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Revival movements are seeking their place in Lutheran Finland

Revival groups remain in the Lutheran Church but have their own dynamics. An explainer for those outside Finland.

FEATURES AUTOR 131/Matti_Korhonen 17 DE ABRIL DE 2023 09:30 h
Revival movements organise every year their own summer conferences. A picture from Finnish Lutheran Mission’s Summer Conference 2022. This is one of the revival movements and mission organizations in the ELCF. / Photo: Matti Korhonen.

Finland became a Lutheran country in the 16th century under the Swedish regime. In the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries large revivals happened throughout Finland. These revival movements mostly stayed within the Lutheran Church.

Soon after Finland got its independence in 1917, Finland enacted a an Act of Freedom of Religion (1923). Then, some small groups formed their own Christian denominations, but the vast majority of the believers stayed in the Lutheran Church.

Since then, revival movements have formed their own associations or organisations. Their main goal has been to evangelise Finnish people and deepen the spiritual life of Christians. They have done this organising small group meetings, since the local Lutheran parishes have not always done this very well. With this mindset, another goal was to send missionaries abroad.

The Lutheran Church has accepted these groups as part of its official mission associations.

Have revival movements had an impact on Finnish Christianity as a whole? Yes, a big one. Usually, they have operated under the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) and there has been shared work, a distribution of duties.

[destacate]Their main goal has been to evangelise Finnish people and deepen the spiritual life of Christians[/destacate]The Lutheran Church, through its local parishes, offers Sunday services, baptisms, weddings, funerals, counselling, diakonia work, etc. Revival movements and organisations do small group meetings, evangelism and mission work.

At time, there have been tensions but both have traditionally seen each other as complementary partners.

Theologically the revival movements are Bible believing and reject the liberal theology.

In the past twenty or thirty years, this theological liberalisation of the ELCF has caused the revival movements/Lutheran organisations, which usually are more conservative in their theology, to start their own Sunday services. Some of these main services are more traditional and liturgical in their expression while others use contemporary and modern styles of worship.

But the key idea is that these organisations are now forming fellowships with the Word and Sacraments, something that traditionally has been the responsibility of local parishes only.

So, the revival movements/Lutheran organisations are increasingly practicing what is the essence of the Lutheran understanding of the church, as the Augsburg Confession (Article VII) read: “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered”.

[destacate]Will the revival movements stay under the ELCF, which is losing members at an accelerating rate?[/destacate]But these movements/organisations still do not speak of themselves as congregations/parishes, partly because they want to avoid an open conflict with the Lutheran Church, which aims to keep the organisations under the episcopal supervision.

Time will tell, if the revival movements will stay under the ELCF, which is losing its members at an accelerating rate, due to the secularisation of Finland. Or will they form their own, independent Lutheran churches?

A decisive moment may come if the ELCF started to officially marry same-sex couples. It might be too much to bear for the revival movements.

Matti Korhonen, Editor-in-chief of the Finnish magazine Uusi Tie.




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