They’re talking about revival in Finland.
An upsurge of spiritual interest and activity has been evident among Finns over the past year and a half, and secular and church media alike have devoted major attention to it. Thousands of people have been flocking to meetings where the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the need for deeper commitment to Christ are emphasized. Evangelistic outreach and missionary interest are also part of the new spiritual wave. Dozens of the 600 parishes of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF), which claims about 92 per cent of the country’s 4.8 million population, are involved, along with non-Lutheran congregations.
At the center of some of the more sensational press coverage is Niilo Yli-Vainio, a Pentecostal lay preacher who came out of a disability-enforced retirement. He began preaching again in 1977 after he and his wife were “miraculously” healed of cancer, as he has testified in crowded meetings throughout Finland. Some observers say that his meetings have attracted more than 200,000 so far, an estimate others insist is exaggerated. Many people have claimed to be physically healed as well as spiritually renewed at these meetings. In a number of the services persons who are prayed for appear to faint, a phenomenon Yli-Vainio describes as “slain in the Spirit.”
Last summer Archbishop Martti Simojoki—the ELCF primate who has since retired—publicly rebuked Yli-Vainio for “commanding” God to heal. (The successor to Simojaki, consecrated last month, is professor Mikka Juva, 60, chancellor of the University of Helsinki, and more neutral in his stance toward the charismatic movement.) In return, some of Yli-Vainio’s followers have charged that the ELCF is tradition-bound and spiritually dead, and they have encouraged members to leave it and join a group more in step with the Spirit. However, Yli-Vainio has counseled his Lutheran listeners to stay in their church and work for renewal from within, advice apparently accepted by most of them—and appreciated by the ELCF leaders.
As the movement has spread among ELCF congregations, it has become more moderate, with much less emphasis on tongues and healing. It is still known in the press and in the church as the charismatic movement, even though most of its leaders have never spoken in tongues—a situation that exists elsewhere in Europe as well.
Among the movement’s early leaders within the ELCF were Erkki Pennanen, pastor of a church in the suburbs of Tampere, and Seppo Loytty, dean of the cathedral in Mikkeli. Pennanen experienced spiritual renewal at a Yli-Vainio meeting and, together with other pastors, conducted a revival service in April at the Alexander Church in Tampere. Nearly 1,000 people crowded to the altar to confess their sins and to seek God’s blessings. More than 1,300 people attended a repeat meeting in the same church in September. Also in September, the Mikkeli cathedral hosted a revival conference for church leaders that drew nearly 350 pastors and other church professionals, and more than 2,000 persons attended a session open to the public.
Earlier, about 140 pastors and workers attended a similar leadership conference in Helsinki, where the movement is spearheaded by the evangelism-oriented People’s Bible Society and individuals like theologian Ulla-Christina Sjonnan, a worker in a Swedish-speaking parish.
A breakthrough in church opinion occurred in August when Bishop Kalevi Toiviainen of the Mikkeli diocese issued a pastoral letter expressing cautious approval of the revivalists. “Congregations should not adopt a condemnatory attitude to the charismatic movement, in spite of the features it contains which are alien to Lutheranism,” he advises his pastors. “The longing for spiritual renewal inherent in the movement may prove a blessing for the congregations of our church.” Those in search of renewal should not be alienated or abandoned, he said, “but one should try to pray, search, and discover with them.” He did warn against pushing the sacraments into the background, ignoring the church’s institutional reality, and viewing speaking in tongues and healing as required proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Cathedral dean Loytty and Sikku Paunonen, the top missions executive of the People’s Bible Society, were invited to explain the renewal movement at a meeting of the ELCF’s eight bishops in September. During the meeting, several bishops spoke warmly of the movement. The pastors and lay leaders involved in the movement in the Tampere diocese are genuinely renewed pepple, commented Bishop Erkki Kansanaho of Tampere. He added that he had been “deeply touched” by their testimonies. As the meeting ended, Loytty and Paunonen were commended, “You are Lutherans and ministers—ordained to do what you are doing,” said one bishop.
Increasingly, the People’s Bible Society (PBS) is providing leadership and direction for the renewal movement. PBS emerged from a revival movement in the early 1940s that was sparked by renowned Scandinavian evangelist Frank Mangs. With 135 staff workers and a budget of $2.5 million, PBS is the largest evangelistic service organization within the Lutheran church. It provides congregations with guest speakers and full-scale preaching missions (250 last year), sponsors evangelism teams and mobile ministries, publishes the 65,000-circulation weekly tabloid Sana and a wide range of Christian literature, runs nine conference centers (80,000 registrants last year), and conducts a ministry among university students in Finland’s three largest cities (there are nearly 100 cell groups, and an annual Bible conference attracts hundreds of students).
The PBS has worked closely with Campus Crusade for Christ, borrowing generously from its materials and methods. Three pastors and a lay leader traveled to the United States in 1976 to study Crusade’s “Here’s Life” campaign, and then returned to plan a similar effort for Tampere. More than 100 workers were trained, and last month they launched a ten-day “Here’s Life Tampere” crusade. When it was all over, 40,000 evangelistic calls had been logged, the ten Lutheran churches that were involved reported capacity crowds at Sunday services, and many people were enrolled in freshly organized follow-up groups. “The entire city was shaken,” declared one pastor.
PBS executive Veli-Pekka Toiviainen was the prime mover behind the 1973 Congress of Evangelism in Helsinki (attended by 1,100 delegates) and served as its general secretary. Last year, 1,500 attended a landmark missions conference in Helsinki run by PBS missions specialist Sikku Paunonen. “These two happenings got people moving toward the evangelization of the church,” declared Toiviainen.
Christianity came to Finland from both East and West as early as the tenth and eleventh centuries. The Orthodox faith (claiming 61,000 members today) took root among the Karelians, the easternmost tribe, while the other tribes adopted Roman Catholicism, which was spread by the Swedes. Lutheranism was brought to Finland in the 1500s by reformer Mikael Agricola, a disciple of Martin Luther at Wittenberg, and supplanted Catholicism.
Until 1809, when the Russians acquired Finland from the Swedes, the Church of Finland was a part of the Church of Sweden. Soon after Finland won its independence from Russia in 1917, the government enacted freedom-of-religion legislation, making the life and work of non-ELCF churches easier. The ELCF remains, however, as the country’s “folk” or state church. It enjoys a large measure of autonomy, but some decisions are subject to the approval of the parliament, which provides the church with most of its funding through taxes. Public schools include religious instruction in classroom teaching.
As in other Nordic countries, the question of church-and-state relationships is under consideration. Veteran observers see no major changes in the near future—only the continuation of a gradual process of detachment.
Four regional revival movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and at least one major movement since World War I has made a lasting imprint upon Finnish Lutheranism, according to church historians. The movements, which became institutionalized, each have their own organizations, publishing programs, and summer mass meetings (a useful gauge of movement strength), but all have remained within the church.
The Supplicationists make prayer the central element of individual and family religious practice and of their public meetings. Scattered in southwestern Finland, they sponsor an annual summer conference attended by 4,000 to 5,000 people. Traditionalists, they cling to an old Bible translation and hymnal. Their roots go back to the early days of revival in the 1700s when people swooned, spoke in tongues, and prophesied about the end of the world. Under the leadership of pastors, the emotionalism gave way to quiet prayer.
Speaking in tongues also marked the early (but not later) phases of the Awakened movement, sparked in 1796, and strongly influenced by pietism. The movement emphasizes the importance of a daily fresh beginning and a daily struggle. Between 20,000 and 25,000 gather for the movement’s annual summer conference.
The Evangelical movement broke away from the Awakened in the 1840s, placing greater emphasis on assurance of salvation and less on sinfulness and struggle in the Christian life. Strong doctrinal teaching is still a hallmark of the movement (known today as the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland), which draws from 10,000 to 15,000 to its yearly conference.
The Laestadian movement is named after its founder, Lars Levi Laestadius, a vicar in Lapland who, in the middle 1940s, traded his cynicism and legalism for salvation in Christ, thanks to a young Lappish girl who testified how she had received the peace of God when the blood of Jesus cleansed her. The blood of Christ became central in the movement’s preaching services and sins were confessed before the entire congregation. In time, the movement became exclusivist and legalistic; several splits occurred. The largest ongoing group, the Conservative Laestadians, is led by laymen. Discipline is still strict, and the conduct of individual members is monitored. There are 300 local societies, and from 40,000 to 50,000 people attend the annual conference.
The so-called Fifth or Neo-Pietist revival movement came out of the preaching of Erho Muroma in the 1920s and 1930s. The movement’s identity is preserved in a number of organizations, but mainly in the Finnish Lutheran Mission (FLM), formed in 1967 by several evangelical groups, including the Finnish affiliate of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. As the second-largest mission society in the Lutheran church (the Finnish Missionary Society is largest), the FLM carries on a variety of ministries. It has stirred up some controversy by its bitter opposition to the World Council of Churches and by its apparent snub of local churches. Most active Finnish church members belong both to a local parish and to a local chapter of a revival or mission organization. The FLM once indicated that membership in one of its branches was more important than memership in a local church.
There have been other revivals, including the one that produced the People’s Bible Society, but Finnish church leaders don’t classify them as movements. Some believe that the current charismatic wave may be the beginning of a “sixth” revival movement. Others differ, among them Dean Mauri Larkio of the Helsinki Cathedral, where a number of charismatic meetings are held. “It is not a separate movement,” he said. “I believe it is something that will touch and be part of the entire church.”
There are still problems. Lethargy plagues many parishes, and only 2.3 per cent of the population is in church on Sundays. (Church authorities are quick to point out that surveys show 15 to 18 per cent listen to weekly church broadcasts, that Finland’s highest radio audience ratings are for the daily broadcasts of morning and evening devotions, and that about 25 per cent of members attend weekday activities and meetings.)
As a result of all the years of revival activity, Finland leads the Nordic countries in theological and ecclesiastical health (ahead of Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark). For example: “The majority of Finnish pastors are theologically conservative,” states Bishop John Vikström, who heads the ELCF’s 300,000-member Swedish-speaking diocese.
Today Finland is experiencing a new spiritual wave. Says PBS journalist Tapani Ruokanen, “The Church of Finland is not what it used to be.”
Afrikaaners Reject Multi-Racial Synod
The influential General Synod of the white Dutch Reformed Church (Nederduits Gereformeede Kerk or NGK) of South Africa last month overwhelmingly voted against forming a single synod that would include its three Non-White sister churches of Blacks, Indians, and Coloureds—churches that are the fruits of its own missionary work. The sister churches at present have their own synods.
The advisory Federal Council that includes representatives from the four churches last March proposed the creation of an all-embracing supersynod. The Federal Council, which meets only once every four years, has no administrative powers and can only make recommendations to the various Dutch Reformed synods.
The NGK General Synod decision not to merge with its Non-White sister churches in a single decision-making synod might cause a split in this largest church in South Africa with almost three million members.
Leaders of the Black and Coloured churches have warned that their churches might now decide to “go it alone” on the way of unity after last month’s decision. The General Synod (itself a merger of eight White synods) also narrowly voted down a proposed amendment that would have referred the merger question to a special commission for further study. It did, however, opt to retain its links to the Black, Indian, and Coloured churches through the Federal Council.
The name of the bishop of Gothenburg, Sweden, on page 55 of the October 20 issue should have been listed as Bertil E. Gartner. We regret the error.
One of the strongest opponents of an all-embracing, multi-racial synod was J. D. Vorster, a leader of the Cape Synod withing the NGK. Speaking against the motion, he reportedly said, “They want to integrate. We must not give them an opening.” Vorster is the brother of the previous prime minister of South Africa, B. John Vorster, who is now state president. (Pieter Botha, who succeeded Vorster as prime minister, is an NGK elder.)
Leaders of the Non-White churches, in commenting on the decision of the General Synod, express deep concern and regret. Clergyman Sam Buti, scribe of the NGK in Africa (Black) and president of the South African Council of Churches said, “The decision will not stop our seeking unity with the other churches.” The NGK in Africa, which has many White preachers, voted several weeks earlier in favor of full integration from the congregational level on up. Buti believes that Whites might now want to join the Black integrated churches on an individual basis.
Another major issue at the meeting of the General Synod was the charismatic renewal movement. The Synod accepted the statement by a special investigation committee, saying that all gifts of the Holy Spirit are in operation today as they were in the apostolic era. The committee even suggested that there might be more gifts today than are mentioned in the Bible. The committee report did say that believers should not overemphasize spiritual gifts. But the decision came as a surprise. Previously, some converts who practiced certain gifts were criticized in their churches, and many left.
In contrast to the Reformed Church stand, the annual conference of the Methodist Church in South Africa recently voted for racial equality, not only in the church, but throughout South Africa in adherence to the principle of one man, one vote. Methodist ministers also were instructed to inform prospective new members of the church of its stance on racial issues. The Methodists also resolved that the fight in Rhodesia and Namibia (South-West Africa) is no longer between Whites and Blacks. Instead, they say, it pits those who seek a solution by negotiation and reconciliation against those who seek their own interests by the power of the gun.
Muslims: Probing For New Approaches
One hundred and fifty delegates last month explored the evangelistic possibilities in the Muslim world during a week-long conference at Colorado Springs, Colorado, co-sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and World Vision International.
Delegates read forty foundation papers prior to their arrival. (Response to this conceptual and statistical groundwork was a prerequisite for attendance.) In session, the delegates planned new approaches and determined areas for new study in four spheres: church and nationhood, theological research and training, communication media, and evangelism and church growth.
A coordinating office, to be located at World Vision headquarters in Monrovia, California, will issue the conference report. Later, the office will serve as a clearinghouse for information coming in from task forces established at the conference.
Religion In Transit
Clergy and school pressure forced the nation’s largest brewery, Anheuser-Busch, to suspend test marketing and promotion of “Chelsea”—the so-called baby beer. Considered a non-alcoholic beverage with less than 5 per cent alcohol content, the foamy, malt-based drink was packaged like bottled beer. Protests were that Chelsea would promote a favorable attitude toward beer drinking among youngsters.
Last month the U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches defended the council’s controversial Program to Combat Racism—the fund from which $85,000 was recently taken to give the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) for humanitarian purposes. (See Sept. 8 issue, p. 60.) Critics said the money would be spent for guns by the Patriotic Front, which is fighting against an interim political settlement in Rhodesia. Conference participants blamed the uproar on “widespread misinformation in the secular media in North America which have equated activities of liberation groups with irresponsible behavior.” They also claimed that Christians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America supported the grant.
Officials of many private and church-related schools are agitated by a proposal now before the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS may revoke the tax exempt status of private schools “formed or substantially expanded at or about the time of desegregation of public schools” unless those schools can prove they are not racially discriminatory. The IRS has received thousands of protest letters; it will hold a public hearing on the matter early next month.
Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians still disagree on the divisive doctrine of papal infallibility, but their attitudes are more conciliatory. That’s the gist of a 9,000-word statement issued by a U.S. Lutheran-Catholic theological working team—the result of ten separate discussions over the last four and one half years. One conclusion: “The ultimate trust of Christians is in Christ and the gospel, not in a doctrine of infallibility, whether of scripture, the church or the Pope.” The Lutheran theologians support the “indefectibility of the church”—that it is protected from irremediable error—and said their position has much in common with infallibility.
Southern Baptist evangelist James Robison was the willing recipient of the 1,600-acre east Texas campus of Ambassador College, formerly owned by Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God. Virginia businessman F. William Menge bought the Big Sandy, Texas, property that includes 330 buildings, a 16,000-seat convention center, an airplane hanger and landing strip, and recreational facilities for $10.6 million, and gave it to Robison’s evangelistic association (of which he is a board member). The property has an estimated value of $30 to $50 million, and financial difficulties in the Armstrong church may have prompted the bargain sale. Robison will use the property for youth retreats, discipleship training, and as a retirement center.
Neal C. Wilson has been elected president of the three-million-member Seventh-day Adventist Church. A former missions worker in the Middle East and current vice-president of the church, Wilson succeeds Robert H. Pierson. President for the past twelve years, Pierson resigned suddenly for health reasons.
President Carter has selected former New York mayor Robert F. Wagner, a Catholic, to be his personal representative to the Vatican. Unsalaried and without diplomatic status, the position first was created by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In an administrative shuffle, Henry M. Morris has become president at Christian Heritage College. Morris will continue as director of the Institute for Creation Research, San Diego-based research division of the eight-year-old liberal arts school. Co-founder and president of the college Tim LaHaye was elevated to the position of chancellor.
For the first time in ten years an evangelical church in Portugal has been closed down. The church in Mirandela was ordered officially closed by the mayor of the town, an action viewed “with great concern” by the Evangelical Alliance of Portugal.
A large home southeast of London that was originally built for David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer and missionary, has been sold to the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon. The property, located in Chiselhurst, Kent, had been a convent for the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy for the last thirty years. The Sisters sold the house at public auction. They say they would not have agreed to the sale if they had known the identity of the purchasers, who used their full name, Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity.
A prominent Greek Orthodox priest has urged that the Ecumenical Patriarchate be moved from Istanbul to escape the pressures that he says are being applied by the Turkish government. Cleric Constantine N. Dombalis, vicar for Virginia of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of the South, said the Greek Orthodox population in Istanbul has shrunk from 300,000 to 7,000 since 1925. “How can you select a superior hierarchy for 100 million Orthodox when you are limited to 7,000 residents of Constantinople?” he asked. “The potential for greatness is vastly diminished.”
Two seminarians who were suspected of being agents for the Soviet secret police were expelled from the only Roman Catholic seminary in Lithuania, according to the latest issue of an underground church publication. The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania reports that Communist officials retaliated by forcing the expulsion “of two exemplary seminarians” from the seminary at Kaunas, and that the KGB is pressuring the seminary “to reinstate their two men.”
The Chronicle (see above item) also reports a confrontation between security police and Roman Catholic parishioners in a Soviet village. About 500 troops, many leading dogs, came at dawn to Rashkovo. The homes of all Roman Catholics in the villages were surrounded. The Catholics’ hunting rifles were confiscated, and their children were locked inside the village school. Then, after removing its religious objects, Soviet soldiers razed the Catholics’ new church with bulldozers.
Ethiopian authorities last month arrested Gudina Tumsa, general secretary of the Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (Lutheran). They gave no reason for the arrest of Tumsa, who has traveled much outside Ethiopia. The twenty-year-old Lutheran body numbers about 1,300 congregations and has more than 200 Ethiopian pastors.
A Council of Churches in Namibia (South-West Africa) was formed last month by six Protestant denominations: Anglican, Congregational, African Methodist Episcopal, and three Lutheran bodies. Its leaders already have endorsed a United Nations’ plan to send peacekeeping forces there to supervise national elections and a transition to independent rule. Namibia is a former German colony that is now administered by South Africa. South African officials have pushed for “internal” elections next month, but have also agreed to UN-sponsored elections next April. The church leaders are calling the second internationally-observed elections in Namibia.
Evangelicals in Lebanon report that rightist militia forces, who usually are labeled Christian in the press, are hardly their protectors. At least five Beirut Baptist and Brethren churches have been seized and occupied by the militias, and thousands of dollars in ransom money have been demanded for their return.
A ship owned by World Vision International, “Operation Seasweep,” was involved in the rescue of 153 Vietnamese refugees during a recent seven-day period. The refugees were found adrift in crowded boats in the South China Sea as “Seasweep” was criss-crossing the waters between the Malay peninsula and Viet Nam.
HAROLD K. SHEETS, 75, general superintendent for eleven years of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, which merged with the Pilgrim Holiness body in 1968 to form the Wesleyan Church; on October 8 in Marion, Indiana, after a long illness.
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