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

An Introduction and Overview

We are meeting to study the history of the Laestadian Movement. We may ask: Why would a seminary in Minneapolis in l982 be interested in a revival movement in northern Finland for it is only a drop in the sea of Christianity's history. Those who are here are possibly descendants of a Finnish heritage. Many ministers here may be serving congregations that have Laestadian background and roots. Even if we live in an American congregation today many matters and issues may be explained by our relationship to the Laestadian Revival Movement. I will divide my lectures into topics and provide time for questions and discussion. This morning I will speak of the beginnings of the revivals. In the afternoon I will speak of the divisions that took place in the Laestadian Movement. Tomorrow morning I will give an overall view of the Laestadian Movement today. For antecedents to the Laestadian Movement we seek individuals and movements that preceded the Laestadian Movement and served as its root and foundation. For example Lapp Mary has become very important in this tradition. Two important foundations of Laestadianism are:(l). the traditions of the Lutheran Church, and (2) the religious movements before time of the Laestadian Movement.

The traditions of the Lutheran Church is most important to the Laestadian Movement. In the northern countries for hundreds of years the church was in the middle of the community usually located on a hill. The church dominated the lives of the people. Major events in the lives of the people were church holidays and festivities and personal events as baptism, confirmation, communion, weddings, and funerals. These church events almost divided a person's life. Church festivities such as Easter, Christmas, Pentecost impressed on people the great Biblical events. The church was the first instructor for schools were under the auspices of the church for hundreds of years. All people were taught to read and write in church schools. Almost all books were religious books. Foremost were the hymnal, the catechism, the New Testament and later the whole Bible. These were read at home, in confirmation school and after l800 in Sunday school. We can seek the best roots for the beginning of the revival in the hymnal, the Bible and the catechism. In addition there many other devotional books. We note there was a blending of Orthodox and Pietistic writing in the hymnal. Orthodox pastors and church officials opposed the Pietist movement at first as awakening movements have suffered opposition throughout church history. Therefore there was a general understanding that Lutheran Orthodoxy was dead teaching and lacked living faith. The Pietists believed that a true Christian had to live the truth of the Christian Gospel. It is assumed that the Pietist movement brought a completely new leaf to Christianity. If we look carefully we note that even before the Pietist movement there was in the Orthodox Lutheran faith much living Christian faith material. Especially in the German, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish hymnals back to the 1600s we can see deep spiritual understandings and experiences. Even the Orthodox Lutheran church of the 1600s was endeavoring to offer the people living Christianity. When the Pietist Movement came (Philipp Jakob Spener 1635-1705 and August Hermann Francke 1663-1727) it did not wish to overthrow the good in religion that was present. Though officially the Pietist movement was opposed yet the Pietist movement entered, as if through the back door, and began to influence the lives of the people through devotional writings. The devotional writings in the Scandinavian countries of the l700s were of the Pietist tradition. The Pietist influenced writings provided ideas for thinking by the later movement leaders. In the Reader Movement we see evidence in their writings of a mixture of the Pietist and Orthodox Lutheran influence. A bishop in the northern most parish of Sweden gave this instruction, when there were large parishes where one could not expect people to come to church every Sunday because of distance, then in these parishes Sunday worship was to be held and someone who could read would read a sermon from the Postilla, prayers would be offered and hymns sung. This was a small community worship. These were conducted by the laity. These Postillas had mostly a Pietistic leaning. The reading was discussed by the attenders. In this way was born the lay spiritual work. In the early l800s Luther's writings became very favored. Reading and discussion of Luther's writings, especially in Sweden, resulted in an understanding and acceptance of Luther's teaching of justification by faith. The Reader's Movement became evangelical and at the same time it began to evaluate the teaching of the Church. Hence, the Reader Movement walked in faith with Luther in opposition to the Orthodox Church teaching. The Reader Movement born in Northern Sweden spread and had influence in southern Sweden and northern Finland. In the early l800s a religious revival was born in southern Sweden. The leader of this group became Carl Olaf Rosenius (1816-1868). Many of his books have been translated into English and have been read by Laestadians in America. They were translated into Finnish as well. We also know that Laestadius himself was effected by this movement. The Laestadian Revival Movement was born in the northern area of Sweden, Finland and Norway. Prior to and during the time of the Laestadian Revival there were many great revival movements in the Scandinavian countries. The Laestadian movement is not unique. It is one of many of a large group of revival movements. In southern Norway a great religious revival arose under the leadership of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824). In Sweden there were other religious revivals in addition to that of Laestadius. In southwest Finland and its Sauvo area there were other revival movements. Paavo Ruotsalainen (1777-1852), an itinerant lay preacher and counselor of many, was a leader of the Awakenist Movement. Fredrick Gabriel Hedberg (1811-1893), pastor in the state Lutheran church, was known as a leader in the Evangelical Movement. Ruotsalainen, Hedberg, and Laestadius disagreed with one another. There were other revival movements in the northern countries as well. The emphasis in all the revival movements was that the individual should have personal experience to faith and that it was not enough that the person had been baptized and that his name was in the church records. But these movements went in different directions in their explanation of how one was to come to Christian faith and how one was to live. Martin Luther (1483-1546) led the reformation of Catholicism redefining Christian doctrine and attacking and eliminating abuses. The Pietists of the revival movement of the 1600 and 1700 emphasized that the individual Christian needed to have personal experience to faith and that it was not enough that the person was baptized and that his name was in church records. Three great leaders in the Pietist Movement in Germany were Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), and Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinsendorf (1700-1760). Spener was a Pietist pastor in Frankfort demanding a spiritual life of Christianity of the heart as well as active effort to implement faith. August Hermann Francke, also a Pietist pastor, established at Halle a Bible Institute, missionary service, a Orphan House, schools, and hospitals. Zinsendorf, a Pietist, established Herrnhut and began the Moravian Revival called the Herrnhuts. These Pietists demanded that Christian faith must be evident in a person's life. It is perhaps an over simplification to say that Martin Luther taught the right doctrine and Spener and Francke taught proper living. This is certainly an over simplification for certainly Luther also taught proper living. Spener and Francke adhered to Luther's doctrine but they emphasized that correct doctrine did not suffice unless one's life corresponded to the correct doctrine confessed. Francke emphasized that a person must experience a crisis conversion and he also taught its necessity. Mission work was very important to Francke and the Protestant world got its greatest impetus from Francke for mission work. The third man in the Pietist Movement is Count Ludwig von Zinsendorf (l700-1760). He was student of Francke but became critical of Francke as being too legalistic. Zinsendorf's own understanding of Christianity was joyful. He said he had only one passion and that was Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Redeemer, who forgave sins. He preached about him. He preached in America was well as in Europe. Zinsendorf's students were the most zealous of missionary workers and preached only the Crucified Christ. The Moravians (Herrnhuts), followers of Zinsendorf, had the centrality of their Gospel in the viewing and the mediation in the wounds of the Crucified Christ. In the year l740 a collection of hymns was published in Sweden among the Herrnhuts or Moravians called the Hymns of Zion. Even today the Finnish Laestadians hymns mention the wounds of Christ as were mentioned in the Herrnhut Hymns of Zion. A place of refuge was established in Moravian on Zinsendorf's estate Berthelsdorf, called Herrnhut for Moravian refugees from religious persecution. These other Pietist Movements stayed within the Lutheran Church but the Moravians established a separate church. The Pietist Movement greatly influenced the religious understanding and conviction in the northern countries, perhaps even more so than in Germany. The Lutheran Reformation began in Finland in the 1500s. Reformers in Finland were students of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and of Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560). Sweden separated from the Catholic Church and the Papacy in 1520 to 1560. Teaching of Lutheran doctrine began earnestly in the 1600s.

In the first few decades after its inception the Laestadian Movement was relatively small in numbers. The greatest early revival movement was that under Rosenius in Sweden the early 1800s. The second large movement was the Hauge movement in Norway. On the continent the Laestadian Movement has the greatest influence in the northern countries. Why might the Laestadian Movement continue and perhaps have the greatest influence in the northern countries today? Perhaps the reason is that there was a division in the Rosenius Movement and the larger group separated itself from the state church and hence lost its influence because it was now outside the state church and its influence. The smaller faction of the Rosenius movement became so small that they could no longer exert as much influence as in the beginning. In Finland the revival movements other than the Laestadians became so similar to the state church that they lost their influence because they no longer were different. The Laestadian Movement on the other hand preserved its singularity and individuality and by remaining within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the state church, had been able to exert much influence in the north country. The Laestadian emphasis on absolution, the forgiveness of sins, has had great influence in Finland beyond and outside the state church. The Laestadian Movement has made repentance and the forgiveness of sins more familiar and then had has wide influence on the faith of the people. Consequently one hears more sermons and devotional meetings even on the radio proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in the name and blood of Jesus and the speaker may not be a Laestadian. Further it is acknowledged that the Laestadians Movement has made known the blessings of the confession of sins and their forgiveness in the name and blood of Jesus. It is in these matters that the Laestadians have had an influence on the church in Finland. The influence of Laestadians has been more pronounced in northern Finland and Sweden than in the southern parts of these countries. Of Laestadius' conversion experience we do not know historically. The Laestadian tradition knows of his conversion experience much more specifically than does historical research. Laestadian tradition knows that Mary the Lapp girl proclaimed to Laestadius the forgiveness of sins but we do not find verification for this in any of the sources. Laestadius himself explains that the Lapp girl opened her heart to him and explained what she had experienced, but then it is the Laestadian interpretation that Mary the Lapp girl proclaimed to him the forgiveness of his sins. The conversion experience of the early leaders of the Laestadian Movement is much more unclear than is the later teaching of the Laestadians. Erkki Antti Juhonpieti relates that he had a conversion experience reading a certain Herrnhut book. Others saw Jesus shedding His blood while they were alone. It is in the later development of the Laestadian Movement that the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins results in conversion and brings the realization and the blessings of grace. To Hauge and Rosenius righteous by faith was highly important to be experienced by grace. Rosenius also relates in his teaching a certain Swedish Reader woman who influenced him in the same manner as Laestadius had been influenced by Lapp Mary in his conversion. Rosenius conversion did not take place when he was listening to the Swedish Reader woman. Hauge's conversion experience seems to have been more severe and more legalistic than Rosenius'. LARS LEVI LAESTADIUS Lars Levi Laestadius stressed conversion and personal experience of salvation. This was the main point in Laestadius teaching that conversion for a person must be a trying experience in which there must be a complete change of heart for it is the heart that must be changed. A person must receive a new heart. Therefore, according to Laestadius the Law must be preached without mercy. Laestadius said that the bear cub must first be awakened before it can be killed. For this reason he used very direct and coarse language to reveal for the people their sins. Laestadius' hearers were shocked when he began preaching in l844. They were not used to this type of language. Initially they left the church for they were not used to such language but the salt of his sermons made them thirsty to hear more and they came back and filled the church. One aspect of the repentance of the Law breaking sinner was to confess his sins publicly before the congregation. Laestadius himself said that he who wishes to become the Lord's own will not be ashamed to open his life before God and His people. Wrongs committed had to be made right and restitution provided when needed. The confession of sins then became one of the characteristics of the Laestadian Movement. Laestadius was not just a preacher of the Law for his sermons also had the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not certain that this formula of absolution of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name and blood was evident in his sermons. But in his sermons he portrayed the crucified king of Zion, Jesus Christ the elder from Heaven who is poured out His blood for His children. This Redeemer, he presented to the Law breaking sinner. He also taught that a person had to believe as a sinner as lowly as satan himself. A person is to believe his sins forgiven as a sinner. Though one may feel himself totally a wretched sinner and hopeless, one has no other alternative but to believe himself a forgiven child of God.

Laestadius emphasized the reality of receiving the Holy Spirit on conversion. This ignited in the hearts of converts an out pouring of joy. Signs of grace were spoken of in the beginning of the revival. Conversions caused great rejoicing in the services. A clear boundary now became evident between Christians and the pagans as Laestadians referred to the unbelievers. Though Laestadius was preaching to baptized, he would say that some of you are Christians and some of you are pagans. Laestadius made it obligatory upon his disciples to work for the welfare of Christianity. He sent young men and women to neighboring communities to deliver sermons prepared by him. This fervor for conversion of souls became a marked characteristic of the Laestadian Movement. Converts spoke to friends and neighbors of what they themselves had received. In fact they traveled further to neighboring parishes. They also examined the condition of each other's soul. Later Laestadius differed with this practice. He thought that Christians could examine and determine who had and who did not have the Holy Spirit. Laestadius in a funeral sermon might state whether the departed had or did not have the Holy Spirit. The line between Christians and non-Christians was clear to Laestadius, he believed. This was the source of the exclusiveness of the Laestadians that was singularly characteristic of them. Another source or reason for the exclusiveness of the Laestadians was their isolation in the far north country. There were no other revival movements in the north country. In the north country parishes were large and large areas were served by one pastor who could not give care to all souls in his parish. Consequently, after the Laestadian Movement began lay preachers came to play important roles in the revival. After the death of Laestadius no state pastor replaced Laestadius and care of souls was left to Laestadian lay preachers. The most important leader after the death of Laestadius was Juhani Raattamaa (l8ll-l899). Juhani Raattamaa was Laestadius' student and assistant in Laestadius' teaching and parish work. As Laestadianism was the only revival movement in the north country, it encouraged the development of the conviction that Laestadianism was the only true advocate for the Kingdom of God. This is not evidenced in Laestadius' writings that he left behind. Laestadius we know had contacts with other revival movements. He did not speak of them disparagingly but rather gave them value. Another important characteristic of the Laestadian Movement in addition to the experiencing of salvation was the spiritual priesthood or the priesthood of all believers. All Christians, all believers, who had received the Holy Spirit were priests. All Christians had received for use the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The keys of the kingdom of heaven have been the central proclamation of the Laestadian Movement. Attempts have been made to determine when the keys of the kingdom of heaven were first put to use. For about forty years the understanding has been that the use of the keys of the kingdom of heaven has been practiced since l853. And it was Juhani Raattamaa who put to use the keys of the kingdom of heaven. We need to say that original sources on this matter are lacking. Not until the l880's did Raattamaa himself begin to speak in his writings of the use of the keys of the kingdom of God. Of course, the keys of the kingdom of heaven are spoken of not only in scripture and the catechism but also by Luther in his sermons. Luther's sermons were not translated into Finnish until about l850. It would be most natural to assume that this matter was learned from the catechism. Laestadius was a church pastor and taught the catechism and therefore without question the keys to bind and to loose were totally familiar to Laestadius. But we tend to believe that Laestadius was slow to use the Keys to bind and to loose. But so far as we know Laestadius did not oppose their use. We do know for certain that by l860 the use of the keys of the kingdom of heaven came into general practice. There was the understanding by men outside the Laestadian Movement as well as by those inside the Movement that by the end of the l860s the Laestadian Movement that had begun as a legalistic conversion movement was by then an evangelical movement. In the beginning the sermons were of the crucified Christ who atoned for sins, but later the emphasis was on the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus blood and name. It is believed at present that Juhoni Raattamaa greatly influenced the trend to a more evangelical mission. It is believed that Laestadius was more legalistic and evidenced the Pietistic influence while Raattamaa brought the more Lutheran evangelical spirit into the Movement. If we analyze carefully the writings of Laestadius and Raattamaa we must conclude that the two agreed as to doctrine. Raattamaa in his recorded funeral sermons cast doubt on the salvation of a certain deceased. During Raattamaa's time of preaching the Movement tended to become more evangelical. It was not totally Raattamaa's influence for Raattamaa more than any others of his time attempted to adhere strictly to the teachings of Laestadius. Bishop Olaus Brannstrom presently Bishop in Sweden, in his dissertation suggested that Laestadius and Raattamaa hewed to the same doctrine but that Erkii Antti Juhonpieti was more evangelical. Comments regarding the lay preachers trained by Laestadius may be helpful. Lay preachers who later played leadership roles in the Laestadian Movement included Juhani Raattamaa and Erkii Antti Juhonpieti as well as many others. The people of the north county lived a much broader life and had many more contacts such as with the cultures of the Norwegians, Swedes, Finns and Lapps. While the farmers of southern Finland, Sweden, and Norway lived isolated self-contained lives and had only contacts in the small towns while the people of the north country were exposed to three cultures. They made long journeys in contrast to the trips to town of the southern farmers. After l870 the north people knew America better than they did Helsinki or Stockholm, but they were separated in the sense that they were not exposed to any other revival movement in the north country.

What accounted for the exclusiveness of the Laestadians that they were the only true advocates and members of the kingdom of God? First it appears that it was partly because of Laestadius' heavy emphasis on a dramatic conversion experience and evidence of having received the Holy Spirit. These were given much more prominence among Laestadians than in the other revival movements. Though there was no written record of how the Holy Spirit was received by Laestadius or Erkki Antti Juhonpieti, yet later leaders seem to have projected back into history the tradition of how the Holy Spirit was received by early leaders. This then became part of the Laestadian doctrine. Yes, this is how the tradition developed. The second important characteristic of the Laestadians was their emphasis on the spiritual priesthood of all believers. This in turn strengthened the congregation. All the revival movements after the time of the Pietists have emphasized the priesthood of all believers. Among the Laestadians the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is especially strong. In turn the congregation feels responsible for every member of the congregation. This does have a negative aspect for as we very warmly turn inward to our congregation then we are apt to turn our back to the outside world.

Laestadius believed that there was evidence that the Holy Spirit was present in a specific individual. Laestadius as a botanist compared spiritual phenomena to natural phenomena and drew conclusions. For example, Laestadius collected and recorded weather data which he forwarded to the Swedish Science Academy at Stockholm. Laestadius had observed the coincidence of the time of an earthquake in his own parish and the outburst of joy of a woman who had received the Holy Spirit. Laestadius recorded and drew a relationship between the earthquake and the woman's ecstasy of joy on conversion as if of nature's verification of the truth of the receipt of God's grace. Later the requirements for signs of grace were not as demanding as this. As time went on there was less emphasis on signs then there was in the beginning.

Because of Laestadius' emphasis on signs of grace much more value was placed on rejoicing as a sign of the Holy Spirit. Raattamaa in many of his letters speaks of rejoicing as the influence of the Holy Spirit. For example, Reverend Albert Heikel who later became a Laestadian, became involved in a serious crisis when he censored a person for rejoicing in church and asked the person to leave and the service was concluded. He later repented for his action and approved of the value Raattamaa placed on rejoicing. On the death of Reverend Heikel Raattamaa wrote of Heikel as having the Holy Spirit as God's elect for Heikel had interpreted rejoicing of believers as influenced by the Holy Spirit. Earlier preachers stated that when rejoicing ceases in the worship service then the influence of the Holy Spirit ceases. No group of the Laestadians preaches to this effect today. Rejoicing is not general in any Laestadian group today. The exception to this is the Pollari group in which rejoicing is general and which critics claim is carried to the extreme. Many are offended by the rejoicing in the various charismatic movements today and yet they are similar to the rejoicing of the early Laestadian movement.

In 1770 a revival movement, the Viklund Movement, under the preaching of Nils Viklund (1721-1785) extended from Ullitornio to Lapland. It is surmised that the Viklund Movement prepared the way for the Laestadian Movement. One of the characteristics of the movement was the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. Another characteristic was their rejoicing. This Viklund Movement was an evangelical Christianity. Hence we can say that it prepared the ground work for Laestadianism. When Laestadius came south to preach in the Tornio River area people said, " We hear the voice of Viklund". The old converts of the Viklund Movement had a poor relationship with the Laestadians for both groups rejected each other. When a revival movement has lived several generations it has difficulty in accepting a new revival from the present generation. Today in some of the charismatic movements there are some of the characteristics that were present earlier in the Laestadian Movement. Hence, the Laestadians may say that it is foolishness. Today's Christians do not know history.

Questions came from the audience at the seminar. Where is the head of the Laestadian Movement? Is it in Sweden? Do they have a bishop? The Laestadian Movement had its beginning among the Lapps but quickly it assumed an important place with the Finns. In northern Sweden there was a wide area that had many Finnish speaking Finns. They were the same Finnish people that lived on both sides of the border and on both sides of the Tornio River. Through the 1800s they spoke only Finnish. When Laestadius came there as a pastor he had to speak Finnish to them throughout his life. Hence, for the Laestadians the Finnish language is the holy language as Latin is to the Catholics. This is the contributing reason by Laestadianism has spread in Finland. In Sweden the Laestadian Movement spread to that part of Sweden that was Finnish in the late l800s. Because of educational and social progress Swedish is s spoken in those areas today. The Laestadian Movement has flourished in those parishes of Sweden where Finnish once was spoken. Perhaps eighty percent of the Laestadians in the world reside in Finland. More questions from the participants: Have all the revivals come about because of individuals or how would one account for the rise of revivals? This is an interesting philosophical question. Historically we may ask is it the influence of the individual or is it the conditions of the times that have given rise to revivals. When we consider the great movements of the l800s we note that the literacy rate in Finland, Norway and Sweden had risen to the extent that people generally could read scripture and the catechism for themselves. There were also other influences in society that may have prepared the way for spiritual revivals. There were factors in society generally and in the church that contributed to the birth of these overwhelming revivals. It is said that in the northern countries the social movements began as religious revivals. We have the temperance movement and then the labor union movement. Then universal suffrage was extended to all persons. The power of influence became possible for the common people. Though we rightly view the revivals as God's work to salvage His people yet at the same time they were channels for the social movements. Together the religious and social movements had tremendous influence on society. Then we can consider what factors caused Lars Levi Laestadius to become the kind of preacher and intellectual thinker and to have the kinds of experiences that he had. We also have Paavo Ruotsalainen, Carl Olaf Rosenius, Hans Nielsen Hauge and many others. These influences were such that the revivals began and these men then provided the leadership. It is similar to what happened in Luther's time. Time was ripe for these great personalities to exert their influence. Had there not been other factors the Lutheran Reformation would not have been born regardless of how many Luthers we might have had. Nor would there have been a Laestadian Movement regardless of how many Laestadiuses we might have had. These work together - these factors and these individuals. Is the "Apostolic Succession" part of the Laestadian doctrine? This is a question that cannot be answered historically. It is certain that God has preserved His Gospel through all times. At this time it is impossible to research it through one church. It is even more impossible to trace that stream. The Laestadian tradition says that Lapp Mary had learned it and received it from Pastor Pehr Brandell. Brandell belong to the Reader Movement. He was from the same area as Rosenius. From there we can go back to the Herrnhuts (Moravians). The Laestadian tradition historically ends there. Then we have two hundred years to Luther. We may surmise that not only in the Lutheran Church but in other churches the Word has been offered. The forgiveness of sins is the very foundation of the Christian faith. It is not something special to the Laestadian faith. When one does research in church history one cannot say that the Holy Spirit works here and does not reside there.

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