4.4 Spiritual Entities

Everywhere in the history of revelation God embodies himself for us. His spirit came in the form of a dove and of the fiery tongues of Pentecost. And God still embodies himself for us. The Holy Spirit comes to us and brings Christ to us through the external, physical, sensible means of the word, of the human voice, and of the sacraments. All these words and sacraments are his veils and clothing, his masks and disguises with which he covers himself so that we may bear and comprehend him.

—Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther

4.4.1 The Father

Theology winds up with a God who thunders in his petty irritation against helpless, hapless mortals, reducing them to masochistic servitude if they hope to escape the ultimate doom of eternal torture.

—Robert M. Price, The Reason-Driven Life

For many centuries, Christians have been saying, “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” But that brief summation is just the merest hint of all the myriad ways humans have described and characterized their vision of the Deity since they first started leaving records of him, or them.

At first, the Old Testament God was Elohim, one member of a pantheon (“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” Gen 1:26) who rested after a hard week’s work (Gen 2:2). Soon the Genesis account begins to use Yahweh Elohim, “the LORD God,” but vestiges of early anthropomorphism and polytheism remain: The LORD God strolls around Eden in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8), worries about man’s godlike status and potential immortality after the Fall (“the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever,” Gen 3:22), chats with Cain (Gen 3:6-15), and has sons who intermarry with human women (Gen 6:2). He watches the humans’ efforts to reach heaven with concern and finally says (to whom, if not one or more fellow gods?), “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language” (Gen 11:2-7; biblical scholars have plausibly argued that this was done to prevent the humans from reaching the divine realm). He has extensive discussions with Abram (Gen 13-15). In Gen 18, Yahweh appears to Abram personally as one of three men and stands beside him to haggle about how many righteous there must be in Sodom in order for it to be spared.

In these first Old Testament conceptions, Yahweh was remarkably like the “‘primitive’ gods of hunter-gatherer societies and chiefdoms” that preceded him: “strikingly human—with supernatural power, to be sure, but not with infinite power” (Wright 2009, 103). “Early affirmations of devotion to Yahweh don’t single him out for being the only god, just for being the best god for the Israelites, the one you should worship” (p. 104).

As ancient Israelite religion matured and moved away from its polytheistic roots, the God of Israel became so exhalted that his holy name could not even be uttered. When he introduced himself to Moses in the burning bush, centuries after the events of Genesis, he did so with the enigmatic and all-encompassing statement, “I am that I am,” and commanded Moses to describe him to the children of Israel as “the LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations” (Exodus 3:14-15). Later still, it was understood that God knows and sees all, an idea that for the writer of Psalm 139:1-6 was “too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”

Now we have a God who is unfathomable, beyond human comprehension. In the lofty (and late) words of John 4:24, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” But “we’re pretty sure He’s against birth control” (Price 2011), and we still seem quite certain about many other aspects of God’s views and personality. An article in the September 1998 Voice of Zion informs us that,

“above all, God is a gracious, good, and loving God” (VOZ, 9/1998).

A 1999 presentation given by John Lehtola summarizes the various other attributes that God is supposed to have:

“God is a spirit, who is eternal. He is the first and last. He is all-knowing, all-seeing, and everywhere. God is all-mighty, righteous, holy, and not to be ridiculed.”

As we will see, however, it is not possible for any creator of the “heaven and earth” we know about to have all of these attributes, any more than it is possible for a circle to have corners. Theologians often resort to the claim that such combinations–like an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God creating a world full of evil–are possible for God but beyond our understanding. But then what they are saying is likewise beyond understanding, their words having no useful content (Price 2011). Yet, as we will see in this section, there is little reluctance to offer such words, characterizing God in all sorts of all-too human ways.

Many readers who are unused to hearing sacred matters discussed with anything but gauzy reverence will find it offensive, even arrogant for me to offer an analysis of the Almighty. But what I am really scrutinizing is not God but the all-too human attempts that his spokesmen and apologists have made to characterize the Creator of the Universe. And that, I submit, is bound to fail as much as a dog’s speculations on the mind of Newton, as Darwin famously put it.


In a slim, apparently self-published book that is rough around the edges but full of profundity, Matthew Taylor explains a fundamental problem with the idea of omnipotence:

Absolute omnipotence is absolute autonomy and completely self satisfied. It needs nothing and is mutually exclusive to the notion of adding anything to its existence. The notion of absolute omnipotence is mutually exclusive to terms such as “need,” “want” or “desire” and adjectives such as “offended” or “jealous,” which imply needs indicative of impotence, not omnipotence, and weakness, not power. [Taylor 2005, 33]

If God has any of those needy attributes–which the Bible does not hesitate to assign to him even in the New Testament–he simply cannot be omnipotent. Taylor also restates the ancient Epicurean problem of evil (4.9.1) to show the impossibility of an omnipotent creator: “A perfect and omnipotent being (is one) that creates perfect things. The universe has imperfect things. As a consequence, a perfect and omnipotent being did not create the universe” (p. 41, emphasis omitted).

How can perfection yield imperfection without being imperfect itself? The “heretics” with whom Clement of Alexandria argued in his Stromata artfully posed the question with regard to whether “Adam was created perfect or imperfect.” If “imperfect, how could the work of a perfect God–above all, that work being man–be imperfect? And if perfect, how did [Adam] transgress the commandments?” (Book 6, Ch. 12).

Taylor anticipates the argument that “an omnipotent God can perform as a weak God if he wants to,” but calls that “a tribute to man’s own mental inability to grasp what he at first proposes, i.e., the consequences of omnipotence and its mutual exclusions” (pp. 41-42). “Omnipotence can never be unsatisfied,” but “creation is the fulfillment of desire” (pp. 33-34). In addition, being omniscient about the future means that you are helpless to change it. If you did change it, you wouldn’t have correctly forseen the outcome! The omnipotent ability to choose whether to make a change in course defeats the omniscient ability to know whether it ultimately gets changed or not.

It would also be deceptive for a perfect creator to make himself look bad and then demand that people worship him as perfect. And the suffering produced by the universe’s imperfections make it impossible (not merely difficult to understand) for an omnipotent God to also be omnibenevolent.

These questions are not imposing human limits on an omnipotent God. Rather, they ask whether the very idea of an omnipotent God is supportable, as a basic logical premise or in combination with other postulated characteristics of the Deity.

Judges 1 provides an example right from the Bible of how God’s omnipotence has been limited to human imagination. Yahweh commands Judah to go fight the Caananites, and Judah does so in fine fashion. He slays 10,000 men whom Yahweh “delivered into their hand.” He and his troops slay Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai, and then the inhabitants of Debir. They utterly destroy Zephath, and take Gaza, Askelon, and Ekron along with their coastal areas. “And the LORD [Yahweh] was with Judah, and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron” (Judges 1:19). God was with Judah for all that slaughter and conquest of tens of thousands, but the divinely directed power could not overcome a lousy bunch of iron chariots.

Here is a statement that is not just implausible, but simply impossible to reconcile with the view that God desires for all men to seek him (4.9.3):

“God’s power is much greater than any other, and [it] can humiliate the powers of man and of Satan. . . . In the world there is denial of the power of God, and there is also denial of the powers of Satan” (VOZ, 3/2010).

If God’s power is greater than any other, including man in his unbelief and Satan in his constant efforts to thwart God’s work, then nothing can stand in the way of his wishes or efforts. And it certainly seems odd for an omnipotent God who is jealous and demands preeminence over all other gods (Exod 34:14) to be permitting a denial of his power to pervade the world. If he is “not to be ridiculed,” as Lehtola asserted above, then why does God put up with so much impiety, unbelief, and downright mockery in today’s society?

It’s no answer to claim that the impious mockers have it coming to them in eternity. Those unbelievers just don’t believe the threat–that’s their whole point in many cases. And an infinite punishment that is dished out to the jeering and praying alike is so broad and incomprehensible as to be meaningless. Christopher Hitchens is supposedly going to roast in hell for writing books like God is Not Great, but so are Anne Frank, Mohandas Ghandi, and Mother Teresa.


Closely related to being able to do everything is the ability to know everything. What good is Superman’s ability to lift the sinking ship out of the water if he can’t use his telescopic vision to spot the faraway crisis in the first place? And so, even before God called out to Adam and Eve as they cowered guiltily behind some bushes in Eden, he had the whole plan of what to do about the situation figured out:

“Before the beginning of this world, God decided on a specific time when a savior would be born in the form of man, and when He would begin His ministry” (VOZ, 12/1999).

The whole drama of the Fall played out with nobody watching but the actors, and to no more purpose than an author reading his own book.

Omniscience is not a property of God that we see in the Old Testament. God learned of events and changed course based on them: “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them” (Jonah 3:10, NASB). He had regrets: “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Gen 6:6, NASB). He felt the need to inflict trials on Abraham (Gen 22) and Job to determine their faithfulness. He is still doing so, according to this writer:

“God tries our faith to see if we really love Him but does not tempt us as James writes, ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God . . .’” (VOZ, 2/2002).

But, according to this next writer,

“God sees into the heart of man and knows even the most secret deeds, even though no other person knows of them. God knows a person’s sins and requires that he answers for them before Him one day. In that hearing, one can neither cover his deeds, nor transfer the blame to someone else. Only those whose sins have been forgiven in the gospel of God’s kingdom will receive a sentence of freedom” (VOZ, 9/2002).

Guys, you need to do a better job of staying “on message” here. If God knows everything, it doesn’t take much contemplation or “wordly philosophy” to see that he does not need “to see if” anything is true. He certainly doesn’t need to inflict trials on man to see what happens, like a rat in some lab experiment, if he “sees into the heart of man and knows even the most secret deeds.”

The idea of an omniscient creator is also incompatible with the “blind, mechanical, foresightless sifting-and-duplicating process that has produced the exquisite design of organisms by natural selection” (Dennett 2007, 79-80). Haught, as always, is ready to admit this theological difficulty of evolutionary theory, even as he struggles to find ways to reconcile with the undeniable reality of it:

[I]n order for natural selection to bring about so many new species, an enormous period of time has to pass, indeed, many millions of years. Thus, at least according to human calendrical standards, by taking so much time, evolution looks inefficient and wasteful. Wouldn’t an infinite wisdom, if it exists, do a more efficient job of engineering life’s diversity? Furthermore, even with all the delay, death, and bloodshed that evolution entails, the varieties that survive are never impeccably engineered anyway. Adaptation is never perfect. So, isn’t evolution proof that ultimately nature rests not on divine providence, but on an abyss of absurdity? How can one expect to make any theological sense of it at all? [Haught 2010, 33]

Unchanging and Eternal

Uljas describes God as timeless and eternal:

“God has always existed. He has neither beginning nor end, and time does not bind Him. Even the fourth dimension is freely in His use. He is also unchanging, for change belongs to time. God has His own time. It is not the same as man’s time. It cannot be measured with our clocks or calendars” (2000, 115).

I have the same criticism of that statement as I did of one by Lampi (4.3.3) about God being the same in the Old Testament as in the New. I have already noted in this section that the Old Testament God had an all-too-human personality, and will discuss that at some length in the chapter-by-chapter details of Section 6. Besides the human appearances, emotions, and actions already mentioned, here are some more: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would have an excuse to rain plagues onto innocent Egyptians and give Moses some good stories to tell his son and grandson (Exodus 10:1-2). He gets so angry at the Israelites’ making a golden calf that he asks to be left alone and threatens to destroy them all, but Moses convinces God to change his mind about the harm which he said he would do to his people (Exodus 32:10-14). He smells soothing aromas of burnt offerings (Genesis 8:21, Numbers 15:3).

Jason Long observed “that God was consistently angry and vengeful for what appear to be petty reasons. He even threatened to kill people for excuses most of us would consider insane if offered by an ordinary earthly individual” (2005, 7). Seeing that for myself over the course of months of Old Testament study was not a pleasant experience. On many days I would get up from my desk in disgust and think that there’s just no way I could worship a God who carried out the kinds of atrocities I was reading about. But the next day, I would sit back down again and search among the ancient words for the loving, caring God I thought I knew from my Sunday School days. He didn’t show up much. Instead, what I found, to my continual disappointment, were mostly descriptions of a Deity who

exhibits immature rage when no one pays attention to him; he makes people suffer for what others have done; he has no regard for human life; and he tortures decent people for such reasons as winning bets with Satan. If we were to extract this behavior into human terms, we would most likely draw a comparison with that of a spoiled child. Because of an obvious state of fear and panic over similar reports heard by authors of the ancient Hebrew scriptures, they wrote and sang praises to this terrible creature thinking that such measures might assist in helping them escape his unconscionable wrath. [Long 2005, 106]

By the time we get to the later Old Testament books (e.g., Jonah) and then the New Testament, God seems to have been rehabilitated somewhat. Long finds it suspicious that “God conveniently ceased his murdering and slave driving when modern philosophers, enlightened thinking, and accurate historical records began to appear” (p. 106). It was enough to make the second-century theologian Marcion deny that the Christian God was even the same entity as Yahweh of the Old Testament. Ignatius condemned him as a heretic, of course: “If any one confesses Christ Jesus the Lord, but denies the God of the law and of the prophets, saying that the Father of Christ is not the Maker of heaven and earth, he has not continued in the truth any more than his father the devil” (Epistle to the Philadelphians, Ch. 6).


God is supposedly “omnibenevolent,” or all-loving. This is the gracious Father who has showered us (in the relatively prosperous developed world) with blessings. Most importantly,

“God in His immeasurable, and incomprehensible grace took our sins and placed them on His pure Son” (Havas [1938], 71).

That quote summarizes one of the “fundamentals” of Christianity, substitutionary atonement.1 “The view here is that the death of Christ was designed to propitiate God, that is, to regain the favor of God by having Christ bear the penalty for human sin. This view . . . echoes the Old Testament notion of sacrifice as a substitution” (Mercer 2009, 78). Winell says that “once a convert has wrapped his or her mind around this story, anything can be accepted as truth”:

First the believer is to suspend familiar notions of justice, such as punishment of the guilty as opposed to an innocent party. You are then expected to accept the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin; that wrongdoing must be paid for, and not necessarily in proportion to the crime. A father’s sacrifice of his innocent son is supposed to be not only just but generous and wonderful. Then the temporary three-day death of this one person is supposed to wipe out all the wrongdoing and ineptitude of the species. And finally, you should believe that all you need do to erase responsibility for your actions and enter a haven of eternal reward is to believe. [Winell 1993, 75]

What really makes it “incomprehensible grace” to me is why the omnipotent God couldn’t exhibit enough of it to just forgive the sins of mankind–everyone’s sins– by divine fiat and be done with it. Now that would be grace! Instead, we have what Evans calls “pond-scum theology,” where “human beings have no intrinsic value or claim to salvation because their sin nature makes them so thoroughly disgusting and offensive to God that he is under no obligation to pay them any mind” (2010, 116). Uljas claims “God is so upright that He can never accept anything wrongful. He cannot turn a blind eye to our sins, thinking as people do, “Oh, it’s not such a big deal’” (2000, 27, emphasis added). Says who? A theologian who seeks to impose limits on the Deity in an attempt to defend his otherwise indefensible theology. Uljas thinks his view exhalts God above humanity, but it does precisely the opposite.

As Daryl Domning notes in his 2001 article “Evolution, Evil and Original Sin,” none of the supposed sins arising from the fallen nature of man are actually unique to our species. “From ants to apes, the animal world is awash in [intraspecies] aggression, deceit, theft, exploitation, infanticide and cannibalism. Our cousins the great apes are adept at political intrigue and quite capable of serial murder and lethal warfare.” Those other creations are off the hook, though, as “they are simply doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.”

The only “morally reflective human beings” who are beneficiaries of this grace and love are those few winners of what Evans calls “the cosmic lottery” (2010, 98), with whom God shares the good news of Christianity. The problem is much worse when you shrink the scope of “Christianity” down to the merest sliver of humanity. Not just any old Christianity will do, certainly not the compassionate, nonjudgmental version that Evans struggles to retain, but a very specific form of it unknown to her or most anybody else.

In the case of the animals, there was no putative common ancestor, no temptation, and no Fall behind it all. However, the Fall is neither factual (4.3.1) nor needed as an explanation for sin. In humans and non-humans alike, “these behaviors exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform them. Having once originated (ultimately through mutation), they persist because they are favored by natural selection for survival in the organisms’ natural environments” (Domning 2001, emphasis added).

To Domning’s list of “natural but sinful if humans do it” behaviors I would add another that obviously promotes reproduction: the drive for sex, especially in males whose genes can propagate almost without limitation from promiscuity with little of the cost incurred by females. You are inclined to do those things–including wanting to have sex early and often–not because some mythic first human couple ate a piece of fruit, but because your ancestors had what it takes to be your ancestor in a harsh and competitive world. And they passed those traits on to you.

But God is not about to excuse anything as the inevitable consequence of evolutionary biology, at least not according to O.H. Jussila in a 1949 issue of Siionin Lähetyslehti. He has “condemned sin in the flesh” and punished his son “with sickness for the sake of our sins”:

“The Lord of Heaven and Earth is a righteous judge. He condemned sin in the flesh, the sharp pricks of His holy law pierced the only begotten Son nailed on the cross, who had taken upon Himself to carry the sins of the world. Nowhere is the judgment of sin so terrifyingly revealed, than before the altar of that God who did not spare His only begotten son, but punished Him with sickness for the sake of our sins. How terrible to those, unto whose heart the knowledge of God’s judgment has not been impressed in the time of grace. They will meet judgment at the coming of that Righteous Judge when He comes to judge the quick and the dead. But then no more will be heard the voice of redeeming blood from the altar” (from Greetings of Peace, 1/1950).

Following Trinitarian doctrine to its full conclusions, here’s what we have to believe, somehow: God the creator and righteous judge made a blood sacrifice of himself in human form to appease his own displeasure with what he had created. The posited relationship between these two forms of God was a father and son, the latter proceeding from yet somehow co-eternal with the former. The son was around before even the unauthorized fruit consumption that made his sacrificial role necessary. Thousands of years after that event, a third part of God finally impregnated a virgin so that this second part would be made man, spending some 30-40 years in that state before his blood sacrifice and return to heaven.2

Finally, I have to ask what it even means to call God “gracious” and “loving” in view of the long-recognized “problem of evil” (4.9). God many times ordered the conquest and slaughter of hundreds of thousands in the Old Testament (see, e.g., 6.4, 6.6), including innocent women and children, and has allowed untold billions of people to die of starvation, disaster, war, and disease (4.9.4). Worse yet, he condemns billions of people to eternal torture in hell (4.9.2), perhaps even as part of his divine plan (4.9.3). We might as well call God “purple” or “rectangular.”


All this gives Uljas good reason to say that God is incomprehensible and “remains hidden.” But, there’s good news! God has revealed himself to us:

“God is a hidden God. The Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not fit into our comprehension, but remains hidden. However, He has revealed himself to us, so that we would come to know Him” (Uljas 2000, 19).

How does he go about doing that? Through a Bible that is filled with factual errors and contradictions including, for example, “a series of very different ideas about death and the afterlife” (Price 2006b, 53). Your eternal fate is certainly no trifling matter, yet God failed to really express his viewpoints on the matter until Jesus came along and started threatening eternal consequences for those who wouldn’t follow him. (See 4.8.3, 6.8, 6.17, 6.18, 6.20, and 6.25.) If God inspired or dictated the Bible, “he has a funny way of making himself clear. I don’t see how an inspired but ambiguous book is any more helpful than an uninspired book” (p. 53). The end result is the same: Those same people who claim that God has revealed himself to them are the ones saying just what it is that God has supposedly revealed.

To everyone else, including the writer of Isaiah 45:15 (“thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel”), God remains hidden. In most cases, he permits people the erroneous belief that they have experienced some sort of correct understanding or revelation of him, and allows them to go to their graves damned by that false consolation. Think about it: God does not just hide himself and the sole means of avoiding his eternal wrath from the vast majority of mankind. No, he also lets most of the damned spend their entire lives thinking that they actually have been reconciled–usually with whatever religious system they inherited–and need do nothing else.

That horror is the implication of Conservative Laestadianism’s unprovable exclusivity claims (4.2.1), but what about real-world cases where God’s silence seems like a repudiation of his very existence? A vivid example was the martrydom of Japanese Christians by drowning in the seventeeth century:

What a miserable and painful business it was! The rain falls unceasingly on the sea. And the sea which killed them surges on uncannily–in silence. . . . Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God. . . . the feeling that while men raised their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent. [from Tucker 2002, 152]

God’s refusal to intervene or even make his presence known was enough to make two priests apostasize, one of them “to save Japanese Christians from torture.” The other said to him, “Listen! I was put in here and heard the voices of those people for whom God did nothing. God did not do a single thing. I prayed with all my strength; but God did nothing” (from Tucker 2002, 153).

Again, Ingersoll offers his unflinching clarity, from a harsh 19th century:

If you see a man in prison with the chains eating into his flesh simply for loving God, you’ve got to ask why does not a just God interfere? You’ve got to meet this; it won’t do to say that it will all come out for the best. That may do very well for God, but it’s awful hard on the man. [Lecture on Religious Tolerance]

4.4.2 The Son

Are we supposed to believe that 5 seconds after Jesus rose from the dead, everyone on earth was responsible for that information? How is a guy living in . . . Outer Mongolia in 15 A.D. supposed to figure out that Jesus died on the cross for his sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day?

—Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town

My sample of quotes about Jesus begins with one by Laestadius in his 1857 Reading Examination Sermon:

“May all the penitent who do not yet believe, now read that their debt is paid; read the receipt that has been confirmed at the place of the skull and sealed with a bloody seal on Good Friday, where the great reconciliation was fulfilled and the debt-book of the penitent torn asunder, which the Father nailed on the cross. And these tokens of love, the bloody wounds, testify that your debt is paid and the mouth of the accuser has been closed” (Fourth Postilla, 118).

In these early years, a great deal of emphasis was put on Jesus’ persona as both a fighting and a suffering redeemer:

Jesus’ “bloody love has been revealed to us when He endured the death of the cross. When the iron nails were driven into His hands and feet, He did not become angry, but sighed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’” (Raattamaa, sermon given 1894, from Kulla 1985, 184).

“The Lord Jesus calls the poor child of Adam as He crawls in the pit of hell where it is so hot that His head and His locks are wet with the drops of the night. He cannot stand, but falls to His knees. He cannot stay upon His knees, but falls upon His face on the ground. There He lies drenched with the stream of His blood which pours forth from His holy body to the accursed Earth. His every pore is opened as a fount of bloody tears” (Matti Suo, Siionin Lähetyslehti [1917], from Kulla 1985, 206).

“If the Great Warrior would not be fighting in behalf of us we would have long ago become tired and weary under the cross. But we children of God have a great helper who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, who still go as before his flock, smiting the enemy with the two-edged sword of his mouth” (Siionin Lähetyslehti, 1920).

Heikki Jussila’s 1923 quote (especially in the last sentence) addresses a doctrinal dispute of his day about the emphasis to be put on Christ’s suffering and death versus his resurrection:

Paul “received Christ as a gift in the gospel. This Christ then was the center of his preaching. Not a cross, neither a nailing to the cross, but Christ as crucified and risen from the dead. The doctrine of redemption as a whole is: Christ has died and risen from the dead. It was the gospel that Paul himself had received, and the same he had delivered unto others. He assures that he and all Christians who are converted into faith by this gospel are saved. . . . They which have avoided the preaching of the victory of resurrection in fear that it leads to a light manner of Christianity, have gone astray from the biblical gospel” (from Greetings of Peace, 4/1971).

Nowadays one hears very little mention of gory crucifixion details. The events of Golgatha are mostly recounted in songs during the Communion service. But the shift in focus from suffering to redemption would take some time yet:

“The disciples saw from afar off how He carried His cross, came to the place of the Skull, Golgotha. They heard the sound of the hammer that drove the nails into the precious hands. The cross was lifted up between two thieves. He was suspended between heaven and earth and there He hanged–He, who was so dear to their hearts. They heard His agonizing cry, heard Him call to the heart of God in heaven and then He died” (O.H. Jussila, notes taken from sermon given 1936, Greetings of Peace, 6/1949).

“The Lamb of God of Golgotha’s middle cross took away your sins, and from His wounds flowed the blood of reconciliation to settle your heart’s confused account book. You may thus own a full forgiveness in the blood of the Son of God” (Havas [1940], 75-76).

Writing to soldiers in battle during WWII, Paul Heideman told them to remember that

“it is for such miserable sinners that God, in His wonderful love, gave His beloved Son to make a perfect and complete sacrifice for us. When Jesus died upon the cross, He shouted, ‘It is finished!’ Our sin debt was completely paid. Jesus has become our righteousness before God. We have no other reason for being acceptable to God and Heaven than Jesus. Neither do we need any other reason. For He is sufficient reason, Who is our Righteousness at the right hand of God” (from Kulla 1993, 224).

The portrayal of Jesus as God’s “beloved Son” does not start to appear until fairly late in the Gospels. The four books show what Loftus calls a “process of deification of Jesus” that took place over the many decades from the earliest (Mark, c. 70 A.D.) to the latest (John, after 100 A.D.):

In Mark's gospel . . . a man comes to Jesus saying, “Good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life,” and Jesus says to the man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (10:17-18). According to James Barr, “This only makes sense if Jesus is not claiming to be God,” because “it fits with the fact that Jesus fully accepted Jewish monotheism.” But by the time Matthew’s gospel was written, the church had developed a higher, more glorified view of Jesus, so this same conversation is amended to read, “‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he (Jesus) said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good’” (19:16). Gone is the description of Jesus as a “good teacher,” so that Jesus’ rhetorical question can be deleted and his statement revised. Jesus now merely asks him, “Why do you call me good?” Noticeably absent is where Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone.” By contrast, John’s gospel . . . reveals a very exalted view of Christ. [Loftus 2008, loc. 5637-44]

Karen Armstrong came across this difficult reality when she “stumbled unawares into the minefield of New Testament scholarship”:

A disturbing number of eminent scholars agreed that Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion. He had preached only to his fellow Jews, and there was nothing strikingly original about his teaching, which was in line with other strands of first-century Judaism. Jesus certainly never claimed to be God, but preferred the title “Son of Man,” which emphasized his humanity. After the scandal of his crucifixion, his traumatized disciples had had visions of him risen from the tomb and concluded that he was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, who would shortly return to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth. But the early Christians still regarded themselves as forming an exclusively Jewish sect. It was Saint Paul, who had never known the historical Jesus, who had first marketed the faith for the non-Jewish world of the Roman Empire. But even Paul had not seen Jesus as divine in any simplistic way. [2007, 231-32]

I doubt if the writers of these remaining quotes knew about any of those complexities, though, nor that they would have given them the slightest weight if they had. They stick with the biblical accounts with a bit of devotional elaboration thrown in, personalizing Jesus as lowly and humble, our best friend, the Good Shepherd, a perfect sacrifice suffering under the weight of our sins, and the Author and Finisher of our salvation:

Jesus “is lowly, and with the merit of His humbleness, He makes the daughter of Zion rich and the heir of Heaven. The King brings to the poor of His Kingdom His treasures. He Himself sits upon the back of a borrowed ass, when He goes out to draw the prisoners of Zion out of the waterless pit. He bears shackles and is bound, scourged and crowned with thorns. He opens the barred door, when the gates of Paradise are opened to the thief. The precious myrrh drips from His holy and blessing hands” (Heikki Jussila, Greetings of Peace, 3/1943).

“[T]he Good Shepherd permitted all of our sins to be cast on His innocent shoulders. It was under their load that He groaned and wept in the garden of Gethsemane. Our sins were the nails that pierced His hands, our unbelief pierced His loving heart and caused His precious blood to be shed not to bring curse upon us, but to bring blessing and life eternal” (Paul Heideman, Greetings of Peace, 6/1954).

Jesus “is the best friend among all friends. On the cross on Good Friday, Jesus, out of love for us, has given His heart which was pierced with the spear” (Alajoki [1966], 110).

“Hasten to turn and to open your ears again to that beautiful heavenly voice, come you weary and tired traveler, rest in the bosom of your Good Shepherd. Believe your sins and temptations forgiven in Jesus’ Name and precious Blood. You will again receive strength to journey, rejoicing in faith. If temptations easily beset you the voice of the Shepherd will give you strength to resist them. What a precious Shepherd. He left the sheepfold for us, that are still in this world, where He still cares for us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He shed His Holy Blood as a perfect sacrifice before the throne of God, that even we though great sinners, washed and cleansed in His Blood, can stand before that throne clean and spotless, acceptable to God” (Art Forstie, Greetings of Peace, 2/1968).

“Raise your head and look in faith and spirit and count the wounds of the innocent Sacrifice lamb of God from which the blood of forgiveness was shed for the cleansing of your sins” (VOZ, 10/1974).

The Epistle of Barnabus has similar language to these quotes about the shedding of the blood and its purpose: “For to this end the Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling” (Ch. 5).

“God gave his son to be nailed on the cross, shed his blood for the remission of sins. . . . This was a great moment when Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself to reconcile lost sinners unto God” (VOZ, 4/1974)

“It is wonderful in our eyes that even such wretched ones as you and I are still permitted to raise our gaze to the Author and Finisher of our salvation, Jesus Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega of our salvation. We do not need to be ashamed, our nakedness and shame has been taken away. We are clothed in the beautiful garment of righteousness which the Lord Jesus knitted on Golgatha’s cross” (Alajoki [1981], 235-36).

“The Prophet Isaiah describes Jesus as despised and rejected of men. He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” (VOZ, 3/1999).

“Jesus hung for six hours on the cross and the final three hours he hung in total darkness as all of God’s creation bowed to the death of the Savior, God’s Son” (VOZ, 6/2001).

“We live of faith where the Lord Jesus is the foundation, and that work that was done on Good Friday’s cross was done on our behalf. The Heavenly Father’s love was so great he sent His Son to the cross for your sins and mine, indeed the sins of the entire world” (VOZ, 10/2005).

“The sermon of the gospel always takes us to behold Golgatha’s cross and the morning of resurrection. From Christ’s cross shines the love of God, and in the Resurrection is the power of God, which crushed the power of sin, death, and God’s adversaries” (Päivämies, 2006).

“By God’s grace, the gospel is preached in the name of Jesus and through the same drops of blood He shed on Golgatha’s cross” (VOZ, 6/2008).

As discussed in 7.4, the earliest information about the historical Jesus is found in Paul’s letters, and those references are very scant. There would be another 20-30 years until the first of the Gospels, Mark, which probably didn’t appear until after 70 A.D. Bart Ehrman notes, “This means that our earliest surviving written accounts of Jesus’ life come from thirty-five to sixty-five years after his death” (2010, 145). Christianity spread from person to person, he wrote, “year after year, decade after decade, until eventually someone wrote down the stories” about Jesus and the apostles. He asks, “What do you suppose happened to the stories over the years, as they were told and retold, not as disinterested news stories reported by eyewitnesses but as propaganda meant to convert people to faith, told by people who have themselves heard them fifth- or sixth- or nineteenth-hand?” (pp. 146-47).3 Ehrman then discusses what information exists outside the Gospels “that can be thrown into the mix,” and asks rhetorically, “[I]f Jesus lived and died in the first century (death around 30 C.E. [A.D.]), what do the Greek and Roman sources from his own day through the end of the century (say, the year 100) have to say about him?” The answer, he says,

is breathtaking. They have absolutely nothing to say about him. He is never discussed, challenged, attacked, maligned, or talked about in any way in any surviving pagan source of the period. There are no birth records, accounts of his trial and death, reflections on his significance, or disputes about his teachings. In fact, his name is never mentioned once in any pagan source. And we have a lot of Greek and Roman sources from the period: religious scholars, historians, philosophers, poets, natural scientists; we have thousands of private letters; we have inscriptions placed on buildings in public places. In no first-century Greek or Roman (pagan) source is Jesus mentioned. [p. 148]

Jason Long notes two prominent Jewish authors of the first century who were well situated to provide us with something to break that deafening silence, but did not. The first is Philo of Alexandria, who died in 50 A.D. and was

a devotedly religious Jewish philosopher with a volume of work sizable enough to fill a modern publication of nearly one thousand pages with small print. Even though he was adamant about the legitimacy of the Hebrew scripture, not once does he indicate that he knew the first thing about an earthly Jesus. However, Philo did choose to refer to the son of God in the form of Logos, which is to say a spiritual medium between God and man. As it stands in the biblical world, the supernatural son of the universe’s almighty creator was supposedly performing unprecedented miracles and fulfilling prophecies that this philosopher spent his life analyzing, yet Philo, living well before Jesus’ birth and well after the crucifixion, never mentions such occurrences! [Long 2005, 186]

The second is the Galilean-born Justus of Tiberias [c. 35-100 A.D.], “who never offered Jesus one line of notation in his works. Justus made extensive historical writings on the Jewish war for independence and other contemporaneous events of local interest, but he never mentioned the name of Jesus once” (p. 187).

We have to wait until the second century to get some mention of Jesus, and they are indirect and problematic. One is from 112 A.D. where Pliny the Younger inquires about how to handle a group of people called Christians, who “worship Christ as a God,” and another in 115 A.D. by the Roman historian Tacitus:

Tacitus explains that the Christians get their name from “Christus [some writers say Chrestus] . . . who was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius” (Annals 15.44). He goes on to say that the “superstition” of Christianity first appeared in Judea before spreading to Rome. . . . If we cast our net over all surviving Greek and Roman (pagan) sources for the first hundred years after Jesus’ death (30-130 C.E.), these two brief references are all we find. [Ehrman 2010, 149]

Then there is Josephus, a Jewish historian whose voluminous writings of around 90 A.D. contain just two mentions of Jesus. The more detailed of the two, the Testimonium Flavianum, has been discredited as being at least partially fraudulent. The other “simply identifies a man named James as ‘the brother of Jesus, who is called the messiah’” (p. 149). The account that Josephus gives of John the Baptist, however, suggests that it was he who “was the more ‘popular voice’ of the period” (White 2005, 103).4

Ehrman summarizes the matter as follows:

[I]f we want to know about the life of the historical Jesus, we are more or less restricted to using the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are not disinterested accounts by eyewitnesses, however. They are books written decades after the fact by authors who had heard stories about Jesus from the oral tradition, stories that had been altered and even made up over time. There were lots of discrepancies in these stories, and the Gospel writers themselves changed them as they saw fit. [p. 151]

Francis Potter writes about a friend who confronted those discrepancies at Newton Theological Seminary and labored for many weeks over a “huge cardboard chart on which he was trying to reconcile Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” He finally became “exhausted and disgusted” by the effort and quit the ministry. He said to Potter

rather ruefully and with a sigh that night as we stood looking at the tangled lines of the chart: “Well, Pottie, if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John didn’t know what Jesus said and did, well enough to agree on it, I’m sure I don’t, and I’m not going to fake it, not to please anybody.” [1951, 391]

What I find just as remarkable as the historical silence about Jesus is the utter lack of any mention outside the Gospels of the astounding events attested by those books. Long notes that “Paul was the first known individual to write about Jesus,” and I agree that “it seems quite peculiar that he chooses to abstain from mentioning any of the astounding miracles accomplished by his subject” (2005, 184).

Those miracles include raising a girl from the dead, and the fame of that act “went abroad into all that land” (Mt 9:25-26). The “multitudes marvelled” about Jesus casting out a devil and restoring speech to a man (Mt 9:32-33). “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Mt 9:35). He fed nine thousand people from a mere armful of food (Mt 16:9-10). On Good Friday afternoon, there “was darkness over the whole land” for three hours (Mk 15:33). Upon Jesus’ death, “the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Mt 27:51-53).

Yet none of the authors and observers of the day–Paul, Pliny the Elder, Josephus, the hundreds of anonymous writers whose personal letters and mundane records have been preserved–had any of these events brought to their attention and thought them worth recording?

4.4.3 The Holy Ghost

Try the man who has the Divine Spirit by his life. First, he who has the Divine Spirit proceeding from above is meek, and peaceable, and humble, and refrains from all iniquity and the vain desire of this world, and contents himself with fewer wants than those of other men, and when asked he makes no reply; nor does he speak privately, nor when man wishes the spirit to speak does the Holy Spirit speak, but it speaks only when God wishes it to speak. When, then, a man having the Divine Spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in the Divine Spirit, and this assembly of men offers up prayer to God, then the angel of the prophetic Spirit, who is destined for him, fills the man; and the man being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks to the multitude as the Lord wishes. Thus, then, will the Spirit of Divinity become manifest.

The Shephard of Hermas [c. 140 A.D.]

Earlier we saw how God has made a blood sacrifice of a second part or “person” of himself in human form, which proceeded from God (the first part, that is) but was somehow always present. There is a third part of God, too, a holy “spirit” or “ghost” having no tangible form at all. The Nicene Creed asserts that this third part of God “proceeds from” the first two parts. It also states, oddly enough, that this third part is what made the second part “incarnate,” by impregnating the virgin Mary. If it isn’t weird enough for the monotheistic God of Israel (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD,” Deut 6:4) to have three “persons,” you can ponder the idea of the third part proceeding from the first and second parts while the second part is incarnated into a man by the third part that the second part helped produce. The Trinity is one of those “seriously perplexing nuggets of incomprehensibility” that Dennett says religion gives our brains “to gnaw on, like an unresolved musical cadence, and hence something to rehearse, and rehearse again, and baffle themselves deliciously about” (2007, 230).

Anyhow, after the second part of God rejoined the first in heaven, the Holy Spirit (part #3) was sent to earth. Here it inspires a small, hidden group of people to speak and write about, and believe in, the work done by the Son (part #2) to appease the Father (part #1):

“The preaching [of the word] today is not your own. It is brought forth from God and through the Spirit has been ordained to do that duty” of reproof, rebuke, and exhortation. Children should not “be ashamed to confess yourselves before the children of this world,” for from “God pours forth blessed strength and protection.” It is difficult to “speak of faith and grace to an unbeliever and the necessity of conversion,” but “when God with his love gives words to speak, then you have a thankful prayer to God that He gave you utterance” (Ville Suutari, Greetings of Peace, 9/1954).

Justin Martyr’s student Tatian [110-172 A.D.] envisioned a similar teaching role for the Holy Spirit, as well as its being limited only to the righteous: “But the Spirit of God is not with all, but, taking up its abode with those who live justly, and intimately combining with the soul, by prophecies it announced hidden things to other souls” (Address to the Greeks, Ch. 13). Assuming that this third part of the Trinity is what John 14:26 means by the Paraclete (KJV: Comforter; NASB: Helper)–an assumption that has been questioned by a number of biblical scholars–its job was to teach the disciples (and presumably everyone else through them) all things, and to bring all things to their remembrance that Jesus had said unto them.

Other references both ancient and modern say that the Holy Spirit is not just supposed to inspire its hosts to speak about righteousness, but to live righteously. The writer of First Clement praises the Corinthians for humility, obedience, “a profound and abundant peace,” and “an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all” (Ch. 2). Paul writes in Galatians 5 about the “fruits of the spirit,” making a sharp distinction between the expected behavior of those who have the spirit and those who don’t. Unfortunately, as the discussion of that passage in 7.5 makes clear, it is not actually possible to see much evidence of any such distinction.

There is not much of a distinction when it comes to certain critical aspects of ecclesiastical teaching and practice, either. As discussed in 4.1.6, the OALC and FALC both place great importance on the forgiveness of sins by personal absolution. In their churches, thousands of those “heretics” are sincerely and emotionally preaching forgiveness and accepting it. Yet they are supposedly without the Spirit that teaches and guides in all truth. I wonder how many Conservative Laestadians realize how much the church’s exclusivity backs itself into a theological corner in this regard. If there is no distinction between how those with the Spirit and those without are understanding and practicing the single most significant aspect of “God’s Kingdom,” then the Spirit is making absolutely no difference where it matters most. The result is what Robert M. Price and Emil Durkheim say happens in evangelical Christianity: The “God evangelical Christians worship so fervently is evangelicalism itself, externalized and made into a totem” (Price 2006b, 89).

O.H. Jussila [1888-1955] describes the Holy Ghost as a gift and agent of God’s love:

“The love of God then is the miracle-power, through which the Holy Ghost creates new life in the soul of man. Love has its home in heaven, for God is love. From heaven the Holy Ghost brings love down into this loveless world and directs its power streams of new life into the heart of man. . . . The Holy Ghost is the gift of the heavenly Father. And so also the new life which the Holy Ghost creates and its fruit are the gift of God. A gift is given, it is not forcibly taken. In receiving it there is not the slightest amount of compulsion. But God-given salvation with all its blessings is a grace gift” (from Greetings of Peace, 10/1961).

It sounds pretty nice, until you recall that the consequence for not accepting this gift is the loss of one’s closest relationships in this lifetime and an eternity of the most horrible torment imaginable thereafter. (The implications of this will be discussed further in 4.5.3 with respect to the gift of faith.) And God’s love is sadly limited in scope, when you consider what a tiny sliver of humanity is being offered this gift.

Jussila wrote those words at least half a century ago, and his overlooking the implications of what he was saying might be excused then, especially considering how insular Conservative Laestadianism has always been. But when a sect of a hundred thousand members maintains a doctrine of exclusivity in a world of seven billion, it is chaining itself to a rotting corpse. No amount of literary perfume can disguise the stench of the horror it drags along with it everywhere it goes.

Many attempts have been made to explain the mystery of the Trinity. Tertullian provided one succinct explanation that “the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are one essence, not one Person, as it is said, ‘I and my Father are One,’ in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number” (Against Praxeas, Ch. 25).5 These last quotes in my sample about the Holy Spirit describe the separate duties of the three “persons” in the trinity, which nonetheless “is still one indivisible unity”:

“Each person of the Godhead has His own duty: God the Father has created, the Son Jesus has redeemed, and the Holy Ghost takes care of the sanctification but this He does through those in whose hearts He dwells” (VOZ, 4/1974).

“Although there are three forms or persons in God, He is still one indivisible unity. For salvation, a person must believe upon the complete Triune God. If any of the Articles of faith are rejected by unbelief, then faith and hope of salvation is without foundation” (By Faith, 60).

“The Holy Spirit continues the work of the Father, through His Son, until the end of time. This Comforter assures us of God’s love and the forgiveness of all of our sins through His Son, Jesus Christ. This same Holy Spirit also continues to call sinners from the darkness of unbelief . . .” (VOZ, 5/2008).

4.4.4 The Mother

It was a sad and disillusioning lesson to learn. Why wasn’t he told that in the first grade? Or the first day at the university? That all institutions, every last one of them–no matter the claim, no matter the purpose, no matter the stated goals–exist sooner or later for their own selves, are self-loving, self-concerned, self-regarding, self-preserving, and are lusting for the soul of all who come near them.

—Will Campbell

Such emphasis has been put on the congregation “mother” that it sometimes seems to be viewed as a fourth member of the Godhead. It is also an entity recognized by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who say, “If we are to walk in the light of truth we must recognize not only Jehovah God as our Father but his organization as our mother” (from Wilson 2002, 43).

The only supporting Scripture appears to be a single passage in the New Testament, Gal 4:26, which refers to “Jerusalem which is above” (NASB: the Jerusalem above). Much has been made of the wording “from above,” which is how it appears in the 1776 Finnish translation favored by the SRK, as indicating that the kingdom or mother is right here with us, having come down from above. Though Luther translates the phrase as “is above,” as does every other translation of which I’m aware, he did caution not to “mistake this one word ‘above’ to refer to the triumphant Church in heaven, but to the militant Church on earth,” saying that “Jerusalem here means the universal Christian Church on earth” (Commentary on Galatians [1535], from Graebner, Ch. 4). He also counseled honor and obedience to “the spiritual mother, the holy Christian Church, the spiritual power, so that we conform to what she commands, forbids, appoints, orders, binds and looses” (Treatise on Good Works [1520]; PE 1, 257).

An early quote shows a reasonable reference to the “heavenly Jerusalem” without any anthropromorphizing (i.e., making it into a human-like entity):

“[W]e have been lead to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than the blood of Abel (Heb 12). In this company to which we have been led, we lack nothing. It is no wonder then, that we here are content and that from all our hearts we have fallen in love with those who have led us here. Through the gospel-word preached in the Lord’s congregation, we have become free, and fully enjoy our freedom, to live still a brief time here in mutual love, begging forgiveness and forgiving one another and once to die in good cheer as heirs of life and salvation” (A.L. Heideman, sermon given 1886, from Greetings of Peace, 4/1952).6

The first “mother” reference in my sample of Conservative statements is from a 1926 issue of Siionin Lähetyslehti:

“Our spiritual mother is the Kingdom of God. Therefore, it is not at all appropriate for a child to oppose his mother or object to the precious truths of God’s Word taught by her. The unity and love of the Spirit are precious and are also a uniting bond. Whether a disagreement is of a temporal or spiritual nature, when it spoils fraternal and common love, it is required as a condition of salvation that one submit in humility to the common understanding of the Kingdom of God and publicly repent” (from Hepokoski 2002b, 50).

In 1948, Jussila distinguished the Mother (now with divine capitalization) from the Holy Spirit. There are two separate divine entities at work here, separate from the Father and the Son! As with his discussion of Raattamaa (4.2.1), he attempts to cast his view backward in history:

“In early Christianity until this day, it has been believed and taught that the Congregation of God is the Mother which both gives birth and nourishes with the Word that the Holy Spirit causes to be preached” (Jussila 1948, 185).

Elmer Alajoki wrote glowingly of the kingdom in 1966. He doesn’t personify it, leaving it to the Heavenly Father to occupy:

“It is a beautiful kingdom in which the children of God dwell. It is a kingdom where the good speaking blood of Jesus always flows, washes, and cleanses from all sin. None of us will be saved except there where the blood of Jesus can always freely flow, there where we as poor sinners can gather the blood drops of Jesus to our sinful hearts. There joy is always kindled. There is peace. There is rest. There we comprehend the beauty and preciousness of the kingdom of God. There is such a rich Heavenly Father here. All the riches are hidden in the congregation of God; outside there is no salvation or life” (Alajoki, 125).

With the 1973 schism and its renewed emphasis on childlike obedience, the mother took on a position of prominence that would remain pretty extreme for about a decade:

In the mutual congregation, not “one is left in his wounds to languish or die, but the ‘Mother’ cares for her children. The congregation could not even be a Mother, unless it experiences sorrow and concern especially for those who have soiled and hurt themselves. All the children are dear to the ‘Mother,’ even the soiled and those literally covered with filth! Have we not seen how many times even the natural Mothers scold and exhort the children who have soiled themselves, but immediately begin to wash and cleanse them! . . . The kingdom of God attempts to the last possible moment to care for the one who has come to fault” (Päivämies, 1973).

Here, the translator went so far as to use divine capitalization in the pronoun “Her” in addition to the proper name “Mother”:

“We show obedience to God when we listen to that voice, what the Spirit saith unto the congregation (Rev 2:29). We have the Mother who instructs. Let us listen to the Mother, the living congregation of God. Through Her the Spirit of God speaks. Thus even then when we are defeated in battle. The Mother instructs to put the sin defeats away as they have happened. Oh, how good the Mother’s instruction is. Here in Zion are open fountains against sin and defilement. We have a God to whom ungodliness is not acceptable, but who still loves the penitent faulty child of man” (Päivämies, 1975).

The Mother’s “holiness and office in the matters of faith” was not to be questioned:

“It is a very significant fact, that no matter which kind of spiritual error or carnal religion men may err into, this spiritual ‘Mother’ becomes a dimmed doctrine. Her holiness and office in the matters of faith is questioned, doubted, and disputed with undisguised arrogance. The one in the ‘leaven of hypocrisy,’ the Laestadian Pharisee, sees the kingdom as a fault infested, scruffy lot who walk in undisciplined slackness who rant of grace and forgiveness so tiresomely. On the other hand, the humble hypocrite whose faith is so staunch and durable he cannot rid himself of it even by denying it, sees the kingdom, the ‘Mother,’ as a demanding but fallible teacher, whose instructions ‘one lone defender’ can dispute and ignore! The disobedient, who is hidden under the guise of ‘self-chosen worship and humility’ defends all manner of doctrinal and carnal error with the argument that the ‘Mother’ is erring” (VOZ, 1/1975).

In an effort to explain how “individual members, even member congregations can err in all manner of things,” the quoted writer defines the infallible Mother as “the church universal, the total fellowship of all believers present in the entire world.” It is distinct from “[i]ndividual Christians, the local congregations, [who] are members of the ‘body’ the ‘Mother,’ and are not the ‘Mother.’” He makes a reasonable point when he concludes, “There is only one body (1 Cor 12:12). But the body is not one member but many! (1 Cor 12:14). How can such clear words be twisted? The body is not one member, it is the total of the members.”

“The kingdom of heaven is the pillar of truth and the foundation of truth. By that we mean it cannot err, it is our spiritual mother. It is this mother that gives life and new birth,” that “wants to take care of us when we are disobedient children” (Peter Nordstrom, sermon given 1978).

Meanwhile, having been separated from and entirely out of contact with Conservative Laestadianism for three quarters of a century, the OALC was urging “that we wouldn’t begin to form our own opinions, but rather place our understandings, no matter how right they seem to us, before the right judges: Christians having the Holy Spirit. This lowliness, humility, and obedience to the rule of the congregation is the secret of strength. We must place our trust in God and His congregation that has the Holy Spirit. Man can err but the Holy Spirit does not err” (History of Living Christianity, 34). Here is an observation from another authoritarian religious group that may sound all too familiar:

The Watchtower Society wants its members to stay as children in relation to its authority, referring to the organization as “Mother”; thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses spend most of their time in the “child” mode, looking to the organization as their “parent.” When a Witness voices any disagreement with this “parent,” the organization disrespectfully views that disagreement as tantamount to a child throwing a tantrum. [Wilson 2002, 226]

It is the same kind of thing that was being said about the relationship of the “Child of God” to the “Mother”:

“Sometimes when a child gets older he can be more disobedient and not listen to his temporal mother and what sorrow that causes her. How the congregation of God sorrows when spiritually a child is disobedient and does not heed its admonitions, because he has grown too big in himself. How happy a Christian mother is when the blood of Christ can flow between her and her child, because she herself can err by going into the flesh when her child is disobedient. The spiritual mother rejoices when a wayward child repents, but differs from the natural mother in this way–the spiritual mother cannot err even though her child does” (VOZ, 11/1980).

While this attitude is still common, a couple of Finnish correspondents have told me that it is not universally held within the SRK now. And one of those correspondents, Antti Kaunisto, notes a 1909 annual meeting of the SRK that indicates some organizational humility early on. There a prominent lay preacher, Juho Kanniainen is recorded as saying, “God’s word is the only strong and infallible foundation upon which the congregation is built.7 The congregation can err sometimes. We don’t give the due respect to God’s word if we put any other foundation beside it.” Kanniainen concluded that the Bible was enough for Jesus and we should let it be enough for us, too, and the other brothers agreed (Kaunisto 2011).

Kaunisto says this presents “an embarrassing contradiction to the inerrant Mother doctrine so widely preached in the 1970s–what’s the use of an inerrant congregation that has made the mistake to proclaim itself fallible sometimes?” There is also “the problem of who has the authority to speak ex cathedra on behalf of the Holy Congregation, if no organization or a group of people is qualified for the task.” An inerrant Mother who is somehow hidden among fallible believers becomes invisible and of no practical consequence (Kaunisto 2011).

Though Luther recognized the analogy of the church as a mother, he didn’t emphasize it much in his writings. Here is one case where he referred to it, in his 1520 Treatise Concerning the Ban: “When an earthly mother rebukes and chastises her erring son, she does not give him over to the hangman or to the wolves, nor make a knave of him, but she restrains him and shows him by her chastisement that he is in danger of the hangman, and thus keeps him at home in his father’s house. In the same way, when the spiritual power puts anyone under the ban [with the key of binding], it should be in this spirit,” to put one “outwardly under the ban in the sight of men” until he comes to himself and brings back his soul (PE 2, 40-41).

After this next quote from 1980, my sample shows no discussion about the Mother for almost three decades. (It should be noted, however, that the quote is from a book that has been passed out to confirmation students during that entire time.)

“The mother feeds and cares for her children. So also does the Kingdom of God, the spiritual Mother, which Rebekah-mother in the Old Testament portrays” (By Faith, 31).

Then, in 2008, as some dissident voices began to be heard in the SRK, the “congregation mother” got some fresh attention, along with warnings about the 1970s, her last heyday:

“People of our time see faith as a personal matter, with which no one should interfere. But through the example of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that we are to care for those wounded by sin and wearied in their faith. God’s congregation is like a mother who wants to hold her child in her arms. Discussions about doctrine and soul care especially rise in importance during times of battle in Christianity. This was also experienced in the 1970s, when a schism separated from Conservative Laestadianism. Even during difficult times, God does His work in the Holy Spirit through His children who, in themselves, are lacking. It is important that through all times our trust in the grace-care of God’s kingdom would be preserved” (Päivämies No. 2, 2008).

“The believer in God’s kingdom has a Father in heaven and a spiritual mother here on this Earth. Our mother cares for us and guides us on his way to heaven. . . . There is reason for concern if one has a different understanding of spiritual matters than the congregation mother.” In the schism of the 1970s, the “people who went astray had lost the correct doctrine of the congregation mother. They no longer kept it as an unerring kingdom” (VOZ, 8/2008).

Now it seems that the mother is enjoying something of a comeback. Obedience to her will was mentioned frequently during a 2010 youth discussion in Minneapolis, and Ray Waaraniemi’s 2011 presentation says, “It is vital to personal faith that we understand the role of the congregation mother. We always want to be obedient to the congregation of God. It is a beautiful matter that we can entrust our endeavor into the care of the congregation of God, our spiritual mother.”

At least he didn’t capitalize her name.

4.4.5 Angels

An angel is a spiritual creature created by God without a body, for the service of Christendom and of the church.

—Martin Luther

There is little mention of angels in the last century of writings and sermons. The topic is mostly for children, and the presence of angels in the everyday life of an adult believer does not seem to be taken too seriously.

“It feels so secure to be in faith, when each of us has a guardian angel, even for such a weak one who thinks that God hardly looks down so low. Let us not even then tremble in the waves of doubt, or when the anger and envy of Babylon beat over us. God sends His Angels to protect us, like he did to the den of lions to rescue Daniel, and to the furnace to save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” (Saari 1968, 32).

“There are so many of these [spiritual] angels [Heb 1:14], that there are enough for each child of God to have his very own. Remember, children, that angels accompany you, and they see the face of the heavenly father. When the time comes for us to leave the world, these angels will come and carry a child of God to his rest” (Lasten Siioni [1978], from VOZ, 12/1979).

“Jesus indicates that His children have angels in heaven. The Arch-angel Michael and his angels cast the devil and his angels from heaven (Rev 12:7-9). In this, we see a picture of how Jesus Christ is the victor over the enemy of souls [Rev 12:10 cited]. There are angels on earth also; the Bible refers to servants of the word as angels. The servants of the seven churches in Asia were called angels (Rev 1:20). A child of God often feels that the other children of God are angels sent to minister in time of need” (VOZ, 10/2000).

“Scriptures relate of angels many times. Angels were created by God to protect us, to be messengers, and to guide us on the road to heaven. Some angels in the Bible even have names” (VOZ, 10/2009).

“One can only imagine what it would be like to be visited by an Angel. God has created Angels to serve Him, although they belong to the invisible world. The Bible, however, relates of several occasions when Angels have visited man. Sometimes they have come as messengers from God, and other times they have come to protect and deliver God’s children from danger” (VOZ, 3/2010).

The scarcity of angels, demons, or other personal manifestations of religious experience in everyday life (e.g., feeling the presence of God, being “filled with the Spirit”) is in accordance with a fairly low-key and pragmatic role of religion in the everyday lives of Conservative Laestadians today. That may come as a surprise to outsiders, given the uncompromising belief structure, extensive behavioral norms, and mystical roots of the movement.

Any personal expressions of evangelical piety such as ecstatic worship or outwardly visible individual prayer would be viewed as awkward and inauthentic. The visitor to worship services will find no one standing in the pews, hands outstretched, swaying with the tempo of some ecstatic praise song. Everyday conversations, whether in the church foyer or in private homes, are not overly focused on the spiritual realm or peppered with pious epithets like “praise the Lord” and “God willing.” Public prayer is almost entirely reserved for the opening and closing of services (4.7.2).

4.4.6 The Enemy of Souls

When Luther wants to designate the power to which every man is subject in his sinfulness, he speaks of “flesh,” of “the world,” and of “the devil.” He repeatedly places these three concepts together. Each of the three powers seduces men to sin and holds them captive in it; all three are opposed to God, to his word, and to faith.

—Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther

One spiritual entity that does hold a prominent and personal place in Conservative Laestadian theology is the “Enemy of Souls.” Early on in Laestadianism, the devil had more of an individual character, but in later decades developed into an antithesis to the Trinity, the “three-fold enemy” consisting of Satan, the world, and one’s own sin-fallen flesh.

“When the Holy Spirit which speaks through the mouth of the Christians makes the devil that lives in the hearts of the unbelievers restless he becomes fierce. Now he comes out of their mouth with hide and hair. He puts them to gnash their teeth because of hate. He becomes so wroth that he thirsts after the blood of Christians” (Laestadius, Pentecost Morning sermon [1852]; Fourth Postilla, 121).

“But now the devil of unbelief has launched an attack against us, for he knows that the blood of the Lamb of God is falling upon the hearts of the believers, and that is a deadly poison to him. So the devil strengthens the unrepentant and the enemies of the cross of Christ in the faith that God is merciful if they are penitent. But the devil prevents the awakened who should believe, from believing” (Raattamaa, letter written 1854, from Kulla 1985, 179).

“We have often heard the enemy whisper: ‘It is better that you give up your faith. If you in this state cling to what the Savior has done, you will fall into the sin of hypocrisy.’ Thus we have become involved in the very marrow of the matter. We have come to see that if we now relinquish Jesus Christ we are lost. We have been compelled to answer the enemy: ‘Everything else you may take, but do not estrange me from Jesus Christ’” (Havas [1940], 73).

“When the God of this world opened his enticing bosom where he showed all of the allurements of sin and the flesh, then the unwary soul [became] careless with respect to the warnings of the word of God and gradually grew cold towards the companionship of Christians. The devil began in a refined manner to offer pride of life–finery. The victim began to beautify the old Adam. It became allowable to read romances and filthy literature written by this world’s children; the eye began to search in the world for ‘nice’ friends and other good and ‘innocent’ companionship” (Eino Rimpiläinen, Greetings of Peace, 2/1944).

“[L]et us not leave this Kingdom, although the enemy entices us through the world and the love of sin. At another time he oppresses [us] through our own corruption. And if he does not succeed with this, he comes to entice us through self-righteousness or through a preacher of false doctrine to lead us astray from God’s Kingdom” (Kalle Timonen, Greetings of Peace, 8/1961).

“The indwelling sin and corruption, which is the inheritance of our forefathers, together with the unbelieving world with its friends, and the sly enemy of the soul, work to steal all that which is heavenly from the hearts of children. With sorrow, many Christian parents see how powerfully the triune enemy attacks against their sons and daughters. The world is evil. If ever before, now in our day the enemy of the soul invents new snares with which to entangle the souls of the young people” (Paul Heideman, from Greetings of Peace, 5/1963).

“The enemy of souls seeks to lead one astray in many ways. Also the young children of God feel how the enemy goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour” (Alajoki [1966], 125).

Throughout the writings and sermons, we find interesting descriptions of the enemy’s actions and motives. In a 1974 Päivämies article, we also enounter an imaginative expansion of Rev 12:7-9 to explain the origin of the enemy:

“Once in eternity God made plans to create a visible heaven and earth with all its hosts. But before His plans were carried out, a sad thing happened in the glory of heaven: one of the chief angels began to envy the omnipotence of God and together with some other angels made a secret plot against God to overthrow Him from His throne. But the works of darkness came to light then, even though they were done by glorious creatures. God cast out this chief angel from heaven, he who is called the devil and Satan, with all his multitudes, into outer darkness without any promise of redemption, without any grace and forgiveness. This angel became the satanic majesty of darkness who resolved to destroy the very crowning work of God’s creation, man.”

The actual passage on which this story is based merely states that there was war in heaven and Satan “was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Remember, the book of Revelation also testifies “unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (22:18).

Returning to the enemy’s motives, we read:

“The enemy of the soul does everything possible to corrupt the work of God” (VOZ, 5/1974).

“In these last times there are so many evil forces afoot with which we must do battle and the author of them all is Satan,” who wants “confusion and doubts” among the believers (VOZ, 10/1978).

Well, for a condemned fallen angel who lost a war in heaven, he’s doing a pretty good job of it, isn’t he? Out of the seven billion people on earth, all he hasn’t managed to grab are the children (who most everyone claims are innocent or saved somehow), the mentally incompetent, and a hundred thousand or so Conservative Laestadians. And he’s actively working on them, too, as the other quotes in this section attest.

“Already before the creation of the earth, the spiritual powers of darkness existed. The angels which rejected God had been placed into darkness with eternal shackles [Jude 1:6]. Adam and Eve were tempted by the powers of darkness” (By Faith, 21).

“We know that the enemy of our souls always tries to break the love of the brothers and sisters and lead us into wrong watchings. We experience this warfare and have felt the wounds of sin. There isn’t a single traveler on the way of faith that has not experienced the power and cunning of the threefold enemy–our flesh, the world, and Satan. The enemy surrounds us with temptations” (Alajoki [1989], 220).

“We all feel the weakness of our flesh and the lusts which arise from within. However, there is no better place to be, when faced with such evil and temptations, than in the household of the living God as His child. Here we find comfort, support and encouragement in fighting ‘the good fight of faith.’ Our ability to battle against the evils of the world, Satan and our own flesh comes not of ourselves, but through faith” (Lawrence Byman, presentation given 1997).

“James wrote that we are drawn by lust into sin, ‘and sin when it is finished, brings forth death.’ In both battles, Satan attacks God’s Word first; his strategy is to raise doubts: ‘Yea, hath God said?’ even though he clearly understood what God said. When our thoughts are thus corrupted by our doubts concerning our lustful desires, we can then give ourselves permission to sin” (VOZ, 10/2000).

“Our ever present three-fold enemy is forever trying to get us to fall into sin. Satan is at the forefront of this endeavor and wants us to serve him and his evil kingdom. He is a master of a thousand lies and is very subtle, persuasive, and crafty at his full-time occupation of trying to turn man away from God” (VOZ, 2/2002).

It all paints quite an impressive portrait of the enemy. And I wonder if those who are writing this stuff are really aware of what they are doing. As Price notes,

Theologically, to posit such attendance of Satan upon every detail of every Christian life in the world today is to make Satan into an evil God with an all-embracing negative providence. It is to say, virtually, that not a hair of your head will perish without his consent. In short, fundamentalism has, apparently without realizing it, gone the whole way with Zoroastrianism, making Satan into the opposite-but-equal God. Do you really mean to ascribe such all-embracing knowledge and activity to Satan? [2006b, 254]

Apparently so, because the fervor with which the topic is treated continues unabated to the present day:

“There is a daily battle between the Spirit of God within us and our sin-corrupt flesh. We also must deal with the influences of the world, which is in continuous turmoil around us. Satan is so close to us. He knows he does not have much time and is ‘seeking whom he may devour.’ . . . Satan desires to devour the believer. That is his work. He tries to sow confusion in our midst around various matters” (George Koivukangas, presentation given 2004).

“There has always been a division in this world between God’s kingdom and those outside of its walls. Throughout history, this division has been apparent. A continual warfare between Satan and God’s children has been taking place. Today Satan is combining the forces of various faiths into one ecumenical group” (VOZ, 11/2004).

“Wearing the helmet of the hope of salvation helps to ward off the enemy’s attacks. It helps fight against this world’s vain philosophies and wisdom. It reminds us to keep the wisdom of this world from mixing with the wisdom of the Spirit” (VOZ, 9/2006).

“[T]he things of this world may entice and tempt the child of God. The enemy of souls will whisper that a little fun and enjoyment with sinful life is acceptable. We remember that the enemy of souls is a liar and that those things that tempt a believer can be dangerous and lead one away from God’s precious kingdom” (VOZ, 10/2007).

“We battle an enemy that does not show himself as easily as the army of Amelek did on the battlefield [Exodus 17:9-13]. There are many temptations that face God’s children today. The enemy is always devising clever schemes to trick God’s children into sin and break the love between brothers and sisters” (VOZ, 5/2008).

“Satan would want us to forget that there is power over sin. He is the master of lies and has practiced them from the beginning of time” (VOZ, 9/2009).

“Satan is very resourceful and deceiving. He knows our weaknesses and is not shy about exploiting them. Recall how cunning Satan was in tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan questioned Eve whether God truly said they shouldn’t eat of every tree in the Garden. He then tempted her and caused her to fall,” knowing that “created man valued knowledge” and “how to cause a person to doubt” (VOZ, 10/2009).

“When we put sin away, we‘re given the strength to battle against the three-fold enemy–the devil, the world, and our own flesh” (VOZ, 10/2009).

“We are in a battle against an enemy coming from three directions. The enemy of souls tries to entice us to live by our corrupt flesh and blood and according to its desires. The enemy also tempts us with the enticements of the sins of the world. The enemy of souls continues to preach a sermon of lies, trying to thwart the counsel and instructions of God’s Word and deny the consequences of disobeying God’s Word” (Christmas in Zion, 2009).

The last two quotes show how the demonic antithesis to the Trinity is alive and well. Its three forces of evil are discussed separately at various points in the New Testament, but where is the Scriptural support for emphasizing this “threefold enemy” as much as it is in sermons and writings? Judas’ treachery was not attributed to his own inherently evil “flesh.” Rather, Satan “entered into” Judas (Luke 22:3, John 13:27), though Jesus did refer to Judas as a devil (John 6:70). Peter asked Ananias why Satan had “filled his heart” to lie to the Holy Ghost, rather than labeling his sin-corrupt heart as a source of evil itself (Acts 5:3). Certainly the “threefold enemy” as a concept is not new or unique to Laestadianism or even Lutheranism (see the epigraph to this section), but the level of emphasis it receives seems to be.

4.4.7 False Spirits

In fundamentalist groups . . . the movement, organisation, and group nested social identity is usually so strong that deviants . . . are likely to be treated as being in error. One of the several reasons for this intolerance of deviants is that any example of deviance decreases the group’s homogeneity, and hence its distinctiveness from its out-groups. We all need to be absolutely clear where we stand, particularly where the deviant “heresy” is actually a part of the out-group’s social identity. Moreover, we will all feel much purer and more virtuous if we have rooted out sinful error from our midst. Alternatively, if the deviant repents and requests re-acceptance, we will feel better for our act of forgiveness.

—Peter Herriot, Religious Fundamentalism

The 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were times of doctrinal strife in which “false spirits” were deemed to be present in many church members. There was a “spirit of leniency,” a “dry spirit,” and a “spirit of the freedom of the flesh.” There was also a “Kososlainen spirit” named after Juho Kosonen, who preached decades earlier from 1914 to the late 1930s and came to be considered a heretic. A 1964 issue of Päivämies published a written repentance from “Kosonenism”:

The issue of the so-called Kosonenism and my involvement in it, which was taken up at the Joensuu meeting of preachers and elders, came as a great surprise to me, and so I couldn’t even immediately recall all the points involved in the matter though I understood that repentance from Kosonenism was expected of me. I couldn’t directly repent because, in my opinion, I have never approved of false doctrine. Therefore, my repentance turned out as clumsy as it did. . . . Now I indeed recall that in some ‘discussions’ I found myself defending Kosonenians because I have considered them believers. I haven’t understood this matter previously as I do now since they have been confronted. And since I have thus found myself implicated in Kosonenism, I ask forgiveness for it from God’s congregation. [from Hepokoski 2002b, 74]

In the 1980s, I was encouraged, along with many of my young peers, to repent of the “spirit of the freedom of the flesh” as a root cause of wayward behavior. My mother repented of the “Kososlainen spirit” without ever figuring out what it was. The spirits had been amply described in their fascinating variety:

“One of the first fruits of false spirit is that it immediately begins to undermine the authority of” the Christian church, as represented in Mt 18:23. “All who have fallen into bondage, whether of the spirit of self righteousness, or the spirit of leniency, or of ecumenism, or whatever, immediately begin to admire like Hagar their own fruitfulness and despise the unfruitful Sarah” (VOZ, 3/1974).

The birth of the “dry spirit” is often concealed, “and when it begins to come we do not often notice this. But its signs are very clear. When one repents of dryness, it does not take long when one is in the same dryness, in the same matters, in the same circles, in the same fault-findings as concerns other Christians. Then when the congregation of God counsels repentance for this and repentance is made, yet it is not long when one is back in the same dryness. Thus, little by little, as if unnoticed, false spirit has come into the heart” (VOZ, 5/1975).

“The same scriptural Word which effects life in the Christian by the Holy Spirit, works death when used by those who are governed by a foreign spirit. This spirit may be any of several kinds: lawful, lenient, dry, or any other, which if unchecked by the caretaking of the kingdom, will surely result in a final separation from the love of the good Shepherd” (VOZ, 8/1975).

“When a false spirit has taken the place of the Holy Spirit one begins to feed oneself with the faults of others and sees the instructions of God’s kingdom as the sermon of the law. Those in the wrong can also join and feel strong unity of spirit–unity of a false spirit” (Päivämies No. 33, 1978).

A Päivämies article about “The Battle of Spirits” describes symptoms of the “dry spirit” and “lenient spirit” and states that one

must receive grace to repentance of false spirit, so that one can be delivered from under the power of the spirit of darkness to subjection of the Holy Spirit. In other words, “the tree has to be made good.” It does not help at all, however diligently one would amend or correct the fruits, for this does not change the spirit. [from VOZ, 6/1978]

A “false spirit” seeks “support and comfort” from like-minded individuals, which just sounds like simple human nature to me:

“The simplest formula for discerning the false spirit from the true and Holy Spirit is given by John: ‘we are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.’ . . . Whenever a false spirit of carnality or self-righteousness attacks and confuses a Christian, he begins to seek support and comfort from and among those who are in the same condition of error. Thus are the seeds and foundations of heresy established” (VOZ, 10/1978).

Einari Lepistö provided a detailed description of the “Kososlainen spirit” in a 1979 issue of Päivämies (from VOZ, 9/1979). Although the “manifestations and fruits of the Kososlainen spirit are varied,” a common feature is that it, “in one way or another, quarrels against the Holy Spirit of God. . . . It speaks of the preciousness of God’s congregation, but at the same time criticizing in a fault-finding way, sometimes an individual Christian, speaker-brothers, or persons who are in positions of trust in the activities of Christianity.” Rather than depart as a heresy, the “Kososlainen false spirit hangs on with Christianity.“

It is a “spirit of freedom of the flesh,” yet is ”a doctrine of works.” One with the Kososlainen spirit “uses confession but has no intention of giving up the sin,” often engages in “carnal rejoicing” (ecstatic outbursts) when instructed to repent, though “those rejoicings are not inspired by the Holy Spirit.” To the Kososlainen spirit belong “false Bible prophecy” and “visions and dreams.” It “prophesizes of upcoming events or times and also of the end of the world,” and dreams “go before God’s Word. One believes in dreams more than in the word of God.” (It is surprising to see “prophesying the end of the world” and experiencing “visions and dreams” associated with a “false spirit.” Conservative writings and sermons of the period were full of “end times” sentiment, 4.8.2. And doesn’t the writer realize how important “visions and dreams” were to Laestadius and his contemporaries, 4.1.5?)

The article attributes some interesting behaviors to the Kososlainen spirit. It “can hide itself underground. It goes into hiding for long spells. In a suitable time it raises its head. Often it happens so, that a Kososlainen will repent when reprimanded, is still for a while, and then again rises to the surface, the same and unchanged.” Often, it “can be clearly seen,” but at “other times, Kososlaisuus can hide so, that it is very difficult to recognize the false spirit.” It can even “fight the same Kososlainen spirit in another person.”

Amazing stuff. The next quote is more restrained in its description, but not in its variety of spirits:

“[I]f a permissive frame of mind becomes one’s attitude toward life, and a permissive stand on all matters is prevalent, then a wrong spirit rules the heart–a permissive spirit. . . . If, on the other hand, the enemy of our soul has succeeded in causing a dry spirit in us, the fruits are apparent in overzealousness and in furthering the development of divisions. The one in the dry spirit feels he is in the right and does not readily agree to counsel or guidance” (VOZ, 5/1980).

My sampling yielded just two more references to spirits. Here is one:

“Throughout time, believers have battled false doctrines and heretical spirits. Apostle Paul spoke openly to the Corinthians saying, there must be heresies among you so that those who are tried in your midst shall be made known (1 Cor 11:19). Recognizing this evil time, we need to be watchful on our journey of faith” (VOZ, 7/1999).

The other is a brief reference to the “lenient spirit” in 2009 (4.6.4). Sometime not long after this point, the whole legion of false spirits galloped over the Gadarene cliffs. The younger generation has never heard of them, and the older generation recalls them privately with bemusement.

1 The name “fundamentalist” comes from the title of a series of booklets called The Fundamentals, published in 1910. There were five “core ‘fundamentals’ [that] constituted the non-negotiable beliefs one must absolutely hold to in order to be a Christian.” They were “the divine inspiration and total inerrancy of the Bible,” “the Virgin Birth of Christ as a testimony to his divinity,” “the ‘substitutionary atonement’ of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world, and his bodily resurrection from the dead,” and “the imminent second coming of Christ ‘in glory’” (Cox 2009, 147-48).

2 According to the fourth-century Nicene Creed (Lutheran version from Wikipedia), there is

one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of His Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried.
And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures
and ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of the Father.

3 Propaganda is a loaded term that evokes a strong reaction in people, but its first definition is merely “The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause” (thefreedictionary.com). And the Gospels surely did that, as John explicity notes toward its end: “[M]any other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Jn 20:30).

4 Even the Gospels show some tension about the Baptist’s role. The earliest one (Mark) has Jesus submit to John’s “baptism for the remission of sins” seemingly as a matter of course. The later Synoptics, having greater emphasis on Jesus’ divinity, strain to apologize for the awkwardness of the Son of God showing up to be washed in the baptismal waters by the preacher of repentance. John, the latest of the Gospels by far and with the highest “Christology,” ignores Jesus’ baptism entirely (Price 2003).

5 According to Wikipedia, Tertullian’s views on the trinity were rejected as heretical at first but then accepted as Christian orthodoxy. That’s ironic, since Tertullian was a zealous heresy-hunter himself.

6 Paul Heideman prefaced the article in which that appeared with an editor’s note that is worth reproducing just for the affection he shows there for his father, both of them being major figures in the history of Laestadianism: “As I have been translating this conclusion of a sermon held by my father, Arthur L. Heideman, in Finland in 1886, shortly after his own conversion, my heart has rejoiced. I have remembered the countless many of us, to whom God in His unmeasurable love and mercy, gave truly converted, believing fathers and mothers, and through them, let His Kingdom come to us. . .”

7 Hepokoski says that there were “cliques” among the Conservatives in Finland a few years later. In 1917, Kanniainen was in one group with Heikki Jussila, whom I quote extensively in this book. Another leading voice of Conservative Laestadianism, Matti Suo, whom I also quote extensively, but at the time he was in another group (Hepokoski 2002b, 55). Regardless of those tensions, Jussila and Suo are both considered Conservative Laestadians, and I know of no formal split between the cliques that Hepokoski describes.