The following article was written by Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt for the 2018 Christmas issue of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Voigt is Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.
Those shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were tough guys. Any decent person of the time would have considered them outcasts—on par with thieves and robbers. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with them. So, of course, it is to these people in the fields that the angels first appear. Luther’s words here are most fitting: “This is the first sermon about the newborn little child, our Lord Jesus, that was brought by the angels from heaven to us here on earth.”
What kind of people were those shepherds? I am reminded of four objects that such shepherds may have carried on their person; and they say a lot about those people. And what they tell us is that these shepherds were very much like you and I today.
No doubt the shepherds carried a good knife on their belts. After all, a shepherd has to trim the hoofs of the sheep and he has to cut the sticks that close the gate at night. The Evangelist St. Luke writes: “They kept watch over their flock by night” (2:8). Back then, there were still some lions in the region around Bethlehem. And to protect the herd from the attack of lions that raided during the night, you needed at least a knife.
The shepherds were therefore tough guys. They were people who knew how to use knives and clubs well, often even frightening other people. He who is afraid often seeks to frighten others.
What are you afraid of? What makes your jackknife flip open? And how do you frighten others? Somebody once told me that we Germans are often considered to be quite anxious. Was it perhaps this “German angst” that so often caused Germans throughout history to break out their long “knives”? Is there such a thing as “Canadian angst”?
When the angel came to the shepherds, they were very much afraid. Yet the angel proclaims to them the opposite of fear and anxiety; he brings joy and peace. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day a Saviour…. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace” (Luke 2:10-11, 14).
The child in the manger, Jesus Christ, brings joy and peace despite the fear and anxiety so prevalent in our time.
A few weeks ago, we marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It was the most horrendous war that the world had seen until then. Canadians and Germans opposed each other on the battlefields of Europe as bitter enemies. I am filled with gratitude that this last November the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel shook hands right there among the war graves.
In 1914, something unusual happened in France. The war was raging in its fifth month; more than a million casualties were already mourned. But on Christmas Eve, the soldiers on both sides simply stopped shooting. For this day, at least, they wanted peace. And the Germans began to sing: “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.” On the other side the English called out: “Well done, Fritzen!” and then they began to sing: “O holy night… it is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.” Then they showed each other their little Christmas trees, and, when nobody was shooting, they dared to come out of their trenches. They exchanged gifts and put up their little Christmas trees for all to see. Later on, in No-Man’s-Land, they played soccer—unbelievable!
The birth of Christ works peace! God Himself makes peace for us by forgiving our sins. In the war this divine peace, for just a brief moment, became visible right there among the knives, the bayonets, and the machine guns. This story—it has become known as the “Christmas Peace of 1914”—is not recorded in many documents. The army commands on both sides tried to hush up the event, and they had some difficulty trying to restart the war in January. The units were re-assigned, because many of the men didn’t want to shoot anymore.
For a brief moment in history, the “knives” were put away and peace became a reality.
When I think of the shepherds, I also think of sheepskins. For me it’s hard to imagine that the shepherds did not present a soft, warm sheepskin to the Christ child. St. Luke writes: “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16). It seems likely that the shepherds brought a sheepskin with them, but we can’t know for certain.
But what we do know is the following: Christmas is not about us presenting a gift to the Christ child; instead, the Child presents us with a white, pure sheepskin. For this purpose, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, became man: to give us the gift of the sheepskin of His love and forgiveness. His love for us men is warmer than any sheepskin. His love is so warm that it covers up all your guilt and takes away all your anxiety.
If you are sad during these Christmas holidays—perhaps because you’re alone, or because the festival is not turning out as joyful as you had hoped—then just think of the warm sheepskin of Jesus’ love for you. When others have offended you and you are angry, think of the warm sheepskin of Jesus’ love.
In those days, shepherds wore sandals that consisted of a leather sole tied to the feet by strings. These sandals have some significance for us. After they had witnessed the scene, the shepherds used these sandals to go out to various people to tell them of that wonderful child in the manger. St. Luke reports: “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” (2:17).
The sandals are a reminder for us that at some time in the past, somebody did for us what the shepherds did in their day. Somebody brought that same message about the Child in the manger to Germany and to Canada. Let’s hope that these shepherds—the Greek word for shepherd is “pastor”—who first brought this Christmas message to Canada were wearing winter boots and not sandals! But we really should be grateful for the shepherds’ sandals; they brought us the Christmas message of the wonderful Child in the manger.
St. Mary shows us what we should do with the words of these shepherds: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Yes, the sandals of the shepherds are truly important. Speaking of these “sandals,” our Confessions say this: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted” (Augsburg Confession, Article 5).
No doubt about it: a real shepherd has a real flute. St. Luke the Evangelist proclaims: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Yes, I can easily imagine how the shepherds went through the night and played their flutes.
It brings to mind Luther’s words from one of his Christmas sermons: “Having heard a good sermon, sing a joyful hymn.” Why? Because the child in the manger, Christ Jesus our Lord, takes away our “knives” and grants us eternal peace. Because Jesus Christ grants us His forgiving love, which is white, soft, and warm like a sheepskin. Because He sends shepherds in their sandals to proclaim Christ’s love to this day.
For this reason, we sing and play the flute, we use drums along with violins, trumpets, organs, pianos and our voices to the best of our ability, whether that be in “old Germany” or among “God’s frozen people” in Canada.
ONLINE – The International Lutheran Council is a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies around the world, and operates a number of programs that support confessional Lutheran mission and ministry across the globe. Want to support that work? Now you can through online giving on the ILC’s website.
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ANTWERP – The newly inducted and installed Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) has named Darin Storkson as the ILC’s Deputy General Secretary, filling a post created following the ratification of the ILC’s new bylaws during the 2018 World Conference in Belgium. Storkson had already been unofficially functioning in the role for more than a year.
As a former diplomat with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a former foreign direct investment consultant, and a director in various international roles for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) for thirteen years, Storkson brings significant international experience and capacity to the ILC to engage and build partnerships with international church bodies.
“It’s a pleasure to officially welcome Darin as Deputy General,” said Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC. “I’ve worked directly with Darin for several years and look forward to serving with him in this new capacity. His expertise will be an invaluable asset to the International Lutheran Council as it faces ever-expanding opportunities to assist confessional Lutherans around the world in their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
For the last thirteen years, Storkson has served the LCMS in various capacities. From 2005-2011, Storkson served as a regional director for LCMS World Relief and Human Care. He then served as the Office of International Mission (OIM) Regional Director for Southern Asia and Oceania from 2011-2014, as Senior Regional Director for Asia from 2014-2016, and finally as Assistant Director of Church Relations in the Office of the President from 2016 to the present.
“Darin joined LCMS World Relief after the great Asian tsunami,” noted LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison. “His decades of experience living and working overseas with NGOs and churches have been an invaluable blessing. He has especially insisted on integrity and accountability in the use of funding, and he has been tireless in assisting partners with the building of administrative capacity.”
“This is a watershed moment for global Lutheranism,” says Storkson. “The solidly biblical and confessional theology of the ILC is attracting new Lutheran partners right and left, and we are embracing these exciting opportunities for new partnerships in the Gospel. The expansion of our international relationships has been a hallmark of the ILC in the last several years, and it is a tremendously exciting opportunity and blessed privilege to be part of such a great organization and contribute to the historic growth of confessional Lutheranism around the world.”
In his new position, Storkson will assist the ILC General Secretary Dr. Collver with the day-to-day management of the expanding work of the International Lutheran Council.
GERMANY – The fourth (and fifth) meeting of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) – Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) dialogue group took place September 17-21, 2018 at the facilities of Lutherische Kirchenmission in Bleckmar, Germany. The goal of this “informal dialogue is to find out whether an official dialogue between ILC and PCPCU on the world level is possible and might be fruitful.”
Four working groups submitted papers for plenary discussion; they were are established as follows: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn, Germany) and Prof. Dr. John Stephenson (St. Catharines, Canada) worked on the topic of Justification; PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn) and Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Fort Wayne, USA) on Synérgeia and Sacrifice; Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany) and Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil) on Ministry and Ordination; Father Augustinus Sander (Erfurt, Germany) and Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Lübeck, Germany) on Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass (ApolCA XXIV).
The Lutheran team invited Dr. Pavel Butakov from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia to deliver a paper on “The Eucharistic Conquest of Time” (printed in: Faith and Philosophy Vol. 34 No 3 July 2017), pointing out to the difficulties of certain theories to explain the presence of the sacrifice of Christ in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Those papers already submitted were discussed in detail. Criticisms were debated and additional suggestions were noted. It occurred that some commonalities between the Roman-Catholic and Concordia-Lutheran traditions are to be found whereas some points still need further explanation and consideration on both sides and in plenary. Several issues however still remain controversial and obviously cannot be resolved in this informal dialogue but will have to be dealt with in future conversations.
The workings now have been appointed to rewrite their respective drafts and send them around for further discussion. Additionally text modules shall be sketched that will form part and parcel of the final report. On the grounds of these text modules a first draft of this final report is meant to be conceptualized. This task has been assigned to Dr. Klän. Over and above this, a preamble was seen as helpful to explain about the hermeneutical approaches to the dialogue and its various topics including an accurate description of the Lutheran “set of norms”, or standards that define the Church’s doctrine.
The final meeting of the dialogue group has been scheduled for September 2019 in either Canada (St. Catharines, Ontario) or the United States (St. Louis, Missouri). In that meeting, the final report is meant to be adopted. Then it will be submitted to the ILC Executive Committee and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity respectively. Those will have to decide whether or not the results presented by the dialogue group are seen as sufficiently satisfactory as to start an “official dialogue”.
Participants in the ILC-PCPCU dialogue group include, on the ILC side, Rev. Dr. Albert Colver III, Prof. Dr. Werner Klän, Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler, Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden, and Prof. Dr. John Stephenson. On the Roman Catholic side are Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag, PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann, Father Dr. Augustinus Sander, and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen.
AUSTRALIA – On October 4, Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), brought greetings to the 19th General Convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA), meeting in Rosehill, New South Wales.
The text of Dr. Collver’s greetings appears below. Additional news from the LCA’s General Convention of Synod is available through the convention website here.
ILC Greetings to Lutheran Church of Australia at the 19th General Convention of the Synod
I bring you greetings in the Name of Jesus on behalf of the International Lutheran Council and her member churches on the occasion of the LCA’s 19th General Convention of the Synod. It is an honor and privilege to be here with you today.
First, I would like to share a little about the ILC with you. The people who formed the ILC first met after the July 1952 Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Assembly which was held in Hanover. The concern for the churches that first formed the ILC was de facto fellowship within the LWF. An Australian, transplanted from Germany, Dr. Hermann Sasse, played a small role in the formation of what would become the International Lutheran Council. In a letter dated June 6, 1952 from Dr. Sasse to the Missouri Synod President, Dr. Behnken, Sasee writes, “As to Uelzen Dr. Hoopmann [of Australia] asked for my opinion, and I have given him some material for a constitution.” Sasse contributed to the ILC’s first constitution. The founding churches of the ILC, including Australia, met in Uelzen, Germany, after the LWF meeting in Hannover. The Lutheran Church of Australia has had connections to the ILC from its very beginning.
As of last week, the International Lutheran Council has 54 member church bodies representing a total of 7.15 million Lutherans worldwide. You can find out more about the ILC on its webpage http://www.ilcouncil.org, including the prayers the ILC posted for the Lutheran Church of Australia, and on the ILC’s Facebook page.
I know some of you may find this hard to believe, but other ILC member church bodies have had difficult and potentially divisive conventions in the past. In 1959, seven years before the Lutheran Church of Australia was formed, the Missouri Synod was at the beginning of a long period of tension that eventually resulted in a division of the LCMS and the formation of the Association of Evangelical Churches (AELC—now in the ELCA). Already in 1959, a professor at the St. Louis seminary said that the Book of God’s Truth contains errors. The Missouri Synod seemed poised for conflict and possible division. At the Missouri Synod’s 1959 convention in San Francisco, Dr. Hermann Sasse was asked by Dr. Behnken to give a lecture on “The Ecumenical Movement and the Lutheran Church.” Ultimately, Dr. Sasse stated that the ecumenical movement needs to be a quest for the truth. I would like to quote a portion of Dr. Sasse’s address:
“For it was the quest for the true Church that caused our fathers to leave their country, their people, their earthly possessions, after they had come to the conviction that the territorial churches of the Old World, which comprised all people irrespective of their actual faith, could no longer be what they claimed to be: churches confessing before God and the world the truth of the Gospel as it was testified to in the Book of Concord. Some people call that separatism. You know from the history of your church how seriously your fathers searched their own conscience, asking themselves in the sight of God whether they were guilty of the sin of schism. Thank God for these consciences! Thank God for holy separatism! The blessing of their faithful confession is still a very great reality in your church. And it is generally admitted that the faithful witness of the true confessors of that time has saved what has remained of the Lutheran Church in the old country.”
In this passage, Sasse called for the Missouri Synod to remember its past and why it was formed. The Missouri Synod, along with the free churches in Germany, and yes, the Lutheran Church of Australia, established themselves to be “churches confessing before God and the world the truth of the Gospel as it was testified to in the Book of Concord.” Such a confession is the lonely way; it is the narrow path that Christ has called us to walk. It is the way that does not bind people’s consciences but allows the Word of God free course. At the 19th convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia, know that the churches of the International Lutheran Council are praying, as 2 Thessalonians 3:1 says, “that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.”
Just as the Missouri Synod faced challenges and possible division in 1959, I hope we can provide you with some encouragement as Hermann Sasse did to us almost 60 years ago. You face the decision regarding women’s ordination at your convention. No one can dictate to you what you should do, but we can encourage you to hear the Word of Scripture. The position of the ILC is no secret regarding the ordination of women. The ILC holds what we believe to be the Scriptural and Confessional position of the Lutheran church. The ILC holds to the historic tradition which the church from the time of the apostles has held with other historic churches such as Rome and the Orthodox. As St. Paul handed down what he had received (paradosis), we pass to you what we have received from the apostles, the historic catholic church, and the Lutheran Confessors. May Christ grant you wisdom and guidance as you deliberate.
In closing, please hear the report of Dr. Hoopman from Australia at what would be the first meeting of the ILC in 1952:
“We are in the minority. We stand alone; but as the men who after mature deliberation signed the Formula of Concord did so as men who desired to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with intrepid hearts, thus we are also mindful of our responsibility to God and all Christendom and of the fact that we have vowed ‘that we will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to our Confessions, but by the help of God’s grace we intend to abide thereby.'”
I believe that these words are as true and valid today, perhaps even more so today, as when they were spoken 66 years ago. Thank you and may the Lord guide and bless you this week.
BELGIUM – The 26th (11th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) took place September 25-28, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium, with church leaders representing more than 50 church bodies in attendance, representing more than 20 million Lutherans worldwide.
That attendance figure, which includes ILC members and guest churches, reflects the growing prominence of the International Lutheran Council on the world stage. That growth was also evident in the decision of the 2018 World Conference to accept 17 new church bodies into membership, more than doubling the number of Lutherans worldwide formerly associated with the ILC.
Present for the event were representatives of ILC member churches in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa (two member churches), the United States of America (two member churches), and Venezuela. Of those church bodies just accepted into membership at the 2018 convention, representatives were on hand from church bodies in Benin, Finland, Liberia, Madagascar, Myanmar (Burma), Norway, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Sweden, Taiwan, Uganda, and Uruguay.
Additional guests at the 2018 World Conference included representatives of the Ethiopian Evangelical Lutheran Church Mekane Yesus (Ethiopia), the Lutheran Church of Rwanda, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belarus, the Silesian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession (Czech Republic), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania, the Evangelical Lutheran Church Society (Norway), the Istanbul Lutheran Church (Turkey), the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine, and the North American Lutheran Church (USA).
The theme for the 2018 conference was Ecumenism and Ecclesiology. Delegates heard lectures and studies on the topic, looking at it in its historical and regional contexts, as well as considering the confessional basis for ecumenism. The convention also heard a report on the ILC’s ongoing dialogue group with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as adopted a resolution concerning relations with the Lutheran World Federation.
Discussion of the convention theme culminated in the adoption of a statement on “Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility.” “We are also driven to engage churches outside of the ILC community,” the statement notes, “because we are convinced we have an obligation to share the Gospel of Christ and all its articles—our confessional heritage—with the whole of Christianity.” Read the full statement here.
The 2018 World Conference also saw elections to the ILC’s Executive Committee. Reelected as ILC Chairman was Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church. Reelected as Secretary was President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium.
The remaining five elected positions on the ILC’s Executive Committee are filled by church bodies as opposed to specific individuals. Serving as the representative for Africa is the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa, which is led by Bishop Dieter Reinstorf. The region of Asia will be represented by The Lutheran Church in the Philippines, which is led by President Antonio Reyes. Europe will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, which is led by Chairman Jon Ehlers. The world region of Latin America will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, led by President Rudi Zimmer. Finally, the North American region will be represented by Lutheran Church–Canada, which is led by President Timothy Teuscher.
Additional appointments to the Executive Committee include Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (Past President of Lutheran Church–Canada and former Vice-Chairman of the ILC) and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
For detailed news on the 2018 World Conference, see the reports at the International Lutheran Council’s website here.
BELGIUM – The final day of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2018 World Conference opened with a service of matins in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Antwerp. Bishop Modise Maragelo of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa preached for the service, looking forward to the commemoration of St. Michael and all Angels on September 30. Rev. Timothy Quill served as liturgist.
Following matins, Rev. Milton Huatuco, outgoing President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Peru, presented a study on Latin American Lutheranism and ecumenism. His report highlighted how local context affect the ecumenical efforts. In Latin America, for example, he noted that Lutherans make up only 0.15 percent of the Latin American population, making Lutherans a small player on the ecumenical scene. Likewise, historic persecution of Protestants make some groups skeptical of rapprochement with Roman Catholics, the major Christian church in Latin America. Intra-Lutheran discussions, however, have been a fruitful ecumenical project, especially in Brazil and Argentina.
The morning session saw greetings to the ILC from Bishop Mark Lieschke, on behalf of Bishop John Henderson and the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). The LCA is preparing for its triennial convention, which is scheduled for the coming week. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt thanked Bishop Lieschke for his remarks, and offered his prayers that God would bless the LCA and send His Holy Spirit to guide them during their forthcoming convention.
Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church of Norway (LKN) reported on Concordia Israel, a recent project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) undertaken in partnership with the LKN. Concordia Israel provides Lutheran education for the evangelical Lutheran church in Israel, including support for pilgrim trips and study tours to Israel; Lutheran education to congregations and congregation members in Israel; and online theological university training.
Later in the day, the convention voted to receive the invitation from the ELCIR and LKN to host the 2021 World Conference of the ILC in Israel, directing the Executive Committee to explore the feasibility of the proposal. In the event the location proves too difficult to arrange, the Executive Committee was authorized to select another location for the 2021 World Conference.
A highlight of the final day’s session was a report on the International Lutheran Council’s informal international dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). Rev. Dr. Werner Klän, who serves as the Lutheran co-chairman of the dialogue, addressed the convention on the work accomplished over the past several years. He noted that the initial idea for dialogue came from the Roman Catholic side, leading eventually to discussions in Rome in 2013, a preperatory meeting in 2014, and finally the official beginning of the dialogue group in 2015.
The most recent round in the ILC-PCPCU’s informal international dialogue took place September 17-21 in Bleckmar, Germany. A report on those discussions will be published online by the ILC soon. The concluding meeting of the current round of discussions is scheduled for 2019, at which time the dialogue group will present a final report summarizing their findings and making recommendations to the ILC and the PCPCU about future possibilities for continued dialogue.
Following Dr. Klän’s report, Rev. Wilando Roa presented the convention’s final lecture on its theme of ecumenism and ecclesiology. In his talk, Rev. Roa explored the Lutheran Confessions as the basis for faithful dialogue with other Christians. The conclusion of his lecture provided a roadmap for future ecumenical opportunities, noting that “those closest to us in the household of faith… deserve our first attention.” To that end, he encouraged member churches of the ILC to initially focus their ecumenical efforts inwards—working with those estranged in our own denominations—before moving outward: first by seeking greater dialogue with partner churches; then dialoguing with church bodies no longer in fellowship with us; then looking to other Lutheran churches; and finally looking out to groups outside the Lutheran tradition.
Later in the day, the convention distilled some of the week’s discussions of ecumenism and adopted a brief statement on “Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility.” Read the full statement here.
Putting that ecumenical concern into practice, the convention also adopted a resolution on ILC relations with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), noting that “the ILC Executive Committee remains open to conversation with the LWF Council to help clarify points of confusion and to facilitate an ongoing exchange of information.” The full resolution is available to download here. The 2018 resolution reaffirms the position on dual membership in the ILC and LWF first taken at the 2007 World Conference in Accra, Ghana (see the 2007 resolution here).
The convention concluded with a final service of evening prayer, with President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium serving as lector and Rev. Timothy Quill as liturgist. Serving as cantor and organist this day, as every day of the conference, was Matthew Machemer.
As with matins earlier, the service of evening prayer f focused on biblical texts surrounding the ministry of angels, with President Timothy Teuscher of Lutheran Church–Canada preaching. The passage under discussion focused on the angels’ conflict with the devil. Because that ancient serpent is the father of lies, President Teuscher noted, one of the most important weapons of the angels is the Sword of Truth, the Word of God—and this is a weapon that we too are called to wield against the devil’s lies. It is natural that angels should adopt such a weapon, President Teuscher explained, since the very meaning of their name—“angel”—is “messenger.” And the message they proclaim is Christ, God incarnate and Saviour of the world.
The service concluded with the rite of installation for the newly elected and appointed members of the International Lutheran Council’s Executive Committee.
The following statement was adopted by the International Lutheran Council at its 26th World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. It can be downloaded as a pdf here.
Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility: A Statement from the XXVI World Conference of the International Lutheran Council
The International Lutheran Council (ILC) gathered in Antwerp, September 25-28, 2018, to share papers on and to discuss the twin topics of fellowship and ecumenism, framed by devotional reflection. Members of the organization, all of which share a vigorous subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, recognize that each member body will express its confessional commitment in ways unique to its specific context.
Lutherans affirm an ecumenical approach and an ecumenical claim at the same time. This is demonstrated by the inclusion of the ecumenical creeds in the Book of Concord and expressed, for instance, in the structure of the Smalcald Articles. Here Luther states a basic consensus agreement on the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the Person of Christ, a basic dissensus on justification, and further questions to be debated. This claim for catholicity provides a basic framework for confessional Lutheran ecumenical engagement in our time and context: identify points of agreement, points of disagreement, and points for further conversation.
This approach has manifested itself in the rich and varied histories of the church bodies of the ILC. These different historical expressions challenge us to strive towards greater internal unanimity. At the same time, we are also driven to engage churches outside of the ILC community, because we are convinced we have an obligation to share the Gospel of Christ and all its articles—our confessional heritage—with the whole of Christianity.
BELGIUM – August 27, the third day of the ILC’s 2018 World Convention, began with a service of matins, with President Martin Jautzy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church-Synod of France preaching on the nature of the Church. We are individually stones in the building that is the Church, he said, and are held together by Christ, “the Stone that the builders rejected” which stands as the capstone. Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Past President of Lutheran Church–Canada and an appointed member of the ILC’s Executive Committee, served as liturgist for the service and as translator for President Jautzy.
Among the first item of business for the day was greetings from Bishop John Bradosky of the North American Lutheran Church, who expressed gratitude for the friendships which have developed between his church and those of the ILC.
The morning also saw a Bible study on St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, led by Rev. Wilando Roa, Director of Theological Education by Extension at Lutheran Theological Seminary (Baguio City, The Philippines).
President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) then addressed the conference, presenting a gift of books to delegates. One of these books was the new 2017 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism published by Concordia Publishing House (CPH). While the text of the catechism proper remains the same as in the previous edition, the Explanation to the Catechism has been updated and expanded to tackle new issues facing the Church today. The second book gifted to delegates was Closed Communion?, edited by President Harrison and John T. Pless, and also published by CPH. The work collects classic and valuable new essays on the subject of admission to the Lord’s Supper, all from a Biblical Lutheran perspective.
Delegates also received from the ILC their copies of the new two-volume dogmatics series Confessing the Gospel which was presented on a day earlier.
The morning’s work then turned to the matter of elections, with Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany being unanimously reelected as ILC Chairman. (See the full results of elections to the ILC Executive Committee here.)
A featured part of the morning was the next keynote lecture on the convention’s theme of “Ecumenism and Ecclesiology.” Prof. Dr. Werner Klän, Professor Emeritus of Germany’s Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberusel, Germany, unpacked the current status of Lutheran ecumenism and fellowship in Europe, both among the churches of the ILC and those outside it, taking time to examine some of the larger ecumenical agreements which currently hold sway among European Lutheran church bodies.
From there, he turned to consider the challenges of responsible confessional Lutheran ecumenism within the complicated context of the contemporary era, with special reference to examples from the German church.
In the afternoon, delegates enjoyed a walking tour of Antwerp. Of particular interest was a visit to Maarten Luther Plein (Martin Luther Place), a site dedicated in 2017 to remember the influence of the Lutheran reformation in Antwerp. Nearby once stood an Augustinian monastery which, in the early 16th century, saw all of its monks adopt the Lutheran faith. They were subsequently arrested, and two—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—would later become the first martyrs of the Reformation, being burned at the stake in Brussels in 1523. Reflections on Esch and Voes, and martyrdom more generally, provided a focus to the sermons and presentations given a day earlier.
Thursday closed with worship at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, with President Abdiel Orozco of the Lutheran Church in Guatemala preaching. He encouraged delegates to remember that we do not need to seek the approval of men, because, through Christ, we have already received the approval of God.
A service of Compline, led by Rev. Timothy Quill, followed.