The Baltic republics, geographically and culturally, are almost Scandinavian. Now that a national Lutheran church–that of Latvia–has gone confessional, that affects its theologically liberal neighbors.
A Swedish theologians whom the state church refused to ordain because he doesn’t believe that women should be made pastors, has been made a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, which has come around to that same conviction. His story, detailed after the jump, shows how various organizations–including one started by novelist Bo Giertz–are keeping orthodox Lutheranism alive in those northern climes.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) has consecrated as bishop a Swedish theologian previously barred from ordination in Sweden for being too Lutheran. The Reverend Hans Jönsson, 48, was consecrated Saturday (August 6) at the cathedral in Riga to serve as bishop of Liepaja Diocese in southwestern Latvia. Bishop Jönsson graduated from Lund University in Sweden. While studying in Lund, he supplemented his studies with lectures in Lutheran theology sponsored by the Swedish Luther Foundation, which was formed in 1955 to promote theological education grounded in the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran confessional writings, thus opposing increasingly liberal trends in the Church of Sweden.
Because of his Confessional Lutheran views, Jönsson was denied ordination in the Church of Sweden. He was, however, certified as qualified for ordination by the Church Coalition for The Bible and Confessions, an umbrella organization encompassing several Swedish Confessional Lutheran movements that was founded in 1958 at the initiative of Bishop Bo Giertz to defend traditional Lutheran faith in the Church of Sweden. The Coalition was formed in the context of the debate over women’s ordination, which its members viewed as clearly contradicting Scripture.Bishop Jönsson is also an associate member of the pastoral collegium of the Mission Province in Sweden. Dr. Bengt Birgersson, Mission Province Secretary, who attended the consecration, noted, “Sweden’s loss is Latvia’s gain. Many gifted young men were forced to leave Sweden in order to serve Christ abroad, having been denied ordination in the Church of Sweden because they were faithful to Scripture. This is why the Mission Province was formed: to provide a path to ordination and service in Sweden for faithful men.” Since the founding of the Mission Province in 2003, approximately 40 men have been ordained in Sweden and in the Mission Dioceses in Finland and Norway who would otherwise have been excluded because they believe the Holy Scriptures limit the pastoral office to men.
The ELCL has a close historical relationship to the Church of Sweden. Unlike the Church of Sweden, however, the Latvian church has remained faithful to Confessional Lutheran theology. In 2000 Jönsson was invited to serve in Latvia while learning the language, receiving financial support from the Swedish Luther Foundation. He was subsequently ordained in Riga in 2003, and most recently served as pastor in Madona, about 40 miles east of Riga. He was also given responsibility for managing the national church’s finances and currently serves as chairman of the board for pastoral education.
Foto: Rihards Rasnacis
HT: Bart Gingerich