Harri Vähäjylkkä, Translation: Sam Roiko | The Voice of Zion November 2022 --
Approximately every two years representatives from the SRK, LLC and SFC gather in person to plan our joint work and so workers can get to know one another personally. In September, LLC board members Jim Jurmu, Sam Roiko and Petri Hotari, along with LLC staff Adrian Pirness and Arvin Pirness went to Finland to participate in the latest such joint meeting. Throughout the week, representatives of the SRK, along with SFC and LLC worked to prepare a news article about the meetings to convey the abiding unity of faith and understanding that God lovingly provided.
While in Finland, the LLC received a request from the SRK asking to consider sending two brothers to their Pastors Camp. This camp is for believing brothers who are ordained pastors and others who work in the national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Jon Bloomquist and Sam Roiko attended and experienced there also the unity of faith and understanding.
Situation in North American Zion Discussed at Meetings of Sister Organizations
Representatives of three central organizations of our Christianity, SRK, LLC and SFC, gathered for a cooperative work meeting in Oulu the week of September 19, 2022. A central topic in the discussions was the division that has happened amid North American Zion, which has resulted in a heresy.
The anticipated meeting of the sister organizations occurred in September after a pause due to COVID. Early that Monday morning, the coffee table at the SRK office was bustling with activity. Believing friends greeted one another in three languages; some had not seen each other for a long time, and some had never met face to face. There have been retirements and personnel changes in sister organizations. However, during COVID, contact was maintained through many messages, e-mails and remote meetings.
Greetings Contained Joys and Sorrows
Monday’s discussions focused largely on the situation in the Zion of North America. The representatives of the LLC’s administration and office spoke about the events of the last few years and also of very recent happenings in North America. Their greetings contained joy that God has blessed the work and protected His obedient children in faith. Meanwhile, sorrow was felt because many signs were evident which demonstrate that the long-standing division has resulted in a heresy.
Representatives of the Finnish and Swedish sister organizations related greetings from their own countries. These greetings noted that the situation in North America and its difficulty have also been evident in various contacts and discussions in Finland and Sweden. They brought up that in the week’s joint meeting, it is necessary to also talk about difficulties and the spiritual battle. These are part of the life of God’s congregation; God’s congregation is also a battling congregation. Meeting representatives of the different countries noted that it is important to share this matter with believers. “It is necessary to reveal what the situation is and what types of issues are behind the sorrowful situation,” many stated.
God’s gracious and calling nature was spoken of in the discussions. It was stated that acknowledgment of a difficult situation, even a heresy, is not harshness, but also through this God calls those who have gone astray (1 Cor. 11:19). Repentance is God’s work from beginning to end, and through it one can return to God’s kingdom.
The Division Has Developed over a Long Period of Time
LLC representatives described the background of the current situation. The situation has not developed overnight but rather over the course of many years. Questions of faith, doctrine and life have been discussed in one-on-one visits, and more broadly within individual congregations, for example at congregation discussion evenings. Regional and continent-wide discussions have also been convened so that matters could be cared for.
The most recent continent-wide gathering was held on May 7–8, 2021. At that meeting, there was concern expressed that a different understanding of the doctrine of the congregation existed in the midst of the believers of North America. It was also openly acknowledged on both sides that there were two groups within North American Zion and that we cannot continue as a divided flock.
Discussions on Doctrine
Discussions of doctrinal questions have taken place among congregation speakers, board members and congregation members in North America for nearly ten years. The matters have also been discussed at the large LLC service events and other gatherings. Discussions have also been arranged at local congregation events. However, the end result of the discussions has been that the mutual understanding and love of believers has not returned but rather that the division has deepened and become stronger.
At the meeting of the sister organizations, questions arose concerning what kinds of matters have been discussed among believers in North America over the years, and where different understandings have been observed. Others wanted to know what signs and fruits of division have become apparent. LLC representatives shared that over the years there have been many discussions on various doctrinal questions. Discussions have taken place regarding justification, the position and significance of God’s Word, the relationship between the written Word of God and the Word of God preached by the Holy Spirit, the relationship between God’s Word and the congregation, the office of the Holy Spirit, and, in connection with that, the essence of the congregation and its significance and duty, forgiveness of sins, confession, and servants of the congregation.
Meeting participants had experienced that to some extent, doctrinal matters have also been examined as if they were diametrically opposed. For example, discussion speeches brought out how the perfect righteousness prepared by Christ and the grace owned by faith seem to have cast their shadow on the importance of watchfulness, the endeavor and confession. Representatives of the North American central organization said that in doctrinal discussions there have not always been big differences. However, this has not removed division nor restored unity of faith.
LLC representatives felt that in the current situation the strongest disagreement between the two parties was the perspective of God’s congregation and the work of the Holy Spirit in the congregation. Discussion participants noted that the power of God’s Holy Spirit always affects both in the preaching of God’s kingdom and in its gospel. If some hear the gracious voice of the gospel in a sermon and others hear the demand of the law in the same sermon, it cannot be that the hearts of the listeners are in the same condition. And if the gospel of forgiveness brings joy, peace and freedom to some, but does not free others from burdens, a critical mind, and accusations, the fault is not in the living gospel, but in the heart of the listener.
In the discussion it was brought out that the view of some is that in North America, in LLC congregations, the law is preached to the believers, while in Finland grace is preached. The meeting representatives did not agree with this observation.
Faith Creates Unity, Sin Breaks It
In their speeches, the meeting attendees brought out the fact that unity between believers is born of God’s Holy Spirit. This unity cannot be achieved or maintained by humans. Sin, meanwhile, breaks this unity. True unity can only be achieved by mutual faith and the Holy Spirit. That unity and also the other fruits of the Holy Spirit are lost if living faith is extinguished. The works of the flesh replace them, one of which is heresy, as Paul writes to the Galatians (Gal. 5:19–21). God’s grace also belongs to those who have fallen into the sin of heresy.
Acknowledging the existence of a heresy does not mean that God’s grace has ended. Those who have fallen into heresy are called unto repentance. Repentance and personally owning the forgiveness of sins renews love and restores a living unity with God, His kingdom, and the other children of God. There is joy on earth and in heaven over every one who repents (Luke 15:10).
There Is Security in God
The representatives of Finland, Sweden, and North America related in their speeches how the contacts with other believers have brought joy even in the midst of difficult times. In various discussions with the LLC, a connection and common understanding that is created by the same faith and the Holy Spirit have been felt. There has been no doubt that we believe exactly the same way. In Finland and Sweden, the understanding has remained that the congregation of God is also present among believers in North America. God Himself cares for His congregation even during times of spiritual battle.
The discussion culminated in this, that the essence of God’s kingdom and the foundation of faith will never change. The mystery of faith is still owned with the faith of a child. Jesus set a small child as an example of faith to His disciples, who were considering their own position and competing for a place. God’s children still do not need to fear, even though they may encounter different messages and accusations. God cares for each of His children and rules His own kingdom.
In the discussion, a presentation kept by Juhani Uljas in 1998 was quoted:
“A heresy always grows within the congregation of God. There comes a fracture in the love among God’s children. The internal unity of faith and spirit breaks. An “inner circle” or a “group within a group” is formed that has a tight mutual unity, which also begins to separate from the congregation of God.
“Understandings of faith change. Some fall away from the foundation of the righteousness of faith to be under the law without realizing it. They drift away from the freedom of the children of God into the bondage of traditions, the letter of the law and rules. In this phase the fruit of heresy becomes more clearly evident.
“When the separation from the love of the children of God has taken place, a battle arises against it. The altered understanding of faith and doctrine raises war against the congregation of God. In this way a group that has internally separated also separates outwardly.”