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World Seminaries Conference meets in Wittenberg

October 25, 2016 No Comment
Participants in the World Seminaries Conference gather in front of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.

Participants in the World Seminaries Conference gather in front of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.

GERMANY – From October 11-13, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held its Sixth World Seminaries Conference. Taking place in Wittenberg, Germany, the conference saw representatives from more than 30 ILC churches attend, with nearly 30 additional guests present representing other church bodies.

Canadian participants included Rev. Dr. Jim Gimbel (President of Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton), Rev. Dr. Thomas Winger (President of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario), Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the ILC), and Mathew Block (Communications Manager for LCC and editor of the ILC’s news service).

The choice of Wittenberg as the site of this year’s conference on theological education was an apt one. Participants gathered at the Leucorea facility (Latin for “Wittenberg”), which is built on the same site where the Reformation-era University of Wittenberg once stood. Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon were both professors at the University of Wittenberg, and it was in this educational environment that they developed many of the teachings of the Lutheran Reformation.

Dr. Werner Klän addresses the convention.

Dr. Werner Klän addresses the convention.

The theme for this year’s gathering was “Shaping Confessional Lutheranism for the 21st Century: The Impact of the Lutheran Reformation on Mission, Worship, and Worldview.” Professor Dr. Werner Klän, Rector of the Lutherische Theologische Hochschule (Oberursel, Germany), gave a keynote address on the theme. “In all these areas, like mission, worship, and worldview, the witness of the Lutheran Reformation must be promulgated untiringly and without fear,” he said. “That is why with gratitude I realize that we share a multitude of points of view amongst our partner churches throughout the ILC, concerning the tasks that lie ahead for confessional Lutheran churches in post-modern and in some parts of the world (like Europe, as it seems to me) even post-Christian times.”

“There can be no doubt,” he continued, “that as long as we are churches bound to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and intend to remain so, we will be aware that effectiveness is not ours but the Holy Spirit’s, through God’s Word and the sacraments. It is and will be Him who creates, preserves, and strengthens faith and brings people from all races, cultures, social groups, societies, and nations to salvation.”

The three focuses referenced in Dr. Klän’s presentation—mission, worship, and worldview—were further developed through the keynote addresses of other speakers throughout the conference. Rev. Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer, Head of the School of Pastoral Studies at Australian Lutheran College (Adelaide, Australia), was the first to present, discussing the impact of the Lutheran Reformation on worship. Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa, General Secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Mekane Yesus, addressed the impact of Lutheranism on missions. The final keynote speaker was Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki, President of Kobe Lutheran Theological Seminary in Japan, who spoke on Lutheranism’s impact on worldview.

These papers, as well as responses to them from other presenters, will be made available in a future issue of The Journal for Lutheran Mission, a publication of the LCMS made available for free online.

In addition to hearing presentations, participants broke into small groups to consider the unique challenges of theological education in their own world regions. The conference also discussed the development of new resources to support the work of Lutheran seminaries around the world, including such possibilities as the creation of a common core curriculum and helping to facilitate inter-seminary student exchanges.

While in Wittenberg, participants had the opportunity to visit many sites important to Reformation history. On their first day, they held vespers in the Castle Church, where tradition states Luther once nailed the 95 Theses to the church door. Both Luther and Melanchthon lie buried in the Castle Church.

The second day included a trip to Leipzig, where convention goers visited churches where Johann Sebastian Bach had worked. They attended Vespers at St. Lukas Church, a member congregation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). There they heard about the church’s work among immigrants, and the growing number of Iranian and Afghan refugees converting to Christianity and joining SELK congregations. The number of converts is so significant that last year the SELK recorded a slight increase in total membership – an arrest in what has otherwise been a multi-year decline, as has been the case with many Western churches.

Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison and Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt pronounce absolution to conference goers at the closing service in St. Mary’s Church.

Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison and Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt pronounce absolution to conference goers at the closing service in St. Mary’s Church.

On their final day, participants gathered for closing worship in St. Mary’s Church, which is often referred to as the mother church of the Reformation. LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison preached for the event, encouraging those present to continue in their firm defense of the Gospel despite the opposition of the world—even as Luther’s own witness to the Gospel has continued long after his death.

The service saw the installation of the new board of the ILC Seminary Relations Committee: Ghana’s Rev. William Adjei Boateng (Africa World Region), Germany’s Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Europe World Region), Brazil’s Rev. Gerson Linden (Latin America World Region), and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (North America World Region). The representative for the Asia World Region will be appointed at a later date and will come from the Lutheran Church of the Philippines.

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