Update on Persecuted Lutherans in Finland
I received today this update on the situation in Finland. I pass it along to you as I received it:
Please find attached a letter written by my father, Dr. Anssi Simojoki, and Dr. Martti Vaahtoranta (who works as a missionary affiliated to SELK in Germany) to the cathedral chapter of the archdiocese of Turku (Finland), explaining why they cannot accept or obey the current directions to pastors concerning ordained women. It is preceded by a report on the background to the situation in Finland and current developments.
I would be very grateful if you would have the time to do some or all of the following:
· Read the document
· Pray for the people involved
· Distribute the report as widely as you can
· Have it published on a suitable forum, printed or electronic
· Write to the relevant bishops to express your concern. The archbishop of Turku: firstname.lastname@example.org; the bishop of Oulu: Samuel.email@example.com
I am happy to answer further questions relating to the report and the letter and to the Finnish situation in general.
Yours in Christ,
Read the extended entry for the document sent to me.
Last autumn, the Council of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland adopted a recommendation from a commission chaired by the Bishop of Espoo, Mikko Heikka, that congregations should no longer make allowances for pastors who object to the ordination of women when drafting duty rotas. Pastors may not absent themselves from services on grounds of conscience, and senior pastors must not make special arrangements for such pastors. This is a recommendation only but it is being treated as a binding law by some bishops and congregations
Although most pastors have acquiesced quietly to the prevailing conditions, matters have come to a head since the passing of the bishops’ recommendation. Two pastors, Jari Rankinen of Vammala parish (Archdiocese of Turku) and Vesa Pöyhtäri of Karjasilta parish in Oulu (Diocese of Oulu) openly and publicly announced that they could not and, therefore, would not submit to the new rules but would continue to refuse to share the altar with ordained women. They appealed to their superiors within their parishes that their consciences be spared in the drafting of duty rotas, but to no avail. A petition signed by over 90 pastors of the Church of Finland, expressing their solidarity and their intention to follow the example of Rankinen and Pöyhtäri, was ignored. On 25 March, pastor Rankinen was down to assist in a service led by an ordained woman. When he did not turn up, his senior pastor reported him to the Cathedral Chapter, which is now considering disciplinary action against him. The same scene is being repeated with the case of pastor Pöyhtäri.
In effect, the Finnish church authorities have re-defined the term “freedom of conscience". In the Church of Finland, to have freedom of conscience means that you are allowed to think and believe whatever you like. However, your freedom does not extend to the right to act on the basis of your conscience, should that be contrary to what is demanded of you by any given statute. Breaches of such statues are being treated as serious disciplinary matters. Some ‘moderate’ voices are calling for a distinction to be made in the treatment of pastors who were ordained prior to 1986 (when the ordination of women was accepted by the General Synod) and those who have been ordained subsequently.
In the meantime, the case of pastor Ari Norro, a missionary who works for the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland (LEAF—a confessional mission organisation), has also come to prominence. On 4 March, pastor Norro was invited to preach in a service organised by the local branch of LEAF at Hyvinkää. Both LEAF and the local organisers had made pastor Norro’s position on the ordination of women clear to the parish authorities and had been given a verbal assurance that it would be respected. As it happened, ten minutes before the start of the service, Petra Pohjanraito, an ordained woman, came to the sacristy, expecting to assist at the Lord’s Supper. In the presence of the senior pastor of the congregation, Norro explained his position and offered to leave. Following a brief conversation between Norro and Pohjanraito, she offered to leave, which she did. Within days, the matter had been picked up by the tabloid press and, subsequently, the mainstream media. The chairman of the parochial church council of Hyvinkää, the local police chief, issued a formal complaint to the police. The matter was investigated and the police are now considering charges on the grounds of sexual discrimination against Norro, the senior pastor at Hyvinkää and the local representative of LEAF. If found guilty, the maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment.
The Finnish Discrimination Act of 1987 explicitly and specifically exempts all church bodies from its statutes (see footnote 7, below). The church authorities have decided to ignore this aspect of the law and are applying it voluntarily. Unsurprisingly, the most of the printed and broadcast media, as well as various commentators, are loudly promoting this interpretation, although there have been some heartening exceptions. A few legal experts have pointed out the discrepancy, but to little effect. Now the police, too, are also acting as if the Discrimination Act applied to the church.
Even while these developments were brewing, the Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation and the Rev. Dr. Martti Vaahtoranta, who is working at ELRIM – Evangelisch-Lutherisches Religionsinstitut Mannheim, wrote a letter to the Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese of Finland, notifying the Chapter of their refusal to accept the current state of affairs and explaining the legal, confessional and biblical errors contained in the Church of Finland’s current position, as exemplified by the cases highlighted above. The letter, together with some annotations, can be found at the end of this article.
The reaction of the Cathedral Chapter has been swift and strong. In a resolution dated 28 March this year, the Chapter has decided to investigate Drs. Simojoki and Vaahtoranta on suspicion of acting against the obligations of their ordination vows and the pastoral office (see footnote 8). The letter is considered insulting to the office and dignity of the Archbishop of Turku, the Cathedral Chapter of Turku and the Church of Finland. Like pastors Rankinen and Pöyhtäri, Drs. Simojoki and Vaahtoranta could face disciplinary action, including suspension from the pastoral office.
It is clear, then, that the Finnish church authorities, and now even the police, are behaving as if episcopal or synodical decisions and statutes can override Scripture and the confessions, and that the ordination vows of a pastor consist primarily of obedience to whatever ruling the legislative bodies of the church may pass, as opposed to the confession of the church (hence the potential distinction on the basis of the ordination date of a given pastor, above). The decisions of the General Synod are explicitly treated as the doctrine of the church, regardless of their relationship to the Scriptures and Confessions. Indeed, the decisions of the General Synod are officially treated as the correct interpretation of Scripture, which need not and may not be discussed. As a result, the church leadership is tacitly refusing to engage in any theological discussion in the current situation, treating the matter as closed.
Please pray for Anssi Simojoki, Martti Vaahtoranta, Jari Rankinen, Vesa Pöyhtäri and Ari Norro, and other pastors in similar situations, as well as all faithful pastors and lay Christians in the Church of Finland, that they may remain faithful to the Lord of the Church and His Word under the current persecution. Pray also that God would give His grace to the Church of Finland, that its leaders may repent and again bring the whole Church to the true confession of the Word and to practices that are consistent with that confession.
From a human point of view, the situation in Finland looks bleak. It does not seem likely that things will improve in the near future. On the other hand, it was always thus in the Church. Moreover, the persecution comes with blessings: for example, it has drawn the hitherto disparate and divided conservative/confessional Lutherans in Finland together to find ways to work together again, in search of a common vision. This can only benefit the Church in Finland.
In the final instance, these things are not judged by success in the courts, or by numerical or financial advantage, but by the Lord who will call to Himself His good and faithful servants and send away the unfaithful servants.
Tapani Simojoki, MA
Ely, United Kingdom
To the Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese
Re: Notice to the Cathedral Chapter
We have been observing with growing concern developments in the dispute over the office of the ministry both in the Archdiocese of Turku and in the whole of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. The ruling bodies of the church, including the Cathedral Chapter of the archdiocese of Turku, have started to take administrative action against pastors who share the position on the doctrine of the ministry held by the Church since time immemorial. The first step on the road of administrative discrimination has been the denial of eligibility for regular clerical posts, especially the post of senior pastor, to pastors who confess the same biblical teaching that the Church of Finland has held for centuries, that was the teaching of the Reformer, Martin Luther, and is still held amongst the majority of Christendom.
Such discrimination, barring pastors from clerical positions, has been practised for several years also in the Archdiocese of Turku. It became apparent with the application by Dr. Pekka Huhtinen for a post in Turku, and now the current development is leading to a complete, comprehensive ban from office on pastors who hold the traditional view. Competent applicants are denied eligibility, and pastors already in office are threatened with dismissal from office and other violence, contrary to the doctrinal foundation of the church. The case of associate pastor of Vammala parish, Jari Rankinen, and the disciplinary action awaiting him have come to particular prominence.
The prerequisite of such administrative discrimination has been an unfortunate and fundamental juridical-theological ignorance of, or indifference to, the nature of Lutheran ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as well as of the constitution of Finland. The church’s leadership, including the Cathedral Chapter of Turku, are acting as if the Confessional Clause of the Church Order were not the proper juridical source of the church that it is in every respect. Nothing can be in force within the church that is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Lutheran confessions. In a conflict situation, the Bible and the Lutheran confession overrule all other juridical sources, in accordance with the system found in the Confessional Clause itself. More extensive juridical-theological arguments can be found in Anssi Simojoki, Herran Kristuksen seuraaminen – Kuinka eteenpäin Suomen kirkossa? (Helsinki: Luther-Säätiö, 2004). Why is it that these juridical-theological matters are never discussed in the church with the seriousness they demand and with due respect for the conclusions?
When office holders who hold the traditional position on the office of the ministry have appealed to God’s word, the Holy Scriptures, like Martin Luther did before the emperor at Worms in 1521, and the Lutheran confession, like Lutherans have done in the stati confessionis of the sixteenth and subsequent centuries, they have appealed to the primary sources of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Other administrative and secular legal statutes apply insofar as (quatenus) they correspond to the juridical source stated in the Confessional Clause of the Church Order of the Lutheran church.
As far as the church’s alleged power to change its doctrine contrary to God’s word is concerned, the Augsburg Confession of 1530 and the other Lutheran confessions reject this absolutely. In the church, all jurisdiction is solely the jurisdiction of the Holy Scriptures. Martin Luther writes in his examination, On the Councils and the Church of 1539, that the Councils of Gentile Christians have no authority to change the word that God in his unsearchable wisdom has given through the Jewish fathers, prophets and apostles. Therefore, administrative discrimination and punishment that bypasses the church’s proper source of jurisdiction means the trampling down of the Lutheran church’s own jurisdiction and the arbitrary persecution of those who adhere to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.
The hardening of attitudes and measures also contradicts the resolution passed by the General Synod in 1986 in conjunction with the decision to ordain women. We have come a long way from the Ilkko seminars in 1980 and 1982, remembering well what was said and promised at that forum of the church to the pastors, office holders and Christians supporting the position on the ministry held by the church until then. Against the general principles of legal interpretation—the resolution of the legislator being the first interpretation of the law—the executive organs of the church, including the Cathedral Chapter of Turku, have stubbornly, and apart from the prevailing principles of the Finnish justice system, refused to acknowledge the evidentiary force of that resolution. The Chapter 11 of the Finnish constitution guarantees an absolute freedom of religion and conscience. Those who hold to the church’s traditional position do not represent some novel type of weakness of conscience but rather the position held by the apostolic Church and the Church of Finland from the beginning. Nowadays the Finnish state, which according to the law demands general conscription, nevertheless does everything to respect the consciences of so-called civilian servicemen and guarantees that they will not be discriminated against in society on account of their conviction. We on our part represent the Church’s ancient and still vital mainstream, yet our faith and freedom of conscience is not respected in any way. The freedom of religion and conscience includes full freedom of action, which the church is attempting to deny us in every way.
In the question of the office of the ministry, the church’s executive organs have also misinterpreted and misapplied the Equality Act. The specific will of the legislature in drawing up the Equality Law was to leave religious life and activity outside the law. Contrary to the general principle of the freedom of religion and the clear genesis of the Equality Act, the church’s executive organs have begun to apply the Equality Act to the question of the office of the ministry, which according to the letter and spirit of that law is absolutely excluded from it.
Further: if the Equality Act really applied to one church or religious community, it would absolutely apply to all churches and communities. If, on the other hand, it does not apply to all—for example, to the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches subject to the Patriarchs of Constantinople or Moscow, or Muslim communities—being an Equality Act, it cannot apply to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, its pastors and Christians, either. Any other conclusion would be a rejection of all legal logic, something of which the media have been guilty with their secular ‘tautology of equality’. The church’s teaching office, magisterium, has nevertheless not corrected them in any way.
Prior to the election of the Archbishop of Turku, Archbishop Jukka Paarma provably gave a promise that the ordination of men who hold the church’s traditional position on the ministry would remain possible in the traditional manner, even though he did not want to use the term ‘separate ordination’. The temporal distance from that promise to the current situation is not long, but the distance in substance is all the more enormous. What should one think of spiritual leadership that does not keep provable promises? Among other things, it sets the letters of congratulation from the Archbishop on the occasions of the 20th and 30th anniversaries of our ordination in a strange light. Can we really be certain of God’s call to the sacred office of the ministry if, in holding to his word, the Holy Bible and the Lutheran Confession, we find ourselves in the position of criminals?
We do not wish to be guilty of unsolidarity towards the persecuted pastors in the Archdiocese of Turku and in the whole of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, while enjoying the securi
ty that the distance of the mission field from our fatherland affords us. We see that the situation in Finland is even more clearly than before a status confessionis, as false doctrine attempts to take tyrannical control over God’s Holy Word and over consciences bound by it. This is the case both with the question of the ministry and with the doctrine of justification, where sin is justified instead of the repentant sinner, as well as current issues of Christian morality.
In the second seminar on the office of the ministry at Ilkko in 1982, the then Archbishop rejected angrily the connecting of the question of the ministry and the Hellenistic, Gnostic-type androgynous sexuality. Yet the whole of the Church of Finland is being driven precisely down this road towards the heresies of the Ancient Church, which road began at the approval of the ordination of women. Just like in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America and in the Church of Sweden, so also in the Church of Finland the exclusion of pastors who hold the church’s traditional position on the ministry is the fourth of the seven steps that start with a view on the Bible that is contrary to our confession and eventually lead to the rise of openly homosexual men and women to positions of leadership in the church.
On this road to Sodom, our conscience demands us to report ourselves officially to our Cathedral Chapter: as pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Archdiocese of Turku, we believe, teach and confess and act contrary to the way the church’s leadership and also our superiors in the Archdiocese of Turku nowadays expect and demand. We teach publicly, favour in secretly and act in the church in every way contrary to what is expected and demanded of us anti-biblically in the question of the office of the ministry, and we will exhort others to do likewise.
On this question, we consider our ecclesiastical superiors to have arrived at the situation spoken of clearly in Article 28 of our church’s chief confession, the Augsburg Confession: “However, when bishops teach or ordain anything contrary to the Gospel, churches have a command of God that forbids obedience: ‘Beware of false prophets’ (Matt. 7:15), ‘If an angel from heaven should preach any other Gospel, let him be accursed’ (Gal. 1:8), ‘We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth’ (2 Cor. 13:8), and also, ‘Given to me is the authority for building up and not for tearing down.’” No authority under heaven can overturn the command of the Lord of heaven and earth himself, Jesus Christ, to all the churches of the saints (1 Cor. 14:33–38). It is this authority upon which our own pastoral office is founded and to which it is bound.
Finally, with the obligation and authorisation of Christian freedom, which God’s Holy Word gives us according to Lutheran doctrine, we exhort the Archbishop and Bishop of the diocese and all ecclesiastical authorities to repent in accordance with the Holy Bible, before it is too late.
Diximus et salvavimus animam nostram
31 January 2007
Anssi Simojoki Martti Vaahtoranta
Pastor, Doctor of Theology Pastor, Doctor of Theology
Nairobi, Kenya Alzey, Germany