May 2015 – Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) leaders have asked for the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod’s assistance in recovering their Lutheran identity by helping the EECMY to expand and improve their synod’s theological education and training.
“Theological education is one of the LCMS’s core competencies,” said Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, director of church relations for the LCMS and assistant to President Matthew Harrison. “What we’re doing right now is providing scholarships to our American seminaries for some of their future leaders, as well as providing scholarships for about 60 students to attend the Master of Theology program at EECMY seminaries, where in many cases, the classes are being taught by LCMS professors.”
Another challenge is that until recently, few Lutheran theology books have been available in the languages of Ethiopia. In late 2010, LHF published 1,000 copies of the Amharic Book of Concord – enough for only one-third of the EECMY’s current pastors. This spring, LHF reprinted another 7,500 copies, which are being distributed to all EECMY pastors as well as other Lutheran church bodies in Ethiopia.
LHF talked with two pastors who have recently taught at EECMY seminaries: Rev. Dr. Frederic Baue, now retired after 30 years of parish ministry, and Rev. Douglas Thompson, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Billings, Mont. Rev. Thompson used LHF’s first edition of the Amharic Book of Concord in his teaching; Rev. Baue used the English.
When did you go to Ethiopia, and what did you teach?
Baue: I’ve taught in Ethiopia twice, once in late 2013 and now February through March 2015. On my second trip, I taught advanced English and Lutheran confessions. What I was doing was kind of like remedial reading; many Ethiopian students have challenges. They speak English well, but reading, writing and comprehension are a challenge. But they are very eager to learn and very hard-working. They’re perceptive and know their Bible well.
Thompson: I taught at Nekemte Christian Education College, which is a seminary of the EECYM in early 2014. I taught two classes: one on creation and redemption, and the other was doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the Church and Christian redemption.
What challenges did you face, or what challenges did your students face?
Thompson: Some things were very basic. It was very interesting, because there’s only limited communication there. The Internet is very intermittent and difficult to work with. Also, as I traveled there, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t know what my students’ level of understanding and education were, so I had to adjust when I got there. But it was a great privilege to teach.
Baue: The byword in the Ethiopian Lutheran Church (EECMY) is recovering Lutheran identity. This identity has been lost, to some extent; how can it be recovered? Lutherans in Ethiopia understand their Bible, but they need to be grounded in the Lutheran Confessions, the “What does this mean?” part of it. They’ve never been exposed to the whole Book of Concord – they need it!
What were your days like in the classroom?
Baue: LHF has done a beautiful job of translating the whole Book of Concord into Amharic. [However, the book wasn’t yet ready when I was there teaching.] So, in my course on Lutheran Confessions, I brought along 50 copies of the pocket-sized Book of Concord in English. Then, I had the students organize themselves in small reading groups of 3-5 people. We would sit in a circle, taking turns reading a sentence each. In 8 weeks, we went through 900 pages of the Book of Concord.
You know how you can get on fire from reading the Bible? If The Book of Concord contains nothing but Biblical truth, you can get on fire by reading The Book of Concord! That is exactly what happened. I had a group of 35-40 students who, by the time we were finishing up the class, they were ready to storm the battlements! They were really cranked about Lutheran theology because they’d never had it before! They had heard about the Augsburg Confession, but they’d never read it, because they never had the books.
Thompson: My two classes dovetailed together beautifully. Basically, even though most of my students were pastors, they had the theological education level of well-catechized confirmation class. Among my students, there was no familiarity with Luther’s Small Catechism or the Lutheran Confessions. However, they very strong in their Biblical knowledge about things. But they had been strongly influenced by Pentecostal teachings.
The Book of Concord in the Amharic language was especially useful, because I did a lot of assignments from it. I wasn’t able to read the Amharic language, so I took with me English version so that I’d know what they were reading.
What topics of discussion did you cover?
Baue: Oh, everything! What kind of worship shall we have? What kind of preaching? We had talks about the distinction of Law and Gospel. They asked about women’s ordination, because they have some women pastors in the EECMY. What kind of worship shall we have? What kind of preaching? Calvinism, that came up because of the things in The Book of Concord against the Calvinists, such as the doctrine of Holy Supper and predestination. The EECYM has become a union church, and they have Presbyterian pastors who are on their roster. Their theological library has mostly reformed sources.
Thompson: In class, we focused on studying Scripture – things like the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Church, making that connection that the Holy Spirit is never apart from the Word.
This was profound to them; it was news to them, because they’d learned that the Holy Spirit can come to you apart from the Word, through the speaking of tongues and prophecy. That took a while for them to figure out. It was hard for them to understand. They told me that, when people in their churches speak in tongues, there is no translation going on. They described it as a strange sound they make, called “the angelic language.” It’s something that no one can understand, but they say that’s the Holy Spirit. They were told by the Pentecostals that if you don’t do that, you won’t go to heaven. So that’s what we talked about a lot – about that connection to the Word, that this is indeed true and the Holy Spirit comes by no other means.
The one thing I told them right from the beginning was if you come away from this class certain that the Holy Spirit is directly connected to the Word of God, we have succeeded!
What did the students think of The Book of Concord?
Baue: LHF is to be highly commended for having translated The Book of Concord into the Amharic language! They saw things in The Book of Concord of that spoke to their situation today, especially regarding Pentecostalism (which is basically the Holy Spirit coming directly to you, apart from the means of grace). So the Augsburg Confession speaks to that. Then Calvinism – is Christ really and truly present in the Holy Supper? A lot of it came down to interpretation of Scripture: Scripture alone, vs. letting the world set the agenda for the Church. They saw, from reading the Confessions, that the Confessions are absolutely relevant. Most importantly, they came away with a determination to read their Confessions on a daily basis, along with their Bible.
Thompson: They had a lot of questions, but were actually very receptive. I let them know, “I’m here to present to you what we believe, teach and confess in the Missouri Synod. I’m not here to tell you what to do; I’ve been called to come and teach you this class, and that’s what I’m going to do from the Lutheran perspective.” If anybody wanted to disagree, I could simply say this is what we teach, what we hold on to. But let’s delve into that disagreement and see what the Scripture has to say about this. They had a very strong Biblical knowledge, knew their Scripture but don’t know how to put it all together.
What are the strengths of the EECMY?
Baue: The Holy Spirit is doing great work in Ethiopia, because there is a hunger for pure Lutheran doctrine, which is a hunger for the word, which is a hunger for Jesus. Jesus is there with His word, His pure doctrine, with his Holy Sacraments. It’s all about Jesus, and they’re all just eager to lap up what we have to offer in the LCMS. We have a developed body of theology that they lack. We have the teachers. And they are just excited.
Thompson: They’re very proud of their heritage as Christians, and they’re very aware of that connection to the Ethiopian eunuch. They know their Bibles, but they didn’t know all that is in there! It was really cool to be able to teach, and even better to see the scales fall off their eyes.
In fact, it was a difficulty coming back, because the people were so eager there in the seminary community. The impact of those books was tremendous from the standpoint that the men were so thrilled to have them and to learn from them. They asked, “Can you come back?” I would go again in a heartbeat.
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