LCMS enters fellowship with church in Liberia
ST. LOUIS, May 29, 2012—The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), declared fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia (ELCL) May 10.
This declaration followed the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations’ (CTCR) action on April 26 in which recognition of full agreement between the LCMS and ELCL was approved.
In his official letter to ELCL Bishop Amos Bolay, Harrison wrote, “Church fellowship is not something created by us, but it is a gift from our Lord Jesus that our Lord uses to mutually encourage each of us.”
Harrison’s declaration of fellowship between the two churches was met with great thanksgiving by the leadership of both the LCMS and the ELCL. “This is a joyous time for the Lord’s Church when unity of confession is recognized,” said the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, director of LCMS Church Relations.
The ELCL includes about 150 congregations, 16 schools and an estimated 5,000-6,000 members.
Extensive theological discussions between the LCMS and the ELCL officially began in December 2011, when four LCMS representatives — Collver; Dr. David Erber, LCMS missionary to West Africa; Dr. Mike Rodewald, LCMS Office of International Mission regional director for Africa; and the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer — visited Bolay and other ELCL church officials in the capital city of Monrovia, Liberia.
“The LCMS is in a position to help us bear witness to our nation,” Bolay told them. “We believe that the LCMS teaches the Bible correctly and holds to the Confessions. We want to have fellowship with the LCMS because we believe the same. If our teaching is not the same as the LCMS’, we seek correction and instruction.”
The LCMS and ELCL have young but strong connections. LCMS missionaries first began witness and mercy work in Liberia in the mid-1970s. When the country’s first civil war broke out in 1989, the missionaries and many members and leaders of the LCMS mission congregations were forced to flee the country, and the LCMS missionaries lost contact with the Liberian Lutherans with whom they had shared a Gospel-centered life.
During this time, however, Liberian Lutherans continued to gather together and also to share the Gospel with others. Four primary groups of Lutherans endured and even grew, despite the devastating effects of the war. These groups were formed when, due to the Second Liberian Civil War (1991-2002), Liberians were scattered in the region and found help through various relief efforts. The solid, biblical teachings of the Lutheran churches provided consolation and encouragement for their own members and for others who came to share their convictions. (One of those new Lutherans was Bishop Bolay.) After the fighting ceased, the amalgamation of these four groups formed the basis for the ELCL, which officially formed in 2009.
About The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), is a mission-oriented, Bible-based, confessional Christian denomination headquartered in St. Louis, Mo. Founded in 1847, the LCMS has about 2.3 million baptized members in more than 6,000 congregations and more than 9,000 pastors. Two seminaries and 10 colleges and universities operate under the auspices of the LCMS, and its congregations operate the largest Protestant parochial school system in America. The church broadcasts the saving message of Jesus Christ over KFUO Radio, and it has relationships and active mission work in 89 countries around the world. In the last five years, the LCMS has awarded more than $35 million through more than 900 domestic and international grants for emergency response and disaster relief. Today, the LCMS is in full doctrinal fellowship with 33 other confessional Luthe9ran church bodies worldwide and is a founding partner of Lutheran Services in America, a social ministry organization serving one in every 50 Americans. For more information, visit www.lcms.org.