On Sept 6, 2004, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) added three more churches to its international family in 76 nations, thus raising its membership to 65 million worldwide. The LWF Council extended the full membership rights to the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren (ECCB), the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PCN) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ghana (ELCG), during the Council’s annual meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
Prior to the addition, the LWF had some 62 million members under 136 member churches in 76 countries. Now, the LWF has 138 members in 76 countries; One of the Predecessors of the PCN, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (ELCNL) had already been an LWF member since 1947.
In raw numbers, the ECCB brought in 123,633 new members, the ELCG 26,000 members and the PCN 2,530,000 members. In total, the three groups added 2,515,024 members, pushing the total membership in the LWF to 64,961,682.
The ECCB, which has 263 congregations with 217 pastors, is a member of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic, the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the World Alliance of Reformed Church (WARC) and the Leuenberg Church Fellowship (LCF). The Czech church originated from the union of two different protestant groups: the Utraquists and the Unitas Fratrum. Both groups were forbidden in the 17th century, but with the introduction of full religious freedom in 1918, united.
The PCN is a member of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands, the Reformed Ecumenical Council, the CEC, LCF, WARC, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Council for World Mission. The PCN formed in May 2004 through the merger of the former ELCNL, the Netherlands Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The PCN now has 2,150 congregations and 2,950 ordained pastors.
The ELCG is a member and the chairperson of the Christian Council of Ghana. It also holds membership of the All Africa Council of Churches, the WCC, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Lutheran Communion in Western Africa. The Ghanaian church was established in 1958 by missionaries from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and was formally registered in 1964. In total, the ELCG has 30 ordained pastors, 55 missionaries and evangelists and some 600 lay leaders.
The Rev. Claudia Schreiber of the Church of Lippe in Germany called for the three churches’ membership on behalf of the LWF’s Standing Committee for Membership. One of the main concerns during the discussion on the three applications for membership was the implications of church being tied to both the LWF and the ILC (International Lutheran Council) – a separate council of Lutherans that is more conservative and confessional than the LWF. The body resolved that a church can indeed take membership in both bodies. In relation to theological concerns – particularly in reference to the ordination of women as a prerequisite to join the LWF – the Council resolved that while women ordination is recommended, it is not required for membership.
The Council meeting in Geneva began on Sept 1, and will end today, Sept 7, 2004. The Council meets every year in between the LWF’s Assembly – the highest governing body of the Fellowship that is held once every six years. At this year’s council, some 100 church representatives and 70 invited guests took part to conduct relevant business matters.