Blog: Deceptive Decision of Synod of Bishops


On 12 March 2024 the Synod of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland decided by a vote of 9-1 to propose to the General Church Synod a statute on parallel concepts of marriage. This means that at the very same time marriage is understood, on the one hand, as between a man and a woman and, on the other hand, as between two persons. This opens the way for same-sex marriages in this Church. This is being sought as a compromise solution to a debate that has been going on for years. [translator’s note: The ELCF has the legal right to perform marriages, including the issuance of licences, completely without the involvement of the civil authorities. This is the ordinary procedure in Finland.]

For my part, I acknowledge that as a member of another Lutheran Church, I have no real right to speak to the internal affairs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. But because of the continuing importance of this National Church of Finland, the decision has consequences for all of us Finns. [Finland has a national church, not a state church, but it is in a very real sense the established Church of Finland.] I also feel disappointment and concern that spiritual darkness is deepening in the Church where I was baptized. The overarching theme of reasoning of the Synod of Bishops is the “unity” of the Church. This concept extends theologically beyond the life of a single local church. I would therefore like to make some observations about the decision.

1. The decision of the Bishops’ Synod is a response accepting the great deception that has befallen the whole of Christendom

The Christian concept of mankind and marriage, and ultimately of God, has been to a historic extent challenged in our time. We all know how, in our individualistic culture, issues of the realisation of uninhibited sexuality, self-selected gender identity, tolerance and acceptance are major values and political themes. This is why Finland, as have so many Western countries, passed a law on same-sex marriage (2017) and trans legislation has been amended to more clearly reflect the experiences and freedoms of an individual (2023).

As societal values and legislation change in our post-Christian era, all Christian Churches will have to establish their own policy in regard to whether they too will change with this or stand on their own foundations to resist change. Many Churches are divided over this question. The issue is the discernment of spirits. No Church, and no Christian, can escape this deception, nor can they avoid taking a stand.

Ever after the so-called “decision on the ordination of women”, the Evangelical Lutheran National Church of Finland decided to change with the values of the nation and society, indeed on this issue as well. First, it stopped calling the homosexual lifestyle sin. Then it accepted prayer with and for same-sex couples. For some time now, contrary to its own Church Order, it has allowed and encouraged the marriage of rainbow couples in churches. The decision of the Bishops’ Synod is therefore only a step further along the path chosen. This decision is sped along by the fact that, according to surveys, well over half of pastors and cantors are in favour of the proposed step.

This decision is not based on rashness or theological incompetence. On the contrary, time and resources have been invested in this and all the arguments for the opposite conclusion do exist. But the first alternative model presented to the Synod of Bishops was not the one they wanted to approve of. According to that proposal:

“The Church considers marriage to be between a man and a woman and marries accordingly. Same-sex relationships (ordination, blessing, prayer) are neither recognised nor performed.”

However, this is the common understanding of marriage in Christendom, the only one, according to natural law, the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions, and it excludes all other models. No, another paradigm was chosen, the path of parallel conceptions of marriage. Once the possibility of parallel concepts of marriage has been opened up, there are no restraints as to why new concepts of marriage, such as polygamy, cannot also be introduced.

During Lent, we remember the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. What did Satan promise Jesus and His body, the church, for all time: “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matt 4:9) To what good and advantage, then, has the Synod of Bishops’ presentation caught hold of? Many say that same-sex marriage will guarantee the National Church societal popularity, positive media coverage and thus halt or at least slow the dwindling loss of membership and tax revenue. Personally, I think the aspirations are more noble than just clinging to power and tax money. [The National Church has the right to receive the Church Tax from all its members, i.e. the majority of the population, and receives recompense for its recent loss of taxation rights on all legal persons, corporations.] So what good is promised by bowing to the demands of the spirit of the age? According to the bishops, it is something as beautiful and precious as the unity of the Church.

2. The decision of the Bishops’ Synod speaks deceptively about the unity of the Church

The decision of the Synod of Bishops is a “realpolitik” attempt to get two different concepts to fit with their oars into the same church long boat – and even then to row at the same pace. The Bishops’ Synod decision states:

“We recognise the danger of division and failure also in our own Church. That is why it is the task of those who bear responsibility in the Church to seek solutions, even to the marriage question, such that through these the unity of the Church can be preserved even in the midst of disagreements.”

The preservation of “unity” is therefore the overarching theme of the decision. According to the bishops, this decision guarantees freedom of conscience for those who adhere to the traditional concept of marriage, but also services and freedom of action for those who wish to bless same-sex couples. This seating arrangement is not perfect for either side, but it is the only de facto way to continue the journey in the same boat.

So what is so deceptive about the decision? It is well known that fostering the unity of the church is the special task of bishops. And that is anything but easy! But the office of bishop is not first and foremost entrusted with the task of unity, but with the teaching of the true faith and the rejection of error, from which unity comes as a sweet fruit. Now, in the case at hand, the cart of unity was placed before the horse of doctrine! This is a travesty of unity. The unity of the church is, essentially, unity with and participation in with the one Lord, the head of the church, Christ Jesus. This unity and oneness in the Lord Jesus is hearing, holding on to and following His words in the apostolic and prophetic writings. This unity is publicly expressed in the joint confession and liturgical formulas, and at the same communion table: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph 2:19-21)

According to the Lord’s decree, the ministers of the church, by the word of God and prayer, sanctify the marriage of one man and one woman, reflecting the unity of Christ and his church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” (Eph 5:25-26).

The church has no power to change and expand the concept of marriage. The church has no power to give any blessing or ordination on its own. The church has no promise or word of the Lord to sanctify same-sex marriage. The church has no fellowship and unity to offer outside of Christ and his word. The decision of the Bishops’ Synod breaks the unity with all past Christian generations and also with a large part of Christendom. The decision of the Bishops’ Synod is not an expression of ecclesial unity but of sectarianism.

The reference in the Bishops’ Synod decision to “fostering unity” does not mean, in the strict sense of the word, spiritual-theological unity in the Triune God and his word of revelation, but sociological and organisational unity. This “unity”, despite its good motives, is a lie. It offers an illusory and false “unity” by promising lebensraum (living space) and opportunities for activities to those who oppose this change. But what is the price of this togetherness within the same organisation? This means to bow down to the recognition of, and therefore the de facto acceptance of, same-sex marriage as Christian marriage. It is therefore a lie to claim that the Church is genuinely left with two concepts, because everyone, in practice, is being led, in one way or another, to accept this new concept.

According to the bishops, coexistence is guaranteed in practice by the Orwellian concept of “respectful dialogue”. According to this decision, a respectful dialogue means the following: “Any questioning of the motives of the other party or stigmatisation as incorrect of the views of the other is not part of respectful discussion.” In English, this means that the model of respectful debate is tantamount to refusing to publicly condemn and reject an opposing view. Respectful discourse respects man more than God. It does not respect the discussants and their freedom, and least of all does it respect truth and its recognition. This straitjacket of respectful discourse only seeks to cover over a false “unity”. What will happen to anyone who does not respect these rules of the game and thus violates the safe space? Who determines when the rules of the game are upheld and when they are not? How does it fit within the idea of respectful discourse for someone to publicly teach that it is a sin and shame against God’s order of creation to live in gay relationships? Or what about when it is stated that pastors who attempt to bless such unions are in violation of the Second Commandment – and their pastoral vows, or that bishops who advocate for this are heretics?  Will those who speak out like this, perceived as troublemakers, not fall under efforts to silence them, either by the ecclesial working community or by the diocesan chapter? Therefore, more likely than not, many of those who support the view of marriage of Christendom will, for understandable reasons of self-protection, hold their tongues in the congregations. The safe space has become truly unsafe for those who hold to the traditional view of marriage. The space for respectful debate is ultimately left with only one voice echoing out along a rainbow.

3. The Bishops’ Conference also deceives homosexuals

The Synod of Bishops is correct in being concerned that those who are sexually attracted to the same sex also have their place in church and participate in God’s blessing. From this, however, some have wrongly concluded that denying the blessing of marriage is an obstacle to the Gospel and wounds not only individuals but also the church. Within this conceptualisation, the distinction between the individual and marriage is lost. As Christians, we are to pray for and bless those who, fragile and vulnerable in the midst of the brokenness of life, come before the face of God. We are called to invite all to find their identity as baptized children of God and to live according to the way pointed out by God’s commandments, confessing their sins and holding on to grace. But for same-sex couples, asking for blessing is not only about an individual, but also about a couple, that is, accepting their way of life and recognising it as marriage in accordance with God’s will. This the Bible does not promise but, on the contrary, warns against and calls away from (1 Cor 6:8, 19). Therefore, in approving same-sex marriage, the Synod of Bishops not only corrupts the ordinance and sanctity of marriage, but is silent, in regard to those in homosexual relationships, on the law of God and above all on the Gospel: the forgiveness of sins and the new life in Christ Jesus. The Bishops’ Synod thus has a “different gospel” (Gal 1:6), this one based on man’s own choice to exercise the gift of sexuality and its human and ecclesial acceptance.

So what should we make of this decision of the Synod of Bishops? It is only a proposal that will go to the General Church Synod to be decided upon. The result could be a long road of vote after vote. But what is clear is that those appointed to the office of shepherds of the Church have taught a lesson and pointed out a direction to the nation and to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Inevitably, the solemn words of Jesus come to mind: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matt 4:10) It is sad to say that in the decision of the Bishops’ Synod the voice of the Good Shepherd is not heard, but rather the voice of the wolves who do not spare the flock (Acts 20:29). This is not just a question of the details of canon law, or even of the Sixth Commandment and the teaching on marriage, but of the observance of the First Commandment to which our Saviour refers. “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods besides me.”

The Bible warns us all: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

This is a call for all of us to repent, to confess our sins and to hold on to the grace of Christ.

This is a call to guard our teaching and our lives on the basis of the Word of God.

This is a call to share Christ’s grace and love in our congregations to all without distinction.

This is an invitation for us in the Evangelical Lutheran Missionary Diocese of Finland to continue building a Lutheran alternative as an independent Church.

This is an invitation for us to honour marriage ourselves and to teach that we are not afraid of the wonderful gift of marriage.

This is a call to pray for our nation.

In Martin Luther’s “Order for Marriage”, we find these words at the beginning of the prayers:

“Lord God, you who created man and woman and ordained that they should marry, you who bless them by giving them the fruit of the womb and make marriage a reflection of your beloved Son Jesus Christ and the church, his bride, the mystery of the love between you, we beseech you that in your unfathomable goodness you would prevent this creation, this ordinance and this blessing of yours from being falsified and corrupted, and that in your mercy you would preserve it among us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” [from the Finnish translation]


Rev. Dr Juhana Pohjola, Bishop

Evangelical Lutheran Missionary Diocese of Finland

Juhana Pohjola

Bishop of the Mission Diocese