Lutheran church and seminary leaders from around the world descended upon Lithuania over the course of the past 24 hours, traveling from every corner of the globe. They are here to consider the conference theme: Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom as Marks of the Church, a theme many of these confessing Lutherans know much about from personal experience. The conference is organized by the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a worldwide association of Confessional Lutheran Churches.
Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania, a member church of the Lutheran World Federation greeted the group assembled at the Palanga Lutheran Church. In his remarks he noted that for Christians in Lithuania, persecution, in one form or another, has been nearly constant during the past 400 years.
Welcoming the group on behalf of the ILC was Dr. Albert Collver III, Executive Secretary.
“In the Book of Revelation, “those who had been slain” cried out with a loud voice to the Lord, “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Rev. 6:10) The word used to describe the martyrs who cried out to the Lord from the altar in heaven is from the greek verb sphazo,the very same word used to describe Jesus as the “the Lamb who had been slain.” The martyrs had been slain like their Lord, Jesus. Like the blood of Abel, the blood of the martyrs calls out to the Lord for justice and the vengeance of the Lord upon the wicked. In a similar way the Lord’s church on earth cries out to be a witness to the work, and for deliverance from all evil. Ironically, the more the church prays to be a witness to the world, the more likely the church is to experience the cross and suffering, which in itself becomes a witness.”
Collver noted that the theme of suffering, persecution and martyrdom has been a topic of theological reflection since the Book of Acts. “At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, the church has passed through a century where more Christians, numerically, have been persecuted and martyred than at any other time in history. “At the same time, Islam is spreading among peoples and through lands where the Gospel once held sway. If the external threats of secular humanism and Islam were not enough, the church is under attack from within,” said Collver.
“Through the crosses, that is, the sufferings in our lives predestined for us before the foundation of the world, The Lord conforms us into the image of His Son. What sort of Lord predestines the Holy Cross? The sort of Lord who in His divine foreknowledge ensured that no suffering, cross, or martyrdom would wrest you from His loving hand. This is the sort of Lord who has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. This is the sort of Lord who in the words of the Augsburg Confession said the church perpetual mansura, that is, will endure forever. Be assured that suffering, persecution and martyrdom as evil as it is, will turn into blessing by The Lord.”
Martyrdom and the Cross
The keynote presenter Dr. William Weinrich, Professor of Church History at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Ind. provided a historical view of martyrdom and the cross walking participants through the accounts of the early church martyrs.
Underscoring the relevance of the topic for our time, Weinrich noted that credible research has reached the estimate that more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith each year, others are either displaced,see the destruction of their houses of worship, experience rape or the abduction of their leaders. In Western countries where the church has historically been an integral part of society, a trend emerges that increasingly marginalizes and restricts the ability of the faith community to bear mercy in the world.
“Today, being a Christian in the world is contested and is facing serious challenge, in some places with murderous consequences.”
Weinrich noted that, “To commune with the Body and Blood of Christ was to be bound with Him who was Himself the “faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5) and received the crown of life: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” “Luke 23:46) Union with Christ’s Body and Blood unites the faithful to the goal and destiny of Christian faith, namely, to that perfection whereby the confession of the mouth in instantiated by the sacrifice of ones’ life for the true confession. The death of the martyr was itself “witness” and “demonstration” that in Christ God had overcome death by the new creation of the resurrection.
As we think about the present circumstances of our Lutheran churches in the world and about how best to prepare our people fro further suffering, we should not forget the great resource we have in the Sacrament of the Altar. For it is not merely that which “strengths” faith but is itself the reality of life over death: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.” (John 6:54)”
Suffering, Persecution, Martyrdom as a Mark of the Church
In the afternoon, the Rev. Dr. Darius Petkunas pastor of the Palanga Lutheran Church, walked the group through the persecutions which took place under the Marxist-Lenninist regimes of the 20th Century.
The Life of the Church has been marked from the beginning by the presence of the cross, that particular form of suffering borne by those who confess the name of Christ. … In the both century Marxist-Lenninist communism clearly stated that for communism to succeed, the Church and its superstitions must be destroyed, and that the very idea of God must be erased from man’s heart and soul. It was at first thought that scientific-atheistic propaganda could accomplish this, for the Christian faith was thought to be nothing more or less than ignorant superstition which could be easily combated and overcome by reason and education. History shows that it was soon found necessary to employ more direct means to destroy the Church. Thousands of priests and bishops of all the traditional Christian confessions in the Soviet Union were sent to the gulags and for many of them it was a death sentence. By the mid 1930’s the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches in Soviet Russia had disappeared from the scene.
His address led participants through the following points:
1. Luther on the Seventh Mark of the Church
“Luther elaborates on the seventh sign by stating that Christians “…must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil…” In this way they are conformed to their head not by their own action and decision, but by the work of the Holy Spirit. They are punished not because they have done wrong or because “… they are adulterers, murderers, thieves, or rogues, but because they want to have none but Christ, and no other God. Wherever you see or hear this, you may know the Holy Christian Church is there…”
2. The Shape of “the World” and its relation to the Church
What Luther referred to as the seventh sign or mark of the CHurch is called into play when temporal, secular authority oversteps its omits and intrudes into spiritual affairs where God’s Word and will should reign supreme. When this happens Christians are to follow the example of St. Peter who when he was told by the Jewis authorities that he must not proclaim the person and work of Christ, responded that in such matters one must follow “God rather than men.”
3. The Seventh Sign in Historical Perspective
This seventh sign of the Church manifested itself most evidently when and where the faithfulness of the Church was put to the test by a strong state or government hostile to the Gospel. In the 16th century Lutherans most often found themselves in the minority in many territories. They were ready and willing to affirm by word and action the faith which they confessed. Indeed the CHurch and Christians who are determined to be faithful regardless the cost who are most likely to find themselves at the receiving en of trials and tribulations. … The example of the Prussian Church shows what happens when the CHurch either sees no need to make a clear confession of the truth of God’s Word or has allowed itself to be rendered incapable of articulating such a confession. If the CHurch has nothing for which it is willing to suffer it will not suffer, and it will not reeve the blessing which hardship brings with it. Here as Luther had correctly stated, the willingness to endure what a clear confession brings with it and the unwillingness to allow the secular realm to interfere in Church affairs together with the determination to make a bold and clear confession and bear the cross is a clear mark of the church.
4. The Situation Today: Some Observations
The seventh sign has always been regarded as a secondary mark of the Church. Its absence at a particular time and at particular place does not necessarily mean that the CHurch is no longer the true Church. However, it often happens that where the Church is unwilling to bear the pain of the cross, other marks and signs of the Church, including the pure proclamation of the Gospel, the right administration of the Sacraments, and the proper ordering of the Holy Ministry disappears as well.
Luther would insist that one must move beyond a simple consideration of the empirical evidence to a recognition that behind it stands the ancient consolation of “the Devil, the World, and the sinful flesh.” The Church and her people contend with forces which are not merely empirical and material, they are instead higher and stronger powers in heavily places. (Eph. 6:12) They must be combated by the power of God whom the Church confesses and proclaims.
Rev. Alexey Streltsov, Rector of LUtheran Theological Seminnary, Novosibirsk, Siberia, was one of the responders to the morning presentations and reflected on the nature and shape of suffering:
How much suffering does there have to be to call it suffering? Sometimes people who have some mild inconveniences call it suffering. But what we talk about here is a really an existential experience, when one is faced with such suffering the Holy Spirit is there to give counsel and aid.
In the culture I come from there has been much reflection on the theme of suffering and death. Not many [here] have gone through such experiences. But we have to realize that some in this room or our family and friends will face this in the future.
In the book 1984, George Orwell discusses how early Christian martyrs knew that when they would go to death they would be remembered by the church and this would bring them some glory. However, to think that when people are confronted with martyrdom today you likely will not be remembered. Whether this is the case or not, we should praise God for those Christians who no one remembers.
In secular culture, suffering is viewed as something to get over and then to have a winsome and positive attitude. No, when suffering comes it is not something to get over, it may never go away, it may only increase. Around us [today] it doesn’t look like things will get better. This history of the martyrs will help prepare us for what is to come.
Rev. Dr. John Stephenson, Concordia Seminary, Ontario, Canada, responded by reflecting on the existential nature of suffering for the sake of Christ.
Rev. Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana spoke about the situation in Africa and the rapid growth of the Church. The need for more pastors and resources is large. He encouraged the group to be boldly and faithfully Lutheran because we have the truth of the Gospel.
The Global Seminary Initiative (GSI) is a program that provides Lutheran theological education in three primary ways:
1) Bringing the best students worldwide to LCMS seminaries to study at the graduate level so that they can return to their home countries and provide advanced theological leadership.
2) Support for local regional seminaries — both infra-structure and scholarships for students to attend regional seminaries.
3) Continuing education — seminars, conferences, and visits by qualified LCMS pastors and professors to teach in the local context.
The world has changed from the time of sending out missionaries to places where people had never heard the Gospel. In most parts of world today, we have partner churches who firmly believe that one of the best qualities of the LCMS is our theological education. It is our niche, one of our core competencies, and we are well-positioned to make the most of it by assisting these partner churches.
For more information visit: lcms.org/gsi
Today in Convention, the Wisconsin Synod unanimously passed the following resolution regarding the Missouri Synod:
Resolution No. 02 from Floor Committee 05: Inter-Church Relations. The resolution reads as follows:
WHEREAS 1) When the WELS suspended fellowship with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) in 1961, the synod convention resolved, in part, to continue discussions to heal the breach that had occurred; and
WHEREAS 2) the Lord opened doors to informal discussions with the LCMS in December 2012; and
WHEREAS 3) even if the restoration of fellowship is not possible in the near future, we believe it is our responsibility to each other and to our Lord to strive for true unity based on full agreement in doctrine and practice; and
WHEREAS 4) a second meeting is planned for December 2013; therefore be it
Resolved, a) that we encourage our leadership in conjunction with the CICR to continue discussions with the LCMS to strive for true unity based on full agreement in doctrine and practice; and be it finally
Resolved, b) that we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and bless these efforts to God’s glory and for the benefit of his church.
- Posted 31 August 2013 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations
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After nearly fifty years in which there had been virtually no official contact between WELS and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (our former partner in the Synodical Conference), lines of communication have been opened once again. One point of contact has been at the Emmaus Conference, held annually in Tacoma. [A free conference is a forum for theological discussion that does not involve or imply fellowship.] LCMS President Matthew Harrison and the presidents of WELS and the ELS have been presenters at these conferences.
When WELS suspended fellowship with the LCMS in 1961, the synod convention resolved in part that continued theological discussions should take place in an effort to heal the breach that had occurred. Such theological discussions never happened due to the circumstances following the end of the Synodical Conference. Last December that changed. With the full support of the Conference of Presidents and the Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR), representatives from the LCMS, WELS, and the ELS met for three days for informal talks. The agenda for the meeting was simple: Where do we fully agree? Where do we still disagree? Are there mutual caricatures or misunderstandings that we can correct? These talks were no intended to be full doctrinal discussions; nor were they understood to indicate that a restoration of fellowship would be possible in the near future. Even if the restoration of fellowship is not possible in the near future, we believe it is our responsibility to each other and to God to strive for true unity based on full agreement of doctrine and practice. All involved concluded that the discussions were fruitful and beneficial. A second meeting is planned for December This convention may want to consider a resolution encouraging the continuation of these contacts. (President Schroeder noted that the LCMS passed such a resolution seeking for conversations with WELS and ELS.)
I am happy to report that earlier this month President Harrison was overwhelmingly re-elected to serve a second term as president of the LCMS. I believe that his leadership has been a blessing to his synod and that God will continue to use him for his purposes. I also want to note that, while WELS has sent observers to the LCMS conventions for many years, we have not had the pleasure of welcoming LCMS observers — until now. At our convention are three representatives of the LCMS. Dr. Albert Collver III (Director of Church Relations), Rev. Jon Vieker (Senior Assistant to the President), and Rev. Larry Vogel (Associate Executive Director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations).
These men have come because the leaders of the LCMS have a sincere interest in our synod and in the work that we are doing. We appreciate the respect that these and other leaders of the LCMS have shown to our Synod. We pray that their time among us will be mutually beneficial. Please give them a warm and cordial welcome.
– posted on 30 July 2013 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations
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Location:Waldheim Dr,New Ulm,United States
After the service was over, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) conducted a flag ceremony demonstrating the mission work of the Wisconsin Synod around the world. This practice serves to educate the delegates of the Wisconsin Synod about their Church partners and the location of their mission work. This is an idea that might be adapted for the Missouri Synod. Of interest was that some of WELS mission work began jointly with the Missouri Synod during the days of the Synodical Conference. Other of their work began immediately following the break up of the Synodical Conference.
The Wisconsin Synod vividly remembers the Synodical Conference (the fellowship of the Wisconsin Synod, Missouri Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and Slovak Synod). In fact, the Wisconsin Synod’s hymnal Christian Worship published in 1993 notes:
“The story of Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal actually began in 1953 when the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) initiated work on a revision of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), the hymnal shared by the synods constituting the Synodical Conference. In 1959 the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) accepted the invitation to share in the revision work. In 1965, however, the LCMS abandoned this project in favor of a new pan-Lutheran hymnal, leading to the publication of Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982).”
Based on conversations with people in the Missouri Synod, it does not seem that memories of the Synodical Conference is in the forefront. The preface to the WELS hymnal is correct. The LCMS became enamored with pan-Lutheranism, some of which led to the events of Seminex and the production of a hymnal unusable by much of the Missouri Synod (Lutheran Book of Worship).
In 2013, WELS sent observers to the LCMS convention. Likewise, the LCMS sent Dr Albert Collver, Rev Jon Vieker, and Rev Larry Vogel to the WELS convention.
May The Lord grant fruitful and ongoing contact with WELS.
The 2013 LCMS convention adopted a resolution to seek contact with both WELS and ELS.
The resolution reads:
To Encourage Further Discussion with Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Report 1-7; President’s Report, Part 2 (CW, p. 10; TB, p. 23)
After more than 50 years, mostly of silence, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) held informal discussions in late 2012. Although differences exist between the church bodies, the informal discussions demonstrated that there is a basis to explore further conversations between the churches. When WELS suspended fellowship with the Missouri Synod in 1961, the president of WELS was charged with seeking opportunities to continue the conversation with the Missouri Synod.
WHEREAS, the Synodical Conference (fellowship of LCMS, WELS and ELS) was a great blessing to confessional Lutheranism both in America and throughout the world; and
WHEREAS, although the Synodical Conference dissolved, many commonalities still exist; and
WHEREAS, since the ending of the Synodical Conference there have been few opportunities for discussion between the LCMS and the WELS and the ELS; and
WHEREAS, the President of the WELS has been charged with seeking opportunities to continue the conversation with the LCMS; therefore be it
Resolved, that the President of the LCMS seek opportunities to continue the conversation with the former members of the Synodical Conference.
Attending the WELS convention in New Ulm is the first step in fulfilling this resolution.
- Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations on 30 July 2013.
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Location:Waldheim Dr,New Ulm,United States