Tervehdys Englannin kirkolliskokouksessa Yorkissa 7.7.2017
On behalf of the ecumenical guests, let me express our gratitude for your kind invitation to take part in this session of the General Synod. We are thankful for the hospitality you have welcomed us to enjoy and we are most interested in following the work the Synod is to undertake.
I am particularly happy to bring you greetings from the Lutheran Churches in the Porvoo Communion, because the Porvoo Declaration quite recently had its 20thanniversary. This year we are also commemorating the 500 years of Reformation. The 95 Theses Dr. Martin Luther published in 1517 were intended to fuel a theological debate but over and above that, they sparked a process with far reaching ecclesial and political implications. Today, we lament the schism that resulted, but at the same time, we witness new steps towards unity in the whole of the Western Church.
A recent milestone of ecumenism is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. It was agreed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1999, and subsequently adopted by the World Methodist Council in 2006, and by the World Communion of Reformed Churches this week, only two days ago. The Anglican Consultative Council affirmed its substance a year ago. The Joint Declaration is evolving into one of the most widely accepted ecumenical agreements. It will unite Churches in the conviction of salvation through faith in Christ.
Last year, the Anglican Consultative Council also endorsed the Churches to join in the commemoration of Reformation under the same topic as the Lutheran World Federation. The LWF had its General Assembly this May in Namibia under the heading Liberated by God’s Grace. The overall topic covered three subthemes: Salvation – Not for Sale; Human Beings – Not for Sale; Creation – Not for Sale.
The three Not for Sale subthemes sound like a distant echo of the Reformation era solas – sola fide, sola gratia, sola Scriptura, solus Christus – through faith alone, by grace alone, Scriptures only, solely for Christ. The Not for Sale -themes brought the Lutheran communion together to work on issues common to all. Salvation in Christ is the key to understand what liberation by God’s grace means. The dignity of all human beings is underlined, all being created in the image of God and redeemed by the Son of God. The integrity of Creation is to be valued by all. Global problems like the climate change challenge all nations, states and Churches alike.
Lately, many European nations have been hit by terrorism. We have been shocked by the recent acts of violence in Britain. Lamenting the loss of life and praying for the victims, we stand in solidarity with you as you continue your work for reconciliation, peace and justice.
Among the more intimate questions the Churches tackle today are those related to marriage and sexuality. As you very well know, many of the Nordic Lutheran Churches have adopted the policy to marry same sex couples. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has not taken this step, but the issue is presently under a debate in our Synod. No changes in the policy or in the liturgy have been made. Nevertheless, a new awareness of the variety in human sexuality has arisen, as well as a new sensitivity to minorities and a stronger emphasis to be an inclusive church. At this point, the Bishops’ Conference has issued pastoral guidelines for an informal prayer together with same sex couples who have married at a civil registrar.
There seem to be at least two vantage points to embark on a discussion. One is the notion of human dignity and the equality of all, plus the pastoral care and spiritual support of vulnerable people. The other is the meaning of liturgy: what does the Church mean when she offers services and conducts them in the name of the Triune God? By doing that, the Church indicates that she believes she does the work of God. She participates in the work of Father the Creator, Son the Redeemer and Spirit the Sanctifier. To make it look simple: on one hand there are the needs of human beings, and on the other hand, there is the mission of Christ, given to the Church. These need to be kept together. The Church has to reach out to people with the Gospel, in order to take part in the new creation God is bringing out.
The difficult questions call upon our Churches to work together. We share similar challenges in Northern Europe; we are members of the same family. Now that Britain is preparing to leave the European Union, it is even more important for the Churches to strengthen their relationship. Unity in Christ is deeper and more substantial than any political or financial union. The Church of Christ surpasses all boundaries, even where human efforts for integrating states do not prove successful. As Christians, we share the same vocation to witness to God’s love in the power of the Holy Spirit.
May God bless you and guide you in your work.