Sweden ended its ties Saturday with its official church, the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, after 469 years.

Though almost everyone—including government and church officials—hail the change as long overdue, some Lutherans in the thoroughly secular country worry that it will lead to a further weakening of the denomination.

"I think the connection between state and church has given religion a kind of legitimate status, and by breaking that connection it unconsciously gives people the impression that religion as a way of life is not worth doing anything about," Edward Harris, Church of Sweden minister, told the Los Angeles Times. "I think this will prove to be catastrophic for religion in Sweden."

Religion in Sweden, however, is already in a state of catastrophe. Official figures place the Church of Sweden's membership at just under 90 percent, but only because, until four years ago, everyone born in the nation was registered as a member.

However, less than 1 percent of Sweden's population attends church weekly. Only 6.8 percent of the population are evangelicals, according to missions handbook Operation World, which notes that Sweden is Europe's second most secularized nation (Denmark is first).

Since 1531, the church has been supported by a state tax, though in recent years it has granted exemptions to anyone who asks for them. The split is the largest step in gradual reforms approved in 1995.

"The church's identity as a people's church will become clearer when it's not part of the state apparatus," Lutheran minister Johan Dalman told the Associated Press. "The church gets more power over itself. It can influence its organization more and adjust it when needed."

Ted Olsen is Online and Opinion Editor for ChristianityToday.com and Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere

See coverage of the split in the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.

The United Kingdom's Sunday Times has an interesting take on the Church of Sweden as Anglican clerics are suggesting loosening ties between church and state there, too.

Christian History, a Christianity Today sister publication, recently ran an issue on the conversion of the Vikings, which includes background on why church and state have been entwined in Scandinavian culture from their introduction.

The Church of Sweden's English site has several pages on church and state in Sweden, including the 1995 reform decisions and the split between church and state.