By Adriane Dorr
The Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS director of Church Relations, and Darin Storkson, LCMS regional director for Southern Asia and Oceania, recently visited with officials from the Indonesian Lutheran Christian Church (ILCC) to discuss potential church fellowship between the two church bodies.
Collver said that the talks in Indonesia “forge[d] stronger connections between the LCMS and other Lutheran churches” in the area. The Rev. Jon Albert Saragih, secretary general for the ILCC, captured the ILCC’s enthusiasm by noting that fellowship discussions between the two churches took place on a “historic day that will remembered 100 years from now.”
Originally a part of the Protestant Christian Batak Church, the ILCC separated from it in 1965 after the Rev. J. Sinaga raised issues of concern. After attending Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., Sinaga returned home with a heightened awareness of the doctrinal discord in his own church and spoke openly about the issues adversely affecting the church’s ability to remain orthodox.
His biggest worries? That the church was falling prey to modernism — an attempt to conform theology to contemporary ideals — and secularism, a push to remain indifferent to, and in some cases, outright reject theology and its implications for the world.
“[Sinaga] made attempts to reform the church,” said Collver. “He wanted to return the church to pure doctrine.”
Sinaga’s concerns, however, were dismissed, and he was excommunicated. Other pastors and church members felt bound by their consciences to leave the church as well. Together they formed the Gereja Kristen Luther Indonesia, or Indonesian Lutheran Christian Church, in May 1965.
Now with some 17,000 members, the ILCC has 90 congregations and 30 pastors, and the church has remained committed to upholding Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, but is now looking to the LCMS for support and “the ability to become more sophisticated and learned theologically,” said Storkson.
About nine months ago, the pastors of the ILCC elected a new leader, Bishop Aladin, and tasked him with implementing reforms that would strengthen the church’s confessional stance. One of those tasks was discussing potential fellowship with the LCMS.
“They’re taking a huge step,” says Storkson. “There are significant ecumenical pressures in Indonesia, so it is very unusual for a church body to deliberately distinguish itself doctrinally. While the ILCC has been trying to be Lutheran for all this time, they were having to do so in a void.”
The LCMS has never had an official partner church in Indonesia.
In November 2011, the ILCC officially voted to be in fellowship with the LCMS, a vote that passed unanimously. The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) then discussed the two churches’ potential fellowship in its April 26-27 meeting.
“Each church body’s situation is unique,” said the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, the CTCR’s executive director. “They’re also all different on the basis of their political situation. Indonesia in particular struggles with the effects of Islam.”
As the discussions proceed, the LCMS continues to support the ILCC along the way. The ILCC has a great desire, explained Storkson, to grow theologically, and the church’s “pastors are in broad agreement on this point.”
In an effort to further their theological understanding, ILCC pastors have requested more instruction on the liturgy from the LCMS, and the LCMS has responded by offering to send the Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwish of South Bend, Ind., to lecture on the topic at the seminary in Indonesia this fall.
Nearly 50 students are enrolled at the Indonesian seminary, both for the Office of the Holy Ministry and other church-work vocations. In an effort to build up a deaconess program in Indonesia, Deaconess Grace Rao of the LCMS Office of International Mission staff will teach a two-week colloquy course for Lutheran women who already hold theology degrees from the seminary, encouraging them in the role of deaconess.
Storkson also recently approved an ILCC request for assistance to purchase clerical shirts and vestments for all of the ILCC pastors. The new clericals, albs and stoles will “help the Lutheran pastors to distinguish themselves from the academic gowns worn by most pastors of Reformed churches in Indonesia,” noted Storkson. He also is planning an Indonesia Lutheran hymnal project within the next few years.
Leaders of the ILCC and the LCMS indicate that they look forward to continued conversation and the prospect of altar and pulpit fellowship — a life together that is expected to strengthen both church bodies and expand the global network of confessional Lutheran churches having doctrinal agreement.
“The ILCC is a church that is basically saying, ‘We want to be the confessional Lutheran church of Indonesia,'” said Storkson. “They’re saying, ‘Teach us what to do. Show us.’ And we’re anxious to help.”
Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted May 3, 2012