German Lutherans declare fellowship with six new church bodies

SELK Bishop Voigt (far right) greets (front l-r) DELSin Bishop With, ELMDF Bishop Soramies, and AALC Presiding Pastor Leins following the vote to recognize fellowship. (Photo: Dörte Pape via DELSiN.)

GERMANY – The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche) held its 14th National Church Synod from May 21-26, 2019 in Balhorn, Germany, during which time the church declared fellowship with six church bodies from Europe, North America, and South America.

The SELK’s new fellowship partners include the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway (DELSiN), and the Mission Province in Sweden. (The Mission Province still needs to ratify the agreement with SELK before fellowship between the two churches will take effect.)

SELK also declared fellowship with Concordia Fellowship, an Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Celle, Germany.

“It’s a joy to recognize fellowship with our brothers and sisters around the world,” noted SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. “We look forward to nurturing the growing relationships between our various church bodies, and looking for new opportunities for cooperation and partnership in our proclamation of the Gospel.”

The resolution to declare fellowship was followed by a standing ovation and a hymn of thanksgiving. The heads of three of the new partner church bodies—Bishop Thor Henrik With (DELSiN), Bishop Risto Soramies (ELMDF), and Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (AALC)—were all on hand for the event.

SELK’s 2019 Synod met under the theme: “Good News in a Fake News World. Speakers for the event were Professor Dr. Christian Neddens (Oberursel, Germany) and Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb (St. Louis, Missouri). Among other business, the church accepted a new document from SELK’s Theological Commission on “The Lutheran Church and Judaism,” discussed the role of women in the church, and conducted elections for various boards and commissions.

SELK, the AALC, IELA, ELMDF, ILSN, DELSiN, and the Mission Province are all members of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran churches around the world.

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Swedish Lutherans consecrate new bishop

Bishop Bengt Ådahl (centre right holding a crosier) of the Mission Province of Sweden, along with church leaders who participated in his consecration.
Bishop Bengt Ådahl.

SWEDEN – On April 27, 2019 Rev. Bengt Ådahl was consecrated as bishop of the Mission Province in Sweden at a festive service in Gothenburg.

Bishop Ådahl was installed by Bishop Roland Gustafsson, who has retired after nine years of service leading the Mission Province. Assisting Bishop Gustafsson were Bishops Göran Beijer and Lars Artman, as well as the Mission Province’s first Bishop Arne Olsson.

Also participating in the service were Bishop Thor Henrik With of the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway, Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Bishop Hans Jönsson bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.

Bishop Ådahl introduced his personal episcopal mission with the encouragement to “Look to Jesus,” drawing on Hebrews 12:2. “In all true Christianity, Jesus Christ is at the centre,” he explained. For this reason, Jesus must remain the centre of all Christian faith and practice. He must remain central in our individual lives. He must remain central in our understanding of Scripture. And He must remain central in the life of the Church.

“It is tempting,” he acknowledged, to follow “what is politically correct, what is liked in media coverage, to feel out which way the wind is blowing right now.”

Bishop Ådahl is consecrated.

“But it is fatal,” he warned. Instead, he said, “we must look to Jesus, search into His Word. We shall be faithful to and adhere to everything that He has shown and made clear to us in His Word. This is precisely what the Lord expects of us: to remain faithful to Himself, to His Word, faithful to the doctrines and confessions of the Church.”

This challenging call to stand firm on Christ and His Word is one the Mission Province in Sweden knows only too well. The Mission was founded first as a reform group within the Church of Sweden in 2003 by those attempting to remain faithful to the Scriptures while the state church increasingly secularized. Their first bishop, Arne Olsson, was installed in 2005. The Church of Sweden responded by defrocking Bishop Olsson.

The state church has continued to punish those holding confessional views, barring confessional candidates from ordination. One of those barred from ordination by the state Church of Sweden was in attendance at the consecration of Bishop Ådahl—Bishop Hans Jönsson, who was subsequently welcomed into the Latvian church and made a bishop there in 2016.

The Mission Province in Sweden is a member of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses, together with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. In 2018, the Mission Province and the other members of the Communion of Nordic Dioceses became members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. During that time, Bishop Emeritus Roland Gustafsson announced his intention to retire as head of Mission Province, having successfully brought the church into membership with the ILC.

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International Lutheran conference addresses the challenges of “Post-Christian” society

North European and North American churches plan to share theological resources.

Participants at 2015's Theological Commission conference in Germany.
Participants at 2015’s Theological Commission conference in Germany.

GERMANY – Following an invitation from the Commission on Theology (CT) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), representatives of various commissions on theology from Lutheran churches in Europe and North America met in Oberursel, Germany March 4-5, 2015. This meeting served the purpose of exchanging information about the proceedings and results of theological endeavours facing the challenges in—for the most part—post-Christian societies in the North Atlantic part of the world. Thus, the first day of the conference was filled with reports delivered by the participants, who hold a confessional Lutheran position. In the evening the conference participated in the Lenten service held at St. John’s church, Oberursel (SELK).

On the second day SELK’s Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (SELK) led Matins. It was followed by a presentation on “The Relationship of Church and State as Reflected in the Understanding of Marriage,” given by Dr. Werner Klän, professor of systematic theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Oberursel. Based on preparatory papers and a document only recently issued by the SELK Commission on Theology, Klän addressed the biblical and confessional understanding of marriage and the church wedding, especially with regard to the German situation since the 19th century. He pointed out that, if the state would revoke the privilege and precedence of marriage currently guaranteed in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, compared to other forms of living together, then churches would have to restate the basic biblical assumptions underlying matrimony, the question of establishing ecclesial jurisdiction concerning marriage, and so forth.

The discussion following the presentation identified similarities and differences for Lutherans in other nations. All agreed that the classical biblical, Lutheran understanding of marriage is being challenged in many ways, and that solutions to these challenges cannot be found easily. The topic of same-sex marriage legislation was of particular discussion, with emphases placed on the crisis of gender identity as well as the status and function of the legal protection of matrimony.

Discussions at the 2015 Theological Commission conference in Germany.
Discussions at the 2015 Theological Commission conference in Germany.

Participants in the conference agreed that the meeting contributed to discovering the common confessional grounds shared by the various church bodies, the similarity of challenges confronting them, and the diversity of contexts in which these churches exist. Participants decided to share as many theological documents as possible from their respective church bodies with the others, in order to communicate the results of theological research addressing the crucial questions of our time and day from a Lutheran point of view.

There was general support for plans to hold a second meeting in about three years’ time. Participants wished to have more time for discussion at the next meeting, and suggested future issues for consideration, including the “two realms”, ”natural law”, Luther’s position on Beruf/vocation, Islam, and mission. The CT of the SELK was asked to organize such a meeting, and Bishop Voigt agreed that the SELK would host such a follow-up conference.

Participants at the 2015 meeting included representatives from Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, England, Canada, and the United States of America. Church bodies represented included the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden (ELKib), the Mission Province in Sweden, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCI), the Silesian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession (SCEAV), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

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Adapted from a report by Dr. Werner Klan, March 3, 2015