Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Apostolic Lutheranism: From the Death of Læstadius to the Present

Juhani Raattamaa
At the time of Læstadius' death, one of the greatest lay evangelists in the Læstadian revival was Juhani Raattamaa. Raattamaa was born in Kaaresuvanto in 1811 and served as a catechist under Læstadius. About his conversion Raattamaa wrote, "But then it came to pass that when I was permitted to look to the blood-red Savior who was crowned with thorns, a power came out of Him and effected a living power in my soul which had been unknown to me. I believed my sins forgiven in the shed blood, sprinkled upon my heart, from which followed the knowledge of the risen and living Lord Jesus. He whom I had sought from afar off was very present and worked a joy and peace in my heart. Now I was ashamed of my unbelief and realized that I had never before believed with my heart."

It was under Raattamaa's ministry at the Lainio mission school that a distinctive practice among Apostolic Lutherans arose. In his study of Luther's Church Postil, Raattamaa became aware of Luther's understanding of the "Power of the Keys" from Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 and John 20:19-23. In some of his sermons, Luther taught that a minister or any other Christian should lay his hands upon a penitent sinner and pronounce absolution of sins upon him and that these words of absolution should be believed as if Christ himself had said them. Raattamaa tried this in the case of a woman who was burdened by her sins. He pronounced absolution to her and she was released and began to praise God. Raattamaa said, "I and some brothers and sisters have put the keys of the kingdom of heaven into use, by which troubled souls began to be freed and prisoners of unbelief began to lose their chains, and they rejoiced in spirit." This began the use of personal absolution among Apostolics which began in 1853. For Apostolics, this absolution is always pronounced "in the Name and Blood of Jesus." It seems that for Raattamaa, the use of the keys was related to freedom from guilt and assurance of salvation but that it was not a means of justification as it now seems to have become among the Old Apostolics. Raattamaa also believed that there were true Christians in various churches and groups outside of the Læstadian revival. This belief seems to have been lost in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church which claims to be the only true Christianity on the earth. Raattamaa recognized the work of the Holy Spirit among the Methodists and Baptists among others. He died in 1899.

The Læstadian movement remained within the state churches of Sweden, Finland and Norway, desiring to bring renewal to these churches rather than form new, independent denominations.

The Finnish Emigration to America
The 1860's was a time of economic distress in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Areas in the United States became particularly attractive to these people, especially the northern parts of Michigan and Minnesota. In 1864 the flood of Finnish immigrants from Norway, Sweden and Finland began. These Finns settled primarily in what is known as the Copper Country of Michigan. The Læstadians formed their first church in America in Calumet, Michigan in 1871. Salomon Korteniemi came from Hammerfest, Norway to serve as Pastor. The name "Apostolic Lutheran" was first adopted under the leadership of John Takkinen in Calumet in 1879. Apostolic refers not to the Apostolic Succession but to a desire to return to the practice of Christianity at the time of the Apostles. For this reason, Apostolic Lutheranism could be viewed as a restorationist movement. Some of the problems currently seen in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church seem to have first arisen under the leadership of Takkinen. One source says of him, "Takkinen started to pressure people into obedience through the power of the elders. Then a doctrinal dispute began, for Takkinen demanded obedience to the firstborn, and, in his opinion, these firstborn were the elders of Swedish Lapland. This was the whip that he swung and with which he ruled. In his opinion, those who were obedient to him and these firstborn were in the congregation of the firstborn, but those who dared show opposition were condemned to leave this congregation, and it was said that such have no part in heaven, that they are heretics."

The Formation of the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church
The origins in the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church lie in a number of schisms that occurred both in America and in Lapland. A split occurred among the U.S. Læstadians in 1894. After the death of John Takkinen in 1892, there was disagreement as to who his successor should be. Those who would become the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church followed a pastor named Matoniemi while the other Læstadians followed Charles Ojala. This split in the U.S. was then solidified by a split that occurred among the Læstadians of Lapland in 1897. A mission school had been founded in Lannavaara village in Lapland in 1888. The annual meetings of the Læstadians were held there and were led by Raattamaa. There were, however, many preachers in the region of Gällivare in Swedish Lapland who were suspicious of the school. The Gällivare Læstadians, also known as "Western Læstadians" were more pietistic, laid more emphasis on separation from the world and accused the "Eastern Læstadians," associated with Lannavaara, of moral laxity and of being harmfully influenced by their stronger ties with the official state church. In 1897 the last "big meeting" was held in Lannavaara. The Gällivare Læstadians presented accusations against the Eastern Læstadians but Raattamaa acknowledged all Læstadians present as faithful Christians. A schism began at this meeting and at the time of Raattamaa's death in 1899, the Læstadian movement had broken into two parts, the Western Læstadians or "esikoiset," also known as "The Firstborn," and the Eastern Læstadians or "vanhoilliset," also known as the Old-Laestedians.

In America, the followers of Matoniemi joined the Firstborn Laestedian group which gave rise to the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. Some of the strict legalism seen today in the movement was introduced or at least encouraged under Matoniemi's leadership. When he broke with the other Læstadian Christians in Calumet he moved to Lake Poinsett, South Dakota and began to preach that many innovations were a danger to Christians. He preached against curtains, pictures, neckties and telephones.

Apostolic Lutherans in North Clark County
The first meetings of Apostolics in North Clark County most likely occurred in Hockinson when that community was still called Eureka in 1878. The meetings were organized by Abraham Lehto. In 1884 the elders in Lapland sent John Henry Lumijärvi to the Calumet congregation but he relocated to the Portland area and ministered to the small congregations on both sides of the Columbia. In 1894 the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church was officially organized in Hockinson. In 1922 the eighteenth annual conference of the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran churches was held in Hockinson with around 700 in attendance. This was of course after the split had occurred between the Old Apostolics and the other Laestedian groups. Although it is not clear from my sources, it seems that the Old Apostolics may have established their first separate congregation in Brush Prairie in around 1926. In 1937 this group bought an old schoolhouse and later built at their present location on 142nd Ave.

The Present Old Apostolic Lutheran Church
The Old Apostolic Lutheran Church today is distinguished by its continued belief that the "church government" is in Gällivare, Sweden. In all important affairs, the Gällivare elders are asked for counsel. The Gällivare elders decide what should be the "fashion of Christianity." In 1947, when Saarnivaara's book was written some of the requirements from the Gällivare elders were that, men were forbidden to wear neckties, photography was forbidden, women were forbidden to wear hats (only kerchiefs were permitted), Christmas trees were forbidden, life insurance was forbidden and flowers and wreaths at funerals were forbidden. Of these prohibitions I know that neckties are still banned along with television. I'm not sure about some of the other prohibitions. Old Apostolic youth are allowed to befriend children from outside the church, which they call "the world," until they are confirmed in the church at the age of fifteen. After confirmation, it is sinful to befriend anyone who is outside the church. The Firstborn were the first among the Læstadian groups to introduce the English language to services and to translate Læstadius' sermons to English in what are known as the New Postil and the House Postil. The elders from Swedish Lapland visit the American congregations about every four years. I attended part of one such meeting which occurred at the Amphitheatre at the Clark County Fairgrounds a few years ago. The elders preached in Finnish and the preaching was translated into English.

While this series is on the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, it should perhaps be mentioned that there are other groups of Læstadians in Clark County who also are known as "Apostolics." There are also the so-called "New Apostolics." These people are actually part of a denomination called The Apostolic Lutheran Church in America. The Apostolic Lutheran churches in Hockinson and Vancouver are part of this group. I don't know much about the "New Apostolics" other than that while they also are very conservative Lutherans, they are less legalistic than the Old Apostolics and are obviously allowed to use the internet as their churches have websites. The New Apostolics are one of the groups that did not align themselves with the elders in Gällivare but are based in the United States. There is also an "Independent Apostolic Lutheran church" in Ridgefield. The Independent Apostolics are also known as the Pollarites as they broke away under a leader named John Pollari in 1928. The relations between the Old and New Apostolics seem to be somewhat hostile.

We will continue to look at present-day Apostolic Lutheranism in the next post where we will consider some of its theological distinctives.

18 comments:

free2bme said...

I am a former Old Apostolic Lutheran (Brush Prairie vintage), and appreciate your effort to educate people about this unusual tradition. Abraham Lehto was my great grandfather. May I ask what your sources are?

Matthew J. Perkins said...

hey free2bme. Glad that you found my blog. I'm going to list my sources in the next post of this series, probably tomorrow. I will tell you though that for the local stuff, for instance where I got your great grandfather's name, was from the book "Battle Ground...In and Around" by Allworth. Other than that my main source has been "The History of the Laestadian or Apostolic Lutheran Movement in America" by Saarnivaara.

Bev Thomen said...

In 1911 my great grandfather Isaac Hirvaskari took a train trip that went from the Dakota's to Astoria, Oregon to Brush Prairie and then back to the Dakota's. He wrote in his journal about this trip and briefly mentions going to a meeting at a private home (in Astoria) on 14 April 1911: "....in the evening a revival meeting in a private house. The speaker was J. Lumijärvi. The subject was the Prophecy of Jeremiahs about the Passion of our Redeemer." {this is a translation from the Finnish}
I appreciate the information that you have provided on your blog as it helps to understand my great grandfather's trip and who J. Lumijärvi was. Thanks for all the info!

mack2tha_nz said...

my boyfriend's mother's family is old apostolic Lutheran and I've always wondered what it was all about.'ve always been confused and frustrated about the things he says he believes in sometimes. It's just such a set of unusual beliefs for members of a modern society. I'm not trying to be rude about it, I think it's very interesting, a bit frustrating around holidays, but it's interesting. I'm glad I found this website :) It was informative.

Anonymous said...

What reference did you have for Raattamaa believing "there were true Christians in various churches and groups outside of the Læstadian revival"? This seems to invoke vitriol among some Laestadians.

Matthew J. Perkins said...

Hey Anonymous, welcome! I found that reference in Saarnivaara's book. Unfortunately the book is in Southern California and I'm on vacation in Washington so I can't look it up. I don't remember Saarnivaara having any citation for where he supposedly got that information though so it could be bogus. I wrote these posts giving Saarnivaara the benefit of the doubt but his work was lacking in citations for where he got his information.

Soapbox said...

Hello Matthew, and thank you for your work on this site. Another site your readers might find helpful is
http://www.apostolic-lutheran.org/history/introduction.html
I found this site in 2003, shortly after I left the church. Looking at the history helped me to put my experience into perspective, and see the good as well as the not so good.
I have recently started a forum for ex members at:

www.postlaestadianrevival.freeforums.org.

Anonymous said...

i am wondering why you beleive that it is wrong after age 15 to communicate and befriend people of the world? it says in the bible to be a light unto the world so why would you want to stay away so much?

Matt Perkins said...

um... hey Dec 5th anonymous... just so you know, I'm not Apostolic Lutheran... So I was friends with "worldlies" past 15 and some of my best friends would still be considered that. But how could an Apostolic Lutheran support this view? The same way American Fundamentalists have, arguing from Paul's exhortation in 2nd Corinthians 6:17, "wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate." Even though I disagree with them, I wouldn't be too hard on the Apostolics for this.

M J said...

How does the church acquire the money to keep it running? I have a friend who was against this church's teachings, thought his aunt was murdered in order to get her money; also thought his father was murdered in order to get his estate; now, somehow has decided the church is "for him" and has separated himself from all others he was ever associated with. Isn't one of the first things a cult-like church does is make sure the person is "separated", cut off from everything so he cannot think for himself anymore? Is there not anyone who has ever investigated this church's practices to see if they are committing any crimes?

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