History of the LTS
by Rev. Dr. Karl Böhmer
Lutheran missionaries have been active in eastern South Africa from as early as 1854. Due to grave concerns over unionism, the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa was founded in 1892. In fellowship and partnership with the Mission of Lutheran Churches, or MLC, based in Hanover, Germany, Lutheran mission work was actively pursued in southern Africa, with numerous Zulu and Tswana congregations being founded. There was a concomitant need for indigenous pastors and leaders in the young African churches. German Missionaries like H. Christoph Johannes, Heinrich Prigge and Heinrich Reinstorf worked in the Ncaga and Mkondo areas with indigenous African men like evangelists Johannes Mdluli and Esau Madida, who had been trained in the eHlanzeni seminary of the old Hermannsburg mission, and catechist Filemon Kuhlase. Hanoverian Mission Superintendent Christoph Johannes then began training young Zulu men on the mission station in Salem, Transvaal from 1914 onwards. In 1918, Piet Mokone, the first black pastor was ordained. He was followed by Rev. Thomas Molise, Rev. Joseph Mkalipi, and Rev. Salomo Nyandeni in 1920. In 1925, Johannes Nxumalo was also ordained after prompting by the Pella mission congregation and by Nxumalo himself. Yet in 1926, Nxumalo broke away from the Lutheran church along with 1775 members to form an independent congregation. This abrupt development proved to be a startling setback in the development of indigenous African leadership in the nascent church. Even when the abovementioned pastors began to grow old and to retire, the Hanoverian mission was reluctant to train and ordain new African pastors.
It took until 1941 for a proper seminary for catechists and evangelists to be founded in Salem. Missionary Karl Meister was called as the first lecturer. His work laid the foundation for the theological training of black coworkers and pastors in the church. When missionary Meister retired in 1955, the seminary was relocated to Enhlanhleni in the picturesque hills near Pomeroy in KwaZulu after land was donated to the Bleckmar mission society by the Müller family for the purpose of establishing a new seminary. Missionary Dr. Johannes Schroeder was called as the new seminary rector. He was joined in 1961 by missionary lecturer Dr. Georg Schulz, who would eventually serve also as the first bishop of the Lutheran Church of Southern Africa, founded in 1967. Also called to teach at the seminary in Enhlanhleni was missionary E. A. Wilhelm Weber in 1965. Dr. Schroeder served as seminary rector until 1970, at which time he was succeeded by Rev. Dr. E. A. W. Weber. From 1982 onwards, missionaries from the American sister church, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, also began to serve as lecturers at the seminary in Enhlanhleni, notably Rev. Dr. Daniel Mattson and Rev. David Schneider. In this way, more than a hundred graduates from the seminary were trained in confessional Lutheran theology and ordained to serve as pastors in the LCSA.
At the end of the year 2000, a promising opportunity arose as a result of initiatives by people like committed LCMS layman Michael Grosse to relocate the seminary once again, this time to Arcadia, a suburb of the national capital, Pretoria (Tshwane). The move in early 2001 made for a more central location close to international transit points; not only that, but the close proximity to the University of Pretoria also made possible close ties and cooperation agreements with this internationally recognized academic institution. At this point, the seminary adopted its current name, the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane (LTS). From 1998 onwards, following the retirement of Rev. Dr. E. A. W. Weber, Rev. Dr. Radikobo Philip Ntsimane served as rector and was followed in turn by Rev. Dr. K. P. P. Wilhelm Weber, who was originally called as a lecturer to the LTS in 2000 and served as seminary rector from 2004 onwards.
Since moving to Pretoria, the seminary has taken on a decidedly international character. In response to requests from various Lutheran churches throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the LTS has consciously enrolled students from other African nations to address the growing need for well-trained pastors throughout the African continent. Also, a large number of renowned confessional Lutheran scholars and lecturers from international partner churches have served as guest lecturers at the seminary, providing training not only to students but also to pastors already in the field, namely in the form of refresher courses and continuing education. Of signal importance to the international character of the LTS is also the support it has enjoyed in the form of personal and financial assistance by volunteers and experts from partner churches from around the world.
Besides well-known local figures such as Rev. Dr. Ntsimane, Rev. Dr. David Tswaedi, Rev. Nathan Mntambo, Rev. Mbongeni John Nkambule, and Rev. Dr. Sibongiseni Elliot Sithole, who have all served in various capacities at the LTS, the list of regular lecturers also includes figures like Prof. Dr. Werner Klän, Rev. Prof. John Pless, Rev. Dr. John Nordling, Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, and many others who frequently donate their time in service of the kingdom of God for the benefit of Christians and Christian servants in Africa.
After 2008, a deaconess training program was also instituted at the LTS. Most notable among the contributors in this regard has been Deaconess Grace Rao, who has given a great deal of time and effort towards training African women to become servants in the church’s work of mercy.
At the end of 2017, Rector Dr. Wilhelm Weber’s tenure as LTS rector came to an end. He accepted a call to serve as the director of the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany. His successor is Dr. C. Walter Winterle, who has served previously as president of the Lutheran Church in Brazil (IELB), pastor in Nairobi, Kenya and in Cape Town, and as mission co-ordinator of the MLC mission work in Mozambique.
Throughout its history and various instantiations, the LTS has remained committed to the goal of raising up confessional Lutheran pastors, evangelists, and deaconesses for Africa and providing them with the best possible theological training. The triune God continues to provide candidates willing to embark on the long road into full-time ministry in the church. This remains a cause for joy and gratitude amongst Lutherans both locally and abroad, who have not given up carrying this work faithfully in prayer, with their gracious donations, and in their personal loving care.
Johannes Junker, Zeichen, Zeiten, Tage und Jahre: 1892-1992; Hundert Jahre Lutherische Kirchenmission (Bleckmarer Mission), Bleckmarer Missionsschriften 11 (Groß Oesingen, Germany: Lutherisches Buchhaus Harms, 1992).
Christoph Johannes, “Bilder aus der Geschichte unserer Mission,” in Friedrich Wilhelm Hopf, ed., Lutherische Kirche treibt lutherische Mission: Festschrift zum 75jährigen Jubiläum der Bleckmarer Mission (Bleckmar über Soltau: Mission Evangelisch-Lutherischer Freikirchen, 1967), 48-68.
Addition: by Dr. Heinz Hiestermann
In December 2020, Dr. Walter Winterle went into retirement and returned to Brazil. He was succeeded as Rector of LTS by Dr. Heinz Hiestermann.