The Roots and Development of the Laestadian Movement in Finland

A Lecture Series by Dr. Pekka Raittila

Dr. Pekka Raittila lectured at the Pastor's Seminar October l8 and 19, l982, at Inter-Lutheran Theological Seminary. Dr. Pekka Raittila is a professor in the Theological Seminary at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the state church of Finland. Pastor Elmer Yliniemi translated these lectures at the Seminar. Melvin F. Salo prepared this manuscript from cassette tapes of the lectures and it was subsequently converted to this web page.

Copyright 1987 by Inter-Lutheran Theological Seminary 11015 County Road 15 Minneapolis, Minnesota 55441 612-546-3332. All rights reserved.

  1. Introduction and Overview
  2. Relationship of the Laestadians to the Lutheran Church of Finland
  3. Laestadians to the Present
  4. Missionary Work
  5. Organization of Laestadians
  6. The Training of Ministers
  7. Conclusions: Observations of Pekka Raittila Regarding the American Laestadian Scene

Page 5: Organization of Laestadians

Originally the Laestadian organization centered around the minister. From the pulpit of Laestadius the movement spread. Laestadius himself sent out mission preachers. Laestadius himself directed the mission school. He received the gifts and paid the workers. Rarely has a revival movement had such a clear organizational pattern. This organizational pattern was continued through the time of Juhoni Raattamaa. Though this organizational pattern weakened yet Raattamaa continued to have a general fund for financing the work. Initially the Laestadian movement was limited to nearby parishes of Kaaresuvanto (Karesuando today). Initially this was an informal organizational pattern developed as almost all the revival workers knew each other personally. As the Laestadian movement spread in the l870s hundreds of miles to southern Finland and America then conditions changed. Under the direction of Raattamaa the First Born congregation received a very important function and though they were not elected yet they assumed the leadership of the movement through personal visits and letters. America became a very important part of their work. Conditions in America were different and they needed a lot of direction. Dealing with problems in America by letter was not satisfactory and, hence, personal visits by preacher workers from the Elders of the First Born was necessary. The groups of Laestadians in Norway also needed the direction of the Elders of Lapland. In this way and in these areas the honoring and respecting of the Elders of Lapland developed. This led to the organizational pattern for the Church of the First Born. The preachers had their own areas in which they served though there was no official designation of area for each. In practice preachers served neighboring communities. A few preachers were asked to make preaching visits to designated areas. Under the arrangement of designated areas of service the training of ministers waned. Training of ministers under Raattamaa was recognized. Raattamaa's leadership was recognized in the Scandinavian countries and in America but officially no such designation was ever made. During the time of Raattamaa no official organization of the movement was recognized particularly in Europe. In different areas the Laestadians had built meeting houses and for these it was necessary to develop official organizations for ownership. Toward the end of the l800s the Peace Organization (Rauhanyhdistys) was established as an official organization was needed for the ownership of these meeting house. The worship services needed no organization. In 1880 the first Laestadian paper, Christian Monthly, was published. In 1880 Rector K. A. Heikel of the Kittila parish was the first editor and following him Aatu Laitinen was editor until l911. The name of the paper was changed to Words from Zion and later the name was changed to Words of Grace (Armon Sanoma). The papers were individual efforts. Laitinen owned the paper later. The paper spread to all Laestadian areas. Heikel criticized Juhoni Takkinen's "ABC Book" of spiritual teachings that Takkinen had published in America. Takkinen was greatly offended as he had managed to enroll seven hundred new subscribers to the paper. Pastor Heikel was an example of one of the several young ordained ministers who became a convert and supporter of the Laestadian movement and defended Laestadian to the state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, but being eventually rejected by the movement. Aatu Laitinen suffered the same fate. The Laestadian Movement is essentially a lay movement and it has been frequently said that ordained education ministers do not qualify for the bow or even the stern in the Laestadian ship but that they may row in the middle. Nevertheless the Laestadian publications served to unify and to educate members in the Gospel of the movement. After l900 formal organization of the movement began slowly. Centers of the organization developed. The beginning places of organizational patterns were as follows: Gallivaara (Gallivare today), Sweden, was the center for the First Born (Esikoiset) and it is yet today. The Tornio River Valley was and is the center of the East Laestadians or Conservative movement. The Lannavaara mission school was located there. The New Awakenist center was in Kittila, Finland. The headquarters of the Conservative group finally became located at Oulu. In 1906 the first Big Services were held in Oulu and the Central Board for Mission Work was established there. From this eventually the SRK was established. The New Awakenist headquarters as well as their mission offices were moved to Oulu. The Word of Peace (Rauhan Sana) group also moved their headquarters to Oulu. Therefore the headquarters of all the major Laestadian groups with the exception of the First Born had their headquarters in Oulu (in l982). The SRK slowly developed into the most sophisticated organization. Lannavaara because of its remote location lost the distinction of being the headquarters of the Laestadian movement. Traditionally the Laestadians have been wary of any sort of official organization and in its rural setting formal organization wasn't necessary. Services could be held in the living rooms of a farmer's home or a meeting house could be constructed on some farmer's land. Very few formal organization developed after 1903. The development of an official organization in Oulu aroused opposition and resulted in the establishment of the Word of Peace (Rauhan Sana) group to oppose such organization. Even to the present time opposition to official organization has continued among the Word of Peace (Rauhan Sana in Finland) and the (Finnish) Apostolic Lutheran Church of America (the Federation). In the Swedish Word of Peace (Rauhan Sana) there has been no official organization. Only recently has official organization made some headway. The SRK being the largest needed to continue their official organization especially after WW II. The Daily Worker, a weekly publication, along with Zion News and Children's Zion News helped strength the SRK. Both ordained and lay ministers have been contributing members of the paper. In earlier times the SRK had fellowship with the First Apostolic Lutheran Church with headquarters at Calumet, Mi., (the Heidemann group). The Americans had not developed as sophisticated an organizational pattern as had their Finnish counterpart. Not only did the SRK organizational pattern include services but also opportunities for young people, Sunday schools, their own confirmation schools (confirmation camps). Though the confirmation schools were a creation of the SRK yet they were a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Suomen Evankelis Luterilainen Kirkko) and ministers from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland taught at these confirmation camps. The bringing of sophisticated organizational pattern to the Heidemann group in America aroused great opposition. Very probably there were other reasons also for the crisis and the division that took place in l972-

1973 between the SRK in Finland and the Heidemann group in America (The First Apostolic Lutheran Church with headquarters in Calumet, Mi.) The introduction of organizational patterns into the Laestadian Movement has always caused opposition and dissension . The first generation of Laestadian had no official formal organization and this has contributed an impressive tradition for opposition to official formal organizational patterns. Therefore innovations were opposed with the statement that this was the way that matters were considered in Laestadian Christianity in its beginning in its purity and truth. Very probably it was feared that official organizational patters and other innovations would have deleterious effects on the spiritual life of the congregation. We say that anything new is suspect and then that fear is given a spiritual interpretation. In 1880-1890 Laestadius' daughter then living in Franklin, Mn., wrote very critically about the ministerial activity of Juhoni Takkinen. She was very critical about organizing congregations and making them legal. She wrote at length, "The Holy Spirit should suffice as the preacher to Christians. We don't need any organizations. We don't need any new modes of work. We don't need any pastors for the Holy Spirit will do its work."

The experience of the Holy Spirit was so powerful in the midst of the first Laestadians converts that it has continued as a central concern for centrality in many phases of the church. In Finland and in America the various Laestadian sects have different attitudes to TV in the home and to participation in sports. In speaking and writing the SRK and the First Born group leaders have rigid opposition to both but in practice there is no such rigid norm. The SRK prohibition against TV is a method of controlling members of the congregation and of measuring the obedience of members to the congregation. It seems that even this matter is becoming less severe in the SRK. For example, prohibition against the radio dramatically changed during the Winter War. People needed fresh news of the war and everyone secured a radio.

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