GHANA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG) is preparing to welcome their new president, Rev. John Shadrack Donkoh, who will be installed during a special service in Accra on July 1, 2018. The theme for the service will be “One Body, One Lord, One Mission,” drawing on Ephesians 4:4-6.
President Donkoh was elected president with 82% of the vote during a convention on March 17, 2018 in Kumasi. He succeeds Rev. Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn, who had led the church for the past 40 years.
Prior to his election, President Donkoh was pastor of All Saints Lutheran in Anyaa and a part-time lecturer at the ELCG’s seminary in Sasaabi. He was ordained in 1991, and subsequently served and planted churches throughout Ghana. From 1994-2002, he served as a missionary to Uganda, and further served as Manager of Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM) in that country from 1995-2003. He later served as Country Director for LHM in Ghana from 2003-2011. President Donkoh formerly served the ELCG as secretary of the Ministerial Council (2003-2008), as Vice Chairman of its Restructuring Committee (2006), and as Secretary of the Disaster Committee (2007-2011).
President Donkoh’s election followed two years of work as the ELCG developed a new system of governance for the church. A convention in January 2018 saw the church adopt a new constitution, which precipitated the March elections. Elected to serve with President Donkoh were Rev. Dr Ebenezer Boafo (First Vice President), Alex Lanbon (Second Vice President) and Kwame Poku-Boah (Third Vice President).
The elections are for a three-year term.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
PRAGUE – Young Lutheran adults across Europe are looking forward to celebrating the 10th annual Corpus Christi conference, set to take place July 23-27, 2018 in Prague. Corpus Christi is an independent Evangelical Lutheran association promoting churchly and biblical renewal among young adults in Europe.
More than 150 people have already registered for the upcoming conference, and the board of Corpus Christi expects a total of more than 200 attendees to come to this year’s event in the Czech Republic. Plenary speaker for the event will be Canadian pastor Rev. Kurt Reinhardt, who will be presenting on the subject of Christian hope. For additional speakers and more information on the schedule of events, visit Corpus Christi’s website here.
Last year’s Corpus Christi conference in Halle, Germany was a huge success with more than 200 attendees. In Lutheran style, the 2017 event celebrated the 500 year anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation with the theme “In Christ Alone.” The conference was well received, especially since it was the first year that attendees were able to use a physical copy of the Lutheran Service Book (LSB). Every day during the week long conference, young adults sung the liturgy, psalms, and Lutheran hymns. The hymnals came as a gift from the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
Participants are eager to use the ILC’s wonderful gift of LSB’s again this coming summer. This year the ILC has agreed to finance ribbons for the hymnals, to assist those not yet familiar with the Lutheran Service Book.
MADAGASCAR – On May 25, 2018, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagas – FLM) voted to “more fully realize our unity as Lutheran Christians” between itself and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), with hopes that a closer relationship between the two churches will lead to the recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship in the future. The decision came during a gathering of the Committee of Highest Synod Leaders (KMSL), the highest decision making body in the Malagasy church, as they met in Antananarivo.
“We give thanks to our Lord who leads His church. I am very pleased to announce that FLM has decided to seek fellowship with the LCMS,” said FLM’s President, Bishop David Rakotonirina. “This is the first step to open the door by working together in the areas of development. We pray for the next steps. We desire to keep FLM a confessional Lutheran church. Praise the Lord.”
LCMS President Matthew Harrison greeted news of the vote with joy, calling it “one of the most significant days in the history of The LCMS and world confessional Lutheranism.”
“We are deeply humbled and deeply thankful,” he continued. “This is the result of growing love and partnership, recognizing a unity of confession of Christ, the gospel, and the truth of the inerrant scriptures, and of the Lutheran confessions,” President Harrison continued. “We have grown together through LCMS World Relief and Human Care medical mercy work, aids projects, graduate education for Malagasy leaders at our Fort Wayne seminary, the work of our Africa region missionaries, of our church relations division, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and more. The Malagasy have taught us much about zeal for outreach, and care for the most needy. And we have much more to learn. Thanks be to God.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church was founded in 1867 by Norwegian missionaries and is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary. Today, FLM is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world, with approximately 4 million members in 8,500 congregations. It counts 1,500 pastors, and has more than 1,000 schools for Christian education. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has 2 million members, and is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.
Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and Executive Secretary for the ILC, brought greetings to the KMSL on behalf of the Missouri Synod. In remarks to the assembly, he encouraged them to maintain their faithful witness in the Gospel. “Our churches are sisters, in the same family, but separated while we were both young but now we have found each other as we celebrate important jubilees,” he noted. “We are confessional Lutherans who are faithful to the Bible with a strong Lutheran identity. The Missouri Synod and our partner churches around the world are eager to walk with the Malagasy Lutheran Church. We hope to come closer to you and partner together to bear witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world.”
“This marks a historic moment in world Lutheranism, where a Lutheran church in the Global South seeks a true partnership to mutually strengthen and encourage one another,” he said of the vote. “Today, the LCMS has the ability to help build capacity, while tomorrow the Malagasy Lutheran Church will send pastors and missionaries both to Europe and to North America. In fact, they already are doing this.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will now turn their attention to planning next steps for their growing partnership.
WORLD – The leaders from a number of confessional Lutheran churches around the world have joined together in issuing Christmas greetings. Their greetings appear in a downloadable map highlighting the locations of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) member churches.
Among those taking part in the project is Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council and Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church. “At the Feast of the Nativity of our Saviour Christ Jesus and for the New Year 2018 we wish you contemplation, quietude and blessing,” he writes.
Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council and outgoing President of Lutheran Church–Canada also brings greetings. “In the Person of Jesus, the true God came down and took His place next to us in this dark world so that we one day could take our place beside Him on high and sing His praises forever,” he writes. “May God give you the heart and the words to hold out this Christ to people who come to worship with you this Christmas. Sincere greetings and love in Christ our Lord.”
Other church leaders taking part in the project represent Lutheran church bodies in Nicaragua, Venezeula, Brazil, South Africa, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Australia.
The Christmas Greetings map was developed by Rev. Johannes Reitze-Landau, pastor of the All Lutheran Church of Brussels, a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium.
BELGIUM – On October 31, 2017, “Martin Luther Place” (Maarten Lutherplein) in Antwerp, Belgium, was inaugurated by the city’s Mayor, Bart De Wever, and Germany’s ambassador to Belgium, Rüdiger Lüdeking.
The inauguration was part of Antwerp’s celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Antwerp played an important role in the early years of the Reformation. The Augustinian monastery there had several monks who studied with Luther in Wittenberg, and brought his ideas to Antwerp. Two of them—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—became the two first martyrs of the Reformation, executed in Brussels on July 1, 1523.
President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België, EKLB), directed the ceremony, as the local Lutheran church initiated efforts to name a place after Luther.
The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. President van Hattem also serves as Secretary of the ILC’s Executive Council.
Antwerp, Belgium will be the venue of the International Lutheran Council’s next world conference in September 2018.
President van Hattem’s inauguration speech for “Martin Luther Place” follows:
We warmly welcome you to this festive inauguration of Martin Luther Place.
In particular, Mr. Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp, and Mr. Rüdiger Lüdeking, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Herzlich Wilkommen!
Today marks exactly 500 years since the monk and university professor Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis about and against indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Church doors acted as message boards at that time.
Throughout the world, October 31, 1517, is seen as the symbolic date for the start of the Reformation, a movement that has had a major impact on our Western culture and society.
Since Antwerp came into contact with the Reformation early in the 16th century, and Protestantism played a major role in the city, Antwerp might have remained a Protestant city—if it did not had been brought back under the Spanish crown in 1585. For these reasons, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation may certainly be celebrated in Antwerp.
This has already happened and is happening through many activities throughout the year, not least through the exhibition at St. Andrew Church, with its focus on the early years of the Reformation in this city.
What was missing was a visible reminder of the Reformation in the Antwerp cityscape. It is for this reason that the Lutheran church, with the support of the Antwerp Council of Churches, applied to City Council to name a street or place after the Reformer, which made the city council decide to call this place “Martin Luther Place.”
We now invite the Mayor and the Ambassador to proceed to the official inauguration of the Martin Luther Place by revealing one of the nameplates. (The mayor and ambassador revealed the nameplate.)
With this the square is inaugurated. As a souvenir at this moment and this day, we would like to present you with a figure of the Reformer. (The mayor and ambassador both received a Playmobil Luther figure.)
We thank everyone for their presence and ask you to join us in St. Andrew church nearby for a few speeches alternated with music, after which will follow a reception by the District of Antwerp with Lutherbier provided by the German Embassy.
GERMANY – September 27, 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of the Prussian King Fredrick William III’s Order-in-Council, which marked the beginning of a rather distressing journey towards the formation of autonomous Evangelical Lutheran Churches in the former Prussian territories. Beginning in 1817, Frederick William III issued a series of decrees which pushed Lutheran and Reformed churches to merge. Later decrees required churches to give up the name “Lutheran” or “Reformed” in favour of the name “Evangelical,” and to adopt a new liturgy which privileged Reformed theology in the area of Holy Communion at the expense of Lutheran beliefs.
Many Lutherans protested and their pastors refused to use the new rite. When caught using historic Lutheran liturgies, these pastors were suspended from ministry. If they were further caught continuing to practice pastoral care, they were then imprisoned. The persecution of these “Old Lutherans,” as they were called, led eventually to the formation of independent confessional Lutheran church bodies throughout German territories.
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständigen Evangelisch Lutherischen Kirche – SELK) in Germany traces its origins to this movement, as do confessional Lutheran churches in other German territories. Some Old Lutherans emigrated from Germany to other nations in pursuit of religious freedom. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (SELK), for example, grew out of this exodus, as did the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). SELK and the LCMS are both member churches of the ILC, while the LCA is an associate member.
On September 27, to mark the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Prussian Union, the persecution of the Old Lutherans, and the origins of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the SELK, released the following letter. Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council. (Read the letter in German here.)
Remarks on the 200th anniversary of the Frederick William III’s Union Decree
Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt
I would not want to let this date pass without pointing out its significance. We have no cause to celebrate, because September 27, 1817 is the beginning of the suppression of Lutheran congregations and their pastors by Prussian authorities. And this is the cause for Lutheran families to become refugees, feeling compelled to flee to North America and to Australia, where they founded Lutheran churches that are now sister churches of the SELK.
No one less than Dr. Martin Luther himself, at the conclusion of the attempted union discussion at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, with great regret felt it necessary to say: “You have a different spirit!” In his order-in-council released September 27, 1817, Frederick William III called this “an unfortunate sectarian spirit,” which evidenced “insurmountable difficulties” in Martin Luther’s person. To the King’s mind, the Lutheran and Reformed Churches 300 years after the Reformation were “separated protestant churches merely by certain external differences.” Thus begun the attempt to marginalize the Lutheran Church in Prussia.
On September 27, 1817, the King still claimed: “This union will only be of real value when it is effected neither by persuasion nor by indifferentism, rather that it should arise out of the free conviction of those involved, so that it is not only a union in mere external form but indeed has its roots and vital strength in a unity of the heart, according to genuine Biblical principles.” Some time later Frederick William III dissociated himself from this position, and ordered the acceptance of a union agenda which he had authored, in which Reformed and Lutheran worship was amalgamated.
It was at this point that real persecution commenced. The congregations in Silesia still remembered the persecution that was visited upon them during the rule of the Habsburgs, less than 100 years earlier. And so most of them were still aware of what they had to do. They held their worship services in the forests. Various congregations in Pomerania and in the provinces along the Rhine followed their example. At times, every Lutheran pastor was in jail.
I want to remind all of us of this willingness on the part of the mothers and fathers of our church to suffer and of their courageous faith. They were ready to consider questions of their faith; Holy Communion was for them so important that under no circumstances were they willing to question the certainty of the body and blood of Christ under bread and wine. They were even willing, after the legalization of the Lutheran Church from 1845 on, to continue paying state church contributions, while in addition giving their own offerings for the construction of new Lutheran churches and parsonages and for the salaries of their pastors. This sacrificial spirit in hard times is exemplary. And our church today is alive because of this same sacrificial spirit.
It is of some value to remember this and keep it alive. But at the same time it is important for our church not to maintain the role of a victim. During the last several years we have engaged in dialogue with the Union of Evangelical Churches (UEK) within the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD — the Protestant Federation of the State Churches in Germany). For the first time in 200 years we have taken a look at our common history. We have drafted a Gemeinsames Wort (“Common Address”) and a Brief an die Gemeinden (Letter to the Congregations); they are still in the process of being finalized for adoption. Both of these papers are to be signed in a Service of Repentance and Thanksgiving on the Day of Repentance and Prayer, November 22, 2017 in Berlin. These documents still clearly enunciate remaining differences separating our churches, but we also express our gratitude for common viewpoints.
This process was initiated by a very moving sermon preached 50 years ago (1967) by Franz-Reinhold Hildebrandt. At the time, he was head of the Chancellery of the Evangelical Church of the Union (EKU). In that sermon, he said: “Our church stands in guilt that is still not dealt with. Rifle butts by soldiers, forcible entry into churches and the arrest of pastors, that’s what happened. And so at that time many families left their home and emigrated to Australia and North America. They wanted to keep pure their Lutheran faith, which they saw endangered in the Union. And if guilt can only be obliterated by forgiveness, then we don’t want to let this day pass without asking our Old Lutheran brethren for such forgiveness.”
All of us today have a lasting responsibility for our history. Because we participate in the blessings that our church bestows on us, so we are also responsible for any suffering and guilt in our history. This background makes it important, to grant human forgiveness—to ask for the same and to grant it.
This day fills me with mournful remembrance and great respect for the suffering the mothers and fathers of our church had to bear. But on the other hand I am full of gratitude for the Lutheran Church into which I was baptized: the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). I am also filled with gratitude for the thorough and respectful discussions with the representatives of the UEK. They will enable both churches to look at one another in a spirit different than in the past.
NAMIBIA – The Twelfth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met May 10-16, 2017 in Winhoek, Namibia, and Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) was present as an ecumenical guest. Chairman Voigt is also Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK).
During their Assembly, the LWF celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a service in the Sam Nujoma Stadium in the Capital of Namibia. In his greetings to the assembly, Chairman Voigt expressed his gratitude for the kind invitation to attend as an ecumenical observer. He noted that the ILC’s historical roots date back to the Prussian Empire in Germany, which grew in power throughout much of Germany in the nineteenth century. As part of that consolidation of power, the Prussian King enacted the Prussian Union of Churches in 1817, which forced a merger of Lutheran and Reformed churches.
A number of Lutheran congregations rejected this Prussian Union, especially because of differences between Reformed and Lutherans on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Those who resisted the Prussian Union formed the “Old Lutheran Church” in Germany. But the Old Lutherans faced significant persecution from the government, with many of their pastors imprisoned, causing numerous Lutheran families to emigrate to the United States of America, Canada, Brazil, and Australia. In these new lands, they established Lutheran church bodies that adhered to the Lutheran Confessions—churches that today are members of the ILC. In addition to marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, then, 2017 also marks the 200th anniversary since the founding of the Union Church and the subsequent persecution of the Old Lutherans.
More recently, Chairman Voigt noted, “The origins of the International Lutheran Council proper can be traced to its foundational conference in 1952. “Today it represents 3.3 million Lutherans worldwide in 38 member churches.”
In his remarks, Chairman Voigt also addressed the confusion and mistrust which exists between some members of the ILC and the LWF. “What are the reasons for these frustrations?” he asked, noting we must take the concerns seriously. In particular, he said, we must ask: “Do we have a different understanding of hermeneutics for the use and understanding of our confessions?”
To better address these kinds of questions, the ILC and LWF began in 2005 a series of annual conversations. This year, the discussions included two theological presentations—one from each side—on the “The Importance of our Understanding of the Scriptures for the Unity of the Church.” In his address to the LWF, Chairman Voigt highlighted a selection from the LWF’s presentation (given by Rev. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans): “In the Lutheran tradition, priority was generally given to theology to express form and life out the church’s oneness and the unity of the various churches.”
Finally, Chairman Voigt noted the theme of the LWF Assembly—“Liberated by God’s Grace”—and provided two short sentences of commentary. “First we must remember, as Anselm of Canterbury says, that we should not underestimate human guiltiness and iniquity,” he explained. “Second, we must remember, as Martin Luther says, that it is nearly impossible to overestimate God’s grace; for He is like a glowing oven, full of love, reaching from earth to heaven.”
“I wish this overwhelming warm love in your hearts and into your Assembly,” he concluded.
On May 13, 2017 the LWF Assembly elected Rev. Dr. Musa Panti Filibus, the Archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, as its new President. Chairman Voigt congratulated him on his election, and expressed pleasure in having had the opportunity to meet him earlier in 2012, when Dr. Filibus represented the LWF as an ecumenical guest to the ILC’s 2012 World Conference in Niagara Falls, Canada.
JAPAN – From May 1-3, 2017, the Japan Lutheran Church (日本ルーテル教団Nihon Ruteru Kyoudan – NRK) held its 17th General Convention, during which time it reelected Rev. Shin Shimizu to another three-year term as President. In addition to serving as President, Rev. Shimizu serves as pastor of Totsuka Lutheran Church.
The next triennium will see the NRK focus on the theme “Christians as Priests and Perfectly Dutiful Servants of All—Our Reformation, Progressing from the 500th Anniversary of Luther Reformation.” The theme passage selected for the next three years was Acts 20:35—“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
“We seriously considered what we can do to serve our neighbours, others, and churches as the body of Christ,” President Shimizu explained. “Also, we considered what we can to do serve our God by each one of us praying for both our neighbours and others, as we all go back to the basics of the ‘priesthood of all believers.’”
President Shimizu expressed thanks to the churches of the International Lutheran Council for their prayers, and expressed his desire that the NRK would continue to grow into closer partnership with the ILC in the coming years. The ILC is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies of which the NRK is a member. “I would like to continue cooperating with the International Lutheran Council,” President Shimizu explains, “as we further deepen our relationship with the ILC.”
The convention also reelected Rev. Tatsuomi Yoshia (Sapporo Chuo Lutheran Church) as Vice-President, and filled a number of other Executive Committee and Staff positions for the next three years.
The Japan Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church body in Japan, with about 2,400 members in 33 congregations. In addition to being a member of the ILC, it is also a member of the Lutheran World Federation.
NIGERIA – On May 5, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) held a funeral service for the Rev. Sunday Obari Owateobe, with members of the church in attendance from across the nation.
“The late Reverend was a gallant soldier of the cross,” the LCN noted on social media. “May his soul rest in peace and may the Lord protect and preserve the bereaved.”
Rev. Owateobe served as LCN Vice-President from 2002-2008. He was 80 years old at the time of his death, having been born in 1937.
The Lutheran Church of Nigeria is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Its membership numbers more than 80,000. The LCN is also a member church of the Lutheran World Federation.
SWITZERLAND – Representatives of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met together at the LWF’s headquarters in Geneva from April 6-7 for regular annual consultations.
Representing the ILC were Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt (Hannover, Germany), ILC Chairman and Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK); Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (St. Louis, USA), ILC Executive Secretary; Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Antwerp, Belgium), ILC Secretary and President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium; Rev. Jon Ehlers (London, England), ILC’s Europe World Region representative and Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England; and Professor Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Fort Wayne, USA). Representing the LWF in the discussions were Rev. Dr. Martin Junge (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF General Secretary; Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF Director for Mission and Development; Rev. Anne Burghardt, (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF Secretary for Ecumenical Relations; and Professor Rev. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans (Münster, Germany).
Discussions began with reports of the two bodies’ respective work over the past year. For example, ILC representatives reported on the ILC’s World Seminaries Conference which took place in Wittenberg, Germany in October 2016. Among other topics, the LWF reported on its June 2016 Council meeting, which was likewise held in Wittenberg.
Participants also discussed their respective plans for activities related to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The LWF, for example, will hold its annual assembly in Windhoek, Namibia in May 2017, with ILC Chairman Voigt attending as an ecumenical guest. On the ILC side, the ILC Executive Committee, together with members of the ILC European region, will participate in the SELK’s Reformation festivities, taking place June 23-25, 2017 in Berlin and Wittenberg. ILC churches around the world are also planning national and regional events to commemorate the Reformation.
A number of other topics were raised in discussion throughout the meetings between the ILC and LWF. A special focus was two theological presentations on “The Importance of our Understanding of the Scriptures for the Unity of the Church.” Prof. Ziegler gave a lecture on the topic from the perspective of the ILC, while Prof. Grosshans presented from the LWF’s perspective. Dr. Ziegler stressed that, while the Lutheran Confessions themselves do not include an explicit article on the proper use of Scripture, such principles can be readily recognized in the ways in which the Confessions use Scripture. Dr. Grosshans for his part emphasized that the unity of the Church ought to drive our understanding of theology.
The participants expressed thanks for the ongoing conversations, with the two presentations on Scripture cited as particularly helpful in helping the two Lutheran world bodies better understand one another.
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