Defrocked—A Pastor’s Response

Anssi_SimojokiLast week, my father Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki, together with four other pastors, was defrocked by the Cathedral Chapter (the governing body) of the Archdiocese of Turku in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. His crime: participation in the life and work of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. You can read about the facts of the matter on their website here. I will write some personal reflections another time.

 

What follows is the response my father wrote to the Cathedral Chapter’s letter threatening him with defrocking if he remains unrepentant about his activities. It is thorough and, therefore, long, but I recommend you read it in full.

The translation is mine, and hastily produced. Any mistakes are mine. I have added some notes to clarify certain names and terms to readers unfamiliar with things Finnish.


To the Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese of Turku

11 November 2014

I have received from the Cathedral Chapter what amounts mutatis mutandis my own bull threatening excommunication, just as our doctrinal father Martin Luther did in November 1520, at precisely this time of the year. Although burning at the stake and defrocking are completely different orders of punishment, the accusations against me are, nevertheless, not slight: breaches of the duties of the Pastoral Office, the breaking of ordination vows and demonstrable unsuitability for the Pastoral Office. These matters, which the Cathedral Chapter appears to insist on persistently, if true would mean nothing less than the declaration that I am a perjurer. In the secular world, the equivalent crimes are desertion and treason. In the kingdom of Christ, perjury is a mortal sin. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, this is considered to demonstrate that I am evidently unsuitable for the Pastoral Office in the Evangelical Lutheran Church—an Office in which I have served the church as well as the Lutherans of various mission fields and churches in different parts of the world continuously since June 1972 until this day.

Continue reading Defrocked—A Pastor’s Response

The Catechism as the Glue of the Church

… only by this means can there be a bonding of families with the Catechism, agreement between educated and uneducated, or a closing up of the vast gulf between elite Christianity and Christianity for the common folk …, the fact that the rift can only be healed by way of a discipline which treats the one as the other with the same elemental portions of God’s Word, that is, the Catechism, makes it the severest task of the office of shepherd first to proceed evenhandedly with this discipline, without respect of rank, educated or not.

A.F.C. Vilmar, The Theology of Facts versus the Theology of Rhetoric” (Lutheran Legacy, 2008), 103.

New Confessional Lutheran Diocese in Finland

Risto SoramiesLast Saturday (16 March 2013), The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland was formed in Lahti, Finland. At the same time, the gathered delegates (pastors and lay delegates from the founding congregations) elected Rev. Risto Soramies, as the first bishop of the Diocese.

Pastor Soramies, a veteran missionary to the Turks in Germany and Turkey (and a founding pastor of the Lutheran Church of Istanbul), will be consecrated on 4 May 2013 in Helsinki by Rt. Rev. Matti Väisänen. The Rev. Dr. Matti Väisänen, who had served these pastors and congregations as bishop in the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland, will then retire.

Here is an outline of what this new diocese is. The text is from the official website. Some form of this summary  will probably appear there in English in due course.

Continue reading New Confessional Lutheran Diocese in Finland

Salt, not honey

Well, a man can’t live on jam, and neither can a Christian society. Our Heavenly Father said mankind was the salt of the earth, son, not the honey. And our poor world’s rather like old man Job, stretched out in all his filth, covered with ulcers and sores. Salt stings on an open wound, but saves you from gangrene.

Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest (Da Capo), 11.

Church as Community

Since … salvation is given by Christ, it’s certainty can only be further planted by Christ. They must therefore progress from the concept of community which is always a subjective thing and only the consequence of the planting done by Christ and the continued planting of the certainty of salvation intended by him to the concept of an agency as an objective which first give birth to the community.

A.F.C. Vilmar, The Theology of Facts versus the Theology of Rhetoric: Confession and Defense, 71

From shore to shore

… as in the Isaac Watts hymn, “Jesus Shall Reign“, which we sang this morning at Our Saviour and in the evening at the Brighton Mission.

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Which was a poignant thing to sing at Brighton, where we also celebrated the confirmation service of Karina—because it was also the last time that she was with us. By this time next week, she will have settled in her new home across the North Sea.

But that is the joy of membership in the body of Christ: that the Kingdom, of which we are members, does stretch from shore to shore. That even when we are separated by land and sea—and time!—Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever; and so His body remains one and united. We may not see each other or hear each other’s voices: but our voices come together at the throne of the Lamb, wherever we are, together with the angels and the archangels, with the the apostles, the holy band of the martyrs, and Christians from all times.

If we were in the business of shopkeeping, we would never confirm a person in her final service with us. But as free citizen’s in God’s boundless kingdom, such foolish behaviour is joyful!

Confessional Lutheran Pastor Defrocked in Sweden

HT: Chris Barnekov of Scandinavia House

Leading Swedish Confessional Pastor Defrocked for Support of Mission Province

The consistory of Lund Diocese has declared Pastor Jan-Erik Appell no longer authorized to serve as a pastor in the Church of Sweden.  Pastor Appell is retired after nearly 40 years of faithful service.  A complaint was filed by an anonymous accuser over his current service on behalf of a Mission Province congregation in Kristianstad, in the southern Sweden’s Skåne (Scania) province.   The decision, rendered March 14 was published yesterday, March 22.  Pastor Jan-Erik Appell is chairman of the board of Kyrkliga Förbundet (The Church Federation), which sponsors the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg, the Gothenburg Lutheran High school, the Confessional weekly magazine Church and People, and other leading Confessional Lutheran institutions in Sweden.

Continue reading Confessional Lutheran Pastor Defrocked in Sweden

On megastars and small-time ministers

The entire congregation of Our Saviour Lutheran Church, plus visitors. I'm not a megastar.

As has become well known, Mark Driscoll has managed to be very rude about Christian ministers in the UK. The essence of his criticism is that there are no nationally famous young “Bible teachers” in this country, and so we are a lot of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of cowards who aren’t telling the truth here, as anywhere. I suspect one or two may even be lurking in Washington State (Driscoll works in Seattle). But I would contend that the proportion of cowards amongst the anonymous small-timers is unlikely to be significantly higher than amongst the megastar peers of Driscoll.

In fact, in the light of what the Bible has to say about the nature of sin, I would even contend that cowardice is positively helpful if you want to be famous and grow a large church. It is the coward who preaches to itching ears what they want to hear, often becoming popular in the process. It is the coward who can only believe in the veracity of his message and the genuineness of his call if it is affirmed by the approval of crowds.

By contrast, it takes great courage to preach sin and salvation in a culture that doesn’t believe in the former or the need for the latter, and to be condemned to unpopularity or (even worse) oblivion. It takes great courage to confess the reality of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”, which the gates of hell cannot overcome, when leading a dwindling and ageing congregation. It takes great courage to be a small-time nonentity, faithful to the Lord and His flock, because there is nothing else to commend it than the promises of God’s word.

[Disclaimer: I’m not making any claims here about whether or not Mark Driscoll himself is a coward. Only that he’s both wrong-headed and wrong on this point.]

Losing the reason for the season

Christmas is prime time for Christian hand-wringing at the state of the world, more so it seems than Easter. It’s at Christmas that we find ourselves lamenting most loudly, persistently and at length at just how far secularisation has advanced. Not a single Christian carol at Tescos, no manger scene at Debenhams, cards galore with snowmen and Father Christmas, season’s greetings everywhere.

All people care about is the shopping, the presents, the food, while the Baby is left forgotten in the cold (to paraphrase a Finnish carol).

And then the inevitable city council which decides to celebrate Winterval and erect a Festival (or Winter) Tree, so as not to offend or appear Christian in a mixed community.

Ah, the degradation. Whatever happened to Britain (or USA, or almost any Western nation) as a a Christian country? Gone to the dogs.

Give me back my festival! Put Christ back into Christmas!

Sorry, folks, leave me off the bandwagon. I get hot under the collar about some things, but I just don’t get that bothered with the erosion of Christmas in the public square.

Why ever not? Lots of reasons, actually.

First, Christmas as a Christian festival is just that, a Christian festival. That is to say, it is a festival of the Church. It’s not the job of Birmingham city council to uphold the festival of Christ’s birth. They are responsible for bins and roads and public buildings and schools and such like—and community cohesion, law and order and that sort of stuff. If it promotes community cohesion to have a festival tree, so be it. If they do choose to promote the festival of the Church, well that’s great. But it’s not their job, so if they don’t do it, why complain. After all, I don’t complain if they don’t come and mow my lawn or change my light bulbs. (If they did, that would be great, but … you get my meaning).

Nor is it for Tesco or Debenhams to promote the Christian message. They are in the business of selling things to people. Christmas suits them well, thanks to the Magi and St. Nicholas and all that, but if they choose to do it in a non-religious way, I have no grounds for complaint.

Secondly, Christmas as a Christian festival is, ipso facto, a festival for Christians. That many pagans, for reasons of history, culture and tradition, have a glutfest that goes by the same name at the same time, and is based on the Christian original, is their business. How they profane their lives at Christmas time is their problem, and they are entitled. That they sing ‘Away in a Manger’ for the wrong reasons, and some even go to Church for those wrong reasons, is a bonus and I pray that the word accidentally heard may not return void but does its work in those lives.

Thirdly, being a festival for Christians, Christmas cannot, again ipso facto, be something that a country or nation should be expected to observe. For there is no such thing as a Christian country. In fact, as one UK Lutheran suggested recently on Twitter, the word shouldn’t be used as an adjective at all. In the New Testament, it’s a noun, describing persons. The rule of thumb is simple: if you can’t baptise it, it can’tbe or become Christian. Britain, the USA, Germany, Finland, wherever, never were Christian countries. There was a time when the Christian faith was predominant in culture and beyond, and almost everyone professed to be a Christian (however sincerely). Now they don’t. And they behave as such.

Which is a good thing: people are being more honest, no longer pretending. In the past (and still with older people), most people considered themselves Christian by virtue of not being Muslim or Hindu, and not wanting to consider themselves heathen. Now people are more honest: they don’t believe and they don’t pretend to believe. And so they celebrate a Christmas that fits in nicely with their non-faith: all food, family and presents. No more Christ in their Christmas than in their hearts and lives outside of Christmas. That’s helpful: when the Church encounters such people, it knows what it’s dealing with and can have open and honest encounters where everyone is open about what’s going on.

So if a pagan celebrates Christmas like a pagan, why get upset? It’s like getting upset that a Muslim fasts during Ramadan or a Buddhist meditates? What did you think they were going to do?

* * * * *

I have a much bigger complaint than all that. It’s not that pagans or politicians or merchants aren’t putting Christ into Christmas in places where Christ doesn’t wish to be worshipped. The real problems is at the other end of the compound word: that Christians are leaving Mass out of Christmas.

When I first spent a Christmas in the UK, I was shocked to discover near-empty churches on Christmas morning, with even the usually pious people absent. Why? Because for them, Christmas was family time above all, and they wanted to give the kids time to open and enjoy their presents, to get the turkey into the oven in time, and just to be able to have a relaxing Christmas morning. All of which a Christmas morning communion would have disrupted.

In other words, while we were wailing because the council and the shops were leaving Christ out of their Christmases, Christians were doing the very same in their own homes. Indulging in the paraphernalia, the feasting, the presents—while ignoring the Reason for the Season by staying away when He came down to them on Christmas morning in word and sacrament.*

Not that long ago, every Lutheran church in Europe would have held a Divine Service on each of the first four days of Christmas, as well as Christmas midnight, not to mention New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Epiphany, plus all the Sundays. There’s a carol still popular in my native Finland telling of the sleigh ride to church on Christmas morning. The first line: “The clock struck five, children wake up, John and Lisa, or you’ll miss the journey.” More remote farmers would have travelled literally all night to get to church in time for dawn (i.e. 9am).

Now the loss of that is something to lament. And, I suspect that Pastor Peters is right when he suggests that it is the loss of the Mass in Christmas that has most contributed to the loss of Christ in Christmas. The Church—yes, the institution, but above all Christians—have bought into the hedonism and the peripheral stuff and edged out Christ from the hearts of their celebrations (why, some churches even have Father Christmas, the bright red Coca Cola / Disney job,  appear in church as the gift-giver!). The world has watched and learned. Christians have left the Baby out in the cold, or at any rate only a cameo role, and so the world has stopped hearing the Gospel.

Give me back my festival! Put Mass back into Christmas.

*For the record, I should note that thankfully my current congregation do not fit the description but attend the Christmas services as they do all other services: in very good numbers.

Letter from Iranian pastor on death row

This is a letter from Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani written from prison in Iran earlier this year. Pastor Youcef currently faces the death sentence for apostasy – conversion from Islam to Christianity – and is waiting for the court’s final verdict. Please continue to pray.

This message has been translated from Farsi to English.

Dear brothers and sisters, Salam.

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I am continuously seeking grace and mercy to you, that you remember me and those who are bearing efforts for his name in your prayers. Your loyalty to God is the cause of my strength and encouragement.

For I know well that you will be rewarded; as it’s stated: blessed is the one who has faith, for what has been said to him by God, will be carried out. As we believe, heaven and earth will fade but his word will still remain.

Dear beloved ones, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of a few verses, although you might know them, So that in everything, you give more effort than the past, both to prove your election, and for the sake of Gospel that is to be preached to the entire world as well.

I know that not all of us are granted to keep this word, but to those who are granted this power and this revelation, I announce the same as Jude, earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.

We are passing by special and sensitive days.They are days that for an alert and awake believer can be days of spiritual growth and progress. Because for him, more than any other time there is the possibility to compare his faith with the word of God, have God’s promises in mind, and survey his faith.

Therefore he (the true believer) does not need to wonder for the fiery trial that has been set on for him as though it were something unusual, but it pleases him to participate in Christ’s suffering. Because the believer knows he will rejoice in his glory.

Dears, the “ judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

Therefore those who are enduring burdens by the will of God, commit their souls to the faithful Creator. Promises that he has given us, are unique and precious. As we’ve heard he has said: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”

How can it be possible for a believer to understand these words?

Not only when he is focusing on Jesus Christ with adapting his life according to the life Jesus lived when he was on earth? As it is said ” O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

Have we not read and heard: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Many attempt to flee from their spiritual tests, and they have to face those same tests in a more difficult manner, because no one will be victorious by escaping from them, but with patience and humility he will be able to overcome all the tests, and gain victory.

Therefore in the place of Christ’s followers, we must not feel desperate, but we have to pray to God in supplication with more passion to help us with any assistance we may need.

According to what Paul has said: In every temptation, God himself will make a way for us to tolerate it.

O beloved ones, difficulties do not weaken mankind, but they reveal the true human nature.

It will be good for us to occasionally face persecutions and abnormalities, since these abnormalities will persuade us to search our hearts, and to survey ourselves. So as a result, we conclude that troubles are difficult, but usually good and useful to build us.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must be more careful than any other time. Because in these days, the hearts and thoughts of many are revealed, so that the faith is tested. May your treasure be where there is no moth and rust.

I would like to remind you of some verses that we nearly discuss everyday, (Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.) but as long as our human will has priority over God’s will, his will will not be done.

As we have learned from him in Gethsemane, he surrendered his will to the father, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

What we are bearing today, is a difficult but not unbearable situation, because neither he has tested us more than our faith and our endurance, nor does he do as such. And as we have known from before, we must beware not to fail, but to advance in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, And consider these bumps and prisons as opportunities to testify to his name. He said: If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

As a small servant, necessarily in prison to carry out what I must do, I say with faith in the word of God that he will come soon.”However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Discipline yourself with faith in the word of God. Retain your souls with patience. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly.

May you are granted grace and blessings increasingly in the name of Lord Jesus Christ.

Yusef Nadarkhani
Lakan Prison in Rasht

2/June/2010

HT: Cyberbrethren