Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen entering Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court of Finland has today, 19 April 2024, granted the Prosecutor General’s Office leave to appeal in the criminal case of incitement against an ethnic group, the case commonly termed the “Bible trials”. This case concerns a pamphlet written by Päivi Räsänen and published by the Luther Foundation Finland entitled “Male and Female He created Them: Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity” from 2004 and Päivi Räsänen’s Tweet about the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’s participation in the Pride event of 2019. The accused are Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, MD, and the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. It is further demanded that the Luther Foundation Finland pay a corporate fine for the publication of the pamphlet. The Prosecutor General left off the portion of the appeal to the Supreme Court concerning Ruben Stiller’s radio programme.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola comments

The Supreme Court’s decision to grant leave to appeal did not surprise me, although I had hoped that the clear acquittals of both the District and Appeal Courts would have been enough to end a long and expensive legal process. For my part, I am of course prepared to continue the fight for freedom of expression and religion before the Supreme Court and, if necessary, subsequently before the European Court of Human Rights.

I am confident that the Supreme Court will also deliver an acquittal, which, as a precedent, may in future help to ensure that no one else in a State under the rule of law has to go through such an incomprehensible and cumbersome process. Everyone has the right to hear and to know for certain that the teaching about marriage between a man and a woman, about the Christian concept of humanity, and about sexual ethics based on the Bible and natural law is not hate speech or incitement against a group of people, even if some might find such offensive. Neither hatred nor discrimination can guide a Christian, but only Christ’s love and respect for every human being.

I want to thank you for all your support, encouragement and intercession. We can rest as we go forwards in God’s good grace and providence!

Jyrki Anttinen, legal adviser to the Luther Foundation Finland and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, states on the upcoming hearing

Today, as trial counsel for both Juhana Pohjola and the Luther Foundation Finland, I received requests from the Supreme Court for responses to the Prosecutor General’s appeal. Not surprisingly, this leave to appeal was granted on the question of “whether the defendants had committed incitement against an ethnic group”.

We will provide written answers within about a month. The process will therefore be in writing as there is surely no need for an oral hearing. Last year, the average time taken to deal with preliminary rulings in the Court was 16½ months.

We continue to proceed with confidence, as the Supreme Court has been strict in upholding the principles of legality of the criminal law, which is the matter now being challenged.

What is this about?

The prosecution’s view is that Päivi Räsänen’s writing “Male and Female He created Them: Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity”, the tweet about the Pride parade and the discussion on Ruben Stiller’s radio show constitute incitement against a group of people.

So far:

  • The police concluded in their investigation that the pamphlet does not violate the law.
  • Helsinki District Court dismissed the charge.
  • Helsinki Appeal Court upheld the decision of the District Court.
  • The Prosecutor General applied for leave to appeal to the Finnish Supreme Court regarding the pamphlet and the tweet. The Court of Appeal’s decision on the radio programme was therefore upheld.

The charges have attracted national and international attention, as they have been seen as a threat to freedom of expression and religion. The legality of the charges has also been questioned. After the District Court’s decision, Yleisradio [Finnish Broadcasting Corporation] published a news item: “The prosecutor placed words in Päivi Räsänen’s mouth that she had not uttered – Yle went through the erroneous allegations”[news article in Finnish. Translation: pdf]. In a later Yle news item, State Prosecutor Anu Mantila expressed her dissatisfaction with the verdict and said that it was the prosecutor’s duty to explain the meaning of Päivi Räsänen’s statements, i.e. how the statements should be interpreted objectively: “Prosecutor denies misrepresenting Päivi Räsänen’s statements – slams acquittal and explains differences in interpretation with a horse analogy” [News article in Finnish. Translation: pdf].

Sami Niemi

Secretary of the Diocese

Hämeenlinna ,

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

On Saturday, Corpus Christi campers enjoyed in winter weather together. Picture: Ugis Mezulis

The four-day Corpus Christi New Year’s Camp 2024 kicked off on Friday in Jyväskylä. Fifty-five campers have arrived at the Kiponniemi Activity Center, with about twenty coming from beyond the borders of Finland. In addition to Finland, participants have come from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, and the United States.

Anna Siekkinen is part of the organizing team. Picture: Pauliina Pylvänäinen

Since early autumn, a team has been preparing for the camp, having organized similar events a few times before. Pastor Mika Tervakangas is leading the team. Additionally, Anna Siekkinen, Joona Marttila, Jere Toikka, Hanna Erkkilä, and Mari Mattila have been involved in the arrangements. – The first thoughts about organizing this camp came immediately after the previous New Year’s camp in Loimaa at the beginning of the year. In July, at the Corpus Christi conference in Latvia, we told participants that such a camp was coming. Actual planning started in August-September, and at that time, Kiponniemi was chosen as the suitable camp location, says Anna Siekkinen from the camp’s organizing team.

“We walk by faith, not by sight”

Biblical lectures held by pastor Matias Kröger are an essential part of the camp. Picture: Pauliina Pylvänäinen

The theme of this camp is “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). In Friday’s Bible teachings, Pastor Matias Kröger spoke about the Israelites’ exodus and on Saturday, about Christ in the Old Testament. Otherwise, the program for the camp days consists of prayer moments, meals, and relaxed communal activities, not forgetting dish duties.

The camp day on New Year’s Eve is special for two reasons: in the morning, campers participate in the divine service held in Isaiah’s Lutheran Congregation in Jyväskylä. After the service, campers are going to have lunch in the city and explore local attractions. In the evening, they gather to welcome the new year together. The evening is a combination of more formal and informal programs: they dress in their best, and the camp meal is enjoyed more elegantly. The program includes singing and music performances, speeches, Corpus Christi’s traditional dances, and indulging in sweets brought from different countries. At midnight, fireworks are launched, and sparklers are lit.

Next summer in Wittenberg

Jordan Tomesch came to Kiponniemi from the United States. Picture: Pauliina Pylvänäinen

Jordan Tomesch has come to the camp from Atlanta, USA, but his roots are in Germany. A few years ago, during a visit there, he was recommended to participate in the Corpus Christi camp. Jordan was interested because similar activities are not organized for young adults in the United States. Jordan mentions that this is his eighth Corpus Christi camp. From Jyväskylä, Jordan’s journey continues to Berlin. There, he will meet relatives and plan the Corpus Christi conference to be held in Wittenberg next summer with the rest of the organizing team. – Next year’s conference will be great! It’s fantastic to gather in Wittenberg. The theme of the conference is “Body of Christ,” Jordan says and encourages interested individuals to sign up.


Text: Pauliina Pylvänäinen

Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola in the Court of Appeal

The Helsinki Court of Appeal today 14 November 23 issued a verdict in the case known as the “Bible trials”, in which Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, the Finnish Luther Foundation and the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (Yleisradio) were accused of incitement against a group of people. Although there was earlier a thorough acquittal by the Helsinki District Court, State Prosecutor Anu Mantila appealed that verdict. In its decision, the Court of Appeal decided to uphold the District Court’s acquittal as it stood, and mainly added a few paragraphs to the assessment of the intentionality of the act.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola commented on the decision.

– I am satisfied with the Court of Appeal’s acquittal. This was a victory not only for Päivi Räsänen, MP, and me, but for all Finns, because the issue of freedom of speech and religion is a common cause for all of us, despite our differences of opinion. At the same time, it must at this stage be stated that this process, which has lasted for more than four years, has certainly had a deterrent effect in restricting free discussion. How many people are truly afraid to publicly express a stance defending the concept of man and of marriage in accord with natural law and the Christian faith if they risk being accused of hate speech or even facing a ponderous legal process?

– I am grateful for all the support and prayer, both at home and abroad. I see that in the midst of all of this, God is good. We have been able to hold forth the central teachings of the Bible about the good gifts of creation, the seriousness of sin and the grace of Christ Jesus. While the basic teachings of Christianity are increasingly challenged and opposed in our time, we need not cower in fear and remain silent. We can continue to teach both the inalienable human dignity of every human being as God’s creation and the marital and familial life that God intended, as well as the new life brought by Christ in the midst of our human brokenness.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Jyrki Anttinen, legal adviser to the Luther Foundation Finland, also remarked on the decision.

– In its reasoning, the Court of Appeal drew attention to the intentionality of the incitement offence as the prosecutors had relied on it in support of their appeal. However, the Court of Appeal held – as did the District Court – that the statements in the indictments did not meet the criteria of Chapter 11, Section 10 of the Criminal Code, i.e. they were not unlawful.

The prosecution has until 15 January 2024 to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Finland.

What is at stake?

The prosecution’s case revolves around the prosecutor’s view that Päivi Räsänen’s booklet Male and Female He created them – Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity, a tweet about a Pride parade and a discussion on Ruben Stiller’s radio programme constitute incitement against an ethnic group. To date, the police concluded in a preliminary investigation that the pamphlet did not violate the law, and more recently the District Court came to the same conclusion. The Helsinki Court of Appeal dealt with the case, commonly referred to as the “Bible trials”, at the turn of August and September. For further news on the hearing, see our website:

The “Bible trials” continued on the Court of Appeal

Court of Appeal hearing completed

These charges have attracted national and international attention as they have been evaluated as endangering freedom of expression and religion. The legality of the charges has also been questioned. After the District Court’s decision, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (Yleisradio) published a news item: “The prosecutor put words into Päivi Räsänen’s mouth that she had not uttered – Yle goes through the erroneous allegations”. In a later Yle news item, State Prosecutor Anu Mantila expressed her dissatisfaction with the verdict and said that it was the prosecutor’s duty to explain the meaning of Päivi Räsänen’s statements, i.e. how the statements should actually be interpreted objectively.  The Prosecutor disputed having presented incorrect information on Päivi Räsänen’s statements – then proceeded to deprecate the acquittal and to explain the differences in interpretation with an analogy involving horses.

Sami Niemi

Secretary of the Diocese

Hämeenlinna ,

On Thursday, the Court of Appeal completed its examination of the written evidence.During its presentation, the prosecution did not introduce anything substantially new. The prosecution’s arguments are based on “objective interpretations” of what Päivi Räsänen has written and said. The defence, in turn, pointed to evidence to show what Päivi has said.

Friday started with the hearing of defendants. Member of parliament Päivi Räsänen was heard first, followed by bishop Juhana Pohjola. Unlike the district court hearing, this time the prosecution did not insist on questioning about the Bible and theology, but nothing new came up in the hearing. After the lunch break, the parties gave their closing statements.

In his closing statement, the prosecutor repeated her argument that Räsänen’s writings and statements were offensive and degrading or could be perceived as such and that the defendants should have understood this. The defence’s closing statement stressed the right, under the protection of freedom of speech and religion, to write and say things that someone might find offensive. Moral and religious concepts such as sin and shame offend people, that much is clear. However, using them in public discourse is not illegal. The content of the pamphlet, tweet and radio programme does not contain discriminatory content as alleged by the prosecutor. The defence also raised the issue that the charge regarding the pamphlet was retrospective, as it was first published on the internet in 2007 and written on a then current political topic as an educational booklet for parishioners. It is a religious communication by a Christian community to those within its sphere of activity and if the court were to accept the prosecutor’s interpretation, it would lead to the criminalisation of the preaching of the Gospel.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola commented on the trial on Friday after the Court of Appeal’s hearing:

I am grateful for all the support and encouragement that we have received in abundance, even in these days. Although I am confident that we will get an acquittal also in the Court of Appeal, the prosecutor’s accusations were worrying. The prosecutor emphasised how, despite religious freedom, it must be possible to restrict the teaching of the Bible in society if the teaching involves a violation of others’ fundamental rights. According to her interpretation, the teaching booklet “Man and Woman He Created Them” insults and degrades sexual minorities. It is sad that our emphasis on the dignity of every human being and on God’s indivisible love and grace in Christ was not heard. Booklet’s aim, in addition to teaching the creationist concept of family, has been to spread to all of us broken people in many ways, the merciful love of Christ.

The Court of Appeal will give its decision by November.

Sami Niemi

Secretary of the Diocese

Hämeenlinna ,

In late winter 2022, three judges of the Helsinki District Court dismissed the charges in a case commonly known as the “Bible Tribunals”. Led by State Prosecutor Anu Mantila, the prosecution appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. Now it is the turn of the three appeal court judges to hear the arguments of the prosecution and those of the defence and to make a decision on the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland.

What the trial is about

The prosecution argues that Päivi Räsänen’s writing Male and female He created them, her tweet about the Pride parade and her discussion on Ruben Stiller’s radio programme constitute incitement against a group of people. Thus far, the police concluded in a preliminary investigation that the booklet does not violate the law, and most recently the District Court reached the same conclusion.

The charges have attracted national and international attention as they have been assessed to endanger freedom of speech and religion. The legality of the charges has also been questioned. After the District Court’s decision, Yleisradio [Finnish Broadcasting Corporation] published a news item: “Prosecutor placed words into Päivi Räsänen’s mouth she had not said – YLE goes through the false allegations.” In a later YLE news item, State Prosecutor Anu Mantila expressed her dissatisfaction with the verdict, stating it was the Prosecutor’s duty to explain the meaning of Päivi Räsänen’s statements, i.e. how the statements should be interpreted objectively: “Prosecutor denies misrepresenting Päivi Räsänen’s statements – slams acquittal and explains differences in interpretation with a horse analogy.”

Demonstration for freedom of religion and freedom of speech

Despite the rainy weather, a large number of demonstrators had gathered in front of the Helsinki Court of Appeals early in the morning to defend freedom of speech and religion. Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola both stopped by to greet the demonstration and chat with those present.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola thanked the participants of the demonstration:
“You are giving faces and voices to the thousands and thousands of Finns whose prayers and thoughts are here with us. I am not exaggerating when I say that millions of Christians around the world are praying today for this trial. Thank you for giving your faces and voices here in this place.”

Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, greeted the demonstration by thanking for the support and recalling the words of the State Prosecutor in the District Court.
“I hope that the message of the Gospel can be heard. The state prosecutor in the district court said that my view is based on the international religious view “hate the sin and love the sinner”. I think that it went really deep into the heart of the Christian faith, because if you talk about sin, it is something that is between God and man. All of us humans are on the same level before God, because we are all equally sinners. We are all precious as we are created in the image of God. We are all in need of grace. I think that if this kind of thinking is denied, if it is denied that we are precious but sinful before God, in need of mercy, and that God loves the sinner, then the essence of Christianity is denied. That is why I find it absolutely impossible that the Court of Appeals could come to a decision that such teaching would be prohibited.”

Media present in large numbers

The Court of Appeals also had a large number of media representatives in front of it and, as in the case of the District Court, the Court of Appeals proceedings were also broadcast live on several news broadcasts. The case, which is exceptional both in Finland and in Europe, is of great interest not only to the media but also to international NGOs working on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Inside the Court of Appeals, reporters and NGO representatives interviewed Päivi Räsänen and Juhana Pohjola.

Court of Appeals proceedings

The Court of Appeal session began with the reading of the prosecutor’s appeal and the defendants’ replies. The prosecutor then wished to present principled points of view and legal sources before presenting the case, which is a departure from the normal order of the trial. In practice, the prosecutor made a presentation similar to a closing statement. The grounds for the presentation were essentially the same as in the district court, based on what the prosecutor called an “objective interpretation” of what Päivi Räsänen had said and written and what she had meant by them.

Päivi Räsänen’s legal counsel Matti Sankamo began his own presentation of the case by questioning the prosecutor’s chosen way of opening with a closing statement-type presentation and directly stating that the interpretations presented by the prosecutor were incorrect, even false. The defence’s case presented the factual content of the pamphlet, the tweet and the radio programme and clearly demonstrated how the prosecution’s interpretations were incorrect.

Jyrki Anttinen, legal counsel to Bishop Juhana Pohjola and the Luther Foundation of Finland, pointed out in the presentation of the case that the prosecution had violated the principle of criminal legality. The prosecution has not brought forward the time of the commission of the act in the required manner and the prosecution has used the general and guiding principles of the Constitution in an incorrect manner to extend the precise definitions of the Criminal Code.

After the lunch break the hearing will continue with examination of the evidence and personal testimonies. Closing arguments will be presented on Friday.

Sami Niemi

Secretary of the Diocese

Hämeenlinna ,

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Päivi Räsänen, MP, at the Helsinki District Court hearings

The Appellate Court date for the “Bible tribunals” has been moved

The prosecution brought by the State Prosecutor against Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, the Finnish Luther Foundation, as well as the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (Yle) is moving on to the next stage. In this trial, commonly known as “the Bible tribunals”, the Helsinki District Court rejected the charges in its thorough decision of 30 March 2022. However, the Prosecutor appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. At the Prosecutor’s request, the hearing at the Court of Appeals scheduled for next week was postponed by a week. The Helsinki Court of Appeals will handle the matter in courtroom number 1 on Thursday, August 31 and in courtroom number 3 on Friday, September 1.

We invite all parishioners and other readers of this news article to pray for the hearing at the Court of Appeals. May God’s will be done in our society.

What the trial is about

The prosecution argues that Päivi Räsänen’s writing Male and female He created them, her tweet about the Pride parade and her discussion on Ruben Stiller’s radio programme constitute incitement against a group of people. Thus far, the police concluded in a preliminary investigation that the booklet does not violate the law, and most recently the District Court reached the same conclusion.

The charges have attracted national and international attention as they have been assessed to endanger freedom of speech and religion. The legality of the charges has also been questioned. After the District Court’s decision, Yleisradio [Finnish Broadcasting Corporation] published a news item: “Prosecutor placed words into Päivi Räsänen’s mouth she had not said – YLE goes through the false allegations.” In a later YLE news item, State Prosecutor Anu Mantila expressed her dissatisfaction with the verdict, stating it was the Prosecutor’s duty to explain the meaning of Päivi Räsänen’s statements, i.e. how the statements should be interpreted objectively: “Prosecutor denies misrepresenting Päivi Räsänen’s statements – slams acquittal and explains differences in interpretation with a horse analogy.”

International support remains strong

The international attention the case has received is considerable and it is expected that during the Court of Appeals hearing, the domestic media outlets will be joined by international news agencies in releasing notes on the matter. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are still widely important issues in Western countries.

As part of the attention the case has received, the International Lutheran Council ILC has republished its statement of support for Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, which it published after the District Court’s processing. The ILC is a joint organization of dozens of confessional Lutheran churches, of which the Mission Diocese is also a member. The statement of support has also been separately signed by the leadership of the Mission Diocese’s sister church, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, LCMS. The statement of support can be read in English from the attached pdf file: An Update and Reaffirmation–A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland – English – LCMS ILC 20230720 or you can read it below:

An Update and Reaffirmation: “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland:

An International Lutheran Condemnation of the Unjust Criminal Prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, and a Call for All People of Good Will to Support the Freedom of Religious Expression in Finland”

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). In this short sentence, Christ Jesus teaches His followers to honor and obey two different authorities, each in its proper sphere. Give to Caesar (government) what is rightfully his: honor and obedience regarding external matters such as taxes, laws that protect the body and punish evil, and earthly justice. And give to God what is rightfully His: honor and obedience regarding internal matters such as baptism into Christ, a clean conscience through forgiveness, speech that praises God and witnesses to others, love that shows mercy, and hope that looks to God. But where the government trespasses into God’s sphere of internals, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; see also Augsburg Confession XVI, XXVIII).

Outrageous government trespass has again occurred. In a pamphlet written in 2004, the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish member of parliament, expressed their deeply held, historically Christian beliefs on male-female marriage and human sexuality, emphasizing God’s good creation and the inherent dignity of all people. In 2021 (!), the Prosecutor General of Finland saw this as “hate speech” toward those with a different sexual orientation and brought charges. In 2022, the Helsinki District Court issued a unanimous, clear, and total acquittal adding that “it is not for the court to interpret Biblical concepts.” Unfazed, the prosecutors appealed the acquittal (allowed under Finnish law) and won a second trial to convict Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen of “hate speech.” This trial will be held August 22–24, 2023, at the Helsinki Court of Appeals. This represents nothing less than a yearslong relentless attack against free speech, religious expression, personal moral integrity, and

limited government’s proper sphere of jurisdiction as articulated in the Constitution of Finland, the European Convention on Human Rights (articles 9, 10), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 18, 19).

We reaffirm the comprehensive June 25, 2021 International Lutheran Council statement, “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland: An International Lutheran Condemnation of the Unjust Criminal Prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, and a Call for All People of Good Will to Support the Freedom of Religious Expression in Finland,” signed by 48 ecclesial leaders and 45 church bodies and associations, but representing the moral commitments of hundreds of millions worldwide. The full text is available for study at

We call on all people of good will to condemn this unconscionable prosecution, to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, and to pray for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and their acquittal. When we compromise on freedom for just one or two, we ultimately place freedom at risk for all.

Subscribed July 20, 2023, the Commemoration of Elijah, the Prophet:

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Rev. Dr. Jonathan E. Shaw
Director of Church Relations
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Rev. Dr. Timothy C. J. Quill
General Secretary
International Lutheran Council

Sami Niemi

Secretary of the Diocese

Hämeenlinna ,

Procession of the cross before the celebration of the festive Mass. Photo by Juho Pylvänäinen

The third and final day of the Missionary Diocese’s Summer Festival at Loimaa Evangelical College began. The most important moment of the week came when the celebrants gathered for a joint Divine Service. The large tent was filled with participants of all ages from all over the country. Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dean of the Diocese Joel Kerosuo were the liturgists for the celebration. The sermon was delivered by Bishop Emeritus Risto Soramies. The music for the Mass was provided by a music team led by Miikkael Halonen, consisting of a choir and an orchestra.

The choir and orchestra began the mass with the Hymn of Atonement. Photo by Juho Pylvänäinen

As in the congregations of the Mission Diocese and in previous Summer Festivals, the Mass began with a solemn procession of the cross with the congregation standing. During the procession, the choir and instrumental group performed a solemn and devotional Hymn of the Atonement. This hymn was composed and arranged by the Rev. Harri Lammi, who is also known as the operational director of the Summer Festival. This was the first time the hymn was heard at the Summer Festival.

The Gospel of Christ is the greatest loaf of bread

Bishop Risto Soramies preached at the celebratory Mass. Photo by Juho Pylvänäinen

Bishop Emeritus Risto Soramies delivered the sermon at the celebratory Mass. This was the 10th Sunday in Pentecost, so the Gospel for the day was the Parable of the Servants entrusted by the master with talents, Matthew 25.

In his sermon, Bishop Soramies said that the word does not refer to our talents or qualities, although the term “talent” is well established in many languages, and then it refers to a natural gift, aptitude or ability. “Talent” refers to all that we have received as a gift from God, the whole of life. It is the vocation we have been put here to fulfill, Bishop Soramies taught.

In the sermon, the Bishop addressed the audience, who are in different situations in life, about taking care of their vocations linked to their life situations. In particular, the Bishop encouraged all listeners to faithfully care for their own vocations. In the Gospel for the day, the third servant did things in a different way from the others, since he did not try to make a profit with his talent, but buried it in the ground. According to Bishop Soramies, this means that he not only did not do too little, but he did not do anything at all. Therefore, we Christians should not neglect our vocations that God has given us.

In his sermon, Bishop Risto equipped people in different life situations to live their own vocations. Photo by Juho Pylvänäinen

But the real talent, according to Bishop Risto, is the most Holy Gospel of Christ. “Every Christian has enough of the Gospel at his disposal, and more than enough. He is called to use it in abundance. He who considers himself but a little sinner needs but little of the gospel – one talent, perhaps. Another needs two talents, and a third needs five. The main thing is that each one uses it enough,” stated Bishop Soramies. Remember the gift of this talent, especially when, in the exercise of your vocation, you are confronted with your own sins. “Remember the talent you have received, the treasure that Jesus Himself gave you at your baptism: the most Holy Gospel of what Jesus Christ has done for you. Remember Jesus Christ, the Bishop urged.

After the sermon, the service of Holy Communion began. The celebration ended with the dignified Lutheran hymn 895 “O Canaan land” and the orchestra and choir presenting “Almighty Lord, how wonderful is your name”.

In the afternoon, the closing festivities of the summer festival

The summer festival continued through Sunday afternoon. Lunch was served after the Mass. In the afternoon, there were closing festivities under the theme “With the Word, sailing against the wind”. The speakers included Bishop Emeritus Matti Väisänen, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, Mission Diocese pastors Sakari Korpinen and Ilkka Pöyry, and the Rev Tapani Simojoki, who serves as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England.

You can see a recording of the celebration here. You can watch the closing event here.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola giving policy speech

Focus on Road Signs – the Third Generation Missionary Diocese

Summer Festival

Loimaa 5 August 2023

Bishop Juhana Pohjola

“You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favour her; the appointed time has come.” (Psalm 102:14). These words of the Psalm were in mind when the representatives of twenty-five congregations solemnly signed the Charter in Lahti on 16 March 2013. The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese was born. The moment was not one of defiance but rather of gratitude: The moment of the Lord’s mercy had arrived. We are now celebrating the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Mission Diocese. This milestone was preceded by decades of preparation assembling a confessional front within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. The fruit of this work was the Luther Foundation Finland, which was established in 1999 and has had a supporting membership in the Swedish Mission Province since 2004 and membership from 2009. In March 2010, Matti Väisänen was ordained in a memorable mass in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Helsinki as Bishop of the Swedish and Finnish Mission Province to serve in Finland. The Mission Diocese then continued this work independently under the leadership of Bishop Risto Soramies, who was elected at the inaugural meeting in Lahti.

A generation is defined as a time span of about 30 years. When we look at recent church history here in Finland, we see how in the 1970s, and moving across the boundaries of the traditional “revival movements” and even of the local congregations, the Holy Spirit was calling us to the Word of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. This could be called the first generation of the confessional front. It confronted the radicalism that began within the national church in the 1960s [translator’s note: The national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, had a membership of approximately 92% of the population at that time. The Scandinavian Churches are “national churches”.]. This manifested itself in biblical criticism, a submission of the national church to the values of the surrounding society, and pressure to open the apostolic ministry to women contrary to the Lord’s command. Within the infrastructure of the national church, the first generation’s vision was that the church should remain a church faithful to its confessional foundation. The work of the confessional front led to the creation of the Pauline Synod [association] (1976) and the Finnish Theological Institute (1987). Many of the fathers and mothers of the first generation have already joined the rejoicing church.

In the spring of 1998, I first exchanged emails about the establishment of the Luther Foundation with the late Anssi Simojoki. He had discussed the matter with Simo Kiviranta and Sakari Korpinen. The Luther Foundation’s vision of “worshipping communities” was new in church history. This could be termed the second-generation push. The Luther Foundation gathered people from across the divisions between the revival movements from all over Finland. The mainstream, however, continued in the old revival movements, but gradually these worshipping communities were constructed. The second-generation confessional front no longer had access to national church premises, budgets or its office of the ministry. Nonetheless, within the national church we walked the long path of confessing the Seven Marks of the Church: the Word of God; Holy Baptism; the Sacrament of the Altar; the Office of the Keys; the Office of the Ministry; public prayer, praise and thanksgiving to God: and the Sacred Cross. In practice, our pathway within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland came to its conclusion. As a result of the organisation of the Mission Diocese, a number of our pastors ordained in the national church were defrocked and, by decision of the Bishops’ Conference, denied church facilities and membership in the pastoral collegium. We have travelled the journey from a confessional organisation within the national church to having become an independent Lutheran Church in Finland.

In the work of the Luther Foundation and the Missionary Diocese, we will soon have been building together for a generation. What better proof of that than these children, youth and young adults swarming around the festival grounds! We walk, of course, along the longer continuum of the Church in apostolic teaching, in the long train of believers, in worship life and ministry, all the way to the manger of Christ and even the empty tomb. As we in thanksgiving celebrate our tenth anniversary, we remember the generations who laid the foundations of our work, while acknowledging that we are living at a milestone of generational change. Some of those who are here have witnessed with their own eyes two generations of work and change. Others have joined in more recently. The young people are already asking what the third generational spiritual sphere and the Mission Diocese will be like. The important thing is that wherever each of us is on this pathway, we journey with patience, appreciation for each other, in fellowship, all at the same table of grace. Neither in haste nor holding back, but actually walking together!

What is our response as a Church to the question of a third generation mission diocese? The same answer that Peter gave to Jesus in Galilee: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. And Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’ ” (John 6:66-69)

1. The great retreat from the Christian tradition and faith

We in the West are witnessing a historic retreat from the Christian tradition. This is not just a question of institutional religiosity with its national and well-established Churches losing their positions in the face of secularism and individualism. We are reaching the point where the majority churches are imploding into a minority. In England in 2011 60% considered themselves Christian, now 42%. In 1972, 92% of the population belonged to the Church of Sweden, last year 52%. In Finland, where in the 1970s over 90% belonged to the Lutheran national church, now only 65% pay church taxes [The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland receives church tax from persons who are members and all legal bodies.]. These curves are rapidly descending. In 2010, 79% of children were baptised; in 2021, the figure was only 54%. The figures for those attending church range from the low digits to the tenths of a percent. We are devolving from being a Christianised homeland, through becoming a secularised welfare society, to arriving at a multicultural and pagan Finland-Finlandia.

As the blue cross on our national flag fades away, the white base colour begins to be filled not only with irreligiosity, but also with neospirituality and, as a result of immigration, with other religions, but then also with multi-faceted Christian traditions. New opportunities are opening up for congregations, which we have already experienced in our work with immigrants. It is difficult to foresee the outcomes of historical change. One clear consequence, however, is a change in the status of professing Christians. The Mission Diocese lives on a mission field. First, as a minority, we have to learn to encounter people who think and live very differently in regard to the Gospel, where the common Christian value base has broken down. How do we preserve our faith without ghettoisation? How do we maintain an interface with our surroundings without being sucked into the societal mainstream? How do we pass on the heritage of faith in our homes? Secondly, we have to see that the image of Christians has largely become negative. At least until the 1980s, Christians were generally regarded as perhaps old-fashioned, but as citizens who represented the backbone of the nation. At the turn of the millennium, Christian truth claims were questioned, but allowed to stand as viewpoints among other perspectives. Today, Christian beliefs and Christians themselves can increasingly be seen as a threat to the common good.

I think that our ongoing case in the Court of Appeals this autumn with Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, makes this quite concrete. As recently as the 1980s, the mainstream would have accepted the basic guidelines of the pamphlet “Male and female He created them”. In 2004, the pamphlet was a criticised but nonetheless accepted as a defence of the Christian view of mankind and of marriage. From 2019 onwards, it is widely regarded as hate speech against sexual minorities. So what are Christians now hearing ever more stridently? This workplace, this company, this educational institution, this media outlet, these rental premises, this family will abide with no hate or discrimination! Get those things out of here! Of course, in our polarised times, there is real discrimination and hatred, and we also want to get rid of those. But in the midst of ideological intolerance and allergy to the Bible, it is worth asking what will replace it when the Christian tradition is abandoned. It is precisely those who cry out against Christians in favour of non-discrimination and equality who forget that these values are not built on the ideas of the French Revolution, the UN declarations, not to mention the ideas of the philosophers of Neo-Marxism, but rather on the conception and value of man as the image of God as revealed in the Bible.

The great retreat also touches upon faith itself and the Churches. The words of Jesus resound over all of Christendom as a great question: Do you also want to go away? Do you also want to go away, and adapt your message and your Church to the spirit of the times? I do not want to paint before you images of horror, but I cannot remain silent about the great deception taking place before our eyes all over the world. This is not, in essence, a cultural revolution, an ideology or about sexual ethics, but it is a spiritual issue and a battle of spiritual powers: Who is God? Who is man? What is the Gospel? We can give this spiritual apostasy different names. For example, we can take from the pages of church history the title neo-Gnosticism. With this new knowledge, the gnosis, a new language, a new conception of reality, a new moral yardstick, people are then divided into groups, reactionary and progressive. This is a perversion of God’s good order of creation, His will of revelation and His saving gospel.

Drunk on their own progressiveness, the wealthy churches of the West are pushing this, even as the the pews of cathedrals are filled with emptiness – and soon their coffers too. Church after Church is divided over the rainbow flag. The latest example is the division of a large Methodist Church  body in the United States this spring. A deep rift in the Anglican world was exposed in April in Rwanda when the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans decided to establish new alternative dioceses for homeless members in Europe. The meeting called on the Church of England and its Archbishop of Canterbury to repent of its rainbow policies, which are not only contrary to the order of creation but jeopardise human salvation (1 Corinthians 6:9). In Germany, the Bishops’ Conference of the Roman Catholic Church is promoting same-sex marriage and gender ideology right under the Pope’s nose. The Lutheran World Federation promotes a rainbow agenda in its member churches, while the member churches of the smaller but growing International Lutheran Council adhere to both natural law and biblical revelation. The same cultural pressure is spreading to Eastern Europe, where the Orthodox world is once again paralysed, but for another reason. The Patriarch of Moscow rightly rejects the gender movement that has enraptured the West, but falls into yet another ditch: blind nationalist power struggles and the preservation of the Church’s temporal interests in alliance with a state power that tramples on human dignity and fundamental rights. This is another danger Christians face when societies become politically polarised. If Israel flees from a corrupt Babylon and relies rather on the power of Egypt than the arm of the Lord, she will suffer!

In this shifting of the spiritual continental tectonic plates, we must observe a great spiritual division in Finland. We belong to those minorities who adhere to classical Christianity and who seek practical answers: “Lord, to whom shall we go when the world around us and the Churches have become fully estranged from your hand?”

We in the Mission Diocese are not indifferent to the developments within the Christian sphere in our country.  Because for us it has never been just about the Mission Diocese, but about how to preserve our holy faith and the Lutheran congregations as broadly as possible for the next generations. This issue is how as many as possible can be saved in this country too! Thank God, we by no means labour alone in this work! I know that there are still many in the national church who are quietly doing valuable work, albeit being under constant pressure to conform. Our calling is to seek communion on the basis of the Lutheran Confessions wherever we can. What a joy it has been to build a relationship with a 100-year-old Lutheran Church here in Finland, the Lutheran Alliance of Congregations. God willing, this communion of faith and doctrine will be formally recognized in the coming year. Beyond that, let our dialogue continue with those revival movements that still seek to be faithful to the Bible within the national church.

Cultural change and pressure from the national church are also visible in these movements, that is, by pulling them closer together. Lauri Vartiainen, Executive Director of the Finnish Bible College, said in the spring: “If the trend continues like this, the Finnish revival movements will scarcely be in the national church in after ten years.” Even if this would not be the goal of the movements, in both the national church and the movements themselves, the changes are rapid. On the one hand, the arena where activities can take place is becoming more cramped: the doors of the national church are being closed, pastors are not being ordained, the spigot of mission funds coming from the national church congregations is being shut off, and then, as well, theological divisions are growing. On the other hand, according to Vartiainen, the “divine service communities” [still not congregations, but providing the Mass] are the only growing form of activity in the revival movements. In an accelerating wave, a significant proportion of people have already left the national church in protest over its direction or because it is spiritually irrelevant to them. Thus, leaving the national church is not based on a collective decision of revival movement leaders from above, but a gradual process occurring at the grassroots level. This is not a massive march out, but a steady erosion. Young adults do not experience the same kind of connectivity with the national church as do previous generations. The problem is that a growing number of young Christians live without any church membership, although they may attend meetings of various organisations. Despite its valuable heritage, the old revival movement model simply no longer fully responds to the altered circumstances and the needs of the third generation. Actually, a situation in Christianity where the people are not church members and not congregation members as well is not in accord with the New Testament or, thus, the Lutheran Confessions. Jesus promised and intended for a better situation to prevail!

What does this mean for us? Thanks be to God, despite all our weaknesses and shortcomings, we have congregations and a church to live in, to be members of and to be a place to invite others. Hopefully, in this way we can also set an encouraging example that congregations are essential to the life of faith, that they can grow and that as a church we can live apart from the confines of the national church. Our third generation will build our future church without a constant, consuming internal struggle over the directions of the national church. With the third generation, the last ties to the national church, where many of our people have a dual membership, will in time be severed. Whether it makes sense for us in the future to register as a “religious community” [the term for an official registered church body in Finnish] is an open question. Under God’s leading, here, too, we will together find a solution. I hope that at some point in the future the possibility will also open up for an informed relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, despite our major differences. Increasingly, the frame of reference for the third generation is global and confessional Lutheranism with the member churches of the International Lutheran Council, just as many young adults and university students experienced in practice this summer at the international Corpus Christi event.

If the Finnish revival movements are not satisfied with an abridged core of the gospel and do not just seek a living space in a multi-faith rainbow church, them they will truly find their answers in congregational-type divine service communities. Then they will have a need for ordinations and spiritual shepherding, and an economically, theologically and functionally independent relationship with the national church. In such a situation, will the revival movements and the Mission Diocese not have more opportunities in the future to find common ground? Young adults, is this not a common vision and prayer challenge for the third generation!

2. In the bodily presence of Christ

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) Peter looks sideways along the shores of Galilee. To his left the excited faces in the crowd are twisted into a grimace of disappointment. On the right, there is confusion at the offensive words about the eating of Jesus’ body. This then turns to a sorrowful uncertainty. One by one, the crowd turn their backs and walk away. At Jesus’ question the enthusiasm of the large crowd shrinks to a small remnant: “Do you also want to go away!?”

Did you notice? Jesus stops, takes his time and asks. He doesn’t blame people or force them: “Surely after all you have received, you will stay with me. You should understand, shouldn’t you?” No, He doesn’t do that. He asks a question. “Why?” Because you can only be with Him out of freedom, not compulsion. Jesus does not force anyone to stay with him. Jesus asks because he wants his disciples to internalise for themselves the meaning and cost of following him. Jesus wants to listen to what the disciples timidly have to say. Only in freedom can there be a personal conviction that can weather the storms. It is in this space of freedom without coercion that we too live. If Jesus asks, listens and discusses, can we not do the same? This is highlighted in our homes as our young people live in the growing tension between the tradition of faith in the home and the surrounding world of school and media. This is reflected in the reality that the third generation faces. After all, our Church represents a minority culture that is alien and downright frightening to many. For people to have the opportunity to come and find their place, they must have the time, space and safety to question and to explore.

As a Church, we remain united when we discuss together. And in order to discuss together, we need time in our congregations together. This is true in our families and in the family of God! For our part, let us each nurture this discussion!

What does Peter say?  “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Lord, to whom shall we go when we can no longer go to Mass in our home parish? To whom shall we go when we want to live and rear our children in our congregations? When I want to bring my friends to you? When my own heart is empty and in place of false slogans I thirst for the truth?

Where will we go? “You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God!” What was the motto recorded at the founding of the Mission Diocese? It is found on our coat of arms. Scriptura sacra ius nostrum divinum: Scripture is our divine right. What other could this motto mean than Peter’s confession: “You have the words of eternal life” We hold fast to the promises of Your word because in those words we hear Your voice. No one has the right to abridge them or take them away from us! Your words do not only tell of the Most High. Your words are not impulses to mercy, nor cushions for safe spaces. Your words are not a swamp dragging us down to drown in ambiguity. Your holy, clear and sure words reveal my shocking blindness and my state of damnation, but yet they bestow upon me eternal life! We believe and we understand that in and through them You, the Most Holy God, speak and act.

You, Jesus, are the Holy One of God. Yours is the Holy Bible in its entirety. Yours is Holy Baptism. Yours is Holy Communion. Yours is the Holy Mass. Yours is the Pastoral Office. Yours is the Holy Christian Church. In these are the words of eternal life for our souls and our bodies. This is what Peter’s confession means. This is the confession of our fathers and mothers and it is ours too. May the Lord grant that it will also be the confession of future generations!

We still want to hold on to these holy gifts of eternal life. What can we take away from them, what can we add to them! This is not a matter of preserving the heritage of the fathers, nor narrow-mindedly staring into the rearview mirror. No, this is living in Christ.

So we are not programmatically fighting a culture war or dismantling the national church, but confessing Jesus. We have been positioned in this time to confront, as Christians, the issues at the crest of the wave. We find the answers in the natural law, in the Bible and its Lord. It is important to see that in bringing salvation, Jesus also affirms and redeems the order and the value of creation. We acknowledge that Jesus, the true God, is the true man with a body and soul that cannot and must not be rendered asunder, even if the whole world prefers the emotional feelings of their own mind over the biological facts of sex. We confess with the angel’s testimony to Mary that “the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Therefore, every human life is unique and precious. Life already begins in the womb and it must not be forcibly terminated. We confess Jesus, Who, in great pain, cried out on the cross, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), even if the forces in our country would push for the so-called right to euthanasia and to choose one’s own death. We acknowledge that the Christian church is the bride of Christ. Paul writes of marriage, “This mystery is profound,  and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) Therefore, marriage is and remains a union of one man and one woman as a security for each other and for their children. It is to this incarnate Christ, to this incarnate faith and church body that we anchor ourselves! To acknowledge this gift of the body, to see the gift of life and the value of one’s own body, to rejoice in the gift of sex, to give oneself to God unmarried, to dare to marry and have children… All of this we encourage. This is the positive response of the third generation, whose counter-culturalism shines ever brighter.

Those who turn their backs on these life-giving and life-protecting truths turn their backs on Jesus. You cannot serve two masters! And at the same time we confess that the issue in this broken world is not just doctrines, but tangible, confused, wounded and truly distressed people around us. Lord, give us the grace to speak with your voice and look with your gentle eyes on each of those closest to us without distinction! Look to us who, in the brokenness of life, find ourselves or our loved ones at a loss over these matters. Lord to whom shall we go, for only You have unconditional mercy and unending love! Lord, have mercy on us all!

3. Boldly relying on the word of Christ

I recently learned an old Finnish word that was used for the then new product we now know as perfume [in current Finnish: hajuvesi, literally: scented water]. What do you think of the word sulolemu [literally in English: a sweet stench]?  Wouldn’t men love to give their wives an expensive bottle of that “sweet stench” stuff next Christmas! I don’t know how eager the ladies would be to spread that particular “sweet stench” around them! But Christians are like this: some wrinkle their noses at the stench, others smell of heaven. What does Paul write? “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor 2:15-17) Young people, the youth before me, may you be the generation of the “sweet stench”!

In the ten-year long journey of the Mission Diocese, we have already encountered many difficult situations and questions. But we have never had to think about one specific topic. Do we have room to live in? Is there still room for our activities? We have lived in a spacious place! (Ps 18:19)  We have had as much space as the whole of Finland, not to mention foreign missions! The only limitations have been found in ourselves and in our calendars. These things also apply to the third generation. The field is open! There is room! There is abundant grace! The Holy Spirit equips us! Even today, heaven is open to all! In 13 years we grew from one congregation to 25, and in the next 10 years from 25 to 42 congregations. Ask the Lord for even more! As our activities are based on, no, they depend only on, the eternal life of Christ, we will always have room for operations. But there is always a price to pay for confessing Jesus, and that is where we are tested in our daily lives. But even if He takes you into a narrow place, he makes it wide open, spacious. For who would have the power to drive our Lord into a corner or to deprive him of possibilities for action? That is why shutting up, retreating and complaining are not options for us.

At the time the charges for the crime of agitation against an ethnic group were brought against me in the District Court, I came across an article about the Greek word parrhesia. It means to tell the truth openly, publicly and boldly, particularly when it differs from the majority opinion. The author pointed out that in a world of increasing censorship and speech police, the Church is by its very nature a movement for freedom of expression. The book of Acts tells how Peter and John were arrested by the chief priests. They took them to court and forbade them to speak. Do you remember what the apostles upon being sprung from prison prayed with the church? When they were told to be silent. When they were seen as a threat to the common good. When it seemed that the road for the spreading of the church was completely blocked off. Did they pray, “Lord, give us a little cubbyhole to retreat to in peace? Lord, spare us from trouble. Lord give us justice and opportunities for activities.” They well may have prayed all those things. But what did Peter and the church ask: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness.” (Acts 4:29) Lord, give us parrhesia, grant us with all boldness to speak your word. For, Lord, you alone have the words of eternal life. Only in Your word do we have the Holy Spirit, our Advocate. Only by Your word can we live, die and stand at judgment!

Dear friends here at this summer festival – and the third generation of the Mission Diocese: with all boldness as a Church, let us proclaim the word of the Lord in this time and in this land! With all boldness let us live by the grace of Christ. With all courage and resilience, let us build congregations to be homes for ourselves, for the next generation, for those who are seeking and those who are not yet seeking. With all courage, let us also dare to reach out and listen to those who think differently than we do about faith and life. This is what I pray for our Church as the third generation matures and takes responsibility for our congregations. This courage does not just mean shouting on social media or making loud statements in the workplace, but above all it means we become so weak that we cannot live without the words of Christ’s life. We have different callings, but all of us share the same promise of Hebrews which Simo Kiviranta, the founding father of the Luther Foundation, chose as the text of his own death announcement: “We have confidence / full rights / courage / parrhesia to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” (Heb 10:19) The right and courage given by the atoning blood of Jesus carries us through!

I watched a documentary about Nicholas Winton. Who was he? He was an English businessman who went on holiday to visit a friend in Prague in December 1938. Surprisingly, he ended up running a project especially to take Jewish children to safety from before the approaching Nazi army. The only problem was that in order to get a child out of Prague by train, he or she had to have a foster home in England. So, Winton photographed the children and presented the catalogue of photos in the English papers: Would anyone want to take one of these children into their home? Those who were chosen were offered a place on a train. A cross was drawn over the picture of these children in the file. The parents of each child marked with a cross put them on a train at the Prague station, leaving them, fully knowing they would surely never see them again. Of the thousands of children, only 669 reached safety before the war spread to Poland and all the borders were closed in September 1939. Of the Jewish children who remained in Prague, only a handful survived the horrors of the Holocaust.

Even today we see heart-rendering images of children fleeing war and war orphans in both Russia and Ukraine. This time and chain of events is not so far away from us either. My own father, with a name tag around his neck, was transported to Sweden as a war child to escape the bombing and threat of occupation in Helsinki. Outwardly, he was safe, but internally he was sorely separated from his parents. And on top of everything he was placed in a different family from his brother. Watching this documentary myself, I was left wondering how people would have reacted to my picture in a newspaper. Would I have been accepted into a home or would I have had to say: Do you want to go away too?

Dear friends, our greatest challenge is not how this culture around us will become more negative or how churches will be divided in the midst of deception. No, ultimately our main question is this: Jesus, do you want to go away from all of this! Will you withdraw from me after seeing everything about me and my life? But what does Jesus say to you? With what does he assure you today? I will not withdraw. I do not want to leave you. I will not leave you. I have marked you with my cross. I have marked you with the sign of my cross. You are my baptised child. You belong to my church family. Friend, do you hear: there is not one orphan, not one abandoned, not one forgotten, but all are children of the Heavenly Father’s mercy! You are a beloved child of the Father!

This is our security and hope, this is the certainty and spaciousness which past generations and future generations have to live by. It is by this that the Mission Diocese lives as part of Christ’s worldwide church. To this communion of grace we invite others.

Thank you Lord Jesus, you Holy One of God, you are my life and my eternity!

You can watch the lecture in the YouTube window below.

Juhana Pohjola

Bishop of the Mission Diocese

The 68th Conventionof the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), a confessional Lutheran church in America, was held 29 July – 3 August 2023, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In their meeting every three years, the Convention elects persons to leadership and stewardship positions in the Church and decides on the common affairs of the Church. The canonical hours, Bible studies and catechetical moments punctuated the intense days of the meeting. The overall theme of this year’s meeting was: “We proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:18-25). Nearly 3,000 Convention delegates, expert members, volunteers and invited guests gathered in the conference center. Over forty international guests from sister churches of the LCMS were invited to attend.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Missouri Synod President Matthew C. Harrison after the affirmation of ecclesial fellowship. Photo by LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford


Strengthening ecclesial fellowship

The agenda of the meeting included the strengthening of the ecclesial relationship with the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese. On Sunday 30 July, by a unanimous vote, the delegates approved the ecclesial fellowship agreement signed by President Matthew Harrison in 2020. Following the decision, the thousand-strong assembly stood and sang a Doxology to God. In his speech, Bishop Juhana Pohjola stressed how the mutual recognition of ecclesial communion is a good gift from God:
What a gift it is to proclaim Christ crucified together and to come together in faith to the same communion table. What a gift it is to support one another in prayer in the work of the Gospel and in the midst of difficulties. What a gift that we are sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus!

The Council also recognized ecclesial fellowship with Lutheran churches in South Sudan, Uganda, Ukraine and Sri Lanka.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola speaks at the Missouri Synod Assembly on 1 August 2023. Photo: LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

Intercession and encouragement

Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, and Bishop Juhana had been asked to tell the Convention about their court case concerning freedom of speech and religion. They were invited to share their first-hand experience and thoughts on the case. The encouragement and support in the convention hall was moving. The judicial process has generated a lot of interest and compassion, which is reflected in the many requests for interviews and hallway discussions. Many LCMS congregations have prayed for the case and for the Missionary Diocese.

Bishop Juhana was also invited to give one of the keynote lectures on the theme of the conference, We proclaim Christ – the redemption of the world.

Further reading:
Missouri Synod Convention pages
News of the establishment of ecclesial fellowship with the Missouri Synod at the 2020 Diocesan Assembly of the Diocese of the Missionary Diocese

Sami Niemi

Secretary of the Diocese

Hämeenlinna ,