The Rev. Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the recently formed Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, has been defrocked by the nominally Lutheran Church of Finland. His offence was participating as a founder and leader of the Mission Diocese, which the CoF considers to be “violating his ordination vows.” Dean Pohjola earned a STM at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, in 1999 and will defend his doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki on August 15.
The following report is written by The Rev. Samuli Siikavirta, a doctoral candidate in New Testament at Cambridge University who was ordained in the Mission Diocese earlier this summer.
Dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, Rev Juhana Pohjola, Defrocked by the National Church
On 5 August 2014, the Cathedral Chapter [Consistory] of the Diocese of Oulu ordered Rev Juhana Pohjola to forfeit his pastoral office in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, invoking ELCF legislation (ELCF Church Law 5:3.3). The decision came into effect immediately.
Rev. Pohjola was ordained by former Bishop of Oulu, Rt Rev Olavi Rimpiläinen, in 1999 to serve the newly founded Luther Foundation Finland within the Church of Finland. The intention of Rev Pohjola’s work in the Luther Foundation was to build up confessional Lutheran liturgical life within the ELCF and to insure that members holding to the apostolic view of the Office have places where they can receive the Sacraments and hear the Word.
In 2013, the congregations that were part of the Luther Foundation Finland and a handful of other independent ones formed the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. From 2005 until last year, the LFF was a supporting member of the Mission Province in Sweden. What began as the work of one part-time Pastor (Pohjola) and one congregation in the capital city in 1999 has today grown into a network of 30 congregations and missions nationwide. The Mission Diocese sees itself as an independent, confessional and non-geographical churchly structure in Finland that lives out the official confession of the ELCF that the ‘national church’ has largely abandoned.
The Cathedral Chapter of the ELCF Diocese of Oulu argued for its decision in the following manner:
“The Cathedral Chapter deemed it to be clear that Juhana Pohjola, who had been a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Oulu, has acted contrary to the duties of the pastoral office and transgressed the ordination promise [vow] that he had made on 18 Dec 1999, and turned out to be obviously unfit to be a pastor by becoming the Diocesan Dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, by directing the head office of the Mission Diocese, by belonging to its College of Pastors, by acting as a member of its Consistory and under it, together with being under the pastoral oversight and acting as the aide of the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, Risto Soramies.”
“The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland was founded in March 2013. The said community that is an unregistered association [a Finnish legal term] has organised itself resembling a Christian church by having its own congregations, diocese and bishop. The Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland have stated together in March 2013 that the newly formed Mission Diocese has no organisational status in our church and neither is it attached to the structure of our church. According to the Bishops’ statement, a Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland who acts in the Mission Diocese stands in obvious conflict with the loyalty expected of a pastor and with the ordination promise.”
The defrocking of a pastor is the most severe punishment that the ELCF can issue. Excommunication or the revoking of membership is no longer a possibility. The Diocesan Chapter appealed to paragraph 5:3.3 of the ELCF Church Law, stating,
“A pastor who acts against the duties of the pastoral office and the ordination promise, or neglects them or behaves in a way unfit for a pastor, may, according to the quality of the matter, be given a written warning or suspended from the pastoral office for a minimum of one and a maximum of six months by the Diocesan Chapter. If the pastor’s unseemly behaviour, neglect in the pastoral office or other behaviour indicates him/her to be obviously unfit to be a pastor, the Diocesan Chapter can order him to forfeit his pastoral office [i.e. be defrocked].”
In a blog post on the Mission Diocese website, Rev Pohjola acknowledges that the decision to be defrocked pains him deeply but that it was also to be expected in the current church-political situation.
“The words ‘obviously unfit’ leave no room for interpretation. They are rough especially when talking about the office in which one is to act constantly with the great Day of Judgment in view. Being defrocked also contains shameful dimensions. Hardly anyone wants to be unfit and dismissed.”
The defrocking of those Mission Diocese pastors and bishops who were ordained in the ELCF before the Luther Foundation or Mission Diocese were formed may also have wider consequences on the identity formation of the Mission Diocese.
“The message, ‘you are obviously unfit for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’, has been sent to thousands of people attending Mass in the Mission Diocese”, Rev Pohjola writes.
He maintains that the decision shows the theological decline that is going on in the ELCF.
“This decision of the Diocesan Chapter is yet another step within the reformation [in Finnish: ‘purge of the faith’] that is going on in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Instead of the Church being purged with God’s Word, she is being purged from God’s Word.”
Despite being now defrocked by the national church, Rev Pohjola will continue preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments, now as a pastor only of the Mission Diocese.
“What now after this? One friend reminded me of a liberating Bible verse: ‘set apart for the Gospel of God’ (Rom. 1:1). That gives me, too, enough to do in the Apostolic Office until the end of my life!”
An interesting church historical quirk is that Rev Pohjola will be defending his doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki on 15 August on the topic of ordination rites in the ELCF between 1963 and 2003 and their understanding of ordination and the pastoral office. His Opponent at the defence will be Rt Rev Jari Jolkkonen, ELCF Bishop of Kuopio.
Link to Dean Pohjola’s statement (in Finnish):
Links to reports on the confessional Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland:
Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD
Scandinavia House Fort Wayne
1925 Saint Joe Center RD
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
Ph. (260) 399-6565
For the past several days, the International Loehe Society (http://www.iloes.net/en/) Fourth Loehe Theological Conference has been holding forth in Neuendettelsau, Germany — Loehe’s base of operation in the 19th century. Scholars primarily from Germany and North America discussed the topic of Christian Formation.
Professor John Pless and Dr. Albert Collver from the LCMS were presenters at the conference. Deaconess Grace Rao and Rev. Tony Booker, Regional Director for Eurasia, also attended on behalf of the LCMS.
Dr. Collver’s presentation was titled, “Loehe: Mission Societies, The Church in Its Motion and Missio Dei.” Collver noted that for Loehe the church engages in mission by being Church. The gospel goes out into the world to all nations, one congregation at a time. Collver used Loehe to critique some contemporary Missiology trends.
Professor Pless presented on “Seed Grains: Loehe’s Manual for Christian Formation Through Prayer.” Loehe teaches Christians how to pray, not by talking about prayer but by providing prayers for Christians to imitate. He provides prayers for the church year and for various events and concerns. The Psalter has a primary function in Seed Grains with each day of the week. Through Seed Grains, Loehe hoped to shape the life of the Christian.
The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) is holding its Council meeting. The EECMY holds a general assembly every four years. This is similar to a convention for the LCMS. The EECMY also holds a council meeting between the general assemblies. The council meeting consists of all the synod presidents (District Presidents in LCMS terminology) and other representatives. Reports are made by each Synod (District in LCMS lingo) to the council. Currently, the various synods are reporting on how they are implementing the strategic plan. The EECMY has a church wide strategic plan. Each Synod (District) operates according to the same plan with the same goals. One Synod reported to the Council that they had gained 87,000 new members since this time last year. The Council is able to make decisions on behalf of the entire church between general assemblies. The third level of governance in the EECMY is the executive committee. President Harrison met with the executive committee in January 2014.
Dr. Collver had opportunity to bring greetings to the Council on behalf of President Harrison and the LCMS. The EECMY expressed appreciation for President Harrison’s visit in January, as well as for the LCMS’ efforts to increase the EECMY’s Lutheran identity and the work on theological education.
The EECMY has recently begun to send missionaries around the world. They do work in West Africa and Pakistan. One of the missionaries told the Council that it was not enough to leave your home but one had to be willing to lose his life for the Gospel. Over 15,000 people attended, the sending service for one of the missionary.
The EECMY had an art display at the council. Recently, some in the EECMY began to use art as a method for outreach. The triptych above shows a person fixing his eyes on the crucified Christ and turning from the riches, beauty, and power of the world.
The EECMY holds as its confessional basis that the Old and New Testaments are the Holy Word of God and the only source and only source and infallible norm of all Church doctrine and practice. The church holds to the Creeds, the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Catechisms. One of the challenges is that very few copies of either the Augsburg Confession or Luther’s Catechisms can be found in Ethiopia. The lack of these confessional documents presents challenges in teaching and maintaining Lutheran identity.
Posted on 21 July 2014 by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver
A group from the LCMS met with leaders at the Mekane Yesus Seminary (MYS) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss how the EECMY and the LCMS can work together on theological education to train future pastors. The EECMY curre you has about 3,000 pastors, and has a goal of having one pastor per congregation or 10,000 pastors over the next five years. The LCMS has committed to providing assistance in curriculum development and to provide theological educators to teach courses. For the part year the LCMS have had theological educators at MYS to assist in their programs.
These books from CPH are some of the materials used by students in the graduate study lounge at MYS. Obtaining theological study materials is one of the greatest challenges in providing theological education in not only Ethiopia but through out Africa and Latin America. The challenge lay not only in the cost of the materials but also in shipping, transport, and storage. Although the rise of electronic books and Internet resources is common place in North America and Europe, electronic resources are generally impractical or entirely unusable in Africa and other parts of the world. (The hotel where we are staying only had Internet access for a few hours yesterday.) It is not uncommon for electricity to be shut off for parts of the day. Printed books are a necessity despite the rise of electronic resources. The question in many cases is which resources to provide and how to get the materials where they are needed — a challenge that the Chemnitz Library Initiative is trying to address.
A letter of greeting from Concordia Seminary, St Louis is presented to Dr. Belay at MYS. With now 7 regional seminaries and 40 Bible colleges in the EECMY, there is tremendous opportunity for theological education. The EECMY requested that representatives from both Concordia Seminary St Louis and Concordia Theological Seminary come to Ethiopia to discuss face to face how further collaboration could be made.
Deaconess Sandra Rhein, Beza Tefera, and Church Musician Emily German tour the MYS campus. Deaconess Sandra and Emily are visiting to explore the possibility of assisting in the development of worship materials particularly for the youth and for mission outreach. Part of the project will include the gathering of indigenous Ethiopian hymns and songs, as well as working with traditional Lutheran hymns that have been translated. Dr. Berhanu, EECMY General Secretary, stated that this project is one of the most needful items now for the EECMY.
Today we meet with other leaders of the EECMY. The next several days will be packed with activities.
– Posted on 19 July 2014 by Dr. Albert Collver
Participants: Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (CTCR – LCMS); Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS); Shinri Emoto (General Secretary NRK); Rev. Saito (Mission Secretary NRK); Rev. Ando (Director of Disaster Relief NRK); Mr. Ando (Urawa Lutheran School NRK)
16 July 2014
Representatives from the Missouri Synod and the Japan Lutheran Church (NRK) met to discuss rekindling the the 50 plus year partnership between the two church bodies. Dr. Collver noted that the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM) strategic plan calls for renewing and strengthening partnerships and that the discussion with the NRK could not have occurred at a more opportune time.
This past spring the NRK elected a new president, Rev. Shimizu Shin after President Kumei retired. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer attended this convention as the LCMS representative.
The Urawa high school founded by the LCMS in 1953 occupied a significant portion of the conversation. Currently, the high school has approximately 700
students. The school has out grown its facility and plans to build a new building to house more than 1000 students. The student body, only 10% of whom are Christian, is to reach the other 90% through Bible classes and daily chapel services.
In addition to the high school the NRK asked if the LCMS could send missionaries for the following work:
– A pastor for the Okinawa Lutheran Church
– A Seminary Professor in Tokyo
– Chaplain for Urawa Lutheran School
LCMS OIM agrees to begin recruiting for these positions.
Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver