The fourth congress of the Lutheran World Federation, largest church meeting ever convened in Helsinki, opened with a service of worship which was attended by Dr. Urho Kekkonen, president of the Finnish Republic, and televised via Eurovision and Nordvision to an estimated twenty million viewers. In his sermon, seventy-year-old Archbishop Ilmari Salomies of the Church of Finland warned: “Christian faith which by its worldliness loses its connection with eternity, has signed its own spiritual death sentence.” The offering at this service was earmarked for relief work in the devastated Yugoslav city of Skoplje.
With the general theme of “Christ Today,” the assembly had as its chief task a thorough examination of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith and how this doctrine is still relevant in a modern world. It was just here that the congress became bogged down. To an incredibly involved report on the subject (prepared by a theological commission over several years) was added an incredibly confused discussion. This provoked one professor in a press conference to refer to justification as “this horrible word.” Finally, the assembly could not agree even on the wording of a “contemporary statement” on the doctrine, and in what seemed an admission of defeat, referred the matter to its new commission on theology “for refinement.” No document ever had less need of added refinement. One journalist hit the nail squarely when at a press conference he expressed surprise at finding differing conceptions of Lutheran doctrines at a Lutheran gathering. He pointed out also that some of the federation leaders who were pressing for a restatement of Lutheran teachings in down-to-earth modern terms were themselves speaking a language ...1
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