Post-Indoctrination: Teaching Lutheran Doctrine in a Mission Context

By Eller, Justin E. | Currents in Theology and Mission, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Post-Indoctrination: Teaching Lutheran Doctrine in a Mission Context


Eller, Justin E., Currents in Theology and Mission


Missional Lutheran churches continue asking what it means to be Lutheran in their particular contexts and what Lutheran doctrines have to say to them in these contexts. If the doctrines and confessions do not engage the contexts in which they are being read and applied, then they are irrelevant as far as the particular contexts are concerned. Lutheran doctrines and confessions are not repetitive formulas that can be applied in every context; rather, they must be translated and reinterpreted in order for them to become relevant and accessible for critical reflection, examination, praxis, and most especially action.

The traditional Lutheran hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God," sounds like a strangely disconnected funeral dirge when sung in Spanish to the beat of a single drum in the highlands of Bolivia. Even though it is sung by every Bolivian Lutheran, even in the indigenous Aymara language, it is out of context and there is an unspoken recognition that this classic hymn is foreign. As traditionally Lutheran as this hymn might be, it is a sign of importation. The majority of Bolivian Lutherans have never seen a castle-like fortress other than from photographs or on the Internet. Former president of the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church, Humberto Ramos Salazar, wrote about the early hymnals used in the Bolivian Lutheran Church: "the first one has greater theological principles and spans significant confessional ground, however it fails to incarnate in the life of the Aymara. The famous hymn of Martin Luther, 'A Mighty Fortress is our God,' with profound theological and historical meaning, what could it say to an Aymara? Neither the rhythm nor the lyric will arrive at its profound sense of religiosity. We are sure that for a German, who is familiar with the history or the Reformation and the geographical context, it will mean a lot." (1)

Despite being sung every year to celebrate Reformation Day, there is a constant underlying rumble of suspicion and questioning. In many Lutheran mission contexts, including Bolivia, one encounters a variety of perplexing and complicated questions as to why the national church is Lutheran and where the church traces its confessional roots. Not only did the early Lutheran missionaries to Bolivia in the law I 930s bring the word of God, they also brought the patriarchal colonizing missionary enterprise that imposed hymns, denied traditional indigenous dress and musical instruments, and created a deep sense of dependency on foreign Lutheran churches in the area of financial sustainability as well as in the areas of Lutheran theological and confessional identity. Similar to Ramos, one Bolivian Lutheran pastor, reflecting on the tumultuous history of the foreign missionizing presence asserted: "It is a sin that they come in without knowledge of or being acquainted with our reality, without at least the ability to speak our language. And then they want to teach us so many things! It is a continual invasion that we Aymara suffer." (2)

The biblical and Lutheran indoctrination experienced by many in the Bolivian Lutheran Church resulted in the constant call for others, typically foreigners, to define them, construct their Lutheran identity for them, and continue indoctrinating them with their Lutheran teachings. Teaching Lutheran doctrine in a mission context is not, nor should it ever be, domesticating indoctrination. In this article, I explore what teaching Lutheran doctrines in a mission context means and entails by looking at how Lutherans in mission contexts (3) could regard Luther and his teachings as inspirational, the impacts of translating and retranslating the Lutheran doctrinal statements and confessions into the contextual realities, and the development of a contextualized Lutheran identity through coram doctrine.

Opposing Indoctrination: How Lutherans Could Regard Luther

Indoctrination, as opposed to education, is commonly understood as inculcating doctrines in authoritative ways that expect the indoctrinated person not to question or critically reflect on the subject or underlying motive of the indoctrinator. …

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