The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM — Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy) is remarkably similar to the Missouri Synod (LCMS) and at the same time different. The Malagasy Lutheran Church originates in the mission work done by the Norwegian Mission Society (NMS) begun in 1866 (The Malagasy Lutheran Church is only about 20 years younger than the Missouri Synod.) The Norwegian mission work began a couple of years after Queen Ranavalona I, a great persecutor of Christians, died in 1863. Her son, King Radama II, opened the door to more mission work. The northern part of Madagascar became Protestant under the influence of the London Mission Society (LMS), while the southern part of Madagascar became predominately Lutheran. Roman Catholicism made inroads into Madagascar by the French, who eventually succeeded in colonizing Madagascar in 1895, some 253 years after the first Frenchman landed in Madagascar in 1642.
Many of the Norwegian missionaries died within two years of arriving in Madagascar due to malaria and other tropical fevers. The cemetery above is from the first Lutheran church established in Antananarivo in 1871. Buried there are Lutheran missionaries from South Africa. In many cases, the church has become risk averse focusing on relatively risk free mission endeavors, while forgetting the sacrifices that the saints and martyrs of the church made to bring the Gospel to the nations.
The church in Antananarivo was established near the place Queen Ranavalona I executed so many Christian. The king of Madagascar desired a Lutheran church be established so that he could keep a better eye on them — to ensure that the Lutherans were not promoting foreign political ideas that might threaten his reign. Today this congregation (“The Rock”) has at least 3,000 people in worship on Sunday. Many of the city parishes of the Malagasy Lutheran Church worship between 3,000 and 10,000 people on any given Sunday.
Pictured above is a new congregation built within the past couple of years in Antsirabe. The sanctuary seats about 3,000. Total worshipped number right around 9,000 on a Sunday. Attendance numbering in the thousands is virtually unheard of in America and Europe.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church uses a hymnal for Sunday worship. The liturgy is very similar to what is found in the Lutheran Service Book. A good portion of their hymnody is the same as found in the Missouri Synod’s hymnal — translations of German and Scandinavian hymns. There also are a number of original Malagasy hymns that are Christ-centered. Some of their hymns are based on their unique context, for instance that a number of the Malagasy have engaged in ancestor worship:
1. “O children who are gone astray, come back!” Your Father calls you; We will respond freely without any constraint. “Here we are. We confess that we are not good, and we are wounded by the enemy; Heal us because our way of living is corrupted.”
2. “Oh, we have sinned and deserved to die and to be condemned forever! Our ancestors have worshiped the dead and we have followed them. O Father look at us and save us so that we may become Your children. We, who now now down our head before You.”
3. “I will heal your going astray O my children! I will not also make my face sad for you.” That what we want to hear in our heart is that You are our Father who comforts Your people.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church is one of the fastest growing Lutheran Churches in the world. More than one new congregation opens each week, most of these new congregations quickly are worshipping in the thousands. Yet they use the liturgy and the hymnal. This demonstrates that the traditional liturgy and hymns can be used in a rapidly growing church and is not a deterrent to church attendance.
The church also has radio stations around the country. The Lutheran radio station in Antananarivo is one of the most popular in the city. They would like to partner with KFUO to exchange programs and resources.
Seventeen of twenty-one Malagasy Lutheran Church bishops met with Drs. Collver and Quill to develop closer relations between their church and the Missouri Synod this past week. The Malagasy Lutheran Church desires that the Missouri Synod assist in areas such as theological education and mercy projects. The church does not ordain woman and is vociferously opposed to the sexuality decisions made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and the Church of Sweden (CoS).
There is much that the Missouri Synod could learn from the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Some Malagasy Lutheran pastors even said they could teach the Missouri Synod how to revitalize their congregations.
As the Malagasy Lutheran Church approaches 4 million members in one of the poorest countries of the world (the average Malagasy lives on $2 a day), we see a vibrant church that faces many challenges. Both the Missouri Synod and Malagasy Lutheran Church have much to offer each other. May The Lord bless this growing relationship.
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver on 19 October 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone
“The seven Christians stood together in the bright sunlight, bound with strong ropes, singing a hymn to their foreign Saviour as the spearmen advanced. Around them a crowd of jostling men, women and children, more than 60,000 strong and dressed in togas of various hues, yelled and jeered at the forlorn expression of faith by the condemned. Hucksters moved through the crowd, calling out their wares, selling snacks and drinks for the entertainment, and noting too a distinct sense of disappointment in their customers. The mob was angry. They felt cheated: they had come to enjoy the destruction of the hated sect, to see its adherents run screaming and panic-stricken from the spears, not watch them taking their slaughter meekly like so many placid sheep. There was little entertainment.
It had been the same just moments before, when a score of the Christians had been burned alive, the same calm acceptance of their fate, the same hateful hymn singing. Nevertheless, they cheered enthusiastically as the spears were driven home and, one by one, the men and women fell and writhed on the sandy ground, their hymn fading slowly into silence, replaced by the groans and shrieks of the dying. Above the still-squirming bodies, on a ridge, a score of crosses stood in mute witness, carrying their ghastly burdens, some of whom still lived despite the day and a half they had hung upon the wood. The stench of the charnel house pervaded the natural amphitheater where the grotesque show was taking place, and the baying, blood drunk crowd, the massed ranks of soldiery and the crucifixions, silhouetted along the skyline, gave the unmistakable impression of Rome at its worst.”
So suffered the first Christians in Madagascar — about 150 years ago. In 1866, the Norwegians arrived and planted the first Lutheran church in Antsirabe (230km south of Antananarivo). The first Lutheran church was planted in Antananarivo (pictured above — no far from where the Christians were martyred) in 1871.
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver on 18 October 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone
The blind boy pictured above is working on arithmetic. The girl in the lower corner when asked the question, “When asked who is Jesus?” She answered, “Jesus is the Son of God.” The school makes a point of teaching the Small Catechism to the children.
One problem the Antsirabe Blind School is the lack of resources. Formerly the school was supported by the Norwegians, but recently the Norwegian government cut the aid to the school because it teaches Christianity. If the school agrees to stop reaching religion, they could continue to receive aid. Pictured above is maize, which is the food eaten by the poorest of the poor in Madagascar. The children are frequently hungry.
Both Drs. Collver and Quill were moved by seeing the children at the blind school. It was wonderful to see the Malagasy Lutheran Church engaged in caring for children in need. The greatest gift the blind school provides is not the life skills but faith in Jesus!
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver on 17 October 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone
Leaders from around Madagascar attended the pastors’ conference which discussed: 1) The Inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, 2) The effects of post-modernism on the understanding of the Scriptures and on the Church, 3) The current state of World Lutheranism, 4) the work of the LCMS around the world, 5) Possible areas of cooperation between the LCMS and the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM).
- Posted by Rev Dr Albert Collver on 16 October 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone
October is “Clergy Appreciation Month.” This is the month for congregations and their members to show appreciation to their pastors. And they do so, in various ways: special prayers, card showers, pot lucks, etc. Not many give the pastor the parsonage.
In one of the rural parishes I served, my predecessor retired from the ministry and remained in the parish to serve as organist. Although withdrawn and not very personable, he was also not always a quiet man, known to make outrageous comments. And he was not a very good preacher or teacher by most standards. Unique to say the least, what he sometimes did and said would today prompt a call to the district president. And yet the congregation loved and respected him during his 28 years as their pastor and then gave him the parsonage when he retired.
That was another day, another time–a time when calls to obtain pastors were more prayerful than careful, when pastors were more likely to be accepted with their flaws than expected to be well above average, when congregations saw their pastors as men of God holding a very high office. Our congregations and our Synod would do well to be a little less careful and expecting and a little more prayerful and accepting of the men God provides. They are giving their lives to teach His Word, administer His Sacraments, and shepherd the souls He calls, gathers, and enlightens by the very Gospel they preach.
And, of course, we could also use another month, a “Congregation Appreciation Month,” for pastors to show their love and appreciation for their congregations, the kind of thing C.F.W. Walther spoke of in his twentieth evening lecture on Law and Gospel. That would be the rest of the story. But that would also be another blog.