By Albert B. Collver
On Oct. 28, a delegation from the LCMS consisting of Dr. Albert Collver, the Synod’s director of Church Relations — assistant to the president; Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR); and Dr. Timothy Quill, dean of International Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW), landed at Novosibirsk, in Siberia, Russia, for theological discussions with the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). With those discussions, the two church bodies are closer to being in altar and pulpit fellowship with each other.
Before arriving in Siberia, Collver, Lehenbauer and Quill stopped in St. Petersburg, Russia, to meet with leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCI). During that meeting, ELCI Bishop Rev. Arri Kugappi expressed appreciation for the partnership between the LCMS and the ELCI, and said that he was pleased to see the expansion of Lutheranism in Russia.
Prior to the Communist Revolution in 1917, membership in the Lutheran Church in Russia numbered more than a million. By 1939, nearly every Lutheran pastor and congregation in Russia ceased to exist.
Kugappi also encouraged the LCMS discussions with the SELC, indicating that he looks forward to working cooperatively with both the LCMS and SELC in the future.
In 1998, church leaders of the future SELC sent a preliminary letter to LCMS President Dr. Alvin L. Barry and the Synod stating their desire to seek fellowship with the LCMS after obtaining autonomy from the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC). In 2003, the SELC received its autonomy from the EELC.
On Dec. 5, 2003, the SELC sent an official request to “open a doctrinal dialogue with The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, possibly leading to a declaration of altar and pulpit fellowship with your church.”
During the intervening years, a variety of visits and letters were exchanged between the two church bodies, which did not lead to fellowship discussions. On Jan. 27, 2010, SELC Bishop Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin and Rev. Alexei Streltsov, rector of the theological seminary of the SELC and the appointed church relations officer, returned to St. Louis for discussions with representatives of the LCMS.
In July 2010, Lytkin sent a letter to then LCMS President-elect Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. In that letter, Lytkin wrote, “With your election and introduction in the office of the president, discussions between our church bodies concerning church fellowship will gain new momentum and will come to a proper conclusion.”
The trip by LCMS officials in October was Harrison’s response to Lytkin’s letter.
Representing the SELC in that Oct. 19 meeting at the Lutheran Center in the Akademgorodok (Academic City), Novosibirsk, Siberia, were Lytkin, Streltsov and Rev. Pavel Khramov, a member of the SELC consistory.
The LCMS and SELC representatives at the meeting affirmed belief in the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures as the rule and norm of faith, and unconditional subscription (quia) to The Book of Concord (the Lutheran Confessions). Other topics of discussion included fellowship with other Lutheran church bodies, ordination of women, the doctrine of the ministry, church structure and the Office of the Keys.
During the discussions, Lytkin stated, “From our point of view, we are in fellowship with the Missouri Synod.”
The LCMS delegation concurred that while differences in practice exist in some areas, there are no differences in the doctrine confessed.
Lehenbauer, making his first visit to Novosibirsk, said, “I am greatly impressed by the dedication of the SELC pastors and people to the Gospel of Christ, the Lutheran Confessions and service to their community, and am grateful to God for this opportunity to solidify and deepen the relationship between the SELC and LCMS.”
“This is a joyful day to see a recognition of doctrinal unity after 14 years of the Russian Project,” Quill said.
In 1996, Russian-speaking students from the former Soviet Union were brought to Concordia Theological Seminary as part of the newly created Russian Project. Quill was called to that seminary as the first director of the Russian Project. Nearly 40 students from Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania took advantage of this program.
In 1997, CTSFW and the Lutheran Church in Siberia jointly opened Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk. This came about due to a plea from Lytkin to CTSFW President Dr. Dean Wenthe for help with pastoral training in Russia. It was also made possible by the encouragement of LCMS President Barry and financial support from the Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation.
Reflecting on the joint work of the SELC and LCMS, Lytkin said, “We are very grateful for the help we have received from the LCMS over the years — especially the theological training of our clergy. This has helped them to be better pastors and missionaries. We have great respect for President Wenthe and the professors at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. They have trained many of our pastors and laypeople in Russia at the Novosibirsk Seminary and at the seminary in Fort Wayne. We are very grateful to the LCMS parish pastors who have taught at our seminary in Novosibirsk and at our theological seminars throughout Siberia.”
“It was marvelous to observe the level of theological discernment and commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions among the Siberian Lutherans,” Quill said. “The Siberian Lutherans displayed a remarkable capacity to engage in theological conversation in which they articulated a thoughtful and serious commitment to the Lutheran heritage. They have demonstrated an ardent desire to establish a Lutheran church that is both Russian in character and whose doctrine and practice is carefully shaped by Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.”
Collver, who has taught at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Siberia several times, remarked during the discussions, “Missouri and Siberia share a common faith, united in the Scriptures and the Confessions, under Christ Jesus. We have doctrinal unity.”
With the recognition of doctrinal unity, some additional steps hopefully to be completed by December 2010 will occur from the Missouri Synod side in accord with the new fellowship resolution (Res. 3-04A) adopted by the 2010 Synod Convention. A protocol document outlining the agreement between the LCMS and SELC is forthcoming. In accord with Synod Bylaws, President Harrison will consult with the LCMS Praesidium. Lehenbauer will make a recommendation to the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), which is scheduled to meet Dec. 16-18.
After these steps are completed, the LCMS and the SELC will be in fellowship, which will then be presented to the 2013 Synod convention for ratification.
Dr. Albert B. Collver is The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s director of Church Relations — assistant to the president.
Posted Nov. 2, 2010