How the Holy Spirit shapes Lutheran identity
Asian churches explore ways of witnessing amid a plurality of faiths and cultures
(LWI) - The role of the Holy Spirit in shaping Lutheran identity was the focus of a seminar which took place in Hong Kong from 2-6 May, bringing together participants from 8 Asian countries. The meeting included representatives from 20 churches in the region, students from the local Lutheran Theological Seminary and staff from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) who discussed how other faiths and cultures influence the way that Lutheran identity is expressed in the region.
The main goals of the Asia Lutheran Identity Seminar (ALIS) were to respond to priorities identified during the 2017 Asian Church Leaders Conference and to prepare for the LWF Global Consultation on Lutheran Identity to be held in Ethiopia later this year. The seminar was co-hosted by the The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong (ELCHK), one of the four member churches in the country.
Challenges of charismatic renewal
Through a series of presentations, reflections and case studies, participants explored the topics “Holy Spirit as Gift and Promise: the Spirit calls us in Word and Baptism” and “Freed and Formed: Spiritual Gifts and Vocation of the Priesthood of All Believers.” They noted the plurality of faiths and traditional cultures in Asia which affect the way that Lutheran identity is expressed in the region. They recognized that some member churches are rooted in the Reformed tradition, while others are unable to openly articulate their Lutheran identity.
In particular, the seminar explored challenges and opportunities posed by the growing charismatic renewal movement in Asia. Participants noted that there is confusion and fear within some churches about the practice of spiritual gifts and that leaders need to remain alert to the commodification or abuse of such practices.
Concluding message and recommendations
In a concluding message, participants listed five recommendations to help churches teach and lead their members towards a holistic understanding of Lutheran identity, rather than simply reacting to the challenges they face. The message also calls for constructive local dialogue with the different charismatic movements.
Our distinctive Lutheran identity is “more than sufficient to offer both theological and practical solutions to those apparent controversies caused by superficial, even superstitious, practices of “spiritual” gifts in many contemporary churches.”
At the end of the seminar participants voiced their appreciation to LWF for lifting up these complex and critical issues. Ms. Cheung Oi Sze, executive secretary of Tsung Tsin Mission of Hong Kong, said, “It is good to raise the issue on how the Holy Spirit should shape our Lutheran identity. I believe that the LWF Communion Office understands the needs of the Asian churches, and […] I also hope that the LWF will continue to work closer with the churches in identifying and dealing with issues relevant to the Asia region. Not all global issues are hot issues in Asia.”
Bishop Ray Chen of The Lutheran Church of the Republic of China, also reflected on the outcome of the seminar, saying our distinctive Lutheran identity is “more than sufficient to offer both theological and practical solutions to those apparent controversies caused by superficial, even superstitious, practices of “spiritual” gifts in many contemporary churches. Therefore, let us work to offer future programs that are biblical and confessional, practical and pastoral, which will equip member churches in their ongoing ministries.”
As part of the program, ALIS participants also had the joy and privilege to attend a worship service at Truth Lutheran Church, a congregation of the ELCHK.