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Flung to the Heedless Winds

The martyrdom of Jan van Essen and Hendrik Voes. Image: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

BELGIUM – July 1, 2023 marks the 500th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jan van Essen and Hendrik Voes (Vos) in Antwerp, Belgium—the first Lutheran martyrs of the Reformation. In the following article, President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België – ELKB) reflects on how the Reformation came to Antwerp and the events surrounding the death of Essen and Voes.


July 1, 1523: 500 years since the first martyrs of the Reformation

by Gijsbertus van Hattem

The Reformation in Antwerp

On September 2, 1566—almost 50 years after the start of the Reformation on October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed his theses on and against indulgences to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg—the first Lutheran Church was officially organized in Antwerp.

This does not mean that there were no Protestants or, more specifically, no Lutherans in Antwerp during these 50 years. Antwerp was a thriving city and, at the time, after Paris the largest European metropolis north of the Alps, with around one hundred thousand inhabitants. Also, because of its contacts with the Hanseatic League (a trade organization of cities in north and north-west Europe), merchants of many nationalities lived in Antwerp.

Almost immediately after the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, his ideas were circulating in Antwerp among the brothers of his own Augustinian order, whose monastery was located where today the St. Andrew’s Church stands (successor of the former monastery church). This monastery was founded in 1513, on grounds given by the Antwerp citizens Joost Hoens and Marcus Mussche, and had strong ties with Wittenberg. Jacob Praepositus, the prior, had been a student of Luther’s before he returned to Antwerp in 1521. Other well-known names are those of Hendrik van Zutphen, who also studied at Wittenberg, Hendrik Voes (or Vos), and Jan van Essen, and several others. They openly advocated the Reformation ideas and spoke against false doctrines and practices in the Catholic Church. Many citizens accepted the new teachings. And then of course there were the influential German merchants who controlled a large share of the trade in Antwerp and played an important role in bringing the Reformation to the Low Countries. This all contributed to the presence of a fairly large community of Lutherans in the early 1520s. The reaction of the government came without delay, and soon the first heretics would be burned at the stake.

The so-called Low Countries or the Netherlands were part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation of Charles V (1500–1558). Antwerp belonged, like Brussels, to Brabant. Charles V was not in favor of the new ideas which were being disseminated throughout his empire. In April 1521, at the Diet in Worms, Luther was outlawed. Throughout the entire empire, actions against the Reformation were also being undertaken, with the emperor issuing laws against the heretics—the so-called ketterplakkaten (edicts against the heretic)—and fostering the Inquisition.

Luther’s song “Ein neues Lied wir heben an.”

The consequences were soon also felt in Antwerp. The monastery of the Augustinians was demolished in October 1522. That same year, Praepositus was imprisoned, but recanted, changed his mind again, and managed then to flee the city to become a pastor in Bremen. The same happened to Van Zutphen, the new prior, who also escaped. However, Hendrik Voes and Jan van Essen were imprisoned, refused to recant, and on July 1, 1523 were burned at the stake at the Grote Markt in Brussels. They are considered the first two Lutheran martyrs. When Luther heard about the executions, he wrote a comforting “Letter to the Christians in the Low Countries” and composed the hymn “Ein neues Lied wir heben an” (“A New Song Be By Us Begun”).

A paraphrase of a small portion of the song is known in English as “Flung to the Heedless Winds” (TLH 259). The first verse of that paraphrase reads:

Flung to the heedless winds
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs’ ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.
And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed
Of witnesses for God.


Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem is President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium. The article above is selected and adapted from his 2018 book 450 Jaar Lutheran Church in Antwerp, which recounts the history of the Reformation in Antwerp in both English and Dutch (Flemish).

European Lutheran Conference: Sharing Hope in Times of Fear

Some of the participants in the 2021 European Lutheran Conference.

EUROPE – The 26th European Lutheran Conference (ELC) was held online from June 2-4, 2021, following a year’s delay due to the pandemic. Participants gathered under the theme “Sharing Hope in Times of Fear.”

The conference featured three keynote presentations: Rev. Sebastian Gruenbaum of Finland presented on “Living in My Generation: Hopes and Threats of Our Time in the Light of Christ’s Word;” Rev. Dr. Christian Neddens of Germany spoke on “Living with Hope in Daily Life: How the Christian Faith Shapes Our Actions and Witnessing to Our Generation;” and Rev. Dr. Asger Christian Hoejlund of Denmark lectured on “Hope as Drawn from Martin Luther’s Writings of 1520.”

“The presentations stimulated lots of discussion,” noted Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who participated in the event. In addition to the pandemic, he said, topics of discussion included personalities, the Last Judgement, looking to the future with fear or love, and the question of whether society is becoming increasingly intolerant. “It occurred to me that our conference theme is applicable all the time and not just in a pandemic,” Chairman Samiec continued, “because our world is full of mishap and mayhem, sudden death and chronic conditions where injustice and the grave seem to have the last word. Jesus has a message for all time because His love can cast out fear (1 John 4:18).”

The conference also featured morning and evening devotions, reports from member churches, group discussions of presentations, and the writing of a paper on the conference theme.

The next conference is set to take place in 2023 in Aarhus, Denmark. The Executive Committee members for that event are the same as for 2021’s: Rev. Klaus Pahlen of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch—Lutherische Kirche – SELK) will serve as ELC President; President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (Den evangelisk-lutherske Frikirke i Danmark – ELFD) will serve as ELC Vice President; and Rev. Claudio Flor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England will serve as ELC Secretary.

The ELC is an association of Confessional Lutheran church bodies in Europe. Delegates at this year’s conference included representatives of member churches in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, all of whom are also members of the International Lutheran Council. The event also saw guests from churches in the Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, and Switzerland.

Additional information on the European Lutheran Conference is available on their website at:


COVID-19 and ILC churches in Argentina, Belgium, and South Sudan

Choir members of Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Bahía Blanca (Buenos Aires, Argentina) sing “Yo sé que vive el Salvador” (I know that my Redeemer Lives) for online Easter celebrations in this YouTube video.

WORLD – Member churches of the International Lutheran Council continue to reach out with the good news of the Gospel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this article, we highlight the situation facing ILC member churches in Argentina, Belgium, and South Sudan.


Argentina has reported 2,669 cases of COVID-19 so far, with 123 deaths. The country has been in lockdown since March 20, with the general public allowed to leave their homes only to buy food or medicine.

As church services are currently prohibited, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Argentina – IELA) has responded by equipping members for home devotions. Pastors are offering resources ranging from written liturgy and sermon, to audio, to video. Many churches are livestreaming services for members, or uploading them to YouTube. During the week, several churches are also hosting Bible studies on Facebook or other platforms.

“We emphasize communication among our members as a way to care for and sustain ourselves in this difficult time,” explains IELA Pastor President Arturo E. Truenow. Pastors are using phone and video calls to provide spiritual support. In cases of dire need, pastors are currently allowed to visit a member’s home.

The IELA is providing various resources for members through its website. There members can find brief devotionals, Bible studies, and free access to the church’s national magazine El Nuevo Luterano. The church has also issued an internal document to pastors and parishes reporting IELA board decisions regarding the COVID-19 crisis

The church’s seminary has moved education online, as have the IELA’s ten schools. The church schools, however, are facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic and are struggling to pay wages for teachers and administrative staff.

The many challenges in this situation should lead us back to God in prayer, says Pastor President Truenow. “We continue to pray that God will soon free us from this pandemic, and, in the meantime, keep us firm in the faith, take care of us, and assist us in caring for others.”



Belgium has been particularly hit hard with COVID-19, with one of the highest reported death rates for the disease in the world. More than 36,138 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country, with 5,163 deaths. Belgium has been in lockdown since March 18, and containment measures are scheduled to last at least until the beginning of May.

ELKB President van Hattem brings Easter greetings to members of the church online.

In the midst of the crisis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België – ELKB) continues to reach out with the good news of the Gospel, making devotions, liturgy, and video of worship services available online.

In a letter to the church, ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem reflected on the meaning of the word “quarantine.” The word, he explains, originally refered to a 40-day period of isolation following the arrival of ships in Venice around the 15th century. “The number forty plays a major role in the Bible” too, President van Hattem notes: forty days and nights of rain during the Flood; forty years in the desert for the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land; forty days of temptation for Jesus in the garden; forty days of post-resurrection appearances by Jesus before His ascension into heaven. And Lent, drawn from these biblical examples, is likewise a season forty days in length.

“In the Bible, the number forty represents a change, a preparation time for something else or something new, something better,” President van Hattem writes. “In the current quarantine, we naturally hope that afterwards the COVID-19 virus will be manageable.” But there may be other changes too, he says: challenges like economic stagnation, yes, but also environmental healing, air-quality improvements, and reduced crime.

President van Hattem encourages the members of the ELKB to also use the figurative “forty days” of the COVID-19 quarantine for spiritual change as well. “In these forty days of Lent, an additional time to reflect is given to us,” he writes, “to reflect on the future of our earth, on our relationship with God and with those around us. By spending more time at home, we all of a sudden have more time to read God’s Word.”

“The churches are still closed for the time being—we are in the desert,” he says. “But the churches will open again—the promised land lays ahead. And then we will thank and praise God with renewed courage and faith, and again receive His Word and Sacrament.”


South Sudan

The country of South Sudan currently reports four cases of COVID-19. But the nation has limited medical resources, and so there are concerns that an outbreak in the region could be particularly deadly. To curb the spread of disease, South Sudan enacted containment measures even before confirmation of the virus in the country.

SSELC Bishop Nathaniel Bol Nyok

The South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church (SSELC) is facing substantial difficulties in ministering to its members as a result of the crisis. “Technology is still a nightmare in most areas,” notes SSELC Bishop Nathaniel Bol Nyok. “Lack of technology has made it impossible for the church to provide online worship services as is being done in countries with better internet.”

Pastors continue to minister to parishioners as they are able, while observing social distancing. Those with cellphones are also being ministered to in this way.

“Despite all this, Christ is risen and He is alive, and there is nothing that can separate us from the love and care of the risen Lord Jesus Christ,” encourages Bishop Nyok. “He is a conqueror who, through His death and resurrection, has conquered everything—including COVID-19. Christ has liberated us from fear because we live and die in Him.”

“It is my prayer that the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by His grace, mercy, and love for His Church and for the whole human race, will bring this pandemic to an end quickly,” he says.


For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

ILC World Conference draws to a close, issues statement on ecumenism

LCSA Bishop Modise Maragelo preaches during matins.

BELGIUM – The final day of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2018 World Conference opened with a service of matins in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Antwerp. Bishop Modise Maragelo of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa preached for the service, looking forward to the commemoration of St. Michael and all Angels on September 30. Rev. Timothy Quill served as liturgist.

Following matins, Rev. Milton Huatuco, outgoing President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Peru, presented a study on Latin American Lutheranism and ecumenism. His report highlighted how local context affect the ecumenical efforts. In Latin America, for example, he noted that Lutherans make up only 0.15 percent of the Latin American population, making Lutherans a small player on the ecumenical scene. Likewise, historic persecution of Protestants make some groups skeptical of rapprochement with Roman Catholics, the major Christian church in Latin America. Intra-Lutheran discussions, however, have been a fruitful ecumenical project, especially in Brazil and Argentina.

Outgoing President Milton Huatuco of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Peru leads a study on Lutheran ecumenism in Latin America.

The morning session saw greetings to the ILC from Bishop Mark Lieschke, on behalf of Bishop John Henderson and the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). The LCA is preparing for its triennial convention, which is scheduled for the coming week. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt thanked Bishop Lieschke for his remarks, and offered his prayers that God would bless the LCA and send His Holy Spirit to guide them during their forthcoming convention.

Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church of Norway (LKN) reported on Concordia Israel, a recent project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) undertaken in partnership with the LKN. Concordia Israel provides Lutheran education for the evangelical Lutheran church in Israel, including support for pilgrim trips and study tours to Israel; Lutheran education to congregations and congregation members in Israel; and online theological university training.

Later in the day, the convention voted to receive the invitation from the ELCIR and LKN to host the 2021 World Conference of the ILC in Israel, directing the Executive Committee to explore the feasibility of the proposal. In the event the location proves too difficult to arrange, the Executive Committee was authorized to select another location for the 2021 World Conference.

Ecumenism in the Confessions, Ecumenism in Practice

A highlight of the final day’s session was a report on the International Lutheran Council’s informal international dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). Rev. Dr. Werner Klän, who serves as the Lutheran co-chairman of the dialogue, addressed the convention on the work accomplished over the past several years. He noted that the initial idea for dialogue came from the Roman Catholic side, leading eventually to discussions in Rome in 2013, a preperatory meeting in 2014, and finally the official beginning of the dialogue group in 2015.

The most recent round in the ILC-PCPCU’s informal international dialogue took place September 17-21 in Bleckmar, Germany. A report on those discussions will be published online by the ILC soon. The concluding meeting of the current round of discussions is scheduled for 2019, at which time the dialogue group will present a final report summarizing their findings and making recommendations to the ILC and the PCPCU about future possibilities for continued dialogue.

Professors Roa and Klän answer questions on their respective presentations to the ILC World Conference.

Following Dr. Klän’s report, Rev. Wilando Roa presented the convention’s final lecture on its theme of ecumenism and ecclesiology. In his talk, Rev. Roa explored the Lutheran Confessions as the basis for faithful dialogue with other Christians. The conclusion of his lecture provided a roadmap for future ecumenical opportunities, noting that “those closest to us in the household of faith… deserve our first attention.” To that end, he encouraged member churches of the ILC to initially focus their ecumenical efforts inwards—working with those estranged in our own denominations—before moving outward: first by seeking greater dialogue with partner churches; then dialoguing with church bodies no longer in fellowship with us; then looking to other Lutheran churches; and finally looking out to groups outside the Lutheran tradition.

Later in the day, the convention distilled some of the week’s discussions of ecumenism and adopted a brief statement on “Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Responsibility.” Read the full statement here.

Putting that ecumenical concern into practice, the convention also adopted a resolution on ILC relations with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), noting that “the ILC Executive Committee remains open to conversation with the LWF Council to help clarify points of confusion and to facilitate an ongoing exchange of information.” The full resolution is available to download here. The 2018 resolution reaffirms the position on dual membership in the ILC and LWF first taken at the 2007 World Conference in Accra, Ghana (see the 2007 resolution here).

Closing Service and the Installation of the Executive Committee

LCC President Timothy Teuscher preaches the final sermon of the 2018 World Conference.

The convention concluded with a final service of evening prayer, with President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium serving as lector and Rev. Timothy Quill as liturgist. Serving as cantor and organist this day, as every day of the conference, was Matthew Machemer.

As with matins earlier, the service of evening prayer f focused on biblical texts surrounding the ministry of angels, with President Timothy Teuscher of Lutheran Church–Canada preaching. The passage under discussion focused on the angels’ conflict with the devil. Because that ancient serpent is the father of lies, President Teuscher noted, one of the most important weapons of the angels is the Sword of Truth, the Word of God—and this is a weapon that we too are called to wield against the devil’s lies. It is natural that angels should adopt such a weapon, President Teuscher explained, since the very meaning of their name—“angel”—is “messenger.” And the message they proclaim is Christ, God incarnate and Saviour of the world.

The service concluded with the rite of installation for the newly elected and appointed members of the International Lutheran Council’s Executive Committee.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC Executive Secretary, installs the officers of the new triennium’s Executive Committee. (Photo: S. van Hattem).


ILC World Conference: Martyrdom and Ecumenism

ELMDF Bishop Risto Soramies preaches during matins.

BELGIUM  – The second day of the ILC’s 2018 World Conference (September 26) began with a service of matins and a commemoration of the martyrs Johann Esch and Heinrick Voes. Esch and Voes were Augustinian monks who had converted to Lutheranism along with the rest of their monastery in Antwerp. For this crime, Esch and Voes would become the first Lutheran martyrs when they were burned at the stake in Brussels on July 1, 1523.

Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) preached for the service, reflecting both on the Belgian martyrs Esch and Voes and the lesser sufferings we too face as Christians. “Most of us bear lighter crosses than brothers Johann and Heinrich,” he noted. “Nevertheless the enemy of our souls is trying and tempting us in many ways. But we do not have to resign and grow weary or even be sad or sorry. Through Jesus we are God’s people, beloved, forgiven and upon us rests God’s glory, hidden to human eyes, including ours, but seen by the angels.

“Therefore,” he concluded, “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

The message took on particular poignancy for those who know Bishop Soramies’ own story: he, along with several other pastors in the ELMDF, were defrocked by the state church in Finland as a result of their faithfulness to the authority of Scripture.

The service was held in Antwerp’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Following matins, Rev. Isaiah Obare of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya presented a Bible study delving deeper into the subject of martyrdom.

Confessional Ecumenism in history and in the current moment

During the morning, the conference heard 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 themselves state, “to enable its further growth and development in the worldwide service of Confessional Lutheranism.” Later in the afternoon, the conference voted to accept the bylaws and commend the Executive Committee for their work.

Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast presents on the history of fellowship talks in the LCMS.

The morning also featured the next lecture on the theme of “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast (President, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana), gave a lecture entitled “Turning Points – A History of the Fellowship Issue in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.” Dr. Rast examined the history of the LCMS’ approach to ecumenical relationships with others Lutherans, noting that its twin desire “to avoid both separatism/schism and unionism/syncretism” manifested itself in different ways in different contexts.

“How we determine or assess agreement in confession with other church bodies can vary from situation to situation,” he explained. “Given the vastly different situations that are increasingly encountered in today’s ecclesial context, it seems necessary and appropriate to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach and instead develop different ways of assessing agreement that are appropriate to the church body or group in question.” To that end, Dr. Rast invited conference attendees to discuss how the churches of the ILC might: (1) better appreciate the relevance of each church’s individual histories in inter-church discussions; (2) identify appropriate modes for assessing confessional agreement in different contexts; (3) consider different procedures by which altar and pulpit fellowship might be declared between churches; (4) examine the relationship between public confession and public membership in a church body; and (5) consider how we might relate to confessional groups within larger church bodies.

Delegates considered these questions in smaller World Region groups, with spokesmen sharing some of the results of their discussions with the wider conference afterwards.

ILC Growth and Dogmatics Presentation

The most prominent piece of business in the afternoon was the reception of new members into the International Lutheran Council. In total, the ILC voted to receive seventeen new church bodies as members, representing 4.15 million Lutherans across the globe (full story here).

Dr. Bruce Kintz of Concordia Publishing House and Dr. Samuel Nafzger show the new dogmatics series from the LCMS.

Later in the afternoon, Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger spoke on the subject of dogmatics, noting the publication of a new two-volume dogmatics text from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod entitled Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology (published by Concordia Publishing House). Dr. Nafzger, who is editor of the series, formerly served as Executive Secretary of the ILC from 1993-2011. He also served as LCMS as director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations from 1974-2008.

In his lecture, Dr. Nafzger outlined the multi-decade development of the series and detailed the “building blocks” approach which frames the book. Each chapter considers its subject from a variety of viewpoints, including its Scriptural Foundation and Confessional Witness, a Systematic Formulation, Historical and Contemporary Developments, and its Implications for Life and Ministry.

Every participant in the ILC’s 2018 World Conference will receive a copy of the new dogmatics series.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt gives his report.

The convention also heard the report of ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, who framed his thoughts around the subject of the ILC’s ecumenical relations and the catholicity of the Lutheran Church. “Ecumenism and catholicity matter to us strongly,” he said. Drawing on the definition provided by Vincent of Lérins as adapted in the Lutheran tradition, Chairman Voigt defined catholicity as that which has been believed always, everywhere, and by all on the basis of Scripture. This understanding of catholicity gives us a platform for a “rightly understood ecumenism.” And because we have a

solid grounding in the Scriptures and the Confessions, he said, “we are strong enough to be open to ecumenical dialogue in our day.”

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to regional meetings, and reports from World Areas, with the conference hearing reports from Asia, Africa, and North America.

A return to martyrdom

LCMS President Matthew Harrison prays in preparation before giving his sermon.

The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium.

The day ended, as it began, with a service reflecting on martyrdom. LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison preached a sermon reflecting on the martyrs Esch and Voes, tying their stories back to the work of Luther, to earlier martyrs in the Church, and finally to the great Martyr, Christ Himself. In the end, President Harrison explained, it is the sacrifice of Christ alone—His death and resurrection—which gives meaning to the deaths of all the other martyrs and to our own struggles to stand firm in suffering and opposition. For it is by the blood of Christ that we are saved.

The service was held in Antwerp’s Cathedral of our Lady, a place “touched by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation,” noted Vicar General Bruno Aerts, who welcomed the ILC to the church on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antwerp. The building was subject to major iconoclastic attacks and destruction in 1566 by Calvinist iconoclasts. The church today is celebrated for its artistic beauty, including three major pieces by Peter Paul Rubens completed in the early 17th century.

President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium served as lector, while the organist and choir of the cathedral provided musical accompaniment for the service.


ILC 2018 World Conference opens in Antwerp, Belgium

Our Lady’s Chapel at the Elzenveld, site of the opening worship service of the International Lutheran Council’s 26th (11th) World Conference.

BELGIUM – The 26th (11th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) opened the morning of September 25, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium. The event also marks the 25th anniversary of the ILC in its current form. The conference runs until September 28.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt preaches during the opening service of the International Lutheran Council’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

An opening service was held in Our Lady’s Chapel, a fifteenth century chapel of the medieval St. Elizabeth convent (now the Elzenveld Hotel and Conference Centre). ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church) served as preacher for the service, with Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (ILC Executive Secretary) serving as liturgist.

Following the service, the ILC received greetings from several local political and ecclesiastical dignitaries, including Antwerp’s Mayor, Bart De Wever; Antwerp’s Vice-Mayor of Culture and Religion, Jan Rombouts; Vicar General Bruno Aerts on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antwerp; and Chairman John van der Dussen of the Antwerp Council of Churches.

Each was presented with a copy of the book 450 Years – Lutheran Church in Antwerp: 1566-1586 and Beyond, a new history by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium. It details in both Flemish and English the early history of Lutheranism in Belgium.

Ecclesiology and Ecumenism

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver speaks on ecumenism.

The morning of the first day of the ILC’s 2018 World Conference focused on a discussion of the convention theme: “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” Dr. Collver introduced the topic, joined by Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Professor of Systematic Theology and Confessional Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana).

In his remarks, Dr. Collver noted that the very first meeting of the group that would become the ILC likewise focused on the topic of church fellowship. The 2018 convention’s focus on ecclesiology and ecumenism is therefore a return to a discussion that has been ongoing for decades.

He went on to note that the first arrest of Lutherans took place 497 years ago this week in Antwerp. Two years later, the first Lutheran martyrs—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—were burned at the stake in Antwerp. And yet the opening of the ILC World Conference in 2018 saw greetings from the local Roman Catholic Archdiocese. So too the ILC has for several years been participating in an informal international dialogue group with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “Times have changed,” Dr. Collver reflected, “yet our Confessions remain the same.”

Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler continues the introduction of the convention theme.

Dr. Ziegler continued the discussion, noting that a confessional Lutheran understanding of ecumenism begins first by remembering the unity of Christ’s body which already exists, and recognizing that spiritual reality to be the work of God and not man. From that foundation, he turned to a discussion of the seventh article of the Augsburg Confession, unpacking what it means for the unity of the visible church to be dependent on the Gospel being taught purely and the sacraments rightly administered. Dr. Ziegler outlined four different interpretations of this article, ultimately arguing that agreement on the Gospel and the sacraments includes agreement not only on the teachings of the Confessions but also in all teachings of Holy Scripture.

Beginning from such a point, confessional Lutheran ecumenism seeks to determine what schisms in the church are justified (as a rejection of errant doctrine) and which are unjustified (where people prefer one human tradition over another), while ultimately seeking resolution to both forms of division through: the preaching of the Gospel in its fullness, seeking opportunities to speak with one another through the work of groups like the ILC, praying for the unity of the Church, and working to preserve unity in our own individual church bodies. At its heart, confessional Lutheran ecumenism is grounded in both truth and love, Dr. Ziegler said: “Love and truth belong together,” he explained. Both are necessary “in our striving for unity.”

The theme will be further unpacked through three keynote lectures over the next days of the conference.

Growing to meet the needs of confessional Lutherans worldwide

Work in the afternoon was overshadowed in part by the report of a fire in the tower of a Lutheran church in Latvia. ILC Chairman Voigt led the World Council in prayer for the affected congregation and community.

The afternoon featured the report of the ILC’s Executive Secretary, who traced the history of the ILC from earlier confessional Lutheran inter-church assemblies in the 19th century down to the present day, where the ILC is celebrating 25 years in its current form. “In 25 years, much has remained the same about the ILC,” noted Dr. Collver in his report, “particularly the ILC’s commitment to the inspired, inerrant Word of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and unreserved acceptance of the Lutheran Confessions found in the Book of Concord.” But one thing that has changed, he noted, is ever-growing interest in the work of the ILC by Lutheran churches around the world.

“Back in 1993 when the ILC was formed, it represented approximately four million Lutherans worldwide,” Dr. Collver noted. By contrast, he said, the current gathering in Belgium “has church leaders in attendance representing around 20 million Lutherans worldwide.” That number includes current member churches, 19 churches currently seeking membership in the ILC, and church bodies represented at the conference which are not yet seeking membership in the ILC, but whose leaders have grown close to the ILC in recent years as a result of the organization’s defense of the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

President Antonio Reyes of The Lutheran Church of the Philippines preaches during vespers.

The ILC is expanding its capacity to meet the growing interest and needs of confessional Lutherans around the world, Dr. Collver noted. Some of these initiatives—the formalization of the ILC’s legal status, for example, and the Lutheran Leadership Development Program—will be discussed in greater detail over the coming days.

Other business attended to in the afternoon of the first day of the conference included initial votes on the acceptance of new members to the ILC, World Region breakout sessions, and the report of the European World Region.

ILC Chairman Voigt (left) greets the publication of a new history of Lutheranism in Antwerp, following an introduction by Dr. Guido Marnef (centre). The book was written by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (right).

The day’s business closed with Vespers, held in the historic St. Anne’s Chapel (also known as the Emperor’s Chapel), first built in 1512. The church is notable not only for its remarkable Counter-Reformation artwork, but also because it served as a Lutheran church from 1578 until the fall of Antwerp in 1585. President Antonio Reyes of The Lutheran Church of the Philippines preached the sermon, with Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana) serving as liturgist.

Following dinner, attendees of the ILC convention were presented with copies of President van Hattem’s new history of Lutheranism in Antwerp, which was revealed earlier in the day when it was given as a gift to several dignitaries attending the ILC World Conference’s worship. Professor Guido Marnef of the University of Antwerp introduced the book, saying that “this fascinating but not well-known history deserves a broad circulation within the Lutheran community and far beyond.”


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. Every three years, member churches of the ILC and friends gather for the ILC World Conference, where they conduct business, hold elections, and discuss challenges and opportunities facing the confessional Lutheran church around the world.

Preparing for the 2018 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council

BELGIUM – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) will hold its 26th (11th) World Conference September 25-28, 2018 in Antwerp, Belgium, meeting under the theme “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” The event will also mark the ILC’s 25th anniversary in its current form.

Among other business, the World Conference will elect officers to the ILC’s Executive Council as well as vote on the acceptance of several new members to the ILC.

“It is an honor and a blessing for our rather small Lutheran church in Belgium to host the ILC’s World Conference,” said President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België). “May the Lord of the Church bless our studies and decisions, in order to advance His Kingdom through the work of our confessional Lutheran churches.”

“We’re excited to be celebrating this special 25th anniversary for the ILC,” noted Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary for the ILC. “The International Lutheran Council has become a strong voice for confessional Lutheranism worldwide, and we’re planning to continue that forward momentum during our meetings in Belgium.”

The conference theme of “Ecclesiology and Ecumenism” will be introduced by Dr. Collver and Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler of Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS – Fort Wayne, Indiana) during the first day of the conference. Lectures on the topic over the following three days will be given by Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. (CTS); Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Emeritus, Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberursel, Germany); and Rev. Wilando T. Roa (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Baguio City, The Philippines).

Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger will also be giving a special presentation on Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology. The two-volume Confessing the Gospel, released in 2017, is the first new dogmatics published by The Lutheran Church–Missouri in nearly a century. Dr. Nafzger was General Editor for the work. He formerly served as Executive Secretary for the International Lutheran Council from 1993-2011.

Throughout the week, additional church leader from around the world will lead delegates in Matins, Bible Studies, and Vespers.

The ILC is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies, presently counting 38 members throughout the world. While this year’s conference marks the 25th anniversary of the ILC in its current form, its predecessor body—the International Lutheran Theological Conference—dates back to 1952.

The ILC as it currently exists was formed in 1993 in Antigua, Guatemala, when representatives from all six continents adopted a constitution founding the International Lutheran Council as a global council of Lutheran church bodies.


Antwerp marks Reformation 500, inaugurates Martin Luther Place

German Ambassador Rüdiger Lüdeking and Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever unveil the nameplate of Martin Luther Place in Antwerp, Belgium

BELGIUM – On October 31, 2017, “Martin Luther Place” (Maarten Lutherplein) in Antwerp, Belgium, was inaugurated by the city’s Mayor, Bart De Wever, and Germany’s ambassador to Belgium, Rüdiger Lüdeking.

The inauguration was part of Antwerp’s celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Antwerp played an important role in the early years of the Reformation. The Augustinian monastery there had several monks who studied with Luther in Wittenberg, and brought his ideas to Antwerp. Two of them—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—became the two first martyrs of the Reformation, executed in Brussels on July 1, 1523.

President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België, EKLB), directed the ceremony, as the local Lutheran church initiated efforts to name a place after Luther.

The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. President van Hattem also serves as Secretary of the ILC’s Executive Council.

Antwerp, Belgium will be the venue of the International Lutheran Council’s next world conference in September 2018.

President van Hattem’s inauguration speech for “Martin Luther Place” follows:


ELKB Gijsbertus van Hattem leads the ceremony to unveil Martin Luther Place in Antwerp.

We warmly welcome you to this festive inauguration of Martin Luther Place.

In particular, Mr. Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp, and Mr. Rüdiger Lüdeking, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Herzlich Wilkommen!

Today marks exactly 500 years since the monk and university professor Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis about and against indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Church doors acted as message boards at that time.

Throughout the world, October 31, 1517, is seen as the symbolic date for the start of the Reformation, a movement that has had a major impact on our Western culture and society.

Since Antwerp came into contact with the Reformation early in the 16th century, and Protestantism played a major role in the city, Antwerp might have remained a Protestant city—if it did not had been brought back under the Spanish crown in 1585. For these reasons, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation may certainly be celebrated in Antwerp.

This has already happened and is happening through many activities throughout the year, not least through the exhibition at St. Andrew Church, with its focus on the early years of the Reformation in this city.

What was missing was a visible reminder of the Reformation in the Antwerp cityscape. It is for this reason that the Lutheran church, with the support of the Antwerp Council of Churches, applied to City Council to name a street or place after the Reformer, which made the city council decide to call this place “Martin Luther Place.”

We now invite the Mayor and the Ambassador to proceed to the official inauguration of the Martin Luther Place by revealing one of the nameplates. (The mayor and ambassador revealed the nameplate.)

ELKB President van Hattem presents Ambassador Lüdeking and Mayor De Wever each with a Martin Luther figure from Playmobil.

With this the square is inaugurated. As a souvenir at this moment and this day, we would like to present you with a figure of the Reformer. (The mayor and ambassador both received a Playmobil Luther figure.)

We thank everyone for their presence and ask you to join us in St. Andrew church nearby for a few speeches alternated with music, after which will follow a reception by the District of Antwerp with Lutherbier provided by the German Embassy.


Belgian Lutheran Church President Issues Call to Prayer Following Terrorist Attacks

ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem.

ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem.

BELGIUM – On the morning of March 22, Belgium suffered twin terror attacks on Brussels’ international airport and a city metro station. At least 34 people are confirmed dead with more than 230 injured as of this report. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We are devastated by this news,” said President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB – Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België), who had been scheduled to fly from the airport later the same day. “But we take comfort in the peace of Christ—a peace which passes all understanding. Despite the raging of the world, we have the suffering and risen Lord with us.”

President van Hattem is encouraging Christians across the globe to lift up the situation in prayer. “We ask our friends around the world to keep Belgium in prayer in these days,” he said. “Pray especially for those who are mourning the loss of loved ones, those who are recovering from injuries, and those tasked with investigating this dreadful incident and protecting citizens.”

“And keep not only us in prayer,” he continued. “Pray for all those suffering in the midst of civil unrest and terrorism—in Europe, yes, but especially also in the Middle East and Africa. May God grant comfort to the sorrowing and peace to the persecuted. And may the Gospel of Jesus Christ be good news to a world in great conflict.”

The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.


Belgian Lutherans celebrate 75th anniversary


President Emeritus Jean Thiébaut Haessig preaches at the celebration service in Antwerp.

BELGIUM – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) celebrated its 75th anniversary in late June in conjunction with a 50th anniversary celebration of the Lutheran Church building in Antwerp.

On June 20, the church held a Jubilee Concert, featuring chorals and Bach’s Fantasia, with organ music provided by Masako Honda. These pieces were interspersed with the Aria Schlümmert Ein from Bach’s Cantata 82, sung by Simon Schmidt, and the Aria If God Be For Us from Handel’s Messiah, sung by Nicola Mills. A Minuet of Bach’s was also performed by Sofia van Hattem. The concert ended with the singing of “Dankt, dankt nu allen God” (Now thank we all our God). Halfway through the program, an album on the history of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium was presented. By means of many photographs, the book tells the story of the church in Belgium. The book has a retail price of 25 euros.

The church building in Antwerp.

The church building in Antwerp.

On June 22, an Anniversary Service was held at the church in Antwerp, which was full for the occasion. The liturgy was held by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the ELKB, and the sermon was given by President Emeritus Jean Thiébaut Haessig of the Evangelical Lutheran Church — Synod of France. President Emeritus Haessig also served as President of the European Lutheran Council until stepping down earlier this year. President van Hattem also serves on the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council as Secretary.

The bible

The 1748 Bible given to the congregation in Antwerp by Dutch Lutherans in Zierikzee.

The worship service featured a choir as well as guest musicians from Alsace. A celebration banquet followed the service, with a full hall. But before the meal began, the Antwerp church was presented with a special gift from the Lutheran church in Zierikzee, the Netherlands: a 1748 edition of the Bible in the Dutch translation of Adolph Visscher. The Bible was originally used in the Lutheran Church of Middelburg in Zeeland, the Netherlands.

In addition to oral greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church — Synod of France, the celebration service received special greetings from churches in Germany, Denmark, England, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, and Paraguay. Festivities concluded with a service of Evening Prayer/Vespers.


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