United Kingdom – The 65th Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) was held September 27-28 at Christ Church (Petts Wood), during which time the ELCE recognised church fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese in Norway (DELSiN). These church fellowship recognitions are the culmination of five years of discussion, together with the Mission Province of Sweden and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.
Attending the ELCE Synod was Bishop Risto Soramies of the ELMDF and together with ELCE Chairman, Rev. Jon Ehlers, they signed documents and extended the right hand of fellowship. Bishop Soramies spoke about the situation in Finland, the history of his church, and their priorities in establishing worship places so that folk only have to travel up to one hour to attend worship. He also mentioned that the ELMDF was prioritising investing in personnel rather than buildings.
Bishop Thor Henrik With of the DELSiN at the last minute was unable to attend the Synod. Nevertheless the ELCE delegates also resolved recognition of church fellowship with the DELSiN.
The ELCE, ELMDF, DELSiN are all members of the International Lutheran Council.
GERMANY – The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche) held its 14th National Church Synod from May 21-26, 2019 in Balhorn, Germany, during which time the church declared fellowship with six church bodies from Europe, North America, and South America.
The SELK’s new fellowship partners include the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway (DELSiN), and the Mission Province in Sweden. (The Mission Province still needs to ratify the agreement with SELK before fellowship between the two churches will take effect.)
SELK also declared fellowship with Concordia Fellowship, an Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Celle, Germany.
“It’s a joy to recognize fellowship with our brothers and sisters around the world,” noted SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. “We look forward to nurturing the growing relationships between our various church bodies, and looking for new opportunities for cooperation and partnership in our proclamation of the Gospel.”
The resolution to declare fellowship was followed by a standing ovation and a hymn of thanksgiving. The heads of three of the new partner church bodies—Bishop Thor Henrik With (DELSiN), Bishop Risto Soramies (ELMDF), and Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (AALC)—were all on hand for the event.
SELK’s 2019 Synod met under the theme: “Good News in a Fake News World. Speakers for the event were Professor Dr. Christian Neddens (Oberursel, Germany) and Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb (St. Louis, Missouri). Among other business, the church accepted a new document from SELK’s Theological Commission on “The Lutheran Church and Judaism,” discussed the role of women in the church, and conducted elections for various boards and commissions.
SELK, the AALC, IELA, ELMDF, ILSN, DELSiN, and the Mission Province are all members of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran churches around the world.
SWEDEN – On April 27, 2019 Rev. Bengt Ådahl was consecrated as bishop of the Mission Province in Sweden at a festive service in Gothenburg.
Bishop Ådahl was installed by Bishop Roland Gustafsson, who has retired after nine years of service leading the Mission Province. Assisting Bishop Gustafsson were Bishops Göran Beijer and Lars Artman, as well as the Mission Province’s first Bishop Arne Olsson.
Also participating in the service were Bishop Thor Henrik With of the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway, Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Bishop Hans Jönsson bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.
Bishop Ådahl introduced his personal episcopal mission with the encouragement to “Look to Jesus,” drawing on Hebrews 12:2. “In all true Christianity, Jesus Christ is at the centre,” he explained. For this reason, Jesus must remain the centre of all Christian faith and practice. He must remain central in our individual lives. He must remain central in our understanding of Scripture. And He must remain central in the life of the Church.
“It is tempting,” he acknowledged, to follow “what is politically correct, what is liked in media coverage, to feel out which way the wind is blowing right now.”
“But it is fatal,” he warned. Instead, he said, “we must look to Jesus, search into His Word. We shall be faithful to and adhere to everything that He has shown and made clear to us in His Word. This is precisely what the Lord expects of us: to remain faithful to Himself, to His Word, faithful to the doctrines and confessions of the Church.”
This challenging call to stand firm on Christ and His Word is one the Mission Province in Sweden knows only too well. The Mission was founded first as a reform group within the Church of Sweden in 2003 by those attempting to remain faithful to the Scriptures while the state church increasingly secularized. Their first bishop, Arne Olsson, was installed in 2005. The Church of Sweden responded by defrocking Bishop Olsson.
The state church has continued to punish those holding confessional views, barring confessional candidates from ordination. One of those barred from ordination by the state Church of Sweden was in attendance at the consecration of Bishop Ådahl—Bishop Hans Jönsson, who was subsequently welcomed into the Latvian church and made a bishop there in 2016.
The Mission Province in Sweden is a member of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses, together with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. In 2018, the Mission Province and the other members of the Communion of Nordic Dioceses became members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. During that time, Bishop Emeritus Roland Gustafsson announced his intention to retire as head of Mission Province, having successfully brought the church into membership with the ILC.
NORWAY – On April 11, 2016, the Bishops’ Conference of the Church of Norway (CN) moved to approve the marriage of same-sex couples, creating a liturgy to allow such weddings to take place in the church. The decision came in a 88-32 vote, but there are still many expressing their objection to the change in the church’s teaching on marriage.
Earlier votes on the subject of same-sex marriage had been rejected, most recently in 2014. The Church of Norway is the state church of Norway, and is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. It has allowed the ordination of practicing homosexuals since 2007, further straining relations in the church.
“[The newly-adopted teaching on marriage] is contrary to the Bible and gathered ecclesiastical and ecumenical tradition,” wrote Rev. Dag Øivind Østereng following the vote. “To abolish man/woman as the basic unit in marriage is contrary to God’s revealed will and natural law that can be discerned in creation itself. The Church has bowed herself before a gender ideology which is in direct violation of the Bible’s word and to what I as a pastor am committed.” Rev. Østereng is a prominent figure in the CN’s confessional wing, having been a member of the group Carissimi.
The vote to approve a same-sex wedding liturgy included allowance for priests and other church workers to refuse to participate in gay marriages. But this is not enough, Rev. Østereng says. “The Norwegian Church as a community has now changed her understanding of utterly fundamental aspects of the Word of God,” he explained. “These are not merely points with which I personally disagree; I cannot belong to a church that teaches in this way.”
“It is with great sadness and deep anguish, and at the same with the peace that conviction gives, that I must announced that within the next few weeks I will submit my resignation,” he continued, “and after the resignation-notice period withdraw from service as a priest in the Church of Norway and as a member of the Church of Norway.”
It is unclear how many Norwegian clergy and laypeople may follow Rev. Østereng’s example. Just before the vote, 200 priests released a Declaration on the Ecclesial Situation expressing doubt about their continued participation in the Church of Norway if same-sex marriage were to be approved. An online poll taken by Norwegian news site Dagen revealed that 44% of respondents intended to leave the Church of Norway over the issue, and that an additional 34% are uncertain whether to continue their membership. As the poll was conducted online, it is unclear how accurately it represents the sentiments of Norwegians overall.
While the Church of Norway is the nation’s largest church, there are other Lutherans options in the country. The Lutheran Church in Norway (Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge – LKN), for example, is a small church body affiliated with the International Lutheran Council (ILC) since 2015. The LKN traces its origins to 2005, and its pastors are all former ministers of the Church of Norway. While small, the LKN has begun to receive greater media attention as more Norwegians seek alternatives to the Church of Norway.