Meetings between ILC and PCPCU continue

GERMANY – On September 17-22, 2018 the Informal Dialogue Group between the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) will meet again. This time the gathering will take place on the premises of the Lutherische Kirchenmission (Lutheran Church Mission centre) in Bleckmar, Germany. The general topic of this informal dialogue is “The Presence of Divine Salvation in this World,” especially in the Church and its liturgy. This was stated at the beginning of the informal dialogue.

In Bleckmar, the conversations will center on the understanding of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, the understanding of the presence of Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Church, the co-operation between God and man in this regard, the office of the ministry, and the doctrine of justification.

Delegates on the ILC side are Rev. Dr. Albert Colver III (St. Louis, Missouri), Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Lübeck, Germany), Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil), and Prof. Dr. John Stephenson (St. Catharines, Canada); for the topic of “time and simultaneousness”, Mr. Pavel Butakov has been co-opted. On the Roman Catholic side are Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany), PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn, Germany), Father Dr. Augustinus Sander (Maria Laach, Germany), and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn, Germany).

The dialogue group will prepare a final report that is meant to be adopted in the course of next year. Then it will be submitted to the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Koch, and to the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council.

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Latvia celebrates 25th anniversary of Archbishop’s consecration; ILC brings greetings, addresses Eastern European bishops conference

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Jānis Vanags of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. (Photo: Ulda Muzikanta)

LATVIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski Luteriskā Baznīca – LELB/ELCL) celebrated the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Jānis Vanags in a special jubilee service in the Cathedral of Riga, Latvia on August 29, 2018. The anniversary coincided with the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference as well as an international gathering of church leaders for the Eastern European and Scandinavian Bishops Conference.

During the service, Archbishop Vanags preached on John 1:35-39, reflecting on Jesus’ call for all people to follow Him. “Jesus words ‘come and see’ are the most beautiful thing,” Archbishop Vanags said. “God calls. Jesus calls. He called me in my early childhood, during the Soviet era,” he reflected. “In an incredible way, He called me out of the darkness to Himself, to faith, and to ministry. It happens that God called me to serve in a unique way. But He also calls to every person, and every call is just as important… God’s call is your opportunity.”

Jesus’ words to “come and see,” Archbishop Vanags noted, are an answer to the question of the disciples: “Teacher, where are you staying?” That matters, he said, because God is not to be found everywhere, but only where He has made His dwelling. “Our church is often accused of being too conservative,” Archbishop Vanags noted, and of holding too rigidly to its doctrinal stances. “But our church does nothing of the sort,” he said. Instead, it merely seeks to ask the same thing that the disciples asked: “Lord, where do you live?” The church is called to “come and see” Christ where He has revealed Himself to be.

“Where is this place where Jesus lives?” Archbishop Vanags asked in conclusion. “Find it by listening to His preaching. For there, where Christ preaches, there is the Holy Christian church…. Let us listen again and again to hear the call of Jesus: ‘Come and see!’”

The ILC brings greetings, addresses conferences

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (left) and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (centre) bring greetings to the gathering on behalf of the International Lutheran Council.

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, the Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), was present for the event, bringing greetings and congratulations to Archbishop Vanags and the Latvian church. Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC, was also present, joining Bishop Voigt in bringing greetings on behalf of the International Lutheran Council. Both participated, along with numerous other church leaders, especially bishops from Eastern Europe, in the service of thanksgiving and prayer at the cathedral in Riga.

During the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference, Bishop Voigt gave a lecture on “International Relations and the International Lutheran Council.” He began by noting the distinction between “nation” and “nationalism”—something all too necessary today. Anytime one adds a sense of superiority to our understanding of “nation,” he warned, then we descend into nationalism.

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt presents on International Relations and the International Lutheran Council.

Such “nationalism” must not govern church relationships, Bishop Voigt said. Instead, when it comes to the topic of international relations from the perspective of the International Lutheran Council, he said, we do better to focus on the theological concept of the “catholicity” of the Church. Bishop Voigt appealed to the definition of catholicity given by the church father Vincent of Lérins, as alluded to and supplemented by the Formula of Concord—namely, that “catholicity” means what has been believed at all times, in all places, and taught by all Scripture. Such an understanding of the church will not lead to confessional arrogance, Bishop Voigt noted, but rather to repentance and humility.

Together with Dr. Collver, Bishop Voigt fielded questions about the International Lutheran Council from the pastors and bishops present. Both Bishop Voigt and Dr. Collver affirmed that they consider churches with dual membership in the International Lutheran Council and the Lutheran World Federation to be a valuable bridge between the two world organizations.

Events continued the next day in Saldus, Latvia, with the Eastern European and Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference. A major focus of discussion was the future of theological education in Europe, and the possibility of combining resources to meet challenges in that area. Plans were discussed for future meetings in the coming year. Present this year were leaders from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the United States.

During the Bishop’s Conference, Dr. Collver presented on the “Present and Future of the International Lutheran Council.” He began with a brief overview of the ILC’s history before describing some of the ILC’s plans for the future. Among other topics, he noted the development of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, an educational program which aims to assist Lutheran church bodies around the world in developing leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical leadership skills.

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Preparing for the 2018 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council

BELGIUM – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) will hold its 26th (11th) World Conference September 25-28, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium, meeting under the theme “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” The event will also mark the ILC’s 25th anniversary in its current form.

Among other business, the World Conference will elect officers to the ILC’s Executive Council as well as vote on the acceptance of several new members to the ILC.

“It is an honor and a blessing for our rather small Lutheran church in Belgium to host the ILC’s World Conference,” said President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België). “May the Lord of the Church bless our studies and decisions, in order to advance His Kingdom through the work of our confessional Lutheran churches.”

“We’re excited to be celebrating this special 25th anniversary for the ILC,” noted Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary for the ILC. “The International Lutheran Council has become a strong voice for confessional Lutheranism worldwide, and we’re planning to continue that forward momentum during our meetings in Belgium.”

The conference theme of “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism” will be introduced by Dr. Collver and Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler of Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS – Fort Wayne, Indiana) during the first day of the conference. Lectures on the topic over the following three days will be given by Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. (CTS); Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Emeritus, Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberursel, Germany); and Rev. Wilando T. Roa (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Baguio City, The Philippines).

Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger will also be giving a special presentation on Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology. The two-volume Confessing the Gospel, released in 2017, is the first new dogmatics published by The Lutheran Church–Missouri in nearly a century. Dr. Nafzger was General Editor for the work. He formerly served as Executive Secretary for the International Lutheran Council from 1993-2011.

Throughout the week, additional church leader from around the world will lead delegates in Matins, Bible Studies, and Vespers.

The ILC is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies, presently counting 38 members throughout the world. While this year’s conference marks the 25th anniversary of the ILC in its current form, its predecessor body—the International Lutheran Theological Conference—dates back to 1952.

The ILC as it currently exists was formed in 1993 in Antigua, Guatemala, when representatives from all six continents adopted a constitution founding the International Lutheran Council as a global council of Lutheran church bodies.

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LWF unilaterally suspends regular meetings with the ILC

GENEVA – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has unilaterally moved to suspend regular meetings with the International Lutheran Council (ILC), following a joint decision by LWF General Secretary Martin Junge and LWF President Musa Panti Filibus.

Dr. Junge announced the decision in a report to the LWF Council in Geneva on June 29, 2018.

The International Lutheran Council received the news with regret. “We are disappointed in the LWF’s decision to break off regular discussions,” said ILC Executive Secretary Albert Collver. “It is difficult to see how unilateral action of this kind does anything but damage the relationship between our two organizations.”

“It is true that the ILC and the LWF have significant differences of opinion on a number of theological issues,” Dr. Collver continued. “But despite these very real differences, the ILC remains willing to meet with LWF leaders in a spirit of friendliness and mutual respect.”

The ILC and the LWF have held regular annual discussions since 2011, honouring an earlier 2005 Memorandum of Understanding which called for such meetings. Eleven church bodies currently hold membership in both the International Lutheran Council and the Lutheran World Federation, making regular contact between the two organizations particularly valuable.

The Lutheran World Federation considers itself a communion whose members are in altar and pulpit fellowship with one another. By contrast, the International Lutheran Council is instead an association of church bodies and not does consider itself a communion. While many members of the ILC are, in fact, in communion with one another, this is neither a requirement for nor a direct result of membership in the ILC itself.

LWF Objections

In recent years, a number of LWF churches and confessional groups within LWF churches have contacted the ILC in hopes of developing a closer relationship. In his report, Dr. Junge indicates that he disapproves of the ILC’s fielding of such requests as well as its plans to make room in its organizational structure to recognize these groups. The LWF is therefore suspending meetings with the ILC at the present time.

The ILC is unapologetic in its position. “When faithful Lutherans come seeking closer ties to the ILC, we will of course welcome and support them, even if they should be a minority in their own country or church body,” said Dr. Collver. “Christian hospitality and love demand nothing less.”

The LWF report also suggests the ILC has not been clear in affirming that churches may hold membership in both organizations. While the ILC feels it has been clear on this matter, it here reaffirms that it permits dual membership in the International Lutheran Council and the Lutheran World Federation.

In his report, Dr. Junge also accuses the ILC of spreading “aggressive and wrong communications about the LWF”—charges that the ILC categorically denies. “We take very seriously the Christian’s call not to bear false witness against one’s neighbour,” Dr. Collver noted, “just as we take seriously the entire Law and Gospel in God’s Holy Scripture.”

The LWF writes that it envisions the suspension of meetings with the ILC as temporary in nature, with plans to resume meetings “after the second half of 2019.” The ILC for its part stands ready to resume contact with the LWF at any time.

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Ghana’s Lutherans prepare to welcome new president

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.

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Young European Lutherans to gather in the Czech Republic for 2018 Corpus Christi

Participants in the 2017 Corpus Christi conference gather for worship.

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.

For more information on Corpus Christi, visit their website at www.corpuschristi.se.

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Malagasy Lutherans to seek fellowship with the LCMS

FLM Bishop David Rakotonirina addresses the assembly on the opportunity of closer relations with The LCMS.

MADAGASCAR – On May 25, 2018, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana MalagasFLM) 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.

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Christmas Greetings from Confessional Lutherans around the World

Mattia Preti’s “Adoration of the Shepherds” (late 17th century)

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.

Download the Christmas Greetings map here.

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Antwerp marks Reformation 500, inaugurates Martin Luther Place

German Ambassador Rüdiger Lüdeking and Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever unveil the nameplate of Martin Luther Place in Antwerp, 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:

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ELKB Gijsbertus van Hattem leads the ceremony to unveil Martin Luther Place in Antwerp.

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.)

ELKB President van Hattem presents Ambassador Lüdeking and Mayor De Wever each with a Martin Luther figure from Playmobil.

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.

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Remembering the 200th anniversary of the forced union of Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia

King Frederick William III of Prussia.

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.

Translation by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson

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