Churches at crossroads as Asia goes through rapid change

Asian Church Leadership Conference participants visit Manila, the Philippines. Photo: Johanan Celine Valeriano

Asian Church Leadership Conference held in Manila, Philippines

(LWI) - Lutheran churches in Asia are determining their role and strengthening their Lutheran identity, in religiously and culturally diverse societies going through rapid economic growth, social and technological changes. This was discussed when The Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) member churches in Asia met for the 2017 Asian Church Leadership Conference (ACLC).

“We need to sit together, listen to one another, express our challenges and our strengths, what we can do together through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Ms. Desri Maria Sumbayak, LWF vice-president for Asia told the conference.

Some 50 church leaders representing LWF member churches in Asia gathered for the ACLC in Manila, the Philippines, 23-27 November under the theme “Asia Communion at the Crossroads: Discerning Our Journey Together”.

The conference grappled with issues such as Lutheran identity, religious fundamentalism and ministerial formation and the church in the public space. The church leaders recognized that holistic mission, which includes proclamation, diakonia and advocacy, will remain a priority in the Asia region.

Proclamation of the Gospel: realities in Asia

“In Asia, we face different kinds of challenges when it comes to sharing our faith in a multicultural, multi-religious environment, but we have managed to live in harmony,” said Rev. Dr Martongo Sitinjak of the Protestant Christian Batak Church (HKBP) in Indonesia.

Johanan Celine Valeriano, a youth delegate from the Lutheran Church in the Philippines and an LWF Council member, said that diversity is part of Asia’s makeup. “I think our member churches in the global North can learn from us Asians on how to live in a pluralistic society and be truthful in our witness to the gospel.”

LWF vice-president for Asia Desri Maria Sumbayak speaks in a session on "Identifying Our Journey Together: Reports & Proposals." Photo: LWF/Apollos Domingo & Naiz Ramirez

Bishop Ben Chang of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong (ELCHK) called on the Asian church leaders to address the socioeconomic imbalance in the region as the root cause of poverty and religious fundamentalism.

Asian Lutheran identity and ministerial formation

The church leaders from Asia identified that their common identity as Lutherans needs to be strengthened to collaborate and address global issues that affect member churches in the region.

Rev. Joseph Soren, president of the Nepal Evangelical Lutheran Church, urged the Asia church leaders to form a network between churches and their mission partners to make the Lutheran identity more visible.

From left to right: Rev Pan Li-Yen and Bishop Esra Sinaga during a Group Discussion on 'Discerning Our Journey Together' on 24.11.2017 during the ACLC 2017 at the Lutheran Center, Sta. Mesa, Manila, Philippines. Photo: LWF/Apollos Domingo & Naiz Ramirez

Rev. Dr Philip Lok, LWF area secretary for Asia, reaffirmed the global communion’s commitment to further strengthen the Lutheran identity of the member churches in Asia, through its work in the coming years.

“Our church envisions itself as a leading missionary church, our efforts are then to be focused on encouraging our young people to enter full-time ministry, to be equipped to serve,” noted Rev. Antonio Reyes, president of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, who co-hosted ACLC 2017.

Holy Communion served to ACLC2017 participants and congregation members at Trinity Lutheran Church, Manila, Philippines. Photo: LWF/Apollos Domingo & Naiz Ramirez

During the closing worship of the meeting, Rev. Dr Batara Sihombing, general secretary of the Indonesian Christian Church (HKI), underscored the fact that the church in Asia is at a crossroads.

“We need to remind ourselves to bear the cross of Christ daily and our prayer should be ‘your kingdom come, your will be done,’” he concluded.

By Steven Lawrence, LWF regional officer for the Expression of Communion in Asia. Edited by LWF communications.