Prague conference draws Lutheran leaders from 20 countries
By Albert B. Collver III By the close of an Oct. 4-7 theological conference in Prague hosted by the LCMS president's office, many of the 71 Lutheran leaders attending from 20 countries said they appreciated that opportunity to encourage and support mutual conversation and exchange of ideas for promoting confessional Lutheranism where they serve.
For instance, Rev. Alexey Streltsov, rector of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Siberia, said, "Such conferences are truly needed if we want ... authentic world Lutheranism to survive in the 21st century. We cannot just sit back and observe how things deteriorate in the world around us. Sharing with each other how we can continue to be faithful in the proclamation of the Gospel in the present context is important if we want ... our beloved Lutheran church not to fall prey to the alien winds of today's aberrations."
Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church commented, "Such conferences are especially important to us who live at the end of the earth, because they turn the virtual brotherly fellowship into real fellowship."
Lutheran leaders at the conference came from the following countries: England, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Sweden, Norway and the United States.
Dr. Jaromír Neumann, chairman of the Luther Society in Prague, officially greeted attendees who gathered under the conference theme of "Lutheranism in the 21st Century" and provided an introduction on the Reformation in Prague.
Plenary speakers who addressed challenges and opportunities for Lutheranism included the following: LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison; the Rev. Dr. Michael Albrecht, senior editor of Logiaand pastor of St. James Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minn.; the Rev. Dr. Charles Evanson, a theological educator for the LCMS Office of International Mission; the Rev. James Krikava, an Evangelical Lutheran Synod pastor and former missionary to the Czech Republic; the Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki, president of the Kobe Lutheran Seminary in Japan; the Rev. Dr. Darius Petkunas, a docent on the theology faculty at Helsinki University in Finland; the Rev. Dr. Stanislav Pietak, bishop emeritus of the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Czech Republic; the Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, dean of International Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS), Fort Wayne, Ind., and director of theological education for the LCMS Office of International Mission; the Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast, president of the Fort Wayne seminary; the Rev. Dr. Jobst Schone, bishop emeritus of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Germany; Rev. Fredrik Sidenvall, rector of L.M. Gymnasium in Gothenburg, Sweden; and Streltsov.
Although this was the first international theological conference hosted by the LCMS president's office, it followed in the tradition of the Klaipeda Conferences previously sponsored by CTS in Fort Wayne. That made it the ninth international theological conference in the Synod within recent years.
The conference in Prague was hosted in cooperation with the Rev. David Jurech, interim superintendent of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Czech Republic and the Luther Society.
Quill noted that this is the first time the Fort Wayne seminary had worked in partnership with the LCMS president's office and the LCMS Office of Church Relations.
"President Harrison's very presence [at the conference], plus his bold and positive presentation made it clear to all that the LCMS is committed to supporting a vigorous international confessional Lutheran movement," Quill said. Harrison's presentation was on a "Vision for World Lutheranism."
Harrison also preached on Matt. 17:1-8 for a conference worship service. His sermon was titled "They saw no one but Jesus." For a video of his sermon, go to http://bit.ly/nhtgYQ.
Prague is not known as a Lutheran stronghold and might seem to some as an odd choice for the conference venue until one recalls the history of Central Europe.
The Hussite and Utraquist movements, which began in the Czech lands, preceded the Reformation in some ways. Jan Hus, a priest and professor in Prague, was burned at the stake in 1415 for teaching against indulgences and for his teaching that the Lord's Supper should be distributed in both kinds.
It was reported that as Hus was being burned alive, he said, "Today you are burning a goose, but out of my ashes will be born a swan whom you will not burn."
"Hus" in Czech means "goose." The "swan" born from Hus's ashes was Martin Luther, who almost exactly 100 years after Hus's death posted the 95 Theses, beginning the Reformation.
The Czech people were sympathetic to the Lutheran Reformation. But unfortunately, the Reformation in Prague was eliminated in the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 during the Thirty Yearss War, which culminated in the execution of 27 nobles, some of whom were Lutherans. The Silesian parts of the Czech Republic and Poland also adopted the Lutheran Reformation early on and faced persecution similar to Lutherans in Prague.
Reflecting on that Lutheran history in the Czech lands, the Rev. Dr. David Birner, interim co-executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission and first-time conference attendee observed, "The [conference] was an outstanding theological, cultural and historical experience. We met in a part of the world that is steeped in Reformation history."
The conference drew a number of other participants who had not previously attended one, including Lutherans from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Japan.
One participant of past conferences said that although he expected to see the same people in Prague as before, he was pleasantly surprised to experience the 2011 conference "invigorated by fresh voices."
Rast, who was installed Sept. 11 as president of CTS, said that although he had been to other similar theological conferences, "this one seemed to have its finger on the pulse of future opportunities.
"I am confident we can keep the momentum going," he said.
The momentum continued after the conference with the installation of the Rev. Tony Booker as pastor of the English-speaking Lutheran congregation in Prague. Several conference attendees participated in that service. (See http://bit.ly/oppJkC.)
A number of those at the Prague conference already are asking about when its papers will be published and are inquiring about the theme for the next conference.
It is hoped that such conferences will further strengthen the voice of confessional Lutheranism worldwide.
The Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III is the LCMS director of Church Relations -- assistant to the president. He was among those who delivered plenary presentations at the Prague conference.