WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has announced updates to the representatives for the Latin American and European World Regions.
Appointed to serve as the World Region Representative for Latin America is President Eugenio Wentzel of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana del Paraguay – IELP). President Wentzel had previously served as the Latin American representative until the spring of 2018, but was ineligible for reappointment because he had announced he wouldn’t seek reelection as President of the Paraguayan church. In the end, he consented to stand for reelection of the IELP and was elected, making him eligible for reappointment to as the ILC’s regional representative.
Appointed to serve as the World Region Representative for Europe is Chairman Georg Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). This seat was previously held by the ELCE’s Chairman Jon Ehlers, but Chairman Ehlers had announced he would not seek reelection. Chairman Samiec was subsequently elected, and consented to serve as the ILC’s regional representative for Europe.
In total, five World Regional Representatives serve on the ILC’s Board of Directors (formerly known as the Executive Committee), along with the ILC Chairman, Secretary, two appointed members, and the ILC’s General Secretary (as a non-voting, ex-officio member).
GERMANY – The respective chairmen of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, and of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), Archbishop Foley Beach, met in Wittenberg on October 30 during the latest round of dialogue between confessional Lutherans and Anglicans from North America.
Bishop Voigt is the spiritual leader of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) of Germany, and has served as ILC Chairman since 2010. Archbishop Beach is Primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and is currently Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council. The ILC is a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies committed to the authority of Holy Scripture as God’s written Word, and to the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ as the heart of the Church’s faith and mission. GAFCON was born out of the realignment of world Anglicanism, as those who uphold the authority of Scripture banded together to respond to theological and spiritual decay within the Anglican communion. The churches associated with GAFCON now represent around 50 million of the 70 million Anglicans around the world.
“The theological and historical background of GAFCON deeply impressed me,” noted Bishop Voigt. “Their understanding of Holy Scripture is very close to that of ILC churches,” he continued, while acknowledging there remain differences of theology between the two organizations which would benefit from further dialogue.
For nearly a decade, representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC) and the ACNA have carried out semi-annual dialogue meetings, rejoicing in their discovery of substantial biblical teaching held in common. The decision was made to hold this fall’s round of talks at Wittenberg’s Old Latin School, an agency of the LCMS, SELK and ILC, to afford the regular participants an opportunity to be introduced to each other’s European partners and mark the 502nd anniversary of the Reformation together. In that context Bishop Voigt traveled to Wittenberg and had opportunity to speak with Archbishop Beach, who was present for the regular dialogue meetings. The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England was also present, as were Anglican bishops from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Croatia.
Much of the week’s discussions provided an opportunity for those present to introduce the churches they serve. In addition, there was significant attention given to the possibilities for cooperation in theological education in Europe. Participants also toured historical Luther sites throughout Wittenberg, and in the town of Eisleben, where Luther was born and also died. On the early morning of Reformation Day, the group walked to the famous Thesentür (“theses door”) of Wittenberg’s Castle Church to offer prayers to the Lord and to acknowledge His grace in uncovering the truth of the Gospel at the time of the Reformation 502 years ago.
For more information on the dialogue meetings held in Wittenberg, see this release from the Anglican Church in North America, Lutheran Church–Canada, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.
United Kingdom – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) elected a new Chairman during its 65th Synod, held September 27-28, 2019 at Christ Church (Petts Wood).
Rev. George Samiec, who formerly served as Vice Chairman, was elected Chairman of the church after Rev. John Ehlers announced he would not seek reelection. Rev. Ehlers had served three terms as Chairman of the ELCE.
While not standing for reelection as Chairman, Rev. Ehlers allowed his name to stand for Vice Chairman of the ELCE, and was elected to that position for one year.
Rev. George Samiec, arrived in the UK in 2002, seconded from the Lutheran Church of Australia at the request of the ELCE. He has served on the ELCE Executive Council since 2003 and as ELCE Vice Chairman since 2010. He also served on the executive of the European Lutheran Conference from 2004-2018. The ELCE Chairman duties are in addition to congregational ministries in the ELCE. Rev. Samiec serves congregations in Brandon, Coventry, and Harlow and teaches in the practical theology area at Westfield House, the ELCE’s theological house of studies in Cambridge.
Assisting at the installation of the Chairman were the pastors of the ELCE ministerium together with the Rt. Rev. Risto Soramies, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF); the Very Rev. Dr Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the ELMDF; and Rev. Gary Heintz, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church—Synod of France.
During its 65th Synod, the ELCE also declared fellowship with the ELMDF and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese of Norway.
United Kingdom – The 65th Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) was held September 27-28 at Christ Church (Petts Wood), during which time the ELCE recognised church fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese in Norway (DELSiN). These church fellowship recognitions are the culmination of five years of discussion, together with the Mission Province of Sweden and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.
Attending the ELCE Synod was Bishop Risto Soramies of the ELMDF and together with ELCE Chairman, Rev. Jon Ehlers, they signed documents and extended the right hand of fellowship. Bishop Soramies spoke about the situation in Finland, the history of his church, and their priorities in establishing worship places so that folk only have to travel up to one hour to attend worship. He also mentioned that the ELMDF was prioritising investing in personnel rather than buildings.
Bishop Thor Henrik With of the DELSiN at the last minute was unable to attend the Synod. Nevertheless the ELCE delegates also resolved recognition of church fellowship with the DELSiN.
The ELCE, ELMDF, DELSiN are all members of the International Lutheran Council.
UNITED KINGDOM – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) hosted a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) for meetings June 12, 2019 at Luther-Tyndale Memorial Church in Kentish Town, London.
Attending the meetings were four ELCE clergy, including Chairman Jon Ehlers, and twelve ELCL clergy, including Archbishop Jānis Vanags. A major point of discussion was how the two churches might work more closely together to minister to the large Latvian population living in the UK. As of 2011, the United Kingdom counted more than 61,000 Latvian-born residents throughout the UK.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England has one Latvian pastor serving in the church. The Latvian church currently has one pastor serving in the English Midlands and another pastor serving in Ireland.
“It was a pleasure to welcome Archbishop Vanags and the other pastors of the Latvian church,” said ELCE Chairman Ehlers. “Our two churches are both grounded in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, which gives us a solid foundation for cooperation. It’s a joy to consider the ways in which we might partner more closely together for the good of the Gospel.”
As a result of the meetings, the Latvian church plans to connect their members living in the United Kingdom with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England. The ELCE, meanwhile, has pledged to provide assistance to the two Latvian pastors working in the region, and to invite them to participate in ELCE pastors’ study conferences and other opportunities for theological development.
During the meetings, the two churches took time to explain their history and church structure, as well as their respective understandings of altar and pulpit fellowship. “We spent a lot of time explaining the history of our churches and our polities, to help us better understand each other,” noted ELCE Chairman Ehlers. “We also agreed to continue talks on these matters to help us work more closely together in the future.”
Another topic under discussion was the possibility of future cooperation between the two churches’ seminaries: Westfield House in England and Luther Academy in Latvia.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has grown increasingly close to the ILC in recent years. In 2018, for example, the Latvian church invited the ILC to present at the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference. Archbishop Vanags has also participated in a number of ILC events, most recently the ILC’s 2018 World Conference.
SWEDEN – On April 27, 2019 Rev. Bengt Ådahl was consecrated as bishop of the Mission Province in Sweden at a festive service in Gothenburg.
Bishop Ådahl was installed by Bishop Roland Gustafsson, who has retired after nine years of service leading the Mission Province. Assisting Bishop Gustafsson were Bishops Göran Beijer and Lars Artman, as well as the Mission Province’s first Bishop Arne Olsson.
Also participating in the service were Bishop Thor Henrik With of the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway, Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Bishop Hans Jönsson bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.
Bishop Ådahl introduced his personal episcopal mission with the encouragement to “Look to Jesus,” drawing on Hebrews 12:2. “In all true Christianity, Jesus Christ is at the centre,” he explained. For this reason, Jesus must remain the centre of all Christian faith and practice. He must remain central in our individual lives. He must remain central in our understanding of Scripture. And He must remain central in the life of the Church.
“It is tempting,” he acknowledged, to follow “what is politically correct, what is liked in media coverage, to feel out which way the wind is blowing right now.”
“But it is fatal,” he warned. Instead, he said, “we must look to Jesus, search into His Word. We shall be faithful to and adhere to everything that He has shown and made clear to us in His Word. This is precisely what the Lord expects of us: to remain faithful to Himself, to His Word, faithful to the doctrines and confessions of the Church.”
This challenging call to stand firm on Christ and His Word is one the Mission Province in Sweden knows only too well. The Mission was founded first as a reform group within the Church of Sweden in 2003 by those attempting to remain faithful to the Scriptures while the state church increasingly secularized. Their first bishop, Arne Olsson, was installed in 2005. The Church of Sweden responded by defrocking Bishop Olsson.
The state church has continued to punish those holding confessional views, barring confessional candidates from ordination. One of those barred from ordination by the state Church of Sweden was in attendance at the consecration of Bishop Ådahl—Bishop Hans Jönsson, who was subsequently welcomed into the Latvian church and made a bishop there in 2016.
The Mission Province in Sweden is a member of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses, together with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. In 2018, the Mission Province and the other members of the Communion of Nordic Dioceses became members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. During that time, Bishop Emeritus Roland Gustafsson announced his intention to retire as head of Mission Province, having successfully brought the church into membership with the ILC.
ENGLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) held its 63rd synodical convention September 29-30, 2017 in Cambridge, during which time delegates commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.
That focus complemented a number of other Reformation projects the ELCE has undertaken in 2017, including the publication of a new translation of Luther’s Small Catechism, available for free use by anyone. See the translation, and further information about using it under its Creative Commons Licence, at www.thesmallcatechism.org.
Rev. Dr. Robert Rosin, Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) served as guest speaker for the September synodical convention, speaking on the ongoing relevance of the Reformation. Delegates also enjoyed a series of sermons reflecting on key teachings of the Reformation, including Jesus Alone; Scripture Alone; Grace Alone; and Through Faith Alone. Other Reformation projects from the ELCE in 2017 include the creation of a Reformation Bible, Luther Reading Roadshows, numerous Reformation events, and the publication of a book on early Lutheran martyrs in the United Kingdom.
A key topic of discussion during the synodical convention was the need to review the church’s current organisational structure. Other important business included several elections for open positions on the Executive Council, as well as various boards and committees.
The 64th synodical convention of the ELCE will take place in Fareham, England in September, 2018.
The ELCE has congregations throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, and is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. In addition to increased participation in inter-Lutheran discussions in Europe in recent years, the ELCE has also become increasingly active in ecumenical discussions throughout the United Kingdom, bringing a clear Lutheran witness to these events.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
North European and North American churches plan to share theological resources.
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.
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).
Adapted from a report by Dr. Werner Klan, March 3, 2015
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