After nearly 16 hours on two planes with 4 hours of layovers, a group from the LCMS arrived in Nairobi, Kenya. Archbishop Obare and Rev. David Chuchu greeted us at the airport. The group includes Rev. Dr. Donald Fondow, President of the Minnesota North DIstrict, Rev. Dr. James Baneck, President of the North Dakota District, Rev. Jamison Hardy, Vice President of the English District, Jim Wolf, Director of Concordia Lutheran Ministries in Cabot, Pennsylvania and the great-great grandson of Dr. C.F.W. Walther, Rev. Bernie Seter, Chairman of the Board for International Mission, Roger Weinlaeder coordinator for Project 24, and Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.
The District Presidents came on the trip to discover how their districts can partner with the LCMS in mission efforts in Kenya. Rev. Bernie Seter, chair of the BIM, said, “It is wonderful to see partnerships develop and the kingdom of God extended.”
Jim Wolf came to Kenya as a representative of Concordia Lutheran Ministries to monitor the 1001 Orphans Project and to see where other partnerships could be formed. The 1001 Orphan Project focuses on providing care for orphans in need. Project 24 focuses on the bricks and mortar for Orphans.
In the car from the airport, Archbishop Obare mentioned that there has been a draught in northern Kenya, and that there are many Lutherans literally starving. He mentioned that several of his pastors are near starvation, and that he does what he can to help, primarily praying that the Lord provide relief to his servants and to his people.
Over the coming days, check back for more updates.
Rev. Albert B Collver, Ph.D.
LCMS Director of Church Relations – Assistant to the President
Ephesians 1:3-14; Responsive Prayer 2; LSB 686
4 January 2011
Dear Friends in Christ,
Do you remember waiting to hear your name called in school or on the playground to participate in an important event or to play on a team or in a game? Do you remember the agony of waiting to hear your name called? Do you remember the comfort and relief you felt when you heard, “I pick him.” “She was chosen to…” Imagine going to high school or college graduation not knowing if you would receive a diploma, but waiting in the audience to hear if your name would be called. As bad as these sorts of uncertainties are in our lives, how much worse it is to wonder and doubt if God has chosen you… how much worse to wonder if you are elect. Friends in Christ, your heavenly does not want you to be in doubt of your salvation. He wants you to have the comfort of knowing that he has called you by name in Holy Baptism. He wants you to know that you have been called, chosen, and elected from the foundation of the world to be his child.
The appointed text for today deals with the doctrine of Predestination. It seems that many people regard the topic of Predestination as mysterious, complicated, and perhaps frightening. Yet our Lord and Savior Jesus himself teaches about predestination in the Gospels, particularly when he said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16) In today’s reading, St. Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus, “he chose you before the foundation of the world … in love he predestined us.” The teaching about Predestination is intended for our instruction and for our comfort as Christians. It is, as Dr. Walther, the founder of the Missouri Synod said, “the golden thread that runs throughout the Scriptures.”
Now I suspect that you have rarely or perhaps never heard a sermon about Predestination. When the people of God do not hear about the blessed doctrine of Predestination they are denied a couple of important truths. First, not hearing about the doctrine of Predestination creates the opportunity for our sinful flesh to arise and convince us that we somehow contributed to our salvation or chose to follow Jesus. As Jesus himself clearly told his disciples, “You did not choose me.” Yet we as sinful human beings, and particularly Americans who believe our destiny belongs to us, we do not like being confronted with the reality that we do not have free will in matters related to God. We do not have the free will to choose to follow Jesus. This teaching strikes against our pride and offends our reason. We want to think we can follow Jesus, rather than recognizing we are “lost and condemned creatures” who are dead in our sins. When you feel that you are more righteous or holy than another person, or when you think you are more deserving than another person, know that these thoughts are not from the Holy Spirit. Repent and seek forgiveness from your Savior.
Second, not hearing about the doctrine of Predestination denies us of the tremendous comfort our Lord Jesus wants us to have in Him. Listen to the text again, “he chose us before the foundation of the world.” In eternity, before the Lord God created the heavens and the earth through His Almighty Word, your heavenly father chose you. This is the ultimate indicator that we did nothing to contribute to our salvation. Before the heavens and the earth existed, before there were atoms, molecules, or cells from which to form your body, the Lord God chose you. This, my friends, is pure, undeserved grace. Your heavenly Father chose you in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. In your Baptism, the Lord God put His Name upon you and made you His own.
There are many things in our lives that can make us doubt whether or not we have the favor of God. Perhaps, things are not unfolding in your life as you would hope. Perhaps, your life is riddled with sin and loneliness. You may be facing hardships and difficulties and wonder why you are afflicted with such things. Know that your Lord even predestined the sufferings and crosses in your life so that you may be conformed into the image of the crucified Son of God. Your Lord has promised to work all things for your good. In fact, even your hardships and sufferings are turned into a blessing for your ultimate good. You see, your Lord does not want you to doubt that he has chosen you when you face hardships. Know that He chose you and chose your sufferings for you so that nothing can ever take you from His hand.
When you face suffering in this life and doubt about the favor the Lord has for you, seek comfort in the cross of Jesus. Seek comfort in the forgiveness of sins. Seek comfort in knowing that you are baptized and that the Lord has put his Holy Name upon you. Know that your heavenly Father has chosen you before the foundation of the world in Christ Jesus.
Unlike waiting on the schoolyard playground, wondering if you will be chosen, if your name will be called. Your Lord Jesus has called you by Name and given you His Holy Spirit as the down payment, the guarantee of your inheritance in the Lord’s kingdom. Now we wait, not to find out if the Lord has chosen us, but we wait to realize what He has already given us in Christ Jesus. Take comfort in the promises of your Lord and in the forgiveness of your sins. Take comfort in the election and calling of your heavenly Father through Jesus Christ his Son.
Go in peace.
Walther’s Prayer, “Concerning Predestination,” Selected Sermons, CPH, 1981: 173.
“Lord Jesus, You Son of the living God. You have come into this world to save sinners. Thanks, praise, glory and honor be to You today, on the day of Your gracious and saving birth, that You not only came into the world to save us poor sinners, but also that You as the Good Shepherd followed us, who all like sheep have gone astray, called us to Yourself through the shepherd’s voice of Your sweet Gospel, brought us to faith in You, and also preserved us in the same until today. Oh, how in time and eternity can we sufficiently thank You for this? We did not seek You, but You sought us; we did not come to You, but You came to us. How have we deserved it that You had mercy upon us rather than millions of others? Ah, it is Your undeserved grace alone that we have to thank for this. You saw us lying in the blood of our sins, and behold, Your heart broke, and You said to us: ‘You shall live!’ Oh, Lord Jesus, You today once gave Yourself for us; today we give ourselves to You. Here is our heart. Take it, cleanse and adorn it for Yourself as Your dwelling and rule in it until our death. For this, with all angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, thrones and dominions, with all blessed and chosen ones, we will in heaven give You thanks, glory, praise, and honor through all eternity. Amen.”
After the LCMS fellowship discussions in Siberia at the end of October 2010, some may have said, “Lutherans, in Russia? Siberia, Russia? How did that happen?” Perhaps, even more surprising to learn is that before the Russian Revolution of 1917, there were actually millions of Lutherans in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltics, and other territories that would eventually comprise the Soviet Union. Some have estimated that there were 1.2 million Lutherans within Russia and Siberia proper, and another 2-3 million in the other territories. In fact, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Lutheran presence in Russia was larger than The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is today. Yet, by 1937, every Lutheran congregation had been liquidated and their pastors arrested, exiled, or executed. The communists were quite effective in destroying the Lutheran Church in Russian lands.
Early Russian Lutherans
There are reports of Lutherans—primarily German merchants, craftsmen, and engineers—arriving in Russia as early as the 1520s. These groups held worship in their homes. Other Lutherans arrived in Russia after the Livonian War of 1558, when Ivan the Terrible relocated Lutherans from the Baltic region to the environs of Moscow. Like other czars, Ivan had a certain fascination with Lutherans and other Protestant preachers, listening to them with favor on some occasions, and at other times with great displeasure. In fact, there is an account of Ivan the Terrible smacking a Lutheran preacher on the head with his scepter because the preacher dared to compare Martin Luther to St. Paul.
During the reign of Peter the Great (1682–1725), Lutherans were given a constitution and religious freedom within Russia. Peter the Great even travelled to Wittenberg in 1712 because of his interest in Lutheranism. His interest was as much political as it was religious, as Peter had the goal of modernizing Russia and decreasing the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. As early as 1718, Lutheran chaplains from Sweden had reached Tobolsk, the historic capital of Siberia, to establish Lutheran congregations. Lutherans later arrived in other Siberian cities such as Tomsk, and Lutheran congregations were found throughout many parts of Russia until the Russian Revolution of 1917.
One Lutheran, One Small Catechism
In 1987, young Vsevolod Lytkin from Novosibirsk, Siberia, had pro-Western views and was no longer convinced that the Soviet system was good. Since the Soviet system disapproved of religion, Lytkin began investigating religion through the Atheistic Dictionary of Religion. When he read about Lutherans, his interest was piqued. He learned “there be Lutherans” in the Baltics, so he got on a train and arrived in Estonia three days later. He sought out a Lutheran church, where the pastor gave him the Small Catechism. Through his conversations with the pastor and the study of the Small Catechism, Lytkin was baptized at Holy Spirit Church in Tallinn a few days later.
After returning to Siberia, Lytkin and other young Christians began to give lectures on the Bible to the students of Novosibirsk State University and other interested people from the scientific community of Academic City (Akademgorodok). By 1991, a Bible study group was formed that came together regularly to pray, read, and study the Scripture. Through the study of the Bible, the Small Catechism, and Lutheran theology, this fledging assembly of young Christians transformed from a generic Protestant group into a congregation that desired to be truly Lutheran.
Theological Education Welcomed
In 1993, Vsevolod Lytkin was ordained in Estonia as pastor of Bible Lutheran Church in Novosibirsk. Shortly after this, Archbishop Janis Vanags of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church introduced Pastor Lytkin to Rev. Wallace Schulz, editor of Good News journal and then Lutheran Hour speaker. These contacts helped introduce this young Siberian Lutheran group to the LCMS.
In 1994, Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin and Deacon Pavel Khramov visited Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. This trip acquainted them with the theology of the LCMS and marked the beginning of closer ties. A larger group of about 20 people from Siberia visited the United States in 1995. The men visited Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., while the women visited Concordia University in Seward, Neb. In 1996, the Russian Project began at the Fort Wayne seminary under the direction of Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, with summer seminars held in Russia and other former Soviet Republics. Ultimately, about 35 people came to the seminary in Fort Wayne for theological training. The people who formed the SELC sought out the Missouri Synod because they wanted a conservative, Lutheran theological base. The training they received at Concordia Theological Seminary strengthened these theological ties even further.
It soon became evident that a seminary in Russia was needed to train future pastors and to enable this young church to eventually become self-sufficient. Pastor Lytkin approached President Wenthe requesting assistance from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne in the establishment of a Russian seminary in Novosibirsk. The founding of the Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) in Novosibirsk was made possible by a generous grant from the Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation. Over the years, a number of guest professors from the United States, Germany, and Australia have taught at LTS. Presently, the seminary is registered and licensed as an academic institution in Russia.
Fellowship with the LCMS
In July 2010, twelve years after the Siberian Lutherans first requested fellowship discussions with the LCMS, Bishop Lytkin sent a letter to then LCMS President-elect Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. In that letter, Lytkin wrote, “With your election and introduction in the office of the president, discussions between our church bodies concerning church fellowship will gain new momentum and will come to a proper conclusion.” The trip by LCMS officials in October was Harrison’s response to Lytkin’s letter. The LCMS delegation concurred that while differences in practice exist in some areas, there are no differences in the doctrine confessed. Full fellowship has been recommended.
Of course, the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) is not the only Lutheran Church in Russia. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is already in fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), based in St. Petersburg. This church body has congregations that date back to the 1600s, but like the SELC has some ties to the Estonian Church. The other legally recognized Lutheran church in Russia is known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (abbreviated ELKRAS). ELKRAS is the largest Lutheran body in Russia but is not in fellowship with the LCMS or the other Lutheran churches in Russia. The Missouri Synod, with her two partner churches in Russia (ELCIR and SELC), has an opportunity to impact Lutheranism in Russia.
A Lesson for Today?
The story of Lutheranism in Russia is both heartbreaking and encouraging. In this story, we see how a church can be brought to the brink of extinction through persecution. Much more could be told! Stories of martyrdom and great faith abound—stories about Lutherans in the Baltics, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, St. Petersburg and other places. We also see how the Lord works life from death. The Lutheran Church in Russia today is not as “glorious” or impressive as it was under the Russian Empire, but she lives under the cross of Jesus. The Lord’s hand was at work, preserving His Church against the gates of hell, but doing it in such a way that we know the success of His Church does not depend on us.
This history is a good reminder for us that what happened to Lutherans in Russia in the past could also, as unimaginable as it might be, happen to us. The story of Lutheranism in Russia ought to bring us to our knees in repentance, drive us to the cross of Jesus seeking His forgiveness, and encourage us in how the Lord preserves His Church here on earth. Indeed, by the grace of God, “There be Lutherans” . . . in Siberia!
On 17 December 2010, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) approved the recognition of church fellowship between The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The approval of the recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and the SELC occurred twelve years after the SELC first requested fellowship discussions with the LCMS under President Alvin Barry. Under Bylaw 184.108.40.206.2c, after a request for fellowship, consultation with the Preasidium, and the approval of the recognition of fellowship, the President of Synod may declare recognition of such fellowship.
Commenting on the CTCR’s action, President Matthew C. Harrison said, “We give thanks to the Lord that after much patience and longsuffering on the part of the Siberian Lutherans, the Missouri Synod can now recognize the gift of fellowship that the Lord has worked between the LCMS and the SELC.” For his part, Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin of the SELC has stated several times in the past, “From our point of view, we are in fellowship with the LCMS.”
Shortly after President Harrison was elected at the 64th regular convention of the LCMS, Bishop Lytkin sent President-elect Harrison a letter on 14 July 2010 saying, “We at Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church also hope that with your election and introduction in the office of the President discussions between our church bodies concerning church fellowship will gain new momentum and will come to a proper conclusion. As you may know, we have met with LCMS church leaders a number of times, starting from Alvin Barry, but in the last year some impending circumstances slowed down our progress.” In response to this letter, President Harrison sent a delegation to Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia, which consisted of Rev. Dr. Albert B Collver, Director of Church Relations Assistant to the President, Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Director of the CTCR, and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Dean of International Studies, Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne, for doctrinal discussions with members of the SELC. The delegation, while acknowledging differences in practice, found no doctrinal differences. On 18 November 2010, President Harrison consulted with the Preasidium regarding pursuing fellowship with the SELC according to Bylaw 220.127.116.11.2c.
With CTCR’s December 17 approval, President Matthew C. Harrison, per Bylaw 18.104.22.168.2c, declared the recognition between the two church bodies.
Upon receiving the news of fellowship with the SELC, President Dean Wenthe of Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne stated, “I am delighted that more than a decade of mission work in Siberia on the part of Concordia Theological Seminary, under the direction of Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill and supported by our faculty, now has borne fruit as fellowship between our two churches. The SELC is already one of our church’s most vibrant mission partners. We rejoice in God’s grace and pray his blessing upon Bishop Lytkin, his pastors and congregations.” Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Dean of International Studies and Director of the Russian Project at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, commented further, “The decision of President Harrison to declare altar and pulpit fellowship with the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church as one of his first international, church relations acts is extremely significant. It reveals a vision and heart for fostering unity among faithful confessional Lutheran brothers and sisters the world over.”
Over the past 14 years, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, utilizing its professors, along with pastors primarily from within the Missouri Synod and occasionally from our partner churches such as SELK, provided theological education for the majority of the current pastors in the SELC, largely at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Siberia, Russia. During this time, the LCMS and the SELC have forged deep relationships. Although the Synod in July 2010 passed Resolution 3-04A to help fast track fellowship with small or emerging confessional Lutheran church bodies, the recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and SELC came about through measured and intentional steps.
The passing of Resolution 3-04A at the Synod’s convention in July 2010 led to the creation of Bylaw 22.214.171.124.2c, which reads, “When a small, formative, or emerging church body requests recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod, and after consultation with the Praesidium and approval by the commission, such recognition may be declared by the President of the Synod subject to the endorsement of the subsequent Synod convention.” The first use of this Bylaw for the recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and the SELC after more than 14 years of contact between the two churches demonstrates a careful and deliberate use of this new responsibility granted to the President.
Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast, Chairman of the CTCR noted, “In John 17 the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father for the oneness of His church. Since that time the church has struggled to express that oneness. From this we learn, first of all, that fellowship doesn’t simply ‘happen’ by ‘chance.’ It is the gift of God. Second, we see that the realization of that fellowship occurs in a fallen world that now lives under the cross of Christ. The Commission on Theology and Church Relations rejoices in the Lord’s gracious leading of the SELC and LCMS to recognize their confessional unity and looks forward to future opportunities to work toward the faithful expression of the oneness we have in Christ with those who confess the faith in the fullness of its truth.”
With the recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and SELC, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations – Assistant to the President, said, “As one who taught at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia, the formal recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and SELC brings me great joy as the role of confessional Lutheranism is expanded around the world.”
The recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and SELC will be brought to the LCMS’ 65th regular convention in 2013 for ratification.