By Roland Lovstad
“Confessional Lutheran Identity in the Light of Changing Christian Demographics” was the theme as 65 seminary professors and representatives from 24 countries met June 3-6 at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, for the fourth World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
Recognizing that the Christian population is growing most rapidly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the theological educators focused on preparing and collaborating in the training of pastors and church workers.
“This timely meeting brought together theological educators from all continents to start working together to propose strategies for meeting this great challenge,” said Dr. Douglas Rutt, an associate professor at the Fort Wayne seminary and conference organizer.
Attendance at the plenary sessions reached 180 as the ILC participants were joined by participants in the Confessional Leadership Conference and the LCMS Theology Professors Conference, which also were meeting in Fort Wayne.
In a keynote presentation, Dr. Philip Jenkins, professor of humanities with the department of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., described how the majority of Christian population has shifted from Europe and North America. He also discussed how cultures and economics affect attitudes toward the Bible and Christian life. Jenkins also is Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
In a second keynote presentation, Dr. Erní Seibert, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil and director for communication with the Brazil Bible Society, explored the implications of changing demographics for confessional Lutheran identity. He emphasized that Lutheran identity must place more emphasis on “grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone,” while organizational, historical and cultural background becomes less important.
Presenters from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America also spoke to the topic from the context of their own experiences.
“In my opinion, it was a very successful conference and accomplished the purpose of the ILC in sponsoring these conferences — namely to promote confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among member churches and throughout the world,” said Dr. Samuel Nafzger, ILC executive director.
The conference was supported by a grant to the ILC from the Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation. The ILC includes 34 Lutheran church bodies worldwide.
Organized by the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, the International Confessional Leadership Conference sought to assess confessional Lutheranism and strengthen relationships among church bodies committed to a strong confessional and biblical witness. It was supported by a grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
Among the 20 participants of the June 2-6 Confessional Leadership Conference were representatives from ILC member church bodies, as well as other church bodies and groups such as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland, and two pastors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) who have expressed disagreement with recent ELCA decisions on same-gender relationships.
Eighty-nine theology professors from both LCMS seminaries and the 10 Concordia colleges and universities attended the June 2-4 LCMS Theology Professors Conference, where they heard scholarly presentations, discussed educational developments, and explored the implications of global Christianity for theological instruction in the United States.
“These few days provided a rare and historic opportunity for Lutheran leaders from around the world to address a critical topic and to establish and strengthen mutually-beneficial relationships,” said Dr. Glen Thomas, executive director of the LCMS Board for Pastoral Education. “Our LCMS theology professors deeply appreciated the opportunity to participate.”
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Posted June 10, 2010