The Most Reverend Walter Obare Omwanza
The Presiding Bishop of
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK)
February 5th, 2005
WHY ARE WE HERE TODAY?
The date of February 5th, 2005, will have its permanent place in the future history of Lutheranism. On this very day, the Mission Province within the Lutheran Church of Sweden received three bishops. On the same day, Lutheran Christians in the Lutheran churches in Sweden and Finland received new ordained pastors who are to serve them with the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. In all this that we have accomplished here in Gothenburg, the passage of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians has, once again, been realised, “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8).
This date of February 5th, 2005, naturally raises the question, why are we here having arrived from various parts of the wide world? Why us, from Africa, Eastern Europe, Germany, Scandinavia and North America? This question can be addressed to us even with a certain degree of indignation. The same question can also be asked out of perplexity and embarrassment. But we should not forget either, that there are Lutheran Christians in Sweden and Finland who can answer this question with the deepest thankfulness. Their prayers have been heard as was heard the request from Macedonia to St. Paul: “Come over and help us!” (Acts 16:9). We have not come to Gothenburg out of frivolous love of adventure. I want to make the reasons of our coming very clear to all who, for one reason or another, raise this question.
We are here demanded by the Christian love and solidarity.
We are here because of the Word of God.
I have said a few words about Christian love. In order to keep us all on the right track when using the word ’love’ I quote what our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ says in the Gospel of St. John, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14.15,21) There is no genuine Christian love apart from the truth of the Word of God. Anything in this world claiming the noble name of love and yet parting ways with the truth of the Word of God is only human pretension or sheeps’ clothing covering packs of wolves. It is not by chance that ecclesiastical oppression of Christian consciences goes hand in hand with various kinds of denials of the truth of the Word of God. What begins as diluting the Bible in the name of Liberalism will soon end as unyielding intolerance towards Christian faith. This is the development we have witnessed in the West. In the past, Nordic countries have given many excellent Biblical scholars to the entire Christendom. Today the sad fact is that most traditional majority churches in the West have completely lost the light of the Word of God. The sceptre of Christ who, according to his firm promise (Matt. 28.20), is present in his church has been pushed aside by human intellectual hubris. The crisis concerning the Word of God in churches is not an issue of yesterday. This crisis has brewed in various traditional churches for decades. In the Anglican Communion, issues of Biblical truths concerning Christian morals, which has recently come to a head over the question of homosexuality in the church, have worn out the patience of African and Asian churches. Their strong protest against the corrupting apostasy from the Word of God compelled Western church leaders to reconsider seriously their stance. This same issue nearly split the General Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation. The majority of Christendom lives outside the West. The time has already come that Christians in Africa and Asia have learned to say clearly ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when the truth of the Word of God so demands. In the famous words of the 1960s British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, “The wind of change is blowing through the continent [Africa]. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.” We are no longer nice child-like creatures from exotic mission fields. We are in fact Christians come of age. When I speak out these critical words, I am not forgetting all the spiritual and material good we have received from the West. The Apostle says, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Hebr. 6.10) Our Lutheran Church in Kenya is particularly indebted to Swedish Lutheran missionaries who in the past came over and helped us. We want to follow their Biblical Lutheran teachings, not selling our faith in the vanity fair of the changing fashions of this age. The teachings, which we received from Sweden a long time ago, have now come back from Africa. We received this teaching from you and today we give it back to you with grateful and bold hearts. When we bear in mind what those people are teaching who have attempted to prevent Apostolic worship and ordinations, and what those who have been subjected to their oppression teach, the choice is crystal clear. The only true church is the church in which the Word of God is the unquestioned supreme authority in all and everything just as Dr. Martin Luther writes in the Smalcald Articles: “We do not want to hear what they command or forbid in the name of the church, because, God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and “the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd. Its holiness exists in the Word of God and true faith.” (Smaclcald Articles 12). Where the Word of God is being oppressed in the life of Christians who adhere to this word, it is our Christian duty to come over and help them in any way we can. Indeed, we are here today because of the Word of God.
We are here because of the Lutheran Confessions.
We believe, teach and confess that the Word of God is clear, unambiguous, because our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is this word, as St. John wonderfully teaches us in the opening of his Gospel (John 1.1). Further, there is no change, no diminishing of the Word of God, since “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebr. 13.8). The Lutheran Confessions are a right summary of the teachings of this word. It was Dr. Martin Luther’s work as Reformer to re-establish the sole legitimate authority of the church, namely the authority of the Word of God. All disputes in the church must be solved by the Word of God and in accordance to the Word of God. The Lutheran Confessions are crystal clear on the questions of authority in the church, worship, the office of the ministry and ordination. When I received the call to come over and help, my question was whether the disputes in the Nordic Lutheran churches were being solved under the legitimate authority of the church, namely the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions, or whether other authorities were being followed and obeyed? We all know the answer. Those who are oppressed in the church suffer because of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. Those who oppress follow other authorities. Thus, the choice is very clear. I only remind us of the prophetic words spoken the renowned Swedish theologian, Bishop Anders Nygren, in 1958: by changing the office of the ministry, which had prevailed from the very beginning of the Christian Church, by rebelling against the Command of the Lord (1 Cor. 14.37), the church had nothing ahead of it but the path of Gnostic heresies. Today, everyone with spiritual understanding must concede that the late Anders Nygren was a true prophet. But, thanks be to God, there are faithful Biblical Lutherans who do all that lies in their power to tend the lamp of God in his house (1 Sam. 3.3). They are true heirs of the Lutheran Reformation. This is why we are here today. We are here because of the Lutheran Confessions.
We are here because of church polity and judicature.
One might think that this is our weakest point to justify why we are here today. Christian love, the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions, these might be on our side, but what about legal ecclesiastical polity and judicature? Parliaments and ecclesiastical synods in the Nordic countries have made their majority decisions and passed laws. Legal ecclesiastical organs have applied these laws to the daily life of the church. For these reasons, our case might look weak, our prospects pale indeed. However, this kind of reasoning, which separates church polity and ecclesiastical judicature from the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions, is not Lutheran at all. It is not Biblical at all. The separation of the Bible and Lutheran doctrine onto one side, with ecclesiastical polity and judicature on the other side, is an illegitimate impostor in Lutheranism. It is a child of the Enlightenment, an heir of the German philosophical idealism of the 18th and 19th century cross-bred with the age-old state church mindset. It comes from Friedrich Schleiermacher rather than from the Reformer of the church, Dr. Martin Luther. The idealistic legacy in the fashion of Schleiermacher and his successors made a sharp distinction between religion and justice. According to this conception, justice was understood purely as a worldly business, distinct from religion. New, secular ideas have further stirred this judicial muddle. The idea that the sovereign will of the people, ‘the will of the public’, is the supreme authority even in the church comes from the writings of the Swiss philosopher J.J. Rousseau, not from the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. Against any kind of ‘will of the public’ we have learned to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven … thy will be done.” This divine, fatherly will is not a kind of evolving, positivistic awareness or self-processing ‘Zeitgeist’, but it is laid down in the Word of God. The sole supreme authority in the church is the Word of God. This eternal word is not only some thing within the category of religion. It is ecclesiastical justice as well, since there can be absolutely nothing legally binding in the church that contradicts this word. All and everything in the church must be prosecuted in conformity with the Word of God. This is the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions. This judicial principle has also been clearly written in the constitutions of the Lutheran Churches in Sweden and Finland. It is unfortunate that this judicature is not being practiced in church polity. We have witnessed how the un-Lutheran separation of faith and justice continues amongst those who have parted ways with Christian love, the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. Therefore, we should, again, bear in mind the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his activities, which were officially declared ‘illegal’ by his church body executives on December 2nd, 1935. Only three months later, in March 1936, the second ‘illegal’ course from the ‘illegal’ Finkenwalde seminary was warmly welcomed in Sweden. Even the renowned Archbishop of Upsala, Dr. Erling Eidem officially received Bonhoeffer with his seminarians on March 4th, 1936. By doing so, Archbishop Eidem acknowledged the truth, which we must remember and respect today, namely, that emergency justice, too, is justice. At home in Germany, Bonhoeffer was declared to an enemy of the state and demands were voiced that he should not be permitted to educate German theologians. Thus, our presence and our actions in Gothenburg are legitimate in terms of church polity and ecclesiastical judicature since they are authorised by the Word of God. Therefore, I conclude by quoting the Lutheran Confessions, summing up in words from the Smalcald Articles concerning ordination and vocation. This quotation is not only a theological opinion but it is church polity and judicature according to divine right because it is Biblical: “If the bishops wanted to be true bishops and to attend to the church and the Gospel, then a person might – for the sake of love and unity but not out of necessity – give them leave to ordain and confirm us and our preachers, provided all the pretense and fraud of unchristian ceremony and pomp were set aside. However, they are not now and do not want to be true bishops. … In addition, they persecute and condemn those who do take up a call to such an office. Despite this, the church must not remain without servants on their account. Therefore, as the ancient examples of the church and the Fathers teach us, we should and will ordain suitable persons to this office ourselves.” (Smalcald Articles 10).
Finally: We thank God for his faithfulness. He has made us, his servants in this present state of our infirmity, competent to heed his divine call and to accomplish our task he has given to us. “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4.8). We humbly thank him for this. It is also our innermost wish that the Nordic Lutheran churches would be helped by what we have done today in Gothenburg. Since the royal highway of worship and ordination cannot be blocked infinitely against all human odds and political calculations, is this not the time to sit down, to put aside all arrogance and bitterness and talk as Christians brothers and sisters should do, in one faith, in one Lord, as partakers in one baptism and under one sole authority to be obeyed, namely the Word of God, who is one “God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4.5)?