Saturday was the final day of presentations as the conference officially ends following the Divine Service tomorrow morning. The exploration of the conference theme, “Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom as Marks of the Church” culminated in the paper presented by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Ochola Omolo, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya Lake Diocese and Rector, Matongo Lutheran Theological College, Kenya.

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Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom as a Mark of the Church
How Has This Affected Theological Education
A Practical Perspective

1. Introduction

I hope to reveal that the witness born in the Holy Scriptures and in the Lutheran Confessions, especially in the the Seventh Mark as pointed out by Dr. Martin Luther, were present in his day, and such signs are also present today, helping us to understand how such marks show the life of the Church, not only in Africa, but also in other parts of the world.

Although no one willingly welcomes suffering and persecution, it is necessary to note here that suffering is part of the life of the church and that Christians should see this as a challenge.

2. Biblical Witness on Suffering and Martyrdom
Recounting the Biblically attested marks of persecution and martyrdom, Omolo reviewed the history of the Church Fathers: “some being burned alive, others skinned alive and still more others given to lions to be torn into pieces as they bore witness by their blood (martyria. As all these were happening, the church continued to be strong in faith.

Now you need not wonder what happens to faithful pastoral servants of Christ when the world ridicules and persecutes them! All those witnessed by their blood, generally received the treatment that was imposed upon them just as it did to the Crucified Lord God Himself and His apostles, prophets and evangelists. In the Baptismal Call the child of God is to deny oneself, take up the cross, (which is the denial of self) and follow Jesus. But to follow Jesus often leads to one’s personal cross of suffering, persecution and, perhaps even Martrydom.

3. Lutheran Confessions on Suffering and Martyrdom
Omolo took care to clarify and explain what is meant by the Church in regard to suffering, persecution and martyrdom, using the Lutheran Confessions to make his clear point and concluding with explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed.

“In the Confession, we have presented this sentence almost, word for word. The Church is defined by the Third Article of the Creed, which teaches us to believe that there is a holy Catholic Church. The wicked indeed are not a holy Church. The word that follow, namely, “the common of saints,” seems to be added in order to explain what the CHurch signifies: the congregation of saints, who have with each other the fellowship of the same Gospel or doctrine and the same Holy Spirit.” – from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Omolo listed each of the seven marks of the church:

  • 1. First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy Word of God.
    • 2. Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance.
    • 3. Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administrated, believed and received, according to Christ’s institution.
    • 4. Fourth God’s people or holy Christ’s are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly.
    • 5. Fifth, the church is recognized eternally by the fact that it consecrates or calls minister, or has office s that it is to administer.
    • 6. Sixth, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by prayer, public praise and thanksgiving to God.
    • 7. Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune

4. Contextual Analysis of Suffering Persecution and Martyrdom as a Mark of the Church:

Bearing the Cross Contextually: The Seventh Sign in the the Context:

Luther says that Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the Sacred Cross. How can this affect the life of a pastor in his pastoral work? …

On the one had, sometimes a pastor may find himself in difficulties with a congregation or a parish due to his own sinful or selfish behavior.
A pastor may be rejected not for faithfulness to Christ and His Gospel but because he has acted unilaterally, as God himself, not merely His Servant. If the the “mark of the Sacred Cross is present in this instance it is upon the congregation and not the pastor.

On the other hand some congregations and parishes may refuse to support or put up with their pastors’ physical needs because the congregation has an underdeveloped sense of stewardship. Likewise the pastor may deny following misinformed teachings, thus rejects wrong doctrines or wrong ethic the congregation may want to adopt. The congregation may force the pastor to adhere to their needs. I believe, bearing the cross falls in the category of “the Mark of the Sacred Cross,” on the part of the pastor and most times upon his family as well.

There also may be another form of persecution we may call corporate persecution. Omolo described this as when wealthy donors force their hand through their financial gifts, laying down conditions contrary to the Gospel in order to receive those gifts is also the bearing of the Holy Cross upon those affected.

Uganda

Omolo shared the story of the Uganda martyrs who were converts to the Christian faith and murdered for their faith because they refused to offer sacrifices to traditional gods and for their resistance to the King’s homosexual practices.

Kenya

In refugee camps Jihadists have assaulted and killed Christians. Churches have been bombed. Yet the people remain faithful.

Somalia

“There is no more lawless country than Somalia,” said Omolo, who noted that only .05% of the population is Christian and 99.95% are Muslim. Converts from Islam to Christianity are executed, as are those who evangelize with the Gospel. Beheadings, shooting, loss of jobs, homes, and families are all common forms of persecution in Somalia.

In all these examples it is evident that, they (believers) must endure every misfortune. They must endure persecution.They must endure all kinds of trials. Yes they must endure evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh.They must endure inward sadness.They must endure timidity and fear.They must endure contempt.They must endure illness.They must endure weakness, writes Father martin Luther. (volume 41 Luther’s Works)

Towards a Lutheran Seminary’s Response to Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom as a Mark of the Church in the Theological Education with Reference to Theological Education in Africa.

In African context where theological education is coupled with several contextual challenges (enculturational theology of the Roman Catholic, syncretistic theology, health and wealth theology, and the quest for African theology to mention just a few. The sound biblical theology of the cross forms a point of departure in presenting the theology of suffering, persecution and martyrdom as the mark of the true Church.

When persecution comes, the devil believes he can eliminate the church; and God, according to His foreknowledge, He knows it will happen. But He intends that it will be a blessing for the Church just as it was in the early church when the devil tried to stop the church. In spite of that, the Lord used that persecution to spread the Gospel. So as Christians we receive the negative outcome of persecution, we don’t want it, it is very painful but God intends that to be a blessing to His Church.

In summary, some of the great enemies of the Church in our time may be grouped as: traditional cultural religiosities, political oppressors, Muslim jihadist, the liberal wing of Christianity, the new Pentecostalism with their health and wealth theology of glory, and post modern ideology.

The Church must be aware of her enemies to make Her stand firm, ready with Word and Sacrament and proper proclamation of the Gospel. For all these challenges, within and without this context the Lutheran Theology of the Cross is the answer.

Following Bishop Omolo’s paper there were a number of questions and comments.

Q&A

Q: In regard to the prosperity Gospels, Omolo responded:

Many people who are hungry or sick, when they hear that there is some miraculous healer somewhere – when I get such questions about them, I am thinking of the early church, despite the prosperity of the Roman government, the Apostles and the Church Fathers followed the crucified Lord, they didn’t want to twist the real message, they still worshipped and confessed the God who was crucified, shamefully hung on the tree. Why? Because this is the truth of the Gospel, this is what God has done. Whether you follow it or not in the long run you will come to your senses and come to know the truth. We tend to not like suffering, so prosperity Gospel preachers come and go wherever they want but finally the truth will appear and that will set the people free. So in our context, we are speaking the truth of the Gospel. I think the view of the cross, when it comes, that is when one’s life will be changed. He will know through Christ’s suffering on the cross he has saved the whole world.”

Q: In regard to traditional religion:

I want to give an example in my tribe when husband dies they use the wife. The cultural religion is that the husband has to be the elder, so they have one of the brothers to take that wife. This is a very strong custom,connected with worshiping of ancestors. One woman from my area, was old, her husband died, her sons forced her to be physically abused by another man. Because of the cultural practice, the woman was forced to be abused sexually. She turned violent, became totally mentally disturbed, walking around saying about what her sons had done to her. Traditional religion is very, very strong in our context. There is no book – when crisis happens in the family the people will talk about old family things. The dialog with the people is a good way to do it. But to write these things in the books in the seminary and Bible studies, and to teach our Christian people about these things, openly talking about them openly to teach them the truth of the Gospel.

Q: In regard to mercy work and people who want God to completely heal them in this life:

This is when the truth is revealed because of those who are running after evangelist to get well or help and they discover they can’t get there because they are still here in the world. Health is the same, always, malaria is problem, then the heart stops and finally we die. The people finally come their senses when they ant’ get what they wanted.

When they come to us we want to preach Christ crucified, that salvation is only in Christ. it is very important to tell them. God produces ways, medicine, these are God’s providence to us, but these are not a means of salvation, finally we will die, and then we will be resurrected when the Lord comes. The Lord has promised His Church the reality of that. In a continent like Africa, where people are sick, orphaned, live in poverty, it is easy to think of works of mercy as the most important thing. And when they think they don’t need the Gospel, we need to teach them that any provision we may receive as Christians is result of the Gospel. We want to see it in that light.

ILC Future Direction

Participants also heard presentations about the LCMS Global Seminary Initiative and the Chemnitz Library Project, both intended to strengthen global Lutheran seminaries worldwide.

Rev. Michael Kumm, Chairman of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg made a presentation on the the Wittenberg Project, an effort to establish an educational and outreach center in the heart of Wittenberg in the soon-to-be restored old Latin school.

Following a delicious Lithuanian lunch the conference goers enjoyed an afternoon of site seeing in the Baltic seaside resort of Palanga.