20 January 2016
Participants: Dr. Lawrence Rast, Chairman of LCMS CTCR; Rev. Jakob Okkels, Swedish Mission Province and Assistant to Bishop; Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of Lutheran Church Canada / Vice-Chairman of International Lutheran Council; Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of SELK / Chairman of ILC; Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations / Executive Secretary of ILC; Rev. Bengt Birgersson, General Secretary for Swedish Mission Provence; Roland Gustafsson, Presiding Bishop of the Swedish Mission Provence; Göran Beijer, Assisting Bishop of the Swedish Mission Provence; Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the Finnish Mission Provence; Risto Soramies, Bishop of the Finnish Bishop Province; Lars Artman, Assisting Bishop for Swedish Mission Province; Thor Henrik With, Bishop of the Norwegian Mission Provence; Rev. Jon Ehlers, Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England / ILC Representative for Europe; Norberto Gerke, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay / ILC Representative for Latin America; Gijsbertus van Hattem, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium / Secretary of the ILC.
The executive committee of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Nordic Lutheran Dioceses met January 20, 2016 to discuss future opportunities for collaboration. The three Nordic Dioceses—the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese in Norway, and the Mission Province in Sweden—all formed in response to the secularization of the National/State churches in their respective countries involving matters of both Christian doctrine and ethics. These new, independent Dioceses were formed in Sweden (6 September 2003), in Finland (16 March 2013), and in Norway (20 April 2013). On 7 November 2015 the three Dioceses declared altar and pulpit fellowship with one another and formed the Communion of Nordic Dioceses, which then quickly approached the ILC about possible membership.
Roland Gustafsson, Bishop of the Mission Province in Sweden, said membership in the ILC is important because “being in a rather small environment in the Nordic countries, we need the global fellowship of the Church of Christ. The ILC represents a Lutheran community, where we do think our Nordic Dioceses belong.”
The Nordic Dioceses hosted the representatives of the ILC, which includes 37 member churches (www.ilc-online.org), in Gothenburg, Sweden. On the eve of the meeting, Gothenburg, which typically enjoys a temperate climate, experienced a freak snow storm that slightly delayed the meetings.
Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, D.D., Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council, was glad to hear the confession of the Nordic Dioceses. He said, “While we experienced the outside of Gothenburg as very cold with lots of snow, we experienced from our hosts a very warm and close confessional brotherhood during this conference. It enables us to look forward to deeper connections between the Nordic church bodies and the International Lutheran Council.”
The International Lutheran Council seeks to encourage and support confessional Lutheran churches throughout the world through education, conferences, and discussion of contemporary theological issues.
After heartfelt, serious, and collegial discussions related to the belief, confession, and practice of the Nordic Dioceses, the executive committee of the International Lutheran Council invited each church body of the Nordic Dioceses to submit an application for membership, which will then be considered at the next scheduled World Conference of the International Lutheran Council.
Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC, noted that “despite the challenges the Lutheran church faces around the world in this day and age, the Lord has opened tremendous opportunities for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the encouragement of brothers and sisters in Christ. The discussions with the Nordic Dioceses were incredibly heartening and we look forward to continuing these conversations.”
After the discussions concluded in the late afternoon, the ILC executive committee toured The Lutheran School of Theology, Gothenburg (LSTG) where the Mission Province in Sweden provides training for future pastors (http://www.ffg.se). In the Fall of 2014 Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, opened an extension site at LSTG and now offers a Master of Sacred Theology (STM) degree accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (http://www.ctsfw.edu/seminary-news/ctsfw-opens-international-extension-site-in-sweden). This program offers a unique opportunity for students in Scandinavia and other nearby countries to receive an advanced research degree in theology.
The meetings concluded with dinner at the LM Engströms Gymnasium, which was the former bishop’s palace for the Gothenburg diocese of the Church of Sweden. Bishop Bo Giertz lived here during his tenure, 1949-70. Today, the LM Engströms Gymnasium serves as a Lutheran high school with approximately 500 students. It is the largest Christian high school in Sweden.
Dr. Lawrence Rast, special consultant to the International Lutheran Council and chairman of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, participated in the discussions with the Nordic Dioceses in preparation for future fellowship discussions with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. “We are witnessing the emergence of new era of collaboration between confessional Lutherans throughout the world. As the Nordic Lutheran Dioceses and the ILC move into the future, we’re all excited to see what God has in store for his church.”
Front Row: Pastor Andreas Masvie Sr, Bishop Torkild Masvie, Pastor Alf Donbolt
Back Row: Pastor Olav Berg Lyngmo, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Pastor Hanss Jensons
17 January 2016
In a church service held in Oslo, Torkild Masvie was installed as the provisional bishop of The Lutheran Church of Norway.
The Norwegian installation service involved lay people from the church counsel reading Scripture verses.
Provisional Bishop Masvie presides over Holy Communion and concludes the service with the benediction.
Marie Lyngmo, Pastor Olav Berg Lyngmo, Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver
Pastor Olav Berg Lyngmo serves a congregation in the Norwegian Lapland. He was defrocked by the King of Norway for his rejection of women’s ordination and the blessing of same-sex marriage.
Dr. Bruce Kintz participated in the convention of The Lutheran Church of Norway. The Lutheran Church of Norway’s constitution grants the LCMS one clergy and one lay delegate. This privilege also is extended to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.
It has been a wonderful time in Norway visiting with The Lutheran Church of Norway, who is a new LCMS partner and a recently added member into the International Lutheran Council.
— Rev. Albert B. Collver, Ph.D.
LCN National Choir Processing into Church
On January 10, 2016, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria finished out its convention, “Christ in Me for Life Together,” with worship that carried on for 8 hours with about 6,000 people in attendance.
One of the songs the Lutheran Church of Nigeria’s National Choir sang was “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
A view of one third of the worship space.
Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver preached on the Baptism of Our Lord from Luke’s gospel. The evening before the service Dr. Collver gave the convention essay titled, “Christ in Me for Life Together.”
A woman dancing and singing during the offering.
Archbishop Christian Ekong consecrates two new bishops for the Lutheran Church of Nigeria.
All of the bishops gather to pray and bless the newly consecrated bishops.
After the consecration of the bishops, Holy Communion was celebrated.
Communion distribution to the 6,000 attendees was an exercise in organized chaos.
Archbishop Christian Ekong gives the benediction at the end of the service.
At the convention, contests were held for children to know the Bible and Catechism, as well as dance to church music. Awards were presented during the service.
Children dancing at the Lutheran Church of Nigeria for a contest.
The Lutheran Church of Nigeria’s Convention was a wonderful experience. The church also did fund raising for the Nigerian Lutheran University and ground was broken near the LCN’s headquarters in Obot Idim. This is just a little flavor of the 8 hours of worship and fellowship.
— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
The Lutheran Church of Nigeria is holding its Biennial Synod Convention from Wednesday, January 6, 2016, to Sunday, January 10, 2016 in Obot Idim. The 2016 Convention marks the 80th anniversary of The Lutheran Church of Nigeria, founded in 1936 by LCMS Missionaries. The Convention theme: Christ Lives in Me, For Life Together based upon Colossians 1:27. Approximately 6,000 people attended the convention.
A focus of the convention is on the funding and development of the Lutheran University Nigeria Project. The Lutheran University would have a huge effect on the Lutheran Church of Nigeria. In Uyo, there are at least two other universities. Education is very important and desired in Africa. Bishop Paul Fynn of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana operates a university of 8,000 students. The potential for a Lutheran University in Nigeria is huge.
The convention begins at 6 AM and finishes around midnight. There are generous breaks during the day for rest and protection from the high temperatures, which is projected to be 108 F (or 44 C) today. More on the convention in the coming days.
The convention schedule follows.
Convention Schedule January 6-7
Convention Schedule January 7-8
Convention Schedule January 8-9
Convention Schedule January 9
— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
On 8 December 2015, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod simultaneously released a report on the informal discussions that have been occurring between the three Synods between 2012-2015. (ELS Release, LCMS Release, and WELS Release same as the document listed above). The LCMS also released a Reporter Story found here. The Report about the Informal Discussions is the most significant update on the relationship between the three Synods since the ELS and WELS suspended fellowship 50 or so years ago. The expenses related to gathering 18 people from three Synods have been largely covered by a donor who is interested in seeing the three Synods discuss their similarities and differences.
The participants of the 2015 informal discussion from ELS, LCMS, WELS
Held at the Mary Wood Retreat Center
First, why are the discussions called “informal” discussions. In the ecumenical world, the use of the term “informal” discussion is used to differentiate them from more formal discussions. For instance, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) is engaged in “informal” discussions with the Roman Catholic Church, whereas the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has been engaged in formal discussions for more than 50 years. In the context of the ILC’s discussions with Rome, it differentiates the discussions from other more long standing discussions. As the discussions progress, they can be “updated” to formal discussions. In the context of the “informal” discussions between the three former members of the Synodical Conference, the term “informal” indicates that the immediate goal was not the re-establishment of altar and pulpit fellowship. Both the ELS and WELS reserve the term “formal” discussion for discussions between them and another church body where it is expected that altar and pulpit fellowship will be established in the near future. Since the three Synods had not had serious discussion in 50 plus years, it was thought that the best way to proceed was on the level of “informal” discussions, almost a “let’s get reacquainted” after 50 years sort of discussion with minimal expectations.
Although most people within the Missouri Synod today recognize that the LCMS is not in fellowship with the ELS and WELS today, many do not realize the causes or reasons for this. The history has largely been forgotten. Sometimes the history is lost in caricatures of what happened. The ending of the Synodical conferences and the ending of fellowship between the three Synods was painful for many of the people involved. Families were divided between membership in the ELS, LCMS, and WELS. (In fact, some of my family is LCMS while others are WELS.)
One of the first caricatures or points of misunderstandings is that the ELS and WELS broke fellowship with the Missouri Synod. The fact is that the ELS and WELS “suspended” fellowship with the Missouri Synod. The ELS did this in 1955, while the WELS did this in 1961. The fact that WELS waited until 1961, caused a division in WELS among those who thought WELS should have suspended fellowship more quickly with the Missouri Synod. In 1960, the Church of the Lutheran Confessions (CLC) formed when it broke away from WELS.
In the WELS 1961 resolution (found here) that “suspended” fellowship with the Missouri Synod, the word “suspend” is defined: “*The word “suspend” as used in the resolution has all the finality of termination during the duration of the suspension, but contains the hope that conditions might some day warrant a reestablishment of fellowship.” “Suspended” is more nuanced than “broke” or “ended” fellowship; it carries the hope of restoration and the end of divisions.
Another “caricature” about the suspension of fellowship was that it was about the “Boy Scouts” and “prayer fellowship.” If you read the WELS 1961 resolution, it does not mention the Boy Scouts or Prayer Fellowship as the cause. (There is no denial that WELS saw participation in the Boy Scouts as symptomatic of other issues within the Missouri Synod.) In light of the recent policy changes within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), the LCMS also came the to the conclusion that the Missouri Synod and the BSA should not have a formal relationship (see the Reporter announcement).
The issues were much deeper than the Boy Scouts, and involved the Missouri Synod seeking fellowship with the American Lutheran Church (ALC), which in 1988 became a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), and later Missouri’s participation in Lutheran Council in the United States of America (LCUSA), which existed from 1967-1988 and was a cooperative effort of the LCMS, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church of America, and the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. The Missouri Synod entered fellowship with the American Lutheran Church in 1967, the same year the Missouri Synod officially “dissolved” the Synodical Conference. The Missouri Synod in 1979 entered a state of protest against the American Lutheran Church over the issues of Biblical inerrancy, Women’s ordination, and ecumenical participation and unionism. In 1981, the Missouri Synod broke fellowship with the American Lutheran Church. Yet already, in 1961 when WELS suspended fellowship with the Missouri Synod, the Missouri Synod was talking about entering fellowship with the American Lutheran Church.
The other significant item that led to the ELS and WELS suspending fellowship were the events that led up to Seminex in 1974 at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, related to the rejection of biblical inerrancy. In conversations with Missouri Synod professors and students from ELS and WELS who attended Missouri Synod schools, the church officials were aware of aberrations in teaching about the Scripture long before the general membership of the Missouri Synod became aware.
These two underlying facts, the Missouri Synod seeking fellowship with the American Lutheran Church and the events leading up to Seminex, are acknowledged in the Report on the informal discussions. The Report says, “ELS and WELS participants were heartened to hear LCMS leaders acknowledge with sadness that the ELS and WELS were compelled to break fellowship with the LCMS to avoid the tragedy of the doctrinal controversy that befell the LCMS in the 1970s, and that LCMS leaders are continuing to work for faithfulness in Scriptural doctrine and practice in their synod.”
Another significant item mentioned in the Report is The Brief Statement of 1932. The Brief Statement of 1932 is an official doctrinal statement of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Every pastor of the MIssouri Synod reads the Brief Statement at least once in his seminary career, but it is not something that many have reviewed with their congregations, or perhaps read again after seminary. The Brief Statement can be found here (as a PDF here). The Statement on the informal discussions from 2015 list a number doctrines where ELS, LCMS, WELS teach the same. They were The Trinity; The person and work of Christ; Justification by grace through faith; Genesis 1–11 is actual history, for example with a six day creation, Adam and Eve, and the fall; The real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper; Baptism; Law and Gospel; Means of Grace; Eternal Election of Grace; Conversion; Two Kingdoms; End Times; Resurrection of the body; Antichrist; Third use of the law; Rejection of Women’s Ordination; Rejection of Infant Communion; Worship; Need for ecclesiastical visitation and supervision. The Report then mentions how the Brief Statement of 1932 was an area of significant agreement between the Synods.It says, “We also called to mind how all three synods expressed agreement with A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod when it first appeared in the early 1930s. This doctrinal statement still reflects areas of agreement today.”
Considering that these are “informal” discussions more work needs to be done. Areas of doctrine need to be discussed in greater depth including the doctrine of the ministry, the role of women in the church, and prayer fellowship. None of those involved desire to gloss over differences in doctrine or practice that exist, at the same time, the participants wanted to acknowledge where agreement existed.
It is rather significant that the three Synods after more than 50 years of suspended fellowship are informally talking. It also is joyful to be able to discuss the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions with others who hold such similar views to those held by the Missouri Synod.
A future post will talk more about the Synodical Conference.
— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations