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World news and commentary: May 2024

Cybercrime and churches

Christians are under attack, but this time the culprit is attacking in cyberspace.

On Dec. 26, 2023, a cybercrime gang attacked the World Council of Churches (WCC) and demanded payment or else sensitive material would be shared worldwide. All WCC systems went down the same day, and the authorities were alerted in Geneva, Switzerland, where the WCC has its administrative headquarters.

yellow triangle computer hacked signThe WCC is an interchurch ecumenical organization that represents over half a billion Christians worldwide. One of its member organizations, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), had its systems attacked with ransomware in a similar manner on Jan. 5, 2024. The LWF represents 78 million Lutherans worldwide; one of the larger member churches is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (WELS is not a member of either organization.)

According to reports, the Rhysida gang (named after centipedes) claimed responsibility for the attacks. It said online that it was ransoming the information for 6 Bitcoin, or about $280,000. The gang has been responsible for dozens of attacks on governments around the world since it emerged in May 2023. It has also attacked major corporations like Sony and medical institutions like Prospect Medical Holdings.

It seems, however, that cybercriminals are also taking aim at religious institutions. A South Carolina megachurch and a Roman Catholic publishing house, for example, were attacked last year.

The WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay condemned the criminal attack. He said, “It is terrible to experience such things as this,”¹ and I couldn’t agree more. While WELS may differ firmly with the WCC and LWF in our confession of Christ Jesus and his Word, we nevertheless lament the increasing levels of cybercrime in our world. No organization is safe. New technologies also open up new ways for the wicked foe to attack. We pray for the Lord’s protection and deliverance from such evil.

From conflict to communion?

The 500th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession will be celebrated June 25, 2030. Lutherans around the world are already contemplating how to honor this milestone.

At its September 2023 meeting in Krakow, Poland, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) assembly adopted a statement called a “Common Word.”² This document was a joint proclamation of the LWF and the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity of the Vatican. The “Common Word” calls for progress from “conflict to communion” in the same heretical vein as the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” (signed in 1999) and the “Joint Commemoration of the Reformation” (signed in 2016). It acknowledges that “the excommunication of Martin Luther is still a stumbling block for some today,” but the parties involved have moved past that because Luther is dead. Instead, “differentiating consensus allows Lutherans and Catholics to discern areas of consensus where our predecessors only saw insurmountable oppositions.”

The “Common Word” sadly thinks that Lutherans and Catholics can ignore disagreements and come together in full communion. The statement concludes: “This anniversary can encourage us to rediscover this confession in its original intention: ‘The express purpose of the Augsburg Confession is to bear witness to the faith of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.’ ”

My prayer is that true Lutherans will study and soak up the biblical confession made at Augsburg. Lutheran laity made this confession before the world, and 494 years later it remains unrefuted. The Augsburg Confession faithfully confesses the truth of God’s Word. No union can exist without a clear confession of God’s Word. As others study and discuss what was done and said at Augsburg, let’s take our own journey to be joyfully and firmly Lutheran.


Author: Benjamin Schaefer
Volume 111, Number 5
Issue: May 2024

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