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Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity

Inaugural meeting of the Concordia Lutheran-Catholic Augustana Working Group

The Augustana Working Group holds its inaugural meeting in Rome on March 1, 2024.

On March 1, 2024, the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity (DPCU) hosted the inaugural meeting of the Concordia Lutheran–Catholic Augustana Working Group, which met in Rome until March 2, 2024.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the DPCU, welcomed the members of the working group and encouraged them to explore the pre-confessional/ecumenical potential of the Augsburg Confession in more detail in view of the 500th anniversary of the Confessio Augustana in 2030.

The Augustana Working Group includes representatives of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Catholic Church. Following the conclusion of the theological conversations between the ILC, an association of Concordia Lutheran churches, and the Catholic Church (2014–2019), both sides suggested the establishment of a working group as a distinct ecumenical-theological format.

The working group is not an official dialogue commission. The aim is not to produce a document of churchly consensus. However, the publication of the results of the joint research is intended to enrich the ecumenical discussion in an indirect way.

The working group is headed by two episcopal chairmen: on the Lutheran side by Bishop Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland / Chairman of the ILC; and on the Catholic side by Auxiliary Bishop Dr. Peter Birkhofer, Freiburg im Breisgau.

The working topic is: “Catholicity and Apostolicity in the Augsburg Confession, Examined in the Areas of Soteriology (Justification) and Ecclesiology (Ministry, Episcopate, and Ordination): a joint Lutheran–Catholic review of Augsburg Confession in a pre-confessional and ecumenical perspective.”

A total period of four years is planned for working on the topic. The next meeting will take place in Wittenberg on December 9 and 10, 2024.

Participants from the International Lutheran Council (ILC)

  • Bishop Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Helsinki, Finland (Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, ILC Chairman)
  • Prof. Dr. Joel Elowsky, St. Louis, Mo., USA
  • Prof. em. Dr. Werner Klän, D.Litt., Lübeck, Germany
  • Asst. Prof. Dr. Jonathan Mumme, Hillsdale, Mich., USA
  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Winger, St. Catharines, Ont., Canada
    ***
    Prof. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, Fort Wayne, Ind., USA (ILC General Secretary) – part-time participant, but not a member

Catholic Participants

  • Auxiliary Bishop Dr. Peter Birkhofer, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
  • Prof. Dr. Markus Lersch, Siegen, Germany
  • Dr. Tim Lindfeld, Aachen, Germany
  • Asst. Prof. Dr. James Prothro, Greenwood Village, Color., USA
  • Father Dr. Augustinus Sander OSB, Vatican (Permanent Representative of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity)

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The ILC’s 2022 World Conference in brief

Participants at the International Lutheran Council’s 2022 World Conference pose with the seminary community during a visit to Neema Lutheran College in Matongo, Kenya. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

KENYA – The 27th (12th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) took place September 13-16, 2022 in Kisumu, Kenya, during which time the council elected a new chairman: Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF).

A New Chairman for the ILC

Bishop Juhana Pohjola presents during the ILC’s 2022 World Conference.

Bishop Pohjola was acclaimed as the ILC’s new chairman without opposition. Bishop Pohjola was catapulted to worldwide media attention in 2021 after Finland’s Prosecutor General charged him and a Finnish M.P., Dr. Päivi Räsänen, with hate crimes for the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. While the two were subsequently acquitted in early 2022, Finland’s Prosecutor General has since appealed, meaning the case is not yet over.

Chairman Pohjola succeeds Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Bishop Voigt, who announced earlier in the World Conference that he would not be standing for reelection, served as ILC Chairman for twelve years from 2010-2022. Prior to that, he served the ILC as Vice Chairman and as Europe Region representative, for a total of 15 years of uninterrupted service on the board.

Elected to serve as ILC Secretary during the 2022 World Conference was Bishop John Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana. Acclaimed to serve as World Region representatives were: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya) for Africa; President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Lutheran Church in the Philippines) for Asia; Chairman George Samiec (Evangelical Lutheran Church of England) for Europe; President Alceu Alton Figur (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay) for Latin America; and President Timothy Teuscher (Lutheran Church–Canada) for North America.

The International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors for the new triennium. Left to right: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Kenya); President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Philippines); Chairman George Samiec (United Kingdom); Bishop John Donkoh (Ghana); Past President Robert Bugbee (Canada); Bishop Juhana Pohjola (Finland); President Timothy Teuscher (Canada); ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill; President Alceu Alton Figur (Paraguay); and President Matthew Harrison (USA). LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

The ILC’s board of directors also includes two other members who are appointed under other criteria. Past President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) remain on the board in this capacity.

ILC welcomes new members

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and General Secretary Timothy Quill welcome the newest members of the ILC. Left to right: Chairman Voigt, Archbishop Jānis Vanags of Latvia, President Limberth Fernandez Coronado of Bolivia, Pastor Patricio Mora Reyes of Panama, and General Secretary Quill.

The conference brought together church leaders representing 55 church bodies from around the world, including members and guests. Reflecting the ILC’s continued growth, the 2022 World Conference voted to accept two church bodies as full members and one as an associate member. The conference also formally welcomed ten new observer members accepted into the ILC since the last world conference.

The Christian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bolivia (previously accepted as an Associate Member in 2001) was welcomed as a full member. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (accepted as an observer in early 2022) was also accepted as a full member. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Panama, meanwhile, was newly accepted as an associate member.

Observer membership in the ILC can be granted by the Board of Directors without needing to wait until a world conference. In total, the board has accepted ten new observer members—all from Africa—since the last World Conference in 2018: the Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burundi; the Lutheran Church in Africa – Burundi Synod; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Congo; the Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium of Kenya; the Lutheran Church in Africa – Côte d’Ivoire; the Confessional Lutheran Church – Malawi Synod; the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in Rwanda; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan and Sudan. The Lake Tanganyika Diocese and the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania make up the remaining two new observer members (accepted as “recognized organizations”).

Welcoming new observer members accepted into the ILC since the 2018 World Conference.

Liturgy and Ecumenical Relations

The theme for the ILC’s 2022 World Conference was “Liturgy and Culture: How Worship Shapes our Life Together and Why We Do What We Do.” Serving as essayists were Bishop Juhana Pohjola of Finland; Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki (Fort Wayne, USA); and Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov (Novosibirsk, Russia), with an additional presentation by Bishop Juan Pablo Lanterna of Chile.

Based on these presentations and ensuing discussion, the conference ultimately adopted a summary Statement on Liturgy and Culture. It further decided unanimously to produce a statement rejecting virtual communion.

Among other business, the World Conference also received a report on the results of the ILC’s recent ecumenical discussions with the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The Final Report on those discussions was published in 2021, and found significant convergences between the two traditions in a number of areas.

In light of this report, and taking into account the written recommendation of Cardinal Kurt Koch of the PCPCU and ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, the ILC World Conference adopted a resolution calling for continued ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church in the leadup to the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030.

Additional news on the ILC’s 2022 World Conference can be found here.

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2022 World Conference: ILC approves further ecumenical discussions with the Roman Catholic Church

Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Germany), joined by Rev. Dr. Gerson Linden (Brazil), reports on the results of the ILC’s theological conversations with the PCPCU.

KENYA – On September 16, 2022 the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference adopted a resolution calling for continued ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church, and approving the Final Report of the conversations of the ILC and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) which was published in 2020.

Discussion of the topic began the morning of September 14, 2022, when Rev. Dr. Werner Klän of Germany reported on the results of the theological discussions between the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (which has recently been renamed the Dicastery from Promoting Christian Unity). The Final Report on the conversations was jointly published by the ILC and the PCPCU in 2021, and found significant convergences between the two traditions in a number of areas.

In a written response to the report, Cardinal Kurt Koch of the PCPCU expressed pleasure at the warming of relations between the churches of the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church. On the basis of the report’s “valuable theological contribution to Concordia Lutheran-Catholic ecumenism”, he went on to encourage “the founding of a joint Concordia Lutheran-Catholic working group” as a forum for continued conversation between the PCPCU (now the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity) and the International Lutheran Council. In particular, he suggested such a working group take on the task of providing a joint rereading of the Augsburg Confession (AC) between Roman Catholics and the ILC in the leadup to the 500th anniversary of the publication of the AC in 2030.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt likewise welcomed the results of the international discussions after the Final Report was released, writing that the “process of reception [of the Final Report] in the churches of the ILC has already begun.” He concurred with Cardinal Koch’s suggestion of the founding of a working group, calling it a “very appropriate way of deepening common theological work.”

Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue

In his report to the conference, Dr. Klän went on to note the positive response to the Final Report already seen in ILC churches in Germany and Australia, while Rev. Dr. Gerson Linden of Brazil—another member of the dialogue group—likewise commented on its usefulness in the Latin American context. Dr. Klän encouraged the 2022 World Conference to receive the suggestions of Cardinal Koch and ILC Chairman Voigt, and adopt a resolution committing to continued ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church.

That resolution came before the World Conference on September 16, during which time the ILC adopted a resolution “To Approve the Report of the ILC/PCPCU Dialogue Group and to Carry Forward their Work.”

In the resolution, the 27th ILC World Conference notes “its sincere thanks both to the Roman Catholic and the confessional Lutheran representatives in this dialogue for their efforts and preparation of the Final Report.”

“The ILC herewith approves the Final Report and supports the continuation of contacts and conversations in appropriate ways and formats,” it continues.

“The 27th ILC World Conference expresses hope that further theological work be done between representatives of the ILC and the PCPCU in the leadup to the 500th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030,” the resolution goes on to say. To that end, it instructs the ILC’s board “to begin planning (including funding appropriation) for our Council to continue this theological engagement between confessional Lutherans and the Catholic Church,” encouraging “particular focus on the issues of apostolicity and catholicity.”

You can download the full resolution here.

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