The AALC seeks fellowship with German, Norwegian Lutherans

Participants in the AALC-SELK fellowship talks.

FORT WAYNE, Indiana – The American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) recently held talks with representatives of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) on October 10-11, 2017 to discuss entering into altar and pulpit fellowship, as well as to consider potential opportunities for partnership.

Representing the SELK at the meetings were Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt and Rev. Dr. Werner Klän. Representing the AALC were Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins, Rev. Richard Shields, and Rev. Joseph Dapelo.

The meetings began the morning of October 10 on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the AALC has its national headquarters. Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins of the AALC led opening devotions. Discussions the first day focused on confessional basis and ecclesial identity, as well as the doctrines of Holy Scripture, God, sin, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, justification and sanctification, the Church, and the office of the Holy Ministry, with general agreement on the issues discussed.

Leading the SELK’s delegation was Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, who also serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide. Both SELK and the AALC are member churches of the ILC. The second day of meetings between SELK and the AALC began with devotions led by Bishop Voigt, followed by discussions on the sacraments, worship, ethics, and eschatology, with the two sides finding consensus in these areas.

Each group plans to encourage their respective church bodies to vote on entering into fellowship at coming conventions (SELK at their pastoral convention in November 2017 and the AALC at their general convention in June 2018).

Participants in the AALC-LKN fellowship talks.

Earlier in 2017, the AALC also entered into fellowship talks with Lutheran Church in Norway (Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge – LKN). March saw talks between the AALC’s President Pastor Leins, Rev. Dapelo, and Rev. Jordan Cooper and the LKN’s Bishop Torkild Msavie and Rev. Eirik-Kornelius Garnes-Lunde. On the basis of those talks, the LKN decided to enter into fellowship with the AALC. The AALC will bring the matter forward for a vote at the AALC’s general convention in June 2018. The LKN, like SELK and the AALC, is a member church of the International Lutheran Council.

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Norwegians celebrates publication of Sami-language New Testament

Two Sami congregants pose with the new edition of the New Testament along with The Lutheran Church in Norway's Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie (second from left) and Rev. Olav Lyngmo (far right).
Two Sami congregants pose with the new edition of the New Testament, along with The Lutheran Church in Norway’s Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie (second from left) and Rev. Olav Lyngmo (far right).

NORWAY – The classic Sami-language New Testament has now been published using the modern spelling standard, with the first presentation of the new edition in Norway taking place in a congregation of The Lutheran Church in Norway.

Rev. Olav Berg Lyngmo, a Sami-speaking pastor who has been involved in the project, presented the new edition of the New Testament during a service held August 15, 2016 in Alta, Finnmark (Norwegian Lapland). Many of those in attendance have been awaiting this edition of the New Testament for years.

The Sami are a small population in modern day Europe, a fact which has led to challenges for Sami Christians. The Sami in Norway consist of three different language groups who don’t understand each other’s languages. The New Testament project focuses on the largest of these three: the Northern Sami, who make up a group of about 20,000 people, with most living in Norway and some also in Sweden and Finland.

Producing Bibles and devotional material for small language groups has always been expensive, so recent efforts for the Northern Sami have focused on reproducing the 1895 Bible, Luther’s Small Catechism, a hymnal, and a few other books that have been published over the years.

In 1977 a new Sami spelling standard was introduced in the schools. In many ways, it was a gift, as it simplified spelling for Sami schoolchildren and also allowed non-native speakers of Sami greater ease in reading the language. But it created a gap between the new generation of Sami speakers and previously produced literature, as only a limited amount of classical devotional material has ever been made available in the new spelling system.

A new translation of the New Testament was produced in 1998 in accordance with the new spelling standard, but most Sami preferred the older translation of 1895. Bringing this classic version into modern spelling has been of great importance to the Sami people, leading the Sami Parliament in 2010 to allocate funds to make the new edition of the New Testament possible.

With the traditional version of the New Testament now in modern Sami spelling, different generations can read together from the same beloved text, each using the spelling system they are most comfortable reading. While an important step forward, the Sami know challenges remain, as the Old Testament is still only available in in the old spelling system.

The Lutheran Church in Norway is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

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Latvian Lutherans consecrate confessional Swede as Bishop

by Christopher C. Barnekov

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) has consecrated as bishop a Swedish theologian previously barred from ordination in Sweden because of his confessional Lutheran faith. Rev.

Archbishop Vanags presents Hans Jönsson with the pectoral cross of a bishop. (Photo: Rihards Rasnacis).
Archbishop Vanags presents Hans Jönsson with the pectoral cross of a bishop. (Photo: Rihards Rasnacis).

Hans Jönsson, 48, was consecrated August 6 at the cathedral in Riga to serve as bishop of Liepaja Diocese in southwestern Latvia.

Bishop Jönsson graduated from Lund University in Sweden. While studying in Lund, he supplemented his studies with lectures in Lutheran theology sponsored by the Swedish Luther Foundation, which was formed in 1955 to promote theological education grounded in the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran confessional writings, thus opposing increasingly liberal trends in the Church of Sweden.

Because of his confessional Lutheran views, Jönsson was denied ordination in the Church of Sweden. He was, however, certified as qualified for ordination by the Church Coalition for The Bible and Confessions, an umbrella organization encompassing several Swedish Confessional Lutheran movements that was founded in 1958 at the initiative of Bishop Bo Giertz to defend traditional Lutheran faith in the Church of Sweden. The Coalition was formed in the context of the debate over women’s ordination, which its members viewed as clearly contradicting Scripture.

Bishop Jönsson is also an associate member of the pastoral collegium of the Mission Province in Sweden. Dr. Bengt Birgersson, Mission Province Secretary, who attended the consecration, noted, “Sweden’s loss is Latvia’s gain. Many gifted young men were forced to leave Sweden in order to serve Christ abroad, having been denied ordination in the Church of Sweden because they were faithful to Scripture. This is why the Mission Province was formed: to provide a path to ordination and service in Sweden.” Since the founding of the Mission Province in 2003, approximately 40 men have been ordained in Sweden and in the Mission Dioceses in Finland and Norway who would otherwise have been excluded because they believe the Holy Scriptures limit the pastoral office to men.

The ELCL has a close historical relationship to the Church of Sweden. Unlike the Church of Sweden, however, the Latvian church has remained faithful to Confessional Lutheran theology. In 2000, Jönsson was invited to serve in Latvia while learning the language, receiving financial support from the Swedish Luther Foundation. He was subsequently ordained in Riga in 2003, and most recently served as pastor in Madona, about 40 miles east of Riga. He was also given responsibility for managing the national church’s finances and currently serves as chairman of the board for pastoral education.

Rev. Jönsson was elected June 3 to replace the retiring Bishop of Liepaja. The diocese consists of 124 congregations served by 40 pastors.

Bishop Jönsson with Archbishop Vanags after the consecration.
Bishop Jönsson with Archbishop Vanags after the consecration.

Archbishop Janis Vanags conducted the consecration, which was broadcast in its entirety by Latvian national television. Archbishop Vanags was assisted by Latvia’s bishops as well as Bishop Tiits Salumäe of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was represented by Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations and Assistant to the President. Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church in Norway also participated in the service. Representatives also attended from the Nordic Mission Dioceses, as well as the Swedish Luther Foundation and other confessional Lutheran movements.

With nearly 300 congregations, the ELCL is the nation’s largest church. It is in fellowship with the LCMS and also has close ties to the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany. In June, the ELCL amended its constitution to reverse a policy imposed during the Soviet domination that opened ordained ministry to women (although no women had been ordained since shortly after Latvia’s liberation).

Although ELCL is still a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), it rejected heavy pressure from the LWF in moving to limit ordination to men. Advocates of women’s ordination argued that this decision would strain relations with LWF members. In addressing the June synod, however, Archbishop Vanags expressed the intention of drawing closer to the International Lutheran Council and its member churches, including the LCMS, which ordain only men. Relations between ELCL and the Church of Sweden have also been greatly strained since the CoS accepted same-sex marriage.

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Opposition as Church of Norway approves same-sex marriage

church-of-norway-samesex-marriage
NORWAY – On April 11, 2016, the Bishops’ Conference of the Church of Norway (CN) moved to approve the marriage of same-sex couples, creating a liturgy to allow such weddings to take place in the church. The decision came in a 88-32 vote, but there are still many expressing their objection to the change in the church’s teaching on marriage.

Earlier votes on the subject of same-sex marriage had been rejected, most recently in 2014. The Church of Norway is the state church of Norway, and is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. It has allowed the ordination of practicing homosexuals since 2007, further straining relations in the church.

Rev. Dag Øivind Østereng
Rev. Dag Øivind Østereng

“[The newly-adopted teaching on marriage] is contrary to the Bible and gathered ecclesiastical and ecumenical tradition,” wrote Rev. Dag Øivind Østereng following the vote. “To abolish man/woman as the basic unit in marriage is contrary to God’s revealed will and natural law that can be discerned in creation itself. The Church has bowed herself before a gender ideology which is in direct violation of the Bible’s word and to what I as a pastor am committed.” Rev. Østereng is a prominent figure in the CN’s confessional wing, having been a member of the group Carissimi.

The vote to approve a same-sex wedding liturgy included allowance for priests and other church workers to refuse to participate in gay marriages. But this is not enough, Rev. Østereng says. “The Norwegian Church as a community has now changed her understanding of utterly fundamental aspects of the Word of God,” he explained. “These are not merely points with which I personally disagree; I cannot belong to a church that teaches in this way.”

“It is with great sadness and deep anguish, and at the same with the peace that conviction gives, that I must announced that within the next few weeks I will submit my resignation,” he continued, “and after the resignation-notice period withdraw from service as a priest in the Church of Norway and as a member of the Church of Norway.”

It is unclear how many Norwegian clergy and laypeople may follow Rev. Østereng’s example. Just before the vote, 200 priests released a Declaration on the Ecclesial Situation expressing doubt about their continued participation in the Church of Norway if same-sex marriage were to be approved. An online poll taken by Norwegian news site Dagen revealed that 44% of respondents intended to leave the Church of Norway over the issue, and that an additional 34% are uncertain whether to continue their membership. As the poll was conducted online, it is unclear how accurately it represents the sentiments of Norwegians overall.

While the Church of Norway is the nation’s largest church, there are other Lutherans options in the country. The Lutheran Church in Norway (Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge – LKN), for example, is a small church body affiliated with the International Lutheran Council (ILC) since 2015. The LKN traces its origins to 2005, and its pastors are all former ministers of the Church of Norway. While small, the LKN has begun to receive greater media attention as more Norwegians seek alternatives to the Church of Norway.

Norway is also home to the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Norway (Det evangelisk-lutherske stift i Norge), which officially separated from the Church of Norway in 2013. It entered into communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Finland and the Mission Province in Sweden in 2015, forming the Communion of Nordic Diocese. All three churches have recently met with the International Lutheran Council to begin discussions on becoming members of the ILC.

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

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