Church


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.

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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’)…)

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.”

For background, see here.

Here is the text of the legal response by bishop Matti Väisänen to the disciplinary charge against him by the Tampere Cathedral Chapter, dated 27 July 2010. As is now known, the Cathedral Chapter decided on 11 August 2010 to divest bishop Väisänen of clerical standing in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, despite the arguments he presented in this document. He continues to serve as bishop in the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland.

UPDATE: The Luther Foundation website now has an English-language statement, which can be read here.

For a PDF copy of the English text, click here. The document may be freely distributed.

TO TAMPERE CATHEDRAL CHAPTER

SUBJECT

Response in a case concerning a disciplinary procedure

RESPONDENT

Matti Väisänen ThD

DISCIPLINARY CHARGE

The disciplinary charge by the disciplinary commissioner of Tampere Cathedral Chapter, Kari Ikonen, concerning my deposing from the pastoral office 9 June 2010

RESPONSE TO THE CHARGE

I am opposed to the disciplinary charge. I do not consider myself to have acted contrary to the responsibilities of my pastoral office.

In my ordination oath I have primarily bound myself to remain faithfully and purely in God’s holy word and in our church’s confession founded on it. According to the confession, the church’s highest rule is that all doctrine must be examined and evaluated according to God’s holy word. This biblical principle — sola Scriptura – and commitment to the Lutheran confessions is even today the legally in force in our church and is recorded in the first article of the Church Law, the so called Confessional Article. For that reason, the church’s confession binds not only the pastor but also the church’s order to being primarily obedient to God’s holy word, which is the Bible.

Because shepherds who bind themselves to the apostolic view on the office of the ministry are no longer being ordained in our church, I have received the office of bishop. The justification for this ecclesial emergency right is based on the Holy Bible and the Lutheran confessions. It is not an offence against the ordination oath but in the most profound sense precisely acting in accordance with the duties of that oath.

On the precise basis of the ecclesial emergency right, I refer to the attached article by pastor Anssi Simojoki, ThD.

Arguments

Concerning the episcopal consecration

I have been ordained as bishop by an association called Missionsprovinsen i Sverige och Finland (hereafter Missionsprovinsen). The association is not outside the Church of Sweden but works within the Church of Sweden. However it — any more than any other association — cannot be an actual member of the Church of Sweden. Missionsprovinsen defines itself as a non-geographical diocese in the tradition of the churches of Sweden and Finland.

Also Luther Foundation Finland, in which I am a member and vice chairman of the Executive Council, works within the church. In Luther Foundation, we are concerned about our church’s current theological-spiritual orientation, which is detaching itself from God’s word. We are especially concerned that shepherds who bind themselves to the apostolic view on the office of the ministry are no longer being ordained.

It is my understanding that bishops have begun to impose this ordination block after bishop Olavi Rimpiläinen retired in 2000.

Concerned about the state of our church we have been forced—being guided and obliged by the Confessional Article of our Church Law and the Lutheran Confessions (Treatise, 60ff.), and with their justification—to take action in order to preserve apostolic worship and teaching in our church and our land.

Because Luther Foundation Finland is an associate member of Missionsprovinsen, this relationship has made it possible to begin the founding of an independent Mission Diocese / Mission Province in our church with its own worshipping communities / congregations, pastors and bishops.

Concerning the use of the external marks of a bishop

I have been elected bishop by the provinskonvent of Missionsprovinsen. The consecration was carried out by the Mission Bishop of Missionsprovinsen, Arne Olsson. He was assisted by the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya, Walter Obare, and Missionsprovinsen bishops Lars Artman and Göran Beijer.

Arne Olsson was consecrated bishop by Archbishop Walter Obare in 2005. Walter Obare was consecrated bishop by the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania, Samson Mushemba, in 2002. One of the assistants at the consecration of Walter Obare was bishop Olavi Rimpiläinen.

Because I have been called and properly consecrated into the office of bishop, I have not used the external marks of a bishop in any way without justification, for in terms of church law, I am a Lutheran bishop.

Concerning the conducting of an episcopal mass

I have conducted an episcopal mass, including the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as part of the carrying out of the duties of my office on 16 May 2010 in a place not authorised for that purpose.

Our church’s cathedral chapters, which are negatively disposed to those who have an apostolic view of the office of the ministry, do not permit us to celebrate the mass and the Lord’s Holy Supper in church and would not allow us to celebrate it outside the church either. Knowing this, why would we trouble ourselves any more than the cathedral chapters with our applications . In this matter, too, we have had to resort to the rights given to us by the Lutheran confessions and to seek for our congregations alternative premises, trusting that God’s word and prayer consecrate them as sacred spaces.

Concerning the alleged misleading of members of the church

When I accepted the call to become a bishop of Missionsprovinsen, and in serving the congregations that have been born in Finland as a result of the work of Luther Foundation, I am misleading no one, for we have made, and will continue to make, clear to everyone that I am a bishop of Missionsprovinsen, not a bishop according to the our church’s parochial diocesan order.

Nor have I taken a leading role in another denomination or another religious organisation, since Missionsprovinsen is registered as an ideological association. In terms of its organisation, it does not work within the administrative structures of the churches of Sweden or Finland. Rather, it continues the church’s spiritual heritage as a free diocesan structure, serving here in Finland those members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland who have been left homeless because of their traditional view on the office of the ministry.

Concerning the alleged breach of the ordination vows

Therefore, I absolutely deny having broken the ordination vow I swore in 1964. If Tampere Cathedral Chapter deposes me from the office of the ministry, it will take place precisely because I have remained faithful to my ordination vow.

It is characteristic of our church’s current theological-spiritual state of humiliation that the church has increasingly replaced its own ecclesiastical justice with civil service law and secular laws, seeking again to become a state church. The governing organs of our church have brought our church to a situation where the church’s constitution (Bible + the Lutheran confessions) and the church’s order have come to a conflict. At the same time, the bishops and cathedral chapters demand obedience to church order against the church’s constitution. That which is human takes precedence over that which is divine. Man’s word and man is elevated in our church above God’s word and God. Thus the church, having broken its judicial foundation, changes increasingly into a travesty of a church with its rites and blessings of civil religion.

I am saddened that this distortion leads to oppression against those who consider the Bible the unchanging word of God. Today it looks like holding to Gods word is a crime in our church. By contrast, those who deny Christ’s divinity and atoning work, and even the existence of a personal God, and those who live immorally, are allowed to work in our church as pastors and bishops, destroying our church without any disciplinary consequences, while those who want to be faithful to God’s word are dismissed from their posts.

Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. So help me God! (Martin Luther, 1521)

DATE AND SIGNATURE

In Ryttylä, on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, AD 2010

Matti Väisänen
Bishop
Missionsprovinsen i Sverige och Finland

Jyrki Anttinen
Solicitor
The Bishop’s Attorney

That is, ecclesiastical jurisprudence (Kirchenrecht), not the Church Law of the Republic of Finland. Tr.

See previous note. Tr.

Bishop Matti Väisänen, recently consecrated as assistant bishop in the Mission Province in Sweden and Finland, has been defrocked by the Tampere Cathedral Chapter. There’s an inaccurate English-language report on the matter on the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation’s web page.

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:41)

Here is a translation of an official statement from Luther Foundation Finland. The text is also available as a PDF download here.

The decision by the Tampere Cathedral Chapter to depose Matti Väisänen from the pastoral office is wrong and contrary to the church’s confession. Matti Väisänen has been a pastor for 46 years – he has come to be known as a profound teacher of the Bible, preacher and curer of souls [pastoral counsellor]. He has not broken his ordination vows by his teaching or his life.

Bishop  Matti Väisänen enjoys profound confidence among the pastors and congregants of Luther Foundation [Finland] — and more widely among members and officials of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland — and the decision of the Chapter does not shake this confidence. On the contrary.

The decision of the Chapter demonstrates that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland does not — contrary to the claim in the decision of the Chapter — “live in normal circumstances”. The justification of the work of Luther Foundation [Finland] is based on the spiritual state of emergency in the church, where the heart of the church’s life — the church’s faith — is disintegrating.

The church’s leadership is making ever deeper the chasm between the administrative organs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and Luther Foundation Finland, as well as other Christians concerned about the spiritual state of the church. Distrust in the spiritual oversight of the bishops of the national church among congregants is growing, whilst among the bishops of the church and in other offices — in spite of appeals — there are numerous people who deny the chief articles of the church’s faith in their proclamation. Väisänen alone is accused of “breaking his ordination vows”. This begs the question: is the only remaining thing demanded of office-holders in the church the unquestioned acceptance of the power of the bishops?

How do we proceed now? Matti Väisänen  is still our bishop. We continue with assurance under his oversight in the work of building congregations in accordance with our church’s confession.

Raimo Savolainen, Chairman of the Executive Council, Luther Foundation Finland

Juhana Pohjola, Dean, Luther Foundation Finland

The Baptist had preached repentance, but it didn’t help. The Church has done the same for two thousand years, and it still doesn’t appear to have helped. It looks like other means are necessary to get people to listen. Shouldn’t we show others that we can do something really impressive? That’s a temptation that has pursued the Church throughout its history. Many times it’s been tempting for the Church to get politically involved or interevene in society in an effort to make an impression, create good will, gain sympathy, and win support.

Jesus again answered from Scripture: “You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test”. God knows what He wants. He has His boundaries. There are things He keeps for Himself. His thoughts are far beyond ours and can’t change them. That’s why Jesus abstained from doing a lot of the things His disciples and His adversaries thought He should do. His friends weren’t allowed to fight when He surrendered to His enemies. He commanded Peter to put his sword away. He didn’t step down from the cross. He didn’t ask His Father for legions of angels that would have gladly hurried to His rescue. Even Christ’s Church has to continue to preach repentance and faith, although the world says it should take the completely different position that it’s better to get with the times and engage all resources in a cause they say is closer to the hearts of the people than the salvation of their souls.

Bo Giertz, To Live with Christ, CPH 2008 (translated by Richard Wood and Bror Erickson), pp. 197–198.