COVID-19 and ILC churches in Argentina, Belgium, and South Sudan

Choir members of Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Bahía Blanca (Buenos Aires, Argentina) sing “Yo sé que vive el Salvador” (I know that my Redeemer Lives) for online Easter celebrations in this YouTube video.

WORLD – Member churches of the International Lutheran Council continue to reach out with the good news of the Gospel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this article, we highlight the situation facing ILC member churches in Argentina, Belgium, and South Sudan.

Argentina

Argentina has reported 2,669 cases of COVID-19 so far, with 123 deaths. The country has been in lockdown since March 20, with the general public allowed to leave their homes only to buy food or medicine.

As church services are currently prohibited, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Argentina – IELA) has responded by equipping members for home devotions. Pastors are offering resources ranging from written liturgy and sermon, to audio, to video. Many churches are livestreaming services for members, or uploading them to YouTube. During the week, several churches are also hosting Bible studies on Facebook or other platforms.

“We emphasize communication among our members as a way to care for and sustain ourselves in this difficult time,” explains IELA Pastor President Arturo E. Truenow. Pastors are using phone and video calls to provide spiritual support. In cases of dire need, pastors are currently allowed to visit a member’s home.

The IELA is providing various resources for members through its website. There members can find brief devotionals, Bible studies, and free access to the church’s national magazine El Nuevo Luterano. The church has also issued an internal document to pastors and parishes reporting IELA board decisions regarding the COVID-19 crisis

The church’s seminary has moved education online, as have the IELA’s ten schools. The church schools, however, are facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic and are struggling to pay wages for teachers and administrative staff.

The many challenges in this situation should lead us back to God in prayer, says Pastor President Truenow. “We continue to pray that God will soon free us from this pandemic, and, in the meantime, keep us firm in the faith, take care of us, and assist us in caring for others.”

 

Belgium

Belgium has been particularly hit hard with COVID-19, with one of the highest reported death rates for the disease in the world. More than 36,138 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country, with 5,163 deaths. Belgium has been in lockdown since March 18, and containment measures are scheduled to last at least until the beginning of May.

ELKB President van Hattem brings Easter greetings to members of the church online.

In the midst of the crisis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België – ELKB) continues to reach out with the good news of the Gospel, making devotions, liturgy, and video of worship services available online.

In a letter to the church, ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem reflected on the meaning of the word “quarantine.” The word, he explains, originally refered to a 40-day period of isolation following the arrival of ships in Venice around the 15th century. “The number forty plays a major role in the Bible” too, President van Hattem notes: forty days and nights of rain during the Flood; forty years in the desert for the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land; forty days of temptation for Jesus in the garden; forty days of post-resurrection appearances by Jesus before His ascension into heaven. And Lent, drawn from these biblical examples, is likewise a season forty days in length.

“In the Bible, the number forty represents a change, a preparation time for something else or something new, something better,” President van Hattem writes. “In the current quarantine, we naturally hope that afterwards the COVID-19 virus will be manageable.” But there may be other changes too, he says: challenges like economic stagnation, yes, but also environmental healing, air-quality improvements, and reduced crime.

President van Hattem encourages the members of the ELKB to also use the figurative “forty days” of the COVID-19 quarantine for spiritual change as well. “In these forty days of Lent, an additional time to reflect is given to us,” he writes, “to reflect on the future of our earth, on our relationship with God and with those around us. By spending more time at home, we all of a sudden have more time to read God’s Word.”

“The churches are still closed for the time being—we are in the desert,” he says. “But the churches will open again—the promised land lays ahead. And then we will thank and praise God with renewed courage and faith, and again receive His Word and Sacrament.”

 

South Sudan

The country of South Sudan currently reports four cases of COVID-19. But the nation has limited medical resources, and so there are concerns that an outbreak in the region could be particularly deadly. To curb the spread of disease, South Sudan enacted containment measures even before confirmation of the virus in the country.

SSELC Bishop Nathaniel Bol Nyok

The South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church (SSELC) is facing substantial difficulties in ministering to its members as a result of the crisis. “Technology is still a nightmare in most areas,” notes SSELC Bishop Nathaniel Bol Nyok. “Lack of technology has made it impossible for the church to provide online worship services as is being done in countries with better internet.”

Pastors continue to minister to parishioners as they are able, while observing social distancing. Those with cellphones are also being ministered to in this way.

“Despite all this, Christ is risen and He is alive, and there is nothing that can separate us from the love and care of the risen Lord Jesus Christ,” encourages Bishop Nyok. “He is a conqueror who, through His death and resurrection, has conquered everything—including COVID-19. Christ has liberated us from fear because we live and die in Him.”

“It is my prayer that the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by His grace, mercy, and love for His Church and for the whole human race, will bring this pandemic to an end quickly,” he says.

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For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

“The ILC is Growing”: Papers from 2015 World Conference published

Journal-Lutheran-Mission-ILC-coverONLINE – Presentations from the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 25th World Conference (held in Buenos Aires, Argentina September 23-26, 2015) have been published in a special issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission.

In a preface to the issue, ILC Vice Chairman Robert Bugbee reflects on the continuing growth of the ILC. “This is not only true from the perspective of membership numbers and statistics,” he notes. “There is a rising urgency within the Council to become more vigorous in its goal of extending the reach of a truly confessional Lutheran witness to additional places throughout the world. The Council’s leadership is currently grappling with concrete plans to bring that about.”

Such growth has more to do with than just ILC infrastructure of course. “If this growth had only to do with a human agency, its structures, personnel, and funding, it would be of little moment to those who care deeply about the mission of Christ’s church in the world,” Vice Chairman Bugbee explains. “For us, the happiest news flash is the one St. Paul identified long ago when he wrote his friends of ‘the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing’ (Col. 1:5-6).

That emphasis on Gospel-proclamation ties into the ILC’s 25th World Conference in Buenos Aires, where the theme was “Bringing the Reformation to the World.” Papers presented at that conference focused on proclaiming Reformation truths to a contemporary world, and are now available in this special issue of Journal of Lutheran Mission. In addition to the convention’s Keynote Address on “The Augsburg Confession in the 21st Century,” the issue includes lectures, reports, and sermons. It also includes a statement adopted by the ILC at its world conference on the document “From Conflict to Communion,” a document published by the Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholics regarding the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

To read this special ILC issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission, see the embedded document below or click one of the links below. You may also download the full issue in pdf format here.

Among other material, the issue includes:

  1. A Sermon for the International Lutheran Council—2015 World Conference, Buenos Aires, Argentina by ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt.
  2. The Augsburg Confession in the 21st Century: Confessing the Faith Once for All Delivered by Rev. Alexey Streltsov.
  3. The Report of the ILC’s Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt.
  4. A Statement from the International Lutheran Council on the Document ‘From Conflict to Communion:’ Lutheran—Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation 2017
  5. A Sermon on St. Michael and All Angels (Luke 10:20; Rev. 12:11) by Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III.
  6. Our Confession in Augustana IV-VI by Rev. Sergio Adrián Fritzler.
  7. A Devotion on Matthew 6:24-34 by Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast.
  8. Augustana VII: The Church and Fellowship by Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III.
  9. Bringing the Reformation to the World: The Means of Grace by Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt.
  10. Faith, Ethnicity, and Social Issues in the Thoughts and Work of Pastor Vladislav Santarius by Rev. Dr. Martin Pię

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ILC World Conference reflects on the relevance of the Augsburg Confession today

Essayists: Rev. Sergio Adrián Fritzler,
Essayists: Rev. Sergio Adrián Fritzler, ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, and Rev. Dr. Albert Collver.

ARGENTINA – Throughout the 2015 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), Lutheran leaders from around the world considered the continuing relevance of the Reformation for today. In doing so, they focused their attention especially on the Augsburg Confession.

The first day of the conference welcomed a keynote address on the subject by Rev. Alexey Streltsov, rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary in the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church. A series of three essays followed over the next days, building on the topics raised in the keynote address.

The first essay focused on Articles 4-6 of the Augsburg Confession and was presented by Rev. Sergio Adrián Fritzler (Director of Concordia Seminary in Buenos Aires). His essay examined the relationship between justifying faith and the office of preaching—the means by which justifying faith is granted, through Gospel proclamation and Sacraments. This faith, he continued, brings about the new obedience in which Christians serve their neighbours in love.

The second essay was led by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (Executive Secretary of the ILC), and focused on the seventh article of the Augsburg Confession. Dr. Collver examined the Confession’s teaching on the doctrine of the church in relation to contemporary questions of ecumenical relations vis-à-vis the approaches taken by other groups.

The final essay, given by ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, focused on Articles 9 and 10 of the Augsburg Confession and the Means of Grace. In addition to speaking about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and confession and absolution, Chairman Voigt also discussed the nature of ordination. In all of these subjects, Chairman Voigt suggested that we must take pains to ensure our practice in all these matters corresponds to our beliefs.

All of these essays will be released for download online at a later date.

World Conference participants also benefited from a series of Bible studies intended to complement themes brought up in the major essays. Bible Study leaders included: Bishop Modise Maragelo of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (speaking on Romans 3:21-31); Rev. Dr. Jose Pfaffenzeller, Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Concordia Seminary in Buenos Aires (speaking on Ephesians 4:1-16), and President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada (speaking on 1 Corinthians 11:17-29).

Throughout the conference, Matins and Vespers homilies were presented by  ILC Chairman Voigt, Dr. Collver, President Lawrence Rast (Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana), President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri SYnod, Vice-President Philippe Volff of the Evangelical Lutheran Church—Synod of France, and President Marvin Donaire of the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua.

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ILC leaders report, delegates discuss ecumenical relations

Discussion at the ILC's 2015 World Conference spill into the coffee break. Bishop Hans Jorg Voigt (ILC Chairman and head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany) and Chairman Jon Ehlers (Evangelical Church of England) speak with General Secretary Ofga Berhanu (Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus).
Discussion at the ILC’s 2015 World Conference spills into the coffee break. Bishop Hans Jorg Voigt (ILC Chairman and head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany) and Chairman Jon Ehlers (Evangelical Church of England) speak with General Secretary Ofga Berhanu (Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus).

ARGENTINA – The 2015 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) continued the afternoon of September 24 as delegates heard reports from the Executive Council and discussed ecumenical relations.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt gave his report to the conference in the afternoon, highlighting various successes of the past triennium, including joint relief and aid following Typhoon Haiyan, the ILC’s 2013 World Seminaries Conference held in Lithuania, new contacts between ILC churches and other Lutheran churches, and the 2015 Wittenberg Conference on global confessional leadership.

In his report, Chairman Voigt also noted the challenges the Church will face in the years to come. Among these challenges he identified the fact that faith in Christ continues to decrease in Western society; that worldwide persecution of Christians is on the rise; and the rise of the global refugee crisis. We must also learn anew to speak Christian wisdom and insight into the world around us, he suggested, stressing the importance of Christian though to the cultures in which we find ourselves. Finally, he suggested, the ILC must learn to look further forward and consider what form the International Lutheran Council should take going into the future.

That last topic led into the ILC’s Executive Secretary Al Collver’s report. Dr. Collver noted that the ILC has been undertaking in depth Strategic Planning over the past triennium. He indicated that he would be bringing the details of their findings forward to the Conference to discuss in the days to come.

Ecumenical relations

Among other subjects raised by Chairman Voigt in his report was that of ecumenical relations. He noted that planning meetings between the Pontifical Council for Promoting of Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the ILC have finalized the start date for informal theological dialogue between the two bodies. The first official meeting between the two dialogue groups will begin October 7. Representing the ILC are theologians from Germany (Werner Klän), Brazil (Gerson Linden), the United States of America (Roland Ziegler), and Canada (John Stephenson).

Delegates then turned their attention to a discussion of the document “From Conflict to Communion,” a reflection on Lutheran-Catholic dialogue produced by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church. The ILC’s dialogue representatives feel that providing a confessional Lutheran statement on “From Conflict to Communion” may serve as an appropriate first step in the informal dialogues between the PCPCU and the ILC. Such a statement might also be a productive means of engaging the LWF as well, it is hoped. Discussion of the response statement will continue into Friday’s business sessions.

The LWF is represented at the ILC’s World Conference in an observer capacity by Rev. Dr. Gloria Vargas, LWF Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean region. Dr. Vargas will have the opportunity to greet delegates on behalf of the LWF during Friday’s sessions.

World Area meetings

Following these discussions, delegates broke for World Area meetings. After this, the Conference heard World Area reports from Latin America. Each member church had the opportunity to discuss a bit of their church’s history as well as their present work. A recurring theme among many of the Latin America churches was many churches and mission opportunities but too few pastors to fill them—a situation where “the harvest is ready but the workers are few.”

Latin America church leaders report to the ILC.
Latin America church leaders report to the ILC.

The day ended with Vespers. President Lawrence Rast of Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) served as liturgist, while ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver gave a homily reflecting on angels and the devil. In the face of the evil in this world—war, sickness, suffering—it can feel as though Christ is not really victorious, Dr. Collver noted. But we must remember that Satan and his armies already stand defeated by the blood of Jesus and the Word of God. This is how St. Michael and his angels prevailed against the devil (Revelation 12:11), Dr. Collver explained. So too, we can trust that the blood of Christ and His Word have defeated Satan on our behalf too. This promise gives us comfort and hope to stand up against the suffering and evil we experience in this world.

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2015 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council begins in Argentina

Delegates at the 2015 ILC World Conference.
Delegates at the 2015 ILC World Conference.

ARGENTINA – The 25th (10th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) officially opened the morning of September 24, 2015 as Lutheran leaders from across the globe converged in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt delivers a homily.
Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt delivers a homily.

The ILC 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 ILC member churches and friends gather to conduct business, hold elections, and discuss challenges and opportunities facing the Church at large.

The conference began Thursday morning with a Matins service, with ILC Executive Secretary serving as liturgist. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany, gave the homily, drawing the parallels between the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the plight of Syrian refugees today. Like the Good Samaritan, he said, we too are called to care for the downtrodden—and Jesus, who is our own Good Neighbour, can give us the strength to do so despite our own weaknesses.

Bringing the Reformation to the World

A primary focus of the Thursday morning session was a keynote lecture from Rev. Alexey Streltsov, rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary in the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Rev. Streltsov was invited to speak on the topic of bringing the Reformation to the world in the 21st century.

That task assumes three different but related goals, he said. First, it requires us to “evangelize or re-evangelize the world outside the Church.” Second, we must “testify to the truth of the original Reformation to other Christian traditions.” And third, we must “correct errors in our own midst.”

Delegates listen to Rev. Alexey Streltsov's keynote lecture.
Delegates listen to Rev. Alexey Streltsov’s keynote lecture.

Rev. Streltsov explored these goals through a close reading of the Augsburg Confession. “We face a markedly different situation than that of the 16th century,” he explained, noting that the Reformers and their opponents all agreed on basic principles like faith in the Triune God. Today that is often not the case, at least in much of Western society. In other places, it is the challenge of Pentecostalism, he suggested, that will shape how Lutherans share their message with the world around them.

But though the challenges we face are not the same as our Lutheran forebears, we have the same mission: to correct error where we must, to maintain true faith where we have it, and to pass on that faith to others. We may face challenges, Rev. Streltsov said, but “Decay will always be followed by regeneration.”

“This is not the end,” he continued. “The end has come at the cross. And this end makes for us a new beginning.”

Churches apply for ILC membership

Also during Thursday morning, the ILC Executive Council introduced three Lutheran church bodies that have applied for membership in the International Lutheran Council. These applicants include two church bodies from Europe (Norway and Siberia) and one from South America (Nicaragua). Leaders of the three churches all addressed the conference, sharing their churches’ backgrounds and desire to join the International Lutheran Council.

Voting to receive the proposed new member churches will take place later in the conference.

The morning session ended with a Bible study on Romans 3:21-31 led by Bishop Modise Maragelo of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa.

The 2015 World Conference of the ILC runs September 24-27 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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Reflections on the ILC Latin America regional conference

by Egon Kopereck

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3).

President Egon Kopereck.
President Egon Kopereck.

It was with these words—first uttered by the people of Israel when, in an unexpected, wonderful, and surprising way they received the right, the permission of God to leave their captivity and to return to their own country—it was with these words, that the Latin-American Lutheran churches returned to their homes, having participated in the International Lutheran Council’s Regional Conference (held earlier this month in Caracas, Venezuala).

They were four wonderful days of fellowship, study, reflection, debate, reports, exchange of experiences, and mutual strengthening. Participants highlighted in this conference the importance of reading, meditating, and deepening ever more our study of the word of God. They also stressed the importance of Lutheran Hour ministry outreach, which opens doors for the Church’s mission.

Conference participants stressed the need to provide theological support to smaller Lutheran churches in the region, especially through the theological seminaries of Brazil and Argentina. By helping each other and looking for more opportunities to cooperate, they hope to take Christ’s message, the Gospel of salvation to all people, races, peoples and nations of Latin America and, where possible, to cross the seas with this challenge to go to the “ends of the Earth”—something Brazil is already doing in Africa with Mozambique and Angola.

In Latin America we have many challenges, many opportunities, and much work to do. People are thirsty for the water of life; if we don’t offer it, as Jesus asks us to, then people will turn to contaminated water—waters of death and not life.

People are thirsty for the water of life; if we don’t offer it, as Jesus asks us to, then people will turn to contaminated water—waters of death and not life.

Many of us today cannot imagine living in a house where you don’t have water: water to drink, water for washing, water for cooking, well-water. So too we cannot imagine a Christian home without the Bible, God’s Word, the water of life. Christian homes, satiated in their own spiritual thirst for truth, cannot look to others without extending to them the same blessing, without offering them that treasure of eternal life. They share it with their compatriots of all peoples, races, and nations. They share it with them who are dying of thirst and starvation.

With cheerful and grateful hearts, therefore, we also say: “The LORD has done great things for us” (Psalm 126:3). But on the other hand we also say with Nehemiah, “the work is great and widely spread” (Nehemiah 4:19). As the Israelites did then, so too we also “prayed to our God” (Nehemiah 4:9), that He would bless our lives and attitudes as people of God, and our testimony of what we believe and confess. May God bless the mission of the Christian Church throughout the world.

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Rev. Egon Kopereck is President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil and sits on the International Lutheran Council’s Executive as representative for Latin America.

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