World Seminaries Conference considers spiritual warfare, declining religiosity

Participants in the ILC’s 2019 World Seminary Conference engage in discussions.

PHILIPPINES – The International Lutheran Council’s 2019 World Seminaries Conference continued on Wednesday.

The morning began with a service of Morning Prayer, following which participants heard additional presentations on the conference theme: “Confessional Lutheranism: Doctrinal Identity in Different Cultural Contexts.”

African Context

Rev. Dr. Nicholas Salifu presents during the 2019 ILC World Seminaries Conference.

The first presenter of the day was Rev. Dr. Nicolas Salifu of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, whose presentation on “Spiritual Warfare in a Lutheran Perspective” provided an exploration of Lutheran doctrine within an African context.

“The early church accepted the influence of the demonic realm with great seriousness,” noted Dr. Salifu. And while Western culture has downplayed or even denied this aspect of historic Christian theology, Dr. Salifu said that the reality of spiritual warfare is readily apparent in the African context—and, indeed, in much of the rest of the world. “The West needs to realize that it is the only contemporary society that denies the reality of evil spirits,” he said, quoting the New Testament scholar Clinton Arnold.

When the reality of spiritual warfare is recognized, the Church is in a better position to respond appropriately to the spiritual needs of its people. “The weapons of our warfare are not guns,” Dr. Salifu noted. “The reason why physical weapons are useless in a spiritual war is because the real enemies are not people of flesh and blood but spiritual powers of wickedness.” The Christian’s true weapons for spiritual warfare are instead Word and Sacrament, Dr. Salifu continued, because through these “the Lord fights the devil.” We are to pray in Jesus’ name, for He is the one who conquers.

North American Context

Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann speaks on the state of religiosity in the United States of America.

In the afternoon, Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann led the conference’s fourth presentation on the conference theme, discussing “The Role of the Church in the Face of Declining Influence of Christianity in North America.” Dr. Biermann is Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri—a theological institution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Dr. Biermann’s analysis of the state of religion in the United States of America identified three key aspects: 1) the decline of Constantinianism which has “stripped Christianity of its former prestige and clout; 2) the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as a replacement faith with only the “remotest superficial resemblance to orthodox Christianity;” and 3) a dominant cultural mood of normal nihilism in which all values are mere preferences or opinions, easily dismissed or changed.

In light of this situation, Dr. Biermann asked: “What, precisely, is the church—the orthodox, faithful church that follows Christ and treasures the legacy of Luther and all other faithful disciples of Jesus—supposed to do?” The answer: “Resolutely follow her Lord with tenacity, trust, and a seeming indifference to the clamor of the world around.” This means neither retreating from the world, nor confronting it on its own terms, nor capitulating to the culture, but simply living out the calling of the Church in all times and places: preaching the Word of God and living lives “that are inherently and unarguably compelling through their simple and consistent witness to the reality of Christ at work in and through them.” “A rich and nuanced grasp of Luther’s insights into God’s rule of the world in terms of the two realms,” Dr. Biermann concluded, “allows Lutheran believers to understand and undertake with zeal their place and role in this world.”

Each of Wednesday’s major presentations was followed by plenary discussion. The convention also heard regional reports on the state of seminary education in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America throughout the day. It further took in several short parallel sessions during the final part of the afternoon before breaking for Vespers at St. Stephen Lutheran Church.

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ILC Africa Region meets in South Africa

Participants in the 2019 ILC Africa Region conference. Back: Davis Wowa (Confessional Lutheran Church—Malawi Synod); Nathanial Bol (South Sudan), Mandla Khumalo (South Africa -CLCSA), Emmanuel Makala (Tanzania), Modise Maragelo (South Africa, LCSA). Front: Patrice Legbanon (Benin), Geoffrey Skosana (South Africa, Secretary, Dieter Reinstorf (South Africa – FELSISA), Peter Maganda (Uganda).

SOUTH AFRICA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) held its Africa World Region conference August 16-20, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa.

The triennial meeting is an important opportunity for church leaders to connect and build relationships. During the 2019 conference, each leader was invited to present a historical overview of their church. A series of daily Bible studies on the topic “Servant Leadership” were presented in three parts: 1) Christ as a servant of all; 2) Disciples of Christ as servants of all; and 3) The Church of Christ as servants to the world.

This year, church leaders from Benin, Malawi, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda gathered for the event, including: Bishop Nathaniel Bol (South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church); Bishop Mandla Khumalo (St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Synod of South Africa); General Secretary Patrice Legbanon (Lutheran Church in Africa—Benin Synod); Bishop Emmanuel Makala (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania – South East of Lake Victoria Diocese); Bishop Modise Maragelo (Lutheran Church in Southern Africa); Executive Chairman David Wowa (Confessional Lutheran Church—Malawi Synod); Secretary Geoffrey Skosana (Lutheran Church in Southern Africa); Bishop Dieter Reinstorf (Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa); and Dean Peter Maganda (Lutheran Church of Uganda). Revs. Shauen Trump and Gary Schulte, Africa Area Directors from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Office of International Missions, were also present as guests.

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies, and the Africa World Region is the ILC’s fastest growing region. The region currently has eleven full member churches, three observer members, and one diocese listed as a registered organization member. Since the beginning of 2019, the ILC has received an additional six applications from African churches seeking membership.

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Second Round of Classes for Lutheran Leadership Development Program

LLDP participants and their instructors at CTSFW (l-r): FELSISA Deputy Bishop Helmut Paul, LCSA Bishop Modise Maragelo, EECMY General Secretary Teshome Amenu, ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala, LCSA Deputy Bishop Mandla Thwala, CTSFW President Lawrence Rast, CTSFW Academic Dean Charles Gieschen, ELCG President John Donkoh, EECMY Director of Children and Youth Tsegahun Assefa, ELCT-SELVD District Pastor Daniel Mono, and LLDP Director Naomichi Masaki.

USA – The Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP) held its second round of classes July 8-19, 2019 at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW).

“It was a joy to be reunited here at CTSFW with our colleagues and brothers in the office from countries throughout Africa,” said Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, LLDP Director and a professor with CTSFW. “We pray that their studies in this program will bear much fruit in their home church bodies”

CTSFW President Lawrence Rast teaches Lutheran history.

The first week featured a course on the History of the Lutheran Church taught by CTSFW President Lawrence Rast. This course focused on giving participants a deeper appreciation of the rich heritage of the Lutheran Church, and the tools to evaluate their own Lutheran tradition in light of the history of the Reformation. Participants also considered present day Lutheranism in the context of our changing world, both within and without the church.

The second week of classes featured Rev. Dr. Charles Gieschen, CTSFW’s Academic Dean, teaching a course on Lutheran Hermeneutics. The course provided instruction for students on how to read and understand Scripture faithfully, while also addressing the dangers of the higher-critical method and reader-oriented hermeneutics of biblical interpretation common in some parts of world Lutheranism. Among other resources, students read the book How to Read the Bible with Understanding, a publication from Concordia Publishing House (CPH).

Rev. Dr. Charles Gieschen teaches on Lutheran hermeneutics.

The students were also joined outside of class by Darin Storkson, Interim General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). The Lutheran Leadership Development Program is a certificate program of the ILC.

Darin Storkson, Interim General Secretary of ILC, speaks with LLDP participants.

“One of the recurring requests we hear from Lutheran Churches around the world is the need for solid theological training,” said General Secretary Storkson. “The International Lutheran Council is proud to offer the Lutheran Leadership Development Program as a way of helping Lutherans around the world meet their theological education and leadership-training needs.”

In addition to classes, participants enjoyed plenty of time for food and fellowship, as well as visiting local Lutheran sites. The group also participated in the regular daily chapel services of CTSFW, where four of the LLDP participants were invited to preach. The intensive two-week period ended with a banquet featuring Lutheran choral music.

“The reaction of the participant in the LLDP remains overwhelmingly positive,” said Dr. Masaki. “They express gratitude and joy in hearing lectures that are faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and in receiving the Lord’s gifts in daily chapel and Sunday divine services. It’s wonderful to see the growing confessional fellowship and networking among participants and their churches.”

“To many, this program has been an eye-opening experience which they do not want to keep to themselves,” Dr. Masaki continued. “They request an expansion of the program. They also request that the lectures would be made available in book form as well, so that they may be more easily shared with others in in their home countries—something we are exploring with Concordia Publishing House.”

Eight students from across Africa were present for the latest round of classes, including General Secretary Teshome Amenu of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY); Mr. Tsegahun Assefa, Director of the Department of Children and Youth in the EECMY; President John Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG); Deputy Bishop Helmut Paul of the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA); Bishop Modise Maragelo the Lutheran Church of Southern Africa (LCSA); Deputy Bishop Mandla Thwala of LCSA; Bishop Emmanuel Makala of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania’s South East of Lake Victoria Diocese (ELCT-SELVD); and District Pastor Daniel Mono of ELCT-SELVD.

LLDP Director Naomichi Masaki (bottom) and ILC Interim General Secretary Darin Storkson (third row, right) pose with LLDP participants in front of a mosaic in the library at CTSFW. This section of the mosaic shows Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses and Martin Chemnitz holding the completed Book of Concord. “How fitting it is that we all stand here together as heirs of this common and rich Reformation heritage!” said Dr. Masaki, noting that those in the picture come from many different nations (South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Japan, and the United States) but are united in the same Lutheran faith.

Three additional LLDP participants from the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) and the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) were unable to attend the current round of classes in Fort Wayne.

The LLDPis a two-year certificate program which aims to provide Lutheran church bodies around the world an opportunity to develop leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical skills in leadership and resource management. Students in the LLDP meet three times a year over two years for a total of twelve courses. Additional course work, writings, and examinations take place at a distance. More information on the LLDP is available here.

The first round of LLDP classes took place February 18-March 1, 2019 in Wittenberg, Germany. The next set of classes will take place November 18-29, 2019 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

You can support the LLDP by making a donation online. You can also make a donation by cheque to:

International Lutheran Council
P.O. Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

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Commentary: Methodist rejection of same-sex marriage is a victory for Christians of the Global South

by Mathew Block

News that the United Methodist Church (UMC) has reaffirmed the historic teaching of Christianity on same-sex relationships is a welcome surprise, and represents a victory for Christians of the Global South.

The 2019 General Conference of the UMC, which just met in St. Louis, Missouri, was widely expected to be a turning point for Methodists. A vast majority of bishops were pushing for the adoption of the “One Church Plan,” which would have seen the church strike prohibitions on the marriage of same-sex couples and the ordination of practicing homosexual ministers in the United States, and open up the possibility for other countries to follow suit.

The plan, however, was defeated by a vote of 449 to 374 (about 55 percent to 45 percent). Instead, delegates voted in favor of the Traditional Plan, reaffirming the church’s historic position on gender by a vote of 438 to 384 (about 53 percent to 47 percent).

So what happened? How did the historic Christian understanding of sexuality carry the day against the wishes of most UMC bishops? The answer is simple: Africa said no.

For a long time, the affluent church in the United States has pressed dependent churches in Africa and elsewhere to adopt the progressive ideologies of western mainline Protestantism. But the churches of the Global South have resisted, culminating in the recent votes at the UMC General Conference.

That experience is hardly unique to Methodism. We see the same thing happening in world Lutheranism. A few years ago, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council, published an article entitled “Colonialism in the Global South: The Imperialism of Western Sexual Ethics.” There he argues that the imposition of western progressive theology on churches in places like Africa represents a new form of colonial oppression by western churches.

And yet, many mainline Protestants seem to think the opposite. In his article, Dr. Collver notes a 2014 essay from the Lutheran World Federation which argued that “the rejection of homosexual love” was itself “another form of colonialism.”

This position leads to the incongruous image of western Protestants accusing their African brethren of colonialism, even as they attempt to push western progressive theology on their dissenting historic colonies. What is more, western mainline Protestants are increasingly tying financial support for churches in places like Africa with the acceptance and promotion of progressive ideology on issues like sexuality—an apparent attempt to starve out dissenters.

Despite this pressure, many churches of the Global South have firmly resisted attempts by westerners to impose progressive theology. Churches like the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, for example, have made their opposition to same-sex marriage clearly known, rebuking western church bodies which have departed from Scriptural teaching in this matter.

Their position will only become stronger, given the rapid growth of Christianity in the Global South. This is especially true as mainline Protestantism in the West continues its long decline.

It was precisely this sort of situation—the growth of Christianity in the Global South and the decline of mainline Protestantism in the West—which led to the dramatic showdown at the United Methodist Church’s recent General Conference. Unlike many denominations which have separate national church bodies in different countries, the UMC functions as a single church body throughout multiple nations. So while western progressives planned to push through divisive doctrinal change on the issue of sexuality, the growth of Methodism in the Global South meant Africans (who now make up more than 40 percent of all United Methodists worldwide) had a much stronger voice than in years past—and a much greater share of voting delegates.

Their voice was powerfully present during the General Conference. This was particularly true during a speech by the Liberian theologian Dr. Jerry P. Kulah on the morning of February 23. “We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics,” he said. “We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to ‘grow up.’”

His words are a stunning rebuke to the colonialist ideologies of western mainline Protestantism. He continued:

“We Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.

We stand with our Filipino friends! We stand with our sisters and brothers in Europe and Russia! And yes, we stand with our allies in America.

We stand with farmers in Zambia, tech workers in Nairobi, Sunday School teachers in Nigeria, biblical scholars in Liberia, pastors in the Congo, United Methodist Women in Cote d’Ivoire, and thousands of other United Methodists all across Africa who have heard no compelling reasons for changing our sexual ethics, our teachings on marriage, and our ordination standards!

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!”

That stance may mean some financial difficulties for orthodox Methodists in Africa and elsewhere if western Christians choose to withhold funding. But that doesn’t mean African Methodists will back down. Dr. Kulah continued:

“Some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.”

These are powerful words, and well worth reflecting on in our own Lutheran circles. Many Lutheran church bodies today face similar pressures to submit to western ideologies contrary to the teachings of Scripture. You who resist are to be commended for your faithfulness in the midst of great challenges. I pray that the words of the great Lutheran hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt will give you strength to meet whatever challenges you may face:

If God Himself be for me,
I may a host defy;

For when I pray, before me
My foes, confounded, fly.
If Christ, my Head and Master,
Befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster
Can drive me from His love?

May that love of God be your strength as you continue to stand firm in His Word. And as you stand firm, know that we in the International Lutheran Council stand with you. May God bless you and your churches with every good thing in Christ.

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Mathew Block is editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine and communications manager for the International Lutheran Council.