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Walter Obare

Africa and the Lutherans

Aug. 1, 2013

by Joel Elowsky

The CEAC is engaged in the study of early African Christian texts. This is nothing new, however. Lutherans have been engaged in the study of earyy African Christian texts since its founding by Martin Luther, himself an Augustinian monk. Lutherans owe a special debt to Augustine, who Luther used as a sounding board for much of his own exegesis and doctrinal ruminations. Luther, of course, did not accept all that Augustine said or wrote, but nonetheless used many of his thought categories in his own process, especially in his study of the Psalms.

Lutherans continue to be engaged in Africa. In fact, according to most estimates, the center of Lutheranism has moved away from Luther's native land to further south. Granted, the Lutheran Church in Germany  still has around 12.5 million Lutherans affiliated with it. How many are active in the church is another question. 

Five years ago, Prof William Schumacher of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis wrote an article entitled "How Many  Lutherans". He noted that the "big story" was Africa. In 2003 there were 13 million Lutherans; in 2004 there were 14 million and 15 million in 2006. Moving beyond Schumacher's article we find that there are almost 19 million in 2009 and close to 20 million by 2011. Lutherans seem to be increasing by a little less than 1 million per year on the continent of Africa. Its earliest involvement in the modern era was in Nigeria. But perhaps the biggest growth has been seen in eastern Africa: in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya. Each of these countries have almost as many, or more, Lutherans than can be found in the US.

But Lutherans are not so much about numbers as about depth and education. The new dean, for instance, of the Mekane Yesus Seminary of th eEvangelical church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) is a former classmate of mine, Dr. Carl Rockrohr. His task is to accredite the seminary there at the graduate level. Carl has noted that the EECMY is the second largest Lutheran church in the world and is growing by about 300,000 members a year. The need for theological education for their pastors becomes even more critical in order to foster a deep faith that is not just numerically significant, but spiritually so.

In further posts, we will also highlight other churches and their growth in Africa. Overall, there may now be over 500 milliion Christians in Africa. Christianity's growth - largely through conversion from paganism and Islam - testifies to the working of the Holy Spirit.

Pr. Walter Obare, the bishop of the Kenyan Lutheran Church, pictures above, attended our first CEAC conference back in 2007 and encouraged us to pursue our work. We continue to hear his and other church leaders' calls. The CEAC will continue to seek ways to help support and deepen the churches in Africa.