September 2012 – It was a long way for many of the conference participants to come. Though some had traveled on top of a bus for 3 days and 2 nights to get to Yangon, a large city in Burma (also called Myanmar), the spiritual journey they were about to take was even more intense.
LHF invited about 30 Christian Bible college teachers from a variety of denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Reformed) to attend the “Reformation and Its Impact Today” conference in August.
There, LHF’s executive director, Rev. James Fandrey, and Rev. Ted NaThalang, LHF coordinator for translation projects in Southeast Asia, were among the pastors introducing them to the Burmese Small Catechism, The Augsburg Confession, and A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories − all very Lutheran books in a country where only 4 percent of the population is Christian, and only a handful are Lutheran.
The rubber hits the road
With little background in Lutheran teachings, many attendees grew obviously uncomfortable as the conference progressed.
When discussion turned to the Sacraments, “that’s when the rubber hit the road,” said Rev. NaThalang.
“You say you don’t want to worship Luther, but you talk about him so much,” said one man. “It’s like you worship Luther.”
A light bulb went on in the minds of the LHF presenters. Rev. Fandrey took the opportunity to explain to the attendees about five “solas” of the Lutheran faith: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solo Christo (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone).
Walls began to come down
It was a radically new way of thinking for the Christian teachers.
“We explained that the Lutheran way of thought doesn’t equal Scripture plus our learning or logic, plus outside sources,” said Rev. NaThalang. “Instead, Lutherans always go back to Scripture and what God says. They asked more questions, and we answered from the Word of God.”
As study of the Small Catechism progressed, one participant challenged, “How can Christ be present in the bread and the wine?”
“I said, ‘Well, what does Scripture say when Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper?’” Rev. NaThalang replied. “He said, ‘This IS My body…This IS My blood.’ Lutherans honor Christ’s Word and command, and we just believe what He says. This is when they began to understand.”
Another participant asked, “Is Christ, right now, God or man? I believe He is just God.”
Referring to Christ’s ascension in the book of Acts, the conference leaders showed how Christ went to heaven in His human flesh, where He is God. “We showed that Jesus is God and man, both. We showed how this is not our human teaching, but is from Scripture.”
As the day-long conference progressed, the earlier tensions evaporated.
“Halfway through, we thought, ‘Oh, we’ll never see these people again,’” Rev. NaThalang said. “But by the time we finished, they wanted us to come again! Some of them liked LHF’s books so much that they asked how they could get them translated into their local dialects.”
“We should baptize babies”
Even more telling was a statement made at the end of the conference, when participants were asked to tell the group what they had learned that day.
“One member spoke for his group and said, ‘Today we have learned that we should baptize babies and infants,’” remembered Rev. Fandrey. “What a major breakthrough! Though we had doubted, the Holy Spirit was obviously working in the room that day.”
“When we walked into the unknown, it was scary at first,” agreed Rev. NaThalang. “But we just prayed to God that they would hear God’s Word and His Gospel. These Christian teachers will bring back to their students the idea that Lutheranism isn’t just a denomination, but it IS the Faith, a way of looking at Scripture that gives God the honor, the praise, and all the glory.”
Rev. James Fandrey was called as executive director of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation in 2009. He served in this capacity until accepting a call back into parish ministry in 2013.
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