The Most Reverend Walter Obare Omwanza
The Presiding Bishop of
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK)
February 5th, 2005
WHY ARE WE HERE TODAY?
The date of February 5, 2005 will have it’s permanent place in the future history of Lutheranism. On this very day, The Mission Province of Sweden received the first Bishop in the person of Arne Olsson, an assurance of two more bishops in the very near future. On this same day Lutheran Christians in the Lutheran Churches in Sweden and Finland received newly ordained pastors who are to serve them with the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. In all this that we have accomplished here in Gothenburg, the passage of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians has, once again been realized, “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men” Eph. 4:8.
This date of February 5th, 2005, naturally raises the question, why are we here having arrived from various parts of the wide world? Why us, from Africa, Eastern Europe, Germany, Scandinavia and North America? This question can be addressed to us even with a certain degree of indignation. The same question can also be asked out of perplexity and embarrassment. But we should not forget either, that there are Lutheran Christians in Sweden and Finland who can answer this question with the deepest thankfulness. Their prayers have been heard as was heard the request from Macedonia to St. Paul: “Come over and help us!” (Acts 16:9). We have not come to Gothenburg out of frivolous love of adventure. I want to make the reasons of our coming very clear to all who, for one reason or another, raise this question.
1. We are here demanded by the Christian love and solidarity. Time and time again, the motivation for my resolution to come over and help Lutheran Christians in Sweden and Finland has been expressed in the words of St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, concerning the well-being of the mystical body of Christ, the church, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). This was also my Biblical reply to the letter of the Primate of the Lutheran Church of Sweden a full year ago, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” My decision to take this step has not been an easy one. I have struggled with this call. But a call it is, a call from God. I did not make my decision lightly. How many times have I been tempted to listen to well-meaning advice not to come here! I have received an abundance of such advice. Yet, my conscience is in bondage to the truth. I have received my Episcopal office in a Lutheran Church to serve the divine truth and Christian love. Christian Biblical truth and love cannot be insensitive in the presence of suffering. This suffering has been felt even on other continents and this is the reason why we are here. The state of emergency among our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, has been heard and felt. This state of emergency is not an issue of yesterday. Indeed, it has been an open wound in the Lutheran body for decades, at least since 1983 when the 1958 clause of conscience was abrogated in Sweden after an intense and politically well-orchestrated media campaign.1 What is worse, such a clause was never adopted in Finland.2 What this meant in practice was that Lutheran Christians have been denied their fundamental Christian freedom to attend apostolic services in their churches. Instead, various attempts have been made to force them to church services that are not conducted according to the Bible and according to the order handed down to us by the Apostles of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I speak out openly. In Africa and in other parts of the world, we completely fail to comprehend this kind of rigid ecclesiastical tyranny in the age global human rights, including the freedom of religion and worship. Civil and church regimes that resort to coercion and even tyranny are never promoting a good cause, on the contrary. As long ago as the 17th century, England left the tyranny of the kind Archbishop William Laud 3 pursued, seeking watertight ecclesiastical uniformity by unscrupulous, merciless, worldly means. Germany has left behind the years when the Prussian king even used troops to crush the peaceful resistance of his Lutheran subjects who could not accept church union with Protestants whose teachings ruined the Lutheran doctrine. 4 Scandinavia should have left this kind of tyranny against Christian consciences far behind in the 19th century when governments, laws, state-church bishops and diocesan chapters persecuted in many and various ways popular Lutheran revivals in the Nordic countries.