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Christmas and the Poverty of Christ

“Holy Night” by Fritz von Uhde, 1911.

by Juhana Pohjola

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9

St. Paul, in this single verse, lifts up for us a Christmas sermon on one aspect of our Lord Jesus Christ’s calling: His poverty. The Apostle reminds us of Christ Jesus’ lowliness. What did the maiden Mary from the village of Nazareth sing? “He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” (Luke 1:48). What sign did the angels give to the shepherds? “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). And where are His possessions and earthly goods if the ”Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58)? Truly, by humility and poverty is the birth of the King of Kings framed!

Poverty does not mean only a lack of material wellbeing; it also implies a certain powerlessness. How could this poor baby and family protect themselves against the wrath of the mighty king Herod and his army? Where could they look for help if they could not depend on their family and relatives but must instead escape alone to the foreign land of Egypt? Truly, by hostility, oppression, and refuge is the birth of the Prince of Peace surrounded.

Inset: Mary and the baby Jesus.

When we see, during Christmas time, the beautiful decorations and depictions of the Nativity and the Holy Family, we must keep both eyes open. If, on the one hand, we face financial problems, insecurity, loneliness, and oppression, we are reminded that our Lord has also experienced poverty in all its forms. We need not despair because He understands what we are going through, and He promises to abide with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And again: “For He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper” (Psalm 72:12).

If, on the other hand, if we have been blessed with material abundance, earthly goods, and spiritual resources, we should in thankfulness enjoy them but also share them in mercy and mission, remembering the words of St. Paul: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever’” (2 Corinthians 9:8-10).

The Apostle Paul, however, reveals an even deeper meaning to the poverty of our Lord. This poverty also includes a lowliness and humbleness in the way in which He has appeared to us. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The Eternal Son of God—divine in glory and power—hid Himself in the weakness and fragility of a baby boy. The Triune God reveals Himself in the poverty of human flesh. To seek and find a gracious God, then, we do not look to high heavenly places and spiritual realms; instead, we look to the lowly and earthly—to the human flesh of Christ Jesus. St. Paul emphasizes that the Lord became poor for our sake. We humans can encounter the divine in Him. We, though unholy, can touch the Holy One in Him. We mortals can embrace the Eternal in Him. This is why Martin Luther was bold enough to say: “I do not know of any God except Him who was made flesh, nor do I want to have another. And there is no other God who could save us, besides the God Incarnate.”

“Christ on the Cross” by the Francken Family, c. 1630.

In truth, the poverty of the Lord is greater even than His willingness to come in the humility of human flesh. For He took upon Himself not only the poverty of our earthly and bodily needs, but also our deepest poverty—namely, our spiritual bankruptcy, our transgressions, and our lack of righteousness before God. So it is that the Apostle in the same epistle also preaches a paschal sermon in a single verse: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The manger and the cross, Christmas night and Good Friday are united in one divine plan—one act of salvation. For your sake, the Rich became poor. For your sake, the Sinless was made sin. He took all your poverty and all your sin upon Himself. Why? So that you, though poor, would become rich. So that you, though a sinner, would be forgiven and declared righteous, clean, and holy in the sight of God. All of the poverty of your life becomes His and all the richness of His grace and love becomes yours. What a blessed exchange of Christmas gifts!

We have seen during this year great devastation and enormous human tragedy. We face a world with poverty and famine, war and natural disasters, oppression and persecution of Christians. We have in many ways entered into an era of greater uncertainties. But in the midst of these trials we can cling to a greater reality and divine certainty, which all Christendom celebrates: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

We call people in their poverty of their lives to gather at the life-giving altars of our churches, in which we encounter the Incarnate God of the manger—the Crucified and Risen Lord, who declares to you: This is My body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins!

Who of us can truly be poor when through Christ we have all the riches of heaven? Who of us is truly powerless and helpless when the Mighty Saviour abides with us? Who of us, though dying and decaying mortals, could despair when we have life and salvation in Him?

What a joyful calling it is to sing, preach, and celebrate this good news in the many homes and sanctuaries of member churches of the International Lutheran Council, in numerous languages and on all five continents. Rejoice! For our sake the Lord Jesus Christ became poor that we would become rich in Him!


Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

ILC releases statement on Internet Communion

ONLINE – The International Lutheran Council (ILC)’s Statement on Internet Communion, which was adopted during the ILC’s 2022 World Conference in Kenya, has now been released online.

“The International Lutheran Council expresses deep concern over the practice of internet communion,” the statement declares. “We encourage our member bodies to take up this matter and reject this practice.”

The full Statement on Internet Communion is available to download here.

The Statement on Internet Communion was unanimously adopted in principle during the ILC’s 2022 World Conference in Kenya, with additional direction given to the board to prepare a final version for publication in December. ILC statements do not supplant the autonomy of member churches but represent important guidance and encouragement to member churches when discussing theological issues—in this case, the practice of internet communion.

The International Lutheran Council is also releasing Summary Reflections on Liturgy and Culture, a summary-response to presentations made during the ILC’s 2022 World Conference. The theme of the conference was “Liturgy and Culture: How Worship Shapes our Life Together and Why We Do What We Do.”

The Summary Reflections document is available to download here.


ILC welcomes Congolese church as observer member

EECLCO Bishop Ilunga Kendi Evariste.

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has welcomed the Church of the Faithful Confessing Lutherans in Congo (Église de Fidèles Confessants Lutheriens au Congo – EFCLCO) as a new observer member of the ILC. The action came during a November 2022 meeting of the ILC’s Board of Directors.

“It’s a pleasure to welcome the Church of the Faithful Confessing Lutherans in Congo as an observer member,” said ILC Chairman Juhana Pohjola. “May God bless this new relationship between the EFCLCO and the ILC, and give us opportunities to strengthen each other’s witness to the world of the good news of Jesus Christ.”

The EFCLCO is a young Lutheran church body in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was founded in 2015 through the efforts of Bishop Ilunga Kendi Evariste, a graduate of the Matongo Lutheran Theological Seminary operated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya. The church body brought together small pockets of confessional Lutherans in the country to form a synod and has since founded several congregations. Today the EFCLCO has seven congregations, five pastors, and 661 members. The church is headed by Bishop Kendi.

“We have wanted to be a confessional Lutheran church body since our childhood,” noted Bishop Kendi, but “we have realized that this cannot be possible without proper teaching and care from others who have walked the same path.”

“Nowadays we are conscious that many associations bearing the label “Lutheran” are not essentially Lutheran,” he continued. For that reason, he said, his church is careful to build relationships only with faithful Lutherans who do not “promote teachings contrary to the Word of God” but who can instead “repeat with us that Christ is sufficient for us.”

During its November 2022 meetings, the ILC’s Board of Directors also formally welcomed back into membership the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (Église Évangélique Luthérienne d’Haiti – ELCH), whose membership had lapsed. As with all church bodies accepted into membership between ILC World Conferences, the ELCH will hold observer membership.

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran churches which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as expounded in the Lutheran Confessions.


Lectures from ILC 2022 World Conference released

ONLINE – Lectures from the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference have now been released online.

The keynote lecture for the conference was given by Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, who was later in the conference elected to serve the ILC as its new chairman. Bishop Pohjola’s lecture was entitled “Church and Culture: The Devastating Effects of the Progressive Socio-Political Ideology and Cultural Trends on the Church with Special Attention to Recent Events in Finland.” Download Bishop Pohjola’s lecture here.

Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo, Principal of Neema Lutheran College in Matongo, Kenya gave the third essay of the conference. Dr. Omolo spoke on “Liturgy and Culture: ‘Meaningful’ Worship in Diverse Cultural Contexts. Download Dr. Omolo’s lecture here.

The last lecture of the conference was given by Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov, Rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Russia. Dr. Streltsov’s presentation was entitled “Lord, to Whom Shall We Go? The Revision of Liturgical Space and Time in a ‘Virtual Worship’ Era?” Download Dr. Streltsov’s lecture here.

The second lecture of the conference was given by Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but unfortunately a written text of his presentation is not available. Dr. Masaki spoke on “Liturgy as Jesus’ Own Service Through His Office: Reflections on the Question of Liturgy and Culture.”


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.


ILC 2022 World Conference: Conference ends with Installation of Board Members

LCMS President Matthew Harrison preaches during the closing service of the ILC’s 2022 World Conference in Kisumu, Kenya. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

KENYA – The International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference came to a close the evening of September 16 with a service of Vespers, during which time the chairman, secretary, and other board members for the new triennium were installed.

Serving as liturgist for the service was ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill, with President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) preaching. In his sermon, President Harrison—who also serves as an appointed member of the ILC’s board—pondered what it means to be worthy. Drawing on the words of St. Paul, he noted that overseers in the church are to be “above reproach.”

“Yet, I’m not,” President Harrison said simply. Addressing his fellow church presidents and bishops, he outlined the qualifications for overseers according to the scriptural witness, highlighting the many ways he—and, indeed, all leaders in the church—fail to fulfill their office as they ought.

“Are you worthy to stand before the throne of God?” he asked. “Be honest: you are condemned by the Law…. ‘Oh, wretched bishop that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?’”

“It’s Jesus,” he said at last. “It’s Jesus, who is the Bishop. He is the one who fulfilled the office faithfully. He is the one who never fails those seeking His grace, His forgiveness, and His healing.”

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” he proclaimed. “I tell you now, repent and believe the good news: ‘There is now no condemnation for those bishops who are in Jesus Christ!’ The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins! All your shortcomings, all your weaknesses, all your failures are covered by the blood of the Lamb.”

Outgoing ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt installs the newly elected and reelected members of the board of directors. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

The service concluded with the installation of the ILC’s newly elected and reelected board members for the new triennium. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, outgoing Chairman of the ILC, conducted the installation. Installed to serve were:

  • Chairman Juhana Pohjola (Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland)
  • Secretary John Donkoh (President/Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana)
  • Africa Representative Joseph Ochola Omolo (Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya)
  • Asia Representative Antonio del Rio Reyes (President of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines)
  • Europe Representative George Samiec (Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England)
  • Latin America Representative Alceu Alton Figur (President of the Lutheran Church of Paraguay)
  • North America Representative Timothy Teuscher (President of Lutheran Church–Canada)


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.


2022 World Conference: ILC issues statement on Liturgy and Culture, plans for statement rejecting virtual communion

ILC Chairman Elect Juhana Pohjola preaches during matins on the final morning of the ILC’s 2022 World Conference.

KENYA – The final morning of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference saw the adoption of a Statement on Liturgy and Culture, as well as a unanimous decision to produce a statement rejecting virtual communion.

The first session of the day began with a service of matins. Rev. Roger James, the ILC’s Assistant to the General Secretary, served as liturgist, while incoming Bishop Juhana Pohjola, incoming ILC chairman, preached. Bishop Pohjola’s sermon focused on John 10:11-16, noting the commemoration of St. Cyprian.

After matins, Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov, Rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia, presented the final paper of the conference: “Lord, to Whom Shall We Go? The Revision of Liturgical Space and Time in a ‘Virtual Worship’ Era.”

Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov

“My proposition is that there is a discrepancy between our subscription to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and reliance on the virtual format for conducting worship services (especially ones containing the Lord’s Supper),” Dr. Streltsov said during his lecture. And, while he recognized that, during the pandemic, many Lutheran churches around the world relied on online technology to reach members, Dr. Streltsov warned that allowing “virtual worship” to become part of the norm is a decision “pregnant with philosophical and theological dimensions.”

“Our traditional Lutheran liturgy emphasizes the real presence of Jesus in the Word and Sacraments made available to us in a concrete, earthly setting,” he noted. “An alternative understanding of worship would centre rather on perceived personal spiritual and emotional comfort of the worshipper, on the sense of self-fulfillment, self-realization on behalf of the worshipper…. My thesis is that these two different understandings of worship are incommensurable.”

A spirited discussion on the subject of virtual worship followed the presentation.

Report on Liturgy and Culture

Following a break, the conference considered a summary statement on Liturgy and Culture, which distills key points from the presentations and subsequent discussions. This summary was adopted by common consent. Key passages include:

  • “The Church fundamentally is the gathering of people around the Lord of the Church to encounter him, hear him, receive him, and be blessed by him for another week ‘out in the world’. The liturgy involves words and actions by which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present to the glory of the Father.”

    “Conscious that the Word of God constitutes and our Confessions shape our worship, the Church balances the truth of Jesus’ presence with his people and clearly speaking the Word of God to the world. This is particularly pertinent in liturgical reviews and the production of new rites, new hymnals, and changes to permissive rubrics. The Church has the responsibility to communicate clearly Jesus and not sacrifice Jesus in the process! The Church’s catholicity must be maintained against the deceptions of the new.”

    “As language and identity are increasingly fluid today; as the Church is increasingly aware that the world is always opposed to the God who loves her; as God’s Word sadly is always challenged by others who also say ‘Thus says the Lord’ so the Church can ‘sail such storms’ when the liturgy is faithful to the Lord of the Church who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. In the liturgy, Jesus draws all people to himself so that they can live life in all its fulness—because an embodied God comes to embodied humanity with embodied grace creating an embodied community and witness—no matter when or where people are found.”

The full summary will be released online in the days to come.

Virtual Communion

Later in the day, the world conference also approved a procedure for the publication of a statement rejecting virtual communion as contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

A proposed text was unanimously accepted in principal, with additional direction given to the board to prepare a final version for release in mid-December 2022.


2022 World Conference: Works of Mercy

ILC World Conference participants arrive at the Lake Diocese cathedral in Kisimu.

KENYA – Late on September 15, participants in the ILC’s 2022 World Conference visited the cathedral of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya’s (ELCK) Lake Diocese in Kisimu, where they joined in worship and learned about the Kenyan church’s works of mercy.

Provost Martin Orende preaches.

After a welcome from diocesan Bishop Titus Okoda, the church held a service of vespers. Provost Martin Orende of the ELCK preached on John 1:29-34, while Rev. Charles Froh served as liturgist.

Following the service, delegates heard from representatives of four of the ELCK’s mercy projects. First, they heard from Rev. Isaiah Apeyo of Capstone Ministry, an agency which helps to reunite street children with their families and provide reconciliation work. Children can end up on the street for a number of reasons, Rev. Apeyo noted, and so successful reintegration requires regular follow-ups and family counseling. A key part of the work is encouraging children and their families to engage with local congregations, Rev. Apeyo said, as helping people to heal their relationships with God also helps them to heal their relationships with each other.

Deaconess Lorna Meeker of Point of Grace Academy was next to speak. Point of Grace Academy provides education for underprivileged and needy children who otherwise could not afford an education, including orphans, disabled children, and those suffering from HIV/Aids. The school has almost 800 students in total, with nearly 350 of these from the local area, and just over 450 of these coming as boarding students from elsewhere in Kenya. Point of Grace Academy not only cares for needy children, Deaconess Meeker noted, but also provides care for elderly people, the addicted, and widows in the local area. As part of their care for the whole person, Grace Academy provides regular catechesis to children, teaching them about Jesus. More than 300 children have been baptized through their encounters with Point of Grace Academy. (Conference participants were invited to visit the school on the following day, as part of a selection of excursions.)

Presenters speak on mercy projects of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya.

Deaconess Rispah was next to speak, highlighting the work of Project 24, a joint project of the ELCK and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Project 24 has eight boarding sites throughout Kenya that care for orphans with nowhere else to go. Deaconess Rispah, who is the director of one of Project 24’s sites, noted that the proclamation of the Gospel is central to this ministry’s work as well, recognizing that children have not only physical needs but spiritual needs too.

Finally, conference attendees learned about the ELCK’s school for at-risk people with intellectual disabilities. This school, which is on the same campus as the ELCK’s cathedral in Kisumu, accepts children and adults on the recommendation of the government, and helps them to achieve greater independence. Students have often previously not learned how to clothe themselves, bathe, or use the washroom. Beginning with these basic life skills, students advance to higher skills, culminating in vocational training. The school also seeks to offer a sheltered workshop where graduates of the program can continue to find meaningful work together in a safe and loving environment. Teaching the students about Jesus is a key part of this wholistic ministry.

Students sing and dance.

Conference attendees visited the school after the presentations, where they were greeted by students eager to share their musical gifts and say hello. The choir of students sang two songs, with conference participants considering it a highlight of the trip. Following the performance, participants had the chance to tour dormitories, classrooms, and the workshop for handicrafts.


2022 World Conference: Theological Education and Liturgy in Culture

ELCK Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo preaches for the ILC’s 2022 World Conference during a visit to Neema Lutheran College.

KENYA – On the morning of Thursday, September 14, 2022, participants in the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2022 World Conference made an excursion to Matongo to visit Neema Lutheran College, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK), the conference’s host church.

There they joined members of the seminary community for a service of Matins in Swahili. The service also featured a hymn in Swahili which conference participants have been learning throughout the conference: “Yesu Wangu Simwachi.” A seminary student served as liturgist, while ELCK Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo preached on John 4, drawing out what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth. A Bible study on 1 Kings 8:22-30 followed, led by Rev. Joseph Abuor, a doctoral student from Kenya.

Rev. Dr. Steven Schumacher (right), Chief Accreditation Officer of the ILCAA and Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo, Principal of Neema Lutheran College.

Following this, the conference heard a report from Rev. Dr. Steven Schumacher of the ILC’s International Accreditation Agency (ILCAA). The ILCAA is a new initiative of the ILC that will “strengthen confessional Lutheran theological education,” he explained. The program will ensure that participating seminaries and colleges all provide robust theological training that is recognizable and transferable to other institutions for higher academic study.

In addition to providing standards for an institutions’ educational program and mission and integrity, the ILCAA will also provide standards for: governance, administration, and finances; planning and review; faculty, education, and staff; student services; and resources.

Liturgy, Theology, and Culture

Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo speaks on theology, liturgy, and culture.

The morning session continued with the third of four major presentations on the conference theme. Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo, Principal of Neema Lutheran College, gave a lecture entitled “The Relationship Between Liturgy, Theology, and Culture.”

Dr. Omolo argued that, for Christian worship to be appropriately brought into a given culture, it is necessary to “balance the local and the universal natures of Christian liturgy, so that the overarching meaning in liturgy is neither lost nor communicated unintelligibly to the people.” Key to striking this balance is careful fidelity to the doctrine which underlies liturgical expression: “the content of worship,” he explained, must remain “consistent with the church’s doctrine and the overall Christian narrative.”

“Meaningful w­orship is that in which Christ’s gift of life and salvation is offered to the sinful man in a clear and intelligible language so that the people experience this gift in an understandable way,” Dr. Omolo concluded. But when pursuing such adaptation, he cautioned, “care must be taken so that the liturgy remains Christian in its core and purpose, and continues to bear the marks of the catholicity of the church of Christ. To attain such balance, inculturation must take seriously the complementary dynamics between liturgy and doctrine, so that celebration of the liturgy in different cultures is done within the framework of the Christian language anchored in the biblical narrative.”

ILC-Chile Bishop Juan Pablo Lanterna (left) speaks on the new Spanish Lutheran hymnal.

Following Principal Omolo’s presentation, Bishop Juan Pablo Lanterna of the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile (ILC-Chile), also addressed the subject of liturgy and culture, providing a concrete example in the recently published Spanish hymnal produced in Latin America: Himnario Luterano. The hymnal was first conceived by the Chilean church 14 years ago, eventually growing to become a joint project of the ILC-Chile, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (IELP), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA).

The new hymnal is “a contribution from the mission field to the mission field,” said Bishop Lanterna, “a contribution from Latin America to Latin America, and from confessional Lutherans to confessional Lutherans.”

Himnario Luterano.

Indeed, Bishop Lanterna continued, the new hymnal can justly be considered the third most important confessional Lutheran publication ever published in Spanish, preceded by Casiodoro de Reina’s classic 1569 translation of the Bible as well as the Spanish translation of the Lutheran Confessions.

The hymnal, which incorporates hundreds of classic and contemporary hymns as well as newly provides services for Matins, Vespers, and Complines, has been received with joy by Spanish-speaking Lutherans. Asked what impact the hymnal will have, the missionaries who began the project were clear: “They unanimously responded,” Bishop Lanterna explained, that it will help Spanish-speaking Lutherans to “revalue and discover confessional Lutheran liturgical theology.”

The morning session concluded with a lunch on the grounds of the seminary.


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