STM-Gothenburg Program: Its History and First Graduates

Dr. Masaki is currently overseas in Europe, teaching classes on the theology of the Lutheran Confessions at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg. He is there as a part of the International Lutheran Council’s Lutheran Leadership Development Program, with students ranging from pastors to presidents to bishops and general secretaries, from the Lutheran Churches in Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Madagascar.

While there, Dr. Masaki also had the chance to attend the first graduation exercises of the STM-Gothenburg program, a joint labor of the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg (FFG, which comes from the Swedish name “Församlingsfakulteten”) and CTSFW. The program takes four years to complete on a part-time basis, allowing the students to both pursue advanced study and continue serving the Church and their congregations as pastors.

“Very proud of our first fruits, Rev. Janne Koskela of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), Romans Kurpnieks of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), and Rev. Hannu Mikkonen of ELMDF,” Dr. Masaki wrote on his Facebook page. “It was a great celebration! A wonderful day! Again, congratulation, Janne, Romans, and Hannu!!”

Top row, left to right: Dr. Masaki and Rev. Romans Kurpnieks
Bottom row, left to right: Rev. Janne Koskela and Rev. Hannu Mikkonen
(Photo courtesy Rev. Konstantin Subbotin.)

Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD, of the Scandinavian House Fort Wayne (which helps graduate students from Scandinavia study at CTSFW by providing low cost room and board), followed up with an article on the history of the program and the great need–and incredible remnant of confessional Lutherans–in the Nordic and Baltic regions, as well as in Eastern Europe. A slightly shortened version was uploaded to the main CTSFW page, but you can read his full, original article here:

The graduates, LSTG faculty and board, and CTSFW faculty on the steps in front of the LSTG house. In no particular order: Rune Imberg, Jakob Appell, Timo Laato, Torbjörn Johansson, Roland Gustafsson, Frederik Brosche, Daniel Johansson, Patrik Toräng, Romans Kurpnieks, Bengt Birgersson, and Janne Koskela. Three of our own are among them: Drs. Masaki, Nordling, and Ziegler. (Photo and description originally shared by Dr. Masaki on Facebook.)

The first three graduates of CTSFW’s STM Extension Program in Gothenburg, Sweden, received their degrees in a special ceremony in Gothenburg on Sunday, February 24. Two pastors from Finland and one from Latvia were the first to complete all the requirements, with several more expected to finish over the next year. The program began in 2014 as a joint effort of CTSFW and the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg (LSTG).

The STM Extension was organized at the request of LSTG to meet an urgent need in the Nordic and Baltic regions for advanced theological training on a confessional Lutheran foundation. The former state churches in the Nordic region have succumbed to liberal theology and reaped empty pews, with average attendance below two percent and the percentage of babies baptized dropping steadily. The STM program largely serves confessional movements, several of which joined the International Lutheran Council last fall. In the Baltic region, the STM Extension serves the Lutheran churches recovering from the devastation wreaked during decades of Soviet occupation.

What was totally unexpected, however, is that many students are also coming from Eastern Europe, from as far as Russia, Ukraine, and Romania. The LCMS Office of International Mission has found this program extremely helpful for their efforts supporting confessional Lutheran churches in this region. So have sister churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. As a result, this extension that originally hoped to attract seven or eight students now has about 24 from nine different countries.

Dr. Ziegler (middle) with Rev. Appell (left), who serves both local congregation Immanuel Lutheran as well as LSTG, at a restaurant celebrating the graduates’ achievements. (Photo courtesy Rev. Janne Koskela.)

The program is offered through three one week “Intensives” per year, normally taught in Gothenburg. Each year CTSFW faculty teach two courses and LSTG faculty teach one. The CTSFW faculty who have taught in Gothenburg thus far include Dr. Naomichi Masaki, the STM Program Director in both Fort Wayne and in Gothenburg, and Professors Rast, Gieschen, Ziegler, and Pless. Dr. Roland Ziegler is teaching a course on Justification this week.

The Gothenburg Extension came about because it was becoming increasingly expensive and increasingly difficult for young pastors to leave their families and their parishes to spend five quarters in Fort Wayne. Yet the need for advanced study was so great that LSTG asked CTSFW to consider an extension. The format of the program, with three one-week sessions per year (and much work before and after the classes), makes it possible for these pastors to attend. With solid support from the CTSFW Administration and Regents, CTSFW has been able to say, “Yes!”

The program is funded by several LCMS congregations and individuals through the “Bo Giertz Fund,” named after the late bishop of Gothenburg best known in America for his novel, The Hammer of God. This fund has so far been able to cover operating costs for both schools, as well as tuition and fees for students from the Nordic and Baltic regions.  The LCMS Office of International Mission supports the Eastern European students, and several Nordic foundations help Nordic and Baltic students with travel expenses. A local congregation of the Swedish Mission Province, Immanuel, provides lodging for the students. It is noteworthy that the Pastor of this congregation is The Rev. Jakob Appell and its President is The Rev. Dr. Daniel Johansson … both of whom earned their STM degrees at CTSFW, as have several other leaders of the confessional movement in the Nordic lands.

For information about donating to the Bo Giertz Fund, contact the Advancement Office at [email protected] or by calling (877) 287-4338.

Convocation: Prison Ministry

With the students on break we have no convocation today, so instead will highlight the topic from last week: “Visiting the Imprisoned: Making the Case for Jail Ministry.” You may be familiar with the work of our presenters already; they were featured in a “Lutherans Engage” article and video, which you can read and watch here:

The presentation began with Deaconess Carole Terkula, called as a deaconess to St. John Lutheran Church in Columbia City, Indiana, while her husband finishes his fourth year at the Seminary. One of the congregation’s outreach programs is their ministry to the inmates at the local jail.

Deaconess Terkula began with the Biblical foundation of jail ministry. She quoted first Matthew 25:36 and 40 (“‘I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’…and the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’”) then 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

“Many [of the inmates] have never heard the pure Gospel,” she explained, adding that others in jail had fallen away from the church years before. “They need to be reminded of who they are in Christ—of their Christian identity.” And for all that St. John’s is active in jail ministry, it takes only three to four hours out of their week to go to the jail and minister to inmates in the form of Bible studies. “We it do it out of love for Christ, overflowing to our brothers and sisters.”

Deaconess Carole Terkula talks about the need for jail and prison ministries.

Sharing the Gospel is a particularly easy thing to do in jails and prisons, where there’s no hiding from the law—an inmate knows that he or she is a captive, bound by their sins. By drawing people to repentance and God’s forgiveness in Christ, jail ministry can also help stop the revolving door of release and incarceration, benefiting not only the individuals but their families and community.

The individual successes, when they do happen, are incredibly triumphant. “Don’t get hung up on numbers,” Deaconess Terkula advised. “We’re dealing with people. [The numbers] may be discouraging from a human perspective, but we have done what God has asked us to do.” Her presentation finished on Isaiah 55:11: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Rev. David Mommens, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, next covered some of the practicalities of prison ministry and what to expect. Prison/jail ministry is not a popular program across churches (in Indiana, only 6 out of 236 congregations have outreach to jails or prisons), many citing a lack of volunteers, training, finances, no knowledge of where to start, already busy with other ministries, or see no need for it (because their own parishioners are not in jail), and he hoped to remove some of the anxiety and reluctance by explaining St. John’s experiences.

Rev. David Mommens discusses his experiences with jail ministry through St. John Lutheran Church in Columbia City, Indiana.

First, he explained the difference between jail and prison. A prison houses those who have committed felonies, the inmates often hardened criminals. Jails are for the less serious offenses, like DUIs and petty theft. “These are pretty much ordinary folks,” he explained. In small communities you often know the inmates personally; maybe you went to school with them, or know their parents from local events. Violent flare-ups are incredibly rare. In all the years he’s been going to the jail, he’s only seen some posturing between two inmates that got shut down by the guards in about 15 seconds.

Next: “Get to know the Sheriff.” He is the man who knows all the regulations, rules, and holds ultimate accountability, so he will need to understand your intentions and the details of your ministry. Some of the rules you can expect: don’t take anything in or out (including information, like notes), remove all staples from materials, no hardbound books. After a background check (which is looking for felonies and violent crimes; they don’t care about your traffic ticket) you receive a badge.

Some of his other suggestions: if you bring (softbound and approved by the jail) Bibles, sign them and put their names inside so that it becomes personal property that an inmate can take with them when they leave. “By the time they get out,” Rev. Mommens noted, “[the Bibles] are well used.” They enjoy the explanations, the printed maps, and all the information provided within.

He has also found that a Bible study that starts out with only three or four attendees usually ends with every seat filled and guys standing along the walls to listen. Many of these studies end up being about Baptism, because of its strong Gospel assurance for those in jail. While some inmates ask to be baptized just because they know it will  make them look good, Rev. Mommens has found that it is an excellent opportunity to get into the meat of the Gospel. Why do you want Baptism? Do you understand the promises attached to it? Over 30 baptisms have resulted from St. John’s prison ministry.

Rev. Geoff Robinson on his experience in prison ministry in Illinois.

The next to speak was Rev. Geoff Robinson, Executive Director of Outreach and Human Care in the LCMS Indiana District. His experience in this type of ministry was to those in prison, rather than jail. “You literally have a captive audience,” he said, “very open to hearing the Gospel.”

Rev. Robinson didn’t serve the prisoners as a chaplain but as a teacher, teaching science to his incarcerated students at both minimum and medium security facilities. While he was not allowed to bring up religion himself, the rule stood that if a prisoner asked him anything about religion, he could answer. As such, Rev. Robinson wore his collar to every visit (uniforms are a major part of the prison world, and his collar was immediately recognizable as the uniform of a pastor), which was a great way to encourage prisoners to come to him with religious questions—which they did, and often.

“It’s rewarding work,” he said. It’s also difficult. “They’ll challenge you with lies. Answer with the truth. Every prisoner has a story. They always tell you they’re the victim. Try to get them beyond that and teach true repentance.” He smiled. “I didn’t allow them to take advantage of me either.

“I was never afraid,” he added, though the first time that door locks behind you is “eerie,” he admitted. He didn’t go anywhere without an escort and always followed the rules, even if they didn’t make sense to him. That, and he respected the chain of command. “Don’t argue with the Warden.”

The presentation ended with the perspective from three students, involved with the prison ministry at St. John’s as a part of their fieldwork experience. “[Inmates] hear God’s Word and it does its work. They’re sinners and they know it,” Rob Schrader, Sem II, explained to the room. “Some I have seen brought to tears because of the grace of God. You can see God and the Holy Spirit working in these people. You can see it on their faces that they’re being changed. We don’t often see that in people.”

Left to right: seminarian Rob Schrader, deaconess student Mika Patron, deaconess student Kate Phillips.

Second-year deaconess student, Kate Phillips, added that when she first heard about prison/jail ministry during a Prayerfully Consider Visit (before she was a student here), she immediately thought, “That’s not for me.” But then she discovered that jail ministry was really just leading and teaching Bible Study. “Oh!” she said she realized. “I can do that.” She added that it was a blessing to herself as well. In teaching the Bible to inmates—many of whom have never or rarely heard much theology, particularly based in Law and Gospel—she had to get back to basics. “I had to define the big words we throw around.

Second-year deaconess student, Mika Patron, finished off the presentation with a simple directive, and a powerful truth: “Hear their stories,” she said. “It’s a great honor to bring the light of Christ into the darkness and loneliness of a jail cell; the light that cannot be overcome.”

Seminary Guild: Dr. Don Wiley (Spanish Language Formation)

Yesterday at the Seminary Guild’s monthly meeting, Dr. Don Wiley presented on the role and importance of Spanish Language Church Worker Formation in the Church. Dr. Wiley joined the faculty just this past May for this reason (also serving as Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions), though his first introduction to the Spanish language occurred in his own student days at Seminary, when he was unexpectedly given the opportunity for a two-year vicarage to Panama. “God gifted me to learn quickly and well,” he added, noting that the only other language he’d studied before those two years was German while getting a degree in engineering.

First, he explained the difference between Hispanics and Latinos. “Hispanic” refers to all native Spanish speakers, of which there are about 500 million worldwide (the second largest group behind Mandarin; English is 4th, though it’s a common trade language and often people’s second language). A Latino (or Latina, for women) is someone who can claim Latin America as their origin. Most Hispanics are Latinos, but not always: someone from Spain is Hispanic but not Latino, while a Brazilian (who speaks Portuguese) is Latino but not Hispanic.

However, both share this: they’re a cultural category, not a racial or ethnic one. Hispanics and Latinos can be white, black, native, Central America; even Irish and German. For example, Sergio Fritzler, who joined our ordained staff last May (he and Dr. Wiley were welcomed together), is a blonde, blue-eyed Latino of Germanic origins. Spanish is his native language, the Dominican Republic his home. Ultimately, whether a person prefers to be called “Hispanic” or “Latino” differs by region.

Dr. Wiley also shared some statistics on why Spanish language formation is such an important aspect to ministry: in 2003 Hispanics become the largest minority in the US and in 2018 they made up 18.1% of the population (about 58.1 million people). It is estimated that by 2020 minority children (of all ethnicities) will outnumber the majority, by 2045 minorities overall will outnumber the majority (Dr. Wiley used the term “Anglos” to refer to Caucasians, emphasizing the idea of culture and origin rather than race), and by 2060 nearly a third of the country’s population will be Latino.

Unfortunately, as of 2015 only 0.5% of our LCMS membership is Hispanic. “We must be intentional about reaching out,” Dr. Wiley urged. It’s the second fastest growing demographic in America (Asian is the fastest, but much harder to proselytize to the entire group because they splinter along many language lines, while Hispanics certainly have different dialects but ultimately speak the same base language), and a large mission field within our own borders.

The Spanish Language Church Worker Formation that takes place through CTSFW began in earnest in 2015, but overseas in Buenos Aires where we worked with our partner Church of Argentina. Thirty international students began taking online courses. In 2016, we began our Specific Ministry Program-Español/English (SMP-EsE) with two men here in America. One of those men unfortunately had to drop out, but the other is about to be ordained and installed at Nueva Vida in Springfield, Virginia. Dr. Wiley is hopeful that we’ll have three new men in the coming year.

We have also been working to develop the seminary in the Dominican Republic. Seminario Concordia El Reformador was inaugurated in August of 2017; both Dr. Just (who we featured before for his part-time mission work in that rea of the world) and Dr. Wiley are familiar faces there. The seminary has 15 international faculty, including Drs. Just and Wiley.

Dr. Wiley also explained the SMP-EsE program at CTSFW, which was specifically designed around a Latin America system. It’s structured on a four-year format, with introductions to the New Testament, Old Testament, and confessional doctrine in the first year, with the following three years expanding on the same list of classes: Gospels (featuring both Old and New Testaments), Baptism, Preaching, and the Lord’s Supper. Students are usually ordained between their second and third years.

Costs for the program are also kept extremely low. Why? “Often Anglo congregations are very desperate at that point, and ready to reach out to the Hispanic community that has sprung up around them,” Dr. Wiley explained. The churches have no funds, and neither do the students, who are usually immigrants. The program can’t happen without the support of the Church.

As to Spanish language development among our current students, Dr. Wiley does Spanish Greek Readings, encourages additional incorporation of Spanish into coursework, and is looking into Spanish Language Distance Deaconess Program. He also holds a weekly Spanish over Lunch session for students interested in improving and honing their Spanish language skills.

More recently, an opportunity opened up in Columbus, Indiana, when a Hispanic pastor retired. Pastors with minimal Spanish skills can lead worship as well as serve the Lord’s Supper to this congregation, but are unable to preach the Word in Spanish. Instead, Dr. Wiley and some of the seminary students here record sermons in Spanish, which they upload to the “CTSFW en Español” YouTube channel and is then played during church. A member of the congregation who recently returned to Mexico and found himself hungry for a good Lutheran sermon can now continue to receive Law and Gospel sermons.

Because of the relationship between immigration and language, Dr. Wiley highlighted the importance of integration alongside offering services in Spanish. The first generation may never learn English—or at least not well—but the children of immigrants not only learn English but usually marry English speakers. But if a church that has a Hispanic service hasn’t welcomed them as full members of the congregation, then those children rarely stay in that church, especially when they marry. Dr. Wiley recommends holding joint Sunday School between the services, which connects those children to both language groups within their home congregation.

Dr. Wiley asked one final question of the ladies of the Seminary Gild: what can congregations do?

“Recognize the importance,” Dr. Wiley began. “These are people for whom Christ our Lord died and rose again to bring them forgiveness, life, and salvation.” And stay committed to a program. “Communities have long memories,” he explained. If you start a program to reach out to Hispanics and then drop it, no matter how good the reason you may have had, you’ve indicated that it wasn’t that important. Restarting is infinitely harder than starting, because you’ve already broken trust.

He also pointed out a common source of tensions between Hispanic and English congregations sharing a church: the kitchen. Cultural differences often make themselves known in surprisingly mundane ways, which is why patience and flexibility is so important. “God’s Word, the Sacraments—we do what God has given us to do,” he said, arguing that sometimes inflexibility is important. “But the stuff that doesn’t matter…have patience and flexibility.”

Dr. Wiley finished by asking for prayers, both for Hispanic/Latino communities and for more workers to this harvest field. He knows of at least three congregations who are looking for bilingual vicars. And finally, he asked for encouragement. “These are our neighbors,” he said. “Please support the formation program here and everywhere.”

Commemoration: Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor

The commemoration on the 14th may have been a famous one to the secular world, but today’s is likely an equally familiar one to the Lutheran one (but probably not to the Catholics): Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor.

Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546, at the age of 62. He wrote his last will and testament only a few years before, first dealing with his material possessions and his family, and then ending on this paragraph:

“Finally, I also ask of every man, since in this gift or endowment I am not using legal forms and terminology (for which I have good reasons), that he would allow me to be the person which I in truth am, namely, a public figure, known both in heaven and on earth, as well as in hell, having respect or authority enough that one can trust or believe more than any notary. For as God, the Father of all mercies, entrusted to me, a condemned, poor, unworthy, miserable sinner, the gospel of his dear Son and made me faithful and truthful, and has up to now preserved and grounded me in it, so that many in this world have accepted it through me and hold me to be a teacher of the truth, without regard for the pope’s ban, and the anger of the emperor, kings, princes, clerics, yes, of all the devils, one should surely believe me much more in these trifling matters; and especially since this is my very well-known handwriting, the hope is that it should suffice, when on can say and prove that it is Dr. Martin Luther’s (who is God’s notary and witness in his gospel) earnest and well considered opinion to confirm this with his own hand and seal. Executed and delivered on Epiphany Day, 1542.”

Before he died, it is reported that his friend Justus Jonas asked if Luther wanted to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine he had taught. To which Luther answered: “Yes!”

From Dr. Mackenzie’s sermon this morning:

“Well, that’s the point of God’s No. ‘Listen up,’ it says, ‘you’re in big trouble. God condemns all of your thoughts, words, and deeds. You’re heading to hell.’ Only when that “No” at last penetrates our hard and stubborn hearts do we finally hear what God has been saying all the time in Jesus Christ: ‘Yes!’ Yes to forgiveness, yes to life, and yes to salvation.

“This was the Yes that Paul, Silas, and Timothy preached; this was the Yes that Luther preached right up until his end, and, in fact, the Yes that he confessed on his deathbed; and this is the Yes that by God’s grace you and I will also believe and confess at our last moment as well.”

Commemoration: Valentine, Martyr

If you look in the front of your LSB, on pages xii and xiii (before the Psalms), you will find a list of commemorations. Commemorations are days set aside in the church year to remember the saints God has given to His Church, partly as examples to imitate of faithful living (and dying), but most importantly as witnesses of God’s great mercy to His people across time and nations. Commemorations, like the more commonly celebrated feast days, ultimately point to Jesus Christ and His saving work.

Today’s commemoration is one of our more famous–or at least secularly-known–ones: Valentine, martyr. Saint Valentine of Rome ministered to the Christians persecuted in Rome in the third century as both a physician and a priest, and February 14th is the anniversary of his martyrdom. The particular charge against him is unclear, as is the mode of his passing; one thing people seem to agree on is that he died a martyr at the command of Emperor Claudius II and was buried the same day, on the Via Flaminia road between Rome and Rimini.

Legend has it that he wrote a note of encouragement to his jailer’s child on an irregularly-shaped piece of paper the day he died, signing it “from your Valentine.” Another very old, popular story claims that he was arrested for marrying Christian couples despite the emperor’s prohibitions against it, especially for those serving as soldiers. Valentine’s Day became associated with courtly love in the Middle Ages, and it is entirely possible that Valentine refers to two–or even three–different martyrs of the same name, their stories conflated over time.

Rev. Larry Wright, in his chapel sermon this morning, focused the commemoration precisely where it belongs:

“Christian martyrs do not confess themselves. Rather, they confess the one whom they believe, and that is Jesus Christ Himself…Valentine was not sainted because of the number of miracles he did or did not perform. No slight of hand or greeting card trick made him a saint. Rather, all saints are sainted in the same way: they are made holy, they are born again; not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God…

“Rejoice! You who are saints see the cloud of witnesses–their lives of faith encourage and surround us. We do look to witnesses, prophets, martyrs, and saints who stood in the faith, whose faces, some of which we will never see in this world, and some of those even tiny faces who we shall never forget. Yet even more we look to Him in whom they placed their faith, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made manifest in these last times, for our eternal sake. Amen.”

“Saint Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilla” by Jacopo Bassano, 1500s.

Student Mission Society Presentation: Rev. Trifa, Romania (Part 2)

Today is part two of yesterday afternoon’s post. Quick recap: Rev. Sorin-Horia Trifa is the only pastor in the very young Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania. He was recently here for two weeks of intensive classes as he works towards a Master of Sacred Theology (STM) degree. He’s since returned to Romania, but shortly before he left he spoke about his home country and church body in a presentation hosted by the Student Mission Society. Yesterday’s post summarized Romania’s history, setting the stage for the challenges and opportunities they face today. You can read about it here.

Because Romania is a country of three major ethnic groups (Romanian, German, and Hungarian), the main Christian denominations tend to be split along cultural lines, serving more as a cultural tradition than a religious practice. Everyone in the country uses Romanian as their everyday language, and so church for the Hungarians and Germans is a place to practice their language. In fact, every church in Romania has three names, reflecting each of the three languages—and that’s not three different translations of the same name, but literally three different names.

The primary church body in Romania is the Orthodox Church. Many believe that to be Romanian is to be Orthodox. “If you leave the Orthodox Church, you leave your family, your identity, your Romanian community,” Rev. Trifa said, speaking of a common fear. He knows of at least one priest who teaches that, even if you come back to the Orthodox Church, there is a chance that you may still go to hell.

On the other hand, the German Lutheran Church in Romania has adopted liberal theology and focused their services exclusively on German speakers, abandoning the Romanians even after the fall of communism and 90% of the Lutherans in the country emigrated. Most of their churches have closed, some sold to the Orthodox Church, others having become museums, and still others repurposed as sheds and garages. There are over 250 Lutheran Churches in Transylvania but only 50 parishes are active. About half of these pastors are women.

“They are Lutherans but not Christians,” Rev. Trifa explained of the church body. “‘Lutheran’ means something cultural—but not Christ or the Bible.” As he spoke, he showed picture after picture of fortified churches, gorgeous in their architecture and surrounded by the incredible Romanian countryside. He is both proud of this visual history and simultaneously aware of the great tragedy on display. “The church buildings are not important; not if the church is closed. Just a monument. No more Gospel, no more liturgy: just a museum. People pay to have photos taken there. Difficult to call them churches. A building is a church when Christ is there.”

The Hungarian Church (a Reformed church) has never been interested in doing anything for Romanians either, their services held in Hungarian and their doctrine ranging between very liberal and deeply pietistic. And despite the doctrinal differences, many of these churches across denominations partake in the Lord’s Supper together. “The Lord’s Supper becomes nothing,” Rev. Trifa said. “Just a tradition.”

However, with neither the German nor Hungarian churches interested in offering anything outside of their own languages, the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania has an incredible opportunity. “To understand the meaning of grace—it’s a big mess by the Hungarians and Germans on this subject—” Rev. Trifa said “—it is our duty to have Lutheran books as resources.” Even the Book of Concord has never been translated into Romanian, despite the fact that the Reformation took place in the country almost 500 years ago. Today, the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania is one of the only church bodies using Romanian. “Wonderful,” Rev. Trifa remarked, “and shameful.”

Translation, then, is a big part of their focus. They want to be able to explain why confessional Lutheranism matters, why doctrine matters, why the right teaching of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper matter. They work to make these resources available and free. So far they have translated “The Small Catechism,” “Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation,” “The Means of Grace in the Confessional Lutheran Church,” and hundreds of theological articles, which are available on their website.

“I’m so happy that God chose to put me here,” Rev. Trifa said, who grew up in the Hungarian Church. “He’s given me the opportunity to share the Gospel with the country and people, where the Reformation began so long ago.” He grinned and added: “My dream is to make the Lutheran Church Great Again.”

Begun in the autumn of 2016, the Confessional Lutheran Mission in Romania was an initiative of LCMS Eurasia and the St. Michael Lutheran Church in Prague, Czech Republic. The first Romanian service took place in Bucharest (Romania’s capital) on December 4, 2016, the liturgy adapted from the LSB into Romanian. After a year of vicarage at St. Michael’s in Prague, Rev. Trifa was ordained and installed at St. Paul Confessional Lutheran Church in Bucharest on October 8, 2017.

They currently have 11 confirmed members, five catechumens (all adults), and five children. There are an additional nine adults and six children who regularly attend but have not yet enrolled for catechesis, plus dozens of others who occasionally attend. (Rev. Trifa spoke briefly of the handful of liberal pastors interested in their confession once they discovered the mission; one felt particularly torn. “You could see the agony in him.”) Services take place on Sunday evenings, following an hour-long class for catechumens. Rev. Trifa and his wife also host a midweek Bible study class and meal every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in their home.

The Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania is also known in the academic world. As a PhD student at the University of Bucharest and a student in the STM program in Gothenburg, Sweden (CTSFW partnered with the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg in order to offer advanced study to our confessional Lutheran brethren in Europe), Rev. Trifa is known in academic circles and is often invited to speak at various international theological conferences. “God makes something very, very interesting,” he said of the—so far—54 opportunities. “Silence the Hungarian and German Church, just so we can be loud. [The international theological conferences] ask for us—not the Germans or Hungarians.”

The Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania also have a mission in Italy, holding a Saturday church service every month in Padua, Italy. There is a very big Romanian community in Italy, as the two languages are very similar, and thus easy to learn. “Learn [Italian] in two months even for low-educated people,” Rev. Trifa explained. “One week for high-educated.” When the mission first began, they worshiped in Romanian, but after only two or three weeks decided to switch to Italian, translating even the liturgy. He knew it would open up the mission field to the wider Italian population.

Dr. Masaki, who teaches at the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg almost every summer, knows Rev. Trifa through the STM Program very well. “An exemplary student,” he said of Rev. Trifa, following the close of the presentation. “He is doing a great job as pastor, missionary—he is doing the maximum.” Throughout the presentation Rev. Trifa urged his listeners to come see Romania and the church for themselves, and Dr. Masaki echoed that sentiment: “He needs support. He’s alone.” Rev. Trifa’s wife is known for her hospitality, their home always open to both their congregation and their many guests.

“I invite you to discover the land and discover the church,” Rev. Trifa said. “To share the Gospel. And they need this, almost 500 years after Reformation in Romania; they need the Reformation.”

The final slide in his presentation asked that we pray for the Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania. “To preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with faith and passion in Romania and in Italy. To translate Lutheran materials into Romanian, including the Book of Concord. To have our own Church building in Bucharest, Romania.”

From left to right: Dr. Just, Rev. Trifa, and Dr. Masaki. Dr. Just can trace his family history back to the church building in Romania where his grandparents were baptized.

Student Mission Society Presentation: Rev. Trifa, Romania (Part 1)

One of the students with us for two weeks of graduate intensives was Rev. Sorin-Horia Trifa, studying for his Masters in Sacred Theology (STM). Rev. Trifa is the only pastor of The Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania, and an LCMS Alliance Missionary. The Student Mission Society invited him to speak about his home country, for which he has a deep love. “I saw [the Romanian flag] also here,” he said, pointing in the direction of the library, where we keep flags representing all the nations of our current students, “and I am very proud.” About 92,000 square miles with 19.6 million people, Romania is barely 100 years old, the result of the merging of three countries: Transylvania, Walachia, and Moldavia.

To understand Romania is to understand her history, particularly that of Transylvania. “Transylvania is important to the understanding of the whole country,” he explained. Rev. Trifa comes from the Transylvania part of Romania, though he had to move to Bucharest, the capital, to best serve the Romanian people. He grinned as he informed the audience: “Transylvania is very beautiful, and it is more than Dracula.”

First conquered by the Roman Empire in 106 A.D. (Romanian is still closely related to Latin as a language), for centuries, Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire. Because it was constantly under the threat of Turkish invasion, the Habsburg and Hungarian empires sent Germans and Hungarians to defend the border, which is why Romania is still home to three major ethnic groups: Romanians, Hungarians, and Germans.

However, the country changed hands at a very important time. In 1526, the Ottoman Empire defeated the Kingdom of Hungary and declared Transylvania an independent state, simultaneously banning any form of religious persecution. The country became a beacon for persecuted Lutherans. A former student at Wittenberg, Johannes Honterus, opened a printing press to begin distributing Lutheran materials, beginning the Lutheran Reformation in Transylvania around 1543. First the Germans, then the Hungarians, embraced the reformation. In fact, in 1568, the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country (Catholicism persisted and Calvinism inspired some of the Hungarians to join the Reformed Church) proclaimed freedom of conscience and religious tolerance at the Diet meeting at Turda, becoming the first country in modern European history to create such an edict.

In 1699, control of Transylvania turned back over to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over 200 years later, the Transylvanians declared their independence from the Empire at the end of WWI, joining the Principality of Romania (the principality had been formed by the unification of Wallachia and Moldavia, who got around a ban on their unification by electing the same king) on December 1, 1918 to become the Kingdom of Romania. Romania was ruled by a German dynasty until the end of WWII.

A very dark period in the country’s history soon followed: the Soviet Union punished Romania for being on the side of Hitler, brutally and decisively. Their King was forced to abdicate and a Stalinist government took over. “Romania was vandalized—this is the word—” Rev. Trifa said, “—by the Soviet Army.”

Hundreds of thousands were imprisoned, exterminated, tortured, deported, and starved for being enemies of the people. “Who was this ‘enemy of the people’?” Rev. Trifa asked. “Those who believed in God and go to church.” Among them were Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed Christians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-Day Adventists. Their obedience to God threatened their obedience to the communist regime.

Dozens of thousands of believers among these groups were forced to join the Orthodox Church, but religious holidays like Christmas and Easter were banned. Owning a Bible could get you sent to prison for years. Their churches were demolished, and thousands of priests and pastors arrested, tortured, and killed. “The list is huge,” Rev. Trifa said, showing the pictures of several of these men, after telling us their names and their church body. “We have no time to tell all of them here.”

“People went to the Church in secret, baptized in secret, prayed and read the Scriptures in secret,” he continued in his presentation slide, next to a painting of Christ in prison. If your activities were reported, the entire family would be terrorized by the police. “Not kill but re-educate, if you know this word,” Rev. Trifa explained. He spoke personally of his father’s mother, who had been imprisoned for two years in order to terrorize others. She was so terrified that, even after the Soviets left, she refused to talk of her family or her home from before her arrest. Rev. Trifa’s history on that side of the family begins with his grandmother, their genealogy cut off. They never found it if she even had siblings.

With the stage officially set, we will tackle the second half of Rev. Trifa’s presentation tomorrow afternoon, from the state of the newly formed Confessional Lutheran Church in Romania (begun in the fall of 2016) to how the history of the country has shaped the challenges—and the opportunities—for confessional Lutheranism in Romania.

Update: Part 2 now available HERE.

Camp Lutherhaven

Back in December, our student Thrivent Action Team replaced and rewired the old fluorescent lights at Camp Lutherhaven with new LED lights, to help save the camp money on their energy bills. Seven seminarians (Mark Peters, Cory Kroonblawd, Paul Marks, Norlyn Bartens, Keith Kettner, Paul Gaschler, and Andrew Mundinger) came to help, alongside their smaller helpers.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
1 John 3:16-24

Wyneken’s Journey Continues

Here is more from our librarian, Rev. Bob Smith’s, series covering the missionary work of Friedrich Wyneken, before the formation of the Seminary or the Synod. From the post:

“It broke [Wyneken’s] heart to have to ignore the many pleas to come and prepare children for confirmation and to meet many desperate needs. He could see whole villages sinking back into paganism. On his longer trips, sometimes four to six weeks from home, Wyneken had to depart settlement after settlement, sick with the knowledge that not even a survey missionary would minister in these places for the next few years. He could only promise to return from time to time and tell them of his many letters to Germany, begging for help.”

Friedrich Wyneken wrote the famous “Notruf,” or “The Cry of Need” (or even “Emergency Call”), which eventually spurred the faithful answer from Germany, who sent America her young men, still training to become pastors. You can see where Wyneken’s desperation came from as you read through his missionary journey in the Indiana area:

Convocation: Physician-Assisted Suicide

Yesterday after chapel the CTSFW Life Team invited Dr. Andrew J. Mullally to speak on the topic of physician-assisted suicide. Dr. Mullally is a passionately pro-life family physician who has spoken before the Indiana legislature on the topic in order to combat the movement in the public square. “Wherever God has placed us, we’ve got to tend our garden,” Dr. Mullally explained. It was a full-house in classroom L-7 as seating ran out and students began standing along the walls, most of whom will someday face these issues head on in their congregations. “I want to equip everybody—people of good will and common sense—with knowledge. Instead of trying to figure it out in the freezer section of Kroger, have it worked out beforehand. Think through these issues before you have the conversations.”

It is important to note that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not the same thing. Euthanasia requires the direct act of the nurse or doctor, often by lethal injection, whereas in physician-assisted suicide the doctor prescribes the means (usually pills) by which a patient will kill themselves.

It is also not a modern issue, nor are the arguments in favor of physician-assisted suicide new. In the 1870s, suicide was advocated to relieve pain, in the 1890s that it was an acceptable means to remove those burdensome to society, and in 1906 Iowa introduced a bill to actually fine and imprison physicians who refused to kill patients who asked them. It was defeated by a 3:1 margin. But by 1937, 45% supported the killing of deformed and mentally disabled children, the same near 50-50 divide we see on these controversial issues today. “Their truly is nothing new under the sun,” Dr. Mullally commented.

In an 1895 essay on the right to day, German theorist Adolf Jost stated, “The state must own death,” inspiring the 1920 work so crucial to the Final Solution, “The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life.” The Nazi Euthanasia Program would steal 5,000–8,000 children from their parents, ultimately killing hundreds of thousands for such crimes as blindness, missing limbs, seizures, scoliosis, club foot, and Down syndrome.

Fifty-nine years after WWII ended, the medical director of the department of pediatrics at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) created the Groningen Protocol, defining the criteria that should allow for infant euthanasia. The Dutch Society of Pediatrics declared the protocol mandatory in 2005. “The heights from which these universities have fallen,” Dr. Mullally remarked, then read out the University’s motto: Verbum domini lucerna pedibus nostris. “The word of the Lord is a light for our feet.”

“I think their light went out,” he said. “They have no idea what they’re doing.”

Today, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide deaths in Europe rise 15% annually. In Switzerland—the suicide tourism capital of the world—25% of those euthanized have no terminal disease; many are simply “tired of life.” Belgium legalized euthanasia for those in “futile medical condition” in 2006, but by 2014 they had removed the age limit, allowing children to consent to euthanasia if they “understand the repercussions of their act.” Now, half of all Belgian nurses who euthanize patients admit to doing so without consent.

The slope ever slips downward. A choice becomes a right, which becomes a duty, which is eventually done with or without consent. Between coercion and conflicts of interest, the most vulnerable are marginalized. The strongest lobbyists for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide are insurance companies; understandable from a practical point of view when the numbers shows that 28% of Medicare expenditure is spent in the last six months of life. Suicide is cheap as compared to palliative care. In states that have legalized physician-assisted suicide, insurance companies have begun rejecting claims for expensive, possibly life-saving treatment like chemotherapy, suggesting physician-assisted suicide instead as the viable alternative.

Language has always been an important part of the movement. “Death with Dignity” is a popular euphemism. In 2003, the right-to-die and assisted suicide advocacy organization, the Hemlock Society, changed its name to End of Life Choices. In 2007 the group merged with the Compassion in Dying Federation and became Compassion & Choices. Dr. Mullally pulled the following from their website: “The U.S. is facing a Looming Crisis of Suffering as Americans approaching death increasingly find themselves on a conveyor belt of unnecessary, unwanted and painful medical treatment.”

Dr. Mullally advocates for changing the language–or, more accurately, changing the language back. The word compassion, from the Latin, means “to suffer with.” Thus the absurdity in Compassion & Choices’ solution to this “Looming Crisis of Suffering”: kill off our old people.

“Talk about it with real life terms,” he said. “The definitions matter.” Autonomy is not a virtue, and it does not mean the same thing as dignity. If it did, a baby, who is not autonomous, could not have dignity. Neither could a patient with dementia. Instead, human dignity has its roots in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image.”

Those against physician-assisted suicide are a unique coalition, ranging from religious to non-religious supporters, some even pro-choice. “Remember to be sensitive,” Dr. Mullally recommended. “Try not to alienate people by assuming we agree on all life issues. Atheists, who believe this life is your one shot, are obviously more sensitive to end of life issues versus beginning of life.” An atheist will never quote the Bible as a Word of authority, but he has a right to his conscience apart from religious liberty.

One final thing to be aware of is the “Principle of Double Effect.” Supporters of physician-assisted suicide argue that the morality of an act is identified by the outcome and not the act itself. So while the American Medical Association recognizes a critical difference between removing a respirator and actively killing a terminally-ill patient, supporters of physician-assisted suicide would argue that in both cases the patient dies, and thus either option is moral. On the other hand, the principle of double effect (the “double effect” would be causing harm as a side effect when bringing about an otherwise good end) takes into account intent and purpose. For example, in an ectopic pregnancy a doctor does not remove a woman’s fallopian tube to kill her baby, but to save her life. The death of the baby is a tragic consequence, not the end goal.

Dr. Mullally finished with ways to help: prayer, a call to educate our neighbors, that we contact our senators and congressman at (202) 224-3121, and to vote. He also left us with a handful of resources, including,,,, and Finally, he recommended reading up on the other side of the issue, to arm yourself with their arguments and be prepared to answer them. You can find out more about the pro physician-assisted suicide movement at