By Roy S. Askins
MILWAUKEE — Five times on Sunday, July 30, delegates of the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) offered a resounding and unanimous acclamation, “Yea, yea! It shall be so,” and then stood to sing the Common Doxology.
The occasion? In response to resolutions presented by Floor Committee (FC) 5 on Church Relations, the LCMS recognized fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan/Sudan (ELCSS/S) and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). The convention then declared fellowship with the Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (ELCU). Finally, the convention recognized the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) in Sri Lanka as a self-governing, full partner church of the LCMS.
“I really think the recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship that the Synod does at conventions is the most important thing that the convention does,” said the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR). “The Scriptures enjoin us — command us — to seek fellowship with other Christians on the basis of the pure doctrine of His Word and the practice of that doctrine.”
Representatives from the churches brought thanksgiving and greetings from their respective church bodies. They affirmed their desire to continue with the LCMS in the bold confession of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
“We are committed to sound confessional Lutheran theology,” said the Rev. Peter Anibati Abia, bishop of the ELCSS/S. “[We are] zealous about sharing the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus and committed to sharing God’s love with those suffering through the works of mercy.”
Many of these church bodies face persecution for their confession of the faith, and they find great comfort in sharing the unity of the Gospel that comes with fellowship. “What a gift to pray for and support each other in the midst of trials and hostility,” said the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the ELMDF. Pohjola has personally experienced this persecution.
The Rev. Serge Maschewski, bishop of the ELCU, reminded the delegates that, even in the midst of great suffering and trial, “Jesus reigns in the midst of His enemies. There is no power that can stand against Him.”
Maschewski also offered special thanks to the LCMS. He presented LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison with a pitted and damaged helmet. The LCMS had purchased the helmet and other equipment like it to protect ELCU pastors as they serve their members in Ukrainian war zones, where many ELCU congregations are located.
The helmet saved Maschewski’s life when a convoy in which he was traveling was attacked. Two of the vehicles in the convoy were destroyed. The helmet also saved the life of another one of his colleagues later in the war. Harrison promised to include the helmet in the LCMS’ historical exhibit.
Many churches around the globe face the persecution of oppressive cultural influences. The Rev. Charles Bameka, national presiding bishop of the LCU, thanked the LCMS for partnership in the Gospel. He also asked the LCMS to continue to stand with the LCU “in promoting the biblical truths and teachings relating to evolution, women’s ordination, racism, homosexuality, euthanasia, bestiality [and] LGBTQIA+ perversions, as well as all other biblical practices and errors popping up in this era around the world.”
The declaration of fellowship also offers the LCMS opportunities to learn from — and be encouraged by — the Synod’s partners around the world. It reminds the church that she does not stand alone but with faithful brothers and sisters in the bold confession of Christ crucified.
The Synod in convention has several routes for declaring fellowship with another church body. Delegates may choose to ratify a previous declaration of fellowship made by the LCMS president in consultation with the CTCR, as with the ELCSS/S and the ELMDF. Or, as with the ELCU and the LCU, the convention may declare fellowship at the request of the CTCR. Finally, the convention may also acknowledge that a “daughter church” has become a “sister church.”
The final resolution put forward by FC 5 took this route by acknowledging the CELC in Sri Lanka as a full partner in the proclamation of the Gospel. The Rev. Steven Mahlburg, LCMS missionary to Sri Lanka, offered greetings and thanksgiving from the Rev. Arumanayagam Arulchelvan, bishop of the CELC.
“We are filled with gratitude as we express our sincere appreciation to President Harrison, the esteemed delegates at this convention and the entire LCMS for welcoming us into the unity of faith,” Mahlburg read on behalf of Arulchelvan. “Let us remain united in faith and love, knowing that Jesus … is with us always.”
“[The declaration of fellowship is] a magnificent point in the life of a former Missouri Synod mission and partner church,” Harrison said. “It’s also significant for us, because all of these individuals significantly increase the capacity of the Missouri Synod to reach out globally and also to reach people who speak those languages and have those ethnicities in the United States. It’s a blessing.”
2023 LCMS convention — Focus on church fellowship
A panel of leaders representing the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations and the LCMS Office of International Mission discusses church fellowship and alliance missionaries.View video
Posted July 31, 2023
2023 LCMS Convention
Under the theme “We Preach Christ Crucified,” the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod met July 28–Aug. 3, 2023, at the Baird Center in Milwaukee.
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