Worship – Liberia Day 3

Dr. Joel Lehenbauer stands outside Christ Assembly Evangelical Lutheran Church

This morning, 1 January 2012, we worshiped at Christ Assembly Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia (ELCL) was the result of a merger between four groups. Some of these groups originally had roots in the Church of God or in the Assemblies of God. The remnants of this history is sometimes detectable in the name of congregations such as “Christ Assembly” Evangelical Lutheran Church. Yet having originated in a more Pentecostal background, the ELCL has a good understanding of its dangers and incompatibility with Lutheran theology. One of the ELCL pastors explained, “Pentecostalism teaches that God will do something for you on the basis of what you do for God. This is animism using Christian vocabulary. As Lutherans, we teach that God blesses us not because of what we do for him, but because he loves us and has sent his Son for us.” Nonetheless, the ELCL recognizes that elements from its Pentecostal background remain and require slow, patient teaching.

Note the email address says LCMS2
As seen from the pictures above, the ELCL strongly sees itself as connected to the LCMS. The ELCL liberally makes use of the LCMS cross on its buildings and bulletins. The ELCL refers to the Lutheran Worship hymnal as “our Lutheran Worship.” The congregation loudly and boldly received the Apostles’ Creed during the service. Although the Divine Service in Lutheran Worship serves as the foundation for the worship in the ELCL, it would not be accurate to say the service is like a typical LCMS service. Between sections of the liturgy, various choirs sing in the pattern of tribal chants. Some of the songs were recitations of Scripture with congregational response encouraging the choir or cantor to continue to tell the story. The only musical instruments required were the human voice and drums. Occasionally, the choir and congregation would break into a dance. After the song, the service would continue according to the liturgy.
A Choir that began dancing during one of the songs
The service bulletin is reproduced here:

ELCL Bulletin 1 Jan 2012

Pastor Washington N. Gate preached a sermon based on Luke 2:22 – 38, titled, “Jesus is the foundation of the church. Time to Name the boy born of the Virgin Mary.” The sermon, delivered in about 45 minutes and interspersed with “Amens” and “Alleluias,” in Liberian English went something like the following.

Pastor Washington N. Gate Preaching

The Law proscribed certain ceremonies – one of them was circumcision. Why was circumcision so important to the Jews? It was a sign that the Lord had saved the Jews, that the Lord had separated them from the Gentiles. It was a symbol of dedication and of salvation. It was a symbol of separation from idols. What was circumcision to the boy? It was the giving of his name. It was a putting of the boy into the Lord’s family. Once the boy was circumcised, there was no turning back; he forever was identified as belonging to the Lord. Circumcision was required by the Law. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law.

Circumcision set people apart. It set people apart in their morals. People are watching you in your community to see how you live. You have been set apart in Jesus.
The new circumcision of God’s people is Baptism. it is a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of God. Salvation is by God through the death of Jesus. The Church is built on the foundation of Jesus, the name given to him not by man but from God.
At the naming of Jesus, the woman was purified. Purification came from the blood of animals. It is not the blood of animals that purifies us. The holy blood of Jesus purifies us. He is our priest. He entered the temple of God and shed not the blood of animals, but his own blood that makes us righteous. He used the blood of the Lamb of God to make us righteous. It is a gift.
Now we are clearly blessed by God because we stand on a firm foundation, Jesus. We are buy back, redeeming. The church belongs to God. Jesus redeemed us from the wrath of God, not with the blood of animals but with his own blood.
Simeon said, “Let us depart in peace. My eyes have seen your salvation.” I assure you that Jesus is your salvation. Let’s look at the name of Jesus and the name Christ. God himself selected the Name of Jesus. Jesus saves his people. Jesus is the only solid foundation.
Why is Jesus called Christ? Jesus is the anointed one. Jesus is anointed to be our prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is God. He is true man and was raised up as the true prophet, like Moses, but even better. As a prophet he proclaims and bears witness to the truth of God.
Who is a priest? A priest offers up intercession. All Old Testament priests are a shadow of Jesus. Jesus is God and our true high priest. Unlike Old Testament priests, Christ did not have to offer sacrifice for his own sin to enter into the holy of holies. Jesus had no sin. When he entered the holy of holies, Jesus did not offer up the blood of animals. Instead he offered up his own blood. He is the perfect atonement for our sin. The Old Testament sacrifice is a shadow of Jesus. It is like a check that is signed and put into the bank. Jesus, however, is the true treasure. Jesus is your treasure.
Who is a king? A king has power and authority. Jesus is the true King who has all the power and authority of God. Jesus is the true foundation.
Jesus was born, suffered, and died for you. If you do not believe this, you will remain under the wrath of God and die forever. You must believe for yourself that Jesus is the foundation of the church.
Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Son of Man. He is called Emmanuel, the Lion of Judah. Jesus is your Lord and Savior. Amen.
The Celebration of Holy Communion

After the sermon and before the Liturgy for Holy Communion, Bishop Amos Bolay offered instruction on the Lord’s Supper. He said something resembling the following:

The Lord is in the business of unity his church. One way he does this is by giving his Holy Body and Blood to those who believe his teaching and are baptized. If you do not come from one of our Lutheran congregations, we ask you to remain in your seats during the celebration of Holy Communion. We believe that Jesus gives his true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. It is his body and blood. The bread and the wine do not represent or symbolize body and blood. Jesus gives his body and blood. If you are not Lutheran, or if you are not baptized and repentent for your sins, we ask you to stay in your seats. St Paul warns against improperly eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus; such improper eating and drinking leads to judgment. For those who believe Jesus’ body and blood is forgiveness and life.
After Holy Communion and before the service continued, the pastors gathered at the front of the altar to consume the remaining body and blood of Jesus. 
In total, the service lasted about three and half hours.
Dr. Lehenbauer, Bishop Bolay, Dr. Collver

In the background between Bishop Bolay and Dr. Collver is the church’s water pump.

Later in the day around the time of sunset, we drove up a hill that over looks the army barracks and the ocean.
The sunset.

– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
Posted 2 January 2011 in Monrovia, Liberia.

Fellowship Talks – Liberia Day 2

Representatives from the ELCL and the LCMS

On New Years Eve (31 December 2011), representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Liberia and The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod met on the grounds of the UHP Evangelical Lutheran Church and School for fellowship discussions. Before fellowship discussions began, children from the UHP Evangelical Lutheran School greeted the LCMS visitation team.

The UHP Evangelical Lutheran School Class President

Notice that the school uniforms are yellow and green. In Liberia, the color of the school uniform identifies the church confession. All Lutherans in Liberia use yellow and green. Even the buildings are painted yellow and green. The Methodists use blue and white for their uniforms.

UHP Evangelical Lutheran School

The construction of the UHP Evangelical Lutheran School building was a partnership between the LCMS Concordia Missouri Circuit and the UHP Evangelical Lutheran Church. Africa Regional Director, Dr. Michael Rodewald’s father was instrumental in forging this partnership.

A School Girl Sits Near the Wisdom Board

The “wisdom board” reads in part, “If I had a formula for by passing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don’t embrace trouble. That is bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say meet it as a friend, for you’ll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it. Men of character find a special attractiveness in difficulties. For it is only through difficulties they discover their real potential.”

Naomi Erber Poses with some Children

The ELCL has 16 Lutheran schools.

Dr. Collver with Bishop Amos Bolay in his WMLT Shirt

In October 2011, Bishop Amos Bolay travelled to Saint Louis, MO, both to attend the LCMS International Disaster Conference, where he received his Witness, Mercy, Life Together shirt, and to request for formal fellowship discussions from President Harrison between the LCMS and the ELCL. In December 2011, the LCMS responded by sending Drs. Albert Collver, David Erber, Joel Lehenbauer, and Michael Rodewald to Liberia for fellowship discussions.

At the 31 December 2011 meeting, Bishop Bolay addressed the LCMS and the ELCL’s executive committee and church council:

“We in Liberia feel we are a LCMS church. You ask why? You are the church that started us. You started Bible translation in Liberia. When the Liberian civil war broke out in 1989, many of our people fled to the surrounding nations for safety. There as refugees LCMS missionaries ministered to us. After the war ended and our people were able to return to Liberia, we formed congregations in Monrovia. A few years ago, we asked LCMS missionaries to ordain some of our pastoral candidates. We were told that LCMS missionaries could not conduct the ordinations because we were not LCMS. This hit us hard because we thought we were LCMS. It was an awakening for us and made us desire even more to join the LCMS in partnership. We later learned that the LCMS missionaries referred to us as “Liberian Lutheran groups.” It is true that we were once four separate Lutheran groups but now we are one, united in the teaching of the Bible. We believe that the LCMS teaches the Bible correctly and holds to the Confessions. We want to have fellowship with the LCMS because we believe the same. If our teaching is not the same as the LCMS’, we want it to be. If we aren’t doing it well, it is because we need better teaching. Powerful nations come to Liberia and promote agendas that destroy families and do not hold to the morals of the Bible. The LCMS is in a position to help us bear witness to our nation. We desire fellowship with the LCMS and await your response.”

After Bishop Bolay finished his address, the entire room broke into applause. The moderator turned and addressed the LCMS delegation saying, “We await your response to our request for fellowship.” This led to a several hour conversation about Lutheran doctrine, fellowship, and the LCMS’ policies and procedures related to fellowship. There also was a period of Q&A where people from each church body could ask questions. The meeting ended with hope for the New Year.

Dr. David Erber, West Africa Area Facilitator

Fellowship is not made or created by the church, but recognized as a gift that the Lord bestows upon his church. Fellowship is recognized between church bodies. Drs. Collver and Lehenbauer will prepare a visitation report for the CTCR at its next meeting in April 2012. 

The procedure for fellowship is explained in Bylaw in the 2010 Handbook:

“When a small, formative, emerging confessional Lutheran church body (identified as such by the President of the Synod as chief ecumenical officer) requests recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod, and after consultation with the Praesidium and approval by the commission, such recognition may be declared by the President of the Synod subject to the endorsement of the subsequent Synod convention.”

The remaining days of the visitation teams time in Liberia will be spent observing worship, becoming more acquainted with the people of the ELCL, and engaging in more conversation. As I write this, it is the wee hours of the New Year, 1 January 2012. Below are a few pictures from Liberia.

The signs of businesses always are interesting in Africa. The sign above reads, “Divine Glory Electronic Workshop.”

Along the road in Monrovia.

Great beauty on the coast.
– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations.
Posted 1 January 2012 from Monrovia, Liberia.

Liberia — The First Day

Bishop Amos Bolay Pictured in Gray Shirt on Right
When we (Drs. Collver, Lehenbauer, and Rodewald) arrived in Monrovia, Liberia, Bishop Amos Bolay of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia greeted us at Roberts International Airport. The purpose of our visit is to hold fellowship discussions with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Liberia (ELCL) was formed in May 2009 from the merger of four different Lutheran groups, each founded through the Diaspora of the Liberian Civil War through different initiatives of the LCMS, including LCMS World Mission. The newly-formed  ELCL has 350 congregations, 30 schools and 11,000 members. A choir from one of the local congregations came to the airport and serenaded us with a rendition of Psalm 23.
It was quite a surprise and honor to be greeted by the choir at the airport. More than that to hear Psalm 23 was tremendous. A portion of the piece is provided in the video above.
Some of the Choir Members

The choir members have a very busy schedule, greeting us at the airport, singing at a funeral on Saturday, and singing at church for the New Year’s Eve service.

Later that evening, after traveling for two hours in traffic from the airport, the choir sang again.

Note the tail of the Delta Airbus 330 plane is taller than the fence perimeter of the airfield.
Liberia is in West Africa, bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire and it is part of Africa’s “pepper coast.” Liberia along with Ethiopia are the only two African nations not to be colonized by Europeans. Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. The capital city is named Monrovia after James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States who supported the formation of Liberia.

A view from along the highway.

The Flight Into Egypt

Bishop Bolay mentioned that Islam both in Africa and in Liberia is on the rise. Many Africans have been taught that Islam is a more “African” religion than Christianity. Bishop Bolay teaches seminary students that Christianity cannot become more African than Jesus visiting Africa during the Flight Into Egypt (see Matthew 2:13-23). Not to mention the rich tradition Christianity had in Northern Africa after Pentecost and in the early Church. While the flight of Jesus to Egypt was to fulfill the Scriptures, “Out of Egypt I have called my son,” our Lord’s visitation to African has become important for Christians as a defense against Islam.

Our first day in Liberia concluded with dinner at Bishop Bolay’s home. It was a great honor to visit him in his home.

After dinner we retired to the Lutheran Guest House for some rest after nearly 24 hours of travel.

– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations.