October 2010


The concept of a contingent revelation of God in Christ denies in principle the possibility of the self-understanding of the I apart from the reference to revelation (Christian transcendentalism). The concept of revelation must, therefore, yield an epistemology of its own. But inasmuch as an interpretation of revelation in terms of act or in terms of being yields concepts of understanding that are incapable of bearing the whole weight of revelation, the concept of revelation has to be thought about within the concreteness of the conception of the church, that is to say, in terms of a sociological category in which the interpretation of act and of  being meet and are drawn together into one. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Act and Being [DBW 2; Fortress, 1996], 31)

(Which raises interesting critical questions about the new theme of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia, which itself has been one of the slogans of the World Council of Churches for decades. Act or being?)

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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’)…)

[I was reminded of this, one of my all-time favourite poems, by today’s Gospel reading, Luke 18:1–8.]

When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears;
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse:
My breast was full of fears
And disorder:

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

As good go any where, they say,
As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come,
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! all day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung:
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung
Discontented.

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favors granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rime.

George Herbert (1593–1633)

Apart from the historic nature of the first Mission Province ordination by Matti Väisänen in itself (see previous posts), history was being made in another sense as well.

One of the ordinands was Eero Pihlava, who has the distinction of being the first-ever graduate of Westfield House, Cambridge, to be ordained as pastor in Finland.

Several years ago, Eero took the courageous step of becoming a guinea pig for an alternative route for ordination by enrolling as a student at Westfield House, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England. He did this in order to receive biblical and confessional pastoral training rather than the liberal academic training available in the Finnish universities.

The move was courageous because it was full of uncertainties — there was no guarantee that his training would ever be recognised in Finland. Yet God has blessed his sacrifice and Eero, a very gifted preacher as well as a fine singer, will now begin work as assistant pastor of St. Mark’s, the Helsinki congregation of Luther Foundation Finland.

Here are some thoughts Eero penned just before his ordination:

When I started my seminary studies in England, my parents gave me Bible as a present with the following verse written on the first page of it: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:16) Eternity is at hand in the office, salvation, that of the pastor and his hearers.

A few days before my ordination the verse makes me grateful as it reminds me of all my good teachers and pastors who have taught me the Gospel. I am grateful for my parents, fellow christians, seminary colleagues and the faculty of Westfield House (ELCE, Cambridge) who have nurtured and supported me thus far on my call to study God’s word for the eternal benefit of His congregation. I am also in great debt for brothers and sisters in US (LCMS, Friends of Westfield House) who have supported generously my studies and our church in Finland. I have been kept on close watch and good teaching.

The verse reminds me also of the coming weight of responsibility on my shoulders. Teaching and living the gospel of Christ is more easily said than done. When our neighbours eternal salvation is said to be connected with our activities a fear starts to creep in. Am I fit for the office? Our personal abilities may be measured in money, achievements, long working hours, diligent study etc. However, when we are dealing with eternity and once in a life time events like death, baptism and for some ordination, measures for our worthiness become secondary or even useless. It is here where Christ’s work begins. It is he who gives eternal hope for the dying. It is he who sealed us in baptism with his name for eternity. It is he and he only who is “the teaching” of ordained ministers. “Persist in this,” Paul says and “you will save both yourself and your hearers”.

Persisting on apostolic faith has not received public popularity in our Finnish context. However Christ has continued to serve his congregations in Finland through “the teaching” despite of these opinions. It is this reality of the church’s faith which gives me courage to enter the office with joy and excitement. Living Jesus Christ will save me and my hearers.

The four ordinands in their new cassocks

The newly formed Consistory of Luther Foundation Finland

[Update: an earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to David Jackson as a representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. He is in fact a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England.]

I wasn’t able to be there, but from all accounts the ordination of four men into the office of the holy ministry by bishop Matti Väisänen (Mission Province in Sweden and Finland) in Helsinki on 2 October was a great occasion.

There was plenty of media interest: the event was an item on the main news programmes of three national TV networks. Here is the official press release from Luther Foundation Finland:

Bishop Matti Väisänen ordained four pastors to serve Luther Foundation Finland

On 2 October 2010, bishop Matti Väisänen of the Mission Province in Sweden and Finland ordained four pastors to serve koinonias of Luther Foundation Finland. In the past, eight pastors have been ordained in Sweden. Last Saturday’s ordination was the first Mission Province ordination in Finland.

The four ordained men will be working as pastors of Luther Foundation koinonias. Sami Liukkonen will serve St. Titus koinonia in Mikkeli, Jani-Matti Ylilehto has been called by St. Andrew’s in Kokkola, Markus Nieminen will shepherd St. Matthew’s in Hämeenlinna and Eero Pihlava will be stationed at St. Mark’s in Helsinki. Although the newly-ordained  pastors have no official status in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (such as the right to register marriages), they will carry out normal pastoral duties: preaching, leading services, pastoral care and other pastoral acts.

The ordination service at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Helsinki drew nearly 400 congregants from around Finland. In his sermon, Bishop Väisänen described the life of the apostle Peter, reminding the ordinands that the pastoral office is not based on the excellence of the office-holders but the grace of Christ.

“As pastors, your life must consist of following Christ. As you travel with Him, you will decrease and Christ will increase.

“The work into which you are being ordained is Christ’s. Your role in all this is to be at Christ’s disposal – and that, too, has been effected in you by Christ,” bishop Väisänen reminded them.

During the celebration after the service, greetings were brought among others by pastor Johan Helkkula on behalf of St. Paul’s Synod [the oldest confessional campaigning organisation in Finland] and pastor David Jackson on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England. Jani-Matti Ylilehto spoke on behalf of the newly-ordained pastors.

“Today’s celebration is not primarily a pastors’ celebration but that of congregations and their members,” Ylilehto stated.

Background

The bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland have decided that only theologians who will work with ordained women at the altar will receive ordination in the church. When bishop Olavi Rimpiläinen of Oulu retired in 2000, in practice this meant that the road to ordination was blocked then. The October ordination is, therefore, the first ordination in Finland for ten years, where theologians who act in accordaince with the Church’s traditional theology are being ordained as pastors.

Tampere Cathedral Chapter removed Matti Väisänen from the pastoral office in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland because he was consecrated as bishop of the Mission Province on 20 March 2010. Väisänen’s task is not only to ordain new pastors but also to provide pastoral care for the existing pastors (among others), to be a “pastor to the pastors”. The pastors ordained by Väisänen do not have the legal rights that come with the pastoral office in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, but in the koinonias of Luther Foundation they will carry out all the duties of the pastoral office.

Luther Foundation Finland, founded in 1999, is an organisation working for the renewal of the Church, which aims to build Lutheran worshipping communities, congregations, to serve particularly those members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland who have been left “spiritually homeless” in the parishes of an increasingly liberal and secular church. The fast-growing Luther Foundation now works in 24 towns.

UPDATE: Check out this report, with photos, from Dr. Christopher Barnekov of Scandinavia House.

Apparently, Cyberbrethen gets nearly 3,000  hits a day. Weedon’s no doubt approaching 1,000,000 hits.

Today, this site had its 5,000th hit. If your windows rattled, do let me know.