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.
HONG KONG – The Lutheran Church–Hong Kong Synod (LCHKS) celebrated 65 years of ministry at a Thanksgiving Service October 26, 2014 in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The event also marked the ordination of eight new pastors—a record number for one year in the LCHKS.
President Allan Yung of the LCHKS recently gave an interview to Lutheran Radio UK where he discussed the history and present work of the church in Hong Kong. Missionary activity from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) began in China a century ago (an event the LCHKS celebrated last year), but missionaries were forced to leave the mainland in 1949. LCMS missionaries who evacuated to Hong Kong, a city at the time that was much smaller and poorer than it is today.
“It was still a very small place—less than half a million people,” President Yung notes. “Most of them were refugees. They were very poor. They needed material support and spiritual support—they were very hungry.” The Lutheran missionaries requested to stay and serve permanently in Hong Kong, a request that was granted. “Since then, a lot of work has been carried out,” President Yung said. “Now we are a city of seven million people.”
President Yung entered office in 1997, the same year Hong Kong was transferred to the authority of the Chinese government. While at the time some Westerners worried what impact that might have on Christian witness in Hong Kong, President Yung is happy to say that the mission of the church continues to flourish.
Today, the LCHKS has 10,500 communicants, 36 congregations, six mission stations, 40 schools, 45 social service centres, and other agencies like a seminary, counseling services, and more. In total, the church has more than 130 service units throughout Hong Kong.
That strong push towards community service brings with it an opportunity for Gospel witness. “We have 20,000 students studying in our schools,” President Yung explains, “and about 90% of them are not Christian. So we build up in all our schools a mission station, and some have become congregations already. So they are fed not only worldly knowledge but also spiritual knowledge.”
The same is true of social service projects. “We share our earthly things with people because that’s what Jesus wants,” President Yung notes. “We want to share the love of God with them. The people understand that this comes from a church, and it is very well received by the public.”
The respect the church has gained because of its education work has led in recent years to unique opportunities. The LCHKS is now starting an English school in Shenzhen, a neighbouring city in mainland China. President Yung notes that they are also working with the national church there to offer an English-language Sunday service.
These opportunities are possible because the church is careful to avoid politics. “We don’t want to get ourselves into political issues,” President Yung explains. “We just want to be involved in Gospel issues and service issues, so we can grow and move forward in Hong Kong. We want to have a good relationship with the authority in Hong Kong as well as the authority in mainland China.”
The church also has good relations with other Christians. The church works with other Christians in Hong Kong on external matters (like disaster relief, for example), but is careful to defend its confessional Lutheran identity. The LCHKS is known locally as a conservative church because of its strict adherence to biblical teachings on issues like female ordination, President Yung notes, but he clarifies that “we are a growing conservative church.” “We are most grateful to be able to say that,” President Yung continued. “We have a constant growth of about three to five percent membership a year.”
The LCHKS has a strong relationship with Christians around the world as well. The church retains close ties to the LCMS, its mother church, and further sits as a member of the International Lutheran Council.
DENMARK – The Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (ELFCD) held its annual convention July 19-20 in Langeland. At that time, it released a Danish translation of the European Lutheran Conference (ELC) guidance document “Living in an Ecumenical World.”
The event saw 75 Danish Lutherans and guests gather together under the theme “On this Rock I Will Build.” Among other business, attendees heard presentations on the ELC’s 23 convention, held May 22-24, 2014 in Bleckmar, Germany, at which time “Living in an Ecumenical World” was adopted. Signatories of the document represent confessional Lutheran communities in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Finland, the Kyrgyz Republic, Siberia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States of America.
The Danish church reports that the guidance document was well received at its annual convention, and was commended to the church’s congregations for further study. Download the Danish translation (“At leve i en Økumenisk Verden”) of the document here.
The convention was followed by a four-day summer Bible Camp. Participants studied John 20-21 in depth, as well as the story of Gideon (Judges 6-8). Rev. George Samiec (Vice-Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England and Secretary of the ELC) served as guest instructor and preacher for the event.
“The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3).
It was with these words—first uttered by the people of Israel when, in an unexpected, wonderful, and surprising way they received the right, the permission of God to leave their captivity and to return to their own country—it was with these words, that the Latin-American Lutheran churches returned to their homes, having participated in the International Lutheran Council’s Regional Conference (held earlier this month in Caracas, Venezuala).
They were four wonderful days of fellowship, study, reflection, debate, reports, exchange of experiences, and mutual strengthening. Participants highlighted in this conference the importance of reading, meditating, and deepening ever more our study of the word of God. They also stressed the importance of Lutheran Hour ministry outreach, which opens doors for the Church’s mission.
Conference participants stressed the need to provide theological support to smaller Lutheran churches in the region, especially through the theological seminaries of Brazil and Argentina. By helping each other and looking for more opportunities to cooperate, they hope to take Christ’s message, the Gospel of salvation to all people, races, peoples and nations of Latin America and, where possible, to cross the seas with this challenge to go to the “ends of the Earth”—something Brazil is already doing in Africa with Mozambique and Angola.
In Latin America we have many challenges, many opportunities, and much work to do. People are thirsty for the water of life; if we don’t offer it, as Jesus asks us to, then people will turn to contaminated water—waters of death and not life.
People are thirsty for the water of life; if we don’t offer it, as Jesus asks us to, then people will turn to contaminated water—waters of death and not life.
Many of us today cannot imagine living in a house where you don’t have water: water to drink, water for washing, water for cooking, well-water. So too we cannot imagine a Christian home without the Bible, God’s Word, the water of life. Christian homes, satiated in their own spiritual thirst for truth, cannot look to others without extending to them the same blessing, without offering them that treasure of eternal life. They share it with their compatriots of all peoples, races, and nations. They share it with them who are dying of thirst and starvation.
With cheerful and grateful hearts, therefore, we also say: “The LORD has done great things for us” (Psalm 126:3). But on the other hand we also say with Nehemiah, “the work is great and widely spread” (Nehemiah 4:19). As the Israelites did then, so too we also “prayed to our God” (Nehemiah 4:9), that He would bless our lives and attitudes as people of God, and our testimony of what we believe and confess. May God bless the mission of the Christian Church throughout the world.
Rev. Egon Kopereck is President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil and sits on the International Lutheran Council’s Executive as representative for Latin America.
FINLAND – Following an invitation from the Bishops’ Conferences of the Mission Provinces of Sweden, Finland, and Norway, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt visited Helsinki as chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and as presiding bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany.
During the meeting, Bishop Voigt made two introductory presentations. In the morning he reported on the history and the purpose of the ILC. He pointed to the fact that many member churches of the ILC were founded as a result of the Lutheran confessional renewal in the 19th century; others resulted as a gathering of Lutheran refugees and settlers in the 19th and 20th century as Mission Churches.
In the course of the discussion, Bishop Voigt issued an invitation to the Scandinavian Mission Provinces to begin discussions with the Executive Committee of the ILC about the possibility and the modalities of membership in this global organization. At the same time, he expressed his understanding of the pastoral practice of the mission dioceses in not urging individual members of their parishes to leave their respective Lutheran state churches, but rather to bear those tensions that a struggle for the true unity of the church imposes.
In a further presentation during the afternoon session, Bishop Voigt spoke on developments and special challenges currently facing SELK. In the subsequent discussion he indicated his pleasant surprise to discover parallels between the Old Lutheran revival movements in Germany in the 19th century and the present-day developments in the Scandinavian mission provinces.
Bishop Risto Soramies of the hosting Evangelical Lutheran Mission Province of Finland thanked the participants for the meeting. He expressed his hope that contacts with the ILC and the member churches can be developed and intensified in the future.
NORWAY – Norwegian Bishop Børre Knudsen died quietly in his home near Tromsø Sunday morning (August 17), surrounded by his family. Norway’s most prominent Pro-Life leader had suffered worsening Parkinson’s Disease in recent years. His passing sparked a wave of praise from Christian and even secular publications across Norway. An editorial in the Christian daily Dagen entitled “Heartfelt Thanks, Børre Knudsen” described him as “a unique person. His warm heart, his gentle zeal and his steadfastness stand as strong testimony to a life of selfless service for the Life that God created.”
“When the history of our times is written,” Dagen continues, “Børre Knudsen will be one future generations will hear about. Knudsen’s struggle is not driven by opposition to women’s rights or the preservation of traditional gender roles, but by a strong commitment to protect life itself.”
Vårt Land writes, “Børre Knudsen will go down in history as one of the most important churchly personalities of our time, but both he and his family had to pay a high price because he stood out front in the abortion battle.”
Bishop Knudsen was known throughout Norway and beyond for his gentle demeanor but uncompromising struggle against legalized abortion, beginning when the Norwegian law was adopted in 1978. Protesting the law, he refused to carry out government duties assigned to state church pastors, such as keeping official records, and refused his salary, but continued his pastoral service to his congregation.
This protest was modeled after the Church’s resistance against the World War II Nazi occupation of Norway. When the occupation government attempted to transform the Church along their lines and brainwash children as was then being done in Germany, the bishops wrote a Confession known as “The Church’s Foundation” (Kirkens Grunn). This confessed that the Church is bound to God’s Word, that Word and Sacrament cannot be reshaped by the government, and that parents must resist government efforts to pervert their children’s faith. On Easter Day 1942 this Confession was read from the pulpit in Lutheran churches all over Norway. Most pastors then resigned their state appointments, refusing to serve the government or to accept their government salaries, but continuing their pastoral services. The bishops and many pastors were imprisoned, but the Church remained free and faithful.
Following the Kirkens Grunn model, Knudsen continued to serve his parish despite government efforts to remove him, until the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled against him in 1983. He was not, however, defrocked at that time and continued his ministry in a valgmenighet, a Norwegian form of congregation nominally within the state church, but independent of its bishops. On Easter Day 1991, Knudsen and several other pastors formed the Strandebarm Deanery (Prosti), also called the “Norwegian Church in Exile.” The Deanery viewed itself as continuing the historic faith and practice of the Norwegian Church, but outside the control of the government and the government-appointed bishops. It held to confessional Lutheran positions, and thus opposed the state church, on such matters as abortion, homosexuality, and ordination of women.
Knudsen was consecrated bishop for the Deanery in 1997, and this led to his being defrocked in 2001. He continued serving in the Deanery until 2011, when he retired for health reasons. Bishop Thor Henrik With was consecrated in 2012 to replace Knudsen for the congregations in northern Norway. These congregations constituted themselves into what is now called The Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. It cooperates closely with the Mission Province in Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese in Finland. Bishop Knudsen was one of the four Lutheran bishops who assisted Bishop Walter Obare of Kenya when he consecrated the first Mission Province bishop, Arne Olsson, in 2005.
Bishop Knudsen led an increasingly controversial series of protest actions in defense of the unborn as long as his health permitted. He was the object of much hatred and abuse by militant abortion supporters. He maintained a gentle but steadfast attitude in the face of much persecution. His family, especially his children, were also targeted for persecution.
Public attitudes toward Bishop Knudsen have mellowed considerably in light of his consistent and gentle witness. He is the subject of a book entitled A Priest and a Plague (En Prest og en Plage) and a full-length documentary film of the same title. The film was released in Norway earlier this year and shown all over that country. Norwegian television scheduled a nation-wide prime time broadcast on Tuesday (August 19). The film has been released on DVD in Scandinavia (in Region 2 format), and is expected to be released in North America in October.