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 6: The Training of Ministers

The training of ministers as generally practiced by the Laestadians may be of special interest to the seminarians. The education of ministers in the First Born sect of Laestadians generally indicates the training of ministers in all other sects of the Laestadians. In northern Finland, Sweden and Norway among the First Born young or middle aged men begin speaker training as Sunday school teachers and then go on as readers of the text for older ministers in the Sunday service. Then after a while the young inexperienced men begin to accompany older experienced preachers to the pulpit. In all cases it was deemed necessary that the young man in training be under the guidance of an older experienced preacher. In fact ministers could say whose students they were. This was an effective method of teaching ministers for preaching mission journeys would extend for weeks. It was important for the young trainee to study the Bible with his senior guiding minister. In this way he learned more about the Bible and the care of souls. It was recognized that a few of the trainees became speakers very quickly because of the very special blessing of the Holy Spirit. It is said that Juhoni Takkinen became a speaker very soon after his conversion. Though training of ministers even among the First Born has changed yet their training of ministers illustrates well past practice in almost all the Lasestadian groups. John Runtti became a preacher at l8-19 years of age. As the revival waned the age of the ministers rose. In Finland there was no other training for lay preachers. In the New Awakenist group there is some type of institute established to train ministers. Once an year ministers gather for training discussions but there is no required attendance for any one. Very important is that there are many Laestadian university and seminary trained ministers who are serving as pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the state church. There are some in Sweden and many in Finland. Their training in the university and the seminary is the same as for all other ordained ministers. The Laestadian seminary student at the university seminary may adopt one or the other of opposite attitudes toward university seminary training for the ministry. A university professor ventured this opinion: Some of the Laestadian seminary students are very careful that nothing of seminary training stick to them as they want nothing of the seminary training but find it necessary to qualify for a position from which to qualify for a position from which they may preach the true gospel as they see it. Many Laestadian seminary students, of course, are earnest in garnering all the knowledge possible and then subjecting all of it to their best criteria for evaluation. This, of course, is the most difficult road. Many university seminary trained Laestadian ministers have given their whole hearted support to this mode of ministerial training. Bishop Tapaninen and Rector Oscar Jussila encouraged young men seek university seminary training for the ministry and to pursue that training diligently and conscientiously. Ministers who have conscientiously completed their seminary training find that their training has reflected in all of their work. Consequently, some Laestadian seminary trained ordained ministers have served as examples to lay preachers. Traditionally sermons followed the text verse to verse but after World War II thematic sermon construction became the norm among the ordained ministers as well as many lay preachers. Waino Havos exerted a tremendous influence on sermon construction. His sermons were thematic. In central Finland there were a large number of Laestadian speakers who were influenced by Havos. But conditions are different in America. In America you have a lot more pastors for here all speakers are both preachers and pastors while in Finland only ordained ministers are both speakers and pastors and lay preachers are only speakers. In contrast to Finland's practices your ministers here lack seminary training. In Finland and Sweden the training of speakers is not entirely under lay control as it is here. In days past when all members of the congregation were farmers and the preacher was a farmer this practice seemed appropriate and worked well. Today when a large number of the congregation have several years of higher education one might ask doesn't the minister also need higher education. There may be other reasons for this seminary, The Inter-Lutheran Theological Seminary, but among Laestadians it appears as a serious shortcoming - the absence of university seminary training for ministers. A Laestadian seminary of which The Inter-Lutheran Theological Seminary is the only one in America is very singular. In Finland there is no counterpart of a Laestadian seminary specifically. To have a Laestadian seminary in Finland as you have here in America is against the Laestadian heritage and consequently would arouse much opposition in Finland. A criticism leveled against Salomon Korteniemi who preached in the Copper Peninsula in l872-l878 was that he wrote his sermons. According to Laestadian tradition the minister is to open his mouth and whatever comes out is by the Holy Spirit. When this is said, it seems forgotten that the early Laestadian ministers studied scriptures diligently. Certainly, hardly a day went by that they were not preparing a sermon with the Bible. But they did not call it preparing a sermon. It is very difficult to change these old attitudes. Tradition says Laestadius wrote all his sermons. (In fact he wrote sermons for his student ministers to deliver). There were reasons why Laestadius wrote all his sermons. His native language was Swedish and though he knew Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and German he did not know Finnish and he needed to learn Finnish in order to preach to the Finns in Kaaresuvanto (Karesuando) parish. On the other hand we can be thankful that God so ordained that Laestadius wrote out his sermons and consequently they were preserved for posterity in his Postilla.

Pekka Raittila responds to questions from participants. "How many ordained ministers are there in Finland compared to the number of lay preachers? one asks. Perhaps there are three lay preachers to one ordained minister. There are about two hundred Laestadian ministers serving the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Suomen Evankelisluterilainen Kirkko). If the ordained ministers are satisfied to serve in a middle position among the lay preachers and not in the bow or stern but in the middle then the relationship of lay and ordained ministers is good. If the ordained ministers end up in positions of leadership in the Laestadian congregation than a power struggle can result. During the l960 division there was clearly a power struggle between the pastors and the lay preachers. In l934 a similar struggle took place. Rigid confrontations do not take place frequently but there is an ongoing anxiety. Among the First Born there are no trained pastors in America but there may be a few in Finland. The Laestadian pastors in the state church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, are vulnerable in that they are engaged in many activities and must participate in the confession of faith with which the Laestadians do not totally agree or support. A question from a participant: "In Finland and America Lutheran pastors take an oath to uphold the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and Luther's Small Catechism. Where has this originated?", one asks. Pekka, This goes back in history to 1550 at the Uppsala meeting to a statement of faith of the state Lutheran church of Sweden. Finland at that time was a part of Sweden. By this oath one becomes a member of the Lutheran World Federation. I do not know how this oath came to America but it does appear in the early l900s in the process of legalizing congregation. Though Laestadians have had some concern about the interpretation of some books of the Augsburg Confession, The Book of Concord, yet no Laestadian group would say that the Book of Concord is not acceptable as a basis for faith. When the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and Luther's Small Catechism and other confessional books are correctly interpreted then the Laestadians can accept them as a basis for the Gospel.

Officially a lay preacher may speak in the state church if he has official permission. Lay preachers from the United States have preached in the state church in Helsinki for example. Only ordained pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland may administer the sacraments and perform the official rites of the church. As members of the state church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, all Laestadians participate in the sacraments and rituals of the church. Baptism, confirmation, communion, weddings and funerals are performed for Laestadians by pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the state church.

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