Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scandinavian Conference on Lutheranism Online!

Here is something not to be missed - even if you missed it!

This was a conference on Scandinavian Lutheranism held June 6-8 at one of our sister seminaries in Canada - Concordia - St. Catharines (Ontario).  This has been a long time coming, as Scandinavian and American Lutherans have been becoming closer and closer over the past few years.  Indeed, the Lutheran world is shrinking, as faithful, confessional Lutherans from Kenya and Madagascar sing the same liturgy and partake of the same sacraments with their brothers and sisters from Siberia and Sweden.

Note that you can see photos as well as listen to the lectures as podcasts, or even watch them as videos!

This is what we could call an all-star line-up of Lutheran theology.  It's been my privilege since my time in seminary to become friends with, and follow the stories of, many of our Scandinavian brethren whose confession of the biblical and catholic faith has landed them in hot water - with the secular state as well as the rudderless bureaucrats from their own church bodies.  They are squeezed between the pincers of worldly power and churchly apostasy.  These men who serve as bishops, priests, and deacons - as well as the faithful laity, men and women alike, who feed on the Word and Sacraments from their pastors for the forgiveness of sins - are true heroes.  Year after year they proclaim and confess the Gospel, bringing light to a culture that decays and grows dimmer with each passing year.  And they do so with courage, integrity, and not without a sense of humor.

This conference is almost a homecoming for me, as it includes

  • Rev. Dr. John Stevenson, a dear friend and father in Christ who was the retreat speaker for Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church's congregational retreat in 2006.  The British-born Dr. Stephenson is also the general editor of the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series, holds degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham, and is a delightful teacher and churchman.  
  • Rev. Eric Andrae, another great friend, also spoke.  Pastor Andrae was also a retreat speaker at Salem Lutheran church - giving a version of his autobiographical lecture back in 2009.  It was a real joy, privilege, and treat to have heard his presentation.  Pastor Andrae, who was born in Sweden, is also the leading scholar on Bishop Bo Giertz, perhaps in the world.   
  • Rev. Matthew Harrison, the president of the Missouri Synod also spoke.  He was my first field work supervisor in seminary, and was the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church where I attended from 2000-2003, and where I was ordained in 2004.  President Harrison is the author, editor, or translator of many works pertaining to church history, Lutheran theology, and the Christian faith and life.
  • Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki was also one of my professors at Concordia Theological Seminary (who is in my ordination photo, second from the left) , a true Christian gentleman and rigorous scholar who demands as much of himself as he does from his grateful students.  Dr. Masaki was born in Japan, lived for a while in Norway, and continues to serve as professor of systematic theology (and oversees the STM program) at Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne.
  • Another speaker, Rev. Juhana Puhola, is a Finnish-born confessional pastor who was awarded the Sabre of Boldness in 2009.  He is the only presenter that I have not met nor know personally - although we have communicated by e-mail.  As one of the editors of Gottesdienst, I was on the board that voted to recognize his service to Christ, the Church, and the Gospel with the Sabre.  In fact, read here Pastor Puhola's moving nomination...

We recommend that the Rev. Juhana Pohjola (STM [CTS]), Dean of The Luther Foundation in Finland (Luther-Saatio; which is associated with the Missionary Province in Sweden and Finland), is awarded the Sabre of Boldness.
Not only does he support and supervise Lutheran pastors in their ministry of the Word, but he also actively opposes those leaders in the Church of Finland who are breaking down the faith and confession of our Lutheran heritage, instead of defending these gracious gifts of our Lord and Savior. 
 As an example of his noteworthy and courageous work in Finland, we would specifically like to mention an episode that occurred at a Sunday service in his congregation in Helsinki.  The bishop of Helsinki, Eero Huovinen, came to the service; he is a leading Luther scholar and a daunting man respected man throughout Finland. Rev. Pohjola took him aside in order to speak with him privately; this bishop not only ordains female pastors, defying the Word of God, but he even refuses to ordain confessional Lutheran theologians that will not compromise in this matter. After a short conversation, the bishop asked if Rev. Pohjola was going to refuse to administer the holy supper to him. Rev. Pohjola requested that the bishop would not put him in such an awkward position by coming to the altar.

Indeed, the bishop did not join the communicants, but afterwards, when all of it became public, the Rev. Pohjola was warned that he would be disciplined - for almost “disciplining” this renowned bishop. Actually, Rev. Pohjola never did withhold the supper from the bishop, since he did not come forward!  Nonetheless, Rev. Pohjola was given an opportunity to admit his “mistake,” to recant, if you will, but steadfastly refused.

As such, Rev. Pohjola was not permitted to serve as a pastor for three months. He was not allowed to celebrate in church, he could not preach, he could not wear his clerical collar in public. He could not officially take care of the flock assigned to him by God.

The situation in Finland for confessional Lutherans has become more difficult in recent years, and the aggressive harassment from the state, church leaders, and, especially, the media, requires a wise and courageous response as it is seen in the work of Rev. Juhana Pohjola and The Luther Foundation in Finland.

For any further questions in this matter, please contact us.

Submitted by Rev. Jakob Okkels, Rev. Erik A. H. Okkels, Rev. Eric R. Andrae.
21 January A+D 2009 

Rev. Juhana Pohola currently serves as a resident professor at St. Catharines and is the dean of the Luther Foundation in Finland.  He also took part in the historic consecration of Bishop as the Lutheran (Mission Province) Bishop Matti Väisänen of Finland.

What a great opportunity for those who were able to attend. And if you missed it like I did, thanks to technology, you don't have to miss the presentations.  Please keep your faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in your prayers as they continue to hold high the cross as a beacon of hope for the world.  And thanks to the faculty of St. Kitt's for hosting this conference!

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