The Fifth Lutheran General Assembly
By “Awake!” correspondent in France
THE Lutheran World Federation held its Fifth General Assembly from July 14 to 24 in Évian, a French spa on the shores of Lake Geneva. The meeting was attended by 210 delegates representing many of the various Lutheran churches throughout the world. One hundred and twelve came from European countries, 33 from North America, 27 from Africa, 27 from Asia and 11 from Latin America. These official delegates were accompanied by 131 advisers and observers.
Lutheranism is said to be the “oldest and the largest of non-Roman Catholic, non-Orthodox” religions of Christendom, its world membership being estimated at between seventy and eighty million, most of whom live in Germany, Scandinavia and the United States of America. The Lutheran World Federation represents about two thirds of the Lutheran churches, in about forty countries.
The Federation’s assembly in Évian got off to a bad start. First East Germany refused permission for the meetings to be held in Weimar. Then Pôrto Alegre, Brazil, was chosen, but for political reasons it was finally decided that it would be inopportune to convene in that country, so at the last minute arrangements were made for the assembly to be held in France. This, however, displeased the Brazilian Church, which refused to send a delegation, sending merely two observers.
Thus, from the very outset, the assembly was troubled with signs of discontent and disunity. While Frederick A. Schiotz, American president of the Lutheran World Federation, was making his opening speech, some forty young delegates wearing black armbands stood up and silently protested. After the meeting they explained their demonstration, stating: “The decision to hold the assembly in Evian rather than in Brazil was made by the leaders of the European and American [Lutheran] churches, without consulting the representatives of the underdeveloped countries.” Showing the extent to which the Lutheran churches were divided over this issue, the Paris daily Le Monde commented in a front-page article: “If the assembly had been held in Brazil, there would have been a large number of absentees. For example, the German and Scandinavian delegations would most likely have abstained from attending.”—July 16, 1970.
The assembly’s theme was “Sent into the world.” The principal subjects on the agenda were the following: obstacles to spreading the gospel; ecumenism and the problem of unity; participation and joint responsibility in modern society; peace and hunger in the world.
“Dissatisfaction and a Bad Conscience”
As the eleven days of the assembly passed by, the feeling of frustration and discontent grew among the delegates, particularly the younger ones. This feeling was reflected by the headlines of the news reports on the conference. Here are a few taken from two reliable French newspapers: “After Various Tribulations the Fifth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation Opened Yesterday in Evian” (Le Figaro, July 15); “Young Delegates Challenge the Policy of the Lutheran World Federation” (Le Monde, July 16); “Delegates at the Lutheran Federation Assembly Worried by Ecumenical Problems” (Le Figaro, July 17); “Young Lutheran Delegates Demonstrate Passively in Front of Convention Palace in Evian” (Le Figaro, July 18/19); “Church Delegates Considered Unrepresentative at Lutheran World Assembly” (Le Monde, July 22); “Lutherans Try to Overcome Their Reserve on Political and Social Problems.”—Le Monde, July 26/27.
Toward the end of the assembly André Appel, French general-secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, listed the following unsolved problems: (1) the question of what has been called “the vertical dimension” of the gospel (relations between man and God); (2) the part the church should play in politics, particularly the universal church reduced to silence by conflicting national interests and differences of opinion; (3) the extent to which the church can and should manifest solidarity with those who are suffering (fighting for liberation, revolutions); (4) the definition of the Lutheran World Federation as a church community.
Pastor Marc Lienhard, of the Lutheran Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, stated bluntly that the assembly risked looking like “a theater of ecclesiastical puppets whose strings are pulled simply by their will to survive.”
Le Monde made this comment: “Dissatisfaction and a bad conscience—such are the dominant feelings of the some two hundred and fifty delegates taking part in the Lutheran World Federation Assembly being held in Evian.” During a press conference, a spokesman for the young delegates states: “We expect nothing whatsoever to come out of this assembly.”
Nonetheless, the assembly’s secretariat turned out reams of memorandums and reports. One delegate remarked: “The four evangelists required just a few pages to write down the message preached by Jesus during the three years of his public life, whereas the deliberations in Evian have filled tens of thousands of mimeographed pages.”
At one point, a group of young delegates demonstrated in front of the assembly hall, tearing up assembly reports and throwing them into wastepaper baskets, stating: “We would do better to confess our inability to express ourselves clearly, rather than saying so many empty words.” Reporting on the same incidents, Le Monde added: “Make no mistake! These demonstrators in Evian are not revolutionaries. Several of them are clergymen’s sons and theology students.”—July 22.
Summing up the results of the Fifth Lutheran General Assembly, Le Figaro wrote: “The long report resulting from the deliberations of the assembly and of the subcommittees emphasizes above all the differences that exist between the various Lutheran Churches . . . and expresses the hope that a better dialogue between them will result in a common union based on one baptism, one Communion and one set of Holy Scriptures.”—July 24.
The report also recommended that the dialogue should be extended to include the Reformed (Calvinistic) churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox churches. More active exchanges with the World Council of Churches were proposed. Finally, the report insisted on the need to increase contacts with the Methodists, the Baptists, the Pentecostals and even atheists, with a view to better mutual understanding!
“Will History Give Us Enough Time?”
Speaking in Évian of the need for seeking reconciliation within Christendom, and particularly between the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran churches, Doctor Kent S. Knutson, president of the Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, asked: “Will History give us enough time?”
Evidently Knutson senses that time is running out for Christendom. He is right. Contemporary history confronted with Bible prophecy shows this to be so. The churches of Christendom will have to move fast if they hope to unite before history—God-directed history—catches up with them. But there are few signs of any real will to overcome the barriers dividing the churches one from another and within themselves.
Speaking at the Fifth Lutheran General Assembly, Cardinal Willebrands listed the obstacles to unity between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, mentioning the priesthood, papal authority, the infallibility of the pope, the position of the Virgin Mary, etc. He admitted that on some of these issues “the opposing views have become even more marked.”
As to the hope of unity among the Protestant churches, Doctor Tödt, professor of theology at Heidelberg University, Germany, stated in Évian: “Among the members of the World Council of Churches a backward movement can also be felt. Disappointed at the results obtained during the first ten years, many of these churches are returning to their local or regional isolation.”
The Lutheran Church is itself deeply divided. As shown by this Fifth General Assembly, the churches grouped within the Lutheran World Federation are far from united. Moreover, some twenty million Lutherans belong to Lutheran churches that refuse to join the World Federation. It is reported that “in Sweden there is even a Lutheran Church that practices intercommunion with the Church of England but refuses to do so with the other Lutheran Churches.”—Le Monde, July 26/27.
“Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13, Authorized Version) Certainly not! Then if you belong to a divided church that is a part of divided Christendom, is it not high time you sought Christ’s true congregation elsewhere? ‘Will History give you enough time’ to do so?
An Appeal to Sincere Lutherans
Yes! But there is no time to lose! So what should you do? Seek true Christianity “based on . . . one set of Holy Scriptures.” Paradoxically enough, Cardinal Willebrands paid the following tribute to Luther in Évian: “Luther did something remarkable for his day in making the Bible the departure point for Christian theology and life.” And in its article on Lutheranism, the Encyclopædia Britannica (1965, Vol. 14, p. 447) states: “The formal principle of Lutheran theology is its insistence that the canonical Scriptures are the only source and norm of Christian faith and practice.”
Yet in July 1965, when Roman Catholic and Lutheran scholars met in Baltimore, they said in a joint statement: “We confess in common the Nicene Faith.” But the Nicene Creed expounds the enigmatic dogma of the trinity, which is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Even a Lutheran theologian, Professor N. Leroy Norquist, admitted: “The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be ‘puzzled out.’ . . . The men who framed it designed it as a tool to be used against heretics . . . in such a way that they could finally say, ‘Unless you believe this you’re not a true believer.’” (The Lutheran, June 15, 1960, pages 11, 12) So which do you believe, the Nicene Creed or the Bible? The choice is inevitable.
Another basic creed of the Lutheran churches is the Augsburg Confession. This profession of faith asserts that “ungodly men and the devils He [Christ] shall condemn to be tormented without end.” Yet the canonical Scriptures state: “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23, Authorized Version) Do you believe in the Augsburg Confession or in the Bible? You must choose, and time is running out!
The year 1970 happens to be the 450th anniversary of the publication of Luther’s early reform treatise entitled “Address to the German Nobility, The Babylonic Captivity of the Church”—meaning the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, having abandoned “its insistence that the canonical Scriptures are the only source and norm of Christian faith and practice,” the Lutheran churches show that they are a part of the world empire of Babylonish religions, prophetically called “Babylon the Great.” Current events and Bible prophecy show that this world empire of false religion is fast nearing its end. History will not give it time to unite for survival. Babylon must go! But you need not be destroyed with her. The Bible says: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”—Rev. 17:1-5; 18:1-5, AV.
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