December 2011 - A historic moment in the life of the Lutheran church in Africa occurred on Oct. 20-21 as the Lutheran Heritage Foundation began distributing the Book of Concord, translated into the Swahili language.

Though more than 150 million people speak Swahili and though Lutheran missionaries have been in East Africa for more than a century, this is the first time the Book of Concord has been available in the language of the people.

In special ceremonies at the Uhuru Lutheran Center in Moshi, Tanzania and at the Moshi Memorial University College, Mwika Campus, Bishop Martin Shao of the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) welcomed 300 participants, saying, “In two years the ELCT will celebrate its 50th anniversary. This Book of Concord is the beginning of greater things to come.”

What is the Book of Concord?For more than 425 years, Lutherans have been guided in their beliefs and teachings by a collection of assorted writings known as the Book of Concord. These documents, written by Christians from the fourth to 16th centuries A.D., explain what Lutherans believe and teach on the basis of Holy Scripture.

The Book of Concord includes the three creeds that originated in the ancient church (the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds). It also includes the Reformation writings, such as the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, and more.

Still relevant todayRev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki, former director of LHF-Africa, served as the lead translator on the project. “The Book of Concord takes on a life when it is published in the language of the people,” he said. “Its content is the pure Gospel, and wherever this book is opened and studied, it takes command and begins to shape personalities and people, congregations and churches.

“Theologians and laypeople in the 16th century had important questions,” Simojoki explained. ‘Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ, our savior? What is salvation? What will occur after we leave this world? How do we lead a Christian life? Who are the relevant authorities in questions of religion and our lives in modern society?

“These are the same questions we face today,” Simojoki concluded. In searching for answers, “a church without clear teaching and confession of faith is exposed and extremely vulnerable to contemporary fashions and dangerous heresies,” Simojoki said.

Over the course of the two days, some 500 copies of the book were distributed, and plans were made for introductory seminars throughout Tanzania next year.

LHF translator passes awayThe eternal value of the Book of Concord was made clear to everyone present when Rev. Dr. Wilbert Kreiss, LHF’s translator for French materials, died near the end of the conference. The 74-year-old Kreiss authored the introduction to the Swahili Book of Concord and was a featured speaker at the festivities.

Like countless Lutherans before him, Kreiss faced death without fear, confidently confessing the Biblical faith of the Book of Concord.

The day before he died, Kreiss explained the place of the Book of Concord: “When someone says they believe in the Bible and nothing else, you still don’t know what they believe on articles of faith, like the deity of Christ, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and original sin. The Bible alone is the supreme authority, and as sons of the Reformation, we need to keep the Bible and Book of Concord in the rightful place. A church that is no longer confessional is no longer Biblical.”

Mount Kilamanjaro in Tanzania
Mount Kilamanjaro in Tanzania
"This is a great accomplishment!"Rev. James Fandrey (center) met with LCMS leaders Rev. Al Collver (left) and President Matt Harrison (right)
Rev. James Fandrey, LHF executive director, and Rev. Walter Otten, chairman of the LHF Board of Directors, visited the LCMS International Center in late August 2011.  There, they presented LCMS President Matt Harrison and his staff with the Book of Concord, translated by LHF into the Swahili language, spoken in East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania.

"This is a great accomplishment and will be of potential service to the 100 million Swahili speakers worldwide," said Rev. Al Collver, LCMS director of church relations. "Such works have been of great service to missionaries, professors and partner churches.  The RSOs (recognized service organizations)...of the LCMS are a great blessing to the church and have tremendous potential to maximize our work and Life Together."

Pictured above are Rev. Al Collver, Rev. James Fandrey, and Rev. Matt Harrison.

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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