A critical analysis of the interpretation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone by the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, Gongola Diocese.
This study examined the issues of the interpretation, transmission and appropriation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone within the context of the Lutheran Church in Nigeria, Gongola Diocese. Using contextualization as my main tool in this exploration, I argue that intercultural communication holds the key to unlocking how effectively and appropriately these three engagements with theology are executed within the context of this study. The Lutheran church and indeed most Protestant denominations assert that justification by faith alone is the cardinal doctrine of Christianity. Scholars are however concerned that there is great level of ignorance among members and misappropriation of justification by faith alone in the lives of members of these denominations. Many reasons were advanced as being responsible for this, some of which include: its absence from the preaching agenda of Protestant pulpits, and inadequate teaching from the church, its clergy and theological educators. Other reasons are its failure to be shown to be clearly applicable to lived experiences of the people in their contemporary challenges. The message of justification by faith alone has not been adequately translated into people's social, and religious-cultural world views. The LCCN as an institution subscribes to Luther's teachings as expressed in his writings and taught by the Lutheran Church globally. However, the LCCN is faced with the problem of how to transmit the meaning of justification by faith alone to its members. This study therefore sought to investigate the underlying factors for this development. The question that the study wished to answer was: How does the interpretation of justification by faith alone by the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (as an institution) enhance its understanding and appropriation by members and serves as a guide in this study? In attempting to answer this question three theories were used as framework with which to test the church's interpretation of this doctrine. These theories are: 1) gospel and culture in dialogue; 2) translatability, and 3) contextual theological education programmes for the training of both clergy and laity. This is an empirical qualitative study and was structured into eight chapters. Participants in this study were categorized into five groups: church leaders, seminary lecturers, clergy, seminary students, and lay members. Through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with participants, relevant data was generated and analysed manually. The study found that the LCCN's interpretation of justification by faith alone is detached from the religious and cultural world view of its members; this has in turn created a conflict in how it is understood and appropriated in their lived experiences. The message of justification by faith (the gospel) has not been allowed to engage in dialogue with the culture of the people, rather culture is perceived as evil or something to be avoided. Thus, I argue that this failure on the part of the missionaries and the indigenous leadership of the LCCN to employ intercultural communication in transmitting the message of justification by faith alone is the major cause of the problem. Most of the participants including the leaders of the church acknowledged that the church, the seminary and the clergy have not been faithful in transmitting the appropriate message of justification by faith alone. The conclusion of this study therefore, is that the LCCN's interpretation of justification by faith alone does not enhance its understanding and appropriation by members. This thesis proposes that the Lunguda practice of ntsandah provides an entry point for a proper informed interpretation of justification by faith alone. For this to be possible, the gospel and culture must engage in dialogue through viable a contextual theological education programme for the training of both clergy and the laity.