that the judges in the district court failed to apply the law appropriately. The appeal centered, as the initial trial did, on the religious beliefs of the defendants and the public expression of their faith.

“In the court today, although the prosecutor said that this is not about theological issues, the case nevertheless dealt with many basic questions of Christian doctrine: what is creation, what is the Bible, what is God’s love, what is sin,” Bishop Pohjola remarked. “That is what is shocking: the prosecution is arguing that such religious and biblical teachings should not be protected in and of themselves, and that restrictions should be put on our speech. But in a free society, there must be room for religious groups to publicly teach and confess their faith.”

A judgment from the Helsinki Court of Appeals is due by November 30.


Lutheran Church in Norway and Iceland doubles number of serving pastors

The ordination of pastoral candidates in the Lutheran Church in Norway and Iceland. Photo: BoJo Hermansen

NORWAY – On August 13, the Lutheran Church in Norway and Iceland (LKNI) celebrated the ordination of four new pastors during a service at the Church of the Messiah in Oslo, with LKNI Bishop Torkild Masvie officiating.

The LKNI’s newly ordained pastors (the four on the left) pose with Bishop Torkild Masvie and other pastors. Photo: BoJo Hermansen.

These ordinations bring the total complement of active clergy in the LKNI to eight, including the church’s bishop. (The LKNI also has three retired pastors). The addition of the new pastors will allow several start-up congregations in the LKNI to have a dedicated pastor, allowing them to go from monthly to weekly services. The LKNI currently serves nine established and start-up congregations.

The ordinations come as the culmination of five to six years of education for each ordinand through the LKNI’s AdFontes pastoral training program. As part of that program, students also pursued a B.A. through Fjellhaug International College in Oslo and a M.A. through Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The Lutheran Church in Norway and Iceland is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.


Corpus Christi 2023: Lutheran young adults gather in Latvia

Lutheran young adults worship in Liepāja’s Holy Trinity Cathedral during the 2023 Corpus Christ Conference. (Photo: Liepājā Diocese’s social media).

LATVIA – Lutheran young adults from across Europe gathered in Liepāja, Latvia from July 24-28 for the 13th Corpus Christi Conference. This year’s theme was: “Built on the Rock.”

Serving as plenary speaker for the 2013 conference was Rev. Jakob Appell. Over three sessions, Rev. Appell discussed St. Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus’ response that “on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16,18).

Rev. Jakob Appell speaks during the 2023 Corpus Christi Conference (Photo: Corpus Christi’s YouTube channel).

“Can we see from Peter’s own life what it means to be built on the rock?” promotional material for the conference asks. “He certainly had his ups and downs. And what does it mean for the Church to stand safe and protected from the gates of hell, ‘even when steeples are falling,’ as we will be singing in this year’s theme hymn (LSB 645)? What is so important with the confession of Peter, and of all the apostles and prophets? Why is the Lutheran Confession important for us today?”

Rev. Appell is a pastor in the Mission Province of Sweden and an Instructor in Practical Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg. He is also one of the founders of the Corpus Christi conference.

The pop-up choir for the 2023 Corpus Christi Conference sings during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper.

Participants also had a choice of presentations each day made by Revs. Nathaniel Jensen (USA/Germany), Samuli Siikavirta (Finland), and Tapani Simojoki (Engliand/Finland). Rev. Jensen addressed “Basic Lutheran Doctrine” in the areas of 1) Justification, 2) the Lord’s Supper, and 3) Man and Woman. Rev. Siikavirta addressed the topic of “Confessing Christ” in 1) the Liturgy of the Divine Service, 2) Baptism and after Baptism, and 3) the Prayer Life of the Home. Rev. Simojoki addressed the subject of “Confessing Christ” to 1) Unbelievers and Members of Other Religions, 2) Evangelicals and Charismatics, and 3) Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. A fourth option alongside these presentations was participation in sessions of the Network of Young Lutheran Theologians (NYLT). Rev. John Bombaro (Czech Republic/USA) led these sessions.

Some of the participants at the 2023 Corpus Christi Conference. (Photo: Corpus Christi’s social media.)

Additional discussion groups and seminars offered in various languages throughout the conference addressed subjects ranging from artificial intelligence and climate change to reading the Old Testament in the light of Christ and the concept of vocation in Titus 2.

Participants also held a special commemoration of Bishop Bo Giertz of Sweden, as this summer marked the 25th anniversary of his death. Giertz’ novels and spiritual writings—which can be found in English, German, and the Nordic languages—continue to comfort and instruct Lutherans across the world. All participants at the 2023 Corpus Christ Conference received a copy of the booklet Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening, which is an excerpt from a work written by Giertz in 1949 upon being made a bishop.

Some of the participants at the 2023 Corpus Christi Conference. (Photo: Corpus Christi’s social media.)

The Corpus Christi Conference is an annual event which brings together confessional Lutheran young adults from across Europe for biblical teaching, liturgical worship, and international fellowship. Corpus Christi describes itself as “an independent Evangelical Lutheran association promoting churchly and biblical renewal among young adults in Europe.”

Additional information on the Corpus Christi Conference can be found at their website at Video of worship and conference presentations can be found on their YouTube channel.


“Bible Trial” in Finland to resume at Court of Appeals

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen speak before trial proceedings on February 14, 2022. (Photo: ELMDF).

FINLAND – From August 31 to September 1, Finland’s “Bible Trial” is scheduled to resume, this time at the Helsinki Court of Appeals.

In 2022, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish Member of Parliament, were put on trial for their expression of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. The charges stemmed from the 2004 publication of a booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen and published by Bishop Pohjola, as well as other public statements by Dr. Räsänen, including a tweet which featured an image of a Bible verse.

The decision to prosecute the two drew widespread international concern over what the case meant for freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland. The International Lutheran Council (ILC) called for the charges to be dropped, publishing a letter of protest signed by 48 ecclesiastical leaders representing 45 Lutheran church bodies from across the world. “The actions of the Finnish State in prosecuting Christians for holding to the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus regarding marriage and sex (Matthew 19:4-6) are egregious,” the letter states. “And this particularly so since the accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.”

The trial—which took place in January and February of 2022—brought those concerns to a head, with observers expressing shock over the Finnish Prosecutor General’s attack on the defendants’ religious beliefs. While suggesting in her opening remarks that the trial would not be about the Bible, the Prosecutor General nevertheless repeatedly challenged Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen on religious doctrine, questioning them on the nature of Scripture, hermeneutics, and the Christian understanding of sin.

Ultimately, a three-judge panel at the District Court of Helsinki unanimously ruled that Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen should be acquitted on all charges. In their decision, they stressed that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts,” and further ordered the state to pay the legal costs of the defense.

The Prosecutor General subsequently appealed the decision. The Helsinki Court of Appeals will take up the matter on August 31 and September 1.

In July, the International Lutheran Council reaffirmed its support for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen in the leadup to the hearings at the Court of Appeals. “This represents nothing less than a years-long relentless attack against free speech, religious expression, personal moral integrity, and limited government’s proper sphere of jurisdiction,” the new letter says. “We call on all people of good will to condemn this unconscionable prosecution, to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, and to pray for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and their acquittal.”


German Lutherans declare fellowship with Latvia

Participants at SELK’s Synod in Gotha.

GERMANY – The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch Lutherische Kirche – SELK) of Germany held the first meeting of its 15th Synod in Gotha from June 13-17, during which time the church declared fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski Luteriskā Baznīca – LELB).

SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt greeted the declaration of fellowship with joy. “Such ecclesial communion is a gift that we can only gratefully state and accept,” he said. “The relationship between our churches has grown steadily over the past three decades. We are united in our commitment to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as to the Book of Concord, because in it the doctrine of the Lutheran Church is faithfully presented.”

Bishop Voigt went on to say that SELK wants to continue working to deepen ecclesiastical relations between the two churches, particularly by bringing congregations and church ministries into greater contact with one another than has been the case in the past.

The LELB’s Rev. Andris Kraulins addresses SELK’s synod in Gotha.

Rev. Andris Kraulins, head of the LELB’s department for international affairs, was also present as a guest at SELK’s Synod in Gotha. Our relationship with SELK began almost 30 years ago,” he noted. “During these years, we have been by each other’s side in joys and sorrows. We have learned from each other and strengthened each other in faith.”

“We at LELB are very happy because we are united with our brothers and sisters of SELK in an even deeper sense,” Rev. Kraulins continued. “Our Lord Christ is pleased that at a time when many are divided and the world emphasizes only the individual needs of each, we are united in Him!”

This was the inaugural meeting of the SELK’s 15th Synod. Additional meetings are scheduled to take place in 2024 and 2025, with the former being an online consultation and the latter being an in-person gathering.

The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.


LCMS convention celebrates fellowship with five church bodies

USA – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) held its 68th Synodical Convention from July 28-August 3 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during which time the church newly recognized fellowship with two church bodies in Uganda and Ukraine, affirmed fellowship with two others in South Sudan/Sudan and Finland, and recognized a fifth in Sri Lanka as a self-governing partner church. The decisions came during the afternoon session of July 30.

The LCMS’ new partners include the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan/Sudan (ELCSS/S); the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF); the Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU); the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (ELCU); and the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC). All were received unanimously.

South Sudan/Sudan and Finland

The first two votes saw the endorsement of previous declarations of fellowship made by the LCMS president during the past triennium. Under LCMS bylaws, the president of synod can declare fellowship between the LCMS and emerging confessional Lutheran church bodies on the recommendation of the Commission of Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), with the decisions to then be ratified during the next synodical convention.

ELCS/SS Bishop Peter Anibati Abia.

President Matthew Harrison—who was reelected in advance of the convention—initially declared fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan/Sudan in 2022. The LCMS and the Lutheran Heritage Foundation have enjoyed a cooperative relationship with the ELCSS/S going back to the 1990s.

“I give thanks to God Almighty and to all of you, the delegates, for endorsing the declaration of altar and pulpit fellowship between our two churches,” said ELCSS/S Bishop Peter Anibati Abia following the vote. “I invite you to join hands with us so that we together can bring the joy of the Gospel to many who are lost.”

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison also declared fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese in 2020, and the convention vote endorses that decision. The ELMDF and the LCMS began fellowship talks in 2017.

ELMDF Bishop Pohjola greeted the affirmation with joy. “What a gift to confess together Christ crucified!” he said. “What a gift to receive together the gifts of the cross: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. What a gift to drink from the same chalice in unity of faith. What a gift to share the Gospel of salvation in the same mission work to the world. And what a gift to pray and support each other in the midst of trials and hostility.”

Uganda and Ukraine

LCU Bishop Charles Bameka

The convention then turned to new declarations of fellowship. The first of these was with the Lutheran Church of Uganda. The LCMS previously participated in mission work in Uganda alongside the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, which began work in the country in 1993. The LCU became self-governing in 2015.

“It is the hope of the Lutheran Church of Uganda that in this fellowship The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will continue to walk with us,” said LCU Bishop Charles Bameka, noting the new fellowship declaration was the culmination of a process that first began in 2016. “May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit lead and guide us as we together preach Christ crucified. Amen.”

ELCU Bishop Serge Maschewski

Then came a vote to recognize fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine. The church body emerged out of a 2015 split in the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, with confessional Lutherans coalescing around the emerging ELCU. LCMS ties to members in the ELCU go back to the 1990s.

“Today the Lord united us, and we today follow His words: ‘May they all be one as You, Father, are in Me and I in You. May they be one as We are one.’” said ELCU Bishop Serge Maschewski. “I thank God and you, brothers and sisters—participants of this convention—for this wonderful opportunity.” Bishop Maschewski then presented LCMS President Harrison with a damaged helmet that saved the bishop’s life when, while providing pastoral care in in Ukraine, a convoy of vehicles in which he was traveling was hit by a missile strike. The helmet—which was provided thanks to LCMS support—is a potent symbol of the two churches’ partnership in support of the Gospel amidst the difficulties of this world.

Sri Lanka

Rev. Steven Mahlburg, LCMS missionary to Sri Lanka, reads greetings from CELC Bishop Arumanayagam Arulchelvan.

The fifth church with which the convention recognized fellowship was the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) in Sri Lanka. The CELC grew out of the mission efforts of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and is a successor church to a previous LCMS partner: the Lanka Lutheran Church, whose legal status had lapsed. The new vote reestablishes the recognition of fellowship with Sri Lankan Lutherans as a self-governing church body.

CELC Bishop Arumanayagam Arulchelvan was unable to attend the convention in person but sent greetings in a letter which was read to the delegates. The LCMS and the CELC both “remain committed to upholding sound confessional Lutheran theology, fervently sharing the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus and demonstrating God’s love through acts of mercy to those in need,” he wrote. “I humbly invite you to join hands with us so that together we can bring the joy of the Gospel to the many who are lost. May the name of the Lord be praised now and forevermore.”

Broken Ties

A day later on July 31, the LCMS convention took up the sadder business of recognizing the loss of fellowship with the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC). The move came after growing disagreement between the two church bodies on ordination and other subjects, culminating in the JLC’s 2021 decision to alter its constitution and bylaws to remove the requirement that those ordained to pastoral ministry be male.

The LCMS therefore adopted a resolution recognizing that “the LCMS with deep sorrow and regret declares that it can no longer recognize altar and pulpit fellowship with the JLC,” while at the same time acknowledging the LCMS’ “own shortcomings and failures in not giving adequate attention to these theological concerns.” The resolution ends with a commitment to remain “open and eager to pursuing further doctrinal discussions with the JLC should the JLC at any time be open to such discussions in the hope that by God’s grace our church bodies might once again attain complete agreement in doctrine and practice and once again enjoy the gift of God-given and God-pleasing altar and pulpit fellowship.”

Concurrent with the synodical convention, the LCMS also held an International Church Relations Forum, with more than 40 international representatives present for the event. Participants, some of whom also addressed convention delegates and participated in convention events, enjoyed a schedule of worship, theological presentations, and discussion time.


A Reaffirmation of the ILC’s 2021 letter protesting religious persecution in Finland

FINLAND – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) have published a new letter reaffirming their support for Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish Member of Parliament. Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen are being prosecuted in Finland for their expression of historic Christian teaching.

“We call on all people of good will to condemn this unconscionable prosecution, to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, and to pray for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and their acquittal,” the letter states. “When we compromise on freedom for just one or two, we ultimately place freedom at risk for all.”

The new letter, which is signed by ILC General Secretary Timothy C.J. Quill, LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison, and LCMS Director of Church Relations Jonathan E. Shaw, reaffirms an earlier 2021 ILC statement entitled “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland: An International Lutheran Condemnation of the Unjust Criminal Prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, and a Call for All People of Good Will to Support the Freedom of Religious Expression in Finland.” That statement was signed by 48 ecclesial leaders and 45 church bodies and associations, representing hundreds of millions of Lutherans worldwide.

Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen were put on trial in 2022 for the publication of a 2004 pamphlet which had articulated historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. While the Helsinki District Court acquitted them unanimously in 2022, Finland’s Prosecutor General appealed the decision. Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen will face trial again at the Helsinki Court of Appeals from August 22-24, 2023.

The new letter condemns the continued prosecution, saying: “This represents nothing less than a years-long relentless attack against free speech, religious expression, personal moral integrity, and limited government’s proper sphere of jurisdiction as articulated in the Constitution of Finland, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Download the full letter here or read it below:


ELC meets in Germany for 27th conference

Delegates and guests at the 27th European Lutheran Conference.

GERMANY – Delegates and guests from thirteen European countries, the United States, and Canada gathered from June 14-17 in Essen, Germany for the 27th European Lutheran Conference (ELC). The event took place just after a gathering of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) European Region in the same location.

This was the first in-person meeting of the ELC since the COVID-19 pandemic. The ELC normally meets every two years, and brings together clergy and laity from confessional Lutheran churches across Europe.

The theme for this year’s gathering was “Gender and Church: From a Theological, Legal, and Personal Perspective.” What might be a taboo subject for some Christians to talk about was boldly addressed by three keynote speakers and intensive discussions afterwards.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Barnbrock (Oberursel, Germany) presented his thoughts under the title: “Living as a Christian in a Rapidly Changing World: Reflections Based on the Example of the Gender Debate.” The second paper was given by the lawyer and notary Claudia Hüstebeck (Göttingen, Germany), discussing “Gender and Church” from a legal perspective. The third paper was a personal account by ILC Chairman Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. Bishop Pohjola spoke about the legal trial he has faced in Finland as a result of the 2004 publication of a booklet on the topic of human sexuality.

While the European Lutheran Conference does not give guidelines about how churches should act, it nevertheless encourages member and guest churches to learn from the papers and discussions at its conferences. Individual churches must of course address these many theological and practical questions directly themselves. However, the discussions of the ELC’s 27th conference concluded that the blessing of same-sex partnerships or marriages is not possible, because they are contrary to the will of God. According to His Word, God has planned marriage to take place between man and woman, a relationship with the potential to be blessed with children.

The ELC steering committee (l-r): Rev. Claudio Flor, Secretary; Rev. Klaus Pahlen, President; and Rev. Philippe Volff, Vice-President

The next gathering of the ELC will be held in either Denmark, Portugal, or Norway, and will be organised by the new steering committee: Rev. Klaus Pahlen (Germany), who was reelected as ELC president; Rev. Philippe Volff (France), who was newly elected as Vice President; and Rev. Claudio Flor (United Kingdom), who was reelected as Secretary.

The European Lutheran Conference is an association of confessional evangelical Lutheran churches in Europe.


From a report by the European Lutheran Conference

Flung to the Heedless Winds

The martyrdom of Jan van Essen and Hendrik Voes. Image: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

BELGIUM – July 1, 2023 marks the 500th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jan van Essen and Hendrik Voes (Vos) in Antwerp, Belgium—the first Lutheran martyrs of the Reformation. In the following article, President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België – ELKB) reflects on how the Reformation came to Antwerp and the events surrounding the death of Essen and Voes.


July 1, 1523: 500 years since the first martyrs of the Reformation

by Gijsbertus van Hattem

The Reformation in Antwerp

On September 2, 1566—almost 50 years after the start of the Reformation on October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed his theses on and against indulgences to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg—the first Lutheran Church was officially organized in Antwerp.

This does not mean that there were no Protestants or, more specifically, no Lutherans in Antwerp during these 50 years. Antwerp was a thriving city and, at the time, after Paris the largest European metropolis north of the Alps, with around one hundred thousand inhabitants. Also, because of its contacts with the Hanseatic League (a trade organization of cities in north and north-west Europe), merchants of many nationalities lived in Antwerp.

Almost immediately after the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, his ideas were circulating in Antwerp among the brothers of his own Augustinian order, whose monastery was located where today the St. Andrew’s Church stands (successor of the former monastery church). This monastery was founded in 1513, on grounds given by the Antwerp citizens Joost Hoens and Marcus Mussche, and had strong ties with Wittenberg. Jacob Praepositus, the prior, had been a student of Luther’s before he returned to Antwerp in 1521. Other well-known names are those of Hendrik van Zutphen, who also studied at Wittenberg, Hendrik Voes (or Vos), and Jan van Essen, and several others. They openly advocated the Reformation ideas and spoke against false doctrines and practices in the Catholic Church. Many citizens accepted the new teachings. And then of course there were the influential German merchants who controlled a large share of the trade in Antwerp and played an important role in bringing the Reformation to the Low Countries. This all contributed to the presence of a fairly large community of Lutherans in the early 1520s. The reaction of the government came without delay, and soon the first heretics would be burned at the stake.

The so-called Low Countries or the Netherlands were part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation of Charles V (1500–1558). Antwerp belonged, like Brussels, to Brabant. Charles V was not in favor of the new ideas which were being disseminated throughout his empire. In April 1521, at the Diet in Worms, Luther was outlawed. Throughout the entire empire, actions against the Reformation were also being undertaken, with the emperor issuing laws against the heretics—the so-called ketterplakkaten (edicts against the heretic)—and fostering the Inquisition.

Luther’s song “Ein neues Lied wir heben an.”

The consequences were soon also felt in Antwerp. The monastery of the Augustinians was demolished in October 1522. That same year, Praepositus was imprisoned, but recanted, changed his mind again, and managed then to flee the city to become a pastor in Bremen. The same happened to Van Zutphen, the new prior, who also escaped. However, Hendrik Voes and Jan van Essen were imprisoned, refused to recant, and on July 1, 1523 were burned at the stake at the Grote Markt in Brussels. They are considered the first two Lutheran martyrs. When Luther heard about the executions, he wrote a comforting “Letter to the Christians in the Low Countries” and composed the hymn “Ein neues Lied wir heben an” (“A New Song Be By Us Begun”).

A paraphrase of a small portion of the song is known in English as “Flung to the Heedless Winds” (TLH 259). The first verse of that paraphrase reads:

Flung to the heedless winds
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs’ ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.
And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed
Of witnesses for God.


Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem is President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium. The article above is selected and adapted from his 2018 book 450 Jaar Lutheran Church in Antwerp, which recounts the history of the Reformation in Antwerp in both English and Dutch (Flemish).

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