United Kingdom – The 65th Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) was held September 27-28 at Christ Church (Petts Wood), during which time the ELCE recognised church fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese in Norway (DELSiN). These church fellowship recognitions are the culmination of five years of discussion, together with the Mission Province of Sweden and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.
Attending the ELCE Synod was Bishop Risto Soramies of the ELMDF and together with ELCE Chairman, Rev. Jon Ehlers, they signed documents and extended the right hand of fellowship. Bishop Soramies spoke about the situation in Finland, the history of his church, and their priorities in establishing worship places so that folk only have to travel up to one hour to attend worship. He also mentioned that the ELMDF was prioritising investing in personnel rather than buildings.
Bishop Thor Henrik With of the DELSiN at the last minute was unable to attend the Synod. Nevertheless the ELCE delegates also resolved recognition of church fellowship with the DELSiN.
The ELCE, ELMDF, DELSiN are all members of the International Lutheran Council.
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.
GERMANY – In the above video, Dr. Werner Klän, professor emeritus of LTS Oberursel, explains some history of The Large Cross Church (Große Kreuzkirche) in Hermannsburg, Germany. Rev. Louis Harms began the mission movement in Hermannsburg by establishing a mission seminary in 1849, which led to the development of the Hermannsburg Mission. The Hermannsburg Mission was active in both South Africa and Ethiopia. Due to the Prussian Union, Theodore Harms, the brother of Louis Harms, was removed as pastor by the State. After this a large number of people formed the Large Cross Church in 1878. Eventually, the Bleckmar Mission formed out of the Hermannsburg Mission.
The Large Cross Church was founded as an independent Lutheran congregation and later became part of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), which is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). Delegates from the ILC and from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) recently met in Bleckmar for an informal dialogue. The visit to Hermansburg and Bleckmar was to help explain a Lutheran view of mission for the church.
Dr. Ziegler described the Hermannsburg Mission theory: “Mission is the activity that originates in a living church. Rev. Harms stated in a sermon on the parable of the mustard seed and the leaven (Matthew 13:31-33), that this parable contains two points: ‘The Christian church will spread over the entire world. The church shall permeate the entire world. Both things must go together in true missions, but can only go together if we who do missions are not only Christians in name but when the sourdough of the gospel has permeated interiorly hearts and we therefore have become converted people, true, living members of Christ’s body and therefore send no other messengers but those who also are permeated by the Gospel, as far as men can judge.'”
The establishment of the Large Holy Cross Church and the mission societies in Hermannsburg were connected to the awakening caused by powerful preaching. Let us remember and live the motto of the Great Cross Church, “No cross, no crown” (“Ohne Kreuz keine Krone“).
GERMANY – The Extraordinary General Synod of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany opened April 19, 2018 with a Service of Confession and Communion in Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Stadthagen. In the first synodical session the election of the Bishop was on the agenda. This had become necessary because the term of office for Bishop Voigt was set to expire at the end of the year.
For the proposed election the General Pastoral Conference of SELK last year nominated Bishop Voigt and Rev. Markus Nietzke as candidates. In the afternoon these candidates presented themselves to the assembled delegates and answered questions that had previously been submitted to the leadership of the synod. The election by the 47 delegates took place in the evening. On the first ballot, Bishop Voigt received 30 votes, and Rev. Nietzke 17. Therefore Bishop Voigt continues to serve as the presiding clergyman of the SELK. The term of office is not limited.
Far beyond the confines of his church, Bishop Voigt’s pastoral letters on the plight of refugees and of Christian marriage have received considerable attention in Germany. Another important issue was the process of reconciliation begun with the Union Churches in the Protestant Federation (EKD) in Germany.
A native of Dresden, Rev. Dr. Voigt was installed as Bishop in 2006. In 2012 he became chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “I regard the bishop’s office as serving the unity of the church,” Bishop Voigt explained. “I have learned that leadership in the church is always a question of teamwork. It is important to listen, accept helpful suggestions, and continue to listen. It is essential to prevent polarization and to encourage people to speak with each other.”
For his second tenure in office, Bishop Voigt considers it a goal to be a confessionally sound Evangelical Lutheran Church with a heart for missionary outreach and ecumenical responsibility. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt is married to his wife Christiane; the couple is blessed with four children.
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church Hannover, Germany
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.
GERMANY – September 27, 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of the Prussian King Fredrick William III’s Order-in-Council, which marked the beginning of a rather distressing journey towards the formation of autonomous Evangelical Lutheran Churches in the former Prussian territories. Beginning in 1817, Frederick William III issued a series of decrees which pushed Lutheran and Reformed churches to merge. Later decrees required churches to give up the name “Lutheran” or “Reformed” in favour of the name “Evangelical,” and to adopt a new liturgy which privileged Reformed theology in the area of Holy Communion at the expense of Lutheran beliefs.
Many Lutherans protested and their pastors refused to use the new rite. When caught using historic Lutheran liturgies, these pastors were suspended from ministry. If they were further caught continuing to practice pastoral care, they were then imprisoned. The persecution of these “Old Lutherans,” as they were called, led eventually to the formation of independent confessional Lutheran church bodies throughout German territories.
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständigen Evangelisch Lutherischen Kirche – SELK) in Germany traces its origins to this movement, as do confessional Lutheran churches in other German territories. Some Old Lutherans emigrated from Germany to other nations in pursuit of religious freedom. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (SELK), for example, grew out of this exodus, as did the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). SELK and the LCMS are both member churches of the ILC, while the LCA is an associate member.
On September 27, to mark the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Prussian Union, the persecution of the Old Lutherans, and the origins of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the SELK, released the following letter. Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council. (Read the letter in German here.)
Remarks on the 200th anniversary of the Frederick William III’s Union Decree
Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt
I would not want to let this date pass without pointing out its significance. We have no cause to celebrate, because September 27, 1817 is the beginning of the suppression of Lutheran congregations and their pastors by Prussian authorities. And this is the cause for Lutheran families to become refugees, feeling compelled to flee to North America and to Australia, where they founded Lutheran churches that are now sister churches of the SELK.
No one less than Dr. Martin Luther himself, at the conclusion of the attempted union discussion at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, with great regret felt it necessary to say: “You have a different spirit!” In his order-in-council released September 27, 1817, Frederick William III called this “an unfortunate sectarian spirit,” which evidenced “insurmountable difficulties” in Martin Luther’s person. To the King’s mind, the Lutheran and Reformed Churches 300 years after the Reformation were “separated protestant churches merely by certain external differences.” Thus begun the attempt to marginalize the Lutheran Church in Prussia.
On September 27, 1817, the King still claimed: “This union will only be of real value when it is effected neither by persuasion nor by indifferentism, rather that it should arise out of the free conviction of those involved, so that it is not only a union in mere external form but indeed has its roots and vital strength in a unity of the heart, according to genuine Biblical principles.” Some time later Frederick William III dissociated himself from this position, and ordered the acceptance of a union agenda which he had authored, in which Reformed and Lutheran worship was amalgamated.
It was at this point that real persecution commenced. The congregations in Silesia still remembered the persecution that was visited upon them during the rule of the Habsburgs, less than 100 years earlier. And so most of them were still aware of what they had to do. They held their worship services in the forests. Various congregations in Pomerania and in the provinces along the Rhine followed their example. At times, every Lutheran pastor was in jail.
I want to remind all of us of this willingness on the part of the mothers and fathers of our church to suffer and of their courageous faith. They were ready to consider questions of their faith; Holy Communion was for them so important that under no circumstances were they willing to question the certainty of the body and blood of Christ under bread and wine. They were even willing, after the legalization of the Lutheran Church from 1845 on, to continue paying state church contributions, while in addition giving their own offerings for the construction of new Lutheran churches and parsonages and for the salaries of their pastors. This sacrificial spirit in hard times is exemplary. And our church today is alive because of this same sacrificial spirit.
It is of some value to remember this and keep it alive. But at the same time it is important for our church not to maintain the role of a victim. During the last several years we have engaged in dialogue with the Union of Evangelical Churches (UEK) within the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD — the Protestant Federation of the State Churches in Germany). For the first time in 200 years we have taken a look at our common history. We have drafted a Gemeinsames Wort (“Common Address”) and a Brief an die Gemeinden (Letter to the Congregations); they are still in the process of being finalized for adoption. Both of these papers are to be signed in a Service of Repentance and Thanksgiving on the Day of Repentance and Prayer, November 22, 2017 in Berlin. These documents still clearly enunciate remaining differences separating our churches, but we also express our gratitude for common viewpoints.
This process was initiated by a very moving sermon preached 50 years ago (1967) by Franz-Reinhold Hildebrandt. At the time, he was head of the Chancellery of the Evangelical Church of the Union (EKU). In that sermon, he said: “Our church stands in guilt that is still not dealt with. Rifle butts by soldiers, forcible entry into churches and the arrest of pastors, that’s what happened. And so at that time many families left their home and emigrated to Australia and North America. They wanted to keep pure their Lutheran faith, which they saw endangered in the Union. And if guilt can only be obliterated by forgiveness, then we don’t want to let this day pass without asking our Old Lutheran brethren for such forgiveness.”
All of us today have a lasting responsibility for our history. Because we participate in the blessings that our church bestows on us, so we are also responsible for any suffering and guilt in our history. This background makes it important, to grant human forgiveness—to ask for the same and to grant it.
This day fills me with mournful remembrance and great respect for the suffering the mothers and fathers of our church had to bear. But on the other hand I am full of gratitude for the Lutheran Church into which I was baptized: the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). I am also filled with gratitude for the thorough and respectful discussions with the representatives of the UEK. They will enable both churches to look at one another in a spirit different than in the past.
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.
GERMANY – While most Canadians celebrated the Christmas season in relative comfort, that wasn’t the case for all people across the world. In particular, one German pastor is raising the situation of Iranian and Afghan converts to Christianity living in Germany, who are facing mass deportation despite the dangers they will certainly face if they are returned to their homelands.
Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, a member congregation of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). This congregation, along with several other SELK churches, have welcomed hundreds of converts to Christianity in recent years, mostly Iranian and Afghan refugees living in Germany. Dr. Martens and his congregation were widely covered in international media in early 2016 for their work among refugees. But the German government has recently begun to deny en masse the refugee claims of many of these converts, following what Dr. Martens is calling deeply flawed refugee hearings.
“Desperate reports have been reaching me from members of our congregation,” he writes in a letter released December 23. “At this time, the Federal Ministry for Immigration and Refugees is rejecting almost all applications for asylum from our Iranian members, and in many cases also from our Afghan congregational members and candidates for baptism, and is sending them deportation notices.”
Germany has recently increased the number of personnel responsible for hearing asylum applications—a necessary change, given many refugees have been waiting three years for their first hearing. “Yet not even in our worst nightmares could we have pictured what this change would entail,” Dr. Martens says. “Many [of those hearing the cases] are manifestly clueless about the situation of Christians in Iran and Afghanistan, and worse yet they are utterly clueless concerning questions relating to the Christian faith. But all of this does not prevent them from assuming the role of self-appointed experts, whose questions ‘unmask’ the supposedly deceitful Iranian asylum applicants one after another, even when those hearing the cases don’t even know the difference between the [Apostle’s] Creed, and the Our Father [Lord’s Prayer].”
Instead, refugees are being tasked with obscure or even irrelevant questions to determine the “authenticity” of their conversions. “Questions are put such as the names of the two sons in the parable of the Prodigal Son, or what Martin Luther died of, or the occasion of Queen Margarethe of Denmark’s recent visit to Wittenberg,” Dr. Martens reports. “In this way, Christians who learned the first elements of the Christian faith in their house church in Iran are well and truly hung out to dry. Many hearings are more like kangaroo courts in which our congregational members and candidates for baptism have absolutely no chance of presenting what is important to them.”
Dr. Martens further reports that those hearing the cases are dismissing or even mocking the refugees when they express their faith in the importance of Christ dying on the cross for their sins. “What the applicant says here makes absolutely no sense,” one official is said to write in his official reports. Those tasked with translating for the court—mostly Muslims with little knowledge of the Christian faith, and in some cases reportedly hostile to it—are also accused of incorrectly or even falsely translating what the refugees say during their hearings. Such improper questioning and translating seriously damages the applicants’ claims for refugee status, as the final decision is made elsewhere in Germany on the basis of these reports and transcripts.
Dr. Martens says the flaws in the system are so great that the situation must inevitably be raised to a higher court. “Orders have obviously been given from above no longer to recognize Iranian converts as having the right to asylum in our country,” Dr. Martens suggests. “The systematic failure of the Federal Ministry in hundreds of cases must come to the light of day through the efforts of the superior courts.”
The challenges come after a year of other difficulties, as converts to Christianity have faced increasing persecution from Muslim refugees angry at their conversions from Islam. “This year many of them suffered violent attacks from Muslim residents of their institutional homes and from Muslim watchmen once they learned of their conversion. Time and time again—most recently last week—we have had to collect people from residences, in order to prevent worse from befalling them,” he notes. The attacks even led SELKS’ bishop earlier this year to call on the government to give Christian refugees to be given separate accommodations from Muslim refugees. “But our congregational members and candidates for baptism are continually finding that those who attack them and threaten them with death have no problem securing the right of abode here in Germany, while they themselves—the ones under attack—are ‘exposed’ by the Federal Ministry as not entitled to asylum.”
As an example, Dr. Martens notes the case of six Christian converts who were beaten by a group of nearly 100 radical Muslim asylum applicants in February 2016. Police dogs had to be released in order to protect the Christians. And yet the police investigation was eventually dropped. Now, the six Christians are among those receiving deportation notices.
Despite the challenges, Dr. Martens reports good news too for his congregation. In his letter he goes on to explain the process by which refugees are instructed in the Christian faith prior to baptism—or excluded, if a genuine conversion is not evident. Currently baptisms sit at between 30 and 40 a month. And renovations to the building to accommodate more refugees continue apace.
Dr. Martens ends his letter with a request for prayer. “Please keep praying for the work here in Stegltiz,” he writes. “It is and remains in many ways a spiritual battle loaded with many afflictions and temptations. And yet for me personally, even after 25 years, it remains the most beautiful service in the world, which I would never exchange for anything else. Pray above all that all the members who have found their way to our congregation in the last years may continue to hold to Christ and not let their love for their Lord falter!”
You can download Dr. Martens’ full letter here. The translation is by Rev. Dr. John Stephenson of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario).
SELK is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
Germany – The International Lutheran Study and Visitors’ Center in Wittenberg (also known as the “Old Latin School”) bid a formal farewell to its retiring Managing Director and installed his successor in a festival service on Sunday, August 14.
The service, held at the Town Church of St. Mary, the “mother church of the Reformation,” marked the retirement of Rev. David Mahsman, a missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), who served seven years in the position. During Rev. Mahsman’s tenure, the rebuilding of the “Old Latin School” (originally built in 1567) was completed, and the new center dedicated in May 2015. Rev. Mahsman and his wife, Lois, return to the United States around September 1 to live in St. Louis, their former home before moving to Germany.
The service included the formal induction of Kristin Lange as the new Managing Director for the Center. Lange, who hails from Kansas, studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin and works effectively in both English and German. Conducting the formal farewell and induction ceremony was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, the LCMS Assistant to the President for Church Relations. “The focus of the Managing Director’s work will obviously change now,” commented Dr. Collver, “since the building is complete. Now comes the task of shaping the Old Latin School into an active gathering point for confessional Lutherans to meet, study, and get to know church partners from around the world.” Dr. Collver went on to note that the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran churches, is working to intensify its ties with the Old Latin School—a relationship indicated clearly on the building’s signage.
Serving as officiant for the service was Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) and Chairman of the ILC. The SELK and LCMS have been sponsoring churches for the Old Latin School project since its inception. Bishop Voigt was assisted at the worship by SELK pastors from parishes near Wittenberg, as well as by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, who served as the original project director prior to Mahsman’s arrival. Preacher for the service was President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church-Canada. In his German-language sermon, President Bugbee emphasized the heartbeat of the Old Latin School’s mission: to introduce needy people to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luther’s old Town Church reverberated with festive organ music provided by Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman, an LCMS missionary.
The Old Latin School’s prime location at Jüdenstrasse 38 is just steps away from the Town Church’s main portal. The center includes offices, hotel accommodations, a lecture hall, kitchen facilities, and a chapel. In addition, Concordia Publishing House has many materials for sale in the center’s bookstore. The new director, Kristin Lange, also has her residence in the building, which has a busy calendar going into the Reformation 500th Anniversary year in 2017.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) has consecrated as bishop a Swedish theologian previously barred from ordination in Sweden because of his confessional Lutheran faith. Rev.
Hans Jönsson, 48, was consecrated August 6 at the cathedral in Riga to serve as bishop of Liepaja Diocese in southwestern Latvia.
Bishop Jönsson graduated from Lund University in Sweden. While studying in Lund, he supplemented his studies with lectures in Lutheran theology sponsored by the Swedish Luther Foundation, which was formed in 1955 to promote theological education grounded in the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran confessional writings, thus opposing increasingly liberal trends in the Church of Sweden.
Because of his confessional Lutheran views, Jönsson was denied ordination in the Church of Sweden. He was, however, certified as qualified for ordination by the Church Coalition for The Bible and Confessions, an umbrella organization encompassing several Swedish Confessional Lutheran movements that was founded in 1958 at the initiative of Bishop Bo Giertz to defend traditional Lutheran faith in the Church of Sweden. The Coalition was formed in the context of the debate over women’s ordination, which its members viewed as clearly contradicting Scripture.
Bishop Jönsson is also an associate member of the pastoral collegium of the Mission Province in Sweden. Dr. Bengt Birgersson, Mission Province Secretary, who attended the consecration, noted, “Sweden’s loss is Latvia’s gain. Many gifted young men were forced to leave Sweden in order to serve Christ abroad, having been denied ordination in the Church of Sweden because they were faithful to Scripture. This is why the Mission Province was formed: to provide a path to ordination and service in Sweden.” Since the founding of the Mission Province in 2003, approximately 40 men have been ordained in Sweden and in the Mission Dioceses in Finland and Norway who would otherwise have been excluded because they believe the Holy Scriptures limit the pastoral office to men.
The ELCL has a close historical relationship to the Church of Sweden. Unlike the Church of Sweden, however, the Latvian church has remained faithful to Confessional Lutheran theology. In 2000, Jönsson was invited to serve in Latvia while learning the language, receiving financial support from the Swedish Luther Foundation. He was subsequently ordained in Riga in 2003, and most recently served as pastor in Madona, about 40 miles east of Riga. He was also given responsibility for managing the national church’s finances and currently serves as chairman of the board for pastoral education.
Rev. Jönsson was elected June 3 to replace the retiring Bishop of Liepaja. The diocese consists of 124 congregations served by 40 pastors.
Archbishop Janis Vanags conducted the consecration, which was broadcast in its entirety by Latvian national television. Archbishop Vanags was assisted by Latvia’s bishops as well as Bishop Tiits Salumäe of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Bishop Voigt is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was represented by Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations and Assistant to the President. Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church in Norway also participated in the service. Representatives also attended from the Nordic Mission Dioceses, as well as the Swedish Luther Foundation and other confessional Lutheran movements.
With nearly 300 congregations, the ELCL is the nation’s largest church. It is in fellowship with the LCMS and also has close ties to the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany. In June, the ELCL amended its constitution to reverse a policy imposed during the Soviet domination that opened ordained ministry to women (although no women had been ordained since shortly after Latvia’s liberation).
Although ELCL is still a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), it rejected heavy pressure from the LWF in moving to limit ordination to men. Advocates of women’s ordination argued that this decision would strain relations with LWF members. In addressing the June synod, however, Archbishop Vanags expressed the intention of drawing closer to the International Lutheran Council and its member churches, including the LCMS, which ordain only men. Relations between ELCL and the Church of Sweden have also been greatly strained since the CoS accepted same-sex marriage.
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