MADAGASCAR – Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) passed on to glory suddenly on July 11, 2020 from COVID-19 after a brief stay in hospital.
A funeral service for President Rakotonirina was held on July 12, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a funeral open to the public was not possible, but the service was streamed online.
“President David Rakotonirina was a respected and committed confessional Lutheran churchman, and a good friend,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “Oh, how blest are they whose toils are ended,” Dr. Quill said, quoting the hymn by Simon Dach. He further asked Lutherans around the world to keep David’s wife and family, as well as the Malagasy church, in their prayers.
In addition to serving as President of the FLM, President Rakotonirina had assumed the presidency of the Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar (FFKM) in January 2020. In that position, he had encouraged the government to take greater steps to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and urged churchgoers to follow government health directives. The Malagasy Lutheran Church itself had distributed food, medicine, and prevention kits through its hospitals and health centres to various areas of the country.
Dr. Rakotonirina received his Master of Theology degree from the Graduate School of Theology in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar in 1997. He served in congregational ministry from 1997-2006. From 2006-2010, he served as president of the seminary Sekoly Teolojikam-Paritany Loterana Atsimoniavoko, while also pursuing graduate studies through Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW).
Dr. Rakotonirina became President of the FLM’s Antananarivo Synod in 2012. On September 13, 2016, Dr. Rakotonirina was elected President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church. CTSFW awarded him an honourary doctorate of divinity in May 2018. He was also the recipient of several national awards from the nation of Madagascar.
During Dr. Rakotonirina’s presidency, the FLM pursued greater relationship with confessional Lutherans worldwide. In May 2018, the church voted to pursue altar and pulpit fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Later the same year, the Malagasy Lutheran Church was accepted into full membership of the International Lutheran Council on September 26, 2018, during the ILC’s World Conference meeting in Antwerp, Belgium.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church is one of the largest and fastest growing Lutheran church bodies in the world. The International Lutheran Council, of which the FLM is a member, is a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God.
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”
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).
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.
“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.
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.
NOTE: The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) recently voted to pursue fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) during an assembly of the FLM’s Committee of the Highest Leaders. Rev. Dr. Al Collver (Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council and Director of Church Relations for the LCMS) was present for the event, and brought the following greetings.
It is a great honor to be here with you today to celebrate your church’s jubilee. I bring you greetings in the name of Jesus, from President Matthew Harrison and from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Congratulations on 150 years as witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Madagascar and to the entire world. The Lord has blessed you greatly. The Missouri Synod will celebrate its 175th birthday in 2022. In advance, I would like to invite you to celebrate our jubilee. Our churches are sisters separated by the ocean, but now is the time to reach out our hands to help one another.
Greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Jesus’ name and to President David Rakotonirina, who I had the honor of seeing a week ago at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he received a Doctorate of Divinity. We also celebrate Rev. Denis Rakotozafy on receiving his PhD in Missiology. Theological education is important to both of our churches. In the future, we will be offering more scholarships to study and the opportunity to participate in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program. Such cooperation is an opportunity to learn from each other and to share experiences.
Our churches are sisters, in the same family, but separated while we were both young. Now, however, we have found each other as we celebrate important jubilees. We are confessional Lutherans who are faithful to the Bible with a strong Lutheran identity. The Missouri Synod and our partner churches around the world are eager to walk with the Malagasy Lutheran Church. We hope to come closer to you and partner together to bear witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world. We give thanks to the Lord for the Malagasy Lutheran Church and to President Rakotonirina for your friendship and desire to partner with us. As you will hear in a few moments, we in the Missouri Synod and in Europe and North America need you to be witnesses to us.
Let me share this Scripture verse and some brief words of greetings with you: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” — Ecclesiastes 3:1
The Preacher says there is a season for everything. One hundred and fifty years ago, there was a season in Madagascar. It was a season when faithful missionaries from Norway travelled by ship to Madagascar to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was preached, people were baptized in the name of the Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the body and blood of Jesus were given to eat and to drink. Men were trained to be pastors. The Lutheran church in Madagascar grew and was blessed. Today, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM is not only one of the largest Lutheran churches in Africa but in the entire world.
It is true that in the West there are a few Lutheran churches that boast more members than the Malagasy Lutheran Church. But the difference becomes clear when you count by people who come to worship. In Europe, many cathedrals and churches are almost entirely empty on Sunday morning. This increasingly is happening in North America too. But when you come to Madagascar, the churches are full. On my previous visit to Madagascar, the congregation I attended had Holy Communion for more than 7,500 people that Sunday. This is completely unknown in Europe and North America today.
The season has changed in world Lutheranism. Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther almost said the Gospel is a passing rain shower. He wrote: “Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history. If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been… And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year” (AE 45:352).
Unfortunately for the West—for Europe and North America—the Gospel of Jesus, specifically the preaching that sins are forgiven, has been like a passing rain shower. Instead of forgiveness of sins in Jesus, many preach human rights, same sex marriage (LBGT), and saving the environment instead of saving people with the Gospel of Jesus. In the West, the Bible is not preached as true and without error. Instead, the Bible is said to contain the Word of God, and is contextualized so that anything you wish to do or say is permitted. As a result, people no longer come to church. This is why the world needs the Malagasy Lutheran Church to remain faithful to the Bible and to proclaim Jesus.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church believes in Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again on the third day. You teach that the Bible is God’s holy Word. You teach the forgiveness of sin that is found in Jesus, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s body and blood. You have Luther’s Small Catechism. Your church has the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Martin Luther, it is raining in Madagascar like it once did in Europe and North America. Now is the season of growth of the church in Madagascar. Now is the season for evangelism. As it is written in the Book of Acts 1:12, “you shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and to the distant parts of the earth.” You, the Malagasy Lutheran Church, are Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth—even to Europe and North America. You will send missionaries throughout Madagascar and to the farthest parts of the earth—even to Europe and North America. Come bring us the rain of the true Gospel of Jesus, which brings us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
One example of the Spirit of God at work is the Fifohazana, which is usually translated as “spiritual revival” in English. I would like you to understand something about my context. When an American Lutheran hears the word “revival,” he thinks of Baptist or Pentecostal worship. It doesn’t sound Lutheran to an American Lutheran. It is important that you understand this context. However, the Missouri Synod has learned and come to understand that Fifohazana is not a “revival” as understood in the American context. We understand that Fifohazana is instead a spiritual way of life. This reminds us of Martin Luther’s first these of the 95 Theses, “That the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance.” It is a way of life. We respect your church and your ways. In fact. we have much to learn from you, including learning how to live a spiritual life filled with repentance.
I say it again: congratulations to the Malagasy Lutheran Church for 150 years of Jesus’ blessing and 150 years of bearing witness to Madagascar and to the world. Perhaps the most important time to bear witness is upon you now. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, your slightly older sister, is happy to walk with you and to partner with you as witnesses to Jesus. Thank you for desiring to partner with us. We both walk together in the Scriptures. We can share with each other and both become stronger. Be witnesses to the world and send missionaries to Europe and North America. As missionaries came to you 150 years ago, you now will go out into the world for the next 150 years. Remain faithful in the Word of God. The Reformation lives on here in Madagascar. As the Preacher says, “To everything there is a season…” and now is the season for the Malagasy Lutheran Church. May Jesus richly bless you and bring about the season of our joint partnership. Thank you.
9 November 2016
Antananarivo and Mahajanga, Madagascar
On 6 November 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (in Malagasy it is known as FLM: Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy), a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), installed newly elected church officers including the president, Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina in Antananarivo. Rakotonirina succeeds the Rev. Dr. Endor Modeste as president of the approximately 4-million-member church body. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) is one of the fastest growing Lutheran churches in the world, adding approximately 100 congregations each year. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) began through the efforts of the Norwegian Mission Society (NMS) with the establishment of a preaching station in Betafo in 1867. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) will celebrate its 150th year jubilee in May 2017. Approximately 12,000 people attended, the installation of President Rakotonirina and the other officers.
Immediately following the installation service, government officials presented President Rakotonirina with the “Odre National” award for his service to the country through his work in the church. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council, and Rev. Jeffrey Kuddes from the LCMS Office of International Mission, attended the installation service. After the installation service, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) held a reception where approximately 1,000 people attended to welcome and greet the new church officers. Dr. Collver presented greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church from President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and from the International Lutheran Council based upon Isaiah 42:10 & 12, particularly to “declare his praise in the islands.” He expressed the desire of the Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council to seek a partnership based upon Holy Scriptures and commitment to the Lutheran Confessions.
After the installation festivities were completed, the church leaders of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) gathered in Mahajanga, at the northeast corner of Madagascar, for the Executive Committee for the General Synod (KMSL). This “committee” is composed of over 100 people, including four people (2 clergy and 2 lay people) from each of the 25 synods (district in LCMS parlance) of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM). The KMSL is the highest decision making body after the general assembly and it meets twice a year. It met from 8-15 November 2016. President Rakotonirina preached the opening sermon based on Isaiah 49:12 – 17, which was the theme of the 136th KMSL meeting.
On 8-9 November 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) and Dr. Albert Collver met to discuss partnership possibilities with the Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council (ILC). As a result of these discussions, the Executive Committee for the General Synod (KMSL) issued a proclamation stating that it would seek partnership with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council. President Rakotonirina and the various synod presidents issued the proclamation for partnership on November 9th. Further discussions are planned for January and May 2017 with the hope that a partnership / working agreement can be forged.
MADAGASCAR – On 13 September 13, 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) elected Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina as the Presiding Bishop / President of the church body. Dr. Rakotonirina was elected on the fourth ballot receiving 242 votes, while Rev. Lotera Fabien, Dean of the Higher Institute of Lutheran Theology (SALT) in Fianarantsoa received 223 votes. The Malagasy Lutheran Church’s General Assembly began on 5 September 5, 2016 and concluded on September 14, 2016.
Prior to the election on, Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina served since 2012 as the bishop/president of the Antananarivo Synod in the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Before that, from 2006-2010, Dr. Rakotonirina served as the director of Seminary Teolojikam-Paritany Luterana Atsimoniavoko. In February 2016, Dr. Rakotonirina received a Doctorate of Divinity (D.D.) from Niagara Lutheran Theological Institute (NLTI). Dr. Rakotonirina is also studying at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) where he expects to receive a doctorate upon the completion of his dissertation.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) has between 3-4 million members. It was founded by Norwegian Missionaries in 1866. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) is a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
On February 2, President Harrison and the LCMS delegation visited the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG) to celebrate the dedication of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Greater Accra. President Harrison and ELCG Bishop Paul Kofi Fynn lead the ceremony together, with President Harrison giving the sermon. Approximately 650 people gathered for the dedication service.
The LCMS’ Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) assisted the ELCG in setting up and equipping their new seminary’s library through the Chemnitz Library Initiative—a joint project between Concordia Theological Seminary and the International Lutheran Council. Some funds for the seminary’s construction were provided by the LCMS’ Office of International Mission. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana was established in 1958 by missionaries from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Today its membership stands at approximately 29,000 members.
On February 5, LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison was invited to address the opening of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonano Loterana Malagasy) synodical convention near Antsirabe, Madagascar. On February 6, the LCMS delegation then visited the Antsirabe school for the blind. The school was recently the recipient of an LCMS emergency grant after Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and ILC Executive Assistant, learned in October 2013 that the children were malnourished due to budget cuts from European partners.
During meetings between the Malagasy Lutheran Church’s leaders and LCMS representatives, 17 Malagasy bishops asked for LCMS assistance in helping their churches affording roofs. Many Malagasy churches can afford local building materials (like red bricks) to construct their buildings, but have difficulty obtaining tin roofs to keep members dry during the rainy season. The LCMS is currently awaiting a formal proposal from the Malagasy Lutheran Church to see how the LCMS might assist. The Malagasy Lutheran Church has approximately 4 million members and is a member of the Lutheran World Federation.