Finnish Lutherans Get Their Own Bishop
After Church of Finland Supports Same-sex Couples

Sacred Heart Chapel in Helsinki was filled to capacity for the consecration service.

[22 March 2010] Nine days after the Church of Finland elected a new archbishop who supports church "blessings" for same-sex couples, four Lutheran bishops from Sweden and Kenya consecrated a bishop for Finnish Confessional Lutherans. The consecration of Bishop Matti Väisänen Saturday (March 20) means that, for the first time since 2001, Confessional Lutherans can be ordained as pastors in Finland. About 450 people packed the Sacred Heart Chapel in Helsinki for the consecration.

As in other former Scandinavian state churches, the historically Lutheran Church of Finland has become increasingly liberal under political pressure in recent decades, largely abandoning its Lutheran roots. In particular, it has adopted a lower view of the authority of Scripture than held by traditional, or Confessional, Lutherans. This led to the establishment of Luther Foundation Finland in 1999. This Confessional Lutheran group considers itself within the Church of Finland, but opposes the current bishops' liberalism. Since 1999 the Luther Foundation has grown steadily and now holds worship services in 21 cities and towns in Finland.

Pastor Richard Ondicho of St. Barnabas Koinonia, Helsinki leads the procession bearing the cross, followed by Dean Juhana Pohjola bearing the bishop's staff. The Revs. Esko Murto and Kalle Väätäinen bear the mitre and cape.

In 2003 the Luther Foundation affiliated with the Mission Province then established in Sweden. Mission Province Bishop Arne Olsson was consecrated in 2005 by five Lutheran bishops led by Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya, whose predecessors were consecrated by Swedish Bishop Bo Giertz. This gives Bishop Olsson, and thus also Bishop Matti Väisänen, the same claim to Apostolic Succession as the bishops of the Church of Sweden and the Church of Finland. Archbishop Obare returned to Scandinavia to participate in the laying on of hands for Bishop Väisänen, and will do so again next Saturday when Rev. Roland Gustafsson is consecrated as the successor to the retiring Bishop Olsson.

Luther Foundation Finland has had eight pastors ordained in Sweden by Bishop Olsson, but the movement in Finland has grown to the point that it needs its own bishop. The Finnish movement has not had enough pastors to meet all the requests to establish new congregations, or "koinonias" (worshipping fellowships) as they are often called.

"This is a natural step for us," said Rev. Juhana Pohjola, founder and Dean of the Foundation, "to have a bishop who speaks the same language as these pastors, and being able to ordain more shepherds for God's flock. Matti Väisänen shall use the Word of God to encourage all those faithful Christians, who at the present can't hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland."

Referring to the election of Kari Mäkinen, an outspoken supporter of blessings for same-sex partnerships, as archbishop of the Church of Finland, Pohjola said, "This indicates how leaders of the church want to blend in, to make the church identical with the surrounding culture and society. Bishop Väisänen will lead our congregations in their task: to present a Lutheran alternative. It's rallying cry is 'Let the Church be Church!'"

Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya prays for Matti Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya prays for Matti Väisänen as Bishops Arne Olsson (closest to the camera), Lars Artman and Göran Beijer of the Mission Province in Sweden look on. as Bishops Arne Olsson (closest to the camera), Lars Artman and Göran Beijer of the Mission Province in Sweden look on. Behind Väisänen are (from left) LFF Dean Juhana Pohjola, Rev. Kalle Väätäinen and Rev. Esko Murto

The consecration was led by Bishop Arne Olsson of the Mission Province, who told Väisänen, "You are placed among all those bishops in Christ's worldwide church who want to remain loyal to the Lord and his Word.

"Christ will not leave you, when you seek him and ask him for advice. Our Supreme Shepherd is the Savior of sinners. He is also your savior. Otherwise he would not have sent you. Never forget this. Be faithful unto the death, and he will give you the crown of life."

The consecration sermon was preached by Kenyan Archbishop Walter Obare, who admonished the new bishop, "You are here and now a servant of God. Do not seek authority from men - secular or ecclesiastical rulers. "You must be a faithful servant of no one other than your King and Savior Jesus Christ.

"The Great Commission ends with a promise: 'I will be with you, all the days unto the end of ages.' This is his promise, and he can not lie. You must work in a world which is becoming pagan again. Your strength may be insufficient to lead the small church you are called to lead - but remember what the Lord said He is the one who promises you to be with you until the end of ages."

"It was a great celebration and feast for God's people! Hundreds after hundreds coming up to the altar and the Communion after the consecration." — Dr. Bengt Birgersson, Secretary of the Mision Province

Pastor Esko Murto, theological secretary of the Foundation, noted, "Lutherans in Finland face two very clear and distinct alternatives: the apostolic and catholic, confessional Lutheran life in the Mission Province, or the increasingly apostate, degenerating established church. Lord have mercy!"

The 75 year old Väisänen, who studied at the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod's Concordia Theological Seminary in 1961-63, served as a parish pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland from 1963 to 1966, then as General Secretary of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission from 1967 until he retired in 1995. From 1985 to 1995 he was the editor of 'Vie Sanoma' ('Spread the News'), a missiological journal. He has also published articles in numerous magazines, journals and books.

Väisänen is the author of 20 books in Finnish on a number of aspects of the Christian faith, most recently two books on baptism, 'Pyhä kaste Raamatussa' and 'Pyhä kaste kirkossa' (Holy Baptism in the Bible and Holy Baptism in the Church) and a commentary on Romans. He has also completed a ThD (Helsinki University) on the baptismal theology of Uuras Saarnivaara. Dr. Väisänen had been endorsed by a national convention of the Luther Foundation Finland. For many years, he has acted as a de facto bishop for Luther Foundation Finland, charged with the installation of pastors and other officers.

Newly consecrated Bishop Matti Väisänen with eight Luther Foundation Finland pastors. Five of the nine men, including Bishop Väisänen, have studied at Concordia Theological Seminary. Three of these have been guests at Scandinavia House.

In addressing the congregation, referring to 2 Corinthians 5:14, the newly consecrated bishop remarked, "'The love of Christ compells us.' Christ loves us and binds us together with the word of Truth. By allowing us to experience love within and persecution without, Christ makes us grow closer to each other and closer to his Word.

"Many in Finland are waiting for us to break apart from internal disputes and animosity," he continued, "they want to see us fail in our task of building a Mission Province. But if we remain in the Apostolic Word, we remain in the triune God, we remain united and the world will believe our witness."

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