In the beginning of August, LCMS President Harrison participated in full vestments in a service of consecration with the Lord’s Supper on the occasion of the consecration of the new bishop of the Mission Diocese of Finland, a church body the LCMS is in fellowship with.
While this could be very laudable as it is a great occasion in a church that needs support and encouragement, the trouble comes from the fact that two other bishops were there representing churches we are not in fellowship with (The Mission Province of Sweden and The Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway). The Finnish church however is in fellowship with them.
The Finnish Lutherans have received governmental persecution for their Scriptural stance on male and female and issues of sexuality. They should be supported in their stances and the different press they have received from LCMS channels has been rightfully supportive. Other supports, whether monetary or legal should also be offered. Supporting our sister church is not the issue.
The LCMS President does have some authority to declare provisional fellowship with smaller, emerging Lutheran church bodies, but has not declared it with these two bodies (The Mission Province of Sweden and The Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway) yet. This may be in process but the participation in this service alongside each other are actions are out of normal order.
President Harrison sent this explanation of his actions out to District Presidents and other officials of Synod. It is noted that it may be shared to explain to others, so I do so here. I would also note my attempts to gain a response from Synod officials has been ignored.
I want to briefly update you on circumstances regarding the consecration of Juhana Pohjola as the new Bishop of The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. The consecration took place on Sunday, August 1st, 2021 in Loimma, Finland, north of Helsinki about an hour and a half by car. I had been invited to participate in the service, as one laying on hands. The service was also a communion service. It is described here, with photos and a link to a video of the service: https://www.lhpk.fi/en/the-rev-dr-juhana-pohjola-consecrated-bishop-of-the-evangelical-lutheran-mission-diocese-of-finland/
The Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions require unity in doctrine and practice for church fellowship.
The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland is our most recently received partner church. This occurred after some years of conversation primarily with the former Bishop Risto, and by the process outlined in the bylaws requiring concurrence between the OTP and the CTCR . The church numbers about 40 congregations and some 64 clergy, with 2200 members. They are also full members of the ILC.
The Finns have suffered defrocking by the state church, exclusion from all state church buildings, and now the state is prosecuting Bishop Pohjola and a member of the parliament, Dr. Päivi Räsänen. Dr. Räsänen wrote, and the church published, a pamphlet on marriage in 2004, which now has brought the charge of inciting hatred. We recently had a considerable hand in drafting and seeking signatures of support from some 50 presidents and bishops for an ILC lead statement on the situation: https://ilc-online.org.
The bishops who participated in the consecration are all in formal fellowship with the LCMS, EXCEPT for the two leaders of The Mission Province in Sweden (16 congregations, 40 pastors – many of these retired), and The Evangelical Lutheran Diocese in Norway (4 congregations, 3 pastors). The Finns are in fellowship with these two groups. The LCMS is not. These groups have likewise suffered defrocking. The Norwegians come from the work of a pastor named Knudsen who courageously confronted the country about its liberalizing of abortion law. We are in fellowship with The Lutheran Church in Norway (LKN; 6 pastors; 5 congregations), led by Rev. Torkild Masvie, our treasured brother. Our new Finnish partners are in fellowship with both the Norwegian and Swedish groups mentioned.
After consulting several individuals, including mission personnel, CTCR personnel, I determined to participate in the consecration. Here is why:
1. The invitation to participate came from our Finnish partner church.
2. The service of the consecration of the new Bishop was the service of our partner, with whom we are in doctrinal agreement on what the Bible and Book of Concord require for church fellowship, namely “agreement on the pure preaching of the gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments.” Augsburg Confession IV; and “on the gospel and all its articles,” Formula of Concord SD X.31.
3. The two groups which were invited by the Finns to participate – not in fellowship with the LCMS – clearly reject the ordination of women, confess the teachings of holy scripture on man and woman, and confess the Book of Concord. They are not in the LWF, and have suffered for their confession. Their historical situation makes their circumstances problematic. The Finns are in fellowship with these two groups. If these two groups had promoted un-orthodox teaching and practice we would not have concluded fellowship with their partners, the Finns, much less been present for the consecration.
4. All bishops who participated are in fellowship with the Finns. They are from our Latvian sister church, include two retired bishops from our Finnish partner church, plus the two men from Norway and Sweden.
5. I did use the time available to have significant conversations with all the bishops and others, and I have profound respect for them all as confessing Lutherans.
6. As a rule, it is not my intent or desire to practice church fellowship with churches not in formal fellowship with the LCMS. Nor shall I do so, but for such a rare circumstance. This was a rare circumstance.
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This explanation does a lot in showing a compassionate judgment call that desired to support our sister church. It does not however answer the doctrinal problems that rise from setting aside the doctrine of fellowship drawn from Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions nor the role of Synodical President in upholding Synod’s Constitution, Bylaws, and Resolutions concerning participating in sacred acts of fellowship with those we are not in fellowship with.
In particular, in this case these two bodies are involved:
The Mission Province in Sweden. Here is a link to its Foundation Document (you may have to translate it but it has a lot of good history). Constitution PDF here. Note especially its relationship to the State Church of Sweden, of which it remains a part and serves members of. Also notable is its doctrine of episcopacy (which would likely conflict with the LCMS stance on governance).
A few questions (not in any particular order) for Synod to ponder arise from the event and President Harrison’s explanation:
- How will this now be used to go from even “once in a lifetime” exceptions to now “rare” ones for similar events on inter-denominational down to parish levels? This occasion is obviously a world of difference from the 2001 Yankee Stadium incident.
- If the Synod President has authority from Synod to declare some kind of fellowship with emerging, smaller Lutheran church bodies, what prevented that from occurring prior to this event? Events like this are planned with a long time in advance (especially with Covid regulations, etc). Since such fellowship was not found and declared, how can the differences not allowing for the declaration of fellowship be ignored in order to have joint participation in consecration and communion together? Put more simply and using an earthly example, if one must be married in order to do marital acts, how can you do marital acts without first being married?
- Wouldn’t willingness to participate in the consecration of a bishop and commune alongside of those you are not in fellowship with constitute an “un-orthodox teaching and practice” (from the language of Pres. Harrison’s explanation in regard to the Norwegian and Swedish churches)?
- The explanation says rightly the LCMS position that “The Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions require unity in doctrine and practice for church fellowship.” Consecration of a bishop and communion are practices of church fellowship. How can we assert the correct position and yet practice differently and not confuse everyone looking on?
- Are we ok with a Synod President setting aside established doctrine and practices, even not using his own authority to declare provisional fellowship, based upon his own personal decisions and discretion? How does this differ from a form of the papacy and the many things Lutherans have been critical of regarding the papacy? For example, especially note the third criticism (c) of the papacy from the Treatise, paragraph 40: “40 Furthermore, it is clear, in the first place, that the pope rules in the Church and has established this kingdom for himself by the claim of churchly authority and of the ministry. He gives these words as a basis, “I will give you the keys” [Matthew 16:19]. Second, the doctrine of the pope conflicts in many ways with the Gospel. ‹Third,› the pope claims for himself divine authority in a threefold manner: (a) He takes for himself the right to change Christ’s doctrine and services instituted by God, and wants his own doctrine and his own services to be observed as divine. (b) He takes to himself the power not only of binding and loosing in this life, but also jurisdiction over souls after this life. (c) He does not want to be judged by the Church or by anyone and puts his own authority ahead of the decision of councils and the entire Church. To be unwilling to be judged by the Church or by anyone else is to make oneself God. Finally, he defends these horrible errors and this impiety with the greatest cruelty and puts to death those who disagree.” – from Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 300–301.
- Does persecution mean that we loosen doctrine and practice or hold fast to them? Does persecution mean that we lower our standards? What is the devil’s goal in persecuting the Church? What is the worst thing that can happen as a result of persecution?
- What is the nature of membership in the International Lutheran Council in relation to church fellowship?
- What is the plan going ahead with the chaotic changing nature of international Lutheranism to deal with “triangular” fellowship (being in fellowship with one body and not in fellowship with other bodies that the one is already in fellowship with)? A & B, B & C, but not A & C…
- Are we now starting to bring into practice the idea of levels of fellowship, long opposed by Confessional teachers, including sainted Kurt Marquart? For example read Prof. Marquart’s response to “Levels of Fellowship” published in CTQ, with numerous quotes by Herman Sasse. The paper lays out how this idea is in error and will only lead to greater confusion.
- What was the counsel of the CTCR and Missions folks? The picture below shows Church Relations and Mission officials in clerical collars only and not vested for participation in the service. If such counsel was to not participate, for what reason was their counsel ignored?
This post is meant to inform and help us ask proper questions as this event will have lasting repercussions for the LCMS in terms of church fellowship, the constant temptation to the sins of unionism and syncretism, synod response to persecution, and also what authority the President of the Synod can operate under.
I will say from experience, had the previous Synod President done this, there would have been widespread outcry about it. Very little thus far has been said online. That may be an indicator of even larger problems among confessional Lutherans.