World Seminaries Conference considers spiritual warfare, declining religiosity

Participants in the ILC’s 2019 World Seminary Conference engage in discussions.

PHILIPPINES – The International Lutheran Council’s 2019 World Seminaries Conference continued on Wednesday.

The morning began with a service of Morning Prayer, following which participants heard additional presentations on the conference theme: “Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts.”

African Context

Rev. Dr. Nicholas Salifu presents during the 2019 ILC World Seminaries Conference.

The first presenter of the day was Rev. Dr. Nicolas Salifu of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, whose presentation on “Spiritual Warfare in a Lutheran Perspective” provided an exploration of Lutheran doctrine within an African context.

“The early church accepted the influence of the demonic realm with great seriousness,” noted Dr. Salifu. And while Western culture has downplayed or even denied this aspect of historic Christian theology, Dr. Salifu said that the reality of spiritual warfare is readily apparent in the African context—and, indeed, in much of the rest of the world. “The West needs to realize that it is the only contemporary society that denies the reality of evil spirits,” he said, quoting the New Testament scholar Clinton Arnold.

When the reality of spiritual warfare is recognized, the Church is in a better position to respond appropriately to the spiritual needs of its people. “The weapons of our warfare are not guns,” Dr. Salifu noted. “The reason why physical weapons are useless in a spiritual war is because the real enemies are not people of flesh and blood but spiritual powers of wickedness.” The Christian’s true weapons for spiritual warfare are instead Word and Sacrament, Dr. Salifu continued, because through these “the Lord fights the devil.” We are to pray in Jesus’ name, for He is the one who conquers.

North American Context

Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann speaks on the state of religiosity in the United States of America.

In the afternoon, Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann led the conference’s fourth presentation on the conference theme, discussing “The Role of the Church in the Face of Declining Influence of Christianity in North America.” Dr. Biermann is Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri—a theological institution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Dr. Biermann’s analysis of the state of religion in the United States of America identified three key aspects: 1) the decline of Constantinianism which has “stripped Christianity of its former prestige and clout; 2) the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as a replacement faith with only the “remotest superficial resemblance to orthodox Christianity;” and 3) a dominant cultural mood of normal nihilism in which all values are mere preferences or opinions, easily dismissed or changed.

In light of this situation, Dr. Biermann asked: “What, precisely, is the church—the orthodox, faithful church that follows Christ and treasures the legacy of Luther and all other faithful disciples of Jesus—supposed to do?” The answer: “Resolutely follow her Lord with tenacity, trust, and a seeming indifference to the clamor of the world around.” This means neither retreating from the world, nor confronting it on its own terms, nor capitulating to the culture, but simply living out the calling of the Church in all times and places: preaching the Word of God and living lives “that are inherently and unarguably compelling through their simple and consistent witness to the reality of Christ at work in and through them.” “A rich and nuanced grasp of Luther’s insights into God’s rule of the world in terms of the two realms,” Dr. Biermann concluded, “allows Lutheran believers to understand and undertake with zeal their place and role in this world.”

Each of Wednesday’s major presentations was followed by plenary discussion. The convention also heard regional reports on the state of seminary education in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America throughout the day. It further took in several short parallel sessions during the final part of the afternoon before breaking for Vespers at St. Stephen Lutheran Church.

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ILC World Seminaries Conference opens in the Philippines

Attendees of the opening worship service of the 2019 ILC World Seminaries Conference.
President Antonio del Rio Reyes welcomes World Seminaries Conference participants on behalf of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines.

PHILIPPINES – The 7th World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) opened Tuesday morning in Baguio City. The conference runs from October 15-18, 2019.

The morning began with Divine Service at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, which will be the venue for regular worship during the conference. President Antonio del Rio Reyes of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines, the host church, took the opportunity to welcome participants.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt also brought greetings to the conference.

Guiding Theme

Dr. Werner Klän introduces the conference theme.

In the morning, Rev. Dr. Werner Klän introduced the theme which will guide discussion in the first part of the conference: “Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts.” Dr. Klän is Professor Emeritus of Lutheran Theological Seminary (Lutherische Theologische Hochschule) in Oberursel, Germany, a theological institution of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany.

“All the confessional Lutheran churches in the ILC are committed to determining our decisions solely on the basis of the Word of God, and not on social, cultural or practical considerations,” Dr. Klän explained. But the challenge remains: “What is demanded of us is a theological answer to the challenges we as confessional Lutheran churches, pastors, and scholars are facing in our time and day, and to our specific situations and living conditions in our various countries, continents, and climes.”

Dr. Roland Ziegler speaks during the 2019 ILC World Seminaries Conference.

In a follow-up, Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler expanded on the theme of “Doctrinal Identity in Cultural Context.” Dr. Ziegler is Professor of Systematic Theology and Confessional Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri SYnod.

“In the ILC we find churches that recognize in other churches… doctrinal identity in different cultural contexts,” he explained. “For Lutherans, the Book of Concord is of continuing importance as a true exposition of Scripture, that serves the unity of the Church by confessing the truth and rejecting error in whatever context the church finds itself.”

Asian and European Contexts

Dr. Samuel Thompson speaks on “Christology in Asian Context.”

Over the course of the course of the conference, five presenters will address their common Lutheran faith and identity from within their own regional context. The afternoon saw the first two of these presenters speak.

Rev. Dr. Samuel Thompson spoke first, presenting on “Christology in an Asian Context.” Dr. Thompson is Professor of Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Nagercoil, India, a theological institution of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Dr. Thompson outlined the varying approaches Asian cultures have taken in their approaches to Christology, with special reference to the situation in India especially among liberation theologians and theologians focuses on inter-religious dialogue. In these schools’ justifiable desire to be relevant to Asian concerns, he lamented, “sometimes fidelity to the biblical message is compromised to the extent that one ends up creating a novel ‘Christ’ fashioned after one’s own imagination.”

“The task ahead for a Lutheran theologian operating in an Asian context is two-fold,” he concluded; it requires first of all “an unconditional commitment to God’s witness as revealed in the Scriptures,” as well as “serious attempt to engage and relate the biblical message to contextual realities.” The Lutheran Confessions and the Ecumenical creeds have an important role to play in this work, as they ensure Asian cultural wrestling with the doctrine of Christology remains within “the boundaries within which authentic Christian theology and life take place.”

The second half of the afternoon saw Rev. Dr. Christoph Barnbrock provide a European perspective on the theme, presenting on “Lutheran Identity in a Post-Christian Context.” Dr. Barnbrock is Professor of Practical Theology at Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberursel, Germany.

Dr. Christoph Barnbrock speaks on “Lutheran Identity in a Post-Christian Context.”

Dr. Barnbrock noted the irony that a speaker from Germany, the birthplace of the Reformation, must now speak of his cultural context as that of a post-Christian nation. He outlined some of the symptoms of contemporary German culture, explaining that the ultimate “welfare and woe of Lutheran churches depend less on our ability to lead this church than on whether we trust in Christ as Lord of the church—even against all trends that are emerging.”

The work on articulating confessional Lutheran identity is never finished, he concluded, because the cultural contexts in which we live are continually changing. “At the same time,” he said, “we may know that our identity as children of God and brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ no longer has to be worked out, but is given with baptism and remains the decisive point of reference for our identity throughout our lives. All work on ecclesial and denominational identity is then secondary, without becoming obsolete.”

After each presentation, time was scheduled for plenary discussion by the wider conference.

The day ended with a service of vespers.

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Philippines to host 2019 ILC World Seminary Conference

PHILIPPINES – The Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP) will host the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 7th triennial World Seminaries Conference in Baguio from October 15-18, 2019. Baguio is the site of the LCP’s Lutheran Theological Seminary.

The 2019 conference will feature two major themes. The first topic—“Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts”—will feature five presenters, one from each of the ILC’s five world regions.

ASIA – “Christology in an Asian Context” – Rev. Dr. Samuel Thompson, Professor of Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Nagercoil, India, a theological institution of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC).

EUROPE – “Lutheran Identity in a Post-Christian Context” – Rev. Dr. Christoph Barnbrock, Professor of Practical Theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary (Lutherische Theologische Hochschule – LThH) in Oberursel, Germany, a theological institution of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) in Germany.

AFRICA – “Spiritual Warfare in a Lutheran Perspective” – Rev. Dr. Nicolas Salifu of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG).

NORTH AMERICA – “The Role of the Church in the Face of Declining Influence of Christianity in North American Culture” – Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann, Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, a theological institution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

LATIN AMERICA – “Ecclesial Lutheran Identity in the Face of Sociology of Favelas” – Rev. Samuel Fuhrmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil – IELB).

Two members of the ILC’s Seminary Relations Committee, Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Germany) and Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (USA), will respectively provide an introduction and a conclusion to the series of presentations.

The second theme for the 2019 World Seminaries Conference will be “A Lutheran Curriculum for Theological Education.” This section of the conference will focus on discussing a common-ground curriculum which could be acknowledged by all churches, as well as potential opportunities for shared work and seminary exchanges. Dr. Klän will serve as moderator.

The ILC’s triennial World Seminaries Conference brings together representatives from the theological institutions of ILC member churches across the globe. The last World Seminaries Conference was held in Wittenberg, Germany in 2016.

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World Seminaries Conference comes to an end

Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison and Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt pronounce absolution individually to conference goers at the closing service in St. Mary's Church.
Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison and Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt pronounce absolution to conference goers at the closing service in St. Mary’s Church.

GERMANY – Thursday saw the International Lutheran Council’s 2016 World Seminaries Conference draw to a close.

Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki.
Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki.

The focus of the day was the impact of confessional Lutheranism on worldview, with Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki, President of Kobe Lutheran Theological Seminary in Japan, providing the keynote address. Dr. Masaki’s presentation gave special attention to the catechism as a method of shaping a Christian worldview in both thought and daily action. Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast (LCMS) provided a response to the paper.

The afternoon featured two shorter presentations. Rev. Prof. Leonerio Faller of Brazil (IELB) spoke on “The Immigrant in the Light of the bible and Lutheran Theology,” while Rev. Dr. Sergei A. Isaev of Russia (ELCI) addressed “The Lutheran Penetration of Russia.”

The latter half of the afternoon was spent discussing future plans for the World Seminaries Conference, and exploring what specific resources the conference might provide to assist seminaries around the world in their work: the development of a common core curriculum, for example, or the facilitation of inter-seminary student exchanges.

ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver and ILC Chairman Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt install the Seminary Relations Committee.
ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver and ILC Chairman Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt install the Seminary Relations Committee.

The convention took time to give a special note of thanks to Dr. Andrea Grunhagen of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church for her work in helping to organize the convention.

A closing service for the conference then took place in St. Mary’s Church, the mother church of the Reformation. The service saw the installation of the current board of the ILC Seminary Relations Committee: Ghana’s Rev. William Adjei Boateng (Africa World Region), Germany’s Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Europe World Region), Brazil’s Rev. Gerson Linden (Latin America World Region), and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (North America World Region). The representative for the Asia World Region will be appointed at a later date and will come from the Lutheran Church of the Philippines. The convention earlier thanked Rev. Dr. Michael Adoga for his work, as he was not continuing on as the Africa World Region representative.

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World Seminaries Conference continues

Participants in the World Seminaries Conference gather in front of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.
Participants in the World Seminaries Conference gather in front of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.

Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa
Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa

GERMANY – The International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) Sixth World Seminaries Conference continued Wednesday, turning its attention to the subject of missions.

Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa, General Secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Mekane Yesus (EECMY), served as keynote speaker for the day, addressing the impact of Lutheranism on missions. He discussed the theological basis for missions in Luther’s thought, the history of Lutheran mission, and current practices in Lutheran mission, with special reference to the practices of the EECMY, the fastest growing Lutheran church body in the world.

Convention participants spent the afternoon in Leipzig. There they visited St. Thomas Church and St. Nicholas Church, both sites associated with the career of the church musician and composer Johanne Sebastian Bach. Kevin Hildebrand (LCMS) gave a brief organ recital at St. Thomas, the church Bach served for many years

St. Lukas Church
St. Lukas Church

Participants then proceeded held to Vespers at St. Lukas Church, a member congregation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). There they heard about the church’s work among immigrants, and the growing number of Iranian and Afghan refugees converting to Christianity and joining SELK congregations. The number of converts is so significant that last year the SELK recorded a slight increase in total membership – an arrest in what has otherwise been a multi-year decline, as has been the case with many Western churches.

Wednesday evening continued back in Wittenberg with two responses to earlier presentations. The first was from Rev. Dr. Armin Wenz (SELK), responding to Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer’s Tuesday presentation on worship. The second was from Rev. Dr. Detlev Schulz (LCMS), commenting on Dr. Ofgaa’s presentation on mission.

As was also true of the presentations at the ILC’s 2015 World Conference, all major presentations from the World Seminaries Conference will be published in a future issue of The Journal for Lutheran Mission.

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Shaping Confessional Lutheranism in the 21st Century: ILC World Seminaries Conference begins

 

Participants in the 2016 World Seminaries Conference visit in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Participants in the 2016 World Seminaries Conference visit at the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

GERMANY – The Sixth World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) opened Tuesday, October 11, 2016 in Wittenberg, Germany. Representatives from more than 30 ILC churches from all world regions are in attendance. In addition, nearly 30 guests representing other church bodies and institutions are present for the conference, which runs through the end of Thursday, October 13.

The choice of Wittenberg as the site of this year’s conference on theological education is an apt one. Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon were both professors at the University of Wittenberg, and it was in this educational environment that they developed many of the teachings of the Lutheran Reformation.

Dr. Werner Klän addresses the convention.
Dr. Werner Klän addresses the convention.

The theme for this year’s gathering is “Shaping Confessional Lutheranism for the 21st Century: The Impact of the Lutheran Reformation on Mission, Worship, and Worldview.” Professor Dr. Werner Klän, Rector of the Lutherische Theologische Hochschule (Oberursel, Germany), gave a keynote address on the conference theme Tuesday morning, following a service of Matins. “In all these areas, like mission, worship, and worldview, the witness of the Lutheran Reformation must be promulgated untiringly and without fear,” he said. “That is why with gratitude I realize that we share a multitude of points of view amongst our partner churches throughout the ILC, concerning the tasks that lie ahead for confessional Lutheran churches in post-modern and in some parts of the world (like Europe, as it seems to me) even post-Christian times.”

“There can be no doubt,” he continued, “that as long as we are churches bound to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and intend to remain so, we will be aware that effectiveness is not ours but the Holy Spirit’s, through God’s Word and the sacraments. It is and will be Him who creates, preserves, and strengthens faith and brings people from all races, cultures, social groups, societies, and nations to salvation.”

Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer discusses the Reformation's influence on worship.
Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer discusses the Reformation’s influence on worship.

The three areas referenced in Dr. Klän’s presentation—mission, worship, and worldview—are being developed in additional detail through the keynote addresses of three other speakers throughout the conference. Rev. Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer, Head of the School of Pastoral Studies at Australian Lutheran College (Adelaide, Australia), was the first to present, discussing the impact of the Lutheran Reformation on worship. Rev. Roberto Bustamante, Professor of New Testament at Seminario Concordio (Buenos Aires, Argentina), provided a response.

Participants also broke into small groups to discuss the challenges and opportunites facing theological education in their world regions.

The business of the day concluded with Vespers, held in the Castle Church of Wittenberg, where tradition states Martin Luther once nailed the 95 Theses to the church door. Both Luther and Philip Melanchthon lie buried in the Castle Church. A walking tour of Wittenberg followed Vespers.

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