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.
MOZAMBIQUE – Missions in Mozambique continue to bear fruit as the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique (Igreja Luterana da Concórdia em Moçambique – ILCM) shares the good news of Jesus Christ.
In August 2015, the ILCM celebrated the ordination of its first graduating class of pastors—eight pastors to serve the young church body’s then ten churches. The celebration saw approximately 1,000 members converge on Villa de Sena, an event which drew considerable local and even national attention.
Amambo and Maviga
Among those discussing the event were Christians in Amambo, who heard the story from a local woman, who herself heard it from a truck driver. The Christian community in Amambo had been left on their own five years earlier, when the priest serving them left the village. Without pastoral care, the congregation remained isolated and alone, slowly dwindling as members fell away. The news of the ILCM ordination celebration encouraged the remaining congregation members to try to make contact with the Lutherans they had just learned of.
Two members travelled twenty kilometers by bike to a nearby town, where they found transportation by truck to Villa de Sena. In total, their trip took two days along rough roads in territory known to be frequented by lions. When they finally arrive in Villa de Sena, they were directed to Rev. Manuel Jambo, President of the ILCM, who welcomed them into his home. After a night of conversation they joined President Jambo and Rev. Mateus Sifa at the local church for worship. They returned to Amambo with the good news that the Lutherans had agreed to visit them to begin a course of instruction.
Within a few weeks, the newly ordained pastors from the ILCM did indeed visit. And on September 6, 2015, members, pastors, and visitors dedicated the Lutheran Church of Amambo. Just three weeks later, they dedicated another congregation fifty kilometers away in Maviga, as the members of Amambo shared the clear Gospel message they were now receiving.
Nine months later, international partners had the opportunity to visit the Amambo congregation. Rev. Carlos Winterle, a Brazilian pastor serving the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA) with long-time involvement in the mission in Mozambique, and Rev. Shauen Trump, Area Director for Eastern and Southern Africa for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), joined eight local pastors in visiting the community. 110 members were on hand to welcome them. Knowing that the guests would be unable to visit Maviga on the same trip, the congregation there also sent a delegation to welcome them as well—twenty-one representatives who travelled the fourteen-hour journey by foot.
The village of Cado similarly found themselves interested in learning more about Lutherans—though their reasons for doing so are somewhat different. The Christians of Cado paid dearly for pastoral services, struggling under the tyranny of a pastor who mandated a substantial cash payment for each visit. It was not until villagers started going to town, some forty-five kilometers away, to find a market for their goods that they realized not all churches operate in the same way.
When the possibility of life together under a different model came to light, the congregation took action to learn more. They sent out two youth by bicycle to Villa de Sena to make inquiries of the churches there—and once they arrived they met President Jambo and Rev. Sifa. President Jambo hosted the two Cado villagers in his home, where they discussed the theology of stewardship, offerings, and matters of financial administration in the church. Through these discussions, President Jambo was able to clearly share the Gospel, and explain the church’s focus on Word and Sacraments.
That Sunday, the two villagers attended São Paulo Lutheran Church in Villa de Sena, and got to see these focuses in practice. By the end of the service, their path was clear. They explained to the church members in Villa de Sena that they were sent out to find a parent church body for their congregation, and that they had been convicted that the Lutheran church was the one they had come to find. The Cado villagers requested the blessing of the São Paulo congregation to send a pastor to support a Lutheran church in Cado.
A few weeks later, three Lutheran pastors traveled to visit the people of Cado. The first Lutheran service was attended by fifty villagers meeting under a tree. Within a year, the congregation had grown to eighty.
It was in ministering to the community of Cado that another mission opportunity presented itself. Rev. Sifa was traveling the forty-five kilometer trip home from Cado—a trip that would be taxing in the best of circumstances, and even more so on one of Africa’s typical heavy one-speed bicycles on rough dirt roads. About ten kilometers into the trip, Rev. Sifa stopped at a trading centre for rest and a refreshment. While there, a teacher noted his clerical collar and asked if he were a priest. Rev. Sifa explained he was a pastor of the Lutheran Church, and they began to discuss the history and doctrine of Lutheranism. Interested in what the pastor had to say, the teacher asked him to consider starting a church in his village of Cado-Nhachiva.
Several weeks later, Rev. Sifa was on his way to Cado again. On the way he found the teacher and several other villagers waiting for him in Cado-Nhachiva. Rev. Sifa spoke with them and invited to travel with him to the church in Cado. They went. Not much later, Cado-Nhachiva held its first worship service, with 80 people attending. Today 150 members regularly attend services where the Gospel is clearly proclaimed.
The clarity of the Gospel preaching done by Lutherans is making an impact elsewhere in Mozambique too. In Chemba, a local community radio station host learned that firsthand. In Chemba, as in communities across Mozambique, the radio station gives regular airtime to local pastors. But when Lutheran pastor Rev. Julio Castomo had his first moment on air, the host was taken aback by his message. It was so different from the other preachers who came for their five-minute radio time.
After the broadcast, the host spoke extensively with Rev. Castomo about his message and about the church. The next day, he came to visit the pastor in his home. And that Sunday, he came to church to learn more. Immediately afterwards, he travelled to his home village of Suero to tell his extended family about the love of Christ. They asked him to go back to Chemba, collect Rev. Castomo, and bring him to tell them himself. After a few evangelistic visits, the people of Suero organized a church and invited Rev. Castomo to come. The first week 60 people attended. The next week there were 80.
The ILCM has welcomed other churches too. Rev. Rui Jalene Souza of Kapasseni has seen his evangelistic visits to nearby villages bear fruit, with four new congregations planted in the area. And an independent congregation in Mutarara, hearing of the ILCM’s work, recently sent two representatives forty kilometers to Villa de Sena looking for a church body with substance. The dedication of a Lutheran congregation in Mutarara is expected in the near future. Work continues in other areas as well.
There is a burning desire in Mozambique for clear Gospel preaching, both among the unchurched and those lacking pastoral care. The Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique is meeting that need, and they are supported in that work by faithful international partners. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB); the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA); The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS); The Mission of the Lutheran Churches (Bleckmarer Mission) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK); and Redeemer Lutheran Church (Victoria, B.C., Canada) have all signed a memorandum of understanding with the pastors of the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique to provide guidance to ongoing mission work in the country.
Lutheran missions in Mozambique grew out of the work of now retired Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) pastor Rev. Joseph Alfazema and his wife Perpetua. Their work resulted in the creation of the Kapasseni Project, a Canadian organization that helped lead to the creation of a Mozambican Lutheran church body.
IELB, FELSISA, LCC, SELK, and the LCMS are all member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
BELGIUM – From June 1-5, 2016 Lutherans from several European Lutheran churches assembled in Antwerp, Belgium, for the 24th European Lutheran Conference (ELC), under the theme ‘Reformation then … and now.’
The conference was attended by ELC member churches representatives from Belgium, Denmark, England, France, and Germany, as well as by guests from the Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States of America.
A keynote address on the conference’s theme was delivered by Dr. Werner Klän of Germany. An opening service, morning devotions with Bible studies, and evening prayers shaped the spiritual frame of the conference. Several of the guest churches in attendance have expressed their intention to apply for membership in the coming years.
A special focus of this year’s conference was the commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp, which was founded in 1566. From June 2-3, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) hosted an international conference highlighting this event, organized by ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem in cooperation with the University of Antwerp, and held at the Rubenianum.
The conference was opened with two keynote lectures: “The International Dimensions of the Wittenberg Reformation” by Dr. Robert Kolb (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri), and “Reformation Movements and the Wonderyear: the Antwerp Context” by Dr. Guido Marnef (University of Antwerp). The second day of the conference featured six additional lectures: “The Role of Antwerp’s Reformed Augustinians in the Early Reformation” by Dr. Robert Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa); “Humanists on the Move: The Transfer of Ideas Between Wittenberg and Antwerp” by Dr. Victoria Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa); “The First Lutheran Congregation 1566–1585 and Beyond” by Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Lutheran Church of Antwerp, Belgium); “Polemics, Church Order and Confession: Matthias Flacius Illyricus in Antwerp during the ‘Wonderjaar’ 1566/67” by Dr. Luka Ilic (Leibniz Institute, Mainz, Germany); “Christopher Plantin, Printing for the Reformation” by Dirk Imhof (Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium); and “The Image Debates in the Low Countries: an Art Historical Review” by Dr. Koenraad Jonckheere (Ghent University, Belgium).
The conference concluded with a walking tour through 16th Century Antwerp, ending with a reception at the Town Hall, where Antwerp’s mayor Bart De Wever welcomed the participants.
The European Lutheran Conference concluded with Divine Service on June 5. ELKB President and local pastor Gijsbertus van Hattem led the liturgy, while President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark preached.
The next conference of the European Lutheran Conference will be held in England in 2018.
All of the member churches of the ELC are also member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.
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