Valde Palola, Chairman of SRK Board of Directors, Translation: Sam Roiko | The Voice of Zion March 2023 --
Opening remarks at SRK Speakers’ Meeting on January 7, 2023
God has blessed the work of His kingdom and work opportunities have continued to increase. The blessing of the pandemic has been that the gospel has been able to be proclaimed more widely than ever before. Sermons have been broadcast via the internet and social media channels all over the world. For example, the Loppi Summer Services were listened to in more than 90 different countries. There were about 80,000 service guests on site.
During 2022, many local services were also held. Special mention should be made of the large increase in number of days spent at SRK camps, which is partly due to the fact that the new Hankasalmi camp was opened for use last August.
During the past fall, there have also been personnel changes both in SRK’s administration and in the office. Due to illness, Matti Taskila asked to resign from the duties of chairman of the board, and the board reorganized in the fall and elected a new chairman and Work Committee. When Juha Kaarivaara retired, Arto Tölli began in the position of Executive Secretary.
The board and Work Committee have, among many other matters, had numerous discussions on current issues in Christianity. Above all, the discussions have rejoiced in the success of the work of God’s kingdom. The gospel will soon be proclaimed on all continents.
Cooperation with Sister Organizations Continues
Current matters have also centrally included discussions with sister organizations LLC and SFC. It has been customary for the cooperative work meetings of the sister organizations to take place every two years, alternating between Finland, Sweden and the United States. After a long pause, we were able to meet face to face last September here in Finland. Part of the meeting was also attended by the entire SRK Board of Directors.
In recent years, communication especially with the LLC has been abundant via remote connections. On these occasions, LLC brothers have shared openly about the issues they have encountered amid American Christianity for many years. They have shared that questions related to doctrine and faith have again and again been brought up by some for critical examination.
The content of the discussions has been extensive. Topics have included justification, the office of the Holy Spirit, the relationship between God’s Word and the congregation, the essence and role of the congregation, the forgiveness of sins, confession, and the role of servants of the congregation.
On these topics as well, we have had opportunity to have discussions with LLC brothers, and time and again we have found that we have a mutual understanding of faith on these matters. Of course we are collectively aware that “excesses” have occurred in certain cases, but the people in question have been able to and can care for these excesses with the gospel and, so doing, love is restored between the parties involved.
Discussion Is Necessary
It is good and even necessary to discuss doctrinal questions. However, the situation becomes worrisome when these discussions begin to divide the flock of Christians and break united and mutual love.
LLC brothers have shared that in their midst one question among others that has been raised asks which is higher, the Word of God or the congregation. It has also been asked whether God’s revelation has ended or whether it continues in the congregation.
From a doctrinal point of view, these questions are very important. We all certainly affirm what, for example, is stated in the church order of our national church [Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland] about the position of the Word of God, which is “The church considers the principles of the confessional writings as its highest instruction, that all doctrine in the church must be studied and evaluated according to the holy Word of God.” At this point, we can ask where the authority is when we talk about the interpretation of God’s Word.
God’s Word and the Congregation Belong Together
From the point of view of our understanding of faith, the question of which is higher, the Word of God or the congregation, can be partly considered strange, because the congregation of God always adheres to the aforewritten Word of God. God’s Word and the congregation cannot be separated. God’s congregation never abandons God’s Word and God never abandons His congregation. The congregation is the body of Christ, and we remember that Christ is the head of this congregation. According to the Apostle, the church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). According to the Psalmist, “God stands in the congregation of God” (Ps. 82:1 [direct translation from Finnish Biblia 1776]).
Where, then, is the authority when it comes to interpreting God’s Word? Isn’t the answer that it is God’s congregation, where the Holy Spirit opens the unchanging and infallible Word of God? Thus, the congregation cannot err on any point of doctrine either. Martin Luther also takes a strong stand on this issue in his book “Bondage of the Will.” Referring to the position of God’s congregation, he states thus: “This, I say, we know, because our creed says this: I believe in a holy, universal congregation. It is therefore impossible for the congregation to err in even the smallest point of faith.” According to Luther, this congregation has been preserved and will be preserved on earth despite various deceptions.
Only Faith Opens Understanding
The doctrine of the congregation of God can be received with the faith of a child. Human reason cannot comprehend the mutual understanding of faith and love that prevails in the congregation enlightened by the Holy Spirit. It is not without reason that Jesus said in His greetings to the servants of the Asia Minor congregations that he who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2,3).
God resolves even difficult matters in His congregation, if only we show obedience to His voice. The Holy Spirit in the heart of a child of God always answers “amen” to biblical teaching. This is what happened in the Jerusalem meeting during the early church. The congregation gathered to discuss and study the scriptures. When the Holy Spirit then clarified the correct side of matters, the Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of believers then responded with “amen.” There is also a familiar saying in the Christianity of this time: “this seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.” In this we encounter a great mystery that our reason cannot comprehend. Only through faith can we understand this.
The Cause of Heresy Is Always Sin
We have received sorrowful communication about the situation that prevailed within American Christianity. In a continent-wide meeting of American believers already in 2021 it was stated that Christianity is divided and cannot continue as two flocks. Based on discussion at the 2022 [LLC] Annual Meeting, the assembled delegates, based on [LLC] bylaws, ultimately removed two member congregations from the central organization.
In preparing this opening speech, I read Juhani Uljas’s introduction on the topic “Heresies of Christianity.” In particular, my attention was drawn to the part of the text titled “What Is a Heresy?” Juhani Uljas writes thus:
“Heresies always contain two phases. It grows within the congregation. There comes a fracture in the love among God’s children. The internal unity of faith and spirit breaks. The reason is always sin, sin that is not cared for. We cannot any longer say what has been the sin at the time, which gave birth to the previous heresies, but we see the effects (Matt. 7:16). When the living connection breaks, in the mutual love there forms an ‘inner circle’ or ‘clique’ whose members feel a strong connection to each other but begin to separate from the unity of the entire congregation of God. Understandings of faith and teaching also change. The wholesome Word of God receives strange emphases. From the foundation of the righteousness of faith one falls, without realizing it, under the law. From the freedom of the children of God, one drifts into the bondage of traditions, the letter of the law, and rules. In this way, the bad fruit of heresy ripens.
Heresy does not only separate itself from the love of the children of God, but also battles against it. The altered understanding of faith and doctrine raises war against the congregation of God. We come to the situation which the Old Testament depicts: “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Gen. 21:10). The heresy that has internally separated from the unity of the children of God also separates outwardly.”
The Comforting Message Is Yet Heard
We, the SRK, have had numerous discussions with LLC brothers. They have with a sorrowful mind recounted the issues that have been difficulties amidst American Christianity. Meanwhile they have wished to hear with humble hearts our views on the questions that have arisen. They have approached these difficulties with a mind of prayer that God would restore unity among them.
We have also received many messages and emails expressing a different view of the current situation. These messages have strongly criticized the actions of the LLC board, although conclusions about the current situation have been made in the large meetings in American Christianity. We have also been invited there to discuss with various parties. In response we have noted that both here in Finland and in America there exists the congregation of God which the Holy Spirit leads and cares for. As sister organizations we have had discussions and affirmed that we have the same spirit of faith. In contrast, we have found the messages from the other party to be different.
The actual formation of the current division in American Christianity is mainly associated with the two congregations removed from the organizational membership of the LLC. In this context, however, it is important to note that it is not a question of collectively binding the members of these two churches, but rather to everyone who wishes to endeavor in unity with God’s congregation sounds the Good Shepherd’s comforting message that sins and even the sin of heresy can be forgiven in Jesus’ name and blood.
This article was originally published in Finnish in the January 25, 2023, issue of Päivämies.
Translated and published with permission.