The AALC seeks fellowship with German, Norwegian Lutherans

Participants in the AALC-SELK fellowship talks.

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

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

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

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

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

Participants in the AALC-LKN fellowship talks.

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

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Norwegians celebrates publication of Sami-language New Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ILC welcomes new member churches

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC), President Marvin Donaire (ILSN), and Acting Bishop Torkild Masvie (LKN)  after their churches were received into membership in the International Lutheran Council.
Representatives of the newest member churches of the International Lutheran Council (left to right): Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church), President Marvin Donaire (Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua), and Acting Bishop Torkild Masvie (Lutheran Church in Norway).

ARGENTINA – On September 25, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) welcomed three new church bodies from Russia, Nicaragua, and Norway into membership. The ILC is currently holding its 2015 World Conference in Buenos Ares, Argentina.

The Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC), the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), and the Lutheran Church in Norway (LKN) were all accepted unanimously into membership during the afternoon session of September 25. Their acceptance brings the current number of ILC member churches to 38, with a number of other Lutheran church bodies around the world expressing interest in joining the ILC.

Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC), President Marvin Donaire (ILSN), and Acting Bishop Torkild Masvie (LKN) were all present at the convention on behalf of their church bodies and celebrated their admissions into the International Lutheran Council. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt greeted each of the church leaders personally to express his congratulations, while the convention at large applauded each of their inductions in turn.

ILC Chairman Hans Jorg Voigt welcomes each of the new member churches immediately following the votes to accept them.
ILC Chairman Hans Jorg Voigt welcomes each of the new member churches immediately following the votes to accept them.

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New ILC Members at a Glance

SELC-webSiberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC)
Сибирская Евангелическо-Лютеранская Церковь
2,100 baptized members
25 congregations
19 clergy (1 bishop, 14 pastors, 4 deacons)

While Russia at one time counted more than a million Lutherans as citizens, the 1917 revolution led to the exile or execution of most Lutheran pastors and the closure of Lutheran churches by 1939. SELC grows out of evangelistic efforts by their current bishop, who began preaching Christianity in Novosibirsk, Siberia in the early 1990s. The mission became associated with the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1993, and eventually became an autonomous church body in 2003.

Prior to that, SELC formally contacted The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) for doctrinal discussions in 1998. In 2010, the two church bodies declared fellowship with each other, an act that was subsequently ratified at the LCMS’ 2013 convention.

Among other work, the church has established its own seminary program to serve SELC and other Russian speaking Lutherans.

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ILSN-webLutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN)
Iglesia Luterana Sínodo de Nicaragua
1,800 baptized members
23 congregations (plus missions in Nicaragua and Costa Rica)
26 pastors
37 deaconesses

The Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua was born through the mission efforts of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), which began work in the Central American country in 1997. Following Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and subsequent relief efforts, receptivity to LCC’s outreach increased dramatically. By 2008, the Nicaraguan people were ready to found their own church body and the ILSN was born.

In addition to serving Nicaraguans, the ILSN participates in mission work in Costa Rica and Honduras. It runs a very successful Children’s Education Program (led by the church’s deaconesses) through which more than 700 children benefit from nutritious meals, after-school tutoring, and Christian education.

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LKNThe Lutheran Church in Norway (LKN)
Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge
50 baptized members
1 congregation
8 preaching points
3 pastors (plus 1 retired pastor)

The Lutheran Church in Norway’s origin dates to the 2005 founding of The Church of the Messiah. The LKN currently operates through a multi-site ministry strategy where services in one location are live-streamed to preaching points elsewhere. Audio and video links allow several hundred people to benefit from the church’s services regularly. A majority of the church’s members are young adults.

The pastors of the LKN all formerly served in the Church of Norway. Because the church is small, three of the pastors serve on a voluntary basis, while the Acting Bishop, who serves as pastor in Oslo, receives a half-time salary. The church also offers a theological education program called AdFontes. Despite its small stature, the Lutheran Church in Norway has begun to receive significant media coverage as more Norwegians worried about the theological direction of the state church begin to look for alternatives.

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ILC issues invitation to Scandinavian Mission Provinces; Chairman Voigt visits Finland

Participants in the 2014 meeting in Helsinki.
Participants in the 2014 meeting in Helsinki.

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.

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SELK-News Service

Norwegian Bishop, Pro-life Leader passes away

Bishop Børre Knudsen
Bishop Børre Knudsen

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.

Coverage (in Norwegian) of Børre Knudsen’s passing:
http://www.dagen.no/Meninger/17/08/2014/Hjertelig_takk_Børre_Knudsen-103915
http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/Borre-Knudsen-er-dod-7670953.html
http://www.vl.no/troogkirke/alle-vi-andre-har-v%C3%A6rt-svake-men-han-var-sterk-1.88597
http://www.vg.no/nyheter/innenriks/boerre-knudsen-er-doed/a/23276007/
Link to documentary film website [a DVD is available in Scandinavia, but has not yet been released in North America … it will have English subtitles]: http://fx.no/en-prest-og-en-plage/
Trailer: http://fx.no/en-prest-og-en-plage-trailer/

Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD
Scandinavia House Fort Wayne
1925 Saint Joe Center RD
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
http://scandhouse.org