LWF General Secretary Calls for Balance Between Listening and Serving
MEDAN, Indonesia/GENEVA, 10 March 2011 (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge praised Indonesian Lutherans for making “transparency and accountability” part of their “beautiful witness for Christ.”
Junge, visiting with churches in the country 6-8 March, made his comments when he delivered the Sunday sermon at the Sidorame congregation of the Christian Protestant Church in Indonesia (GKPI) in Medan, North Sumatra.
The general secretary expressed great appreciation for how the Sidorame congregation and GKPI leadership report each Sunday on the amount of money that had been raised and how it was being used.
“You are showing what it means to be the salt and light of the world by being transparent and accountable,” Junge said when he preached on 6 March.
In his sermon based on Luke 10:38-42, Junge, reflecting on the life of Mary and Martha, highlighted the importance of “listening to the word of God and serving our neighbor.”
The LWF general secretary encouraged congregation members to balance listening and serving, which are important dimensions of Christian life in the same way that “faith and work belong together.”
He challenged those gathered for worship: “Are we listening enough to others? In our families, are we listening enough to each other? Are we listening to the youth, the women, and to our neighbors? Are we listening to the cries and pains they face? Are we listening enough to the debates in our cities and communities? Are we listening enough in our lives?”
His visit included discussions with faculty lecturers and students of both the Nommensen University, which is affiliated with the Protestant Christian Batak Church (HKBP), and the Nommensen Theological Seminary in Pematangsiantar, some 130 km from Medan.
The seminary principal, Rev. Dr Darwin Lumbantobing, explained how the institution was teaching and building “a theology rooted in the area and local culture.” He affirmed the seminary’s commitment to developing “a gender friendly theology, which highlights the valuable role and leadership of women in helping build God’s kingdom.”
The seminary is showing renewed emphasis on “the Lutheran perspective” and at the same time sowing “seeds of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and understanding,” Lumbantobing noted.
He explained the institution was open also to Islamic clerics, “whom we invite to discuss their faith and practice here.”
Around 86 percent of Indonesia’s population of over 237 million people consists of Muslims. Christians are slightly over eight percent, including the 5.6 million members of the 12 LWF churches there.
Change and Transformation
The students raised questions with the LWF general secretary about how they might be agents of change and transformation in a fast changing world; how they might balance faith and social commitment or community service; and how they might be relevant both as Christians and as citizens.
They expressed concern about the relationship between language and faith. They noted that because they use Bahasa Indonesia, the national language, more often, the youth felt they have become less connected to traditional church worship, which is conducted in the indigenous Batak language.
The situation has become more challenging, they said, because charismatic or Pentecostal groups have been drawing many young people to worship through the use of the national language.
Responding, Junge said the students embodied the present and future concerns as well as hopes for their churches. He reminded them that theology continues to develop and change and no longer comes from just one center. “Theology is being developed in specific places and continues to be enriched through exchange programs,” he said.
He cited how theology in Africa was responding to the challenge of HIV and AIDS. “But before HIV and AIDS, there was apartheid,” he said. “So the challenge then was, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian amid a situation where separation was imposed on the basis of color?’”
In Chile—where Junge grew up and served as a pastor—and in other parts of the world, there were military dictatorships, and theology has developed in response. “So again the challenge then was how the churches could respond,” he told the students.
Asked how youth today could be guided as they seek change and direction for the future, the LWF general secretary encouraged the students to study Martin Luther again.
“Luther had said we must not get stuck [in a certain historical stage] but must continue to evolve if we are to reform and transform ourselves and our society,” Junge said. “Within the LWF communion, we’re actually rich in wonderful experiences and practices that are empowering.
“Your rich experiences as Christians in this multi-cultural and multi-lingual country are good examples,” he added. (784 words)
(Written for LWI by Philippine-based journalist Maurice Malanes.)