On 17 December 2010, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) approved the recognition of church fellowship between The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The approval of the recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and the SELC occurred twelve years after the SELC first requested fellowship discussions with the LCMS under President Alvin Barry. Under Bylaw 220.127.116.11.2c, after a request for fellowship, consultation with the Preasidium, and the approval of the recognition of fellowship, the President of Synod may declare recognition of such fellowship.
Commenting on the CTCR's action, President Matthew C. Harrison said, "We give thanks to the Lord that after much patience and longsuffering on the part of the Siberian Lutherans, the Missouri Synod can now recognize the gift of fellowship that the Lord has worked between the LCMS and the SELC." For his part, Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin of the SELC has stated several times in the past, "From our point of view, we are in fellowship with the LCMS."
Shortly after President Harrison was elected at the 64th regular convention of the LCMS, Bishop Lytkin sent President-elect Harrison a letter on 14 July 2010 saying, "We at Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church also hope that with your election and introduction in the office of the President discussions between our church bodies concerning church fellowship will gain new momentum and will come to a proper conclusion. As you may know, we have met with LCMS church leaders a number of times, starting from Alvin Barry, but in the last year some impending circumstances slowed down our progress." In response to this letter, President Harrison sent a delegation to Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia, which consisted of Rev. Dr. Albert B Collver, Director of Church Relations Assistant to the President, Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Director of the CTCR, and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Dean of International Studies, Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne, for doctrinal discussions with members of the SELC. The delegation, while acknowledging differences in practice, found no doctrinal differences. On 18 November 2010, President Harrison consulted with the Preasidium regarding pursuing fellowship with the SELC according to Bylaw 18.104.22.168.2c.
With CTCR's December 17 approval, President Matthew C. Harrison, per Bylaw 22.214.171.124.2c, declared the recognition between the two church bodies.
Upon receiving the news of fellowship with the SELC, President Dean Wenthe of Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne stated, "I am delighted that more than a decade of mission work in Siberia on the part of Concordia Theological Seminary, under the direction of Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill and supported by our faculty, now has borne fruit as fellowship between our two churches. The SELC is already one of our church's most vibrant mission partners. We rejoice in God's grace and pray his blessing upon Bishop Lytkin, his pastors and congregations." Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Dean of International Studies and Director of the Russian Project at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, commented further, "The decision of President Harrison to declare altar and pulpit fellowship with the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church as one of his first international, church relations acts is extremely significant. It reveals a vision and heart for fostering unity among faithful confessional Lutheran brothers and sisters the world over."
Over the past 14 years, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, utilizing its professors, along with pastors primarily from within the Missouri Synod and occasionally from our partner churches such as SELK, provided theological education for the majority of the current pastors in the SELC, largely at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Siberia, Russia. During this time, the LCMS and the SELC have forged deep relationships. Although the Synod in July 2010 passed Resolution 3-04A to help fast track fellowship with small or emerging confessional Lutheran church bodies, the recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and SELC came about through measured and intentional steps.
The passing of Resolution 3-04A at the Synod's convention in July 2010 led to the creation of Bylaw 126.96.36.199.2c, which reads, "When a small, formative, or emerging church body requests recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod, and after consultation with the Praesidium and approval by the commission, such recognition may be declared by the President of the Synod subject to the endorsement of the subsequent Synod convention." The first use of this Bylaw for the recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and the SELC after more than 14 years of contact between the two churches demonstrates a careful and deliberate use of this new responsibility granted to the President.
Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast, Chairman of the CTCR noted, "In John 17 the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father for the oneness of His church. Since that time the church has struggled to express that oneness. From this we learn, first of all, that fellowship doesn't simply 'happen' by 'chance.' It is the gift of God. Second, we see that the realization of that fellowship occurs in a fallen world that now lives under the cross of Christ. The Commission on Theology and Church Relations rejoices in the Lord's gracious leading of the SELC and LCMS to recognize their confessional unity and looks forward to future opportunities to work toward the faithful expression of the oneness we have in Christ with those who confess the faith in the fullness of its truth."
With the recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and SELC, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations – Assistant to the President, said, "As one who taught at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia, the formal recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and SELC brings me great joy as the role of confessional Lutheranism is expanded around the world."
The recognition of fellowship between the LCMS and SELC will be brought to the LCMS' 65th regular convention in 2013 for ratification.