LCMS recognizes fellowship with four new church bodies

The LCMS’ 2019 Synodical Convention (Screengrab).

USA – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod declared altar and pulpit fellowship with four church bodies during its 67th regular synodical convention held July 20-25, 2019 in Tampa, Florida.

The LCMS’ new church partners are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België – ELKB), the Portuguese Evangelical Lutheran Church (Igreja Evangélica Luterana Portuguesa – IELP), the Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa (CLCSA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (Den evangelisk-lutherske Frikirke i Danmark – ELFD).

While the LCMS has historical ties to all of these church bodies, the votes regularize relations with them. The LCMS was previously in fellowship with Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium when it was part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Synod of France and Belgium. The ELKB became self-governing in 2002, requiring the development of a new declaration of fellowship.

The LCMS has practiced assumed fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark for more than a century, having supported the church body since it was young and having trained many of its pastors. The new agreement regularizes that relationship, and follows the ELFD’s formal declaration of fellowship with the LCMS during its July 2018 convention.

The Portuguese Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in the 1959 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, when the Brazilian church was still a district of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The IELP contacted the LCMS in 2016 to request formal recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship, which was granted by the LCMS president. The 2019 LCMS convention has now endorsed that declaration of fellowship.

LCMS relations with the Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa predate the CLCSA’s official founding in 1989, with the CLCSA’s founding pastor having been provided by an LCMS seminary education. The CLCSA officially requested altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS in October 2015.

In addition to these declarations of fellowship, the 2019 Convention also moved to simply the recognition of fellowship for new church bodies emerging out of the mission efforts or reorganization of a pre-existing fellowship partner of the LCMS.

The LCMS also resolved to clarify its relationship with Lutherans in Sri Lanka, recognizing fellowship with the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC), which succeeds the defunct Lanka Lutheran Church. The Sri Lankan church grew out of LCMS missions in the country beginning in 1927, with the church becoming independent in 2001. The Sri Lankan government declared the church legally defunct in 2007; the church reconstituted and was legally recognized in 2017 as the CELC.

The LCMS, ELKB, IELP, CLCSA, ELFD, and CELC all hold varying forms of membership in the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies around the world. During the convention, the LCMS commended the work of the ILC and pledged its continuing support.

Other business

Among other work during the 2019 convention, the LCMS also adopted resolutions to encourage church planting; condemn the sin of racism; strengthen multi-ethnic outreach; encourage continued international theological education in aid of world Lutheran churches; engage in a comprehensive church worker recruitment initiative; and remember the needs of the persecuted church.

The LCMS also celebrated a number of milestones: the forthcoming 175th anniversary of Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) in 2020; 150 years since the founding of Concordia Publishing House; 125 years of international missions to areas outside North America; 125 years since the founding of Concordia University, Nebraska; 100 years of deaconess ministry; 100 years of campus ministry; 60 years of the Director of Christian Education program; and 25 years for the Lutheran Heritage Foundation. The church also commended the upcoming 175th anniversary of the LCMS in 2022.

The convention comes just a few weeks after the LCMS announced that President Matthew C. Harrison had been reelected to a fourth term. During convention, The LCMS elected Rev. Peter K. Lange as First Vice-President. Rev. Dr. John C. Wohlrabe Jr. will serve as Second Vice-President, Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray as Third Vice-President, Rev. Nabil S. Nour as Fourth Vice-President, Rev. Christopher S. Esget as Fifth Vice-President, and Rev. Benjamin T. Ball as Sixth Vice-President.

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LCMS commends the International Lutheran Council, pledges continuing support

USA – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has commended the work of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), pledging its continued support as the ILC expands its operations in service of confessional Lutheranism worldwide. The LCMS’ resolution came during the church’s 67th regular synodical convention, taking place in Tampa, Florida.

“The ILC has become a beacon to worldwide Lutheranism by upholding the Holy Scriptures as the infallible Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions,” notes Resolution 5-08: To Commend and Support the International Lutheran Council. In the resolution, the LCMS gives thanks to God for the ILC and its continuing expansion.

The LCMS resolved “that the ILC be commended for its work to provide a place for worldwide Lutheran churches to be strengthened in the Holy Scriptures and in Lutheran identity as it bears witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.” The LCMS also resolved to encourage greater knowledge of the ILC within the LCMS, and pledged its continued support for the ILC’s work, resolving: “that the LCMS encourage its members to learn more about the work of the ILC, continue its involvement in the ILC, and support the ILC so that Lutheran churches worldwide will have a place to be encouraged, strengthened, and encouraged to remain faithful and bold witnesses.”

The resolution was adopted unanimously.

“It is gratifying to see the work of the International Lutheran Council be recognized in this way,” said ILC Interim General Secretary Darin Storkson following the vote. “The LCMS is an important ally in service of confessional Lutheranism worldwide, and we are thankful for their continued strong support.”

ILC Vice Chairman Timothy Teuscher (President of Lutheran Church–Canada) also expressed gratitude. “The International Lutheran Council is at a critical point in its history,” he said. “A growing number of Lutherans around the world are seeking to reembrace their confessional heritage. The ILC, thanks to the support of its members like the LCMS, is in a key position to assist these churches to stand more firmly on the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. May God give us strength for this task, and use us as He sees fit.”

The LCMS convention runs July 20-25, 2019.

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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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LCMS reelects President Matthew Harrison

President Matthew C. Harrison (Photo: LCMS Communications).

USA – On June 26, 2019, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) announced that Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison has been reelected as President of the church for a fourth term.

President Harrison was first elected to office in 2010, and his fourth term runs from 2019-2022. He was reelected with 51.76% of the vote (3,014 votes).

Other candidates for the position, Rev. Dr. David P.E. Maier (President of the LCMS’ Michigan District) and Rev. Timothy M. Klinkenberg (Senior Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange, California), received 39.89 percent and 8.35 percent of the vote respectively (or 2,323 and 486 votes).

The LCMS holds its presidential elections in advance of its synodical convention. Nominations for president were due in February 2019, with the three candidates receiving the highest portion of votes and consenting to serve if elected added to the slate. Voting was held June 22-25, 2019.

The LCMS will hold its 67th regular synodical convention July 20-25, 2019 in Tampa, Florida.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. In addition to his service to The LCMS, President Harrison has served on the ILC’s Executive Committee since 2018.

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Founder of Lutheran missions in Mozambique passes on to glory; the church he helped create is growing by leaps and bounds

Rev. Joseph Alfazema

CANADA – Rev. Joseph Khembo Alfazema, the father of confessional Lutheran missions in Mozambique and a pastor of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), passed on to glory on May 11, 2019 in Edmonton, Alberta. A funeral service for Rev. Alfazema was held on Saturday, May 18, 2019 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Edmonton.

Rev. Alfazema was native to Mozambique, but fled to Canada with his wife Perpetua in the 1980s to escape civil war. After the war ended, the Alfazemas were asked to assist in the founding of a school, health centre, and clean water supply in their homeland. This led to the founding of the Kapesseni Project, which brought not only physical assistance to those struggling in the aftermath of the civil war but also spiritual care as well.

Rev. Alfazema pursued pastoral ministry through Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario), and was called to serve Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) as a missionary to Mozambique upon his graduation. While his wife Perpetua focused on social ministry needs through the Kuwangisana Project, Rev. Alfazema focused on Gospel proclamation and evangelization.

Rev. Alfazema returned to Canada for health reasons following his retirement, but the work they began continued. In 2018, the church which grew out of his mission work was officially recognized by the Mozambican government as the Concordia Christian Church in Mozambique (Igreja Cristã da Concórdia em Moçambique – ICCM). While the church was officially registered by the government in 2018, it had previously operated unofficially for several years under the name Concordia Lutheran Church in Mozambique (Igreja Luterana da Concórdia em Moçambique —federal requirements in Mozambique prevented the young church from registering with the word “Lutheran” in its legal name).

The church grew out of Rev. Alfazema’s missions, and drew on the support of a number of international partners. Early on, Rev. Alfazema partnered with Rev. Dr. Carlos Walter Winterle to collaborate on mission work in the area. Dr. Winterle is president emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) and was at the time serving with the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA). Together, LCC, the IELB, FELSISA, and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, along with support from the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany’s (SELK) Bleckmar Mission project, coordinated mission outreach and theological training in the country, especially through the formation of a Theological Education by Extension Program organized by the IELB.

 

Rev. Joseph Alfazema (far left) poses with the first class of students Mozambique’s TEE program, along with TEE instructors Rev. Carlos Winterle (back-row, second-from-left) and Rev. André Plamer (front row, far right).

In August 2015, the Mozambican church celebrated the ordination of its first graduating class of pastors from the TEE. At the time, the church had ten congregations. By June of the next year, they had 31 congregations. Today, the ICCM has 80 congregations and a current class of thirty students training for the pastoral ministry.

The ICCM’s parent churches and supporters—LCC, the IELB, FELSISA, the LCMS, and SELK—are all member churches of the International Lutheran Council.

The family of Rev. Aflazema has invited those wishing to honour his legacy to contribute to the building of new classrooms for an elementary school in Mozambique.

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Korean Lutherans celebrate 60 years

Participants in the Lutheran Church in Korea’s 2018 convention.

SOUTH KOREA – The Lutheran Church in Korea (LCK) held its 48th regular convention October 10-12 at Luther University in Yongin, South Korea, during which time the church celebrated 60 years of Lutheran witness in Korea. The gathering took place under the theme “Arise, Shine.”

LCK President Young-Seok Jin and LCMS President Matthew Harrison sign a protocol agreement between their two churches.

The first Lutheran outreach in Korea took place in 1832, but sustained Lutheran ministry in the country did not take place until 1958, when The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) established mission work in the region. That work was undertaken by three American missionaries (Paul Bartling, Maynard Dorow, and Kurt Voss) and their families, along with one Korean clergyman, Dr. Won-Yong Ji, who had received his doctorate from the LCMS’ Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

The church achieved independence in 1971. Today, the LCK counts more than 5,000 members in more than 50 churches across the country, though it has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands more through various mass-media mission programs, like the Lutheran Hour and the Bethel Bible study program.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison was present for the event, bringing greetings to the church as it celebrates 60 years of Lutheranism in Korea. On October 10, the two churches took the opportunity to reaffirm their ties to one another, with LCK President Young-Seok Jin and LCMS President Harrison signing an updated protocol document between the two churches. The document will guide continued cooperation between the two churches going forward.

ILC General Secretary Albert Collver, LCK President Young-Seok Jin, and LCMS President Matthew Harrison.

The Lutheran Church in Korea is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC, was also present for anniversary celebrations in Korea.

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Papua New Guinea celebrates 70 years of Lutheran missions

Mission outreach during early missions to the Enga region of Papua New Guinea.
Sand art commemorating the arrival of LCMS missionaries to Yaramanda in 1948.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Lutherans in Papua New Guinea are celebrating 70 years since the arrival of Lutheran missionaries in the Enga province of Papua New Guinea, an event which led in time to the founding of the Gutnius Lutheran Church (GLC). A celebration was held October 31 to November 3, 2018 in Yaramanda, the site where missionaries to the region first arrived.

The event featured several guest speakers highlighting both the history of the Lutheran missions to the Enga region, missions to the Siassi Island, and the 501st anniversary of the Reformation. The GLC also presented representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) with sand art portraying a missionary giving the Bible to an Enga man, symbolizing the coming of the LCMS missionaries to Yaramanda on November 2, 1948.

The history of the GLC dates to 1947, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia requested The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) assist with mission outreach in unreached parts of Papua New Guinea. The LCMS responded positively, sending Rev. Dr. Willard Burce and Rev. Dr. Otto Hintze as missionaries in 1948, and cooperating with missionaries Rev. Harold Freund and Patrick Kleinig from Australia.

Along with 230 builders and cargo carriers, Drs. Burce and Hintze travelled 60 miles by foot from Ogelbeng to Yaramanda, where a local leader had invited missionaries to come visit. That site would serve as the staging grounds for Lutheran missionary outreach in the nearby Enga territory. They first entered the Enga area on November 3, 1948. Five days later, on November 7, they held their first worship service in the Enga region, with about 40 local men in attendance.

Lutheran missionaries Willard Burce, Harold Freund, Patrick Kleinig, and Otto Hintze.

The first baptisms in the Lutheran community took pace in January 1957, when 79 people were baptized. The church organized to become the Wabag Lutheran Church in 1961, eventually changing its name to the Gutnius Lutheran Church in 1978. Today the GLC has about 125,000 members. In addition to mission and congregational ministry, the church also runs a hospital, schools, and seminaries.

Dr. Burce, now into his nineties, sent video greetings to Papua New Guinea in 2017 on the occasion of the GLC’s commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Between one and two thousand people gathered in Irelya for the historic event.

GLC Deputy Bishop Rasak Polyo and General Secretary Ezekiel David Peter, were present for the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

The GLC is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide.

In recent years, the GLC has struggled with leadership disputes. The ILC recognizes Bishop Nicodemus Aiyene as the legitimate, duly elected head of the GLC.

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Hong Kong’s Lutherans reelect President Yung

LCHKS President Allan Yung speaks at a 2014 event marking 65 years of Lutheran ministry in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG – The Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod (LCHKS) held its General Conference on April 28, 2018, at which time Rev. Dr. Allan Yung was reelected as President.

This will be Dr. Yung’s eighth term as president. He has served the LCHKS as President since 1997.

A major subject of discussion during the 2018 General Conference were recent decisions by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) to relocate its Asia region headquarters from Hong Kong to Taiwan, and to sell three Hong Kong properties. The LCMS announced in February its decision to relocate in order to “reduce costs and increase the church’s effectiveness in reaching the lost,” noting that Hong Kong is among the most expensive places in the world to work and live.

The move to Taiwan was also intended to “encourage and build up the LCMS partner church in that republic, the China Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC),” the announcement notes. CELC President Andrew Miao welcomed the transition to Taiwan, saying he looked forward “to better and increased cooperation and partnership with the LCMS in the work of the Gospel here.”

At the time the relocation was announced, LCMS Director Charles Ferry pledged that LCMS support for the Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod would remain unchanged. “We remain committed to supporting our partners in the Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod,” he said. “Our church partners in Hong Kong and surrounding communities will notice no interruption in our work together.”

During their recent convention, the LCHKS recognized the LCMS’ legal right to sell properties it owns in Hong Kong, but expressed a desire for greater consultation in the future, especially since the LCMS owns several properties that are utilized by LCHKS congregations. To that end, the convention resolved unanimously to pray for the LCMS; to work for a greater relationship between the two synods founded in “Christian love cooperation, and mutual respect;” and to direct the LCHKS’ Executive Council to seek the legal transfer of LCMS properties used by LCHKS congregations from the LCMS to the LCHKS.

The Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod was born out of LCMS missions, which first began in China more than a century ago. Both churches are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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LCMS Greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church

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.

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Rev. Dr. Al Collver brings greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church on behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Salama tompoko!

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.

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Malagasy Lutherans to seek fellowship with the LCMS

FLM Bishop David Rakotonirina addresses the assembly on the opportunity of closer relations with The LCMS.

MADAGASCAR – On May 25, 2018, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana MalagasFLM) voted to “more fully realize our unity as Lutheran Christians” between itself and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), with hopes that a closer relationship between the two churches will lead to the recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship in the future. The decision came during a gathering of the Committee of Highest Synod Leaders (KMSL), the highest decision making body in the Malagasy church, as they met in Antananarivo.

“We give thanks to our Lord who leads His church. I am very pleased to announce that FLM has decided to seek fellowship with the LCMS,” said FLM’s President, Bishop David Rakotonirina. “This is the first step to open the door by working together in the areas of development. We pray for the next steps. We desire to keep FLM a confessional Lutheran church. Praise the Lord.”

LCMS President Matthew Harrison greeted news of the vote with joy, calling it “one of the most significant days in the history of The LCMS and world confessional Lutheranism.”

“We are deeply humbled and deeply thankful,” he continued. “This is the result of growing love and partnership, recognizing a unity of confession of Christ, the gospel, and the truth of the inerrant scriptures, and of the Lutheran confessions,” President Harrison continued. “We have grown together through LCMS World Relief and Human Care medical mercy work, aids projects, graduate education for Malagasy leaders at our Fort Wayne seminary, the work of our Africa region missionaries, of our church relations division, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and more. The Malagasy have taught us much about zeal for outreach, and care for the most needy. And we have much more to learn. Thanks be to God.”

The Malagasy Lutheran Church was founded in 1867 by Norwegian missionaries and is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary. Today, FLM is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world, with approximately 4 million members in 8,500 congregations. It counts 1,500 pastors, and has more than 1,000 schools for Christian education. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has 2 million members, and is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and Executive Secretary for the ILC, brought greetings to the KMSL on behalf of the Missouri Synod. In remarks to the assembly, he encouraged them to maintain their faithful witness in the Gospel. “Our churches are sisters, in the same family, but separated while we were both young but now we have found each other as we celebrate important jubilees,” he noted. “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.”

“This marks a historic moment in world Lutheranism, where a Lutheran church in the Global South seeks a true partnership to mutually strengthen and encourage one another,” he said of the vote. “Today, the LCMS has the ability to help build capacity, while tomorrow the Malagasy Lutheran Church will send pastors and missionaries both to Europe and to North America. In fact, they already are doing this.”

The Malagasy Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will now turn their attention to planning next steps for their growing partnership.

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