By Mathew Block and Cheryl Magness
Leaders representing more than 50 confessional Lutheran church bodies and 20 million Lutherans worldwide gathered Sept. 25–28 in Antwerp, Belgium, for the 2018 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
The ILC is a “worldwide association of established confessional Lutheran church bodies” that encourages, strengthens and promotes “confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among member churches and throughout the world” (ilcouncil.org). The LCMS has been a member of the ILC since its beginning.
During the conference, the ILC welcomed 17 new church bodies representing approximately 4.15 million Lutherans across the globe, bringing the total membership to approximately 7.15 million.
The increase more than doubles the number of Lutherans around the world that are associated with the ILC.
Of the new member churches, 10 are from Africa, three from Europe and four from Asia, bringing to 54 the total number of church bodies holding membership in the ILC. Eleven of the new members were received as full members and six as observer members.
Study, reports and prayer
The theme for the 2018 conference was “Ecumenism and Ecclesiology.” ILC delegates adopted a statement on “Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility,” which says in part:
“We are … driven to engage churches outside of the ILC community because we are convinced we have an obligation to share the Gospel of Christ and all its articles — our confessional heritage — with the whole of Christianity.”
The full statement is available at ilcouncil.org.
In addition to the reception of new member church bodies, the 2018 ILC World Conference included:
- Elections to the ILC executive committee, including the re-election of ILC Chairman Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church.
- A commemoration of Johann Esch and Heinrick Voes, Augustinian monks from Antwerp who became the first Lutheran martyrs when they were burned at the stake in Brussels on July 1, 1523.
- A report on the ILC’s 2017 incorporation and the bylaws adopted by the ILC executive committee at that time. The elevation in legal status better equips the ILC, as the bylaws state, “to enable its further growth and development in the worldwide service of Confessional Lutheranism.” The conference voted to accept the bylaws and commend the executive committee for its work.
- A lecture on the conference theme by the Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.
- A report on the ongoing dialogue between the ILC and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
- A presentation on dogmatics by the Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, who noted the publication of a new two-volume dogmatics text from Concordia Publishing House and the LCMS titled Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology.
- A report by ILC Chairman Voigt, who framed his thoughts around the subject of the ILC’s ecumenical relations and the catholicity of the Lutheran church.
Each day of the conference began and ended in prayer.
The second day concluded with a service in Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady. LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison preached a sermon tying the stories of martyrs Esch and Voes back to the work of Luther, to earlier martyrs in the Church and to the great martyr, Christ Himself.
Harrison explained that, in the end, it is the sacrifice of Christ alone — His death and resurrection — that gives meaning to the deaths of all martyrs and the struggles of those who stand firm in the face of suffering and opposition.
After the conference, Harrison noted the importance of the ILC to the growth of global, confessional Lutheranism: “We have found that there are many individuals and groups of confessional and biblical Lutherans in the world who have very few faithful Lutheran friends. The new ILC bylaws allow it to be a place of refuge and encouragement for fidelity to Christ and active mission.
“The mood at the conference was stellar, and we expect much more growth in the future. It is truly an exciting moment globally for the LCMS, the likes of which we have never seen.”
Harrison serves on the ILC’s executive committee, and the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, director of LCMS Church Relations and assistant to the LCMS president, is the ILC general secretary.
Mathew Block (firstname.lastname@example.org) serves as communications manager for the International Lutheran Council.
Posted Oct. 22, 2018