Church of Sweden Defrocks Confessional Pastor

[22 September 2014]

Another Swedish Confessional Lutheran Pastor was defrocked Friday by the Gothenburg Diocese of the Church of Sweden (CoS). The unusual nature of this case may mark the beginning of a new offensive by the Church of Sweden against the remnant of confessional pastors in that church body. If the decision is upheld on appeal, it implies a significant tightening of restrictions on those who dissent from the radically liberal path chosen by the politicized CoS leadership, as well as an elevation of current policy choices above faithfulness to God’s Word.

Pastor Olle Fogelqvist

Foto: Markusstiftelsen

The Gothenburg Consistory found that Pastor Olle Fogelqvist said in an August 2013 sermon that rejecting ordination of women was a requirement for salvation. The Consistory also found that Fogelqvist had undermined confidence in female pastors and that these offenses constituted disloyalty to CoS and a serious breach of Fogelqvist’s ordination vows. Even more ominously, the decision seemed to make loyalty to CoS decisions more important than following one’s best understanding of Scripture. The decision took effect immediately, although Pastor Fogelqvist plans to appeal.

“I am astonished,” Pastor Fogelqvist said to the Church of Sweden newspaper, Kyrkans Tidning. “What I did in my sermon is what I promised to do at my ordination in 1978. I wanted to explain what First Corinthians 14 actually says, where Paul talks about women in the congregation. I cannot see that I have violated my ordination vows in any way.”

The vows Pastor Fogelqvist made at ordination were, in relevant part, “… to proclaim God’s Word purely and clearly according to my best understanding and conscience, and as our church’s confessional writings witness to it.”

In his statement to the Consistory, Fogelqvist denied making salvation dependent on rejecting women’s ordination, or any point of doctrine. He had said, instead, that deliberately violating God’s commandments was a serious sin that could separate one from Christ because it meant turning one’s back on God and walking away from salvation. Fogelqvist noted the very strong statement by Saint Paul concerning his teaching on women's role in the church service, “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” 1 Cor 14.38. He had been struck by the footnote in the Swedish Bible that reads, “That is, God will not recognize him on the Last Day, see Matthew 7.23.” In the Matthew verse, Jesus says, “… then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

On the other hand, Pastor Fogelqvist stated that one who mistakenly but sincerely thought he was obeying God, but was unknowingly breaking God’s law, is not separated from Christ because he has not rejected Christ.

Pastor Fogelqvist had concluded the sermon with the day’s Gospel text, “…be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” noting the impossibility of this, but the saving work of Christ, the availability of forgiveness and the necessity of repentance and confessing sins of which one is aware.

Pastor Fogelqvist has been serving in Löftedalens Pastorate, a group of several congregations south of Gothenburg, historically a stronghold of Confessional Lutheranism. He previously served many years as chaplain of the Gothenburg Lutheran High School.

Pastor Fogelqvist was one of several pastors who led groups of Swedish students to three Higher Things youth conferences in 2006-08. These conferences are a confessional youth movement within the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. In 2009 Fogelqvist helped organize Corpus Christi, which has adapted Higher Things to the Scandinavian environment. Students and young adults from ten countries participated in the 2014 conference. Plenary speakers have included LCMS Pastors Daniel Preus, Peter Bender and Jonathan Fisk, and Canadian Lutheran Pastor Kurt Reinhardt.

The action against Pastor Fogelqvist was highly unusual in the Church of Sweden. Fogelqvist’s advocate, Andreas Karlgren, stated that there was no corresponding case, even when an earlier king acted against pastors who had criticized him, as long as their sermons followed God’s Word.

In a blog post Pastor Dag Sandahl noted that this disciplinary action involved only a few sentences in a single sermon. In “a church that was not imploding,” Sandahl observed, a bishop who thought one of his pastors had erred on a point of doctrine would sit down with him and counsel him, not immediately defrock him. Rather than giving him a written reprimand or three years’ probation, Sandahl noted, “…the Consistory carved its decision with an axe and a chainsaw.”

Bp Eckerdal in Gay Pride Parade

Bishop Per Eckerdal marches in the 2013 Gothenburg Gay Pride Parade. He also marched in the 2014 parade.

Pastor Sandahl also noted that the disciplinary action was initiated by Gothenburg CoS Bishop Per Eckerdal, who had requested a recording of Pastor Fogelqvist’s sermon. Sandahl opined that Eckerdal may have viewed the sermon as a personal affront, given that he had acquiesced in accepting female pastors. Thus the bishop was too angry to counsel the pastor, but chose to defrock him.

Bishop Eckerdal has become increasingly radical in recent years. In an editorial just published in the diocesan magazine, Korsväg, he describes his journey from “ignorance and unawareness” to marching in the 2013 and 2014 Gay Pride Parades in Gothenburg. “We cannot simply go to the Bible for guidance as to how we should live today,” he writes. “We cannot turn over responsibility for how we should live today to single Bible passages.”

“The goal of salvation in Christ is not that all shall become heterosexual,” Bishop Eckerdal continues. “Our sexual orientation is another gift of creation that is part of creation’s diversity which we may receive…. That God’s love-filled idea of creation should not include people with various sexual orientations is as unreasonable to me as that it should not include, for example, people with a certain skin color. It is a matter of how we are created…”

In contrast to this case, in June 2011, the Church of Sweden decided not to defrock Ulla Karlsson, a female pastor who had published a column in the Church of Sweden newspaper during Lent. The column directly attacked basic Christian doctrine, declaring inter alia,

There is no fallen creation and therefore the whole doctrine of the atonement is irrational! Throw out all the talk about sin, guilt, shame, blood, slaughtered lambs and other horrors! It has no place in modern times, among enlightened people!

The Consistory placed this pastor on probation, but did not find her to have committed a serious “breach of ordination vows” or to be “in conflict with the Church of Sweden’s faith, confession and doctrine.”

Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD
Scandinavia House Fort Wayne