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

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

Modern alchemy: making white black and black white

A guest post from my friend, Samuli Siikavirta:

The biannual Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) voted today for the approval of a prayer with and for registered same-sex civil partners (78 for – 30 against). This compromise view was said not to create a new rite or to signify an actual blessing for the partnership. However, it is considered to lie  somewhere between private pastoral care and public prayer: if the couple so wishes, guests can be invited and church buildings can be used for the prayer. The Congregation of Bishops will give more detailed instructions on how to conduct the prayer without elements that would falsely confuse it with the rite of the blessing of civil marriage (e.g. exchange of rings).

It has been stressed that the church’s doctrine and teaching on marriage solely between one man and one woman has not been changed. At the same time, however, same-sex partners may now be given the church’s “support” through private or public prayer, and the church shall put no stop to members of staff and clergy living in same-sex partnerships. Pastors and laymen shall remain their freedom of conscience, and no one ought to be forced to pray, the congregation of bishops have emphasised.

The decision is considered an intermediary compromise: conservatives think it has indeed changed the church’s view on Scripture, sin and sexual ethics by de facto approving of and supporting homosexual unions within the church. Liberals maintain that a vague prayer is not enough nor equal towards sexual minorities. Archbishop Kari Mäkinen has comforted the liberal majority with implicit statements according to which “it is good to advance on the basis of this [decision]”. It is highly possible that in the near future, the next synod may well have the required 3/4 majority to pass a rite of blessing that would officially change the church’s teaching and practice.

Approximately 78 % of Finns are members of the ELCF that is considered a “national church” with the right to collect church tax from its members and a portion of business tax from all businesses through state taxation. Its Church Law is also ratified by the Finnish Parliament. Political parties have the right to compile lists of candidates for church elections. Despite a considerable membership of 4.2 million, less than two per cent attend Sunday mass, and close to half do not believe in God. However, many Finns have strong sentiments towards their national church and wish to modernise its teachings.

In recent years, the ELCF has suffered from membership declining by approximately one percentage point per year. After a national TV debate on the same-sex issue last month alone, it was reported that some 40,000 left the church. The average leaver is a young adult to whom the church means little and who does not want to pay church tax.

In the first paragraph of the ELCF Church Law, the denomination defines its confession to be bound by the Holy Scriptures, the three ecumenical creeds and the Lutheran Confessions of the Book of Concord. The biggest disputes tearing the church apart consider this paragraph and its interpretation. For instance the Church of Sweden, a sister church of the ELCF, has no such statement in its church law, making liberal reforms much faster.

Numerous members and pastors who oppose women’s ordination and other reforms considered to violate against the church’s confessional basis have taken to their own measures. Some have founded their own congregations and ordained their own pastors and bishop in co-operation with the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland – an independent non-geographical Confessional Lutheran diocese with apostolic succession. The Mission Province has been strongly attacked by the national churches of Finland and Sweden, and their ordinations are not considered valid within the established churches. According to the Mission Province, taking independent steps to create an alternative diocesan structure by still remaining within the national churches is the only way to offer people a traditional Lutheran option that can help reform the church without having to leave the church. According to the established churches in Sweden and Finland, the Mssion province resembles an independent church body.

Despite promises to the contrary in 1986 when women’s ordination was accepted, the ELCF has more recently ceased to ordain and appoint pastors who cannot be in communion with ordained women. These traditionalists appeal to their freedom of conscience, whereas the bishops have pleaded to governmental anti-discrimination laws. Some traditionally-believing pastors have been defrocked, while others have even been sued and convicted of discrimination.

With the current intermediary decision to allow prayer for same-sex couples, more divisions are likely to arise. The conservative and liberal wings, that are already so far apart, will find even less common ground. Membership will continue to drop from both ends.

Samuli Siikavirta, MPhil, is a PhD student in theology at the University of Cambridge, UK.

Storm clouds burst over the church in Finland

Just over a week ago, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (YLE) hosted a two-hour panel discussion on homosexuality. The biblical viewpoint was represented primarily by two ladies, one of them the chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, Dr. Päivi Räsänen. There was also a bishop on the panel, who apparently came across as agreeing with the conservative viewpoint.

The reaction has been phenomenal. Since the broadcast, over 30,000 people have resigned their membership of the church, according to a web service provided by the Free Thinkers. That’s over 50% of normal annual membership loss rates. On the other hand, the Christian Democrats have gained nearly 1,000 new members (despite most of the other front-liners distancing themselves from Dr. Räsänen’s (very measured and winsomely presented) views. Several bishops, including the Archbishop, have made it clear that she does not represent the church’s view. The Abp has gone so far as to suggest that there really ought to be new regulations that will ensure that clergy bless same-sex unions.

The media have indulged in a sustained attack on Dr. Räsänen, with some prominent columnists being allowed to write hateful comments in national newspapers. One Professor of Astrology  suggested that she should be forced into a same-sex marriage in order to cure her. This in a national newspaper.

Now the church is hitting back: a demonstration was held today in central Helsinki to protest the fact that the church is inclusive and not homophobic. Mikko Heikka, bishop of Espoo, took part, declaring that “this is the church’s mainstream”.

And this morning it was reported that Pastor Ari Norro, who was fined for refusing to share the altar with a woman pastor when a visiting preacher in Hyvinkää, Finland, has had his fine upheld by the High Court. The term ‘abuse of human rights’ was used in the judgement.

These are dark times.

[Sources:

http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/news/2010/10/male_pastor_fined_for_discrimination_2080361.html
http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/news/2010/10/church_resignations_now_exceed_20000_2064653.html
http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/news/2010/10/bishops_church_must_out_on_gay_question_2069059.html
http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/news/2010/10/pm_religion_and_politics_should_not_mix_2072064.html

On the pro-gay demonstration: http://www.kotimaa24.fi/uutiset/629-tama-on-kirkon-valtavirtaa (Finnish)

The latest stats on people leaving the church: http://www.eroakirkosta.fi/media/none/tiedote_19_2010.html?year=2010 (Finnish only. The larger figure is for the year to date)

And the professor’s column: http://www.ts.fi/online/mielipiteet/kolumni/167507.html (in Finnish; Google translate does a passable job. ‘Eheyttämishoito’ refers therapy used in some quarters to ‘heal’ people of their homosexuality. And the losing candidate in the Abp elections was Miikka Ruokanen, not Miikka Your Food (‘ruokanne’)…)

Why Luther Foundation hasn’t founded a new church

A translation from the FAQ page of Luther Foundation Finland.



Why do you not leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland if it is so bad?

It is the duty of Christians to abide in the vine by remaining in God’s word:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:1–7)

Christ Himself creates and sustains the Church with His word and sacraments. People can neither found nor sustain the Church with their own decisions or mutual contracts. That is why abiding in the vine becomes the central issue in Jesus’ parable — but not the only one. According to Jesus, abiding in the vine is remaining in His word. By His word, God prunes and cleanses His Church.

On this basis, the Lutheran Reformers did not imagine they could leave the Church and to start a new one, as if the Church was for them to found. Instead, by their teaching and practical actions they exhorted Christian to remain in God’s word and to work for the renewal of the Church of their time in order to remove unbiblical human inventions and abuses. The Catholic church reacted to this Reformatory programme with force, by driving out the shepherds and congregations who had adopted the Reformation, complete with excommunication and anathemas.

For a long time now, revival movements and organisations have been operating within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which have worked for the renewal and building up our church on the Lutheran basis described above. In the midst of this church, God has given us a new birth in Holy Baptism, and it is there that He has been calling us again and again to repentance and renewal, both as individuals and as a community. Luther Foundation Finland and the people involved in it have never wanted anything other than to remain in God’s word and in the Lutheran Confessions (the Book of Concord), which rightly interpret the Scriptures; and they have wanted to live out this their faith both as individuals and as a community. Luther Foundation wants to promote the creation of worshipping communities which aim to orient themselves and to strive according to the seven marks of the Church, which the Reformer, Martin Luther, sets out in his book, On the Councils and the Church (1539).

When we read the Reformer’s description of the seven marks of the Church, it is readily apparent that our church has not stepped off the road they mark only in the question of the Office of the Ministry. The question of the status of God’s word in its various dimensions has brought about a ??? conflict and wound into our church. The leadership of our church has cared for us, their sheep, by encouraging us to step aside if we have problems. We have done that. Now that the conflict has come to a head, it encourages us to leave the church. Is this the voice of a good shepherd or of a general manager?

In 1541, Luther justified the position of the evangelical congregations and their relationship with the Catholic church in these words:

Nobody can deny that we have in fullness and purity the preaching office and the word of God, that we teach and preach diligently, without adding any new, sectarian, or human doctrine, and in this we do just as Christ commanded and as the apostles and all of Christendom have done. We invent nothing new, but hold and remain true to the ancient word of God, as the ancient church had it. Therefore we are, together with the ancient church, the one true church, which teaches and believes the one word of God. So the papists once more slander Christ himself, the apostles, and all of Christendom when they call us innovators and heretics. For they find nothing in us but what belongs to the ancient church—that we are like it, and are one church with it.”