By Joe Isenhower Jr.
The International Lutheran Council (ILC), an association of 34 confessional Lutheran church bodies (including the LCMS) from six continents, has unanimously adopted a statement emphasizing commitment to the Bible’s position on homosexual behavior. The action was taken at the ILC’s 23rd International Conference Aug. 26-31 in Seoul, South Korea.
Titled “Same-Gender Relationships and the Church,” the ILC statement notes “confusion and discord” resulting from “churches in various parts of the world — including Lutheran churches” — after “some church bodies have adopted resolutions stating that sexually active, same-gender relationships are an acceptable way of life for Christians” and/or “have approved ordination of pastors living in such a committed, sexually active same-gender relationship.”
The three-paragraph document states that, “Rooted in the Bible’s witness and in keeping with Christian teaching through 2,000 years, we continue to believe that the practice of homosexuality — in any and all situations — violates the will of the Creator God and must be recognized as sin.
“At the same time,” the statement continues, “we declare our resolve to approach those with homosexual inclinations with the deepest possible Christian love and pastoral concern, in whatever situation they may be living.
The full text of the statement is on the ILC Web site, at www.ilc-online.org.
Participating in the conference were 81 registrants, including 31 leaders of the ILC member churches and their wives, as well as guests and visitors from non-ILC member churches and their wives.
Under the theme of “In Christ: Living Life to the Full,” the conference also featured:
- the election and installation of ILC officers, with Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick re-elected as ILC chairman and Dr. Samuel Nafzger, the LCMS executive director of church relations, reappointed as ILC executive secretary. Also elected were Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium, ILC secretary; Rev. Paulo MoisŽs Nerbas, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, vice chairman; and representatives of five world areas, who serve on the eight-member ILC executive committee.
Those five representatives are Rev. Robert Bugbee, president of Lutheran Church–Canada, for North America; Nerbas, for Latin America; Rev. Hans-Jšrg Voigt, bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (also known by its German acronym, SELK), for Europe; Rev. Christian Ekong, president of The Lutheran Church of Nigeria, for Africa; and Rev. James D. Cerde–ola, president of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, for Asia.
- keynote presentations by Dr. John Eckrich, the founder and executive director of Grace Place Retreats, from St. Louis, and Dr. David J. Ludwig, professor of psychology at Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, N.C., and an LCMS pastor. Their wives, both named Kathy, assisted in the presentations that reflected the conference theme. Those presentations were modeled on Grace Place Retreats workshops that employ biblically-based strategies to help rostered church workers and their spouses — as well as single workers and church-work students — cope with ministry challenges and bolster physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
- reports from ILC officers and other presentations and papers. Dr. Bengt Birgersson, general secretary of the Mission Province in Sweden and Finland, delivered a paper in which he outlined the difficulties of confessional pastors in Scandinavia. For instance, he spoke of regulations of the nearly 7-million-member Church of Sweden that require its pastors to accept the ordination of women and those in same-sex relationships. That makes it virtually impossible for anyone opposed to those stances to serve as a pastor, Birgersson pointed out. The mission province was formed to include those who oppose the state church positions.
Dr. Douglas Rutt of the Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, faculty reported on plans for the fourth ILC World Seminaries Conference, set for June 2-7, 2010, on that seminary’s campus.
Voigt and Nafzger reported on the Wittenberg Project — for which the SELK, the LCMS, and Concordia Publishing House have formed the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg to strengthen the presence of confessional Lutheranism in the city where Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517.
Nafzger provided an update on plans for the 2017 observance of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation that resulted from Luther’s stance.
And Dr. Pilgrim W.K. Lo, who is on the faculty of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong, brought greetings to the ILC conference on behalf of Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation.
- regional sessions, when representatives from the five ILC world regions met together.
- worship, including Sunday services with Seoul-area congregations of the Lutheran Church in Korea (LCK), which hosted the conference.
- excursions that included a visit to a Korean folk village and a tour to the building site of the 28-story skyscraper known as the Martin Luther Building, a project of the LCK where it will lease space to generate income for church operations and growth.
In an editorial he wrote for the October edition of ILC NEWS, Kieschnick cites the organization’s constitution in pointing out that the “expressed purpose” of the ILC “is that member churches ‘share information, study theological questions and concerns together … discuss effective coordinated means of carrying out the mission and ministry of the Church, nurture and strengthen their relationships with each other, and work toward the closest possible joint expression of their faith and confession.'”
“This purpose statement becomes more important,” Kieschnick continued, “in the aftermath of decisions made by a number of church bodies in the world, including some Lutheran church bodies, regarding the topic of same-gender relationships and ordination of homosexual pastors.”
Kieschnick wrote that the ILC’s unanimous adoption of its “Same-Gender Relationships in the Church” statement “will be most helpful in presenting a clear position on this topic on the basis of Holy Scripture. By the grace of God, the ILC will continue to speak the truth in love, bearing witness to the revelation of God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. We thank God for the opportunity to do so under the freedom of the Gospel, with great love, care, and concern for the lost who do not yet know the love of God in Christ our Lord, and the erring who have lost their way in the darkness and despair of sin and guilt.”
Nafzger told Reporter that several leaders of ILC member churches — all from world areas other than North America — asked during the ILC Conference opening session if such a statement would be issued, “since this whole topic has been in the news in recent years, all around the world.”
He indicated that it soon became clear that other church leaders at the conference wanted such a statement, leading to a unanimous decision to prepare one. Three members of the executive committee — Voigt, Bugbee, and Ekong — developed a draft after volunteering for the assignment. The executive committee then made minor edits before presenting the document to the full conference, which led to discussion and other revisions before the church leaders approved the statement unanimously.
“The assembly encouraged ILC member churches to study the statement and make use of it as they see fit in their own situations,” Nafzger said.
He also said he is convinced that the conference’s adoption of the statement “marks the ILC’s maturing. For the first time, the council felt that not only was it possible, but also important, to make a statement on a contemporary development in the world today. It was a good process — everyone participated and was enthusiastic about making this a good statement.”
“As I said to the members of the Council,” Nafzger recalled, “this marks a new stage in the development of this organization, [which] felt that this was the time to speak out on a theological issue under widespread discussion in Christendom today. And it spoke out with a strong, unanimous voice. It wanted its voice heard about this.”
Concerning the 2009 conference, Nafzger said its “strengths” were that it was “designed to provide opportunities for many contacts and talking with one another and to develop ties between the churches in each of the five regions.”
He also credited the Eckriches and Ludwigs, “whose excellent presentations were very well received,” as well as the Lutheran Church in Korea, LCK President Dr. Hyun Sub Um, and that church body’s staff “for all the work they put into being wonderful hosts. It was a great conference.”
The 2009 ILC Conference was the first in a new three-year cycle for the conference — a cycle approved at the 2007 conference in Accra, Ghana. Previously, Council conferences were every two years.
Starting the new cycle were meetings of the five world regions in 2008, followed by this year’s world conference, and then the World Seminaries Conference to be held next year.
The executive committee, which meets yearly, will determine at its Oct. 24-27 meeting in Wittenberg next year the location and host for the 2012 World Conference. Since conferences are usually hosted on a rotating basis according to world areas, the host will be one of the four North America member churches: the LCMS, Lutheran Church–Canada, The American Association of Lutheran Churches, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti.
The International Lutheran Council was formed in 1993 by Lutheran church bodies whose representatives comprised its predecessor organization, the International Lutheran Conference.
Some information for this article was compiled by Rev. Peter Ahlers, president of the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa and editor of the ILC NEWS.
Posted Sept. 30, 2009