Unity talks begin between South African Lutherans

LCSA Deputy Bishop Mandla Thwala, FELSISA Deputy Bishop Helmut Paul, FELSISA Bishop Dieter Reinstorf, the CLCSA’s Rev. Geoffrey Skosana, the LCSA’s Rev. John Nkambule, CLCSA Bishop Mandla Khumalo, and LCSA Bishop Modise Maragelo.

SOUTH AFRICA – On January 14, 2020 representatives of the three confessional Lutheran church bodies in South Africa met for a first round of unity talks in Pretoria.

The Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (LCSA) was represented by Bishop Modise Maragelo, Deputy Bishop Mandla Thwala and Rev. John Nkambule; the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA) by Bishop Dr. Dieter Reinstorf and Deputy Bishop Helmut Paul; and the Confessional Lutheran Church in South Africa (CLCSA) by Bishop Mandla Khumalo and Rev. Geoffrey Skosana.

These initial talks in Pretoria focused on establishing church fellowship between the LCSA and the FELSISA (who are already in declared church fellowship with one another) and the more recently established CLCSA. The foundational articles of the respective churches as well as the central doctrines of the Lutheran Church as contained in the Book of Concord were extensively discussed. The three churches will now provide feedback to their respective church councils in the hope that church fellowship will be formalized in upcoming church conventions.

These unity talks were largely prompted by discussions held at a meeting of the Africa Region of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held in Pretoria from September 17-20, 2019. At this meeting gratitude was expressed for the number of newly established confessional Lutheran churches in Africa, while also raising concern that many of these Lutheran Churches work independently without establishing formal relationships with other regional churches—something which creates a formal expression of unity in doctrine. As a result, the regional meeting adopted a motion to encourage confessional Lutheran Churches, especially those within the same country, to make every effort to keep the unity of the church. Part of this process is to formally establish church fellowship where there is agreement in doctrine and to consider amalgamation or the establishment of a federation of confessional churches.

The Lutheran Church in South Africa, the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa, and the Confessional Lutheran Church in South Africa are all members of the International Lutheran Council.

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LCMS recognizes fellowship with four new church bodies

The LCMS’ 2019 Synodical Convention (Screengrab).

USA – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod declared altar and pulpit fellowship with four church bodies during its 67th regular synodical convention held July 20-25, 2019 in Tampa, Florida.

The LCMS’ new church partners are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België – ELKB), the Portuguese Evangelical Lutheran Church (Igreja Evangélica Luterana Portuguesa – IELP), the Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa (CLCSA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (Den evangelisk-lutherske Frikirke i Danmark – ELFD).

While the LCMS has historical ties to all of these church bodies, the votes regularize relations with them. The LCMS was previously in fellowship with Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium when it was part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Synod of France and Belgium. The ELKB became self-governing in 2002, requiring the development of a new declaration of fellowship.

The LCMS has practiced assumed fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark for more than a century, having supported the church body since it was young and having trained many of its pastors. The new agreement regularizes that relationship, and follows the ELFD’s formal declaration of fellowship with the LCMS during its July 2018 convention.

The Portuguese Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in the 1959 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, when the Brazilian church was still a district of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The IELP contacted the LCMS in 2016 to request formal recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship, which was granted by the LCMS president. The 2019 LCMS convention has now endorsed that declaration of fellowship.

LCMS relations with the Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa predate the CLCSA’s official founding in 1989, with the CLCSA’s founding pastor having been provided by an LCMS seminary education. The CLCSA officially requested altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS in October 2015.

In addition to these declarations of fellowship, the 2019 Convention also moved to simply the recognition of fellowship for new church bodies emerging out of the mission efforts or reorganization of a pre-existing fellowship partner of the LCMS.

The LCMS also resolved to clarify its relationship with Lutherans in Sri Lanka, recognizing fellowship with the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC), which succeeds the defunct Lanka Lutheran Church. The Sri Lankan church grew out of LCMS missions in the country beginning in 1927, with the church becoming independent in 2001. The Sri Lankan government declared the church legally defunct in 2007; the church reconstituted and was legally recognized in 2017 as the CELC.

The LCMS, ELKB, IELP, CLCSA, ELFD, and CELC all hold varying forms of membership in the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies around the world. During the convention, the LCMS commended the work of the ILC and pledged its continuing support.

Other business

Among other work during the 2019 convention, the LCMS also adopted resolutions to encourage church planting; condemn the sin of racism; strengthen multi-ethnic outreach; encourage continued international theological education in aid of world Lutheran churches; engage in a comprehensive church worker recruitment initiative; and remember the needs of the persecuted church.

The LCMS also celebrated a number of milestones: the forthcoming 175th anniversary of Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) in 2020; 150 years since the founding of Concordia Publishing House; 125 years of international missions to areas outside North America; 125 years since the founding of Concordia University, Nebraska; 100 years of deaconess ministry; 100 years of campus ministry; 60 years of the Director of Christian Education program; and 25 years for the Lutheran Heritage Foundation. The church also commended the upcoming 175th anniversary of the LCMS in 2022.

The convention comes just a few weeks after the LCMS announced that President Matthew C. Harrison had been reelected to a fourth term. During convention, The LCMS elected Rev. Peter K. Lange as First Vice-President. Rev. Dr. John C. Wohlrabe Jr. will serve as Second Vice-President, Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray as Third Vice-President, Rev. Nabil S. Nour as Fourth Vice-President, Rev. Christopher S. Esget as Fifth Vice-President, and Rev. Benjamin T. Ball as Sixth Vice-President.

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