Teaming up for deeper understanding

By Graham Harms

It is common knowledge that Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. What is less well known is that Indonesia also has the fourth largest Lutheran population of any country in the world. There are 13 Lutheran synods in Indonesia concentrated mostly in North Sumatra, and a total of more […]

It is common knowledge that Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. What is less well known is that Indonesia also has the fourth largest Lutheran population of any country in the world. There are 13 Lutheran synods in Indonesia concentrated mostly in North Sumatra, and a total of more than 6 million members.

All these churches belong to the Lutheran World Federation but most of them recognize that their theology and practice diverge from the Lutheran tradition. This is not uncommon – all Lutheran churches, including our own, struggle with the temptation to become moralistic, even legalistic, and snuggle up to the law. It’s only human, said Luther. All these churches in Indonesia have expressed a desire to deepen their understanding of Lutheran theology and to identify more closely with the Lutheran tradition. That’s where the Lutheran Study Centre (LSC) comes in.

In collaboration with the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our church is helping to sponsor the development of a Lutheran Study Centre to support these aims. A local pastor, Dedi Pardosi, has been appointed as coordinator, and the ELCA is searching for a suitable theologian to join LSC as expat Professor. I came on board to fill that role until a permanent replacement arrives. I went to Sumatra (a city called Pematang Siantar) at the end of January this year. Unfortunately my stay was cut short by a virus pandemic, but the work continues, with my support from a distance.

The aim of LSC is to help the churches discover the depths of the Lutheran understanding of the gospel as central to Christian theology. None of the four seminaries has a lecturer dedicated to the teaching of Lutheran theology. The seminaries have very large enrolments by our standards. The largest (STT-HKBP) has over 600 undergraduate students and 100 postgraduate students. STT- Abdi Sabda is only a little smaller. Helping these students and faculty develop a deeper sense of God’s grace in Christ would be a major contribution to the ministry and mission of the gospel in this land.

So far, we have consulted with seven of the churches and all four seminaries, and all have asked us to conduct seminars, training and conferences for all their leaders.  So far we have done:

  • Youth Bible Study in a large local church
  • A half day training in a Lutheran theology of vocation for the graduate class of one synod
  • Weekly “Sunday School” videos for families to use at home during the pandemic – these can be found on YouTube
  • Plans for an LSC office/conference room/library to be built as soon as feasible

What we are planning to do:

  • Seminars for faculty, students, pastors, vicars, lay preachers, deaconesses, Bible study leaders, Sunday School teachers – these all involve huge numbers and we have received requests from church leaders and training departments for all these. I am in the process of preparing 10 different presentations
  • Research on Lutheran theology in an Indonesian context
  • Develop a library of Lutheran theology
  • Develop Lutheran subjects which could be offered at the post-grad level at the two largest seminaries – we already have agreement in principle to explore this
  • One church has requested consultation on the revision of their liturgy
  • Annual conference for church leaders
  • Publication of literature related to Lutheran theology

All these projects will help the 13 synods work more closely together on what matters most. It’s a big job and there is a long way to go, but with God’s help, LSC promises to be a worthwhile contributor to the life of the church in Indonesia. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be associated with it, and urge you all to support LSC and these Lutheran churches in your prayers.


This story was also published in the August 2020 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone Nevin on (08) 8267 7300 or email nevin.nitschke@lca.org.au. For more information, go to https://www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/volunteer/

Read more stories about volunteering at https://www.lcamission.org.au/category/join-gods-mission/volunteers/

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About the Author : Erin Kerber


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