Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who earlier this year stood trial in Finland for hate speech crimes over his biblical stance on sexuality and marriage, has been elected chairman of the association of confessional Lutheran churches at its triennial world conference.
The International Lutheran Council is a “worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God.”
The ILC has churches in Africa, North America, Europe, South America, and Asia. At its recent world conference, pastors selected Pohjola as chairman. Pohjola said that he prayed the Holy Spirit would work through him despite his own weakness.
“I know that I have big shoes to fill because [former chairman] Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt has been such an example. If I can imitate him in even some respects, I will be happy to do so,” Pohjola said. “Pray for me and for the ILC. I look forward to working with you all very much.”
From all accounts, if any man deserves this role, it’s Pohjola. The first congregation he shepherded had about 30 members and was only able to pay him part-time when he started. That 30-member congregation continued carrying out the Gospel mission and eventually established a seminary and dozens of mission churches. Nine years ago, 25 of those churches formed the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Finland, which oversees 45 missions and churches.
Pohjola’s defense of biblical doctrine and the persecution that came about because of it started many years ago. In 2009, he was awarded the Sabre of Boldness by the publication Gottesdienst after Finland’s state church tried to get him to compromise his beliefs, even going so far as to seek civil charges against him and suspending him for three months. In 2014, he was defrocked and ordered to forfeit his pastoral office, after being deemed “obviously unfit” for his involvement in the Mission Diocese, a part of the Finnish Church that rejects the hierarchy’s progressive views on sexuality and female ordination.
Pohjola became known globally after being charged with hate speech, or “ethnic agitation,” for publishing a pamphlet called “Male and Female He Created Them,” which outlines the biblical view on marriage and sexuality.
He is believed to be the first Christian pastor put on trial for his biblical beliefs in the post-Soviet Union West.
Earlier this year, Bishop Pohjola and Päivi Räsänen, a member of Finland’s Parliament, were cleared on all charges, but the prosecutor appealed and the case will be heard by a higher court.
In response to his trial, Pohjola said, “The Gospel of Christ is at stake.”
Since then, he has tried to embolden the Church to stand up in the face of new challenges. “We have to learn from the past, Christians who have suffered under persecution, and be prepared. But it’s not something to be worried about, because Christ remains faithful to His church and wherever he is leading us, He will come with us. He will provide everything that is needed for the future of His Christians and His church,” he stated.
Pohjola has faced years of opposition even from the state church because he adheres to God’s Word. As many in churches around the world encourage Christians to compromise on cultural issues, it is critical that they stand on the inerrant and eternal Word of God. There will be many who will repeat the words of the serpent in the Garden and ask: “Has God really said?” We need brave men to step and speak unequivocally on matters of sin, sex, marriage, and the exclusivity of the Gospel.
We must stand not on what is popular, nor even on what reason tells us, but on what God has told us. As Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5,
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Pohjola is a man who is leading and standing on God’s Word, having never recoiled in the face of personal persecution and soft totalitarianism. The ILC should be applauded for choosing him to lead the way forward as the true Church faces a new era of religious hostility and suffering.
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