Some dissenting voices on the implications of Porvoo from the Norwegian House of Bishops

COPIES OF THE FOLLOWING letters, addressed originally to Jan Bygstad, Chairman of ‘For Bible and Confession’, an evangelical group in the Norwegian Church, reached the Forward in Faith office some short while ago.

The letters reveal internal disagreements in the Norwegian Church which will be of especial interest to Catholic Anglicans. Pastor Bygstad is clearly concerned, in the first instance, with the fact that Porvoo might be thought to have altered the doctrinal basis of the Church of Norway, to which priests are committed at their ordination.

Catholic Anglicans may well be concerned also about the practice of lay celebration by ordinands (during the summer vacation of regular pastors) and ordinations by Deans of Cathedrals, acting as the bishop’s deputies (in the absence of the bishop or the vacancy of the See). Both practices have been common in Norway, though neither seems easily compatible with the implications of the Povoo Common Statement.

If the claims of the Porvoo Agreement to constitute ‘catholic ecumenism’ are to hold good, clarification of the actual position of the Church of Norway, and the mind of its college of bishops, is obviously urgent.

BJORGVIN DIOCESE The Church of Norway

Our date 25:11:96 Our reference: ODH/arh

To: Jan Bygstad Land†s Church 5030 LANDS

Dear Jan Bygstad,

Thank you for your two letters regarding the consequences of the Porvoo agreement. Immediately after the first one, I rang Aarflot and made sure that he had replied. When you later made contact and asked whether I had anything to add, I replied that I intended to.

Now time has passed. I have chosen between answering reasonably thoroughly and in depth or giving a general assessment. For various reasons, not least because I am running out of time, I have chosen the latter.

It is quite clear to me that the Porvoo agreement has nothing to do with our obligation to teach and with our teaching documents. On the contrary, the agreement confirms the documents which are there and which are established. For example, you cannot say with the Porvoo agreement in your hand that our ordination practice must now be changed. We are in an Evangelical succession where there has always been oversight. We adhere to this as necessary. But we will not accept an apostolic succession as constituting an official position.

We who are in service are obliged to conduct ourselves according to the documents which existed when we were ordained. If Anglican priests enter into service with us, they must also conduct themselves according to our profession. And they must officiate and act according to our church’s order and arrangements.

This in great haste before I travel to Brazil. God bless you! And thank you for the personal greetings!

Ole D. Hagesaether

Dictated but not signed due to absence.


The Church of Norway


For Bible and Confession

Chairman Jan Bygstad

Kanonhaugen 39



In an earlier letter which was a provisional response to your letter of 19.11.96, I promised an answer to the question of the Porvoo agreement’s status in canon law, and I will now do this in the following way:

1) We should take as a starting point the Church Conference’s resolution in CC case 12/94:

“1. On behalf of the Church of Norway, the Church Conference approves the proposal for an agreement between the British and Irish Anglican churches and Lutheran churches in the Baltic and Scandinavian states as it is formulated in the English original version of the “Joint statement from Porvoo with the Porvoo Declaration”, 9-13 October 1992, õ58-61.

2. The Church Conference asks the Inter-Church Council to follow up the implementation of the agreement.

3. The Church Conference asks the Church Council to work further on the consequences of the agreement with regard to arrangements and to present a proposal for necessary measures to the Church Conference.

4. The Church Conference supports the proposal for signature of the agreement and the new church community was marked with a liturgical celebration in Nidaros Cathedral.

The resolution was unanimous.”

This means that it is õõ58-61 which must be considered binding for our church.

2) The previous paragraphs in the Porvoo document report how the two church families, Anglican and Lutheran, stand in relation to each other. On a number of doctrinal points we are close to each other (see especially õ32). The traditional point of controversy, office/apostolic succession, is considered separately (õ34-54). The report establishes that crucial obstacles to a closer church community have now been removed.

3) At the same time it is obvious that the same declaration contains formulations which give rise to contradiction, and which some of us will not answer for. This mainly applies to the following questions:

– Too weak a representation of the general clergy

– Too strong an emphasis on the office of priest e.g. in relation to giving the sacrament

– What is said about the tripartite office of (bishop/ priest /deacon), something our church has actually made a reservation against in connection with the consultation on the Lima document (BC case 17/85, pt. 5.3,2).

– The strong underlining of the importance of the office of bishop, an opinion which has its supporters in our church, but which is in no way authorised or absolute. My personal opinion is that the Scripture obliges us to have some form or other supervision, but we are not obliged to allow this to be performed in the form of an office of bishop. Other arrangements can also be considered. Thus I cannot maintain that the office of bishop is necessary for the unity of the church. This conflicts with Augustana 7.

– What is said about communion – especially intention – is open to different interpretations and is therefore unacceptable to individuals.

Quite a large number of thy consultative bodies (including the undersigned) indicated what is stated here, and the majority of objections were discussed at the Church Conference’s discussion in 1994:

“In the Anglican church, however. there is an emphasis on the office in general and the office of bishop in particular which differs here from ours. In our church, some wish to disassociate themselves slightly from some elements in the rendering of the Porvoo document. It is necessary to have a constant discussion of what place and form the office shall have in the church. The work on this agreement also gave us a good opportunity for this. The committee wishes to point out that the presentation of the tripartite office (õ41) does not express a final clarification of the relationship between the office and different services in the Church of Norway.”

4) These objections against individual elements, the majority considered, are still not an obstacle to signing the agreement itself. As it is stated in the minutes of the Church Conference (recommendation from committee F) with reference to the assessment of the Inter-Church Council and the Bishops’ Conference:

“These objections are… not of such a nature that they are an obstacle to signing the agreement… It is also only the Porvoo declaration, õ58-61 in the Porvoo document, which constitutes the agreement which the Church Conference shall approve.”

5) In my opinion, the signature of this agreement therefore does not imply a sanctioning of all statements in the Porvoo document. On the contrary, it is clear from the minutes of the Church Conference (cited above) that the agreement shall be followed up by further discussions and clarifications. This precludes the Porvoo text up to õ58 from being considered binding in any way.

6.) At the Bishop’s Conference in the autumn of 1996, a principle decision was made in connection with the discussion of the authorities of the dean (BC case 15/96). Some felt that the Porvoo agreement would oblige us to deprive the deans of the possibility for ordaining priests in the capacity of the bishop’s deputy. However, this was rejected by the Bishops’ Conference who certainly discussed the questions as shown by the minutes). We maintain our office theology and practice, well aware that the Anglicans disagree and will hardly appoint a Norwegian priest with “only” ordination by a dean.

This resolution has in principle scope beyond this specific case, because it is the first case of this nature after signature of the agreement and thus provides guidelines for our understanding of what has happened in the relationship between the two church families: We recognise the other party as it is – without demands for adjustment, with slightly different theology and church practice, because these differences are still not considered to split the church.

7) It should be clear from the above that the Porvoo declaration in no way has the status of a confession script. There are several reasons for this:

– The declaration does not pretend to he one.

– It has never been presented as such during the consideration of the matter in our church. As it says in the minutes of the Church Conference:

“The Porvoo declaration (õõ58-61) is not a declaration of principle. When a church approves this declaration, it is stating that it respects the other churches involved as parts of Christ, one holy, apostolic and general church, and takes this into account with regard to a formalised church community. Furthermore approval of the agreement does not mean that one recognises the ordained offices in the other churches as a true office where the supervisory office is specially mentioned. We undertake to inspect our church community hereafter.”

– In its minutes, the Church Conference has expressly stated reservations against individual details in the declaration, something which would be meaningless if it was meant to be a confession script.

8) It is also clear that the agreement implies mandatory consequences for us as a church (see õ50b). The Church Conference’s resolution, pt. 3, mentions some consequences related to arrangements which it maybe necessary to pass resolutions on. The question of the deans’ right to ordain is not, as stated above, included in these questions. The Church Conference states explicitly (p. 213) that we are not forced to introduce apostolic succession. On the other hand, the agreement means that we will have an open communion table, recognise each other’s offices, be open to appointment in each other’s churches, exchanges, visits etc. (p. 210). It may also be relevant to invite a bishop from the other church to participate in the consecration of bishops (p. 212f)

9) Those of us who are ordained are consequently not committed to the Porvoo declaration as a doctrinal document. Now as before, the ordination promise covers a commitment to the Scripture and to the five confession scripts of our church.

Yours faithfully



Odd Bondevik


Copy to the bishops

Copies of the Povoo Common Statement and Declaration (CCU Occasional Publication No. 3) are available form the Church House Bookshop, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3NZ.