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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Eastern European Lutheran bishops meet in Ukraine

Caption: Back: Bishop Alexander Yurchenko (SELCU), Vice President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU), Rev. Daniel S. Johnson (LCMS-SELC), Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis (LELB), Rev. Olav Panchu (ELCIR), Valera Partizan (DELKU). Front: President Matthew C. Harrison (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Rev. Andris Kraulin (ELCL), Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC).

UKRAINE – The heads of several Lutheran churches in the former Soviet Union recently met together in Ukraine for the Eastern European Bishops Conference, along with the heads of their North American partner churches.

The conference, held in Odessa in late February, was hosted by the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) and its Bishop Sergey Maschewski. DELKU, long associated with the state (territorial) Lutheran churches of Germany, has in recent years begun aligning itself with more conservative bodies like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC). In addition to the presidents of LCC and LCMS, DELKU also hosted the bishops (or their representatives) from several other Lutheran church bodies in eastern Europe, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL), the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU), and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The conference also welcomed a number of ecumenical guests.

Ecumenical guests at the Eastern European Lutheran Bishops Conference. (Photo: Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul).

During the conference, the bishops reported on their respective churches and the challenges they face. A number of these churches have to do their work over long distances: SELC, for example, is stretched out over a vast territory spanning 7,000 kilometers. DELKU, as another example, struggles with a severe clergy shortage, currently operating 28 congregations with only nine pastors. Many of these congregations are distant from the nearest neighbouring pastor or parish.

The bishops also discussed opportunities for future cooperation between their churches. “United by much of our common history and—what is of more relevance today—by similar theological outlook, we felt that there was a need for closer cooperation in the future,” explained Rev. Alexey Strelstov, rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia. Rev. Strelstov presented on education in a confessional Lutheran context on the final day of the conference.

Part of that future cooperation may well take place on theological education. One evening of the conference, the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine invited participants to visit their seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa. Representatives of the Siberian church expressed interest in forging closer ties with SELCU on seminary education. There were discussions on assisting the Ukrainian seminary in procuring more Russian-language theological books for its library, as well as the possibility of SELC seminary professors coming to teach short-term courses in Usatovo. “The interaction between these Russian speakers, all keenly interested in the faithful biblical training of pastors, was a real joy to watch,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee. LCC has long-supported SELCU’s seminary education program.

Morning and afternoon devotions at the bishops’ conference were held in DELKU’s Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul in downtown Odessa, restored in recent years after having been destroyed by the Soviet regime decades ago. “Although this church was rebuilt on a somewhat smaller scale, it once seated 1,200 worshippers and was the centre for spiritual life of the entire German community before the communist repression,” noted LCC President Bugbee. Lutheran churches were severely persecuted during the soviet era.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church are both members of the International Lutheran Council, as are Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine is a partner church of LCC, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania are partner churches of the LCMS. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, meanwhile, has been seeking closer relations to the LCMS in recent years.

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American Lutherans respond to Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage

USA – On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that same-sex couples across the nation have a constitutional right to marry. That ruling brought expressions of concern from Christians throughout the country, including from confessional Lutheran leaders.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison responds to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
LCMS President Matthew Harrison responds to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

“Five justices cannot determine natural or divine law,” said President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in a response to the ruling. “Now shall come the time of testing for Christians faithful to the Scriptures and the divine institution of marriage.”

“The ramifications of this decision are seismic,” he continued. “Proponents will seek to drive Christians and Christian institutions out of education at all levels; they will press laws to force faithful Christian institutions and individuals to violate consciences in work practices and myriad other ways…. Christians will now begin to learn what it means to be in a state of solemn conscientious objection against the state. We will resist its imposition of falsehood upon us, even as we continue to reach out to those who continue to be harmed by the ethic of radical sexual freedom, detached from God’s blessing of marriage. And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians, churches and people of good will who are resolute on this issue.”

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), and counts more than 2.3 million members in more than 6,100 congregations. Other American member churches of the ILC include The American Association of Lutheran Churches (14,000 members) and the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod – USA. While these churches have not released public statements on the recent court ruling, both have previously affirmed their support of the biblical definition of marriage.

Other Lutherans Respond

A number of Lutheran churches outside the ILC also responded to the court ruling with concern. Bishop John F. Bradosky and General Secretary Mark C. Chavez of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) released an open letter responding to the decision. “The Supreme Court may have the power to dictate what state governments must claim to be marriage,” they write, “but it most certainly does not have the power to change what God has revealed to be true marriage, an integral part of His plan for human life which is inherent in the order of the world He has created.”

“God alone knows the long-term consequences of the decision for our nation,” they continue. “Now Christians who uphold the orthodox Christian faith and confess that God alone defines marriage must be bold to confess the truth of God’s Word without regard to the consequences.”

The NALC, comprised mostly of pastors and congregations who left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada over issues of human sexuality, biblical authority, and the nature of the Gospel, has more than 140,000 members across North America. Over the past number of years, NALC has taken part in regular dialogues with ILC member churches Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Also responding to the court ruling were the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. “We are saddened that today the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling all 50 states to allow same sex marriage,” wrote President Mark Schroeder of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). “Of course, even though the highest court in the land has changed the legal definition of marriage, it has not succeeded in changing the essence of the institution that was created by God and given by him as a gift and blessing.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) released a statement on the situation via Facebook. “God has established his own criteria for what determines marriage—the intimate and lifelong union of a man and woman into one flesh, entered into by mutual consent and promise,” the release notes. “His institution of marriage is for the great benefit of our families and of our nation. No human authority—even the highest court of our land—can overthrow what the Supreme Judge of all mankind has defined as marriage.”

The WELS and the ELS are members of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. WELS has approximately 380 thousand members, while the ELS has approximately 20 thousand. In recent years, they and the LCMS have conducted a series of informal discussions together.

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Discussions continue between NALC, LCMS, and LCC

NALC Executive Director Rev. Mark Chavez (NALC), Rev. Larry Vogel (LCMS), Bishop John Bradosky (NALC), Dr. David Wendel (NALC), Dr. James Nestingen (NALC), President Matthew Harrison (LCMS), First Vice-President Herbert Mueller (LCMS), Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (LCMS), Professor John Pless (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Dr. Robert Benne (NALC).
NALC Executive Director Rev. Mark Chavez (NALC), Rev. Larry Vogel (LCMS), Bishop John Bradosky (NALC), Dr. David Wendel (NALC), Dr. James Nestingen (NALC), President Matthew Harrison (LCMS), First Vice-President Herbert Mueller (LCMS), Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (LCMS), Professor John Pless (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Dr. Robert Benne (NALC).

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – From December 16-17, representatives of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) met for their latest round of semi-annual discussions. The meetings were held at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and had as its theme “The Church in the Public Square.” Rev. Dr. Robert Benne of Roanoke College, a NALC theologian, served as guest lecturer for the event.

The participating churches reported on events since the last meeting in May 2013. “The relationships within this group are brotherly and cordial,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee, “though we all recognize that we still have serious homework to do on matters where we are not in agreement.”

Since a number of the NALC participants had not visited Concordia Seminary before, its president, Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, hosted a morning tour on the first day of meetings. President Bugbee served as chapel preacher for the seminary community that day, with a sermon entitled “The Coming Lord Kindles Patience” (based on James 5:7-11). Participants in the inter-Lutheran discussions also received an update during the meeting on a theological volume being prepared by LCMS and NALC theologians on Law and Gospel, a project coordinated by Rev Dr. James Nestingen (NALC) and Rev. Prof. John Pless (LCMS).

The NALC, comprised mostly of pastors and congregations who left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) over issues of human sexuality, biblical authority, and the nature of the Gospel, has now grown to some 140,000 members in 340 local congregations.

The first official discussion between LCMS and LCC—both members of the International Lutheran Council—and NALC began in December 2011. The next round of discussions is set for June 24-25, 2014 and will take place at LCC’s synodical headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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