TANZANIA – From December 4-7, 2019, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) together with Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW) sponsored a theological symposium at Agape Lutheran Church in Kahama, Tanzania. Agape is a congregation of the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT-SELVD).
In his opening sermon, ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala encouraged the 142 participants (pastors, deaconesses, members of the Executive committee, and local lay people) with a reflection on Philippians 1:27. “Joy is found in the concordia of doctrine alone, even under persecutions,” he said. “Paul and his church were surrounded by heretics, just like we are. We need to be the light of the world. Otherwise, we would become like other preachers.”
“Our symposium has only one purpose—that is, we want to be strengthened by the Word of God, growing together stronger in confession,” he continued. “We are not here for political interest, but for faith. Our diocese in its constitution declares that everything is to be measured by the Word of God. Bishop and pastors can make mistakes but not the Word of God. The Word is always right. We are also given the Book of Concord. Before you say anything of your own, consult with the Lutheran Confessions.”
“The Lutheran Confessions connect us with other Lutherans worldwide,” the bishop continued, “as well as with those who went before us, including Luther, Paul, and the Apostles.”
Theological Education in Tanzania
CTSFW has been assisting the diocese at the request of Bishop Makala in the areas of pastoral and diaconal formation as well as continuing education since 2013—the very beginning of the new diocese. Three cohorts of pastoral and deaconess students have already graduated, and the number of pastors has increased from 15 to about 80.
The annual theological symposium, which held its first conference in 2016, plays a significant role in the life of the diocese. As new pastors are ordained and others join the diocese from other areas in Tanzania and Kenya, it is important for the ministerium to foster a common confession. For laity and lay leaders, a symposium is a necessary place where questions and concerns about Christian faith and life are discussed and answered. The ILC’s sponsorship of the annual symposium directly contributes to the maturing of this young confessional Lutheran diocese in Tanzania. The South East of Lake Victoria Diocese was accepted as a Recognized Organization observer member of the International Lutheran Council in 2019.
The presenter for the 2019 symposium was Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, professor of systematic theology of CTSFW and director of the ILC’s Lutheran Leadership Development Program. He was invited to speak on three topics important to the diocese: (1) The Authority of the Bible in the Eyes of the Book of Concord; (2) The Prosperity Gospel vs Theology of the Cross; and (3) The Ordination of Women?
Several participating pastors who were trained at other theological institutions expressed thankfulness for Dr. Masaki and CTSFW, saying they “have a lot to teach the world about the truth of the Word of God” and that they appropriately stress the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, especially “when compared to other Lutheran churches.” One lay member of the Executive Committee shared that, as a result of the symposium, they now believe the ELCT had made a mistake in adopting women’s ordination.
Widespread interest in the presentations led the three-day symposium to be extended an extra half day for more question and answer sessions. At the close of the symposium, the chairman of the Executive Committee summarized the consensus of the participants, suggesting that the symposium be extended to meet twice a year and that it be extended to five days instead of three. Plans for future symposia hope to see two topics discussed at each event going forward: first, a study of the texts in the Book of Concord one by one, and second, a discussion of other biblical and contemporary issues.
Bishop Makala and the diocese expressed thanks to the ILC and CTSFW for sponsoring the theological symposium. “We had strong discussions among the participants, he wrote. “Lay people were excited and asked many questions, especially concerning women’s ordination. Participants expressed joy and eagerness to have more symposia and more time in each. Participants learned a lot from our facilitator Dr. Naomichi Masaki. We acknowledge that faith and knowledge have been enriched among the participants.”
“It is always such a great joy and privilege to serve in the SELVD, alongside Bishop Makala, Rev. Nzelu, and Dr. Mono,” said Dr. Masaki. “It is always nice to see my former students whenever I am back in Tanzania. But it is also rewarding to see how they have grown in their confession and matured in the ministry. Their ministry in SELVD is not easy. They daily face many challenges. Yet, they remain faithful to the Lord under the able leadership of Bishop Makala and his team.”
“I cherish the time I am able to spend with these men and women, both pastors and deaconesses, as well as lay people and lay leaders,” Dr. Masaki continued. “It was also a delight to meet new pastors whom I had not met before. The fruit of the Gospel here is so obvious. Indeed, the SELVD is a light in world Lutheranism. It’s a joy to help each other as brothers and sisters, and to rejoice together as Lutherans!”