by Roy Askins
Over the years, Lutherans in Sri Lanka have suffered numerous tests and trials. But there was great joy as the newly-formed Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church held its first convocation Sept. 1-2, ordaining a new pastor for the first time in a decade, and launching the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Publishing House.
A new pastor
For the Rev. P. Gnanakumar, the process to become a pastor has been long and difficult, with over 12 years spent in training. But the last year has brought many opportunities for growth.
When the Rev. Dr. Edward Naumann joined the LCMS team in Sri Lanka as a missionary and theological educator in June 2016, he crafted a plan to prepare and examine the remaining vicars for service in the office of the Holy Ministry.
The prescribed course of study included classes on the Book of Concord, music and liturgy, the Gospel of Matthew, biblical hermeneutics, parish administration, the Lutheran doctrine of the three estates, and justification and sanctification in Romans and Galatians.
These final classes, following those taught over the preceding three years by the Rev. Roger James, South Asia area director and missionary to Sri Lanka, completed a basic pastoral education in Lutheran theology and practice for these Sri Lankan Lutherans.
After examination, two vicars were certified for ordination: P. Gnanakumar and M. Antonraj, with provisions.
Vicar Gnanakumar was ordained on Sept. 2 by the Rev. Charles Ferry, regional director of LCMS Asia, at the authorization of the Rev. Jamison Hardy, president of the LCMS English District, who was unable to attend due to unforeseen circumstances. On Sunday, Sept. 3, the new pastor consecrated and administered the Lord’s Supper for his congregation for the first time.
Some history, and a new beginning
The Lutheran church has operated in Sri Lanka since the 1920s. In 1978, LCMS missionaries registered Lanka Lutherans as a church body. Around the turn of the century, the name changed to the Lanka Lutheran Church (LLC), and in 2001, it became a partner church of the LCMS. However, the LLC lost its formal registration nearly five years later.
Beginning almost five years ago, Rev. James and Darin Storkson, assistant director of Church Relations, began working to re-form the church body as the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) and provide it with a new constitution. Previous constitutions had simply been copies of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church.
At the convocation, James explained the name change to members of the new church as “a combination of the old and the new,” intended to convey “the fact that the Lutheran church has been in Sri Lanka since at least the 1920s.”
Ferry addressed the convocation attendees as well. He warned them about the difficulty of maintaining a faithful confession of the Gospel in the face of the great difficulties facing the Church and her members.
“To be a Lutheran just means to be a faithful Christian,” he said. “And to be a Christian means being focused on the cross of Christ.”
James distributed copies of the new church order to attendees. The pastors and congregations of the former Lanka Lutheran Church will read and examine the constitution, and after opportunities to ask questions, individual congregations and pastors will apply for formal membership in the new church body.
A new publishing house
The distribution of printed materials has always been a part of the Lutheran tradition. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Lutherans in Sri Lanka have supported the creation of the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Publishing House (CELPH).
On Sept. 2, Naumann officially opened CELPH for operations, saying, “CELPH exists for the propagation of the truth for the people of Sri Lanka.”
In explaining the CELPH logo, Nauman said, “Jesus Christ is the light that lightens the nations. This light only comes from Christ.”
The CELPH logo represents this by placing the chi rho, a symbol of Christ, above an open book.
“Christ connected to the book symbolizes the publication of this light for the people of Sri Lanka,” Naumann said.
CELPH began by distributing catechetical posters, free of charge, to the members who gathered for the first convocation of the CELC.
Approximately 5,000 posters were distributed and quickly began appearing on the walls of the house churches where Lutherans in Sri Lanka meet to receive our Lord’s gifts. According to Naumann, there were even reports of some Hindu families placing posters in their homes.
These resources are only the beginning, however. CELPH has several translation projects already in production.
According to James, Nathan Jeyachitranesan, LCMS field officer for Sri Lanka, is “crucial in the editing process.” The editing team also includes two pre-seminary students.
Naumann pointed out to attendees that a publishing house needs two things: funds to operate and an audience. The LCMS will assist with the first for a short time. The Lutherans in Sri Lanka will provide the second.
Naumann urged those present: “Please use these materials and share them with your family and friends, that the light of Christ might shine in Sri Lanka.”
Founded on the rock
The events of September in Sri Lanka will help ground Lutherans deeply in the Christian faith.
Through the thorough education and training of pastors such as Rev. Gnanakumar, the publishing of Lutheran materials for pastors and laity and the establishing of a new church order, Christ is equipping His church in Sri Lanka to preach and proclaim His Word to those who do not yet know Him.
The Rev. Roy S. Askins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of communications for the Asia region of the LCMS Office of International Mission.
Posted Oct. 23, 2017/Updated Nov. 7, 2017