From February 27-March 10, I team taught a course on “Teaching Lutheran Doctrine in the Congregation” with Pastor Tony Oliphant (pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Elmhurst, Illinois and Treasurer of the St. Philip Lutheran Mission Society). The class consisted of 22 senior students, pastors, and a pre-seminary student from the University of Pretoria. The text for the course was the newly published book by the late Dr. Kurt Marquart, The Saving Truth: Doctrine for Laypeople. We are deeply grateful to the Luther Academy and its executive director, Dr. Robert Bennett for donating copies of this book for each of the students.
The introductory lecture explored the nature and method of confessional Lutheran theology. We examined the task of the theologian on the basis of Titus 1:1-3, noting in the words of David Hollaz that theology is “eminently practical wisdom teaching from the revealed Word of God all things which sinful man, who is to be saved, needs to know in order to attain true faith and holiness of life.” We spoke of theology as a “public mystery” (Oswald Bayer) in light of Romans 16:25-27. We accented the fact that theology is never simply theoretical but ultimately is necessary for proclamation of God’s Word noting Werner Elert’s statement that dogmatics has to do with the necessary content of the church’s proclamation if the kerygma is to be genuine Gospel, good news for Christ’s sake.
From this foundation both lecturers presented classes on the various “articles” of Christian doctrine: the inspiration, authority and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, justification and sanctification, law and Gospel, preaching as means of grace, Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, ecclesiology, eschatology, and the apologetics (faith and reason). Students were thoroughly engaged in lively and fruit class discussion.
The instructors attempted to present these topics with a view toward how pastors might teach and preach on these subjects in the African context. This meant that we spent more time on issues that are lively in Africa such as :
- The distinction between general revelation and the salvific revelation of Christ Jesus in the Gospel;
- Lutheran hermeneutics in contrast to cultural and contextual hermeneutics;
- Pentecostalism and its errant teaching regarding Baptism in the Spirit;
- The ordination of women and why this practice breaks church fellowship;
- The nature of altar and pulpit fellowship. This is especially critical as the Lutheran World Federation is influential in southern Africa.
I am grateful to Dr. Weber for inviting us to teach this course and the many kindnesses shown to us on this trip. I’m also grateful to Dr. Jacob Corzine of the Lutheran Campus Ministry for providing me with housing and local transportation. In addition to the text books provided by Luther Academy, Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Frankentrost, Michigan provided funds to purchase many new books to keep our library up to date.
God willing it, I will return to teach another two week course at LTS on August 14-25, 2017.
-Prof. John T. Pless
17 March 2017