WORLD – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held regular meetings May 26-27, 2020 via online videoconferencing, during which time the board continued planning for the ILC’s 2021 World Conference, as well as received a report on the ILC’s ecumenical discussions with Roman Catholics.
The International Lutheran Council’s 27th (12th) World Conference will take place September 21-24, 2021 in Kenya. Some on-the-ground preparations have been interrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but planning otherwise is progressing normally. The board will announce further information, including the conference theme, at a later date.
During the May 2020 meetings, the Board of Directors also accepted the concluding report of the informal academic dialogue between the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The document will be now distributed to the churches of the ILC for study and reaction, with plans to make official recommendations on the report during the 2021 ILC World Conference.
“The dialogue groups from both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic sides have done marvelous work,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the final report. “I am grateful to them for their diligence, and for the results of their theological discussions. They deserve our sincere thanks.”
The board also considered ongoing membership applications during their meetings, as well as regular business such as reports from ILC programs, organizations, and world regions. The current pandemic has led to the postponement of several ILC initiatives, including regional conferences in Latin America and Europe, as well as classes in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program.
The board also approved an update to the ILC’s Mission Statement, which now reads:
The International Lutheran Council is a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. The ILC exists for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and promoting confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among its members and throughout the world.
The next meeting of the ILC Board of Directors will take place online on September 21, 2020.
75 years ago the most terrible of all world wars ended in Europe…
A personal reflection by the The Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council
It was at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Gross Oesingen, one of our congregations in the Lüneburg Heath region of northern Germany. A few months after the unconditional surrender of the German army some pastors of the then Evangelical Lutheran Free Church had assembled. It was November 1 of the year 1945. Among them was the local Pastor Martin Hein, as well as the Pastor from Hannover, Hans Kirsten. The worst war that ever emanated from German territory had ended with a resounding defeat and the signing of the instruments of capitulation just a few months earlier.
Perplexity and a sense of helplessness was keenly felt by all the pastors. All around them there were refugees on the farms and in emergency housing in the cities. There were still some food supplies, especially from the reserves of the military, but hunger and the first post-war winter were approaching.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door of Farmer Käppel’s house next to the church. Pastor Hein got up to open the door. A tall, lanky man appeared, dressed in suit and hat, accompanied by a GI in uniform, who had driven the American military limousine; they were obviously US-Americans. The visitor introduced himself, speaking German with a Texan accent, as the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). “How can we help you?” John William Behnken (1884-1968) asked. “What can we do for you and your congregations?” He was LCMS President from 1935 to 1962. President Behnken was the first American church representative who was allowed to visit Germany. After his trip he personally reported to the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman.
Even today we can still feel the emotions of that moment. Not much earlier American troops and their allies had paid a bloody toll as they invaded Normandy in France in order to end the ravages of war by force. And just a few weeks later the question: “How can we help you?” The German pastors had not expected that.
It is a fact that The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod provided considerable help in the reconstruction and re-organization of the independent Lutheran confessional churches in Germany. The foundation of our Lutheran Seminary (now in Oberursel) was made possible in large part by the LCMS. Many congregations of the LCMS participated massively by sending Care Packages very soon after the war. The 75th Anniversary of Germany’s liberation provides opportunity to remember in gratitude the help offered so soon after the war
A change of scenery: In 2018 I visited one of the Lutheran congregations in London, England. My friend, the Rev. John Ehlers, had invited me to preach in the service. After worship Pastor Ehlers introduced me to an elderly lady and informed me that during World War II she had served as a nurse, and she frequently she had to take care of the victims caused by the German air raids. The lady said to me: “You’re the first German to preach in this church. It is good that our peoples are now so close to one another.” I have never forgotten this.
Without doubt May 8, 1945 was a day of liberation. All the horror which German refugees, the victim of the bombings, and the soldiers had to endure had its origin in that ideological dictatorship that caused this war and not the final outcome. In 1945 the full extent of the horror and the utter monstrosity of the mass murder of the Jews was not yet fully revealed, but almost everyone knew what was going on.
An American philosopher of Spanish descent, George Santayana (1863 – 1952), said: “He who learns nothing from history is condemned to repeat its mistakes.” I do not know know whether this is true in all cases. But it is one of the strengths of Germany’s policy of remembrance not to suppress the shameful crimes of the past but to keep them in our collective memory. President Behnken’s visit and the readiness to forgive on the part of that nurse in London I regard as more than just a sign for the power of Christian reconciliation. That reconciliation is based on Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
This past Sunday was the last in Advent, and once again immediately following the Kyrie ,the pastor went directly into the Greeting and Salutation: “The Lord be with you,” “and with your spirit.” The Gloria in Excelsis was nowhere to be found. It has been gone since the first Sunday in Advent.
When Martin Luther undertook his remarkable 1526 restoration and German translation of the Latin Mass, he did not include the ancient Gloria in Excelsis. How was it possible for someone as theologically and musically gifted as Dr. Luther to delete the Gloria? At first glance this seems a bit baffling, but a closer look reveals that the reason for the omission was most likely because the German Mass was first sung in December of 1525 which put it during the penitential season of Advent when the Gloria was not customarily sung. New compositions of the Gloria would eventually be composed by Nicolaus Decius, Luther, and others.
The Gloria is also omitted during the penitential season of Lent, but its omission is most striking during the Advent-Christmas season since it is the song of the angels to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.
Lutherans greatly value and retain the traditional liturgical practices of the church.
In the Introduction to his 1523 revision of the Latin Mass, Luther explained: “It is not now or ever has been our intention to abolish the liturgical service of God completely, but rather to purify the one that is now in use from accretions which corrupt it and to point out an evangelical use.” He commends those parts of the service added by the early church fathers and recommends they be retained in the liturgy: Psalms and Introit Psalm, Kyrie, Readings from Epistle and Gospel, Gloria in Excelsis, and so forth (LW AE 53:20-21).
In 1530, the Lutherans confessed in Article 15 of the Augsburg Confession, “We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify” (Ap XV, Tappert 220:38, emphasis mine).
One year after the Diet of Augsburg, Luther was preaching at St. Mary’s parish church in Wittenberg. He expressed amazement that the evangelical movement was still alive: “A year ago, at the Diet of Augsburg, the [general] opinion was that everything would go topsy-turvy within four weeks, and that all Germany would founder. [No one knew how things would end up,] or from what source help and comfort might come. The situation baffled and defied all reason and wisdom, and one was constrained to say: ‘It all depends on God’s power, and it is all staked on His Word’” (LW AE 23:400).
It is now 489 years after the Diet of Augsburg and the world in which we live—including numerous churches which bear the names “Evangelical” and “Lutheran”—are in many respects topsy-turvy, upside down, and in a state of confusion. And we too are led to express amazement and thanksgiving that after all she has gone through, the Lutheran Church has not foundered. She continues to depend on “God’s power, and it is all staked on His Word.” This is articulated on the International Lutheran Council website: “The International Lutheran Council is a growing worldwide association of established confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God” (emphasis mine). It is extremely encouraging to know that we are not alone. Over 50 churches worldwide have chosen to be part of an association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which share this commitment to the Gospel and the Word of God.
Martin Luther retained the historic liturgy but insisted that it be in the vernacular, so that the people could understand and participate meaningfully in the Divine Service. For this reason, the Gloria in Excelsis was also composed in hymn form in order to foster congregational singing.
As Advent gives way to Christmas, ILC Churches from many countries and cultures will worship in different languages yet share in the common faith, the common Lutheran confession, and common Lutheran liturgical tradition. In the Divine Service the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word made flesh, comes to us through the Word and in his very Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament to bestow upon us the forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal salvation. Lutherans from all ages and throughout the world join the angels, who sang to the shepherds when Jesus was born in Bethlehem: “Glory be to God on high; and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).
All glory be to God alone,
Forever more the highest one,
Who did our sinful race befriend
And grace and peace to us extend.
Among us may His gracious will
All hearts with deep thanksgiving fill. – Martin Luther, All Ehr und Lob, stanza 1
Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill is General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council.
USA – The working group established in 2014 to conduct an informal dialogue between the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC) completed its task during a final session held September 23-26. 2019 on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Taking part from the Roman Catholic Church were Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany), Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn, Germany), Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn), and Fr. Augustinus Sander O.S.B. (who has recently moved from Germany to Rome). Taking part on behalf of the churches of the ILC were Dr. Werner Klän (Lübeck, Germany), Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil), Dr. John Stephenson (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), and Dr. Roland Ziegler (Fort Wayne, Indiana). In addition, the chairman of the ILC, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (Hanover, Germany) of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran, attended the sessions in a guest capacity.
The Fort Wayne meeting followed previous gatherings at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Oberursel in 2015, the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt in 2016, the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute in Paderborn in 2016, and the Guesthouse of the Mission of Lutheran Churches (Bleckmar Mission) in 2018.
An open and friendly atmosphere marked the final session, which discussed the topics of the umbrella norms of Scripture, tradition, and confession; the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist; the doctrine of justification; and the understanding of ministerial office and ordination. The last-named topic proved so complex as to defy coming to a conclusion, with the result that further work is contemplated in this area.
The results of the conversations will shortly be summarised in a common report to be presented to both the PCPCU and the ILC, which will then consult among themselves and with each other on the best way to pursue further contacts on the basis of what has already been achieved.
GERMANY – On September 17-22, 2018 the Informal Dialogue Group between the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) will meet again. This time the gathering will take place on the premises of the Lutherische Kirchenmission (Lutheran Church Mission centre) in Bleckmar, Germany. The general topic of this informal dialogue is “The Presence of Divine Salvation in this World,” especially in the Church and its liturgy. This was stated at the beginning of the informal dialogue.
In Bleckmar, the conversations will center on the understanding of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, the understanding of the presence of Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Church, the co-operation between God and man in this regard, the office of the ministry, and the doctrine of justification.
Delegates on the ILC side are Rev. Dr. Albert Colver III (St. Louis, Missouri), Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Lübeck, Germany), Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil), and Prof. Dr. John Stephenson (St. Catharines, Canada); for the topic of “time and simultaneousness”, Mr. Pavel Butakov has been co-opted. On the Roman Catholic side are Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany), PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn, Germany), Father Dr. Augustinus Sander (Maria Laach, Germany), and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn, Germany).
The dialogue group will prepare a final report that is meant to be adopted in the course of next year. Then it will be submitted to the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Koch, and to the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council.
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).
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.
HANOVER, Germany – From May 1-2, 2017, Rev. Ville Typpö and Rev. Mikko Tiira of the Istanbul Lutheran Church (İstanbul Luteryen Kilisesi – ILK) visited the national office of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) in Hanover. Rev. Typpö oversees the young Lutheran church body in Turkey. Meanwhile, Rev. Tiira is stationed in Izmir, the Biblical city of Smyrna.
The Istanbul Lutheran Church numbers 200 members in four congregations: two in Turkey (in Istanbul and Izmir) and two in Bulgaria (Peshtera and Krusevo). Some ILK members from Bulgaria have emigrated to Germany in recent years. ILK pastors seek to help the transition of these people to German Lutheran congregations. The SELK’s pastoral leader, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, pledged the spiritual support of his church.
In addition there was discussion about possible cooperation between the Lutheran Theological Seminary of the SELK in Oberursel, Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Institute of Religion (ELRIM) in Istanbul. The visitors from Turkey emphasized that students from Germany are always welcome at ELRIM. There one can learn of Islam as practiced in Turkey, while cultivating contacts with the Orthodox and other Eastern churches. Lectures by visiting German professors would be very much encouraged.
Following the Hanover consultations, Revs. Typpö and Tiira traveled on to Luther’s Wittenberg to participate in a conference at the Old Latin School, a joint project of the SELK and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Bishop Voigt remarked to the SELK News Service that the Lutheran work in Turkey impresses him deeply. Along the way there was also discussion on political issues. The conversation with the visiting pastors confirmed his impression that one cannot ignore the ideologizing taking place in Turkish society.
The Istanbul Lutheran Church is a Turkish-speaking confessional Lutheran church body officially established in 2004. It carries on the tradition of the first Lutheran congregation in Turkey established in Constantinople in 1709. In addition to SELK, it has developed closer relations with the LCMS in recent years, signing a Working Agreement with them in 2015. (You can find out more about the history and work of the ILK by reading this 2013 interview between The Canadian Lutheran and Rev. Typpö).
SELK and the LCMS are member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Bishop Voigt of the SELK serves the ILC as its chairman.
With files from a SELK News story as translated by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Lutheran Church–Canada.
Ukraine – Representatives of four Lutheran church bodies signed an agreement in Odessa, Ukraine on August 12, pledging closer collaboration with one another and setting the stage for possible deeper cooperation in the future.
The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) was represented by Bishop Serge Maschewski. Representing the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU) were Bishop Emeritus Viktor Graefenstein and Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, SELCU Vice-President for Church Relations. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver represented The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), while President Robert Bugbee attended on behalf of Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC). The protocol signing followed two days of meetings at SELCU’s Concordia Seminary in Usatovo, an Odessa suburb.
LCC has worked in Ukraine for more than 20 years, providing theological education for the SELCU since 1998. SELCU is a church body which began after a separation from the DELKU in the mid-1990s. Though the two Ukrainian churches have had occasional contacts since that time, the stage for stronger relations was set more recently when DELKU began expressing a desire to firm up its commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.
DELKU Bishop Maschewski had been an early student in the “Russian Project” of Concordia Theological Seminary at Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW), as the LCMS began working with developing Lutheran churches after the breakup of the Soviet Union. “It is such a joy to see to see these long term relationships grow and blossom,” noted CTSFW President Lawrence Rast. “It shows us how the gospel is ‘in the whole world’ and ‘is bearing fruit and increasing’ (Colossians 1:6), just as the Scriptures promise.” The Fort Wayne Seminary provided several continuing education seminars for DELKU pastors in the past year.
Since LCMS and LCC have a long-standing practice of cooperation in world mission areas, the recent discussions sought to foster cooperation and avoid misunderstandings in Ukraine, which has historically been an LCC mission field. President Bugbee observed, “When these talks began, the participants did not expect that we would end up signing an agreement to keep each other thoroughly informed of the work we’re doing, and to consider stronger joint efforts in the future. The discussions were marked by a great brotherly spirit. I thank God for that!”
DELKU includes congregations with history reaching back to the Lutheran Church in the Russian empire, which was extensive and well developed until the communist revolution of 1917 ushered in decades of repression. After dissolution of the USSR and Ukrainian independence, DELKU worked extensively with the Lutheran (State) Church of Bavaria in Germany, but recently began cultivating ties with the LCMS and its partners, like LCC.
LCMS and LCC are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
GERMANY – On May 6-7, 2016 the Dialogue Group of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) met for the second time. The venue was the Augustinian Monastery at Erfurt, Germany. Delegates on the Roman Catholic side were Dr. Josef Freitag (Erfurt, Germany) Dr. Grant Kaplan (Mainz, Germany/St. Louis, USA), Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn, Germany) and Fr. Dr. Augustinus Sander (Maria Laach, Germany). Delegates on the Lutheran side were Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III (St. Louis, USA), Dr. Werner Klän (Oberursel, Germany) Dr. John Stephenson (St. Catharines, Canada), Dr. Roland Ziegler (Ft. Wayne, USA). Unable to attend the meeting were Lutheran delegate Dr. Gerson Linden (Sao Leopoldo, Brasil) and Roman Catholic delegate Dr. Wolfgang Thoenissen (Paderborn, Germany).
As agreed upon at the first meeting, held in Oberursel, Germany in October 2015, the chief topic was the Sacrifice of the Mass. Presentations were given on Articles 24 of the Augsburg confession and its Apology by Dr. Neumann from a Roman-Catholic perspective, and by Rev. Dr. Collver from a Lutheran perspective. It was noted that the terminology on sacrifice was used in a complex manner already in the 16th century, and ambiguously at times as well. Additionally, changes in the understanding of what “sacrifice” means, occurred—especially in the Roman-Catholic camp—before the Second Vatican Council and beyond. The Dialogue Group also discussed issues like “opus operatum,” commemoration and representation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, faith and the receiving of the sacramental gift, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the connection between the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with the whole of the liturgy.
For the next meeting, the Dialogue Group established working groups to address: a) how Lutheran liturgies addressed the concept of sacrifice and the sacrifice (of the Mass) from a Roman Catholic perspective,and how the concept has developed in Roman Catholic liturgies since the 16th century as seen from a Lutheran perspective, b) an evaluation of Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue on the theme of the Eucharist and the theology of the Lord’s Supper over the last half century, and c) a historical survey of developments and changes in the interpretation of the sacrificial dimension of the Lord’s Supper that affect how each side understands its own confession and that of its dialogue partner.
POLAND – The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (ECACP – Kościół Ewangelicko-Augsburski w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) has rejected opening ordination to women, after a vote on the issue was defeated during the 2016 Spring Synod of the Church in Warsaw.
In total, 38 people voted in favour of the change and 26 voted against it, with four abstentions. According to the church’s bylaws, altering this aspect of church teaching in the Polish church would have required a 2/3 majority vote—a target missed by eight votes.
The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland notes that the discussion of female ordination has a long history in their church, going back more than seven decades. In 2008, the ECACP’s Commission on Theology and Confession reported its opinion that there were no theological objections to introducing female ordination in the ECACP. Despite their finding, female ordination has not been adopted by the Polish church. Women have been able to serve in the office of deacon in the church since 1999.
The question of opening pastoral ordination to women had been raised in the Autumn 2015 Synod of the Church by Bishop Jerzy Samiec, head of the ECACP. He announced his intention to open discussion of the topic during a conference in Warsaw discussing the Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) Gender Justice Policy.
With approximately 60,000 members, the ECACP is Poland’s largest Protestant church in a predominantly Roman Catholic country. Prior to Communist oppression following World War II, the church counted a membership of approximately one million members.
The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland is a member church of the LWF, though it also has ties to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a member church of the International Lutheran Council. Churches in the ILC do not ordain women.