By Mathew Block

French Lutherans reelect president

Participants in the EELSF’s 2024 Synodical General Assembly.

FRANCE – The Evangelical Lutheran Church – Synod of France (Église Évangélique Luthérienne – Synode de France – EELSF) held its biennial Synodical General Assembly from May 10-12, 2024 in Châtenay-Malabry and Paris. The theme for the gathering was “First to the Lord,” based on 2 Corinthians 8:5.

EELSF President Gleisson R. Schmidt (front right) and the other elected members of the church’s Synodical Council.

The assembly saw Rev. Dr. Gleisson R. Schmidt reelected to a second term as president. Originally from Brazil, President Schmidt was first elected to lead the church in France in 2020. Rev. Garry V. Heintz was elected to serve as Vice President, succeeding Rev. Philippe Volff who had served in the role since 2012. Élodie Lieby was elected to serve as treasurer, Noëlle Boisnault was reelected as secretary, Jean-Luc Fortmann was elected as assistant to the treasurer, and Justine Volff was elected as assistant to the secretary.

Rev. François Lara of the Saint-Peirre parish in Châtenay-Malabry prepared a series of seven Bible studies on the convention theme, drawing on a study by Wilbert Kreiss entitled: “Living Stones and Faithful Stewards.” The seven studies, which were led by other pastors as Rev. Lara was unable to attend due to health reasons, discussed the consecration of: life; our thoughts; the body; our time; our talents; our goods; and our wealth.

A business session during the EELSF’s Synodical General Assembly.

Among other business, the EELSF’s assembly adopted a resolution calling for the creation of an online centre for theological education; adopted statements touching on sanctity of life issues; considered plans to establish church fellowship with several Lutheran church bodies in Africa; and resolved to seek fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta–ELMDF). The assembly also made plans to mark the 450th anniversary of the Book of Concord in 2027; the 500th anniversary of the Small and Large Catechisms in 2029; and the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030.

SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (second from right) brought greetings from the church in Germany to the EELSF’s Synodical General Assembly.

The church received written greetings from partner churches in Belgium, Canada, Chili, Haiti, and Paraguay. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch—Lutherische Kirche – SELK) brought greetings in person to the assembly.

The final day of the assembly saw participants gather for worship at Saint-Sauveur parish in Paris, during which time members of the Synodical Council were installed. A luncheon followed the service, with final assembly business taking place thereafter.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church – Synod of France is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Corpus Christi joins the ILC

A presentation during 2023’s Corpus Christi Conference in Latvia. Photo: Dr. Samuli Siikavirta.

EUROPE – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has accepted Europe’s Corpus Christi Association into membership as a Recognized Organization.

“It is a pleasure to welcome Corpus Christi into the International Lutheran Council,” said Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, General Secretary of the ILC. “Corpus Christi does remarkable work bringing together young Lutherans from across Europe to study God’s Word and to worship together. May God continue to strengthen the ties between our organizations as together we seek to make the good news of Jesus Christ known.”

Corpus Christi is a Lutheran young adults association first established in Sweden but which has grown to serve young adults from Lutheran churches all across Europe. Its motto is: “For the churchly and biblical renewal of young adults in Europe,” and the association encourages practice of historic Lutheran liturgy and knowledge of Scripture as the foundation of faith.

Rev. Dr. Samuli Siikavirta, chair of Corpus Christi’s board. Photo: Māra Siikavirta.

While Corpus Christi welcomes participants from many Lutheran church bodies in Europe, the association itself is independent. “By becoming a recognized organization of the ILC, we will not lose our independence” noted Rev. Dr. Samuli Siikavirta, Chairman of Corpus Christi’s board, on the decision to seek membership, “but we are making a clear statement that this is the kind of Lutherans that we are. We stand with those who want to hold to the Holy Bible and the Lutheran Confessions.”

 “We look forward to deepening our cooperation in the future,” he continued.

Worship during 2023’s Corpus Christi Conference in Latvia. Photo: Dr. Samuli Siikavirta.

The cornerstone of Corpus Christi’s work is its annual conference, which is held in a different country each year. Today the annual conference attracts approximately 250 participants from 20 countries annually—primarily from Europe but attracting participants also from the Middle East, North America, and South Africa. 2024’s conference is scheduled to welcome a number of participants also from Australia.

This year’s Corpus Christi Conference will take place July 22-26, 2024, in Wittenberg, Germany. Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann of Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) will serve as keynote speaker for the event, discussing the Body of Christ in the manger, on the cross, on the altar, and in the pews. Additional speakers this year include Rev. Sebastian Grünbaum (Finland), Rev. Esko Murto (Finland), and Rev. Dr. Armin Wenz (Germany). Further information on the 2024 conference is available from Corpus Christi’s website here.

Corpus Christi held its first conference in 2009 in Sweden, with young adults from Finland and Norway also attending. From its beginning, the conference has invited speakers from ILC-associated churches to teach at its conferences. As Corpus Christi grew, so did international involvement from the rest of Europe, leading the association to update its governing statutes in 2020 to reflect the international nature of the organization. The board of Corpus Christi today reflects that international character: Rev. Dr. Samuli Siikavirta (Finland); Lukas Johansson (Sweden); Hanna Simojoki (United Kingdom); Jarl Roar Simonsen (Norway); Jordan Tomesch (United States of America); and Rev. Dr. Michael Wenz (Germany).

Planning for 2024’s Corpus Christi Conference in Germany. Photo: Dr. Samuli Siikavirta.

In addition to its annual summer conference, Corpus Christi has begun to host regional conferences in Germany, Finland, and Norway during the winter seasons. Additional regional events are in the planning stages for places like the Balkans and Southern Europe.

Corpus Christi maintains positive relations with a number of church bodies which support its work, including the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF), the Mission Province in Sweden (Missionsprovinsen i Sverige – MPS), and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch—Lutherische Kirche – SELK) in Germany—all member churches of the ILC.

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which 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.

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Kenya’s Lutherans respond to flooding

An emergency shelter for displaced people in Kisumu County, including displaced Lutherans.
An ELCK church devastated by flooding in Kitui.

KENYA – Throughout April and May, Kenya experienced devastating flooding, with more than 300 killed, hundreds more injured, and 300,000 people displaced. And though the initial crisis has receded, Lutherans are still at work, picking up the pieces and ministering to the victims of the disaster.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) reports that more than 20 of their congregations and several schools were affected. Among the dead are three children of Lutheran members in Lopedot. Numerous church members were forced from their homes and forced to seek refuge in government-established emergency shelters. Nor is the ELCK alone in facing the current situation: the Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium of Kenya (ELCMK) has also been seriously affected by the tragedy.

“This is the worst flooding disaster our country has experienced since 1963,” said ELCK Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo. “The water filled lakes and ponds, then started coming onto the land where people live, sweeping everything away: houses, households, livestock, and humans.”

The ELCK’s Lake Diocese provides medical care following flooding.

The church has provided assistance to those affected by the flooding—hosting, for example, medical clinics and distributing clothes and other emergency goods. But the need is greater than the church’s current capacity. “We are still overwhelmed by the situation,” Archbishop Omolo reported. “So many families are in dire need of shelter, food, medication, and clothing, among other basic needs.”  The ELCK invites anyone moved by their plight to contact them if they wish to support their work aiding victims of flooding.

Bishop Titus Okoda of the ELCK’s Lake Diocese baptizes a child born to Lutheran parents seeking refuge during flooding.

In addition to works of mercy, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya is also prioritizing spiritual care for those affected by the flooding. “Natural disasters like this can be so cruel and destructive,” Archbishop Omolo explained. “But it is also true that in the midst of such calamites, we can see and experience God’s protective hand upon His creation. We ask you to join Kenyans in prayer.”

“I encourage Christians everywhere to remember their brothers and sisters in Kenya in prayer,” said Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “May God bless the work of the church in these tragic circumstances, equipping them to reach out with the comfort of Jesus Christ, as well as with practical support for those in need.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of Lutheran church bodies grounded in the authority of Scripture and faithful to the Lutheran confessions. The Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium of Kenya is an observer member in the ILC.

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The ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference in brief

Participants in the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

ARGENTINA – The International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 8th World Seminaries Conference took place June 11-14 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The theme for the conference was “Church and State: Challenges and Opportunities for Seminary Education.”

The ILC’s Seminaries Relations Committee.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Argentina – IELA) served as host for the event, which brought together representatives from the seminaries and theological programs of 21 church bodies in 19 countries, as well as other guests.

The conference featured multiple presentations which engaged the conference theme in different ways. The ILC’s Chairman, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, presented on “Theological Perspectives on Church and State.” Rev. Dr. Jun-Hyun Kim (South Korea) and Rev. Prof. Clécio Schadech (Argentina) gave back-to-back presentations providing historical perspectives on the relationship between church and state and what it means for theological education. Rev. Dr. James A. Kellerman (Canada) addressed the issue of government interference in seminary education. Rev. Dr. Boris Gunjevic (United Kingdom) discussed the challenges surrounding identity and identity politics. Finally, Rev. Dr. P. R. (India) Selvaraj presented on church and state in times of persecution.

The conference also featured a series of shorter sectionals addressing subjects like alternatives to the classical seminary model; training pastors in a small church; teaching the Small Catechism to seminarians; the use of C.S. Lewis’ works in pastoral ministry; and models of online education.

That last topic—online education—was also the subject of a panel discussion during the conference. Rev. Dr. Alexei Streltsov (Russia) first gave a paper on the subject, followed by shorter presentations by Rev. Dr. Ebenezer Boafu (Ghana), Rev. Ted Kray (LCMS – Latin America), Rev. Dr. Tom Park (LCMS – Taiwan), and Rev. Dr. Chris Caughey (United States).

The topic of accreditation was also addressed during the conference, with Dr. Cynthia Lumley (United Kingdom) and ILC General Secretary Klaus Detlev Schulz each presenting. Small group discussion of the issue followed.

A visit to Seminario Concordia, the seminary of the IELA.

The final day of the conference saw discussion of core competencies for pastoral and diaconal education. Rev. Dr. Ron Mudge (USA) presented on the subject, taking participants through an analysis of the curricula and competencies required at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) and Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana).

The conference concluded with a visit to the IELA’s Seminario Concordia, where participants worshipped with the seminary community and joined them for a closing barbeque and entertainment.

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Find more news on the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference here.

2024 World Seminaries Conference draws to a close

Attendees of the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference visit Seminario Concordia.
A visit to Congregación San Pedro in Buenos Aires.

ARGENTINA – The International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) World Seminaries Conference drew to a close on June 14 with a visit to Seminario Concordia.

The afternoon saw participants go on a tour of historic sites in Buenos Aires, before traveling on to Congregación San Pedro, a member church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Argentina – IELA). In addition to visiting the building and receiving information on the history of the church, participants also enjoyed refreshments in the church’s hall after the visit.

The final stop of the day was Seminario Concordia, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina. There conference participants joined the seminary community for a final service of vespers.  IELA President Arturo Truenow preached for this service, and attendees enjoyed two performances by the seminary’s choir.

IELA President Arturo Truenow (right) preaches.

After worship, conference participants toured the seminary, followed by a barbeque banquet featuring live music and a performance by tango dancers.

Live music.
Tango dancers.
ILC General Secretary Schulz (right) thanks President Truenow and his wife for their church’s hospitality.

The conference formally concluded with a few words from Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council, expressing thanks on behalf of the entire conference to IELA President Truenow and his wife, as well as to their church body and seminary for their hospitality over the week.

A final summary report on the World Seminaries Conference will be published in the next few days.

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Find more news on the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference here.

World Seminaries Conference: Core competencies for theological education

Bishop Juhana Pohjola preaches during the final service of matins.

ARGENTINA – The final morning of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2024 World Seminaries Conference turned to a discussion of the competencies necessary for the training of pastors and deaconesses.

The day began with a service of Matins, with the ILC’s Chairman, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, preaching. Following this, the conference heard a presentation from Rev. Dr. Ron Mudge, Provost of Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) on “Core Competencies for Theological Education Leading to Ordination/Deaconess Certification.”

Dr. Mudge stressed Martin Luther’s threefold declaration of what makes a theologian: oratio (prayer), meditatio (meditation), and tentatio (temptation or assaults by the devil). He then turned to an analysis of the competencies which are expected of pastoral graduates by Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) and Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana). He noted that while the two seminaries organize their outcomes differently, “there is a lot of overlap.”

Dr. Mudge explained that in both seminaries the competencies required of pastors fall into three broad categories: “what a pastor should know, be, and do.” He explained the distinctions in this way: “Knowledge might include familiarity with the content of the Bible and the Greek language. When we talk about what a pastor should be, that has to do with his identity and beliefs, for example, his belief that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. When we talk about what a pastor should do, we are talking about skills that apply to the Pastoral Ministry, such as preaching.”

Rev. Dr. Ron Mudge speaks during the 2024 World Seminaries Conference.

Knowing what competences are required is one thing, Dr. Mudge said, but it is equally important that seminaries be able to verify that a student has developed the competencies in question. “It is often easiest to verify knowledge,” he noted, “a bit more difficult to verify skills, and more difficult still to verify identity and beliefs.” Seminaries help students achieve these goals as they “cultivate prayer and meditation on God’s Word” among students, he said, and “give students resources for when the assaults of Satan come.”

Training for deaconesses requires many competencies similar to that of pastoral students. “Deaconesses speak the Gospel and engage in acts of mercy under the supervision of a pastor,” Dr. Mudge explained. “While they have some of the same competencies that a pastor has, these competencies are applied in the specific context of their role as deaconesses.”

Participants received the full list of competencies, outcomes, and performance indicators used by Concordia Seminary and Concordia Theological Seminary in the hope that they might be useful to other seminaries as they evaluate their own theological education. Seminaries must always “strive to make adjustments that will help our students achieve these competencies even better,” Dr. Mudge said. “We also strive to develop ways of verifying that our students have achieved these specific competencies. This is challenging work, and we ask the Lord to give us wisdom, to guide us, and to use our seminaries to provide faithful pastors and deaconesses to serve Him in our world.”

Delegates then enjoyed plenary discussion on the core competencies for the training of pastors and deacons.

The morning closed with feedback on this year’s conference and initial preparation for the next World Seminaries Conference. The convention also recognized the work of translators, the conference chaplain, and organizers who helped to make the conference possible.

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Find more news on the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference here.

World Seminaries Conference: Opportunities and challenges with online education

A panel discusses online education and pastoral formation.

ARGENTINA – The International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) World Seminaries Conference continued during the afternoon of June 13, 2024 with a focus on online education.

Rev. Dr. Alexei Streltsov of the Theological Seminary of Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia introduced the topic with a lecture entitled “Pedagogy: A Reflection on Online Teaching after Covid.”

Dr. Streltsov noted that the pandemic several years ago forced many seminaries to consider online education, if they hadn’t already done so before. He suggested that while online education can indeed be useful, particular care should be taken when using it as part of the education of future pastors.

A key consideration he suggested was whether the training of pastors takes place fully online or only partially, and whether the teaching is provided live or pre-recorded. When online education is a “part of a general classroom experience or when there are select online courses in an otherwise residential program, there may be very few objections,” Dr. Streltsov suggested. But training pastors is about more than just academics; it includes moral and pastoral formation. “Formation of habitus of a seminarian is a very important part of the whole process,” he said. And the building of the seminary community—like a “little church”—provides opportunity for growth together with opportunities for “communication between professors and students outside of the classroom” (as well as between students themselves). And in any seminary program, he said, there must also be “a special emphasis on work with local pastors.”

A panel discussion immediately followed the presentation, with four speakers joining Dr. Streltsov and discussing their experience with online education.

Rev. Dr. Ebenezer Boafu, Principal of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ghana, noted the impetus behind his church’s decision to start an online program was a shortage of pastors. They are now training eligible men for pastoral ministry online, scheduling classes in the evenings to allow them to continue their daily jobs. But there are real challenges, he noted, such as developing relationships between students and enforcing deadlines.

Rev. Ted Kray, Regional Director for Latin America of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), reflected on the online training provided by Concordia the Reformer Seminary in the Dominican Republic. He noted the value of online education, given how people all over the world are increasingly connected online (69 percent of people globally already regularly use the internet online). Concordia the Reformer Seminary is taking advantage of this fact by providing for both online and domestic students, as well as utilizing hybrid models of education.

Rev. Dr. Tom Park, an LCMS missionary to Taiwan, reflected on his experience with online teaching at Concordia University Irvine in the United States of America and Lutheran University in South Korea. He noted the challenge of knowing if students are really connecting with what is being said, the difficulty in fostering interpersonal skills, and the increasingly difficult challenge of determining whether students are cheating during tests or potentially using artificial intelligence programs.

Rev. Dr. Chris Caughey explained how his seminary, the American Lutheran Theological Seminary, moved online much earlier than many other Lutheran institutions. Originally, this was in response to financial needs, but they have found it effective for their needs—and their long experience with online education leaves them feeling confident in its use. Challenges remain, however, like detecting plagiarism as well as the potential use of artificial intelligence programs.

Plenary discussion followed, with participants discussing how best to use online technology to supplement pastoral formation while recognizing its limitations.

Parallel sections

Rev. Dr. Tom Park.
Rev. Sakarias Ingolfsson.

The end of afternoon session saw a series of parallel sessions, with participants able to attend two of the four talks.

Rev. Sakarias Ingolfsson, pastor and professor of AdFontes, gave a presentation entitled “Small Churches Need Good Pastors.” In Scandinavia, there is no confessional Lutheran seminary, Rev. Ingolfsson noted, and there are challenges that would make it difficult to operate one in Norway or Iceland. So how is the church to get pastors?

The Lutheran Church in Norway and Iceland (LKNI) decided to create a supplemental program to prepare students for pastoral formation in the LKNI, while letting the students receive their academic education at another seminary. The supplemental program gathers students weekly for liturgical training, lectionary studies, and topical lectures. Students also participate in field education through the congregation in Oslo, and participate in study trips internationally. Finally, students are required to complete an additional year of exchange studies at a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod or Lutheran Church–Canada.

Rev. Dr. Tom Park, LCMS missionary to Taiwan, spoke on “The Necessity of Teaching Luther’s Small Catechism to Theology Students.” Dr. Park noted that the Small Catechism tends not to be studied in seminaries, presumably because it is considered too elementary. But Martin Luther himself considered it among his most important works, and framed his own devotional life around the catechism.

Dr. Park encouraged seminaries to ensure students study the Small Catechism for their own education and meditation, as well as a way of modeling for future pastors how they should teach the Catechism in their own parishes.

Rev. Dr. Joel Heck.
Rev. Dr. Chris Caughey.

Rev. Dr. Joel Heck, Interim President of Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Canada, gave an address entitled “C.S. Lewis for Pastors.” A noted scholar on C.S. Lewis, Dr. Heck highlighted samples of Lewis’ writing and the different genres in which he worked, indicating how his work combines brilliant logic and remarkable imagination.

He further indicated how pastors might make use of Lewis’ writing in their own parishes, and pointed participants to several resources and tools.

Rev. Dr. Chris Caughey told the story of the American Lutheran Theological Seminary. What began small has grown quite large in recent years, with the seminary currently serving more than 60 students (with 35 students in the pastoral track). Due to its success over many years honing an affordable online confessional Lutheran education, Dr. Caughey said that the seminary is also able to assist church bodies in other parts of the world that are looking for assistance in training their pastors.

Students take a full range of confessional Lutheran theological courses that are offered live online. Students are also required to fulfill a one-year vicarage assignment at a congregation in their own country, but this can be fulfilled over two years in the event a student also needs to work to support their family.

A service of Vespers ended the day, with preaching by Rev. Ted Krey.

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Find more news on the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference here.

ILC World Seminaries Conference: Church and State in times of persecution

Participants in the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference.

ARGENTINA – The third day of the International Lutheran Council’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference saw participants consider the theme of state and church in nations where Christians are the victims of hostility and violence.

The day began with a service of Matins, with Rev. Dr. P. R. Selvaraj preaching. Dr. Selvaraj, who is  Principal of India’s Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil, also served as the first speaker of the day, discussing the challenges facing Christianity in India. “India is a secular country,” Dr. Selvaraj explained, and India’s Constitution “guarantees freedom of religion to all persons in India”—including “freedom of conscience and the right to ‘profess, practice, and propagate’ religion.” But beginning in the 1980s, there arose an ideological movement known as Hindutva, which encourages “the cultural justification of Hindu nationalism and the belief in establishing Hindu hegemony within India.” Proponents of Hindutva desire “to create a Hindu nation” and “eliminate all those factions that do not fit in its grand design.”

For this reason, Hindutva strongly opposes conversion. “The policy of the State is to prevent by law forced or induced religious conversions,” Dr. Selvaraj explained. And “the connotation of ‘inducement for this purpose is quite large.” Measures to prevent conversion from Hinduism to Christianity include anti-conversion laws in a number of states, re-conversion movements, and even violent persecution. “Mobs have vandalized churches, attacked missionary schools, disrupted prayer meetings, and assaulted pastors and practicing Christians, accusing them of forced conversions,” Dr. Selvaraj noted. “Survivors and activists say authorities have failed to investigate these incidents, often filing charges against the victims themselves, turning a blind eye to the violence.”

Rev. Dr. P. R. Selvaraj speaks at the World Seminaries Conference.

Hindutva also takes issue with Christianity for its theological exclusivism… [in contrast to] the notion of a pluralistic and all-inclusive Hinduism,” Dr. Selvaraj said. But even liberal Christianity, which has shifted its articulation to be more inclusive, is still rejected. “To Hindutva proponents, Christianity—with its exclusive claims—falls short of a superior and more tolerant ‘pluralistic Hinduism.’” As such, it is treated as “a threat to communal harmony and peaceful coexistence.”

Ironically, it is Hindutva which truly poses a threat to India’s multicultural society, Dr. Selvaraj suggested, since it seeks “to create a corporate identity” in India “by assimilating or excluding minorities in order to form a monolithic, homogenous Hindu culture.”

Minority groups often bear the brunt of the violence. For example, state laws against the killing of cows—which are sacred in Hinduism—lead to violence against “people working in the cattle trade and people belonging to minority groups, including Muslims, Dalits, or Adivasi communities.” And false claims of forced conversion under duress are frequently used “as a pretext for violence” against Christians, Dr. Selvaraj noted—“particularly against those of vulnerable groups like Dalits, Adivasis, and women.”

“Any Christian who does convert from Hinduism is most likely to come under intense pressure, or even violence,” Dr. Selvaraj continued. “They can face constant pressure to renounce their new faith, face job loss/discrimination, endure physical assaults, and even be murdered. Church leaders are also in danger in many parts of India as extremists target them (along with their families) to create fear and chaos in the Christian community.”

Several Christian groups have suggested responses to political Hinduism, but Dr. Selvaraj suggested it is best to consider these challenges from a Lutheran understanding of church and state. Christians in India should focus on the church “primarily not as an institution but as a communion of saints brought by Word and Sacraments.” This “equips the Church with a unique vision for its mission,” Dr. Selvaraj said. “It provides a vision to transcend narrow particularisms and embrace multiplicity, differences and plurality both within the Church, and to extend the scope of its vision beyond the boundaries of the Church even to reach out to those who hatch hatred against the Church.”

“The Church should not engage in retaliatory ethics in face of Hindutva violence nor aspire for temporal power,” he continued. But “informed by Luther’s two kingdom theory, the Church while maintaining the proper distinction between the state and spiritual authority, should not be silent but offer a critical voice in the midst of injustice, brokenness and oppression.”

“Luther’s Two Realms doctrine would provide a rich resource in this regard, to further strengthen and refine Indian Christian theological voices in responding to the challenges raised by the Hindutva,” he concluded. “Luther’s understanding of God’s left-hand realm and God’s activity in this realm as our Creator God under whom entire human beings, with all their plurality and heterogeneity, share a common humanity is a good starting point.”

Plenary discussion followed the presentation.

Accreditation and ILC Churches

Dr. Cynthia Lumley speaks.
ILC General Secretary Klaus Detlev Schulz speaks.

The rest of the morning was devoted to a discussion of accreditation and its relevance for theological institutions in the International Lutheran Council, a subject upon which delegates had earlier received a written report. Dr. Cynthia Lumley of Westfield House, Cambridge and ILC General Secretary Klaus Detlev Schulz gave brief presentations as a preface to subsequent small-group discussion.

Dr. Lumley introduced the subject, noting that the subject of accreditation was raised during the previous ILC World Seminaries Conference in the Philippines in 2019. In her remarks, Dr. Lumley highlighted the importance of self-evaluation—an important aspect of accreditation processes—as a way of ensuring the continued health of an educational institution. Dr. Lumley went on to sketch what such self-evaluation should look like, explaining how it touches not only on academic matters but also practical aspects of an institution’s operations.

Dr. Schulz explained how the idea of a ILC-led accreditation program was explored following the last World Seminaries Conference, with the ultimate decision made that an ILC accreditation agency should not be pursued at this time. But the process of exploration over the past few years led to the development of helpful reference material that may be used as part of the self-evaluation process by theological institutions in ILC member churches—not as a replacement for national accreditation programs but as a complement, helping to ensure the continued confessional Lutheran nature of individual schools.

The conference then broke into small groups to discuss a series of questions related to accreditation and their schools before reconvening to share their conclusions.

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Find more news on the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference here.

ILC World Seminaries Conference: Identity Politics and the Church

Participants listen to a livestreamed lecture but Rev. Dr. Boris Gunjevic of Westfield House, Cambridge.

ARGENTINA – The World Seminaries Conference continued during the afternoon of June 12 with a presentation on issues surrounding identity and identity politics.

Rev. Dr. Boris Gunjevic of Westfield House, Cambridge (United Kingdom) gave a lecture entitled “Crucifixion of Identity: Resurrection of +”. Dr. Gunjevic gave his talk via livestream.

“Once we were persons,” Dr. Gunjevic began. “Now we are reduced to identities. How did this happen?” Dr. Gunjevic went on to explain the development of the concept of personhood—tracing it from the classical period, through the patristic era, and into the middle ages—vis-à-vis the concept of identity (which was originally just “one aspect of a person”). “Person and identity are intertwined,” Dr. Gunjevic explained, “since person is a metaphysical category and not only a psychological category as we are used to think in late modernity.”

Over time, persons became reduced to “subjects” and then “legal entities simply called ‘corpi’—bodies,” Dr. Gunjevic noted. “Subjects became ‘disciplined bodies’ under authority of the state.” Eventually, we become also the “self.” “The process of transformation of person into subject and subject into self,” Dr. Gunjevic said, “and the process of individual becoming identity… is one process observed from different points of view.”

Dr. Gunjevic is introduced by Dr. Cynthia Lumley.

Contemporary culture diminishes people into identities—both those self-chosen by the individual but also by wider society. “It’s not just how I identify,” he continued, “but also how I am identified by others.”

But the Christian understanding of “identity” is dramatically different, as articulated in Galatians 3:25-29. “The resurrection of Jesus [is] the beginning of a new creation, which is the birth of a new humanity—something that has not been seen before.”

“Paul claims that uniquely distinctive properties”—that is, our “identities”—of being a member of a certain class, sex, race, or social status should be questioned” as a result of “the new creation that is on the eschatological horizon,” Dr. Gunjevic explained. “These identifies are simply deactivated, and we say together with Paul that they should be crucified to be resurrected.”

“There is something very undignified about labeling a human being as an identity, to put him in a box… and then tell them how to perform this identity in life,” Dr. Gunjevic argued. Christians ought not reduce themselves—nor allow themselves to be reduced—to anything less than Paul’s vision in Galatians. “To be crucified with Christ… represents what it means to live from faith to faith,” he said. “It is a slow process of becoming a new unknown identity that is neither more nor less than the refusal of any identity and all forms of identification.”

“In Christ as a new creation, we received the dignity of true uniqueness, of someone who is singular,” Dr. Gunjevic continued. “If I am crucified with Christ and I live in the power of His resurrection this means that I crucify my identity with everything that I called mine.”

In a world which desires to reduce people to identity politics, Dr. Gunjevic encouraged Christians to reject all such identities—and to do so subversively by reclaiming the “+” (or plus) from the initialism “LGBTQ+”. “Instead of being one or other identity, we should choose the +,” he said, “since Jesus was crucified on the +.”

“This + is the cross with which we must identify ourselves,” he continued. “As a Church faithful to preach Law and Gospel, we should reject any form of identity politics, any form of identity. We should accept the position that human sexuality, or any form of social, economic, and political relations should be embraced by the cross and crucifixion.”

“In times when people are possessed with the problem of identity, refusal of any identity is perhaps the only identity that we as Christians can claim,” Dr. Gunjevic concluded.

Plenary discussion touching on Christian anthropology followed.

Regional Reports

Reports from the Africa region.

The afternoon concluded with regional reports from Africa, North America, and Latin America.

Rev. Dr. John Miruka, Deputy Principal of Neema Lutheran College in Kenya, presented a summary on behalf of the African region, noting similar challenges among many members: challenges with accreditation; limited resources; and growing church bodies, requiring increased need for training pastors and deacons. Other participants gave a brief report focusing on their individual institutions: Rev. Dr. Ebenezer Boafo of Ghana’s Lutheran Theological Seminary; Rev. Dr. Heinz Hiestermann, Rector of South Africa’s Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane; Azouma Djougue Yembore, Administrator of the Centre Luthérien d’Études Théologiques in Togo; Rev. Dr. Daniel Mono reporting on plans to open a seminary in his diocese in Tanzania; Rev. Volmir da Rocha, Principal of the Lutheran Theological College Uganda; and Dr. Miruka on Neema Lutheran College in Kenya, along with its Principle, Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo.

Reports from North American seminaries.

North American representatives reported next, with each speaker highlighting challenges and opportunities in their current situation. Commonalities between some of the seminaries included changes in seminary leadership, faculty changeover, and some positive news about student recruitment. Representatives from the United States spoke first: Rev. Dr. Ronald Mudge, Provost of Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri); Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, Professor of Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana); and Rev. Dr. Chris Caughey of the American Lutheran Theological Seminary. Representatives of Canadian seminaries spoke next, including Rev. Dr. James Kellerman of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario) and Rev. Dr. Joel Heck, Interim President of Concordia Lutheran Seminary (Edmonton, Alberta).

Reports from the Latin American region.

The Latin American region presented last, with Rev. Dr. Sergio Schelske, Director of Seminario Concordia in Argentina introducing their region. A written report from Chile was read, with apologies about not being able to attend in person due to another event in their church body. Brazil’s seminary also sent its regrets, as their church body and seminary are still dealing with the effects of devastating flooding in Brazil. The rest of the members reported on their own situations individually: Rev. Rev. Eliezer Mendoza, Director of Instituto Teológico Juan de Frías in Venezuela; Rev. Eugenio Wentzel, Director of the Instituto Biblico Adolfo Dilley in Paraguay; and Rev. Prof Antonio Schimpf of Seminario Concordia in Argentina.

A service of vespers followed, with Rev. Dr. Ebenezer Boafo, Principle of the Lutheran Theological Seminary – Ghana, preaching.

Alternatives to the Classical Seminary

Rev. Dr. Alexei Streltsov.

After supper, participants enjoyed a sectional by Rev. Dr. Alexei Streltsov of the Theological Seminary of Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia. Dr. Streltsov spoke on “Training Pastors in a Post-Christian World: Are there any Alternatives to the Classical Seminary?”

With seminaries in some places in the world becoming less and less viable, Dr. Streltsov suggested it would be wise for Lutheran churches to prepare a “Plan B” to ensure the continued training of pastors in the event traditional residential seminary education becomes impossible. “What do we do when seminaries no longer promote correct doctrine and practice, or if seminaries are no longer viable and have major sustainability issues?” Dr. Streltsov asked. He suggested the answer lies in a master-apprentice model—a model derived from Christ and His own disciples—through which the content of a traditional seminary education might be safeguarded even as the method of delivery changes. In such a system, bishops and pastors could direct the studies of individual students in a “decidedly personal character of preparation for the ministry.”

Such a plan has many positives, he explained, but should be regarded as a secondary option. “Solid and prosperous seminaries doing their work should continue their operations,” Dr. Streltsov said. “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” But for churches in difficult circumstances—in the midst of persecution or in places where residential seminary programs become impossible—the master-apprentice model should be seriously considered.

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Find more news on the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference here.

ILC World Seminaries Conference: Government Interference in Seminary Education

Rev. Dr. James A. Kellerman speaks during the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference.

ARGENTINA – The International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2024 World Seminaries Conference continued during the morning of June 12, addressing the issue of government interference in seminary education.

The morning began with a service of Matins, with Rev. Dr. Jun-Hyun Kim preaching. A lecture followed, with Rev. Dr. James A. Kellerman of Canada’s Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario) speaking. Dr. Kellerman discussed the challenges which face seminaries in terms of government interference. “Yes, seminaries are attacked and closed by governments,” he said. “But such events usually occur under regimes hostile to the idea of freedom of religion.” And even then, it is more common for pastor and members of local congregations to face anti-Christian persecution, not “a seminary located five hundred kilometres away.”

Still, the decline of religiosity and increase in secularization in places like Canada raise concerns for seminary education. Immigration holds back that secularization in part, since many immigrants “are more religious than native-born Canadians,” Dr. Kellerman noted. But their children are generally expected to adopt “secular values and become as indifferent to religion as native-born Canadians are.” With the decline in religion, then, seminaries and religious colleges in Canada continue to decline. “Canada is a perfect storm of secularism,” Dr. Kellerman explained. “Actual practice of religion (and especially Christianity) has sharply declined. Religion plays a small role in post-secondary education and none in politics. And everywhere you turn, you find virulent anti-Christian propaganda.”

Canadian law recognizes religion as a fundamental freedom, including its communal, public, and educational aspects, among others. But the existence of Canada’s notwithstanding clause means governments can theoretically suspend these rights—something notably done in Quebec with its Act Respecting the Laicity of the People, which bans government employees (including teachers) from wearing religious items of clothing, headgear, or jewelry. “The law underscores Quebec’s hostility to religion in the public sphere,” Dr. Kellerman noted, “but it does not directly interfere with church or seminary operations.”

There have also been worrying changes in prominent court cases touching on religious education. In 2001, for example, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that graduates from a teaching education program at Trinity Western University (an Evangelical college) could not be banned by the province. But in 2018, however, the Supreme Court ruled against the same university when it attempted to open a law school, permitting provincial law societies from banning graduates from the program.

Delegates discuss the topic of government interference in seminary education.

A different case ruled that religious schools could not be forced to teach its own faith in an “objective”—which is to say, secular—manner. “Seminaries can take heart,” Dr. Kellerman said. “If even [religious elementary and secondary] schools have the right to teach their faith in a non-neutral manner, how much more seminaries have that right.” Nevertheless, the cases against Trinity Western University in 2018 are a symptom of the religious atmosphere in Canada. Seminaries may not be called “to train students to serve in the public sphere,” he noted, but the rulings “underscore the secularization that the North Atlantic world is experiencing.”

“Seminaries in strongly secular countries do not necessarily face a great threat from direct government interference,” Dr. Kellerman says. But there is danger from other groups that “may have no legal authority but can muster great power.” For example, academic unions protest the right of religious institutions to require faculty to teach in accordance with the institution’s religious beliefs. A prominent union has expressly called on public universities to reject partnerships with any academic institution which requires its faculty to teach in conformity with a religious creed—a real concern for the numerous Christian seminaries in Canada which are housed on the grounds of public universities. So even when government is not actively interfering in seminary education, there may be other forces in the wider culture that threaten them.

“Part of our task as seminaries is to train pastors to guide their flock in a world increasingly hostile to the Christian faith,” Dr. Kellerman concluded.  “But, at the same time, we can rejoice and thank God that extreme secularization has not yet meant the government prevents seminaries from fulfilling their calling.”

Plenary discussion followed, during which seminary representatives discussed other aspects of potential government interference in seminary education around the world.

Asia and Europe report

Rev. Dr. P. R. Selvaraj.
Rev. Dr. Tom Park.

The morning also featured regional reports from representatives in the ILC’s Asia and Europe world regions.

The Asia region went first, with representatives speaking on the state of Lutheran theological education in India, Taiwan, and South Korea. Rev. Dr. P. R. Selvaraj, Principal of India’s Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil, discussed the history and current status of their institution, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Rev. Dr. Tom Park, a theological educator from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, discussed the situation in Taiwan, where confessional Lutherans are exploring establishing their own seminary. And Rev. Dr. Jun-Hyun Kim discussed the growth of the South Korean church’s Luther University.

Dr. Cynthia Lumley, Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov, Rt. Rev. Rinald Grants; Rev. Dr. Gilberto da Silva; Rev. Sakarias Ingolfsson; and Rev. Constantin Subbotin.

The Europe region reported next, with Dr. Cynthia Lumley of Westfield House, Cambridge in England providing a summary report outlining common challenges and opportunities seminaries in Europe are facing. Representatives of each of the six seminaries present then provided additional comment on their own institution’s current status: Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov, Rector of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Russia; Rt. Rev. Rinald Grants of Luther Academy in Latvia; Rev. Dr. Gilberto da Silva of Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Germany; Rev. Sakarias Ingolfsson of AdFontes in Norway and Iceland; Rev. Constantin Subbotin of the Ingrian church’s Theological Institute in Russia; and Dr. Lumley for Westfield House in England.

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Find more news on the ILC’s 2024 World Seminaries Conference here.

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