By Roger Drinnon
WITTENBERG, Germany — Confessional Lutheran church leaders from every continent except Antarctica discussed burgeoning churches in the global South and East as well as challenges in the West during the International Conference on Confessional Leadership in the 21st Century, held here May 6-7.
Representatives from 41 countries representing 23 million Lutherans worldwide converged at the very cradle of the Reformation not long before 2017, when Lutherans will celebrate the Reformation’s 500th anniversary. Under the theme, “Celebrating the Reformation Rightly: Remembrance, Repentance, Rejoicing,” discussions ranged from the challenges of spreading the Gospel in Western countries to its rapid growth in places like Africa, South America, the Far East and many others. (A video overview is available at video.lcms.org/archives/3091.)
“We have representatives here from Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Cameroon, Cambodia, Malaysia, Peru, Papua New Guinea … all over the world,” said the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS director of Regional Operations for the Office of International Mission and executive secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “And yet, now the work begins for us, as we hope to reach others amid the challenges presented by post-modernity and a rise in paganism.”
Collver said the mission field in the West is a major challenge for confessional Lutherans amid a decline of Christianity in Europe and the U.S.
“As someone coming to Wittenberg for the first time, it is a pleasure for me to see how it is important for our churches to be together, to make our confession known to all, particularly as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation,” said the Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idosa, president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. “This gathering of church leaders is a sign for us to go on to the next 500 years of the Reformation. The Reformation’s message to the world is that, according to the context we are in now, we need to be faithful to the Word of God as we serve God’s people.”
The collaborative event involved coordinated efforts by the ILC, the Selbständige Evangelisch Lutherische Kirche (SELK) and the Missouri Synod, with representatives from the North American Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also participating.
“It was great for our international guests and visitors to be here, to allow them to make connections with one another and get to know each other better,” said the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR).
By working with the Synod president’s office and in keeping with LCMS 2013 Convention Resolution 4-04, the CTCR (chaired by the Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. , president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.); its executive assistant, Jackie Milligan; and Lehenbauer were praised for their efforts in coordinating and organizing the conference. These efforts included assistance with international travel, as some participants had to overcome geographic, bureaucratic and many other barriers to attend.
“This conference is a huge sign of the catholicity of the Lutheran church,” said SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, who also is the ILC’s chairman. “A central theme of this conference is that we confessional Lutherans remember, repent and celebrate the Reformation, and I’m very thankful to be a part of that.”
The ILC is an association of established confessional Lutheran church bodies that proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God.
The conference followed the dedication of the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School here May 3, which the ILC’s executive committee is considering for its new headquarters. Additional information on the conference and related events can be found at: http://www.ilc-online.org/ and http://thewittenbergproject.org.
Roger Drinnon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.
Posted May 14, 2015