India Evangelical Lutheran Church leadership dispute resolved

INDIA – On September 26, 2018, the Madras High Court ruled in favour of President Y. Suvisesha Muthu as the duly elected head of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC). President Muthu was elected in May 2017 but his administration had faced legal challenges by an opposing group.

The International Lutheran Council (ILC), of which the IELC is a member church, greeted news of the legal resolution with satisfaction. “We are overjoyed to be able to finally extend our formal recognition of your administration,” wrote ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and General Secretary Albert Collver in an October letter to President Muthu. “It is our fervent prayer that, under your continuing leadership, the IELC may advance towards an ever-strengthened unity of faith and confession, and that the hitherto endless strife and legal disputes that are so displeasing among Christian brothers may come to an end. May our Lord give you the grace necessary to bring this about and to guard and guide His Church in India.”

“The ILC wishes all the best for you and your presidency, and stands ready to support you in any way that we can,” they continued. “We pray that the Lord would bring those opposing your administration to repentance for the sake of His Church in India, and so that their own souls might avoid judgement in the afterlife.”

IELC President Y. Suvisesha Muthu at his installation.

President Muthu was elected on May 26, 2017, receiving 35 of 65 ballots cast. Because of leadership challenges in the IELC in recent years, representatives from the IELC’s partner church, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), were on hand as observers to verify the vote, in addition to the IELC’s own election commissioner and presidential candidates. An installation service for President Muthu took place later that evening, with IELC Vice President Y. Sukumaran presiding.

“We are encouraged that faithful men like you and your fellow officers continue to tirelessly seek to reform the IELC administration,” wrote LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison in a letter to President Muthu after the September court decision. “We join you in looking forward to the day when the dissension and strife within the IELC has ceased.”

President Muthu succeeded President Gambeeram, who had previously been elected to office in 2014. As a result of internal disputes, the courts likewise had to declare his administration legitimate after legal challenges from opposing groups.

———————

India and LCMS Lutherans sign landmark agreement

IELC President Raja Gambeeram and Rev. Dr Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC.
IELC President Raja Gambeeram and Rev. Dr Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC.

INDIA – On November 15, 2015, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC), members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), signed a landmark agreement increasing support and cooperation between the two church bodies to a level that includes unprecedented support for the IELC’s seminary.

Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, Executive Secretary of the ILC, said, “It is a great joy to see how two ILC churches can partner together to work in the area of theological education.” Dr. Collver further noted the importance of ILC churches partnering together for theological education. “Increasing the capacity for theological education of member churches is one of the largest goals of the ILC,” he said. “We look forward to partnering with the IELC in the near future to hold continuing education seminars in India for IELC pastors.”

The agreement between the LCMS and the IELC concerns Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSN) in Nagercoil, India. LCMS missionaries established CTSN in 1924 to train candidates in Lutheran confessional theology. Principal (president) Dr. Daniel Monika Raj of CTSN says, “[The early missionaries] did not want to send the candidates to other seminaries where they could not get the training in Lutheran confessional theology. Hence it was planned much ahead, and it is the 90th year since its inception in Nagercoil.” The recent agreement seeks to preserve this Lutheran heritage by agreeing to fulfill a decade-long request made by the IELC president for the LCMS to deploy a theological faculty member to the seminary.

Students seek out CTSN for theological training, but many lack financial means. In the agreement, the LCMS promises to provide scholarships and financial aid for students. Principal Monika Raj notes, “There will be more students if they can receive financial aid.” The LCMS will provide scholarships of $500 (USD) per student per year based on merit and need. Furthermore, the LCMS will continue to provide stipends for vicars and continuing education seminars for IELC pastors and staff. The LCMS will also support compensation and continuing education for the faculty and the deploying of one or more LCMS theological educators to CTSN.

The seminary in Nagercoil agreed to “provide satisfactory and timely reports” regarding the use of LCMS support and to “work toward self-sufficiency by developing sources of funding to meet any deficit remaining after LCMS support.”

“Thanks to the wonderful leadership of President Gambeeram and Principal Monika Raj, we have reached a turning point in the relationship between the LCMS and the IELC,” said LCMS Asia Regional Director Darin Storkson. “The LCMS is now blessed to be resuming its financial support to the IELC seminary, but now at historically high levels. This is a landmark agreement between the IELC and the LCMS and is reflective of the outstanding cooperation that we are receiving from President Gambeeram’s administration and Principal Monika Raj and his faculty.”

LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison noted how the relationship between the IELC and the LCMS has turned a new page: “Under the leadership of President Raja Gambeeram, our partner church in India is beginning to leave behind some of its past problems. This agreement with the IELC and LCMS about seminary education is a good step forward to help strengthen the church.” He added that “it was a pleasure to meet with President Raja Gambeeram and Dr. Monika Raj in St. Louis recently. May the Lord bless their important work.”

The IELC has experienced internal conflict for decades. During the tenure of President Raja Gambeeram, the IELC has experienced strife as some members within the church body attempted to wrest control from rightly elected officers. President Gambeeram thanked the LCMS for giving “us great confidence and courage to withstand the anti-church, evildoers within the church,” and for “always reminding us our primary call of God to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to preach repentance and the forgiveness to the ends of the world.”

Rev. Roger James, LCMS Area Director for South Asia, noted how the opponents of President Gambeeram have fought against him: “These opponents have shown that they are willing to use virtually any means to promote themselves and protect their interests, including intimidation and violence.” Thus, Dr. Monikaraj’s strong leadership of the seminary is significant: “[He] is indeed a very impressive man, not one to be pushed around” and “he has the courage to stand up against President Gambeeram’s opponents.”

Part of the discussion on November 15, 2015 included a request from President Gambeeram that the LCMS assist the IELC in the management of properties it received from LCMS missionaries but that have since become a source of temptation and strife within the church. President Gambeeram therefore asked the LCMS to help the IELC remove this source of temptation for the church.

“The signing of this momentous agreement, to pledge bilateral co-operation and support was long awaited,” says Mr. Ravi C. Jesupatham, the LCMS’ India Coordinator. He continues, “We are honored and very proud that the beloved and respected President of our Mother Church, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, agreed to personally present and sign this historic agreement. We thankfully acknowledge and realize the extent to which the LCMS is going to protect and provide for the interests of her first daughter church, the IELC.”

He writes, “By the grace of our Lord, this agreement will take CTSN to new heights. This new IELC, LCMS, and CTSN agreement is grand, bold and big in many ways.

———————