Teaching at LTS in Tshwane, South Africa

I was privileged to return to LTS to teach a two-week intensive course on “Studies in Law and Gospel” for 35 students (both residential and visiting pastors). Primary text for the course was my book, Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today. The generosity of donors made it possible to provide a copy of this book to each participant. The lectures engaged each of C.F.W. Walther’s theses on the proper distinction of God’s Law from His Gospel with a view toward preaching and pastoral care. We looked at examples of how Law and Gospel are confused in contemporary Christianity. Students provided incidents from their experience within African churches and we enjoyed lively and insightful classroom discussion on biblical, dogmatic, historical, and pastoral topics relating to the necessity of distinguishing Law and Gospel. Each student was required to write a sermon on an assigned text that would demonstrate his ability to distinguish Law and Gospel.

In addition to teaching I preached for morning chapel on March 3 and 10. I also preached at the Divine Service at the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Arcadia on the Second Sunday in Lent (March 8).

Rev. Stephen Preus of the St. Philip Mission Society travelled to South Africa this time. It was good to have him as a colleague teaching a course in hermeneutics.

Given a break in a water main that deprived the seminary of water for several days, I want to thank Dr. Heinz Hiestermann and his family for hosting me at their home from March 1-4. After the water was restored, I enjoyed staying in the newly renovated guest apartment. I’m grateful to St. Paul Lutheran Congregation in Pretoria for sponsoring this renovation.  Visiting professors now have comfortable, clean, safe, and accessible lodging on campus.

It was a special joy to see the completion of the library expansion and renovation. This project was completed with the fine support of the St. Philip Lutheran Mission Society. In addition to providing space for the growing collection of books, the facility includes a conference room, a work station for the library, and a comfortable setting for students to study. I want to especially acknowledge the expert work of our librarian, Mintesinot Birru who has organized the library and put in places measures to make sure that books are not stolen.

This trip I was able to bring several new volumes for the library including the new two-volume set, LSB: Companion to the Hymns and Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation. These volumes will be placed in the closed reserve section of the library. Numerous other new publications were brought for the general collection including books donated by 1517 Publications. Again I thank all donors for their contributions making these additions possible.

The library is still in need of the following volumes in the Concordia Commentary Series: Ephesians (Winger), John (Weinrich), Mark 8:27-16:8 (Voelz), I –IIJohn (Schuhard), I-II Kings (Maier), Galatians (Das), Romans (Middendorf), 2 Peter-Jude (Giese), Ecclesiastes (Bollhagen), Ezra-Nehemiah (Steinmann), Jonah (Lessing), and Amos (Lessing), Isaiah 40: 55 (Lessing), Ruth (Wilch). In addition we also need  The Pillar New Testament Commentary on Second Corinthians (Mark Seifrid) and The Pillar New Testament Commentary on the Letters to Timothy and Titus (Robert Yarbrough). If there are any donors wo could contribute these books, please contact me.

I want to thank our Rector, Dr. Carlos Winterle for this excellent leadership and kind hospitality. On Saturday, March 7, he drove Pastor Preus, Noah Müller (Oberursel student auditing my class), and me to Plainesberg National Park for an enjoyable day of watching a variety of animals native to South Africa. We are grateful that Dr. Winterle has now received a renewed visa making it possible for him to continue at the seminary. Under his leadership the seminary has moved forward.

I enjoyed a fine Sunday afternoon braai at the home of Pastor Siza Lugojolo in Johannesburg on March 7. On our last evening at LTS, I hosted a farewell braai for students and faculty. This has become something of a cherished tradition as we celebrate our work together.

I enjoyed lunch with Prof. Alwyn Swanepoel from the faculty of the Afrikaanse Protestantse Akademie located near our seminary. Prof. Swanepoel has been helpful in consulting with us as we move toward accreditation.

We left South Africa before the Covid-19 outbreak made an impact there. Just a few days after we left, the seminary had to close on account of the pandemic. It will remained closed until after Easter at the earliest. Deo volente, I will return to teaching an intensive course on pastoral counseling at LTS on July 27-August 7, 2020 and then staying on for a mission festival and pastors’ continuing education course in Wartburg. However, the pandemic make these plans tentative. When I checked the cost of an airline ticket to South Africa yesterday, the cost was over $4,000. That is more than double the price of a ticket. So we will need to wait and see if the prices come down and travel restrictions are lifted. Please keep this in your prayers.

I want to express a word of profound thanks to the donors –both individuals and congregations- whose gifts made this trip possible. Thank you!

I am grateful to God for the many teaching trips I’ve been permitted to make to South Africa since August of 2009 and I fervently pray that I might return there again in July.

John T. Pless, M.Div.; D.Litt.

Concordia Theological Seminary

Fort Wayne, IN USA