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.

An official announcement from Luther Foundation Finland. (More info plus photos will follow anon)

Matti Väisänen, a bishop in the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland (Missionsprovinsen i Sverige och Finland), conducts his first ordination service on 2nd October 2010. The ordination, taking place in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Helsinki, will be the first Mission Province ordination in Finland.

The four candidates for ordination have been called by koinonias of Luther Foundation Finland. Sami Liukkonen will serve St.Titus in Mikkeli (S:t Michel), Eero Pihlava will become an assistant pastor in St. Mark in Helsinki (Helsingfors), St. Matthew in Hämeenlinna (Tavastehus) will receive Markus Nieminen, and Jani-Matti Ylilehto will shepherd St. Andrew’s koinonia in Kokkola (Karleby). After this newest addition, the network of koinonias in Finland will be served by fifteen employed pastors – among them the eight pastors ordained by Arne Olsson, now emeritus Mission Bishop of Mission Province – supported by a dozen or so retired shepherds .

The bishops of the established church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, have maintained that only those willing to work together with female clergy are eligible for ordination. The retirement of the last confessional bishop, Olavi Rimpiläinen, in 2000, meant that it has been practically impossible for those who reject the unbiblical doctrine and practice of women’s ordination to be ordained and thus admitted into the pastoral office. Many congregations and parachurch organizations would issue calls, but the ‘confessional quarantine’ imposed on the theologically conservative minority by the bishops of the established church has prevented this. The service to be held on 2nd October will thus be the first ordination in Finland for ten years with candidates fully holding to the apostolic understanding of the Office of the Ministry are ordained.

Matti Väisänen was consecrated as bishop on 20th March 2010. His responsibility is not only to serve congregations by ordaining pastors as they are called, but also to act as a seelsorger for those already in the Office, thus being a ‘shepherd of shepherds’. For young pastors, receiving their first call in a turbulent ecclesial situation, this kind of pastoral care is priceless. To share the burden, a consistory of five members has been assembled, entrusted with the tasks of, for example, examining new candidates for the pastoral office as well as handling disputes, if any arise.

Luther Foundation Finland is an organization founded in 1999 with the purpose of helping faithful Finnish Lutherans, left homeless by the increasingly liberal established church, to build up koinonias, i.e. communities formed around the pure proclamation of Word and the correct administration of the Sacraments. During the eleven years of its operation, the work has now spread to 24 cities, with the demand for new koinonias still being strong.

Esko Murto
Theological Secretary
Luther Foundation Finland

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.

It’s odd …

A) How someone is still, 20 years …
B) How someone is still, 2000 years …

A) … after the General Synod’s democratic decision …
B) … after the common history of the Church arising from the Bible …

A) … knowing that the nation may abandon the church …
B) … knowing that the Lord Himself may abandon the church …

A) … and the church may lose the blessing of the governing authorities …
B) … and the church may lose the blessing of God …

A) … and what will then happen to the church’s finances and future …
B) … and what will then happen to the church’s finances and future …

A) … when all this opposing is based only on an interpretation of the Bible …
B) … when all this opposing is based only on an interpretation of the Bible …

A) … which is supported by a small minority in the church …
B) … which is supported by a small minority in Christendom and its history …

A) … can still think like that and then obstinately make life difficult for others …
B) … can still think like that and then obstinately make life difficult for others …

A) … when it would be easier and more honest to leave the church and start another …
B) … when it would be easier and more honest to leave the church and start another …

A) … so it’s really odd why they don’t draw the right conclusions.
B) … so it’s really odd why they don’t draw the right conclusions.

Translated from http://www.luthersaatio.fi/uutiset/kummallista-perspektiiveja-kirkolliseen-debattiin.html

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

Irja AskolaLWF General Secretary Congratulates Helsinki Bishop-Elect

GENEVA, 3 June 2010 (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko today congratulated Rev. Irja Askola and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) on the election of pastor Askola as the bishop of Helsinki. She becomes the first female bishop in the Finnish Lutheran church.

“I congratulate bishop-elect Askola and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland for taking this milestone step forward,” said Noko in a statement issued here on 3 June. “It is an important sign that a woman has been elected to the office of bishop in yet another LWF member church,” he added.

The LWF general secretary pointed out that bishop-elect Askola “is well known in the ecumenical world and brings enormous ecumenical experience to her new post.”

Askola, 57, is an assistant to the bishop in the diocese of Espoo. She worked at the Geneva-based Conference of European Churches from 1991 to 1999. Noko said, “We know her to be committed to the inclusive ministry of men and women throughout the church.”

Askola was elected in the second round of balloting today, winning 591 votes, with Rev. Matti Poutiainen getting 567.

Current Helsinki bishop Dr Eero Huovinen, who is also LWF vice president for the Nordic region, is expected to retire this autumn. Askola will take up her new position in September.

Women have been ordained in Finland since 1986, but while some, including Askola, have been nominated for the episcopate, none made it to the final balloting.

The ELCF has some 4.5 million members, representing over 80 percent of Finland’s population. It joined the LWF in 1947. (284 words)

Source: Lutheran World Federation