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.
BELGIUM – On the morning of March 22, Belgium suffered twin terror attacks on Brussels’ international airport and a city metro station. At least 34 people are confirmed dead with more than 230 injured as of this report. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We are devastated by this news,” said President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB – Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België), who had been scheduled to fly from the airport later the same day. “But we take comfort in the peace of Christ—a peace which passes all understanding. Despite the raging of the world, we have the suffering and risen Lord with us.”
President van Hattem is encouraging Christians across the globe to lift up the situation in prayer. “We ask our friends around the world to keep Belgium in prayer in these days,” he said. “Pray especially for those who are mourning the loss of loved ones, those who are recovering from injuries, and those tasked with investigating this dreadful incident and protecting citizens.”
“And keep not only us in prayer,” he continued. “Pray for all those suffering in the midst of civil unrest and terrorism—in Europe, yes, but especially also in the Middle East and Africa. May God grant comfort to the sorrowing and peace to the persecuted. And may the Gospel of Jesus Christ be good news to a world in great conflict.”
The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
ONLINE – Presentations from the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 25th World Conference (held in Buenos Aires, Argentina September 23-26, 2015) have been published in a special issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission.
In a preface to the issue, ILC Vice Chairman Robert Bugbee reflects on the continuing growth of the ILC. “This is not only true from the perspective of membership numbers and statistics,” he notes. “There is a rising urgency within the Council to become more vigorous in its goal of extending the reach of a truly confessional Lutheran witness to additional places throughout the world. The Council’s leadership is currently grappling with concrete plans to bring that about.”
Such growth has more to do with than just ILC infrastructure of course. “If this growth had only to do with a human agency, its structures, personnel, and funding, it would be of little moment to those who care deeply about the mission of Christ’s church in the world,” Vice Chairman Bugbee explains. “For us, the happiest news flash is the one St. Paul identified long ago when he wrote his friends of ‘the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing’ (Col. 1:5-6).
That emphasis on Gospel-proclamation ties into the ILC’s 25th World Conference in Buenos Aires, where the theme was “Bringing the Reformation to the World.” Papers presented at that conference focused on proclaiming Reformation truths to a contemporary world, and are now available in this special issue of Journal of Lutheran Mission. In addition to the convention’s Keynote Address on “The Augsburg Confession in the 21st Century,” the issue includes lectures, reports, and sermons. It also includes a statement adopted by the ILC at its world conference on the document “From Conflict to Communion,” a document published by the Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholics regarding the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.
RUSSIA – In this time of disintegration of institutional Christianity in the countries of the developed world, it is noteworthy when the opposite trends mark the desire of confessional Lutheran Christians to abide in the unity of faith and love.
There was a time when the Lutheran Church of the old Russian Empire constituted one of the major Lutheran Churches worldwide. Well-known events of the communist revolution and atheistic purges of the 20th century have tragically changed the course of Christianity in that part of the world. Lutheranism in today’s Russia is relatively small and insignificant, only a shadow of what it once has been. However, even now the Lutherans in Russia trace their origin and history to that old Imperial Church. A sense of history is important for the Russian Lutherans. Along with that those Lutherans who are serious about their confessional subscription to the Holy Scripture and the Book of Concord naturally tend to not be in isolation from each other.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) are two voices of the confessional Lutheran movement in Russia today. These are two sister churches and share certain parts of their history. The Ingrian Church is the older of the two, with some of her parishes dating back to the early 17th century. Being in origin a church focused mostly on serving ethnic Finns on the territory of Ingria (Ingermanland), the ECLIR has grown today to combine Finnish Ingrian tradition with an appeal to people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. SELC, which formerly was a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Estonia, has included people of various cultures from the beginning.
SELC Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin and SELC Seminary Rector Alexey Streltsov recently visited the General Synod of ELCIR in October, the first such General Synod visit in 18 years. There has been remarkable progress in relationships between the two churches in recent years. Bishop Lytkin shared in the Eucharistic celebration with ELCIR Bishop Arri Kugappi at St Mary’s Church in St Petersburg, and preached for the service. Earlier this year, Rev. Alexey Streltsov preached at the service in the Moscow ELCIR parish of St. Peter and Paul in April and at Christ the Savior parish in Novosibirsk in November of this year.
Plans are being made for a joint seminar in spring of 2016 between the clergy of the Siberian deanery of ELCIR and SELC clergy. While instructor of the ELCIR Theological Institute, Dr. Sergey Isaev has been coming to the Theological Seminary of SELC in Novosibirsk for a number of years. And now, for the first time, Novosibirsk lecturers are scheduled to teach in Koltushy in 2016. ELCIR students residing in Siberia are likely to enroll at the seminary in Novosibirsk for the 2016-17 Academic year.
In short, some remarkable progress has been made within the last year. Bishop Kugappi observed at the Synod that such representation of the SELC at the Ingrian Synod was a major sign of unity of the two conservative Lutheran Churches in Russia. Bishop Lytkin states that never before in the history of the two churches were relations as close as they are now. He also expressed his admiration for the church’s strong witness of the declaration on the “Same sex relations” that was accepted at the ELCRI Synod. Their position is all the more admirable, he said, given the strong pressure from liberal European Churches that the ELCIR comes under for its confessional position on human sexuality.
Relations between the two Russian Lutheran churches have not always been as close as they are now. While conscientious Lutherans in both churches have hoped that obstacles would be overcome in the future, it is remarkable that such positive changes have occurred already in this generation. While there were historically challenges between the two churches, the fellowship between the sister churches was never broken: SELC seminary graduates served in the ELCIR parishes, there was interchange in hymnody, and in the work in the youth summer camps. Now relations between the two churches have grown to a strong new level.
There is an important lesson to learn here as well as great cause to give glory to God for the true unity in faith that comes only from Him. When people are serious about their confession and tradition, they naturally tend to join together in common witness for the truth. We are stronger together. In such a traditional society as Russia’s, it is extremely important to present Lutheran values in the public square not as a strange modernist antinomian phenomenon but as a historic Christian confession with clear emphasis on Christ and His Gospel, a serious attitude toward the commandments of God, and a respect for the liturgy and sacraments.
As Russian Lutherans move forward, they are hopeful that they will be able to keep faithful to their roots and present a viable alternative to apostate voices in which the voice of the Shepherd can no longer be recognized.
Rev. Alexey Streltsov is Rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Lutheran Theological Seminary.
GERMANY – Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the International Lutheran Council (ILC) met October 7-8 on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Oberursel, Germany to initiate a three-year series of informal academic dialogues. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the ILC, greeted the participants and wished them God’s blessing and good progress for their discussions.
The Roman Catholic delegation includes Professor Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Presiding Director of the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism, Paderborn, Germany); Professor Dr. Josef Freitag (University of Erfurt, Germany); Dr. Burkhard Neumann (a Director at the Möhler Institute); Professor Dr. Grant Kaplan (St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO, USA), and Father Dr. Augustinus Sander, OSB (Maria Laach, Germany). Representing the ILC were Professor Dr. Werner Klän (President of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Oberursel); Professor Dr. John Stephenson (Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON, Canada); Professor Dr. Roland Ziegler (Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, USA); Professor Dr. Gerson Linden (Concordia Seminary, São Leopoldo, Brazil); and Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver (Director of Church Relations and Assistant to the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, St. Louis, MO, USA).
The way had been paved for this consultation by a three-year series of talks carried out on a national level within Germany. Because of the positive developments achieved at that time, representatives of the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Oberursel had appealed for discussions to continue on an international basis.
At this initial consultation evaluations were shared from a confessional Lutheran point of view of documents already produced by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church. Discussions focused specifically on the documents The Eucharist (1978), The Ministry in the Church (1981), and Church and Justification (1993). In addition, Roman Catholic participants were made aware of an ILC response to the document produced in 2014 by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Unity Commission entitled From Conflict to Communion. This response was recently approved formally by the 25th ILC World Conference, meeting September 24-27 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Beyond findings reached in Lutheran-Catholic dialogues up to the present time, the goal of the planned discussions is to determine whether exchanges between confessional Lutherans and Catholics could lead to mutual enrichment leading to a discovery—or re-discovery—of a certain shared apostolic, catholic heritage.
The next meeting of the dialogue commission is set for May, 2016, in either Erfurt or Paderborn.
CANADA – Downtown Winnipeg was buzzing July 24-26, 2015 as Lutheran Church of the Redeemer played host to the 20th annual international Conference of United Oromo Evangelical Churches (UOEC). The event brought together delegates not only from across Canada and the United States, but also from across the globe with representatives from England, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Kenya, and Australia.
A major focus of the business of the clergy portion of the meeting dealt with building further unity among the various Oromo congregations represented, especially in the face of the liberal swing concerning human sexuality in many European and North American Lutheran Church bodies.
Central District President Thomas Prachar brought greetings to the UOEC on behalf of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) President Robert Bugbee, speaking both to the pastors’ meeting on July 23 as well as to the larger assembly of delegates on July 25. Rev. Todd Hoeffs also welcomed the delegates on behalf of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer as well as LCC’s Red River Circuit, which aided the conference with prayer, volunteer, and financial support.
Rev. Dr. Gemechis Olana of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was persuaded to continue on for an additional year as president of the UOEC. Lutheran Church–Canada’s own Rev. Assefa Aredo—the first graduate of LCC’s Pastors with Alternate Training program—was elected to serve on the Canadian Board of the UOEC along with two other delegates, one from Winnipeg and the other from Toronto. The Canadian Board coordinates outreach and mission planning among the Oromo diaspora within Canada.
The event came to a close Sunday July 26 with a joint English-Oromo worship, with estimates of more than 300 people in attendance.
“It was a wonderful conference,” said Rev. Aredo. “I want to say a big thank-you to all the volunteers from the Red River Circuit that helped to make it possible.” UOEC President Olana also expressed thanks on behalf of the UOEC board for all the support which LCC has provided to the various Oromo congregations and missions in Canada. This positive interaction, Rev. Aredo relates, has continued to spark interest in both LCC and Confessional Lutheranism among the scattered Oromo Churches around the globe.
The history of the UOEC is in many ways one of diaspora. From the 1970s on, thousands of Oromo people left Ethiopia to avoid persecution, political instability, and economic difficulties. As Oromo people took up residence in other nations, they began to form congregations and fellowships, many of which have since affiliated with various Lutheran denominations. In 1998, these congregations and fellowships founded the United Oromo Evangelical Churches as a way of unifying Oromo Christians living in diaspora across the globe.
While the UOEC is interdenominational in scope, many affiliated congregations are members of or have friendly relations with such churches of the International Lutheran Council as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church–Canada.
The 21st UOEC Conference will take place in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2016.
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