News

New Bishop Consecrated for Finnish Lutherans

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola and those who participated in his consecration.

FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola was consecrated as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) on August 1, 2021 at the conclusion of the church’s three-day summer festival in Loimaa.

Bishop Pohjola, who formerly served the ELMDF as Diocesan Dean, was elected to serve as bishop earlier this year. Rev. Dr. Risto Soramies, outgoing bishop of the ELMDF, preached for the service and led the consecration of his successor. Bishop Soramies reminded Bishop Elect Pohjola to remember the words of Jesus: “Take care of My sheep” (John 21:16).

Bishop Risto Soramies questions Bishop Elect Pohjola.

Also participating in the consecration were Bishop Thor Henrik With (Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway), Bishop Bengt Ådahl (Mission Province in Sweden), President Matthew Harrison (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), and Bishop Hanns Jensons (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia). As the choir sang, Bishop Soramies placed the pectoral cross on Dr. Pohjola, Bishops With and Adahl assisted him into his robe, President Harrison presented him with the crosier, and—following the prayer of consecration—Bishop Jensons placed the mitre upon his head.

Bishop Matti Väisänen (the former bishop of Luther Foundation, the ELMDF’s predecessor organization) and two ELMDF pastors also participated in the consecration service.

Additional information on the consecration of Bishop Pohjola can be read at the ELMDF’s website here.

Bishop Pohjola’s consecration comes at a challenging time: he faces criminal charges for his role in publishing a 2004 document which articulates the historic Christian understanding of human sexuality. The International Lutheran Council (ILC), joined by the heads of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide, has condemned the decision of Finland’s Prosecutor General to charge Dr. Pohjola and the booklet’s author.

ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill was present for the ELMDF’s summer festival and Dr. Pohjola’s consecration, bringing greetings and encouragement on behalf of Lutherans across the globe. As part of his involvement, he sat down for an interview with Studio Krypta, the church’s media channel, to discuss the ILC’s work and its support for Bishop Pohjola in this difficult situation. “When your brother and sister are being persecuted for merely confessing the words of our Lord, the words of Holy Scripture, the church has to say something,” Dr. Quill explained. “Why would we be quiet? That just isn’t an option.”

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola

“It has been overwhelming to receive support and encouragement not only across church boundaries but also from many who are not even Christians,” noted Dr. Pohjola in a speech during the ELMDF’s summer festival. “The continuity of the Church does not only include faith in Christ; it also involves battles and suffering. That is why Martin Luther, our great mentor, adopted the bearing of the Holy Cross as the seventh mark of the Church.”

“I am not standing here before you trying to gather sacrificial points for my victimhood,” he continued. “I am not at all in danger. Even if I should be sentenced by the court, we will manage just fine. First, my anxiety is that many of the people who are struggling with questions of, for example, same-sex attraction will feel that there is no room for them in our congregations. My concern is that those people who disagree with us may think that Christians are filled with hate, that Christians do not believe that all humans are of equal worth. Second, I share an anxiety that fear and self-censorship may fill even the hearts of Christians. Finally, I feel anxious that our fatherland will become more ideologically narrow-minded.”

Dr. Pohjola continued: “It is our calling to speak the truth in love in all peace, to invite people to be partakers of grace, to pray for everyone, and without any bitterness endure in patience whatever resistance may come our way. Amidst all of this, I claim this hope and prayer that the Apostle Paul, who was filled with joy, wrote about while in prison: ‘I want you to know, brothers, that whatever has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel’ (Philippians 1:12). Lord, use all of this to the glory of Your Name!”

———————

A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland

A Global Lutheran Response to the Unjust Prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola and Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen


June 29, 2021
 – The bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide are joining the International Lutheran Council (ILC) in issuing “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland.” The letter—signed by 48 ecclesiastical leaders representing 45 Lutheran church bodies and associations across the globe—condemns the ongoing criminal prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Finnish M.P. Päivi Räsänen for expressing biblical views on human sexuality.

Bishop Elect Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen have been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with incitement against a group of people as a result of the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. “The actions of the Finnish State in prosecuting Christians for holding to the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus regarding marriage and sex (Matthew 19:4-6) are egregious,” the Lutheran leaders write in their letter. “And this particularly so since the accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.”

“We Lutherans make this strong confession along with Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen,” the letter continues. “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish State risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

The signatories write that they “condemn the unjustifiable criminal prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen M.P. for their public expressions of faith” and “call on the Finnish authorities to immediately discontinue their efforts to punish Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, to cease the prosecution of persons for the public expression of their faith, and to recommit to protecting the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland.”

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Signatories of the letter (which is available in English, Spanish, and Finnish) include not only leaders of the ILC and its member churches, but also several Lutheran church bodies unaffiliated with the ILC, including church bodies associated with the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.

Copies of the letter have been sent to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Finland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

———————

Download the full document here in English, Spanish, and Finnish.

 

SELK responds to flooding in Germany

Flooding in Kordel, Germany. (Image: Chz, CC BY-SA 4.0)

GERMANY – Catastrophic flooding in Europe in mid-July destroyed homes and infrastructure in several countries, and led to the deaths of more than 200 people. Germany was particularly hit hard, with at least 170 people dead, many more currently unaccounted for, and widespread damage in the western part of the country.

Infrastructure damage at Königssee following widespread flooding in West Germany. (Image: TheGlobetrotter, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) reports that while some members of their church body have been affected by the flooding, none of their church buildings were damaged by the water. One family from the St. Johannes congregation in Cologne, for example, has had to relocate to a hotel due to damage at their home. At a parishioner’s home in Wuppertal, meanwhile, the basement has flooded with rainwater and sewage, though the situation there may be repairable. The full extent of damages incurred by members of SELK congregations is not fully clear at this time, however, as a result of partial communications interruptions.

SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt—who is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC)—has expressed gratitude for the several inquiries he has received from SELK’s partner churches and ILC members. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, for example, offered assistance from their disaster relief fund, but Bishop Voigt explained there did not seem to be a need for interchurch aid at present.

Speaking to selk_news, Bishop Voigt said he was impressed by this expression of worldwide solidarity in prayer for those affected by the flooding and willingness to help. He said this was just as moving and a sign of hope as the people who came to help from neighboring towns in the affected communities with rubber boots and shovels.

Church leadership and the diaconal work of the SELK has invited its congregations and parishioners to support internal relief efforts through an appeal for donations for the victims of the flood disaster.

———————

With files from selk_news.

European Lutheran Conference: Sharing Hope in Times of Fear

Some of the participants in the 2021 European Lutheran Conference.

EUROPE – The 26th European Lutheran Conference (ELC) was held online from June 2-4, 2021, following a year’s delay due to the pandemic. Participants gathered under the theme “Sharing Hope in Times of Fear.”

The conference featured three keynote presentations: Rev. Sebastian Gruenbaum of Finland presented on “Living in My Generation: Hopes and Threats of Our Time in the Light of Christ’s Word;” Rev. Dr. Christian Neddens of Germany spoke on “Living with Hope in Daily Life: How the Christian Faith Shapes Our Actions and Witnessing to Our Generation;” and Rev. Dr. Asger Christian Hoejlund of Denmark lectured on “Hope as Drawn from Martin Luther’s Writings of 1520.”

“The presentations stimulated lots of discussion,” noted Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who participated in the event. In addition to the pandemic, he said, topics of discussion included personalities, the Last Judgement, looking to the future with fear or love, and the question of whether society is becoming increasingly intolerant. “It occurred to me that our conference theme is applicable all the time and not just in a pandemic,” Chairman Samiec continued, “because our world is full of mishap and mayhem, sudden death and chronic conditions where injustice and the grave seem to have the last word. Jesus has a message for all time because His love can cast out fear (1 John 4:18).”

The conference also featured morning and evening devotions, reports from member churches, group discussions of presentations, and the writing of a paper on the conference theme.

The next conference is set to take place in 2023 in Aarhus, Denmark. The Executive Committee members for that event are the same as for 2021’s: Rev. Klaus Pahlen of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch—Lutherische Kirche – SELK) will serve as ELC President; President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (Den evangelisk-lutherske Frikirke i Danmark – ELFD) will serve as ELC Vice President; and Rev. Claudio Flor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England will serve as ELC Secretary.

The ELC is an association of Confessional Lutheran church bodies in Europe. Delegates at this year’s conference included representatives of member churches in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, all of whom are also members of the International Lutheran Council. The event also saw guests from churches in the Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, and Switzerland.

Additional information on the European Lutheran Conference is available on their website at: euluthconf.org.

——————-

ILC holds regular board meetings

Participants in June 2021’s ILC Board meeting.

ONLINE – The Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held regular meetings online on June 29, 2021.

“As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, we are preparing to continue and expand our work in support of confessional Lutheran churches across the globe,” said ILC Chairman Hans -Jörg Voigt. “There are a number of projects and initiatives we have been at work on over the past year, and we hope to unveil these in the coming months.”

Among other regular business, the board adopted a new budget for the coming year and considered several applications for membership in the ILC. The meeting also heard regional reports from world area representatives, and discussed possibilities for upcoming regional ILC conferences.

The next ILC World Conference remains tentatively scheduled for 2022.

———————

Lutheran young adults in Europe to hold online conference

EUROPE – Corpus Christi will hold its annual conference virtually this year, gathering online from July 30-31, 2021.

The decision to hold an online conference comes following the difficulties posed by current pandemic restrictions. 2020’s conference was postponed as a result of the pandemic.

This will be the 12th Corpus Christi Conference, and it will gather under the theme “Sharing in God’s Holiness.” Rev. Dr. John W. Kleinig of the Lutheran Church of Australia will be guest lecturer for the event.

“What happens when people no longer have a sense for God’s holiness, when they live as if nothing was sacred any longer?” Dr. Kleinig asks in promotional material. “They are unable to enjoy him and his goodness in the church and in the world. In these two sessions I intend to examine the surprising teaching of holiness in the Bible and show how the triune God purifies us from spiritual pollution and shares His holiness with us through His most holy Word by the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments in the divine service, so that as His saints we can have access to His holy presence together with His holy angels and serve Him as His holy priests already now here on earth.”

Rev. Dr. John Kleinig presents on “borrowed holiness” for Corpus Christi in May 2021.

Dr. Kleinig taught at Australian Lutheran College from 1982-2009, and is widely recognized for his work as a biblical expositor and pastoral theologian. He is the author of Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, as well as commentaries on Hebrews and Leviticus for the Concordia Commentary Series.

In the leadup to Corpus Christi’s online conference, Dr. Kleinig presented a prefatory lecture entitled “Borrowed Holiness” on May 22, 2021.

In addition to Dr. Kleinig’s lectures, the schedule for Corpus Christi’s 2021 conference also lists times of bible study, prayer, and more.

Corpus Christi is an independent Evangelical Lutheran association which pursues churchly and biblical renewal among young adults in Europe. For more information on Corpus Christi, or to register for the online conference, visit their website at corpuschristi.eu.

———————

Confessing the Faith: Reflections on the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Painting in St. John’s Church (Schweinfurt, Germany), 16th century.

by Timothy Teuscher

While Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517 was the spark that ignited the Reformation, it wasn’t until the presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25, 1530 that there emerged what might be termed a distinct Evangelical Lutheran Church. For it is in this confession made at the Diet (or meeting) of Augsburg that the Reformation principles of grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone are clearly articulated and set forth.

The first part of the Augsburg Confession itself presents in twenty-one articles a clear and concise statement of the faith held by the Lutherans—articles in common with the Roman Catholics, in common with the church fathers, in opposition to the unscriptural teachings of Rome, and in distinction from the Zwinglians, Anabaptists, and other radical Reformers. The second part rejects, in seven articles, those abuses in the Roman Church which were deemed most objectionable and had already been changed and corrected among the Lutherans.

Following the first part, we read these words: “This is just about a summary of the doctrines that are preached and taught in our churches for proper Christian instruction, the consolation of consciences, and the amendment of believers. Certainly we should not wish to put our own souls and consciences in grave peril before God by misusing His name or Word, nor should we wish to bequeath to our children and posterity any other teaching than that which agrees with the pure Word of God and Christian truth…. Therefore, those who presume to reject, avoid, and separate from our churches as if our teaching were heretical, act in an unkind and hasty fashion, contrary to all Christian unity and love, and do so without any solid basis of divine command or Scripture.”

After the public reading of the Augsburg Confession, a refutation was prepared by Roman Catholic theologians, to which Luther’s colleague, Philip Melanchthon, responded the following year with what is  called the Apology (or Defense) of The Augsburg Confession.  In reading and studying the Augsburg Confession, it is important to thus note what the Roman Confutation says regarding the various articles and how the Apology answers. The Diet of Augsburg itself closed soon after the Lutheran representatives had left; the last item of business being a resolution to proceed with violent measures against them if they should not return to the Roman Catholic faith.

For various reasons, however, this would not be initiated until a year after Luther’s death in 1547. Although the Lutheran forces were defeated on the field of battle, the imposition of Roman Catholic teachings and practices, called the Interim, could not change the faith of a whole generation of pastors and people who had espoused the teachings of the Augsburg Confession. Finally, at another Diet of Augsburg in the year 1555, it was simply agreed to accept the religious divisions that had by now become entrenched.

The crisis faced by the Lutherans during these years sadly revealed a weakness in Philip Melanchthon who had been willing to give up fundamental principles of the Augsburg Confession in order to achieve outward peace with the Romanists by supporting the Interim. After a period of internal controversies among the Lutherans concerning the Interim and other issues, unity was restored under the leadership of “the second Martin”—Martin Chemnitz—with the adoption of the Formula of Concord. Three years later, on June 25, 1580, fifty years to the day after the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, the Book of Concord containing all the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, including Luther’s Catechisms, would be published and initially signed by three electors, two bishops, eighteen princes, twenty-four counts, four barons, thirty-eight cities, and more than 8,000 clergy… and since that time also by all of the church bodies in the International Lutheran Council and their congregations and pastors.

What, however, does such subscription mean? Just this: as the true Church is gathered not simply around the Bible, but around the rightly understood and correctly proclaimed Bible, so the Augsburg Confession expresses the right understanding of the Scriptures and does not supplant God’s Word, but simply expresses the central teachings of the Bible in an orderly fashion. This is why we say we subscribe to the Augsburg Confession and the other confessional writings because they are in agreement with the Scriptures, not insofar as they agree. In other words, we don’t pick and choose which ones we will abide by and which ones we can dispense with—a symptom of our post-modern society. An insofar subscription is, however, really no subscription at all; interpreted in this way, after all, we could “subscribe” to the texts of any religion.

In the Preface to the Book of Concord we thus read the following words which are just as timely and necessary for our own day. And, if we actually took them to heart, they would go a long way to help us address and deal with some of the problems and issues facing our churches: “Our disposition and intention has always been directed toward the goal that no other doctrine be treated and taught in our lands, territories, schools, and churches than that alone which is based on the Holy Scriptures of God and is embodied in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, correctly understood, and that no doctrine be permitted entrance which is contrary to these.” And further: “We are reminded by the grace of the Holy Spirit to abide and remain unanimously in this confession of faith and to regulate all religious controversies and their explanations according to it. We have resolved and purpose to live in genuine peace and concord with our fellow-members, and to demonstrate toward everyone, according to his station, all affection, service, and friendship. We likewise purpose to cooperate with one another in the future in the implementation of this effort at concord in our lands, according to our own and each community’s circumstances…. If the current controversies about our Christian religion should continue or new ones arise, we shall see to it that they are settled and composed in timely fashion before they become dangerously widespread.”

On this day of June 25, we not only thank and praise God for the example of the fearless confessors of Augsburg (who, by the way, were all laymen), but also ask Him to preserve us in that same confession of faith and to pass on this saving faith to future generations. This we do mindful of our Lord’s own words: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

———————

Rev. Timothy Teuscher is President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.

New President for Japan Lutheran Church

NRK President Tatsuomi Yoshida in a recent broadcast from his congregation.

JAPAN – The Japan Lutheran Church (日本ルーテル教団 Nihon Ruteru Kyoudan – NRK) held its 18th General Conference online on April 29, 2021, after a year’s delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the conference, the NRK elected Rev. Tatsuomi Yoshida as the church’s new president.

“We, as part of the body of Christ, will serve the Lord and pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as we utilize the leadership and talents of these servants,” President Yoshida said of himself and other newly elected Executive Committee members. “I would appreciate it if you would keep us in your prayers.”

Prior to his election, Rev. Yoshida served as Vice President of the NRK. He succeeds President Shin Shimizu, who was first elected to the position in 2014. President Yoshida will also continue to serve as pastor of Sapporo Chuo Lutheran Church.

The International Lutheran Council (ILC) sent greetings to President Yoshida on his election following the NRK’s recent convention. “It is an honour to congratulate you,” write ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and General Secretary Timothy Quill. “We are keeping you in our prayers, beseeching our Lord to grant you wisdom and strength to lead your church during these very difficult days. It is important to courageously face today’s spiritual, cultural, and political challenges with the confidence and certain hope that can only be found in Christ Jesus and the Gospel.”

“United in our commitment to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions,” the letter continues, “we look forward to working together joyfully in making a united witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we encourage and strengthen one another in preaching the pure Gospel clearly and boldly to the entire world.”

During its convention, the Japan Lutheran Church chose a new theme for the coming triennium: “Love our Neighbour Churches as We Love Our Church,” drawing on Romans 15:2—“Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.” To that end, the church also adopted the following action points: to “reflect on why our congregations were assembled by God and how we can serve Him,” to “cooperate with each other,” and “to walk with people who face difficulties, such as those who are impacted by natural disasters and the pandemic.”

The Japan Lutheran Church is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

———————

Australian Lutheran bishop to retire

LCA Bishop John Henderson (Photo: LCA)

AUSTRALIA – Bishop John Henderson of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has announced that he will not be seeking reelection at the church’s Convention of General Synod later this year.

Bishop Henderson was first elected to head the LCA in April 2013. He was also the first leader of the Australian church to hold the title of bishop, as the same convention which elected him also voted to change the title of synodical head from president to bishop. He was reelected to a second term in October 2018.

Bishop Henderson formerly served as Vice President of the LCA from 2006-2011, and as a member of the General Church Council from 2003-2011. He also served as Principal of Australian Lutheran Council from 2009 until his election as bishop. He was first ordained in 1982.

In addition to not seeking reelection, Bishop Henderson has announced his intention to retire from active pastoral ministry.

The next steps in the search for a new bishop will take place in July 2021, when delegates to the General Pastors Conference will nominate candidates for the position of bishop. Nominees with at least 25 percent of the vote at the Pastors Conference will be added to the slate for election at the Convention of General Synod, which is scheduled for September 28 – October 3 in Melbourne. Candidates may also be nominated from the floor under a special provision.

Update: In light of ongoing concerns related to the pandemic, the Lutheran Church of Australia has announced a change in format for its upcoming convention. The Convention of General Synod will now be held in two parts: essential business, including the election of a new bishop, will be held online in October 2021, with an in-person event to follow in 2022. The 2021 General Pastors Conference will likewise be unable to meet in person.

The Lutheran Church of Australia is an Associate Member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

———————

A Call to Prayer for COVID-struck India

INDIA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is encouraging Christians around the world to continue to remember India in prayer as the country struggles with a deadly wave of COVID-19.

On April 5, India reported another 387,000 new cases of the disease, continuing a two-week trend of new infections exceeding 300,000 per day. Only a day earlier, on April 4, India officially became the second country to pass the 20 million mark of confirmed cases overall; approximately 3.5 million of these cases are estimated to still be active. The official death toll sits at 226,000, but there are suggestions the actual number of fatalities may be much higher.

The most recent wave has proven particularly deadly, with hospitals having to turn people away due to a lack of supplies to care for the infected—notably, oxygen and hospital beds. Media have reported people dying outside hospital doors, unable to gain admittance, as well as funeral homes and crematoriums overwhelmed with the dead.

Among those suffering in the midst of the crisis are members of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC). “We are losing our dear ones every day,” writes IELC President Y. Suvisesha Muthu. “Our members, young and old, are dying almost daily. Many have tested positive and are waiting to get treatment.”

Two of the church’s pastors have died in this wave so far, as has a retired pastor. Others are sick. Several faculty members of the IELC’s Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil are receiving treatment for COVID-19, with the seminary’s principal currently in critical care.

“The situation is very grave,” noted Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council. “We call on Lutherans worldwide to lift up India in prayer, that God would provide relief from the current crisis. In particular, pray that God would continue to bless the work of medical providers in the country, that He would provide assistance from within and without the country in the provision of needed medical supplies, and that He would bless the rollout of India’s vaccination program. May God have mercy on a suffering people.”

———————