|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|
|A Choir that began dancing during one of the songs|
|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.
|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:
|Dr. Lehenbauer, Bishop Bolay, Dr. Collver|
In the background between Bishop Bolay and Dr. Collver is the church’s water pump.
|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.
“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.
“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.”
Posted 1 January 2012 from Monrovia, Liberia.
|Bishop Amos Bolay Pictured in Gray Shirt on Right|
|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.
|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.
Perhaps you have heard of “Garbage City” in Cairo, Egypt. It is a community of Coptic Christians, the “Zabbaleen,” who for generations have been the trash collectors of Cairo. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, recently wrote of Garbage City in his pre-Christmas article, “Christmas Amidst the Rubbish.”
“Each day,” he wrote, “the fathers and their sons go out into the city and collect the garbage in beat-up pickup trucks or donkey-drawn carts. They bring it back to their community, where the women meticulously sort through all of it.” They recycle as much as 80 percent of the garbage, selling what they can, while allowing poor families to look for food to eat.
If you have seen one of the recent television documentaries on the Zabbaleen of Garbage City, you will know that their town truly is, as Lowry describes, “a town built atop an active landfill….It’s as if, as someone has mused, Cairo had been picked up by one end and shook so that all the rubbish fell on the homes of the Zabbaleen. They live among their livelihood, the waste that no one else wants and that few would dare touch.”
“Few Would Dare Touch”
Lowry’s article became my own personal backdrop for celebrating Christmas this year, one that can serve at any time as we now count the days since Christmas. It adds a dimension to Christmas that we may not always remember, given the romanticizing of nearly everything about Christmas, from stable to shepherds to starry night.
It may even be a helpful exercise (and we would probably shudder) to think of spending some time in rodents-ridden, flies-swarming Garbage City. While likely overwhelming, it would at least be a very small measure of how it was for our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, accustomed to the accoutrements of heaven, to agree to carry out the plan developed in eternity to immerse Himself into our sins-ridden, devils-swarming world for 33 years. This was wasteland that no other than a loving God would even have wanted, much less touched so intimately. And His Son would pay for this stay in our garbage city with a death we cannot even imagine.
Christmas was a rugged affair, its true nature touched upon by the line in the Christmas carol, “Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?” It was the most extreme of extreme measures, “God invading our planet” (as a pastor wrote to me before Christmas) to subject himself to a world disgustingly foreign to His nature, that we might have new life.
New Life in Garbage City
The most remarkable thing about the Zabbaleen of Cairo is their boldly Christian community. Historically they have been oppressed and repressed, and life hasn’t gotten any easier of late. They worship in a cave, they suffer from government interference, and they recently were set upon by deadly Muslim gangs. They may face, as Lowry states, “the same slow-motion, largely ignored extirpation as their Christian brethren in Iraq.”
But their new life in Christ continues. One garbage collector spoke of the Zabbaleens’ life together in a recent video: “We are one community, and we all know and love each other.” Theirs is the dignity of a community of simple Christian people against a trash-strewn backdrop—and a way for us to think of our new life as a result of God’s amazing grace in Christ, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6–7).
Life “from Below”
To quote Rich Lowry one more time, with reference to the time that German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent in Harlem in 1930, it was here, Lowry writes, “among a shunned but vibrant Christian community” that Bonhoeffer began to see things “from below.” It is an important vantage point for Christians. Lowry notes, “There is no other vantage point from Garbage City.”
We will do well to view Christmas similarly, “from below,” but also from above. A resident of Cairo’s Garbage City (for whose residents we should regularly pray) described well his Christian life (and ours) in response to a question from the Voice of America about the future of Garbage City: “We are the garbage collectors, but we live on a mountain of faith.”
Ray Hartwig (12/26/2011)
May God grant you and yours a wonderful celebration of our Savior’s birth. Merry Christmas to one and all!
There is no more profound proclamation of the message of Christmas, no more poignant explanation of “the reason for the season” than this passage from the letter to the Hebrews. Here is my rendering of Hebrews 2:14-18:
14) Since therefore the children have shared and do share blood and flesh, He Himself in like manner assumed a share in them [flesh and blood] so that through death he might render impotent him who has the power of death, namely the devil.
15) And set free those who by fear of death through all their lives were held in bondage.
16) For surely it was not angels He takes hold of to help, but He helps Abraham’s descendents [i.e., all who believe in Christ – see Galatians 3:7].
17) For this reason He was obligated to become like His brothers in every way so that he might become a merciful and faithful High Priest toward God, for the purpose of making atonement [propitiation] for the sins of the people;
18) For in that He Himself suffered being tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
The children share in blood and flesh. That’s who we are, real people, flesh and blood creatures of God. In the same way, our Lord Himself, in the womb of Mary, also assumed His share in flesh and blood. There can be no greater wonder than this!
The LORD and Creator of all the universe becomes a child of flesh and blood, yet always remains who He is: Lord of all. God in the flesh – the incarnation, we call it, the “enfleshment,” our hymn expresses it: “These are the signs that you shall mark, the swaddling clothes, the manger dark: there you shall find the Infant laid by whom the heavens and earth were made” (Lutheran Service Book 358, st. 5).
Why? Why does God take a share in flesh and blood? The Creator becomes a creature? Here is the heart of the matter, my beloved brothers and sisters. This is what we teach and preach this season. The New International Version has it: “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death” (2:14). Literally it means, as I have it above, “that through death He might render impotent” the devil, who holds “the power of death.”
I like that. This is good news! The devil looks powerful. He acts powerful. He seeks to destroy, but he is IMPOTENT! He has been stripped of His power! He cannot tear us away from our Lord when we claim Christ’s incarnation for us, Christ’s death on the cross that destroyed his power.
For Christ Himself has set us free. In Christ the Son of God became like us in every way. We suffer. He suffered. We are tempted. He was tempted, “yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
More than that, He was a faithful High Priest, offering Himself as the sacrifice, the atonement for our sins. His death made satisfaction for our sins. That means He received the full measure of punishment for our sins. His death now sets us free because there is no more sin that needs punishment. It was all done in Him. Now, because He suffered, He is able to help us when we suffer, when we are tested by temptation.
Here is the wonderful message of Christmas!
At the end of the year the world often becomes retrospective about the good, the bad and the ugly of the previous year. Depending on what commentators emphasize, they become hopeful or gloomy about our prospects. But here is the good news that transcends all of that, the good news of Christmas we sing and share, teach and preach: God Himself has come to be with us in our difficulty! God Himself has become a human being of flesh and blood.
God Himself has taken His share in human suffering in Christ, born for us. God Himself has come to set us free from death and atoned for our sin. God Himself gives life! Now there’s a message just begging to be proclaimed! May God bless each of us in the proclaiming!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President