National Lutheran News

Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod hosts global theological confessional conference

The International Conference on Confessional Leadership, hosted by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), met in Atlanta for three days in November 2012 to discuss “The Lutheran Church in the 21st Century: How does it look? Why does it matter?” The conference was hailed as unprecedented in size and scope as participants examined the Lutheran church’s need to bear biblical and confessional witness to the world.

According to the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, III, director of church relations for the LCMS, “This conference [gave] the opportunity to discuss critical theological issues facing not only Lutherans but Christians throughout the world. The strong confessional and biblical position of the LCMS reflecting historic Lutheranism is proving to be attractive and of interest to Lutherans around the world.”

Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison spoke on the topic of Lutheran diakonia (mercy) at the International Conference on Confessional Leadership, sponsored by the LCMS in early November in Atlanta, Georgia. “The Church’s work of mercy extends beyond its own borders,” he said. “Jesus became incarnate in our flesh, and we take on the flesh of our neighbor when we serve our neighbor.” Photo courtesy of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod/Adriane Dorr

Focusing on the three-fold theme of “Witness, Mercy, and Life Together,” international Lutheran speakers addressed 120 church heads and select theologians representing more than 20 million Lutherans from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Australia, and North America. The gathering considered first the call to witness to the Gospel as articulated in the Lutheran Confessions. Second, they discussed ways to show mercy to those in crisis and great need, particularly outside the church. And third, participants discussed how to encourage one another in life together as Lutheran Christians.

Luther in the present moment

Addressing the theme of witness (martyria), Dr. Alister McGrath, professor at King’s College, London, opened the first day of the conference by challenging all Lutherans to resist the individualism of modern Christianity and, instead, recommit to the teachings of Martin Luther, a “treasure chest” of doctrine and a resource that enriches the present-day mission of the church. Himself a former atheist, McGrath credits Luther’s writings as deeply influential in his own eventual conversion to Christianity.

The Rev. Dr. Jobst Schone warned against Lutherans “losing our identity and making compromises in good intention, but being misled by our feelings” in the face of secularism, relativism, liberalism, and atheism.

Warning of the failure to “unpack, interpret, and translate” the words of Luther in contemporary culture, McGrath said, “It’s much easier to withdraw and not engage with anyone else, but Luther is a witness to the more uncomfortable truth that we need to be there at the intersection of Christ and culture, bearing witness to the Gospel.”

On the second day of the conference, the Rev. Dr. Jobst Schone, bishop emeritus of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, addressed the theme of life together (koinonia). He warned against Lutherans “losing our identity and making compromises in good intention, but being misled by our feelings” in the face of secularism, relativism, liberalism, and atheism.

Schone reminded his audience that koinonia is a divine gift, and there is no life together apart from Christ: “(It is) always Christ himself by whom (we) are placed into this koinonia.” Such a gift, he explained, is needed by the entire world, and it has the power to overcome “borders of all kinds”: ethnic, racial, cultural, social, or gender-related.

Returning to the theme of witness, LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison said that works of mercy extend beyond the church’s own borders, reminding his audience that “Jesus became incarnate in our flesh, and we take on the flesh of our neighbor when we serve our neighbor.” Refusing to live such a life of service to neighbor, he said, renders “the Gospel a clanging cymbal.”

On the final day of the conference, the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba of the North American Lutheran Church spoke of the primacy of prayer in any outreach effort. “Don’t try to figure out missional strategies and plans. Jesus never outsourced missional leadership to anyone. Ask. Be on your knees. Let us be a praying church one more time.”

Reminding attendees that all efforts of witness are “in the hand of the Holy Spirit,” Buba said, “[T]he challenge of the church of the first century and the challenge of the 21st century is the same. The harvest is still plentiful. The workers are still few. The message is still the same: law and gospel, repentance and forgiveness.”

The conference was made possible by a grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Susan R. Masters is an ELCA pastor living in Minneapolis.

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