“Defrocked” Swedish Confessional Pastor Renews Ordination Vows on Easter

Reverend Jan-Erik Appell with Mission Province Bishop Roland Gustafsson after the renewal of ordination vows.

Reverend Jan-Erik Appell with Mission Province Bishop Roland Gustafsson after the renewal of ordination vows.
Foto: Robert Johannesson

[April 9, 2012] One month after the Church of Sweden’s Lund Diocese revoked his authorization as a pastor due to his involvement in the Mission Province, The Reverend Jan-Eric Appell has renewed his ordination vows. The ceremony, at Easter services of the Mission Province koinonia* in Kristianstad, was led by Bishop Roland Gustafsson of the Mission Province in Sweden and Finland. Pastor Appell will continue his ministry in Kristiantad’s Saint John’s Koinonia and also at several Mission Province koinonias in the southeastern Swedish provinces of Småland, Blekinge and Skåne (Scania).

Pastor Appell is a leading confessional Lutheran pastor in Sweden and chairman of the board of the Church Federation (Kyrkliga Förbundet), the umbrella organization sponsoring the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Educational Foundation, the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg, the Lutheran High School in Gothenburg, the Gothenburg Bible School, and the confessional weekly Church and People (Kyrka och Folk).

The Lund consistory’s decision, based on an anonymous complaint, found that Pastor Appell’s involvement in the Mission Province violated his ordination vow to obey the “law and ordinances” of the Church of Sweden. The cathedral dean and a clergy member of the consistory dissented from this decision, noting that Pastor Appell’s stand was not based on contempt for the “faith, confession and doctrine” of the Swedish Church, but rather on concern for these. The dissenters cite a long history of tolerance by the Church of Sweden of pastoral involvement in renewal movements within the church, particularly since the mid-1800s. The dissent also cited Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, which states that all that is necessary for true unity within the Church is that the Gospel be purely taught and the sacraments rightly administered. The dissenters call on the Church of Sweden to reconsider its approach in these cases.

The Mission Province has regarded itself as a reform and renewal movement within the tradition and historic teaching of the Church of Sweden, just as the early Lutheran movement considered itself at the beginning of the Reformation. The Church of Sweden has refused to recognize the Mission Province and has expelled its leaders, as the Church of Rome did in the 1500s.

The Mission Province was formed in 2003 as a complement to the Swedish Church, responding to what it describes as a growing sense of homelessness among people of faith. “This feeling grows as fewer and fewer pastors are seen as rooted in the apostolic faith,” according to the Mission Province. “The theology of Church of Sweden leaders is increasingly blurred, washed-out or openly false. Worship life is declining in many places.

“The Bible is perceived merely as human testimony, not as God's living Word to all ages, and the official Church is seen as having adopted an ethical reorientation that is contrary to biblical ethics. Doctrinal issues are relativized and one point after another in the faith of the Church is reinterpreted or denied. The Bible is no longer recognized as the highest authority. It is no exaggeration to speak of a doctrinal abandonment of the classic Christian faith. In some parishes of the Swedish Church there is still clear biblical teaching, but not all can travel long distances to visit these places.”

Renewals of vows have been made in a number of cases in which pastors have either resigned from the Church of Sweden or been defrocked for involvement in the Mission Province. The bishop of Gothenburg recently issued a letter threatening such actions against any pastor who continues to lead services for a Mission Province koinonia.

*A Mission Province koinonia is a worshiping fellowship that is equivalent to a congregation, except that many of its members are still officially members of their home parishes in the Church of Sweden. There are complex reasons, including centuries of history and family ties, why many members retain formal membership despite the theological deficiencies of the current Church of Sweden leadership. Many simply refuse to acknowledge that this situation can never be reversed, even though the outlook seems grim, humanly speaking.

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