Hope in the Valley of Dry Bones: A Holy Week Message from the ILC General Secretary

The Vision of Ezekiel: Francisco Colliantes, 1630.

In 2020, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter have taken place within the context of a worldwide Coronavirus pandemic. Liturgical practice the world over have undergone unprecedented challenges. Government regulations have closed churches, reduced others to a handful of worshippers, with many turning to live streaming via the internet to reach congregants confined in their homes. Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council, sends the following message of hope to Christians around the world.

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The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones… Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” Behold, they will say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold I will open your graves and raise you from you graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the Land of Israel… and I will place you in your own land.” – Ezekiel 37:1, 11-12, 14

 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

On every continent people are hunkering down in their homes as the Corona Virus spreads around the world, leaving many people sick and many dead—a global valley of bones. Many people in post-Christian and increasingly secularized nations are living in fear and anxiety, without hope. Even if they dodge the bullet this time, the awareness of the fragility of life and their human mortality has made a deep-rooted impression.

For Christians, however, the Word of God brings hope, a sense of calm, and even joy. All three Scripture readings appointed for the 5th Sunday in Lent bring hope: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; and John 11:1-53. What Ezekiel proclaimed to ‘dead’ exiles in Babylon, what St. John wrote in his Gospel about the resurrection of Lazarus and St. Paul’s in his Epistle to the Romans is that God gives life to the dead. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies…” (Romans 8:11).

What we read in all three Scripture readings is indeed of great comfort as we find ourselves in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Of course, this is nothing new. We have heard and confessed and sung about the resurrection long before the coming of the Corona Virus, and we will be doing so again long after COVID-19 is dead and gone.

Just nine days ago I brought the Lord’s Supper to an elderly homebound lady. The widespread effects of the Coronavirus were already being reported nonstop on TV news and talk radio. The dear lady told me she was concerned about the effect all of this was having on the children. When I asked her to elaborate, she explained that her twelve-year-old granddaughter was worried about the pandemic and recently asked mother, “Am I going to die?” As our conversation continued it was wonderful to learn that the girl’s parents were faithful Christians and to hear how her mother answered her: “All people will die one day, but do not worry because Jesus will always be with you no matter what happens, and you will be raised again to eternal life.”

I told the grandmother that her granddaughter was blessed to have such parents and a grandmother who faithfully teach their children about Jesus Christ and teach them how to pray. In times like these it is absolutely essential for children to know and pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds, and Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers, not to mention the well-loved classic: “Now I lay me down to sleep I pray Thee Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray Thee Lord my soul to take.”

When the Lord gave Ezekiel the vision of the field of dry bones, Ezekiel was with Israel in captivity in Babylon. Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed. The glory of the Lord had departed from the Temple. It was utterly devastating for God’s people. To make matters worse, their Babylonian captors tormented the Israelites demanding that they sing songs from their homeland, from Zion. But instead of singing they wept. Psalm 137:1-4 captures their anguish:

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.  On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captures required of us songs, And our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land?”

Their refusal to sing was not simply a stubborn protest against being forced to entertain the Babylonians with national folk songs from their homeland. These were the Lord’s songs, namely liturgical music intended for use in the Temple liturgy. The Temple was destroyed. The liturgy and sacrifices which proclaimed and delivered the Lord’s eternal steadfast love, mercy, and forgiveness of sins had ceased to exist. God had abandoned the holy place on which he put his Name and mercy… but He did not abandon his people. The Lord sent His prophet Ezekiel to proclaim an “oracle of hope” to uplift His despairing people. The Lord showed Ezekiel a vision of dry dead bones which he was to use as the basis for his message of hope.

Following all the great battles of history, valleys were littered with the remains of soldiers slaughtered in combat, whose bones were picked clean by predators and bleached white by the sun. The same could be seen along the valley roads where women, children, and the elderly were forcibly marched by their captors, with thousands dying along the way. Every generation, including ours, has their valley of bones.

In Ezekiel’s vision, Israel’s exile is compared to a valley of dead dry bones. Dead bones cannot make themselves alive physically or spiritually. But the Lord, who breathed the divine breath of life into Adam promises to do so with his people. “Thus, says the Lord God to these bones: Behold I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD (37:5,12,14). “I will do it,” declared the Lord, and He did it. But the children of Israel had to spend 70 years in captivity before they were released and allowed to return home, rebuild Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, and resume the beautiful temple liturgy where they would again sing the Lord’s songs.

Today, churches all over the world stand empty and silent due to the Coronavirus and government regulations. Some are closed completely. Some allow only the pastor and a handful to gather. The thought of forbidding the Lord’s people from entering this holy place during Lent and Holy Week is heart-wrenching enough, but the idea of our churches standing devoid of the worshippers on Easter Sunday is even more heart-breaking. Thank God what is happening here today is not as extreme as the 70-year Babylonian exile. We anticipate that today’s interruption will only be a matter of weeks or months at most before things get back to normal, not seventy years.

Nevertheless, these unsettling days serve as a wakeup call for times when we are tempted to take the Lord’s divine services of Word and Sacrament for granted. For the Israelites, being cut off from the Temple liturgy was to be cut off from God’s gracious and life-giving presence—it was to be dead spiritually, real death, ultimate and eternal death. Thus, Israel confessed, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; and we are clean cut off” (37:11). This is a repentance which understands that apart from God’s mercy, all hope is lost—there is nothing we can do. It is up to the Lord to restore spiritual life, and this requires a divine act comparable to bringing the dead back to life. Thus, the Lord God commanded Ezekiel: “Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.”

Today’s events help us to understand how devastating the Babylonian Captivity was for God’s people. But they remained God’s people because he remained their God and did not abandon them. God has not and will abandoned us. In confessing our sins, we feel sick to the bone; a sense of hopelessness seeps in as we cut ourselves of from God and one another. But the Lord promised to open the tombs in which we have sealed ourselves with our sins and cut ourselves off from him.

Lazarus didn’t raise himself from the dead. He just lay rigid and alone in the horrible stench of death while his family grieved deeply wondering why their good friend Jesus allowed it to happen. The disappointment and grief among Lazarus’ sisters and friends was so deep that seeing it, Jesus Himself wept. However, the grief gave way to joy when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

Today we find ourselves between a sick and dying world and the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. In normal times, our beautiful churches around the world are filled on Easter, overflowing with worshippers, song, and joyous exclamations of alleluia. But even where the virus persists and churches remain closed or restricted to a handful of people, we still look forward to the resurrection with hope and joy.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill preached the above sermon on the Fifth Sunday in Lent in 2020 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the large neogothic mother church in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. By law, only ten worshippers were allowed to gather in the beautiful sanctuary built in 1889 and capable of holding more than 1,000 worshippers. Despite this restriction, the service was live-streamed over the internet where it has received more than 1,000 views.

A Pastoral Letter on COVID-19 from the ILC Chairman

WORLD – As countries around the world grapple with the pandemic caused by the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, the International Lutheran Council presents this pastoral letter from ILC Chairman, Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt D.D. (Hannover), Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany.

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In View of Human Impotence in Regard to the Spread of the Pandemic We Pray to God, the Creator and Keeper of Mankind

In Christ my dear Brothers and Sisters!

The numbers of those infected by the coronavirus COVID-19 are increasing daily. The transmission of the virus seems to spread exponentially and with it the number of those who have died.

The media are reporting extensively about all developments in the coronavirus crisis. This enables us to get all necessary information in this regard.

In light of the dangers of becoming infected, many are asking these days whether we can responsibly conduct our public worship services. Especially our celebration of Holy Communion is being questioned in regard to aspects of hygiene.

Our faith assures us that “the healing of the soul also helps the body,” as Martin Luther says of Holy Communion in the Large Catechism. And therefore in faith we properly expect salvation and healing from the Lord’s Supper. But at the same time we need to make good use of a healthy dose of our God-given human reasoning.

Therefore I propose the following for your consideration:

  1. 1. During these days Pastors officiating at confession and the absolution pronounced with the laying on of hands will want to make use of an additional washing of their hands.
  2. 2. Especially while administering the communion chalice these days great care is to be taken.
  3. 3. If you yourself belong to a group especially at risk you could, during the distribution of Holy Communion, restrict your reception to the Body of Christ only and decline to receive from the chalice. In that case you can be fully assured that you receive the entirety of salvation, the fullness of forgiveness, as you partake only of the life-giving body of Christ. Indicate your reception of the consecrated bread only by crossing your arms in front of your chest or by putting your hand in front of your mouth as the chalice is administered.

In some of the larger communities in various countries assemblies have been prohibited, among them the worship services. How are we Christians to deal with such a situation? Are we to “obey God more than man”?

In this case, two Christian “values and essentials” compete with one another: on the one hand the Third Commandment about keeping God’s day holy, and on the other the Fourth Commandment about obedience to lawful authority. In assessing these Christian values, we may reasonably assume that governments and health authorities have not acted on the basis of anti-Christian motives; they were rather moved to act out of care and concern for the population. And all these are restrictions of a temporary nature.

Therefore our obedience to these measure is of considerable importance for Christians. Additionally, none of us know what consequences our keeping the Third Commandment to keep the holy day would have in regard to the possibilities of spreading the infection. And even if I do not belong to a group especially at risk, I should not want to be the source of infection for anyone else. For these reasons I recommend that we follow the rules issued by the authorities and do not conduct public worship services.

Here following let me make some recommendations for such a case:

  • 1. With the assistance of technically savvy parishioners the Pastor could have his sermon recorded electronically and inform the church members about the link
  • 2. Pastors might want to increase their offer of private communion to the members

Obviously, none of this can fully take the place of the parish communion service. This present situation clearly indicates how precious are the means of grace that God presents to us in the worship service.

And this pandemic also show us how dependent we are on God’s help and grace. There let us not grow weary of offering up our fervent prayers.

PRAYER

Lord God, merciful Father, Creator of the world, we commend to you all those who are ill. Send them willing helpers. Grant them relief in their suffering and, if it is your will, let them be healed.

Lord Jesus, on the cross you bore for us all sickness. Strengthen those who serve in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Protect them from being infected. Let them not grow weary in their service to others.

Lord, Holy Spirit, in your mercy turn away further danger to our land and to our world. Limit all harm to our schools, our culture, our economy and politics. Guide the scientists in their work and grant their research success.

O blessed holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! We thank you for your gracious gifts, your Word, holy Baptism, Absolution and Communion that you to this day so richly distributed. Forgive us when we looked upon these means of grace without full appreciation and gratitude. Maintain among us our worship services, knowing that in them you seek us and lead us to life eternal Amen.

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Translation by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson (Windsor, Canada)

German Bishop decries newly-declared “Right to Death”

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt.

GERMANY – On February 26, 2020—Ash Wednesday—Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court declared that all people have a constitutional right to end their life in a manner of their own choosing and to seek outside help in doing so. The courts further ruled that access to assisted suicide should not be limited to those suffering from an incurable condition.

In response to the ruling, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK) has issued a letter arguing that “No one has the right to decide the circumstances of his own death.” Bishop Voigt also serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

While the letter responds specifically to the declaration of Germany’s highest court, the issues it addresses—euthanasia and assisted suicide—are being increasingly considered in many areas of the world. In Canada, for example, the federal government has recently announced it will expand physician assisted suicide and euthanasia to allow those suffering from mental illnesses, and those not facing imminent death, to seek aid in dying.

Those seeking a Christian response to end of life issues faithful to Scripture will find Bishop’s Voigt’s words helpful. The letter appears below. (You can also read it in German here.)

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“NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO DECIDE THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS OWN DEATH”
Death and Birth are not Subject to Human Decisions – for the Sake of Man’s Dignity

Statement by the presiding clergyman of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt D.D. (Hannover), concerning the verdict of Germany’s Constitutional Court of February 26, 2020 regarding “a person’s right to decide on the circumstances of one’s death”.

First Preliminary Remark

The Federal Constitutional Court (“Bundesverfassungsgericht” or BVG) is Germany’s highest constitutional authority and deserves our utmost respect. The welfare of our state, its services, its advantages and their protection which we as citizens and as Christians enjoy every day, is very much dependent on this respect; because, according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, all legitimate state authority is given and willed by God. Thus it is difficult for me to criticize yesterday’s verdict by the Court.

Second Preliminary Remark

We ought to exercise the highest regard and the utmost restraint when we talk about the distress sick people feel and their fervent wish to die. The kind of suffering some people have to endure for years surpasses a healthy person’s way of thinking. In such times of suffering almost every person will likely consider thoughts how actively to end one’s own life. And even those people who will turn such thoughts into action deserve our Christian love and final accompaniment. Dr. Martin Luther often expressed the view that people who committed suicide should be given a Christian burial, because they “did not do it easily” and likely were in an internally vulnerable situation, and were “as if overcome by a robber in the forest.”

There is no “Right to Decide on one’s Own Death”

In its verdict of February 26, 2020 the Constitutional Court established a new legal principle when it stated in Point 1: “The general principle to define your own personality includes, as an expression of a person’s autonomy, the right to decide about one’s own way of dying.”

The Basic Law/Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany states in Par. 2, Sect. 1: “Every-one has the right to freely live out his personality, provided he does not violate the rights of others and does not transgress the constitutional order or the moral law.” Here the BVG makes a connection to Par 1., Sect. 1 of the German Constitution, where we read: “The dignity of the person is inviolable. To honour and protect it is the duty of all state power.”

At no point does the German Constitution posit a “right of self-determined dying.” This statement could possibly be rightly understood in reference to the manner of a person’s death, e.g. that it is a matter of one’s free determination to die with or without therapy, with or without pain medication. But the sentence that follows in the verdict under Sect. b states: “The right to a self-determined death includes the freedom to take one’s own life.” Within its context this sentence claims that there is a right to determine one’s own time of death. This claim arises out of nowhere. And it is new and wrong, and it is not in accord with the spirit of the German Constitution, as I will try to show hereafter.

This Verdict contravenes the Fifth Commandment

“You shall not murder”—so reads the Fifth of the Ten Commandments. This Commandment applies in regard to the life of others and also in regard to my own life. The dignity of man is based on the uniqueness of his being born. And that also implies the non-violability of his end. That man cannot in principle decide his own death is one of the reasons for his dignity.

These days various commentaries made the point that religious convictions cannot be applied to the general public in a secular state. But the Constitution of the Federal Republic does precisely that. The very first sentence of the preamble defines its background: “In full awareness of our responsibility before God and man…” The Constitution’s reference to God is the reminder that there is a higher law, so to speak, “the connection with on high”; human law needs to have a connection to divine law, to prevent it from ending up in arbitrariness.

The legal philosopher Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde has defined the ethical-moral connection this way: “The secular libertarian state is dependent on presuppositions that it cannot guarantee of its own.” Because the verdict of the BVG contravenes the ethical standard set by the Fifth Commandment—which is posited not only in the Judeo-Christian religion—the Court has cut itself off from the reference to the Divine in the Constitution.

Legal Uncertainty for Physicians and Supporters is not the Real Problem

Legal flaws and uncertainties as they derive out of Par. 217 of the Law until now prohibiting commercial support for suicide since December 3, 2015 are not the real problem. It is much more fundamental, because to posit a “right of self-determined dying” and the freedom to take one’s own life, there might then arise as a consequence the duty for the state to provide the necessary conditions for that right.

Up until now self-inflicted death was a taboo. Now that it has fallen, we can expect a subtle pressure on terminally ill patients to follow the expectations of their relatives and friends—even though they may be wrongly assumed—and have them take their own life. The first two articles of the German Constitution set forth the ethical position of a “culture of life.” Its present subsequent formulation now defines a “culture of death.”

I believe that February 26, 2020 will enter into the legal history of the Federal Republic of Germany as a kind of Ash Wednesday.

Hans-Jörg Voigt, D.D.
Bishop, Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK)
Hannover, Germany

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Translation by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson (Windsor, Canada)

 

ILC concerned over investigation of Finnish Lutherans, urges prayer

FINLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) has announced that their Dean, Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, was summoned for questioning at the Helsinki Police Department on February 11, 2020.

The interrogation lasted five hours. He has been declared suspected of “ethnic agitation.”

The ELMDF is under investigation by Finland’s Prosecutor General for the publication of a booklet upholding historic Christian teachings on human sexuality. That booklet is “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” written by Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a Member of Parliament in Finland and former Minister of the Interior. Dr. Räsänen is also under investigation by the Prosecutor General.

The ELMDF’s booklet was published in 2004, well before the 2017 legalization of same-sex marriage in Finland. In the work, Dr. Räsänen argues that homosexual activity must be identified as sin by the Church on the basis of the teachings of Scripture.

Dean Pohjola acknowledged that, as editor-in-chief of Luther Foundation Finland, he is responsible for the publication and distribution of the work. “I denied, however, being guilty of the crime of ethnic agitation,” he said. “In my view, Mrs. Räsänen’s text is not defamatory or insulting to homosexuals. In my answers, I showed that the booklet teaches in line with Christian anthropology that every person is precious as [being created in] the image of God, regardless of sexual orientation.”

“This does not mean, however, that people are not responsible before God for their way of life or moral choices,” he continued. “The homosexual lifestyle is contrary to God’s order of creation and a transgression against His will. If one is not allowed to teach this publicly, the message of sin and grace will be left without a foundation, and freedom of religion will decline.”

The investigation of the ELMDF is worrisome, according to Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “We are extremely concerned over recent actions by the Finnish authorities in targeting faithful Lutherans,” Dr. Quill said. “We understand that the ELMDF and its Dean are under suspicion of a hate crime simply for upholding biblical Christian teachings on sexuality. We urge Finnish authorities to conclude their investigation and reaffirm the rights of Christians to believe and teach in accord with the Word of God.”

“We encourage Christians throughout the world to remember the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland in prayer,” continued Dr. Quill. “Pray that Finnish authorities will uphold the rights of Christians to confess the faith of Scripture clearly and without fear. May God give comfort and strength to His faithful people in Finland.”

The ELDMF is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies representing millions of Lutherans around the world.

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New President for Brazilian Lutherans

IELB President Geraldo Schüler following his election.

BRAZIL – On November 14, 2019, Rev. Geraldo Walmir Schüler was elected President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil – IELB).

The decision came during the annual meeting of the IELB’s Board of Directors, which brought together pastoral counsellors and lay leaders from across the IELB’s 59 Districts, as well as representatives from various departments, boards, and auxiliary organizations. The meetings were held November 14-17, 2019 in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul.

Prior to his election, President Schüler previously served the church as Vice President of Missionary Expansion (2014-2019). Before that, he served as Second Vice President of the IELB (2010-2014) with responsibilities for Missionary Expansion and Social Action. He also served as pastor of congregations in Vila Velha, Espírito Santo (1994-1999) and Cacoal, Rondônia (1999-2010).

President Schüler succeeded President Rudi Zimmer, who resigned as President of the IELB in March 2019 for health reasons. Dr. Zimmer had been elected as President in May 2018 during the IELB’s 62nd National Convention. Rev. Joel Müller, Vice President of Education, served as Interim President of the Brazilian church between President Zimmer’s resignation and President Schüler’s election.

The November meetings also saw the election of Rev. Héder Gumz as Vice President of Missionary Expansion, filling the vacancy caused when Rev. Schüler was elected President. Also elected during the meeting were Rev. Egon Kopereck as Vice President of the Board of Directors and Rev. Ademir Stahl as Deputy Secretary.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil has more than 240,000 members in more than 1,500 congregations and 440 mission stations across the country. It is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Unity talks begin between South African Lutherans

LCSA Deputy Bishop Mandla Thwala, FELSISA Deputy Bishop Helmut Paul, FELSISA Bishop Dieter Reinstorf, the CLCSA’s Rev. Geoffrey Skosana, the LCSA’s Rev. John Nkambule, CLCSA Bishop Mandla Khumalo, and LCSA Bishop Modise Maragelo.

SOUTH AFRICA – On January 14, 2020 representatives of the three confessional Lutheran church bodies in South Africa met for a first round of unity talks in Pretoria.

The Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (LCSA) was represented by Bishop Modise Maragelo, Deputy Bishop Mandla Thwala and Rev. John Nkambule; the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA) by Bishop Dr. Dieter Reinstorf and Deputy Bishop Helmut Paul; and the Confessional Lutheran Church in South Africa (CLCSA) by Bishop Mandla Khumalo and Rev. Geoffrey Skosana.

These initial talks in Pretoria focused on establishing church fellowship between the LCSA and the FELSISA (who are already in declared church fellowship with one another) and the more recently established CLCSA. The foundational articles of the respective churches as well as the central doctrines of the Lutheran Church as contained in the Book of Concord were extensively discussed. The three churches will now provide feedback to their respective church councils in the hope that church fellowship will be formalized in upcoming church conventions.

These unity talks were largely prompted by discussions held at a meeting of the Africa Region of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held in Pretoria from September 17-20, 2019. At this meeting gratitude was expressed for the number of newly established confessional Lutheran churches in Africa, while also raising concern that many of these Lutheran Churches work independently without establishing formal relationships with other regional churches—something which creates a formal expression of unity in doctrine. As a result, the regional meeting adopted a motion to encourage confessional Lutheran Churches, especially those within the same country, to make every effort to keep the unity of the church. Part of this process is to formally establish church fellowship where there is agreement in doctrine and to consider amalgamation or the establishment of a federation of confessional churches.

The Lutheran Church in South Africa, the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa, and the Confessional Lutheran Church in South Africa are all members of the International Lutheran Council.

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ILC World Representatives for Latin America and Europe announced

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has announced updates to the representatives for the Latin American and European World Regions.

Appointed to serve as the World Region Representative for Latin America is President Eugenio Wentzel of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana del Paraguay – IELP). President Wentzel had previously served as the Latin American representative until the spring of 2018, but was ineligible for reappointment because he had announced he wouldn’t seek reelection as President of the Paraguayan church. In the end, he consented to stand for reelection of the IELP and was elected, making him eligible for reappointment to as the ILC’s regional representative.

Appointed to serve as the World Region Representative for Europe is Chairman Georg Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). This seat was previously held by the ELCE’s Chairman Jon Ehlers, but Chairman Ehlers had announced he would not seek reelection. Chairman Samiec was subsequently elected, and consented to serve as the ILC’s regional representative for Europe.

In total, five World Regional Representatives serve on the ILC’s Board of Directors (formerly known as the Executive Committee), along with the ILC Chairman, Secretary, two appointed members, and the ILC’s General Secretary (as a non-voting, ex-officio member).

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Chairmen of ILC and GAFCON meet in Wittenberg

Participants in the latest round of ACNA-LCC-LCMS talks meet in Wittenberg, Germany. Representatives of the Anglican Church in North America during these meetings included: ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach; the Rev. Peter Frank, ACNA pastor; the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Riches, Reformed Episcopal Seminary rector and professor; and Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) Presiding Bishop Ray Sutton, ACNA Dean of Ecumenical Affairs. Representing the Lutherans were LCC Past President Robert Bugbee; the Rev. Joel Kuhl, Chairman of LCC’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR); the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Executive Director of the LCMS’ CTCR; and the Rev. Larry Vogel, Associate Executive Director of the LCMS’ CTCR. International guests included: the Rev. Dr. Christoph Barnbrock, Rector and Professor at SELK’s seminary Lutherische Theologische Hochschule; outgoing Evangelical Lutheran Church in England (ELCE) Chairman Jon Ehlers; Free Church of England (FCE) Bishop John Fenwick; Reformed Episcopal Church in Germany (Anglikanische Kirche in Deutschland – AKD) Bishop Gerhard Meyer; Reformed Episcopal Church in Croatia (Protestantska Reformirana Kršćanska Crkva – PRKC) Bishop Jasmin Milić; SELK Bishop Emeritus Jobst Schöne; SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, and the Rev. Dr. Vatroslav Župančić of the United Methodist Church in Germany (Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche – EMK.

GERMANY – The respective chairmen of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, and of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), Archbishop Foley Beach, met in Wittenberg on October 30 during the latest round of dialogue between confessional Lutherans and Anglicans from North America.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and GAFCON Chairman Foley Beach meet at the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany.

Bishop Voigt is the spiritual leader of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) of Germany, and has served as ILC Chairman since 2010.  Archbishop Beach is Primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and is currently Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council. The ILC is a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies committed to the authority of Holy Scripture as God’s written Word, and to the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ as the heart of the Church’s faith and mission. GAFCON was born out of the realignment of world Anglicanism, as those who uphold the authority of Scripture banded together to respond to theological and spiritual decay within the Anglican communion. The churches associated with GAFCON now represent around 50 million of the 70 million Anglicans around the world.

“The theological and historical background of GAFCON deeply impressed me,” noted Bishop Voigt. “Their understanding of Holy Scripture is very close to that of ILC churches,” he continued, while acknowledging there remain differences of theology between the two organizations which would benefit from further dialogue.

For nearly a decade, representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC) and the ACNA have carried out semi-annual dialogue meetings, rejoicing in their discovery of substantial biblical teaching held in common. The decision was made to hold this fall’s round of talks at Wittenberg’s Old Latin School, an agency of the LCMS, SELK and ILC, to afford the regular participants an opportunity to be introduced to each other’s European partners and mark the 502nd anniversary of the Reformation together. In that context Bishop Voigt traveled to Wittenberg and had opportunity to speak with Archbishop Beach, who was present for the regular dialogue meetings. The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England was also present, as were Anglican bishops from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Croatia.

Much of the week’s discussions provided an opportunity for those present to introduce the churches they serve. In addition, there was significant attention given to the possibilities for cooperation in theological education in Europe. Participants also toured historical Luther sites throughout Wittenberg, and in the town of Eisleben, where Luther was born and also died. On the early morning of Reformation Day, the group walked to the famous Thesentür (“theses door”) of Wittenberg’s Castle Church to offer prayers to the Lord and to acknowledge His grace in uncovering the truth of the Gospel at the time of the Reformation 502 years ago.

For more information on the dialogue meetings held in Wittenberg, see this release from the Anglican Church in North America, Lutheran Church–Canada, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

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World Seminaries Conference comes to an end

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (left) thanks President Antonio del Rio Reyes and Arlene Reyes for the hospitality of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines during the 2019 World Seminaries Conference.

PHILIPPINES – The International Lutheran Council’s 7th triennial World Seminaries Conference came to an end on October 18, 2019. The conference had been meeting in Baguio City, Philippines since October 15.

The Lutheran Church of the Philippines provided entertainment for the conclusion of the 2019 World Seminaries Conference.

The morning began with worship, as did every day during the conference, following which representatives from each of the ILC’s five world regions were invited to respond to the conference’s presentations. Speakers included Dr. Cynthia Lumley (Evangelical Lutheran Church of England); Rev. Dr. Bruk Ayele Asale (Ethiopia Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus); Rev. Dr. Samuel Liu (Taiwan’s China Evangelical Lutheran Church); Rev. Dr. Sergio Schelske (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina); and Rev. Dr. James Gimbel (Lutheran Church–Canada).

A recurring theme in their talks was gratitude for the various talks discussing Lutheran identity in different cultural contexts. Dr. Asale expressed joy over the mutual commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions which binds the participants in the conference together, even as they recognize that we must be sensitive to differences in cultural contexts—something Dr. Liu also noted. Dr. Schelske noted that we all have blind spots and that conferences like confessional Lutherans around the world learn from each other, while together focusing on Jesus Christ. Dr. Gimbel reiterated the necessity of recognizing the cruciform nature of Lutheran identity—vertically in relation to God and horizontally in our culturally-conditioned relationships with our neighbour. Dr. Lumley highlighted the value of the work done on identifying a common curriculum for confessional Lutherans around the world.

The Lutheran Church of the Philippines highlighted cultural celebrations as part of closing events of the 2019 World Seminaries Conference.

All of the major papers presented during the conference will be printed in both English and Portuguese in the theological journal of Seminario Concordia, a seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil.

In the afternoon, participants had the opportunity to tour Baguio City, ending at the Lutheran Church of the Philippines’ Lutheran Theological Seminary. There delegates were treated to wonderful cultural celebrations by members of St. Stephen Lutheran Church as well as the seminary community. A fellowship dinner featuring local Filipino cuisine was a highlight of the event. Following the meal, the ILC World Seminaries Conference drew to a close with a closing program with expressions of gratitude to the Lutheran Church of the Philippines for hosting the conference.

A total of 23 theological institutions were represented at the conference, with participants coming from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Norway, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, Tanzania, the United States of America, and Venezuela.

The newly installed World Seminaries Committee with ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and newly appointed ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. Pictured (l-r): Rev. Dr. Jun Hyun Kim, Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler, Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley, ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill, and Rev. Dr. Sergio Schelske.

The conference also saw the installation of a new board for the ILC’s Seminaries Relations Committee. The new members include: South Korea’s Rev. Dr. Jun Hyun Kim (Asia World Region); England’s Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley (Europe World Region); Argentina’s Rev. Dr. Sergio Schelske (Latin America World Region); and the United States’ Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (North America World Region). The new board was installed by ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt during Vespers on October 17.

The next ILC World Seminaries Conference will take place in 2022.

Find all news reports from the 2019 World Seminaries Conference here.

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World Seminaries Conference explores a common curriculum for Lutheran education

Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley speaks during the 2019 World Seminaries Conference.
ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem and LCMS President Matthew Harrison sign an agreement for altar and pulpit fellowship between their two church bodies.

PHILIPPINES – Thursday saw the ILC 2019 World Seminaries Conference’s final presentation on the conference theme, before transitioning the conclusion of the conference theme before transitioning to the second topic of the conference: a common-ground Lutheran curriculum for theological education.

Following morning devotions, President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België) took the opportunity to sign a protocol document finalizing altar and pulpit fellowship between their respective church bodies.

ILC Chairman Hans Jörg Voigt then announced that Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill has been appointed the new General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council.

Latin American Context

The morning saw the fifth and final presentation under the theme of “Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts.” Rev. Samuel R. Fuhrmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil – IELB) brought a Latin American perspective to the topic, speaking on “Ecclesial Lutheran Identity and the Church’s Mission in the Face of the Reality of Favelas.”

Rev. Samuel R. Fuhrmann speaks on missions in the favelas of Brazil.

In explaining the history of favelas, Rev. Fuhrmann noted that they are “an urban built environment where one encounters a rich ethnic and cultural diversity, and often the problems of violence and poverty.” The Brazilian Lutheran church by contrast was founded by immigrants in a rural setting. While the IELB is present in urban centres today, Rev. Fuhrmann said, “one of the challenges is that the church needs to cross cultural, social, and even geographic boundaries to fully account for the reality of favelas in its mission practices.”

Christians are called to a “cruciform engaged presence in the world,” said Rev. Fuhrmann, which is “related to God passively and related to others and the world actively.” The latter—relations with others on a horizontal level—must often be contextualized to recognize differences in culture. “If congregations neglect the horizontal dimension of the cruciform life and the characteristics of our humanity,” Rev. Fuhrmann warned, “this neglect hinders the distinctive task of the Church: the preaching of the Gospel.” In the case of missions in favelas especially, it is necessary to recognize and embrace the deeply relational life which is the core of favela culture, in which spaces are made for frequent socialization and people support one another in the midst of challenges like poverty and violence.

A Lutheran Curriculum for Theological Education

During the rest of the day, attention turned to the second focus of the event: an exploration of what a common-ground Lutheran curriculum for theological education recognized by all ILC member churches would look like. Rev. Dr. Werner Klän of Germany and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, the ILC’s new incoming General Secretary, moderated discussion of the theme, and multiple presenters provided insight.

Bishop Hanss Martin Jensons reports on a confessional Lutheran education conference in Latvia.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Schumacher presented on “A Lutheran Curriculum for Theological Education.” A basic foundation is important for all levels, he said, but learning styles may vary. African students for example learn by watching, copying, and repeating. Research indicates that, for theological education in Ghana, several areas need reinforcement, including a more in-depth study of pastoral theology. At the same time, a biblical and confessional structure is necessary, he said. Dr. Schumacher is a LCMS missionary and theological educator at the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana.

Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov reported on “Lutheran Seminary Curriculum: Challenges and Opportunities.” He suggested that one or two years of training is inadequate for proficiency in Scripture and theology, and that residential training is the best way to go. He then provided several challenges and suggestions for theological education, finally reporting on the curriculum that is used in their seminary. Dr. Streltsov is rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia, the theological institute of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

In the second session of the afternoon, Dr. Klän led a discussion of “A Lutheran Curriculum for Theological Education.” He summarized the findings of the ILC’s 2001 conference on this theme, and then reported the results of a new questionnaire on curriculum sent to ILC seminaries. Those that responded reported student populations ranging from six students to 615, and faculties from three to 34. A recurring challenge noted in the results are recruitment and enrollment. Most of the seminaries responded that they would like to see a common curriculum, although two said it was not possible or advisable.

Bishop Hanss Martin Jensons of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia reported on a meeting on Confessional Lutheran Church Education which was held March 26-28, 2019 in Latvia. Eight entities from around Europe were represented and they discussed the minimum standard for theological education, as well as how to facilitate mutual recognition and the possibility of one educational program in the future with combined resources. They are also investigating the idea of developing an English language distance learning program. Bishop Jenson explained how, at Latvia’s Luther Academy, they began with the Professional Standard, and from there worked toward the Educational Standard, and then to Curriculum. The worked through the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary for the pastoral officeholder.

Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley speaks on the diaconate during the ILC’s 2019 World Seminaries Conference.

Later in the day, Dcn. Dr. Cynthia Lumley gave a presentation on the history of deaconesses and their service in the church today. Dr. Lumley is principal of Westfield House in Cambridge, England, the theological institution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England.

Rev. Dr. Douglas Rutt presented on the topic: “Mission in the Age of Migration.” He emphasizes that much of contemporary missiological literature deals with the fact that there are 272 million refugees and immigrants in the world today, and these movements are resulting in the expansion of the gospel worldwide. Dr. Rutt is Provost and Professor of Practice Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri—a theological institution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

After the various presentations, there was time for plenary discussion. Questions of expected workload were reflected on, including the expected workload of faculty members. Some highlighted that legitimate diversity needs to be taken into consideration.  It was suggested that the starting point should be the description or characteristics of a Lutheran pastor. A further question was whether there was the possibility of a mutual accreditation program for the institutions of member churches of the International Lutheran Council.

The results of these discussions and are to be drafted into a concluding statement or resolution which will be commended to the ILC Seminary Relations Committee for further consideration.

The day ended, as it began, with worship.

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