Australian Lutherans reelect Bishop Henderson, decline women’s ordination

AUSTRALIA – The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has reelected Bishop John Henderson during its 2018 General Convention of Synod October 2-7 in Rosehill, New South Wales. The convention also saw the church decline a resolution calling for the ordination of women.

Bishop Henderson was reelected to a second term on October 4. He was first elected in 2013 (the first term for LCA bishops is six years, with three-year terms thereafter). ‘I thank you for your support’, Bishop Henderson said upon his election. ‘I pray that I am worthy of serving you—well, I’m not worthy of serving you—but I pray that I will be given by God the strength to serve you for another term.’

Rev. Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer was also reelected as the LCA’s Assistant Bishop.

A major subject of discussion during the 2018 General Synod was the ordination of women, with the LCA again declining a resolution calling for the ordination of women. This was the fourth time the LCA has voted on this subject since 2000.

LCA Bishop John Henderson declared the results of the secret ballot on October 5: 161 against and 240 in favour. That meant the resolution failed to receive the 2/3 majority required by the LCA’s constitution to make changes in matters of a theological or confessional nature.

The International Lutheran Council, of which the LCA is an Associate Member, had pledged prayer for the Australian church in advance of the vote. Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC, also brought greetings to the General Synod on October 4, encouraging the LCA in his remarks to remain faithful to the historic teaching of the church on ordination.

The morning following the vote, Bishop David Altus of the LCA’s South Australia/Northern Territory reflected on its results and strained relations in the church. “If I could put it into my own words, I would say that the LCA is hurting, and hurting very badly,” he said. “She’s a broken woman, hurting in all parts of the body.”

The synod later adopted a motion “that Synod acknowledges the deep hurt and harm to individuals and groups that has been occasioned over the past years in the course of the debate regarding ordination; repents of the hurt, and seeks forgiveness and reconciliation with one another.”

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ILC Greetings to the Lutheran Church of Australia’s 2018 convention

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.

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ILC Greetings to Lutheran Church of Australia at the 19th General Convention of the Synod

ILC Executive Secretary Albert Collver brings greetings to the Lutheran Church of Australia’s 2018 General Convention of 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.

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A Call to Prayer for the Lutheran Church of Australia

AUSTRALIA – The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has invited the International Lutheran Council (ILC) to keep the Australian church in prayer as it holds its General Convention of Synod October 2-7 in Rosehill, New South Wales. The LCA is an Associate Member of the ILC.

The LCA’s invitation to prayer was renewed recently during the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium, when Bishop Mark Lieschke brought greetings to the conference on behalf of the LCA and Bishop John Henderson. In his response, ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt offered his prayers that God would bless the LCA and send His Holy Spirit to guide the church during its convention.

The ILC is inviting its member churches to join in praying for the Australian church.

Prayer for the General Convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia

Merciful God, we humbly implore You to cast the bright beams of Your light upon the Lutheran Church of Australia as she gathers for her General Convention. During these troubling days of cultural, political, and religious unrest across the globe, when divisiveness and animosity infest church and society, give the delegates the wisdom and understanding that comes from a faithful and courageous commitment to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. May their clear and faithful confession unite the church in the bond of peace, love, and unity, and encourage sister Lutheran churches throughout the world to retain this God-given bond of peace and unity. Being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may we all walk together in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Churches may also wish to use the following prayer as well, reflecting especially on the LCA and its current convention. The prayer was composed to thank God on the 25th anniversary of the ILC in its current form, and asks for God to bless the relationship between the member churches of the ILC.

Prayer for the 25th Anniversary of the International Lutheran Council 

Almighty God, You have promised to be with Your Church forever. We praise You for Your presence in the churches of the International Lutheran Council and ask Your ongoing blessing upon those who gather around the altars and pulpits of our congregations throughout the world. Dwell continually among us with Your holy Word and Sacraments, strengthen our fellowship in the bonds of love and peace, increase our faithful witness to Your salvation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord.

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Australian Pastors Conference rejects draft doctrinal statement on women’s ordination

AUSTRALIA – The General Pastor’s Conference of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has rejected a draft doctrinal statement calling for the ordination of women by a vote of 119 to 96 (and one informal vote). Despite disagreement on the subject, debate was reportedly marked by a spirit of calm and gentleness. The conference was held July 10-12, 2018 in Hahndorf, South Australia,

The draft document—entitled “A Theological Basis for the Ordination of Women and Men”—was created in response to a resolution of the LCA’s 2015 General Convention of Synod. That resolution called on the church’s Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations to develop draft doctrinal statements for the church’s 2018 convention providing a theological basis for the ordination of women, as well as a theological basis for why the ordination of women need not be church divisive. The resolution came after an earlier vote to approve women’s ordination at the 2015 convention narrowly failed to receive the 2/3 majority it required to pass.

The decision of the 2018 General Pastor’s Conference to reject the draft doctrinal statement may impact the LCA’s upcoming General Convention of Synod, which is expected to vote again on the ordination of women when it meets October 2-7, 2018 in Rosehill Gardens, New South Wales. The LCA’s bylaws note that the pastor’s conference is tasked with giving “guidance in matters of doctrine and confession” to the wider church. To that end, the General Pastor’s Conference is called specifically to “consider those questions, issues and statements of a theological and confessional nature which appear on the agenda of the Convention of the General Synod,” and “voice its opinion with regard to the advisability or non-advisability of dealing with any such question or issue or of adopting a particular statement.”

The question of women’s ordination has been a longstanding subject of disagreement in the LCA. In addition to considering the matter at its 2015 General Convention of Synod, the church also addressed the subject in 2000 and 2006.

The LCA is an associate member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). The ILC does not accept the ordination of women, but it has pledged in the past to remember the Lutheran Church of Australia in prayer as it wrestles with this difficult subject—a pledge that continues to remain true.

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Lutheran Church of Australia grapples with women’s ordination; ILC pledges prayers, encourages unity

LCA-logo-webAUSTRALIA – The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has announced its 2015 General Convention, to be held September 29 to October 4 in Rochedale, Queensland.

As has been the case at a number of recent LCA gatherings, the question of women’s ordination is expected to be a major concern. The LCA has twice voted in the past to decline the ordination of women, but another vote at this year’s convention is widely anticipated.

“Decades of debate have resulted in an apparent stalemate, with neither side willing to cede,” LCA Bishop John Henderson has written in anticipation of this year’s convention. But he hopes that a healthy dialogue between delegates may allow the church to finally reach “some agreement on what might happen next,” even if “a final resolution” remains elusive.

Bishop Henderson has suggested elsewhere that “some people are saying that whichever way Synod votes on the ordination question, some people—or even entire congregations or groups within congregations—will leave on the grounds of conscience.” He encourages the church to nevertheless be “confident of God’s blessing as we allow the love of Christ to guide our actions.”

The topic of women’s ordination was previously discussed at the LCA’s General Pastors Conference, held July 7-9, 2015 in Hahndorf. At that time, the pastors took no action to recommend a change to the LCA’s doctrines and policies regarding ordination.

The ILC pledges prayer

Email-Branding-for-feedburnerIn response to an invitation from Bishop Henderson, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) has committed to praying for the Lutheran Church of Australia as it wrestles with these issues. “We are keenly aware that this is no routine gathering, and that Bishop John’s plea for the prayer support of oversees partners is not an empty formality” the Executive Council writes in a newly released open letter to the Lutherans of Australia and New Zealand. “We wish you to know that we implore the Lord to guide your convention as the ancients prayed: ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’”

The ILC’s letter further encourages the LCA to hold fast to historic Christian teaching on ordination. “It is no secret that the churches of the International Lutheran Council are convinced that historic Christian and apostolic teaching and practice on these matters represent God’s own revealed truth,” they write. “The Lord knows how we deeply treasure the unity He has given us together with you, and the many contributions you have made to our fellowship. We sincerely hope that He may give you endurance to continue bearing the tensions that come with confessing Christ in this challenging time, to refrain from making new decisions in the matter of ordination, and to stand fast in the unity of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

Download the full letter here.

The Lutheran Church of Australia has approximately 60,000 members throughout Australia and New Zealand. It holds associate membership both in the ILC as well as in the Lutheran World Federation.

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