Danish Lutheran Pastor Suspended for Spreading Weeds among Congregations

A Lutheran church minister in Denmark proclaimed false teachings among congregations which were in total contradiction to general Christian belief and Lutheranism. On Thursday 10th June, he was finally suspended from his duties after he twice ignored church orders not to repeat those beliefs from the pulpit.

The troubled minister, Mr Thorkild Grosboel said “there is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection” in a newspaper interview in May 2003. According to the Bishop of Helsingoer, Rev Lise-Lotte Rebel, Grosboel’s comments have sown “deep confusion within the Church”, affecting the faith of the congregations.

However, later Grosboel argued that his comments were misconstrued and oversimplified. He refused to take them back and therefore was suspended. Several weeks later he repented and was reinstated. Since then, Bishop Rebel has been keeping strict supervision on all of Grosboell's sermons.

The final suspension was triggered by the quote in his recent sermon, “God had abdicated in favour of his son, hence in our favour. Therefore there is no longer a heavenly guarantee or an interfering might, there is only the Godly kingdom that is achieved by us and between us. So if it fails, there is nothing.”

Grosboell was then given an ultimatum to either resign or face suspension and the possibility of dismissal. Bishop Rebel concluded that Grosboell “had disregarded the state church’s basis for belief, undermined his duties (of) respect and confidence, disregarded the official order (and) caused a deep confusion about the state church.”

Lutheranism is a branch of Protestantism that has kept strictly to its theological background inherited from the 16th century religious reformer Martin Luther. It has never deviated from the theme that people are made right with God sola gratia and sola fide - that is, only by the divine initiative of grace as received through God's gift of faith. Because Luther came across his discoveries by reading the Bible, he also liked to add to his motto the exhortation sola scriptura, which means that Lutherans are to use the Bible alone as the source and norm for their teachings.

To become a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, one must be a Danish citizen, be at least 25 years old, be a member of the church, and, as a general rule, one must have a degree in theology from a Danish university. Theological studies takes as a rule five or six years.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (ELCD) is a national (state) church which is Evangelical Lutheran by law. In Denmark, Lutheran ministers are employed by the state and only the government can fire them and only with a recommendation from their presiding bishop. Therefore, Bishop Rebel handed his case to the government “requesting that it take the necessary steps.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark has nearly 1400 congregations served by 1800 ordained pastors, of whom 300 are women. Church buildings and premises are beautiful and well kept, but church attendance is generally a small percentage of total membership. Some 85% of Danes belong to the Lutheran Church, but only around 5% regularly attend services.

It was reported by the locals, hundreds of the priests' parishioners in Taarbaek, near Copenhagen, have come to the defence of Grosboell, arguing that differences of opinion must be tolerated in the Church.

In response to the ultimatum offered, Grosboell said he did not understand the bishop's position and would never resign, though he did not deny making the comments in his sermon.