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.”

18 thoughts on “Why Luther Foundation hasn’t founded a new church”

  1. There is no problem in claiming to be the actual heirs of the ELCF, if that is what you are. But you are staying in a heterodox organization even though you haft in fact formed new congregations. As church in the lutheran sense, you have already left the ELCF, since you do not attend the services of their congregations. The church is the gathering around word and sacrament.

    The only thing left in you church-membership is your official adherence to a false-teaching organization and your economical support of its pastors.

    The lutheran reformers didn’t have to leave their churches. The Church of Wittenberg was reformed. Why should Luther leave it. By the way there were hardly any membership-records back then. But those who lived in paplist areas (such as prague) were advised to baptize their own children and not to commune in heterodox churches. So people were advised to leave heterodox churches.

    Since the churches back then were not incorporated as our churches, it is an anachronism to demand that they should leave the church in any other way than this.

  2. Pastor Sørensen,

    You seem to fluctuate in your definition of ‘Church’ between congregation and institution. The ‘Church of Wittenberg’ was a specific congregation (as well as a specific parish), and so were the churches of Prague. In other words, the people of Prague, according to your definition, were advised to leave heterodox congregations. Which is in fact what many (if not most) of the active members of Luther Foundation congregations have done.

  3. Pastor Sorenson,
    the only problem I have with what you have said above is that you say: “The only thing left in you church-membership is your official adherence to a false-teaching organization and your economical support of its pastors.”
    I don’t think that can possibly be true. These people have an honest desire to reform that church if at all possible. I think most of them realize that it probably is not possible. they have family in that church body, they have friends there. They probably even have a sentimental attachment to the buildings in which generations of their families have been baptized, married, and buried, for the pulpit where a pastor years ago thundered law and gospel and sobered up their grandfather. They also have a spiritual tie to brothers and sisters in Christ who stay out of ignorance or confusion. This isn’t as simple as you make it out to be. They are right in the course that they are taking. The chips will eventually fall where they will.

  4. @Tapani
    I don’t fluctuate my definition. My definition of the church is that it is the gathering around word and sacrament.

    So what you are saying is my exact point. The Mission province is mingling organizational membership with churchmembership when they argue against leaving the organization of the ELCF.

    One should not only not attend heterodox churches but also not support them economically or morally, as 2 John 10-11 clearly teaches.

    They have already left the ELCF-churches as church.

    But they stay as members of a heterodox organization, which is not in any way forced on them. Their economical and moral support for the ELCF and Svenska Kyrkan is a problem.

    And it is a problem that they claim that they have not formed a new church, when they have in fact formed congregations, called pastors, made a churchorder, elected a consistory and consecrated bishops – if it barks like a dog…

    But they have already left their congregations and thereby the ELCF as church-body. Their sentimental attachment for their church is not an excuse but a problem, they should deal with and repent of.

    1. Where are the pastors who serve as ordinary ministers in ELCF, who aren’t compromising too much? Why will LF speak in the way, which we can look on in the document here above? This is a self-denying and proves that LF partly is acting because of pragmatic reasons not in the first place because of the heresy in ELCF. According to LF there wasn’t any big problem so far as the same heretic bishops of ELCF accepted to ordain conservative candidates.
      Standpoints like this above aren’t helpful for us who stay in the midst of the battle and seek ways to be released from the heterodoxy.
      Halvar Sandell, chaplain, ELCF.

  5. Yes I am meaning Luther Foundation. Focus is too much on the Institution instead for on the real outward Church. If we go from ELCF we are taking the Church with us not founding any new Church. The ecclesiology in the document translated by you Tapani is more or less pietistic. People are obligated to remain in heterodoxy. Who are responsible for christians coming in spiritual troubles because of this doctrinal statement?

    1. Perhaps I am missing something here. Perhaps it is just confusion that results from trying to communicate in a second language.
      But, Halvar, Could you explain to me what you mean by taking the church with you? As I read it your understanding is the pot calling the kettle black. The church is not yours to take.
      The Church is found where the gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution. If that happens in an ELCF, and I hold my breath but…, than there is church. Or the Church is “The sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd and listen to him” This is not something that can be taken.
      But there is a sense in which earthly institutions can rightly be called church, and are, for lack of a better term, expressions of the church in this world, and that goes beyond the local congregation. And in that sense you would be founding a “new Church” and earthly institution calling itself church, for which there is always tension in the one true church.

      1. Just because a man can’t take anything – ”A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” (John 3:21 KJV) – we have to keep the focus on the Word of Christ and his commandments and Sacraments. If we are faithful and the Word of Christ will lead us it will cause unfaithfulness to Archbishop Mäkinen and his church. The Church will follow them who preserve the Word of Christ. They, who according to LF:s standpoints, will stay faithful to ELCF in any case can be lost.
        Dear Bror Erickson, I want to keep solidarity in relation to LF. Usually in discussions I defend the LF people. I have very good friends among them. But we should not allow any corruption. What do you think about what I already wrote: “…and proves that LF partly is acting because of pragmatic reasons not in the first place because of the heresy in ELCF. According to LF there wasn’t any big problem so far as the same heretic bishops of ELCF accepted to ordain conservative candidates.”

      2. Bror,

        How can earthly “institutions” be called church in a right sense. I agree that some of them are churchly, because they serve the church. But as legal associations they do not bear the marks of the church. The only visible things bearing the marks of the church are the concrete congregations, wherein the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments distributed according to Christs institution.

        You seem to make the marks of the church invisible, that is the true visible church, and then make earthly manmade institutions, that can serve the church into churches.

        While I don’t agree with Halvar about staying in the LWF-churchbodies, I do agree with him, that if a pastor leaves this churcbody and the actual congregation of people, who regularly meet around word and sacramen, then he is taking his church with him. The gathering around word and sacrament is not invisible.

        But when the members of the Mission province do in fact start new gahtherings around word and sacrament, they have already founded new churches. So when they claim to stay in the ELCF it is (maybe self-)deception. They have founded new churches and by joining together, they have made a new church-body.

      3. “…and proves that LF partly is acting because of pragmatic reasons not in the first place because of the heresy in ELCF. According to LF there wasn’t any big problem so far as the same heretic bishops of ELCF accepted to ordain conservative candidates.”
        I hate to, though I often do, question peoples motives. I don’t think it is pragmatic reasons. I think they are trying the best they can do follow their conscience and the scriptures in this.
        I might also add that The Apology states that we would gladly remain under the jurisdiction of the see of Rome if they would only allow us to preach the Gospel.
        I see the Lutheran church in Findland finally kicking them out, but I don’t think we need to bully them from our side before they do.

      4. Bror Erickson

        It’s not about the motives. That’s not the issue. The historical development speaks for itself. We can be happy if this which started because of pragmatical reasons now will end in a dogmatical position.
        And then about Lutheran Confessions; their doctrine is not that one in the same churchbody and sacral union can have different confessions. The confessional pluralism belongs to the time after the age of Enlightenment.

    2. Sorenson,
      Well I don’t know, but I do belong to The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which calls itself a church despite Walther’s Kirche und Amt, and no one seems to mind.
      Is it in the right sense? Probably not, but then I didn’t say it was called church in the right” sense, but in a sense.
      But I get the impression you are getting caught up in semantics and this all comes down to calling the kettle black.


      1. I think the definition of the church is pretty essential to this whole discussion – as it was for the discussion with the papalists in the reformation.

        I also think that this is a discussion about theology. It would be nice with some theological arguments from your side on this question.

  6. My text should have said:
    …if a pastor leaves this churcbody and the actual congregation of people, who regularly meet around word and sacrament are leaving with him, then he is taking his church with him.

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