Last 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.
The missive of the Cathedral Chapter, following my response in May, claims that I have not answered the questions put to me. It is true only in part and for the sake of my own legal rights. On my part, I have issued the same rebuke in my responses to bishop Kalliala[i] and a I repeat it here again. In the latest document from the Cathedral Chapter, the same claims are repeated with the same weaknesses for which I have asked for clarification already in earlier correspondence. Instead of clarifying answers, however, bishop Kalliala and the Cathedral Chapter narrow the whole, broad field of the theology of the Office to a trivial question concerning so-called “episcopal oversight” without touching other problems, which are not small: the ordination block[ii] and the heresies of the bishops, as judged by the Lutheran Confessions. This “episcopal oversight” has been chanted like a mantra in the Church of Finland since the Porvoo Common Statement (1996), as if were an indisputably unequivocal matter from the perspective of the Lutheran confession and ecclesiastical jurisprudence.[iii] In fact, this master key for unlocking all problems, “episcopal oversight”, rests on shaky ground and creates more problems than solutions. The reason is that, as a loan from Anglicanism, it has not been rooted in the prevailing confessional status of the Church of Finland in a way that is acceptable from the perspective of faith and theology. After all, this confessional status has prevailed since the Synod of Uppsala in 1593. “Episcopal oversight” has been brought into the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland from an entirely different, hierarchically construed doctrine of the Office. The attempt has been made to plant it into the Lutheran church, whose confession does not admit the “apostolic succession” in the sense intended by Rome and Anglicanism, and which does not admit the tripartite division of the Office (bishop, presbyter, deacon) as constitutive, according to divine right (ius divinum). According to the Lutheran Confessions, there is no distinction in degree between a bishop and a pastor iure divino. In the Lutheran church, an ordination carried out by any rightly called pastor is valid according to divine right, unlike in the church of Rome and in Anglicanism. The difference between the Lutheran and Anglican doctrines of the Office reaches from administrative matters to the altar, to the most holy Sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood. I refer here to Martin Luther’s Smalcald Articles and Philipp Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope in the Confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. The chief confession of the Lutheran church, The Augsburg Confession, sets bishops under the scrutiny of the Word of God in the administration of their Office, and insists that one must cut oneself off from bishops who teach and act against God’s Word. Altogether, this Anglican import, “episcopal oversight”, has functioned as a justification for episcopal dictatorship in Finland. As a result, a dictum by a bishop or bishops does not open but instead closes all theological conversation: “Episcopus locutus est, res statuta est”. Such cadaver obedience is alien even in the birthplace of Anglican episcopalianism, the established Church of England. Nothing was spoken about such episcopal power when archbishop Martti Simojoki ordain me as a pastor on 2 June 1972 and I made my ordination vows. I bound myself to the Word of God and the whole Lutheran Confessions. The status of bishops and pastors was defined and enacted according to the Lutheran confessional principle entirely differently from what is now the case. I have not breached the doctrine or order of my ordination.
Next I will move on to matters where the juridical grip of the Cathedral Chapter is slipping. As I stated above, the term “episcopal oversight” is open and airy, capable of many different kinds of interpretations, because it does not arise out of Lutheran doctrine but is a foreign object in the body of the church. Moreover, the way it has been applied is alien even to the Anglicanism that prevails in England. When I say that their juridical grip is slipping, what I mean is that such a serious punishment as removal from the Pastoral Office and the declaration that the pastor is unsuitable for the Pastoral Office is being justified by the accusation of a transgression that is neither unequivocal nor one that arises out of the genuine categories of ecclesiastical jurisprudence. The basis of a judgement can never be ambivalent, because that would lead not to justice but to arbitrary rule. A second juridical confusion pertains to the nature of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. The 2013 declaration of the bishops to the clergy was written to be unclear. Nevertheless, far-reaching conclusions with far-reaching consequences are being drawn from it: “Even though it [the Mission Diocese] has not formally been registered as a religious community, factually it has the character of a religious community.”[iv] When the question, whether some association is a religious community or not, is being treated, the hazy “character” is not sufficient. The object must be defined precisely. Is the thing something in a sense recognised by the law or not. It is not good enough to waver somewhere in between as an indistinct “character”, which can be anything, depending on the interpreter. Unclear, equivocal accusations that are open to many different directions belong to notorious political trials. If the Cathedral Chapter is planning to give me the most severe punishment, and not with a punishment that has a “severe character”, then the description of the transgression ought also to be precise and not of a certain character. If the Mission Diocese were a religious community, the Cathedral Chapter would be able to obtain the pertinent certificate of registration from the relevant authorities.
The political bias is demonstrated again when the Mission Diocese and the pastors working within it are compared to other equivalent phenomena. In Finland, there are pastors who belong to secret societies and orders of knights, to whose leaders and Grand Masters they have sworn extreme obedience. For example, the organisations of the Freemasons fulfil the criteria of “the character of a religious community” in every respect, even though they are clearly not religious communities. The Laestadian SRY[v] in Oulu has considerably more of the “character of a religious community”, to use the language of the Convocation of Bishops, yet episcopal oversight has no bearing on it. The bishops know it well, but they also know the size and power of the movement, which is why they have not hauled the Laestadians to the judgement hall of the Cathedral Chapter despite the “character of a religious community” of SRY, which is 100% beyond the reach of episcopal oversight. I wish no ill to the Laestadians, but I am using them as for the sake of comparison to demonstrate that political processes are decided also in the Cathedral Chapter by political power rather than Christian truth. The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland is not considered to have sufficient political power to be left alone, which is what happens to those who are stronger and wealthier.
Finally, I will move to the actual main point: my activity, which the letter from the Cathedral Chapter labels as an unsuitable breach of my ordination vows, is on the contrary precisely in keeping with my ordination vows. I did not begin to gather around me a schismatic, let alone a heretical, flock by my own initiative. The same is true of all the congregations in the Mission Diocese: Christians concerned about the salvation of their souls and the shrivelling up of their spiritual life, as well as their confidence in their salvation, have called shepherds, amongst them also me, to serve them with God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments. My turn came when I returned to Finland after 20 years’ missionary work in Africa. In those years I did not receive any episcopal oversight. In the ends, my position in the archdiocese of Turku was left open also formally, when the Cathedral Chapter did not issue me with any call or appointment for years of mission work. When pastors working in the Mission Diocese, and me among them, are being accused of causing disorder and confusion in the church, the accusation is very far from the truth. Scattered and abandoned Christians, who did not want to lose the biblical, true faith, began to seek out shepherds who would care for people’s souls with the pure Word of God rather than eloquence shaped by the spirit of the age. These Christians had come to the same conclusion as Hermann Sasse did amidst the horrors of the trenches of the First World War: it was perfectly fine to live with the liberal Christianity of his world-famous teacher Adolf von Harnack, but it was no good to die with it.
Having returned to Finland in 2009, I also noticed that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland had changed much faster and more thoroughly than I had predicted in the two Ilkko seminars in 1980 and 1982.[vi] I had said, for example, that after the ordination of women, it would be the turn of homosexuality to be brought into the church with exactly the same arbitrary biblical interpretation as was used to bring in women’s ordination. My words caused the otherwise invariably self-controlled archbishop to lose his temper and with raised voice to assure us that the two subjects had nothing to do with each other. He considered my comment inappropriate. Unfortunately, I had been right and the archbishop wrong. Together with false doctrines, an appointment block familiar from history was set up already in the 1980s, followed later by an ordination block, to protect those in power in the church from orthodox Lutheran clergy. I could well relate to the situation Martin Luther writes about in his letter to pope Leo X in 1520. Luther had lost almost all hope in Rome: “Farewell, dear Rome. Let that which stinks stink (Rev. 22:11)! I began to study the Holy Bible in all peace and quietness in order to be of service to those amongst whom I was living.” When biblical and Lutheran work in Finland has likewise borne fruit and given birth to church reform, enemies have used weapons of hatred, by false witness and lies, to attack the work. Thus they have started a battle over the church, which the secular media have enthusiastically joined against those “who keep the commandments of God and who have the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). Of numerous examples I will refer only to the free newsletter of the Lutheran parishes of Helsinki.[vii]
In the Office of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, I am constantly in a relation of obedience, before all other authorities, to our Lord Jesus Christ who is present in the Church, through His word and the Lutheran Confessions. The Lutheran freedom of the Christian exists precisely in this absolute relation of obedience. According to my ordination vows, those authorities also define my relationship to the bishops as to everything else on earth. It belongs to the basics of the Lutheran Confessions that no ecclesiastical or secular jurisdiction has per se a binding, formal authority over the word of the Bible and the Confession in accord with it: neither the pope nor church councils, nor heads of state, people’s commissars, judges, bishops or the formal majority of a democracy.
The Cathedral Chapter should be well aware that the chief problem is precisely this: as measured by the Book of Concord, the bishops have transgressed seriously against God’s Word and our church’s Lutheran Confession by their false teaching and their official actions and administration contrary to the bible. I refer again to the bishops’ unanimous ordination block, which was brought into effect once bishop Olli Rimpiläinen[viii] retired. Such a block, which is directed against Christians and pastoral candidates who are faithful to the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions, is condemned by the Lutheran Confessions in many places and with strong words, calling it tyranny. The ordination block has made the state of emergency in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland worse still than before. Therefore, the Book of Concord frees congregation to ordain true pastors for themselves in an emergency situation created by episcopal tyranny, if bishops acting against the Word of God attempt to prevent them from having such pastors. The Book of Concord also oblige—not only permit but oblige—Christians to separate themselves from bishops who teach and enact matters and teachings in the Church that are contrary to God’s Word. According to the Augsburg Confession, such bishops are no longer bishops but false prophets (CA 28). In 2011, the General Synod and the Convocation of Bishops made a decision to permit a form of prayer for homosexual relationships, even though careful camouflage was applied to make it look harmless. When I was one of the pastors who publicly announced that I would separate myself from such bishops who, judged by the Scriptures and the Confessions, were now heretical, I was only carrying out that which I had promised in my ordination vows long before on 2 June 1972.
When a state of emergency, where the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions are usurped, is created, such a state of emergency always creates a new juridical situation and the emergency law (Notrecht) demanded by it. The concept has arisen especially out of the Church Struggle in Germany 1933–45, but it reaches much further than German history. I will pass by the persecutions of Christians and the Church’s Office carried out by the French Revolution. Lutheran Christians endured the coercive actions of the state and the state church in Prussia after 1817 when they resisted the Church Union enforced by the king of Prussia. Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf (Struggle for Culture), his policy of discrimination against the church of Rome in the 1870s created a state of emergency for the Catholic population of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, and the corresponding emergency law within the church. The severe anticlerical discrimination associated with the France of Jules Ferry from the 1880s to the First World War created, in conditions of peace, an ecclesiastical state of emergency in that democratic country. There was a battle in the 1920s and 30s in the Soviet Union over the Orthodox Church between the traditional canonical leadership and the pro-Bolshevik “Living Church” (Живая церковь). With the support of believers, that battle ultimately led to the defeat of the “Living Church”. In the Communist satellite states of the Soviet Union following the Second World War, a double structure created by the state of emergency prevailed consistently: the leadership of the church obedient to those in power, and the clergy and laity faithful to the Church’s faith and doctrine. Perhaps the most extreme situation was found in Hungary, when Catholic priests were imprisoned and killed in large numbers and the Lutheran Church was governed tyrannically, and in close co-operation with Hungary’s especially notorious secret police, by bishop Zoltan Kaldy (+1987)—who was supported by too many leading Finnish churchmen. Especially since the 1960s, a cultural struggle and the breaking up of the church’s institutions and Christian ethics has been taking place in the Nordic countries by an appeal to the sovereignty of the people. Thus, “church struggle” and “state of emergency” can prevail both in dictatorships and in democratic societies that have turned into monolithic worldview states (Weltanschaungstaat) without state terror.
A church that accords with a worldview state is brought about in an atmosphere of hatred fanned by the media and in the constantly repeated false testimonies of the church’s own spokesmen. Have you considered, bishop Kaarlo Kalliala, that the planned defrocking of at least five pastors in your diocese is a unique event in the history of the Church of Finland? Similar examples have to be sought from as far in the past as the 16th and 17th centuries. Are you really ready to take such a chilling role and to bear its consequences before God and men?
Such great questions as these ought to be discussed, instead of shadow boxing in the shelter of juridically ambivalent formalities. Before God, the ordination block and the promotion of homosexuality will finally have removed before standing which the bishops imagine they have with their “episcopal oversight”. “Oversight” that is contrary to God’s Word will only lead Christ’s sheep to the hands of the cruel slayer of the abyss. The bishops, who are so particular about their oversight, have made no effort to open up dialogue with us, even though talk of dialogue is so fashionable in the church.
I have preached God’s Word, heard confession and distributed the Holy Sacraments to Lutheran Christians, just as I have been doing for decades. Now the Cathedral Chapter has the gumption to tell me, however, that by so doing I have broken my ordination vows and demonstrated my unsuitability to the Pastoral Office. Let a fresh example set matters in glaringly revealing light: I am a false shepherd as I administer the Word and the Sacraments, because in the ecclesiastical state of emergency I am outside “episcopal oversight”. What should we say by comparison about the fact that recently two pastors in the diocese of Helsinki participated in an official capacity in a pornographic event at Kaapelitehdas[ix] in Helsinki? It would appear that their episcopal oversight was all in order, all the way to archbishop Kari Mäkinen who was interviewed on the subject. Therefore, they need not fear any negative consequences, since they have acted within the prevailing order of the church, whatever the Sixth Commandment of God’s Ten Commandments happened to say about it. Our Lord, on the other hand, said to the Pharisees and the scribes, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matt. 11:19.
According to the canons of the Ancient Church and the Confession of the Reformation, judgements passed by heretical bishops are not valid according to divine right. Therefore I will continue to work serenely as a Lutheran pastor until I die. If I do not get to do the work Christ has given me in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, I will continue to do it next to the church according to the true, divine marks of the Church of Christ.
The Church of Finland has, in past centuries, been salt, light and a blessing to the people of Finaldn in times of peace and of war. I feel great sorrow and also quiet indignation–not because of myself or my personal or family history—but because of the people of Finland. What can it expect for its children and its children’s children when the church of its fathers and mothers is corrupted in every way in its midst, rots and turns into the church of Cain? My prayer has long been that I would not find myself in the same role in my homeland Finland as the prophet Isaiah in Judah that had provoked god’s wrath: “ I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him” (Isa 8:17).
The Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki
[i] The area bishop of the archdiocese of Turku, who serves alongside the archbishop of Turku and who has responsibility for the care of the parishes of the archdiocese.
[ii] The refusal of the bishops of the ELCF to ordain men who do not accept the ordination of women.
[iii] I.e. the theological basis of legislation in the church.
[iv] This is a Finnish legal term, referring to assocations that have registered as a legally independent religious organisation, such as a church body.
[v] The central organisation of the largest branch of the Laestadian movement in Finland.
[vi] Seminars organised by ELCF to bring together opponents and proponents of the ordination of women for theological discussion. Anssi Simojoki was one of the leading opponents. Women’s ordination was approved in the Church of Finland in 1984.
[vii] Kirkko ja kaupunki (”The Church and the City”), a weekly newspaper distributed to every home in Helsinki by the Lutheran parishes. It has long represented the most aggressively liberal theology in the ELCF.
[viii] Bishop of Oulu 1979–2000; the last Confessional bishop in the ELCF, and the last not to ordain women. While he was in office, Oulu was the only diocese where men opposed to women’s ordination were able to receive ordination.
[ix] A cultural venue in Helsinki. Two pastors participated in an event called Sexhibition in October 2014, which included live performances of hardcore pornography.