January 2011 – “The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine…yet, everyone says that they are Christian, have been baptized and received Holy Sacraments, even though they cannot even recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed or the Ten Commandments…”
Though written centuries ago in Germany, these words of Martin Luther could just as easily apply to the people of Nigeria today, says Rev. Dr. Nelson Unwene, former bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Nigeria.
But now, Nigerian pastors, evangelists and lay preachers have another excellent textbook they can use for teaching the pure Word of God to their people: Luther’s Large Catechism translated by LHF into the Efik language, spoken by more than 11 million people.
Why is Luther’s Large Catechism so important in the life of a Lutheran church? Below are excerpts from correspondence between Rev. Unwene and the LHF office.
LHF: This edition of the catechism is in the Efik language. About how many people speak this language?
Unwene: Efik is the fourth most spoken of the 394 languages in Nigeria. Without exaggeration, more than 11 million people speak Efik. In many places in Nigeria, one will find a number of people who speak it.
LHF: Why was it important to translate the Large Catechism?
Unwene: As I told LHF founder Rev. Dr. Robert Rahn some years ago, so many of our Lutheran members ask to know the books we refer to as the Book of Concord and the Augsburg Confession. Again, even yesterday when nine pastors and 14 bishops of our Church were ordained and consecrated, some people asked about the Augsburg Confession, to which these men were asked to swear allegiance to.
So our reason for translating the Large Catechism has been exactly the same reason that drove Dr. Luther to write the catechisms: “The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine…many pastors have not the [catechism]. Yet, everyone says that they are Christian, have been baptized and receive Holy Sacraments, even though they cannot even recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed or the Ten Commandments…”
LHF: How is the Large Catechism going to be used by the Lutheran Church of Nigeria?
Unwene: Just as it was Luther’s intention, we expect the Large Catechism to be used by our pastors, evangelists and lay preachers as an excellent textbook, which will help them in teaching the pure Word as taught by Luther and faithful missionaries.
LHF: What were the challenges of translating this catechism?
Unwene: Some of the challenges had to do with discovering the right words in the Efik language for certain words in the English language. The concern to let the text speak the Word of God with clarity drove us into placing, as footnotes, some 90 percent of the Scripture passages used by Luther. Some of our people, especially those in the villages, do not have Bibles; some do not learn (or do not want to learn) to turn at the passages listed in the text. But as we know, with Luther we want the Word of God to speak and affirm to the people what the catechism says.
LHF: Why is it important for American Lutherans to support LHF and the work that you do?
Unwene: Up to this time, we are still having to reach educationally underprivileged people. We use English in our seminary classrooms but, oh! Only God knows how He causes what we teach to be meaningfully taken.
We use English because in a class of 10 students, there may be as many as three, four or five languages among them. We take up these translations because we must continue to assist our pastors to be more effective in the service of God.
Last week, while introducing our translated Large Catechism to some lay preachers, many said to us, “Sir, thank you for making us to know hot to defend the baptism of infants through the Large Catechism.”
LHF: What other texts are needed in Nigeria?
Unwene: I am personally requesting assistance for us to translate and publish the Book of Concord in Efik. See, of the 220 pastors in our over 400 congregations, about 200 speak Efik. The Book of Concord should no longer be imagined to be a secret, mysterious book known only by name among us. The Pentecostals are challenging us, and Islam is increasing her jihad. Our pastors and people should be helped to put on the whole armor of God.
“Believe me, we are deeply grateful for every help given to the LHF to help us accomplish these goals,” Unwene concluded.
Only with your help can this important work continue. Prayerfully consider how you can help support LHF projects.