GERMANY – Catastrophic flooding in Europe in mid-July destroyed homes and infrastructure in several countries, and led to the deaths of more than 200 people. Germany was particularly hit hard, with at least 170 people dead, many more currently unaccounted for, and widespread damage in the western part of the country.
Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) reports that while some members of their church body have been affected by the flooding, none of their church buildings were damaged by the water. One family from the St. Johannes congregation in Cologne, for example, has had to relocate to a hotel due to damage at their home. At a parishioner’s home in Wuppertal, meanwhile, the basement has flooded with rainwater and sewage, though the situation there may be repairable. The full extent of damages incurred by members of SELK congregations is not fully clear at this time, however, as a result of partial communications interruptions.
SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt—who is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC)—has expressed gratitude for the several inquiries he has received from SELK’s partner churches and ILC members. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, for example, offered assistance from their disaster relief fund, but Bishop Voigt explained there did not seem to be a need for interchurch aid at present.
Speaking to selk_news, Bishop Voigt said he was impressed by this expression of worldwide solidarity in prayer for those affected by the flooding and willingness to help. He said this was just as moving and a sign of hope as the people who came to help from neighboring towns in the affected communities with rubber boots and shovels.
Church leadership and the diaconal work of the SELK has invited its congregations and parishioners to support internal relief efforts through an appeal for donations for the victims of the flood disaster.
SOUTH AFRICA – Rev. Dr. Carlos Walter Winterle has announced his retirement as rector of the Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) in Tshwane, Pretoria in South Africa.
Dr. Winterle, who turned 70 earlier this year, said, “It is time to retire and give way to the younger generation.” Succeeding Dr. Winterle as rector of LTS is Rev. Dr. Heinz Hiestermann.
“I thank our God and Father for the opportunity” to have served as rector, Dr. Winterle continued. “It was a huge challenge!”
Dr. Winterle served as President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil – IELB) from 1998-2006. He has spent the next 14 years serving throughout Africa: four years in Kenya; seven in Cape Town, South Africa; and the past three as the rector of LTS in Pretoria. He has also been heavily involved with missions and theological education in Mozambique.
While Dr. Winterle plans to retire home to Brazil when international travel permits, he still hopes to continue serving as coordinator for theological education in Mozambique. “I’m also coordinating projects and doing fundraising for Mozambique missions,” he added. “I hope that I may continue with this special ministry which is so close to my heart, as long as I am able to.”
Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Vogt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch—Lutherische Kirche – SELK), expressed gratitude for the leadership of Dr. Winterle in Tshwane as well as elsewhere in Africa. “Many young African Lutherans have been strongly shaped by his leadership,” Chairman Voigt noted. “May the Holy Spirit also fill the heart of Dr. Heinz Hiestermann as he takes up this new task.”
Dr. Winterle’s successor, Dr. Hiestermann, holds a PhD in New Testament from the University of Pretoria, and has served as a guest professor at LTS for several years. He has further served full-time as a lecturer and registrar at LTS since the beginning of this year.
“It will be a smooth transition,” Dr. Winterle notes, “as both of us had time to share our experiences and challenges. I wish him God’s blessing for this special ministry.”
The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane, Pretoria is an institution operating under the joint governance of the Lutheran Church in South Africa (LCSA); the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA); and the Bleckmar Mission, which is associated with Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church.
WORLD – Lutherans across the world continue to respond to the COVID-19 crisis with spiritual and physical care. In this post, we highlight the response of member churches of the International Lutheran Council in Germany and Nicaragua.
Germany has reported 183,564 cases of COVID-19, with 8,605 deaths. The country acted quickly to enact lockdown measures after the disease began to spread, leading to the closure of schools, the closure of national borders, and the imposition of curfews and stay-home orders in various parts of the country. Restrictions were also placed on church gatherings. Recently, some of these pandemic containment measures have begun to be relaxed.
From the beginning of the crisis, Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) has worked hard to provide continued pastoral care to members in unusual circumstances. A special crisis group was struck to provide pastors and congregations guidance and assistance about how to deal with the situation, as well as offering comfort and spiritual guidance. Churches moved quickly to offer services and other programs online, as well as offering services over the phone for older parishioners. Devotional resources for holding home services have also been made available.
“All the things that developed in our congregations with the various online services are a cause for much gratitude,” noted SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. “How many possibilities are suddenly arising in our congregations which—without this insidious virus—we would likely never have thought of.” Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.
The SELK was clear from the beginning the Lord’s Supper could not be consecrated online. Some churches have been able to resume in-church services since May 17, albeit with reduced numbers of parishioners, so pastors are working hard to administer communion to members who have gone without—sometimes conducting two or three services each Sunday in order to accommodate the reduced number of participants allowed to attend each service.
In this time of turmoil, Bishop Voigt encourages Christians to take comfort in the words of Jesus Christ: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“In these days,” Bishop Voigt comments, “may this promise be our strong consolation.”
Nicaragua currently reports 370 cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths. The country has refrained from mandating the social distancing and quarantine measures common in other parts of the world.
The Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (Iglesia Luterana Sínodo de Nicaragua – ILSN) reports widespread concerns that there may be more sick than currently verified by testing. In the midst of this unease, the church is offering spiritual support and guidance to people as they are able.
The ILSN took steps early on to keep members and their communities safe, suspending normal church meetings and activities. Large gatherings were suspended, with pastors instead meeting with small groups of people at a time to administer the means of grace. They have also distributed printed devotional material as well as offering services and messages online.
Some programs have had to be suspended for the time being, including the church’s large education program for children. The children’s feeding program, however, continues to be offered by deaconesses and volunteers, as it supports people in some of the poorest parts of the country. The program has been adapted to follow appropriate safety guidelines: rather than gathering children together in church buildings for meals, prepackaged food items are instead being delivered to the houses of impoverished children and families.
“We see how blessed our deaconesses in Nicaragua are in their dedication and service to the poor in their communities,” notes a recent update on the ILSN situation via The Canadian Lutheran magazine. “Their faith has opened their eyes to the needs of the people, and has inspired and led them to find ways to address those needs, even in the face of a daunting pandemic.”
For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
GERMANY – On February 26, 2020—Ash Wednesday—Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court declared that all people have a constitutional right to end their life in a manner of their own choosing and to seek outside help in doing so. The courts further ruled that access to assisted suicide should not be limited to those suffering from an incurable condition.
In response to the ruling, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK) has issued a letter arguing that “No one has the right to decide the circumstances of his own death.” Bishop Voigt also serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.
While the letter responds specifically to the declaration of Germany’s highest court, the issues it addresses—euthanasia and assisted suicide—are being increasingly considered in many areas of the world. In Canada, for example, the federal government has recently announced it will expand physician assisted suicide and euthanasia to allow those suffering from mental illnesses, and those not facing imminent death, to seek aid in dying.
Those seeking a Christian response to end of life issues faithful to Scripture will find Bishop’s Voigt’s words helpful. The letter appears below. (You can also read it in German here.)
“NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO DECIDE THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS OWN DEATH” Death and Birth are not Subject to Human Decisions – for the Sake of Man’s Dignity
Statement by the presiding clergyman of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt D.D. (Hannover), concerning the verdict of Germany’s Constitutional Court of February 26, 2020 regarding “a person’s right to decide on the circumstances of one’s death”.
First Preliminary Remark
The Federal Constitutional Court (“Bundesverfassungsgericht” or BVG) is Germany’s highest constitutional authority and deserves our utmost respect. The welfare of our state, its services, its advantages and their protection which we as citizens and as Christians enjoy every day, is very much dependent on this respect; because, according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, all legitimate state authority is given and willed by God. Thus it is difficult for me to criticize yesterday’s verdict by the Court.
Second Preliminary Remark
We ought to exercise the highest regard and the utmost restraint when we talk about the distress sick people feel and their fervent wish to die. The kind of suffering some people have to endure for years surpasses a healthy person’s way of thinking. In such times of suffering almost every person will likely consider thoughts how actively to end one’s own life. And even those people who will turn such thoughts into action deserve our Christian love and final accompaniment. Dr. Martin Luther often expressed the view that people who committed suicide should be given a Christian burial, because they “did not do it easily” and likely were in an internally vulnerable situation, and were “as if overcome by a robber in the forest.”
There is no “Right to Decide on one’s Own Death”
In its verdict of February 26, 2020 the Constitutional Court established a new legal principle when it stated in Point 1: “The general principle to define your own personality includes, as an expression of a person’s autonomy, the right to decide about one’s own way of dying.”
The Basic Law/Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany states in Par. 2, Sect. 1: “Every-one has the right to freely live out his personality, provided he does not violate the rights of others and does not transgress the constitutional order or the moral law.” Here the BVG makes a connection to Par 1., Sect. 1 of the German Constitution, where we read: “The dignity of the person is inviolable. To honour and protect it is the duty of all state power.”
At no point does the German Constitution posit a “right of self-determined dying.” This statement could possibly be rightly understood in reference to the manner of a person’s death, e.g. that it is a matter of one’s free determination to die with or without therapy, with or without pain medication. But the sentence that follows in the verdict under Sect. b states: “The right to a self-determined death includes the freedom to take one’s own life.” Within its context this sentence claims that there is a right to determine one’s own time of death. This claim arises out of nowhere. And it is new and wrong, and it is not in accord with the spirit of the German Constitution, as I will try to show hereafter.
This Verdict contravenes the Fifth Commandment
“You shall not murder”—so reads the Fifth of the Ten Commandments. This Commandment applies in regard to the life of others and also in regard to my own life. The dignity of man is based on the uniqueness of his being born. And that also implies the non-violability of his end. That man cannot in principle decide his own death is one of the reasons for his dignity.
These days various commentaries made the point that religious convictions cannot be applied to the general public in a secular state. But the Constitution of the Federal Republic does precisely that. The very first sentence of the preamble defines its background: “In full awareness of our responsibility before God and man…” The Constitution’s reference to God is the reminder that there is a higher law, so to speak, “the connection with on high”; human law needs to have a connection to divine law, to prevent it from ending up in arbitrariness.
The legal philosopher Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde has defined the ethical-moral connection this way: “The secular libertarian state is dependent on presuppositions that it cannot guarantee of its own.” Because the verdict of the BVG contravenes the ethical standard set by the Fifth Commandment—which is posited not only in the Judeo-Christian religion—the Court has cut itself off from the reference to the Divine in the Constitution.
Legal Uncertainty for Physicians and Supporters is not the Real Problem
Legal flaws and uncertainties as they derive out of Par. 217 of the Law until now prohibiting commercial support for suicide since December 3, 2015 are not the real problem. It is much more fundamental, because to posit a “right of self-determined dying” and the freedom to take one’s own life, there might then arise as a consequence the duty for the state to provide the necessary conditions for that right.
Up until now self-inflicted death was a taboo. Now that it has fallen, we can expect a subtle pressure on terminally ill patients to follow the expectations of their relatives and friends—even though they may be wrongly assumed—and have them take their own life. The first two articles of the German Constitution set forth the ethical position of a “culture of life.” Its present subsequent formulation now defines a “culture of death.”
I believe that February 26, 2020 will enter into the legal history of the Federal Republic of Germany as a kind of Ash Wednesday.
Hans-Jörg Voigt, D.D. Bishop, Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK) Hannover, Germany
Translation by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson (Windsor, Canada)
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.
GERMANY – The Extraordinary General Synod of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany opened April 19, 2018 with a Service of Confession and Communion in Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Stadthagen. In the first synodical session the election of the Bishop was on the agenda. This had become necessary because the term of office for Bishop Voigt was set to expire at the end of the year.
For the proposed election the General Pastoral Conference of SELK last year nominated Bishop Voigt and Rev. Markus Nietzke as candidates. In the afternoon these candidates presented themselves to the assembled delegates and answered questions that had previously been submitted to the leadership of the synod. The election by the 47 delegates took place in the evening. On the first ballot, Bishop Voigt received 30 votes, and Rev. Nietzke 17. Therefore Bishop Voigt continues to serve as the presiding clergyman of the SELK. The term of office is not limited.
Far beyond the confines of his church, Bishop Voigt’s pastoral letters on the plight of refugees and of Christian marriage have received considerable attention in Germany. Another important issue was the process of reconciliation begun with the Union Churches in the Protestant Federation (EKD) in Germany.
A native of Dresden, Rev. Dr. Voigt was installed as Bishop in 2006. In 2012 he became chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “I regard the bishop’s office as serving the unity of the church,” Bishop Voigt explained. “I have learned that leadership in the church is always a question of teamwork. It is important to listen, accept helpful suggestions, and continue to listen. It is essential to prevent polarization and to encourage people to speak with each other.”
For his second tenure in office, Bishop Voigt considers it a goal to be a confessionally sound Evangelical Lutheran Church with a heart for missionary outreach and ecumenical responsibility. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt is married to his wife Christiane; the couple is blessed with four children.
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church Hannover, Germany
GERMANY – While most Canadians celebrated the Christmas season in relative comfort, that wasn’t the case for all people across the world. In particular, one German pastor is raising the situation of Iranian and Afghan converts to Christianity living in Germany, who are facing mass deportation despite the dangers they will certainly face if they are returned to their homelands.
Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, a member congregation of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). This congregation, along with several other SELK churches, have welcomed hundreds of converts to Christianity in recent years, mostly Iranian and Afghan refugees living in Germany. Dr. Martens and his congregation were widely covered in international media in early 2016 for their work among refugees. But the German government has recently begun to deny en masse the refugee claims of many of these converts, following what Dr. Martens is calling deeply flawed refugee hearings.
“Desperate reports have been reaching me from members of our congregation,” he writes in a letter released December 23. “At this time, the Federal Ministry for Immigration and Refugees is rejecting almost all applications for asylum from our Iranian members, and in many cases also from our Afghan congregational members and candidates for baptism, and is sending them deportation notices.”
Germany has recently increased the number of personnel responsible for hearing asylum applications—a necessary change, given many refugees have been waiting three years for their first hearing. “Yet not even in our worst nightmares could we have pictured what this change would entail,” Dr. Martens says. “Many [of those hearing the cases] are manifestly clueless about the situation of Christians in Iran and Afghanistan, and worse yet they are utterly clueless concerning questions relating to the Christian faith. But all of this does not prevent them from assuming the role of self-appointed experts, whose questions ‘unmask’ the supposedly deceitful Iranian asylum applicants one after another, even when those hearing the cases don’t even know the difference between the [Apostle’s] Creed, and the Our Father [Lord’s Prayer].”
Instead, refugees are being tasked with obscure or even irrelevant questions to determine the “authenticity” of their conversions. “Questions are put such as the names of the two sons in the parable of the Prodigal Son, or what Martin Luther died of, or the occasion of Queen Margarethe of Denmark’s recent visit to Wittenberg,” Dr. Martens reports. “In this way, Christians who learned the first elements of the Christian faith in their house church in Iran are well and truly hung out to dry. Many hearings are more like kangaroo courts in which our congregational members and candidates for baptism have absolutely no chance of presenting what is important to them.”
Dr. Martens further reports that those hearing the cases are dismissing or even mocking the refugees when they express their faith in the importance of Christ dying on the cross for their sins. “What the applicant says here makes absolutely no sense,” one official is said to write in his official reports. Those tasked with translating for the court—mostly Muslims with little knowledge of the Christian faith, and in some cases reportedly hostile to it—are also accused of incorrectly or even falsely translating what the refugees say during their hearings. Such improper questioning and translating seriously damages the applicants’ claims for refugee status, as the final decision is made elsewhere in Germany on the basis of these reports and transcripts.
Dr. Martens says the flaws in the system are so great that the situation must inevitably be raised to a higher court. “Orders have obviously been given from above no longer to recognize Iranian converts as having the right to asylum in our country,” Dr. Martens suggests. “The systematic failure of the Federal Ministry in hundreds of cases must come to the light of day through the efforts of the superior courts.”
The challenges come after a year of other difficulties, as converts to Christianity have faced increasing persecution from Muslim refugees angry at their conversions from Islam. “This year many of them suffered violent attacks from Muslim residents of their institutional homes and from Muslim watchmen once they learned of their conversion. Time and time again—most recently last week—we have had to collect people from residences, in order to prevent worse from befalling them,” he notes. The attacks even led SELKS’ bishop earlier this year to call on the government to give Christian refugees to be given separate accommodations from Muslim refugees. “But our congregational members and candidates for baptism are continually finding that those who attack them and threaten them with death have no problem securing the right of abode here in Germany, while they themselves—the ones under attack—are ‘exposed’ by the Federal Ministry as not entitled to asylum.”
As an example, Dr. Martens notes the case of six Christian converts who were beaten by a group of nearly 100 radical Muslim asylum applicants in February 2016. Police dogs had to be released in order to protect the Christians. And yet the police investigation was eventually dropped. Now, the six Christians are among those receiving deportation notices.
Despite the challenges, Dr. Martens reports good news too for his congregation. In his letter he goes on to explain the process by which refugees are instructed in the Christian faith prior to baptism—or excluded, if a genuine conversion is not evident. Currently baptisms sit at between 30 and 40 a month. And renovations to the building to accommodate more refugees continue apace.
Dr. Martens ends his letter with a request for prayer. “Please keep praying for the work here in Stegltiz,” he writes. “It is and remains in many ways a spiritual battle loaded with many afflictions and temptations. And yet for me personally, even after 25 years, it remains the most beautiful service in the world, which I would never exchange for anything else. Pray above all that all the members who have found their way to our congregation in the last years may continue to hold to Christ and not let their love for their Lord falter!”
You can download Dr. Martens’ full letter here. The translation is by Rev. Dr. John Stephenson of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario).
SELK is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) has consecrated as bishop a Swedish theologian previously barred from ordination in Sweden because of his confessional Lutheran faith. Rev.
Hans Jönsson, 48, was consecrated August 6 at the cathedral in Riga to serve as bishop of Liepaja Diocese in southwestern Latvia.
Bishop Jönsson graduated from Lund University in Sweden. While studying in Lund, he supplemented his studies with lectures in Lutheran theology sponsored by the Swedish Luther Foundation, which was formed in 1955 to promote theological education grounded in the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran confessional writings, thus opposing increasingly liberal trends in the Church of Sweden.
Because of his confessional Lutheran views, Jönsson was denied ordination in the Church of Sweden. He was, however, certified as qualified for ordination by the Church Coalition for The Bible and Confessions, an umbrella organization encompassing several Swedish Confessional Lutheran movements that was founded in 1958 at the initiative of Bishop Bo Giertz to defend traditional Lutheran faith in the Church of Sweden. The Coalition was formed in the context of the debate over women’s ordination, which its members viewed as clearly contradicting Scripture.
Bishop Jönsson is also an associate member of the pastoral collegium of the Mission Province in Sweden. Dr. Bengt Birgersson, Mission Province Secretary, who attended the consecration, noted, “Sweden’s loss is Latvia’s gain. Many gifted young men were forced to leave Sweden in order to serve Christ abroad, having been denied ordination in the Church of Sweden because they were faithful to Scripture. This is why the Mission Province was formed: to provide a path to ordination and service in Sweden.” Since the founding of the Mission Province in 2003, approximately 40 men have been ordained in Sweden and in the Mission Dioceses in Finland and Norway who would otherwise have been excluded because they believe the Holy Scriptures limit the pastoral office to men.
The ELCL has a close historical relationship to the Church of Sweden. Unlike the Church of Sweden, however, the Latvian church has remained faithful to Confessional Lutheran theology. In 2000, Jönsson was invited to serve in Latvia while learning the language, receiving financial support from the Swedish Luther Foundation. He was subsequently ordained in Riga in 2003, and most recently served as pastor in Madona, about 40 miles east of Riga. He was also given responsibility for managing the national church’s finances and currently serves as chairman of the board for pastoral education.
Rev. Jönsson was elected June 3 to replace the retiring Bishop of Liepaja. The diocese consists of 124 congregations served by 40 pastors.
Archbishop Janis Vanags conducted the consecration, which was broadcast in its entirety by Latvian national television. Archbishop Vanags was assisted by Latvia’s bishops as well as Bishop Tiits Salumäe of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was represented by Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations and Assistant to the President. Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church in Norway also participated in the service. Representatives also attended from the Nordic Mission Dioceses, as well as the Swedish Luther Foundation and other confessional Lutheran movements.
With nearly 300 congregations, the ELCL is the nation’s largest church. It is in fellowship with the LCMS and also has close ties to the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany. In June, the ELCL amended its constitution to reverse a policy imposed during the Soviet domination that opened ordained ministry to women (although no women had been ordained since shortly after Latvia’s liberation).
Although ELCL is still a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), it rejected heavy pressure from the LWF in moving to limit ordination to men. Advocates of women’s ordination argued that this decision would strain relations with LWF members. In addressing the June synod, however, Archbishop Vanags expressed the intention of drawing closer to the International Lutheran Council and its member churches, including the LCMS, which ordain only men. Relations between ELCL and the Church of Sweden have also been greatly strained since the CoS accepted same-sex marriage.
WITTENBERG, Germany – On April 7, representatives of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) met with the new Director of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW), Kristen Lange, in Wittenberg’s Old Latin School.
Since the historic building in Wittenberg’s Old Town was restored and renovated as a study and welcome center, it began serving in its new role during the past year. The comprehensive building phase was headed up by Rev. David Mahsman. Now, as things transition into the programming phase, Kristen Lange has assumed responsibilities as its director. The SELK works together in the ILSW with its U.S. partner, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS’ mission department employs Director Lange as a missionary to Germany.
Director Lange, an academically-trained linguist (in German and English), had opportunity to visit with SELK Bishop Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, SELK District Presidents Peter Brückmann (of Berlin) and Thomas Junker (of Weissenfels), Rev. Markus Fischer (of Trinity Lutheran Church, Leipzig, which has responsibility for Wittenberg), Ulrich Schroeder (of Dresden) and Dr. Andrea Grünhagen (of Hannover, a theological resource executive). The SELK delegation took the opportunity to get acquainted and extend a sincere welcome to Germany. Rev. Mahsman also participated in the conversation, which, in addition to information about SELK church structures and procedures, considered upgrading a preaching presence in Wittenberg, as well as public relations, outreach, and preparations for the “World Reformation Exhibition,” planned for Wittenberg as part of the 2017 Reformation anniversary.
Bishop Voigt explained to SELK-News that he is filled with gratitude every time he visits the Old Latin School. “The strong LCMS engagement, which also involved the SELK, has brought results. I wish Kristen Lange a good adjustment to Germany and the Lord’s blessing for her work.”
GERMANY – Minorities are repeatedly targeted by radical Muslims at refugee shelters in Germany. In addition to single mothers traveling with children, Christians are also being affected. Dr. Gottfried Martens, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church—a congregation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Berlin-Steglitz—has furnished multiple reports of radical Muslim attacks on Christians and converts to Christianity. Members of his parish, composed primarily of refugees from Iran and Afghanistan, have appealed to Dr. Martens to rescue them from such shelters. Along with violent physical attacks, Christians are regularly insulted as “Kuffar” (unbelievers); necklaces adorned with baptismal crosses are wrenched from their necks, their Bibles torn up, and access blocked to kitchens in the shelters. As recently as this past Saturday such violent attacks took place in the refugee facility located at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin.
The SELK’s national bishop, Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, has responded by demanding separate accommodations for Christians as long as the state cannot ensure that all refugees may freely practice their faith in asylum facilities without disturbance. “Religious freedom is a constitutionally protected right, comparable to freedom of the press,” Bishop Voigt said. “The state has the obligation and duty to permit, ensure, and protect freedom of religion.” If this is only possible in the short term by providing separate accommodations for refugees according to religion, then this is the necessary solution for the time being. “It must not be permitted that Christians are oppressed in refugee shelters because of their faith.”
The spiritual leader of the SELK added that influential groups in society, various associations, and politicians are either downplaying this abuse or silencing it completely. The problem is that Christian churches in Germany represent a majority over against Muslims and, as a result, are legitimately concerned to protect a religious minority. In refugee shelters, however, the proportions are the other way around so that the Christians form the minority. Their need for protection is urgent. As a matter of principle, Bishop Voigt stressed that integration can only succeed when the faith of other people is respected and tolerated. Despite sharp differences in faith convictions it must be the goal of everyone to shape a peaceful life within the community.
Bishop Voigt, who also serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Evangelical Lutheran churches, hailed statements on religious freedom contained in the February 12 declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia, signed at the close of their recent meeting in Cuba. Among other things, it states, “In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions.” In response, Bishop Voigt commented: “We are committed to strengthening Christian refugees in this respectful spirit, but expect that Muslim spiritual leaders will stand up for religious freedom in the same way among their own adherents.”
SELK News February 16, 2016 Translation: Robert Bugbee