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PRESS RELEASE NO. 06
General Secretary: Working toward a Strong Communion Involves Taking
Asked to Consider Proposal for Discussion on Name Change
WINNIPEG, Canada, 22 July
2003 – The
strength and unity of member churches of the Lutheran World Federation
(LWF) lies in their ability to enhance common efforts and mutual
accountability toward deepening the experience of communion without
undermining each other’s autonomy. But this sharing in each other’s
joys and sufferings in very concrete ways "also means taking
risks," LWF General Secretary, Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko told
participants in the organization’s Tenth Assembly that began in
the Canadian city of Winnipeg, July 21.
His report to the Assembly
highlighted significant steps taken by the LWF and its member
churches since the 1997 Ninth Assembly and the challenges posed by
ongoing and emerging global concerns.
"We were mindful of
the fact that the world is a wounded world," Noko said of the
decision two years ago to have "For the Healing of the
World," as the Assembly theme. Global developments and their
implications since then, including the 11 September 2001 terrorism
attack on the United States, the Iraq war, as well as new and
re-awakening civil conflicts in many parts of the world only confirm
the significance and timeliness of the theme, Noko said. He urged
the Assembly participants to bear in mind that the international
environment in which the LWF churches live and witness has been
fundamentally re-shaped by such events.
Since the 1997 Ninth
Assembly, the churches have witnessed a further intensification of
the process of globalization and its positive and negative impact,
Noko noted. On the one hand, its unifying trends including new
mechanisms for globalized justice such as the International Criminal
Court and increasing prominence in international affairs are cause
for hope. On the other, the increasing inequality of wealth and well-being visible in the tragic conditions of the poor, accentuate
marginalization among the world’s populations.
"An estimated 80
percent of people in the world have never heard a dial tone, let
alone sent an e-mail or surfed the Web. [Around] 2.8 billion people,
close to half the population of the planet and almost all of them in
developing countries, live on less than two dollars a day,"
Noko noted. He continued: "The devastation resulting from
poverty is much more than the absence of material goods." It
also inflicts "spiritual wounds that undermine one’s
self-esteem, self-worth and confidence." It attacks the
God-given dignity and equal value of every human being, and
"therefore undermines any notion of community and
communion," he told the Assembly participants.
Churches must respond to
the call for the healing the world’s wounds "because they
must bear the marks of Christ’s healing sacrifice." Life in
communion, he noted, is not based on a partial commitment of Christ,
but on the total "emptying of himself for our sake."
Other highlights of the
General Secretary Noko’s Report to the Tenth Assembly included the
role of the LWF in mission and diaconia, working to realize the
vision of an inclusive communion of women and men, and approaching
complex social and ethical issues including the question of
homosexuality. It also focused on the episcopal ministry in the
church, engagement in global and regional aspects of inter-faith
relations, indigenous issues, conditions of work in the churches and
the issue of HIV/AIDS.
Noko noted the importance
of the altar and pulpit fellowship shared by the LWF member
churches, without which the organization could be like a civil
agency and not a communion of churches. The LWF’s administrative
structures such as the Assembly, Council, National Committees and
Secretariat although important, are not in themselves
"communion." These setups are an integral part of the
communion’s life, enabling it to function properly and
meaningfully as an international body and a spiritual
fellowship," he emphasized.
"Communion is communication,"
the general secretary noted. He reported that the Secretariat is
seeking to respond to the current challenges in this area by
engaging member churches and partner organizations more actively in
the development of communication strategies. The LWF news service, Lutheran
World Information serves to maintain a broad coverage of
developments related to the life of the Lutheran churches globally.
The Ecumenical News International, in which the LWF is a
partner, provides media around the world with important news related
to the activities of churches and church-related organizations.
The general secretary
noted that since the inception of the LWF in 1947, its member
churches have prayed for a fellowship that is inclusive of all
Lutherans in the world, yet over three million Lutherans remain
outside the LWF fellowship. He conveyed his gratitude for the
collaboration in diaconal activities between the LWF and its member
churches and the Lutheran communities outside the LWF, but
underlined that the yearning for a fully inclusive Lutheran
communion remains unfulfilled.
The lack of a united
Lutheran witness undermines the integrity of a common mission and
reduces the vitality of ecumenical engagement, Noko said.
"Should not the common affirmation of the Lutheran confessional
writings be sufficient for church fellowship among the Lutheran
churches? What are the real reasons that keep Lutherans apart?"
he asked the Assembly participants who include delegates from the
LWF member churches worldwide.
He informed the Assembly
about the process of consultation between representatives of the
International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the LWF, noting that common
ground as well as differences are being identified in the area of
theology especially confessional and ecumenical issues. He hoped
that the conversations with the ILC - representing most of the
Lutherans still outside the LWF fellowship - would enhance
coordination, communication and theological discussion.
Noko also made reference
to the LWF’s commitment to ecumenism globally and described the
ecumenical movement as a "deeply significant healing process in
the present time." The October 1999 signing of the Joint
Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification could not have been
achieved without the instrumentality of the LWF, he said. The vast
majority of all bilateral communion agreements that have been
established around the world involve Lutheran churches, Noko said.
But he pointed out that new efforts must be made to ensure that
these processes can take place among churches in the developing
The general secretary
mentioned the ongoing international dialogue commissions with the
Orthodox churches and Roman Catholic Church. Conversations between
the LWF and the Seventh-day Adventists have been carried out and the
report and recommendations from this process are being studied by
the member churches. Also, two international working groups, with
the Anglican Communion and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches,
have both submitted their reports. The LWF Council has received
these reports, and upon its request they have been sent to the
member churches for study and response.
He spoke also of the
increasing ecumenical importance of the collaboration between the
Christian world communions (CWCs) such as the LWF, and the World
Council of Churches (WCC). A resolution of the 1998 WCC Eighth
Assembly in Harare, calling for closer cooperation between the
council and CWCs has been followed up both by the LWF Council and
WCC Central Committee. The WCC provides a unique framework for the
deliberation of fundamental ecumenical issues, Noko said, and urged
the LWF and its member churches to play an active and supportive
part in the current discussions on the nature and purpose of the WCC.
He expressed the need to explore further how the WCC and LWF could
build on their existing cooperation, for example through their
jointly-founded emergency agency, Action by Churches Together (ACT)
The self-understanding of
the organization’s name has been discussed in previous governing
bodies of the LWF, including at the 1997 Ninth Assembly. In his
report today, the general secretary asked the Assembly to consider
initiating a discussion process on changing the organization’s
current name to "The Lutheran World Federation – A Communion
of Churches," keeping the present acronym "LWF." The
suggestion was endorsed by the Council at its September 2002
In requesting the LWF’s
highest decision-making body to consider formalizing such a
discussion, Noko explained that the issue of an alternative name was
based on the shared opinion that the "federal concept no longer
expresses adequately the ecclesial nature of the fellowship that
exists between the member churches." He confirmed that the name
being proposed would be consistent with the existing constitutional
description of the Federation.
Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place
21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the
Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).
There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth
Assembly including 380 delegates from the
133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest
decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years.
Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets
annually, and by its Executive Committee.
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