European Lutheran Conference meets in Belgium, celebrates 450th anniversary of first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp

Delegates to the 2016 meeting of the European Lutheran Conference.
Delegates to the 2016 meeting of the European Lutheran Conference.

BELGIUM – From June 1-5, 2016 Lutherans from several European Lutheran churches assembled in Antwerp, Belgium, for the 24th European Lutheran Conference (ELC), under the theme ‘Reformation then … and now.’

The conference was attended by ELC member churches representatives from Belgium, Denmark, England, France, and Germany, as well as by guests from the Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States of America.

A keynote address on the conference’s theme was delivered by Dr. Werner Klän of Germany. An opening service, morning devotions with Bible studies, and evening prayers shaped the spiritual frame of the conference. Several of the guest churches in attendance have expressed their intention to apply for membership in the coming years.

A special focus of this year’s conference was the commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp, which was founded in 1566. From June 2-3, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) hosted an international conference highlighting this event, organized by ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem in cooperation with the University of Antwerp, and held at the Rubenianum.

Participants in the International Conference recognizing the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp.
Participants in the International Conference recognizing the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp.

The conference was opened with two keynote lectures: “The International Dimensions of the Wittenberg Reformation” by Dr. Robert Kolb (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri), and “Reformation Movements and the Wonderyear: the Antwerp Context” by Dr. Guido Marnef (University of Antwerp). The second day of the conference featured six additional lectures:  “The Role of Antwerp’s Reformed Augustinians in the Early Reformation” by Dr. Robert Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa);  “Humanists on the Move: The Transfer of Ideas Between Wittenberg and Antwerp” by Dr. Victoria Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa); “The First Lutheran Congregation 1566–1585 and Beyond” by Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Lutheran Church of Antwerp, Belgium); “Polemics, Church Order and Confession: Matthias Flacius Illyricus in Antwerp during the ‘Wonderjaar’ 1566/67” by Dr.  Luka Ilic (Leibniz Institute, Mainz, Germany); “Christopher Plantin, Printing for the Reformation” by  Dirk Imhof (Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium); and “The Image Debates in the Low Countries: an Art Historical Review” by Dr.  Koenraad Jonckheere (Ghent University, Belgium).

President Leif Jensen (left) preached for the ELC's closing service while ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem served as liturgist.
President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (left) preached for the ELC’s closing service while ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem served as liturgist.

The conference concluded with a walking tour through 16th Century Antwerp, ending with a reception at the Town Hall, where Antwerp’s mayor Bart De Wever welcomed the participants.

The European Lutheran Conference concluded with Divine Service on June 5. ELKB President and local pastor Gijsbertus van Hattem led the liturgy, while President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark preached.

The next conference of the European Lutheran Conference will be held in England in 2018.

All of the member churches of the ELC are also member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

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Nordic Lutheran Dioceses enter fellowship talks with German and English Lutherans

Representatives to the Church Fellowship talks in Finland.
Representatives to the Church Fellowship talks in Finland.

FINLAND – Representatives of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses began church fellowship talks with the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England (ELCE) during meetings April 13-14, 2016 in Helsinki, Finland. The Nordic Lutheran Dioceses officially formed in 2015, and is composed of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the Mission Province of Sweden, and the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Norway.

These three churches have attempted to operate within the confines of their respective national church bodies, but have increasingly come into conflict with them as the national churches have become increasingly liberal. The bishops and almost all clergy associated with the Dioceses have been defrocked by their national church bodies for their confessional stance.

Planning for these talks has taken three years and was first only envisioned to include the ELCE and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. But as discussions progressed, it was considered prudent to include the other two Nordic Dioceses as well as the SELK so that the scope and breadth of these talks could be increased.

The discussions were held at the Finnish Diocese’s Koinonia Centre in Helsinki.

Meetings began with worship and discussion soon followed on the nature and identity of the Church. Each church body presented their constitution and spoke about how the Lutheran Confessions shape their self-understanding and ecclesiastical identities. Despite the influence of national and historic influences on the wording and structures of their constitutions, it was agreed that a clear and common understanding, founded upon the Lutheran Confessions, existed between the Nordic Missions Dioceses, the SELK, and the ELCE. The definition of “free” and “independent” churches were discussed and clarified, and the Nordic Dioceses made it clear that they were independent of all national church structures, governance, and practices.

The two day conference discussed twelve other topics as well, including the doctrine of Holy Scripture, the Holy Trinity, the person and work of the Son of God, the person and work of the holy Spirit, justification and sanctification, the end times, and ecumenical relations with other churches, both inside and outside Lutheranism. It was agreed these discussions were very helpful and that there was substantial agreement on these doctrines among all five churches.

The area that garnered most discussion was on the subject of the church and church structure. The Nordic Mission Dioceses and the SELK are episcopal, meaning they have bishops and a more centralised church structure. The ELCE, meanwhile, is more congregational and does not have a bishop. Dialogue here led to further discussions on the Office of the Holy Ministry. All participants agreed that while the particular form and structure of a church is important, what is ultimately important is how that structure assists the church to proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments as she carries out Christ’s mission in the world.

The participants have agreed upon a joint statement summarising the discussions, which will be taken back to their churches for consideration and consultation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in England and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. The churches of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses recently began official discussions about becoming members of the ILC.
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International Lutheran conference addresses the challenges of “Post-Christian” society

North European and North American churches plan to share theological resources.

Participants at 2015's Theological Commission conference in Germany.
Participants at 2015’s Theological Commission conference in Germany.

GERMANY – Following an invitation from the Commission on Theology (CT) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), representatives of various commissions on theology from Lutheran churches in Europe and North America met in Oberursel, Germany March 4-5, 2015. This meeting served the purpose of exchanging information about the proceedings and results of theological endeavours facing the challenges in—for the most part—post-Christian societies in the North Atlantic part of the world. Thus, the first day of the conference was filled with reports delivered by the participants, who hold a confessional Lutheran position. In the evening the conference participated in the Lenten service held at St. John’s church, Oberursel (SELK).

On the second day SELK’s Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (SELK) led Matins. It was followed by a presentation on “The Relationship of Church and State as Reflected in the Understanding of Marriage,” given by Dr. Werner Klän, professor of systematic theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Oberursel. Based on preparatory papers and a document only recently issued by the SELK Commission on Theology, Klän addressed the biblical and confessional understanding of marriage and the church wedding, especially with regard to the German situation since the 19th century. He pointed out that, if the state would revoke the privilege and precedence of marriage currently guaranteed in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, compared to other forms of living together, then churches would have to restate the basic biblical assumptions underlying matrimony, the question of establishing ecclesial jurisdiction concerning marriage, and so forth.

The discussion following the presentation identified similarities and differences for Lutherans in other nations. All agreed that the classical biblical, Lutheran understanding of marriage is being challenged in many ways, and that solutions to these challenges cannot be found easily. The topic of same-sex marriage legislation was of particular discussion, with emphases placed on the crisis of gender identity as well as the status and function of the legal protection of matrimony.

Discussions at the 2015 Theological Commission conference in Germany.
Discussions at the 2015 Theological Commission conference in Germany.

Participants in the conference agreed that the meeting contributed to discovering the common confessional grounds shared by the various church bodies, the similarity of challenges confronting them, and the diversity of contexts in which these churches exist. Participants decided to share as many theological documents as possible from their respective church bodies with the others, in order to communicate the results of theological research addressing the crucial questions of our time and day from a Lutheran point of view.

There was general support for plans to hold a second meeting in about three years’ time. Participants wished to have more time for discussion at the next meeting, and suggested future issues for consideration, including the “two realms”, ”natural law”, Luther’s position on Beruf/vocation, Islam, and mission. The CT of the SELK was asked to organize such a meeting, and Bishop Voigt agreed that the SELK would host such a follow-up conference.

Participants at the 2015 meeting included representatives from Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, England, Canada, and the United States of America. Church bodies represented included the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden (ELKib), the Mission Province in Sweden, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCI), the Silesian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession (SCEAV), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

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Adapted from a report by Dr. Werner Klan, March 3, 2015

British Lutherans hold 60th annual synod

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England holds it annual synod in Ruislip, England.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England holds it annual synod in Ruislip, England.

ENGLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) held its 60th annual synodical convention October 3-4 in Ruislip, England

At that time, the ELCE reelected Rev. George Samiec to another three-year term as Vice Chairman of the church body. Earlier this year, the European Lutheran Council reelected Rev. Samiec as its Secretary. The position of Chairman of the ELCE was not up for election this synod, and Rev. Jon Ehlers continues to serve in that capacity.

Rev. Dr. Boris Gunjević
Rev. Dr. Boris Gunjević

This year’s synodical theme was “Oratio—Living With God: The School of Prayer,” with Rev. Dr. Boris Gunjević serving as essayist. Dr. Gunjević currently serves as a Tutor at Westfield House in Cambridge. “Oratio is first in a famous Lutheran trilogy of Theology which we will be exploring over the next few years at our synodical gatherings,” explained Chairman Ehlers, “Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio (prayer, meditation, and suffering).”

“These theological disciplines may be undertaken individually and privately,” Chairman Ehlers continued, “but according to Luther these three are about how God’s Word proceeds in the Church and in the midst of a hostile world. These three rules are intimately interconnected and they are to be practised together in the life of the baptised believer.” The church will take up Meditatio (meditation) at its 2015 convention, which will be held October 2-3, 2015 in Coventry, England.

Rev. Dr. Didzis Stilve is installed as a pastor of the ELCE during the 60th annual synod.
Chairman Jon Ehlers installs Rev. Dr. Didzis Stilve as a pastor of the ELCE during the church’s 60th annual synod.

The convention also saw the installation of Rev. Dr. Didzis Stilve to the newly formed dual parish of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Rusilip (the host of this year’s convention) and St. Paul, Borehamwood. Dr. Stilve previously served in Riga, Latvia as a professor at Luther Academy and as a pastor of Bolderāja Lutheran Church.

Greetings to the convention came from a number of sister churches across the world, including those in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, South Africa, and the United States of America.

The ELCE is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England has 14 congregations and 6 missions throughout England, Wales, and Scotland, and also operates a theological house of study in Cambridge.

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With notes from a report in The British Lutheran.

ILC: Confessional Unity in Service to the Mission

Chairman Jon Ehlers
Chairman Jon Ehlers

by Jon Ehlers

As part of a new initiative, the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) website will feature regular articles from members of the ILC’s Executive Council (composed of church leaders from around the world). These articles—devotions or commentaries on world events—are designed to nurture and foster our faith in Jesus Christ. This is the inaugural article in that series.

The International Lutheran Council is composed of 35 Lutheran Churches from around the world 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 the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God.

To assist us in accomplishing these goals, the Executive Council of the ILC recently met in Brazil to continue long range planning. We also had the great pleasure of attending the Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil—IELB), whose convention theme was “Our Confessional Unity in Service to the Mission.” This theme, I think, summarizes the purpose of the ILC marvelously—for ILC churches are firmly founded on the confession of Jesus Christ as our Saviour from sin.

This confession of salvation in Christ alone is revealed to us in the Bible, which is God’s inspired Word. We confess what God has revealed to us. We also hold to the Lutheran Confessions as a clear and accurate exposition of the Holy Scriptures. Being anchored solidly in the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions, our confession of faith is centred on Jesus Christ alone. ILC churches are churches which believe, teach and confess that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. For in Christ we know and understand that God is for us and that God really does love and forgive us.

This confession then serves as the basis for the mission of the ILC churches. We do not keep this wonderful Good News to ourselves, but we desire to share this message of salvation with all people. We take Jesus’ mandate seriously to go into all nations making disciples by baptising and teaching everyone about what Jesus has done for them. This mission to all people is based on the confession of faith revealed in the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. We understand Confession and Mission as things that go hand in hand, in response to God’s love which has come to us through the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ.

It is our prayer that over the coming years, you will be able to find many items on this website which clearly and unashamedly confess Jesus Christ, as well as items which rejoice in and inform us of how God’s Word is reaching people around the world through the mission activities of ILC churches. Together we seek to keep these two important aspects of the Christian faith in their proper balance. So come along and join us as we share our “Confessional Unity in Service to the Mission.”

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Rev. Jon Ehlers is Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England. He serves on the Executive Council of the International Lutheran Council as the representative for the European world region.

Lutheran institute in England granted Coat of Arms

Westfield-House-Crest-Ceremony
Back row: Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mumme, Mayor Paul Saunders of Cambridge, Rev. Dr. Joel Humann, and Chairman Jon Ehlers. Front row: York Herald of Arms Peter O’Donoghue, Principal Cyndy Lumley, and Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire,  Hugh Duberly. (Image from Westfield House’s Facebook page).

ENGLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE)’s theological institute, Westfield House, was granted its own Arms, Crest, and Badge in a special ceremony in Cambridge, April 22. In the United Kingdom, the right to grant heraldry is possessed by the monarchy, which in England exercises this right through the College of Arms.

“This was a very exciting occasion,” Cambridge News quoted Dr. Lumley, “as it marked the granting of our own Arms, Crest, and Badge, for which the development and application have been made possible by a generous grant from the Sukup Family Foundation in Iowa.” Dr. Lumley is scheduled to discuss the honour on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire the morning of April 27.

Civil leaders present for the ceremony were Her Majesty’s York Herald of Arms, Peter O’Donoghue; Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Hugh Duberly; and Mayor Paul Saunders of Cambridge. Church leaders present included Westfield House’s Principal, Dr. Cynthia Lumley, the school’s Interim Preceptor, Rev. Dr. Joel Humann, and the ELCE’s Chairman, Rev. Jon Ehlers.

Westfield House's new Coat of Arms.
Westfield House’s new Coat of Arms.

The arms and crest were designed by Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mumme, a Tutor at Westfield House, and Rev. David Jackson, an alumnus of Westfield and former ELCE pastor, now serving as a Lieutenant Chaplain the Royal Canadian Navy.

The crest features a rearing white horse, in reference to the White Horse Inn, a former Cambridge pub where the works of Martin Luther were read and discussed. The arms features a cross as its central motif; a book which alludes to Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and education in general; and a Luther rose. The motto is Fidelis et verax—Latin for “faithful and true.” Additional information on the meaning of the crest, arms, moto, and badge are available at the website of The Friends of Westfield House.

Westfield House was first inaugurated as a house of theological studies on February 22, 1962.

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