From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Churches Urged to Intensify Theological Reflection among the People

From "Frank Imhoff" <>
Date Mon, 25 Sep 2006 06:14:39 -0500

Lutheran Churches Urged to Intensify Theological Reflection among the People First Seminar of LWF Program on Theology in the Life of the Church

ARUSHA, Tanzania/GENEVA, 22 September 2006 (LWI) - "We as churches are sometimes so busy doing things that we fail to deepen our theological reflection and bring it to the people. If they are not taught, they will go to other places. Our people are struggling, but we are not giving them good theological substance."

This observation by Rev. Dr Thomas Nyiwe, president, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon, underlines the significance of the "Theology in the Life of the Church" program of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Department for Theology and Studies (DTS). He was among theologians from different African countries, Germany, and the United States, who met 9-11 September in Arusha, Tanzania, for the first seminar of the LWF program, focusing on "confessing and living out faith in the triune God in the face of death and injustice."

The DTS gathering was held in conjunction with the Consultation on Poverty and the Mission of the Church in Africa, coordinated by the LWF Department for Mission and Development. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) hosted both meetings. (See 1925.EN.html).

Naming What Is Wrong

Rev. Dr Anastasia Boniface-Malle, United Bible Society of Kenya, pointed out that "in our churches we usually don't talk about people's real life issues, but in the Old Testament this did occur. Luther also began there, including with lament." Her perspectives on lament in the Psalms became a major focus of discussion at the seminar.

"The laments enrich the community, through naming and transformation. Lament is to make public what otherwise would be despair. Naming what is wrong, within the context of the community, and crying out to God to right what is wrong - this leads toward transformation," Malle explained.

Prof. Gary Simpson, Luther Seminar, St Paul, Minnesota, USA, pointed out that while the sick were prayed for by name in worship services, those living in poverty were not named. "Why not? How might that need to be challenged in light of our faith? That's the particularity of lament!" he stressed. Mr Rodgers Sabuni, a lay theologian from the ELCT added, "If we allow space for that, will we be able to respond? There is a sense of responsibility attached to that prayer."

Gracious Neighborliness

It was suggested that the key concern today may not be Lutherâs question of how to find a gracious God, but how to find and be a gracious neighbor. "How can we as Lutherans increase our gracious neighborliness in the context of poverty? After all, neighborliness is part of the very being of the church," argued Simpson.

The participants noted that a culture of sharing in Africa had eroded, especially under the forces of globalization. Nyiwe, also vice-chairperson of the LWF Program Committee for Theology and Studies, commented, "When people move back to their tradition, then they start organizing themselves around ethnicity, thus reinforcing the group identity rather than the life of sharing in the church." In contrast, said Simpson, "the triune god is an abundant triune community; we share in the communion of the trinity, for the sake of a shared-power world."

Bishop Musa Biyele, Eastern Diocese, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, pointed out that the neighborliness that comes after justification, including through sharing and advocacy, is often forgotten. "How much of this do we preach amid the rich and poor?" he asked. He noted that "African Lutherans are weak [in] the area of symbols. We need to reshape our worship to address what is occurring in our societies." Ms Teresa Swan Tuite, Yale University and Bates College, USA, said "practices such as the passing of the peace, need to be raised up for theological reflection. There are lots of ways in which 'theologians' in the community can do this."

Focusing on the importance of churches' participation in the government in countering poverty in Africa, Rev. Dr Benjamin Simon, Makumira Theological Seminary, Tanzania, said, "Where political parties often fail, churches can activate and represent interests of marginalized groups who are difficult to organize and reach."

Rev. Dr Sylvester Kahakwa, Makumira Theological Seminary, noted that "Lutheran identity is not widely known or appreciated among ordinary members, so they easily follow other appeals." He stressed the need to "preach in new ways, interpreting Lutheran theology so that it becomes a lived life." (738 words)

A follow-up to this seminar will appear on the Web site wfdiscuss. A theological consultation related to the second track of this program, titled âBeyond Toleration: assessing and responding to the new challenges in Christian-Muslim Relationsâ will take place 1-3 December 2006 in Breklum, Germany. Please contact if interested.

More information on the LWF/DTS âTheology in the Life of the Churchâ program can be accessed at

(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF currently has 140 member churches in 78 countries all over the world, with a total membership of 66.2 million. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and inter-faith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)

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