By Mathew Block
WITTENBERG, Germany — The choice of this city as the location for the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) Sixth World Seminaries Conference on theological education is an apt one.
Representatives of more than 30 ILC-member churches and nearly as many guests gathered for the Oct. 11-13 conference at the Leucorea facility (Latin for “Wittenberg”), built on the same site where the Reformation-era University of Wittenberg once stood.
Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon were both professors at that university, and it was in this educational environment that they developed many of the teachings of the Lutheran Reformation.
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.”
Dr. Werner Klän, rector of the Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in 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 postmodern and in some parts of the world (like Europe, as it seems to me) even post-Christian times.
“There can be no doubt,” Klän 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 Klän’s presentation — mission, worship and worldview — were further developed through the keynote addresses of other speakers throughout the conference.
The Rev. Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer, head of the School of Pastoral Studies at Australian Lutheran College in Adelaide, Australia, was the first to present a keynote, discussing the impact of the Lutheran Reformation on worship.
The Rev. Dr. Berhanu Ofgaa, general secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, addressed the impact of Lutheranism on missions.
The final keynote speaker was the 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 of Lutheran Mission, a publication of the LCMS.
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 the Rev. Dr. Albert C. Collver III, the ILC’s executive secretary, preached about being witnesses/martyrs to the works of Jesus.
Collver noted that every reformation of the Church begins with repentance, echoing the 95 Theses that Luther posted on the Castle Church door. Both Luther and Melanchthon lie buried in the Castle Church.
The second day included a trip to Leipzig, when 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 increase in what has otherwise been a multi-year decline, which has been the case with many Western churches.
On their final day, participants gathered for closing worship in St. Mary’s Church, often referred to as the mother church of the Reformation. LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison preached for the event, encouraging worshipers 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.
During that service, the new board of the ILC Seminary Relations Committee: Ghana’s Rev. William Adjei Boateng (for the Africa World Region), Germany’s Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Europe World Region), Brazil’s Rev. Gerson Linden (Latin America World Region) and the 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 in the Philippines.
As explained on its website, the ILC is “a worldwide association of established 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.”
The ILC has 38 member church bodies, including the LCMS. Its World Seminaries Conference takes place every three years.
Mathew Block (firstname.lastname@example.org) is communications manager for Lutheran Church–Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran. He also serves as communications manager for the International Lutheran Council.