“Attitudes of mutual respect, good will, and shared hope that both bodies will have strong churches” were emphasized in a joint communiqué issued by representatives of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) after a meeting earlier this year in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“It’s important that we talk to one another and not about each other,” said Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, who serves as executive secretary of the ILC, a worldwide association of 34 confessional Lutheran churches including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. “These annual discussions have been helpful and we intend to continue them.”
He said the meetings encourage open communication, help build trust, and allow direct discussion of activities that some may consider worrisome. Nafzger will head an LCMS office of church relations beginning in July after 35 years on the staff of the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
The Feb. 25-26 meeting was convened and co-chaired by Nafzger and Dr. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary. It was the third yearly meeting under a memorandum of understanding developed by the two secretaries. Also attending were two representatives from ILC churches and eight from LWF churches.
Among positive developments noted in the communiqué was involvement of ILC and LWF representatives in working toward the healing of a long-standing division in the church in the Philippines, a member church of both the ILC and LWF. “We are working together to promote communication and reconciliation between the two factions in this church,” Nafzger commented. “The ultimate mission is served even though we [ILC and LWF] continue to have serious theological disagreements.”
He and Noko reported on activities in their respective organizations and among their member churches. Nafzger cited the three-year cycle of international, regional, and seminary conferences, with the next ILC international conference scheduled for 2009 in Korea. Noko described the LWF 60th anniversary celebration and the planned 2010 LWF Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany.
The representatives discussed their respective plans to observe the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation in 2017. The meeting also dealt with goals and hopes of relations with other Christian bodies, differing meanings of “membership” in the two organizations, the significance of baptism, and the relation of ecclesial bodies to the one Body of Christ.
While church fellowship among its members is not a requirement for membership in the ILC, the council does seek to “foster, strengthen, and preserve agreement which manifests itself at the altar and in the pulpit.” Whether its members hold membership in the LWF is left to their consciences and circumstances.
The LWF has 140 member churches. The ILC has 34 members, including 12 that are members of both groups.
The next ILC-LWF meeting will be held next February in the Philippines.
Posted May 8, 2008