3 Introduction to the June 2010 Edition

The Conservative Laestadian church resides in a tight-knit association between the SRK in Finland, the SFC in Sweden, the LLC in North America, and various congregations of new converts that they support via mission work in Russia, Togo, and Ecuador. This document, in Section 4, presents the teachings and history of the church largely as quotations, grouped in subsections and listed chronologically. Each subsection represents an attempt at a fair sample of what the church has taught on a particular topic over the decades via its doctrinal books, periodicals, and sermons. Some material is presented based on observations of the author and of historians from both inside and outside the church. Not every conceivable topic of interest is included, some of the topics overlap, and the sampling of quotations may understate or overstate the emphasis put on topics at particular times of the church’s history.

But, for all those flaws, the collection aims to provide a uniquely accessible survey of church doctrine and its development across a range of subject matter and time. It both comforts and confronts the Conservative reader, with many teachings that are consistent and supportive of what is heard from the pulpit today, and some that are not. In some cases, the harshness and (even for Conservative Laestadianism) archaic content calling back from past decades can make the reader wonder just which faith is being discussed. The author’s own difficulties with the material are laid bare in the footnotes that nip at the heels of almost every page, along with historical notes and references to Luther’s teachings.1

The church claims Martin Luther as a spiritual father and brother in faith, and his teachings are discussed in Section 5. The Bible is held as “the highest authority and standard by which matters of soul and doctrines of salvation are judged” (VOZ, 3/2007), and its Old Testament and New Testament are discussed in Section 6 and Section 7, respectively. Much of the discussion takes the traditional modes of biblical interpretation at their word. It then challenges the reader to maintain such interpretation in the face of many contradictions and Old Testament outrages that are almost never brought to light in sermons or discussions.

This work is entirely unofficial, the product of its author’s longtime and ongoing struggle to remain a believing member of the Conservative Laestadian faith. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus as comparing the Kingdom of God to a merchant who found a valuable pearl and sold all that he had in order to buy it. This author continues to desire to partake of a grace and love that some part of him finds as priceless and indispensable as that merchant’s pearl. Yet no merchant of fine pearls would ever buy one that he had not examined carefully. To take the supreme leap of selling all for the price of one particular pearl would require that merchant to have either found it flawless after detailed examination, or to enter blindly into what might well turn out to be a bad bargain out of impulse, emotion, or deceit.

Questioning one’s convictions is always a painful process, and never more so when the questions center on religious beliefs that have been held for a lifetime. No doubt many fellow believers would consider the whole exercise sinful and to be avoided at all costs; the pearl is to be accepted as flawless, without critical examination or doubt, based on the word of the Divine Supplier. Luther acknowledged that doubt will always accompany faith, but said that doubtful thoughts should never be allowed to make a nest in one’s mind. What he called the “whore” of reason is an unseemly mistress who must be reluctantly tolerated for companionship in the daily existence of this profane world, but a most unwelcome guest in any spiritual discussion or contemplation.

The whore of reason kept in this author’s own head has long fumed and grumbled under this closeted second-rate existence, but in recent years her cries of resistance have become almost intolerably shrill. Yet she, or some vaguely defined opposing faculty in “the heart” remains terrified of the horrific consequences that could accompany open rebellion. The infinite threat of eternal torment for apostasy or even feigned faith is impossible to disregard no matter how much reason tries to minimize its probability. And so, unable or perhaps even unwilling to leave her dismal little lodgings and servitude, she continues her passive-aggressive jeers and jabs. The questions remain open sores, their scabs painfully scratched off every time reason strikes out with yet another conflict between doctrine and undeniable facts about the natural world, the very words of the Bible itself, and obscure writings of predecessors in history whom the church counts as its own.

If you dare to read further, fellow believer, you will learn much about your faith: history and doctrinal teachings that are often comforting, consistent, and edifying, but that can also raise disturbing questions many would consider best never asked. Nothing here is intended to be mocking or frivolous, but neither are inconvenient facts dismissed or ignored. If there is error or mischaracterization with regard to those facts, correction is welcome.

Finally, this author would like to dedicate this work to Robert M. Price, whose friendship and scholarly insight has allowed him to remain believing without losing his mind, to numerous Conservative Laestadian brothers and sisters whose enduring friendship and preaching of grace in word and deed have allowed him to remain thinking without losing his faith, and to his beautiful and long-suffering wife, whose unconditional love has been a steady light shining in his darkest nights of the soul.

EAS, June 2010

1 In the 2010 edition, the quotes from church writings and sermons formed the body of the text. I made my comments to the various quotes in footnotes to them.