LCMS President participates in consecration service of new Finnish bishop alongside church leaders we are not in fellowship with.

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.

Dear Brothers,

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. 

You may share this document as you receive inquiries.

In Christ,

Matt Harrison

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:

Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese of Norway. Here is a link to its constitution. PDF here. There is some very helpful history in this after the Constitution proper.

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.

Note the two LCMS officials in clerical collars (Rev. Jonathan Shaw and Rev. James Krikava), observing what would have been common practice with respect to the occasion and participation of outside church bodies.

10 thoughts on “LCMS President participates in consecration service of new Finnish bishop alongside church leaders we are not in fellowship with.

  1. I agree that much is wrong with the current practice of the LCMS regarding fellowship. We should be working hard to fix it. I agree that Harrison should be working towards improving our practice rather than performing actions that might undermine true fellowship doctrine. And I agree that if Harrison’s predecessor had done likewise, the opposition would be much greater–it’s almost like we confessionals trust politics more than the truth: how much did we let down our guard the day Harrison was elected? If we can get the right person elected, can we stop fighting the errors?

    However, this issue of ‘triangular fellowship’ is not at all new. It has concerned me for years.
    My question is: if Harrison had communed with the Finns on one day, and the other two had communed with the Finns on another day, would we be having this conversation now? That type of thing happens repeatedly, and not only on an international level, but also frequently in our own congregations, given there are many of our members, if not even we ourselves, who’ve communed at altars that aren’t as closed as they should be.

    I don’t like the situation of Harrison communing with others in this triangle, especially in such a public way. However, in that case, that triangular fellowship was declared to exist with or without Harrison’s participation in that service. But throughout the synod such triangular fellowship is regular practice. Can we say that Harrison is more guilty than all the rest of us (I accuse myself in this) who aren’t demanding an immediate end to open Communion in the synod but instead waiting ‘patiently’ with hope that our empty-threat resolutions will fix the problem?

  2. Good thoughts, presented charitably and fairly. And thank you for the Marquart article. It was quite helpful.

  3. As both Harrison and I are students of the revered, sainted Rev. Marquart (may his soul rest in peace, amen), thanks should be from all the brother pastors and laity unto President Harrison for his continued steadfast confession as he is a voice and presence to our confession with brothers and sisters throughout the world! God help the Finnish Church amid their persecution.

  4. Vestments are worn by those members of the clergy who
    a) Served at the altar or in the laying of hands
    b) Participated in the procession (members of the Mission diocese clergy)

  5. Do we agree with President Harrison that these parties are confessional? Is having a formal agreement a matter of doctrine if it is readily apparent that these bodies are true to the Lutheran Confessions?

  6. Apparently the Mission Province is viewed differently depending upon the position of the observer. From the Anglican Rev. Paul Hewett in 2003:

    “We can now see the possibility of one province in the United States for all orthodox Episcopalians, that together with the Mission Province, FiF/UK, and the Nordic Catholic Church, can journey through the wilderness to our convergence with Rome and Orthodoxy.”

    One would need to ask a representative of the Mission Province what to make of such statements.

  7. I seem to recall that the LCMS was for awhile in fellowship with the Confessional Lutheran Church in Finland, which consists of two congregations and a preaching station. Their website describes themselves as:

    “WHAT IS THE CONFESSIONAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF FINLAND (CLCF)?

    It is a Christian church.

    It is a church that holds to the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

    It is an evangelical church.

    It is a Lutheran church.

    It is a confessional Lutheran church.

    It is a church living from the Word and the Sacraments.

    It is a church that is active in mission work.”

    Not sure what changed in relationship with this particular church body.

  8. The LCMS need to face the fact that they are not in a confessional church body. The LCMS is never going to fix its errors with regard to fellowship. Dreaming of a confessional revival in the LCMS is the worst sort of self-delusion. It prevents pious men from taking the necessary steps to separate from unrepentant sin. The founders of the LCMS would never have approved Pres. Harrison’s actions. 20 years ago today was “A Prayer for America” at Yankee Stadium. Since then the talking point has been that the younger generation is slowly taking back synod. Does anyone really believe that?

  9. Pastor Harrison’s statement is charitable and explains his actions reasonably, and with the knowledge that you knuckle-dragging boneheads are on the Internet issuing your vacuous and self-centered judgments. Dr. Luther saved his worst invective for lazy ministers like you, pastors unworthy of the name pastor. Maybe you are jealous of the Synodical President and not mature enough to handle your feelings? What he did is compassionate and in NO WAY compromises the confessional standards of the Missouri Synod. If it does anything, it strengthens it because for once the Missouri Synod could be seen as compassionate and working toward Christian unity. I’ve already wasted too much time on your brain-dead Web site, you worthless hen peckers.

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