4.7 The Life of a Believer

The whole life of the new people, the faithful people, the spiritual people, is nothing else but prayer, seeking, and begging by the sighing of the heart, the voice of their works, and the labor of their bodies, always seeking and striving to be made righteous, even to the hour of death, never standing still, never possessing, never in any work putting an end to the achievement of righteousness, but always awaiting it as something which still dwells beyond them, and always as people who still live and exist in their sins.

—Martin Luther, from Luther on Conversion

4.7.1 Joys and Sorrows

In addition to the relief Evangelicals find from structure, they seem to have, as I came to appreciate, a kind of bottomless spring that keeps their happiness lush. I started to believe it was perfectly authentic, and I wanted some for myself.

—Gina Welch, In the Land of Believers

Laestadianism has its roots in 19th century Pietism, which had brought to Scandanavian Lutheranism an emphasis on an individual’s personal awakening, sorrow, and repentance (Gritsch 2002, 185-86; Kulla 2004, 21-24; Kulla 2010, 126). The struggle does not end with the initial conversion. It continues until death. The “inner conflict” between the believer and sin

“and the victories that ensue of it, of which we knew nothing in our sorrowless condition, is a sure witness that such a traveler possesses Jesus by faith unto salvation. The world may rage, and the devil torment through our corruption, but Jesus increases peace and we have one victory after another in order that we may know the true God in Zion” (Matti Suo, Siionin Lähetyslehti [1917], from Kulla 1985, 202).

The theme of struggle against sin and personal unworthiness is evident in these quotes from the next several decades:

“Battling in this world with sin, our own weaknesses and shortcomings[,] we often feel worried and realize that this world is not the place for our soul. The Children of God often feel like a lonely bird perched on the branch of a tree because this world can give them no pleasure or peace. But to live with Christ! That means to the Children of God the end of all sorrows, sighs, tears, relief from sin, full brightness, living with souls that are saved, meeting our Saviour face to face and praising Him forever and ever. Indeed, it would be much better!” (O.H. Jussila, Siionin Lähetyslehti [1919], from Greetings of Peace, 8/1949).

“The feelings of poverty, coldness, and defileness cause one to look tremblingly to the author and finisher of our faith; the man of sorrows who carried all of our grief. Therefore, even you, who are burdened with your ailing body, try to learn to believe that the thorn in your flesh is a heaven sent gift and as precious as the most sweet feelings of revelations and openings of grace, and perhaps more wholesome. It detaches you from the earthly and attaches you to heavenly things” (Havas [1937], 65).

“Come now, all you who are poor! All who feel that sin has deprived your soul of all its eternal treasures. You who feel that you have no merit before Almighty God to enjoy His favor and to hope for His Heaven as the eternal abode of your immortal soul. Come, you who find yourself lacking everything, you are poor in faith, poor in love, your repentance has been shallow, your walk as a Christian so faltering, the confession of your faith so timid. Your heart so cold and sinful. Your watching in prayer has been so sluggish. Often you have found yourself head over heels engrossed by the worldly temporal interests. Come, you ragged, miserable pauper to behold your Christmas Present. For He lies poor in the manger to make you rich” (Paul Heideman, Greetings of Peace, 12/1949).

We see some rays of sunlight breaking through the gloom in the next two quotes:

“Oh how I have reason to praise Him that He has drawn me, a fallen sinner, into that fellowship of faith, love and hope with His blessed children and heirs. This christian love, my dear ones, is the most precious thing in all our life. And if it has been soul-happiness here on this sinful earth, how unspeakably great it will be when at the end of our journey in this vale of tears, we tread on the shore of that new earth and heaven, where righteousness dwelleth, and where love reigns supreme” (Paul Heideman, Greetings of Peace, 9/1952).

“God’s kingdom is also a kingdom of joy, although many in the world may think it to be a house of sorrow, a convent, or a monastery. They may think that a person in faith cannot nor must he be joyous. If anyone should have a reason for joy it is the one whose name is recorded in the Book of Life in Heaven. Who else can be as cheerful as he whose conscience is not burdened!” (Taskila 1961, 2)

Peter Nevala talks about individual wretchedness, but also offers comfort to the discouraged in the March 1971 Greetings of Peace:

“If there should be anyone who is wounded, sinful, hopeless and discouraged, be encouraged! You have the permission to believe even when sinful, even when walking with wounded conscience, for it is only through faith that you will or can receive power to put away those things from your life which can eventually separate you from God. Be therefore comforted, dear friend, through the grace of God.”

The following quotes balance all the negativity with the joy of salvation:

“Does it seem to us that we have been able to run with patience, or can we recall that there have been times when our patience has been short, when we may have at least in our innermost, grumbled–perhaps murmured–concerning this portion that the father has put before us. How good [this is], when we must recall that our running has not always been with patience, we can believe all those moments of impatience forgiven in the name and blood of Jesus” (John Waaraniemi, sermon given 1974).

“[W]hen a man’s sins are forgiven, the fruits of the Spirit are evident in his heart, and he is then free and happy. ‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’ (John 8:36). The marvelous grace of God is then blessing, teaching, guiding, and strengthening the traveler on the way, helping him to overcome all trials and temptations. . . . This kingdom is dear and precious to us; here all our needs are fulfilled. . . . Why would anyone want to forsake and leave such a wonderful grace kingdom and go into the ways of the world and sin, there to lose Jesus?” (Alajoki [1975], 69)

“In the trials of our journey we have even questioned the Lord that why do I have this heavy cross as my lot in life. We may even look at the lot in life of other Christians and see it to be much lighter. Sometimes we can even become envious of them. The Apostle Peter encourages the cross bearers; he wants to lead us to look at the inheritance which is reserved in heaven” for us (VOZ, 4/1978).

“It is true happiness that we can be near God. God is in His kingdom and is cause for joy and happiness for us, and the difficulties we experience belong to Christianity and to the life of a Christian. Under these difficulties we battle and God will give strength to His children; we need not fight fearfully” (Voitto Savela, sermon given 1980).

“We are thankful and praise God that we have been blessed so abundantly in this kingdom. We have received to our souls that life which is in Jesus. We have also been blessed with abundant goodness in life, both temporally and spiritually. The Heavenly Father has granted us power through His grace to follow the footsteps of our dear Savior Jesus. When these matters open to us, we realize what a great blessing it is that we can be children of God” (Alajoki [1989], 217).

“Sorrows surround the endeavorer, but not one needs to remain under sorrows and be wearied to hopelessness. The exhortation belongs to a child of God to lift up one’s eyes upward from this land of sorrow. One feeling sorrow because of sin can turn his gaze unto the Savior of sinners, the Lord Jesus. Through His suffering, death and resurrection we have access from death to life and from sorrow to joy. Even though we feel distress and pain here in time, our portion through living faith is the joy of the heart” (Siionin Lähetyslehti, 1989).

Elmer Alajoki expressed great emotion and gratitude concerning his life of faith, and that comes through in his 1989 sermon quoted above. But the first quote in my sample that really spells out some of the joys of life in the Conservative Laestadian fold is from a 1994 presentation by Matti Kontkanen:

“[B]elieving itself is and brings righteousness, peace, and joy to one’s heart. In this righteousness we are happy and rejoice of all the gifts which God grants us according to His will. There certainly are a lot of them: There is the home and parents, brothers and sisters, love and care of the home, unity and fellowship of the family members–don’t let the [strife] for money destroy this source of joy in our Christian homes–There is the possibility of learning and going back to school, there is the beautiful nature, free and independent fatherland–we may pray for the good of our country. We may rejoice for being able to work for our country– there is daily bread–there is enough money even to give some of it to those who are in need. There is the fellowship of the Christians–I have seen many of you joyously meeting each other here in these days [during the national Summer Services]–There is the treasure of righteousness in Jesus in the kingdom of God. There is the joy of a good conscience. There is the joy of the hope of a better future. The Bible exhorts us to rejoice even in trials, in sorrow, and under ridicule. There is the work of the kingdom of God–we may do it willingly and with joy like the disciples of Jesus did–There will be the fulfillment of joy in Heaven.”

Ultimately, the discussion keeps coming back to the forgiveness of sins:

“God strengthens our faith with [trials] and teaches us patience. If we did not have patience, we would become discouraged encountering our first adversity and our endeavor would remain unfinished. Patience is especially necessary when we stumble and notice that we haven’t become good and exemplary endeavorers. We continue to be weak, and corruption affects and lives in us. Patience is required when it becomes clear that our endeavor is not the reason and basis for our salvation. We must return again and again to the place where our journey of endeavor began. To the place where the Lord Jesus is the only reason for our salvation and that we, although unsuccessful, have the right to believe our sins forgiven in His name and blood” (Uljas 2000, 83).

“Having joy and living hope are characteristic of a believer, and the basis for joy is in the manger of Bethlehem where our Savior was born. . . . Among many other reasons, we can be joyful for believing escorts to help us on our journey. Through them, we hear the gospel of the forgiveness of sins preached to us when sin troubles the conscience. This gospel message restores freedom and joy to the heart of a child of God” (VOZ, 5/2000).

Patriotism is a part of life that is emphasized in youth camps and in July issues of the Voice of Zion, like this one from 2000:

“Living during a time of peace and prosperity, we too often forget to thank God. There are many reasons to thank; an important one among them is the God-gift of a free temporal homeland. We need to pause and consider this treasure and give credit to whom it is due. National holidays provide individuals the opportunity to mark their country’s independence and also remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the freedoms we enjoy.”

For Americans at least, “their country’s independence” is the result of military rebellion in contradiction to Paul’s admonition for everyone to “be subject unto the higher powers” (Rom 13:1). I once mentioned that issue to a preacher in a coffee table discussion about patriotism and was dumbfounded by his facile explanation that “there were no believers in the American revolution.”

The remaining quotes in the sample deal with a mix of trials, temptations, “believing” friends, and of course, the forgiveness of sins:

“Trials and tribulations teach patience, experience, and hope. When the believer encounters the fiery darts of temptations and trials he often begins to doubt, but then is able to rejoice and be comforted in the grace of Jesus as warm, living waters flow from heart to heart. . . . We are able to rejoice in our suffering because it is only temporary. Our hope is real and has a firm foundation” (VOZ, 6/2001).

“We live in a time when we see both the results of the work of the enemy of souls in this world and the great blessings of God in His kingdom. Today we are blessed with many sincerely believing young parents, youth and children. God’s Kingdom has experienced growth from within. We have also experienced how the Good Shepherd yet seeks lost sheep in this world. It is truly a blessed time that we are living in God’s kingdom” (Jim Frantti, presentation given 2001).

“A believing friend is truly a gift from God. Being united by the same spirit believing friends are able to share their true joys and sorrows, and most importantly preach the gospel of the forgiveness of sins to each other” (James Jurmu, presentation given 2003).

“There are many sorrows in life such as illness, loss of loved ones to death or unbelief, the trials and cares of rearing children, as well as the struggle each of us face with the threefold enemy. We are reminded through these experiences that we are yet on the journey of Faith” (VOZ, 7/2004).

“David felt the joy and peace that one feels when a sin-burdened conscience is freed. Have you, dear brothers and sisters, also owned this feeling of joy when you have been able to be freed from the sins on your conscience? We all sin every day–in word, in thought, and in deed. But God has blessed us with an endless supply of forgiveness” (VOZ, 7/2008).

The quote from James Jurmu’s 2003 presentation refers to a “believing friend” as a “gift from God.” Unfortunately, that gift comes with a return receipt. When someone leaves or even questions faith, the phone stops ringing. What disturbs me most about the shunning (and what else is there to call it?) that I experienced–just from publicly voicing questions and concerns while still attending services regularly–is that it applied to my family as well. What did my wife and kids ever say to cause their supposed “friends” to drop them like hot potatoes? One young friend who left the church tells me that “no one calls anymore” and concludes sadly, “The social suicide is intense.” The following are quotes from (presumably) different anonymous commenters on the extoots site:

• I left the LLC/SRK group (back in the day it was AALC) 17 years ago when I was 21. It was the most difficult, painful experience of my life. I guess I was a bit naive about the amount of time it would take to heal me. The most painful part for me was giving up everyone–all my friends, most of my family–and those that I still remained in communication with–our relationship was forever changed much for the worse because I was now an “unbeliever.” I remember telling someone that when I saw church members it was like looking at photographs of dead people because they refused to see me as a full human being just like them with the same concerns and needs–there was just no way to relate with them.

• If a[n LLC] member leaves the church, other members badger them with a flurry of phone calls, letters, emails, visits, and so forth, and then, all contact just kind of dissipates, and suddenly one feels as though they have ceased to exist as far as the church members are concerned.

• When I left the LLC, I wouldn’t say I was shunned, but I was treated like an outsider. My mother did not want my younger siblings going places with me. I guess I would have influenced them or something? And friends, well forget about it. They don’t stick around. You[’re] not one of them anymore, you[’re] an unbeliever in their eyes. So you are not able to get close to them, the walls go up.

• There were things that happened when I left the LLC that I didn’t expect. I had many young children, and until I was sure what I was going to do, I continued to bring them to Sunday school so their lives wouldn’t be in too much of an uproar over a decision I had made. I hadn’t expected it, but I heard that people were treating them disrespectfully there. I heard that someone told my oldest child that he was now responsible for making sure that all of the kids kept coming to church. What?? Says who? And yet, they were excluded and treated like outcasts. Hmmmmm . . . Yes, I think that will really make them want to keep going to church! Go figure.

• [In the LLC, l]oyalty to the church takes priority over loyalty to the family. I have a friend whose parent said to them, “I’d rather you were dead than out of the church.” Some families act like the child that leaves the church is to be avoided because they might try to “corrupt” the other kids. It’s really sad because family relationships can get damaged in the process. When my dad joined the church, he no longer associated with his own family, who was not in the church. When his own brother died, he told me, “Well, you lost an uncle today.” I didn’t even know I had an uncle! He did not go to the funeral, and it was never discussed again.

• Disagreeing with LLC teaching is equivalent to disagreeing with God himself. At that point, many LLC would discontinue feeling “comfortable” with someone they know disagrees with some LLC doctrine. They start to treat the person different than before, even if they haven’t left the church, hence, the shunning. Of course, not everyone in the LLC church is like that, but in general I don’t think I am wrong in saying that is the general atmosphere of the church.

• I have tried to be close to my family, tried to open up about faith. They close me out because I am not of their church.

• I left the LLC six years ago. And of course I have little to no contact with people I knew since childhood. The other night I dreamed about all my old friends. I dreamed I was yelling at them, telling them that even though I was no longer a Laestadian, I was still me. And they just blocked their ears to me. There’s no way I could ever go back; they trust in their own behavior and attitude to save them and not in the grace of God. But I really miss the camaraderie, the ability to just hang out and laugh and be silly. I’ve found friends outside the church, but still my heart just hurts sometimes for those who now ignore me.

There are exceptions. One former member of the LLC wrote that he and his Laestadian roommate

have a lot in common and we get along. I don’t get shunned. And I am often treated like as a fellow believer, who just happens to not be a member of their denomination. I know this is impossible when compared to Laustadian [sic.] theology, but the fact is that when I’m around my friends and family, I feel so loved.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of support in the New Testament for inflicting the pain these people have experienced:

I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. [1 Cor 5:13]

If any man teach otherwise [than for slaves to honor their masters and masters not to despise their slaves], and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. [1 Tim 6:3-5]

[M]en shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. [2 Tim 3:2-5]

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. [2 Thess 3:7]1

4.7.2 Prayer

Have you ever heard someone praying in church as if he or she were giving God a theology lesson? . . . After a while, you open your eyes and mutter, “Does he think God doesn’t know this stuff? Why’s he chewing God’s ear with it?”

—Robert M. Price, The Reason-Driven Life

Prayer has always been part of the believer’s life, though its practice is more restrained (and, in my view, more sensible) than the frequent, overt, and long-winded praying of many modern evangelicals. Unlike the coworker I once had who would bow his head in prayer over a bag of candy in the break room, Conservative Laestadians take seriously Jesus’ instruction to pray to the Father in secret (Mt 6:6) and don’t make a show of prayer.

Public praying is mostly limited to the opening and closing of services and other solemn occasions such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals.2 It’s an ancient practice. Regarding the “love feast” (agapè, not eros) held by the early Christians as their worship service, Tertullian wrote: “As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed” (Apologetic, Apology, Ch. 39).

I suspect that a major function of such prayers is to consecrate the event and make it apparent to the assembled congregation that important words are about to be said. Ostensibly, though, the opening prayer of a Conservative Laestadian service offers thanksgiving to God along with requests for his continued blessings and the protection of believers not present. Usually a few cases are mentioned (for God or the audience?) where such absence might be expected, like military service.

An important part of the opening prayer is also the preacher’s request that God would provide words to speak and “hearts to believe” that which is spoken. The preachers feel a genuine desire to have the Holy Spirit lead them in the sermon they are about to deliver extemporaneously (4.2.7). Augustine’s admonition that the Christian orator “ought to pray for himself, and for those he is about to address, before he attempts to speak” is both fitting and beautiful: “And when the hour is come that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to lift up his thirsty soul to God, to drink in what he is about to pour forth, and to be himself filled with what he is about to distribute” (On Christian Doctrine, Book 4, Ch. 15).

Often the opening prayer asks God to allow those have left the fold–sometimes also the unbelieving world in general–to see the light. I have always puzzled over this entreaty, given the claims that God is both loving and omnipotent. Predestination means that God has already sorted out the sheep and the goats from the beginning of time. The preacher’s solemn intonation of a few words about the lost is directed to the caring and concerned ears of the congregation, not an omnipotent and omniscient God. On the other hand, if God isn’t happy about all the damnation that is going on despite his desire that all would be saved, is the public request of a preacher going to give God an extra boost of divine power to correct the situation? I can just picture him nodding his head with a thoughtful expression: “You know, that guy down there in the suit has a point–let’s inspire a few converts today.” Both cases are clearly nonsensical, and that is a direct reflection of the dilemma of predestination versus free will, discussed in 4.9.3.

My sample of quotes on prayer begins with a 1940 sermon by Väino Havas:

“Heaven has heard supplications, which often have risen from lowly and small cabins. Though the enemy may lie, that your prayers will not reach Heaven, continue your supplications” (Havas, 77).

“Prayer is an appeal for assistance, in which we children of God can request the heavenly Father for both temporal and spiritual needs. We may also believe that if a request is right, and that which we ask is not dangerous for our soul’s life, God shall give that which we have requested in Jesus’ name” (Taskila 1961, 56).

“[W]e cannot and do not want to be without praying, for God through His spirit teaches us to pray trusting His word. . . . We have permission to pray from God for spiritual and temporal matters, as Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer. Our own matters are always close to our heart, spiritual and temporal needs, also close relatives and friends, the Kingdom of God, dear brothers and sisters. We ask that God would bless and shield His purchased flock in these dangerous times in this world. We have reason to remember in prayer the servants of the Word of God, so that they would receive utterance. . . . God hears the prayers of His own in matters pertaining to kingdoms (or governments), as it is written in the Bible” (Päivämies, 1974).

“We are told ‘He spake a parable unto them to this end, that man ought always to pray and not to faint.’ Many mistakenly use this statement of Jesus to justify the erroneous conception that prayer can justify! Not all prayers are even acceptable to God. Even the Pharisees quoted Scripture to indicate this truth, ‘that the prayer and sacrifice of the ungodly is an abomination before God.’ We know that God heareth not sinners, ‘But if any man doeth His will, him He heareth.’” (VOZ, 6/1974).

In prayer, the “child of God can speak to the Father about all of his lackings and needs. The all-knowing God gives gifts which are for the best of His children” (By Faith, 93).

“We pray to God that we would always treasure in our hearts the great gift we have received from Him, and that we would, through His power and strength, make known this most precious gift to those on the outside of His kingdom” (VOZ, 7/1998).

“Prayer is conversation between God and man. Man does not speak alone; God answers also.” Sometimes it may seem that “our message does not reach its destination,” but the lack of an answer “is not caused by God’s poor hearing or our quiet or unclear speech. God truly hears and understands, and difficulties of language are not an obstacle. He is interested in us and our matters. He also answers, although it may be in a different way than we expected. Sometimes, we only later understand God’s answer to our prayer” (Uljas 2000, 73).

In prayer, the believer has a “secure and trusting discussion of a child with a Father who loves him” (Uljas 2000, 76).

In Psalm 86, “David is confident in praying to God for he knows that God is good, forgiving and merciful. David had experienced that God hears the prayers of His own and cares for them. David says that the joy of a believing person is in the knowledge that God hears and answers his prayers” (VOZ, 9/2003).

“Scripture does not teach us to present demands to God or command Him to act according to our desires. Jesus taught us to pray in humbleness, in spirit, and in truth. Prayer is not to emphasize outward matters, for praying does not require certain customs or rituals. Prayer is the simple speech of the heart to God” (VOZ, 5/2005).

Ingersoll noted in his Lecture on Ghosts, “The moment that it began to be apparent that prayer could do nothing for the body, the priest shifted his ground and began praying for the soul.” That’s pretty much the focus with Conservatives, who are too pragmatic to put much stock in any sort of faith healing. The “healing” is entirely spiritual:

“Even when one cannot understand why difficult things have to happen, or why things haven’t gone as one would expect or hope they would go, it is still good and important to remember to pray. God listens and hears the prayers that rise from a sincere heart. He still works miracles of healing and grants living faith when one believes the proclaimed gospel message of salvation” (VOZ, 2/2008).

We are told that God has foreordained our salvation (according to some Bible passages at least), the bounds of our habitation, and the number of our days. So we can hardly expect that he will hear a message (typically self-centered) from a puny human and decide that, no, maybe he’d better do this or that a bit differently after all. The unavoidable fact is that “prayers are not truly answerable by an omniscient god because he would have already envisioned the concrete results of the future” (Long 2005, 198). In a 2009 presentation, Matti Kontkanen acknowledges that issue as well as God’s omnipotence. But, for some reason, we are still asked to “let him know of our needs” even though he already knows them:

“Although God is high and holy, in Jesus’ name we are allowed to approach Him. Although God knows what we need we are encouraged to let him know of our needs. Although God is almighty and decides what he does and what not, we are asked to pray for our matters, the matters of other people and those of the authorities in our country.”

For me, the issue is not just an intellectual one. My outlook on prayer was dramatically diminished in one traumatic moment a few years ago, when I helplessly prayed out loud while a tragic death proceeded right before my eyes, unhindered by my pleas. There is just no evidence whatsoever that prayer has ever changed an outcome, even if it made any sense for the omniscient and omnipotent God to change his perfect will about the course of the universe by pleading our case to him.


4.7.3 Sacraments

There are only two sacraments in the church of God: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For only in these is there both a sign instituted by God and the promise of the forgiveness of sins.

—Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther

The Lord’s Supper

Arguably the earliest record we have of Communion, or the Lord’s Holy Supper as it is also called, is from 1 Cor 11:23-26. There Paul states how Jesus instituted that sacrament on the night of his betrayal. I say “arguably,” because of Price’s view that the passage looks out of place in a Pauline epistle and seems to descend, with alterations, from Mark. He is not persuaded by the Pauline writer’s claim to have received this narrative material as a direct revelation from the risen Jesus:

It appears to be an attempt by Paulinists to claim autonomous independent possession of the Eucharistic material, to deny their dependence on other quarters of Christianity for it, much in the vein of Gal 1:11-12. Just as Paul had insisted he derived his gospel from no man but directly from Jesus Christ, so is he depicted here as having received the [Markan] Last Supper material directly from Christ. [Price 2003b, 301]

At any rate, according to “Paul,” Jesus gave thanks, broke the bread, and said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The next (or first, depending on your point of view) record comes from Mark 14:22-24. As the disciples were eating the Passover meal with Jesus, “He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is My body.’ And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’” (NASB). In copying this account, Matthew adds that the shedding of blood is “for the remission of sins” (Mt 26:28).

The familiar phrase “blood of the new testament” in the KJV comes from manuscripts where the word “new” was added. Without that embellishment, notice how much the original language seems to be taken from Moses’ “pouring out” the blood of young bulls in Exodus 24:8: “So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (NASB). “Jesus, in his coming death, will be doing the same thing Moses did, only with his own blood” (Price 2003b, 300).

John does not describe Jesus instituting the sacrament, but substitutes the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet instead. His Gospel has Jesus saying that people have to “eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood” (Jn 6:53), not in the Last Supper but “as part of a synagogue sermon or debate in Capernaum” (Price 2003b, 302). Both Price and one of the pioneers of biblical “higher criticism,” Rudolf Bultmann, believe those words were not written by the original author of John but by a later “Ecclesiastical Redactor.” John’s disinterest in describing Jesus breaking bread and offering wine at his last meal with the disciples leaves no place for the words there. So they are found in a narrative of an unrelated earlier event, having been “added to the gospel . . . to restore an implicit sacramentalism [the] earlier writer had omitted” (p. 302).

With all this borrowing and alteration in the biblical texts instituting Communion, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the very nature of the sacrament has been the subject of much theological dispute. Is it a miraculous event wherein bread and wine are mysteriously converted into Jesus’ body and blood? Or is it merely a “meal of remembrance” where the bread and wine provide a way to remind the participant of how Jesus sacrificed his body and shed his blood? Both viewpoints have had their proponents since early Christianity.

Ignatius [c. 100 A.D.] considered it heretical to “confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ch. 7). In his First Apology [c. 160 A.D.], Justin Martyr agrees, saying that the elements are received “not as common bread and common drink.” Rather, “in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (Ch. 66).

But in his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin refers to “the bread which our Christ gave us to eat, in remembrance of His being made flesh for the sake of His believers, for whom also He suffered; and to the cup which He gave us to drink, in remembrance of His own blood, with giving of thanks” (Ch. 70). Here it is a meal of remembrance, with no hint of any transmutation of the bread and wine.

The transmutation belief gave rise to the charge of cannibalism against early Christians. Theophilus of Antioch [c. 180 A.D.] considered the accusation that the Christians “eat human flesh” to be the “most impious and barbarous of all” (To Autolycus, Book 3, Ch. 4). It seems clear that he did not want to be seen as munching on anyone’s body, miraculously or otherwise.

Clement of Alexandria was definitely not taking it literally, either. In The Instructor [c. 200 A.D.], he treats Jesus’ comment to eat his flesh and drink his blood as “preserving consistency in the use of figurative speech.” We do not cannibalize Jesus’ body any more than we obtain milk as a result of the statement, “I have given you milk to drink, and not given you food,” which Clement associates with Jesus though it comes from 1 Cor 3:2:

Elsewhere the Lord, in the Gospel according to John, brought this out by symbols, when He said: “Eat ye my flesh, and drink my blood”; describing distinctly by metaphor the drinkable properties of faith and the promise, by means of which the Church, like a human being consisting of many members, is refreshed and grows, is welded together and compacted of both,–of faith, which is the body, and of hope, which is the soul; as also the Lord of flesh and blood. [Book 1, Ch. 6, emphasis added]

Indeed, Clement defends moderate drinking with a reference to Jesus’ “figurative” statement: “For rest assured, He Himself also partook of wine; for He, too, was man. And He blessed the wine, saying, ‘Take, drink: this is my blood’–the blood of the vine. He figuratively calls the Word ‘shed for many, for the remission of sins’–the holy stream of gladness” (The Instructor, Book 2, Ch. 2).

Isn’t it glaringly obvious that this is metaphor and there is no actual cannibalism going on in Conservative Laestadian churches every month? Not with Luther, who firmly held to a literal view of Christ’s statement of the bread he broke at the Last Supper, “This is my body.” As discussed in 5.3, he vehemently condemned Huldrich Zwingli for viewing the bread and wine metaphorically, even though they had no other major grounds of disagreement. Luther’s position would always remain “that the bread and wine in the Supper are Christ’s true body and blood” (The Smalcald Articles [1537]; McCain 2005, 279).

Justin Martyr’s First Apology provides a glimpse of how Communion was practiced in the mid-second century. The sacrament, at least in the case he describes, took place as a celebration of a new convert. After the believers “have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching,” they

bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. [Ch. 65]

After the giving of thanks and expression of assent by all the people assembled, “those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion” (Ch. 65). As I discuss in 5.1.2, the earliest extant Christian writings do not mention anything about absolution, and Justin’s description is no exception.

There was simply no need for absolution when it was widely expected that one who had been washed in baptism would no longer sin. (If you did, too bad; there was dispute about whether even a second opportunity for repentance was possible.) The idea of absolution didn’t appear, vaguely, until 50 years or so after Justin’s writings. It took centuries to be refined into the private encounter between priest and penitent that many modern readers associate with confession.

Also gradually developing over the centuries was the idea that remission of sins could be obtained in Communion (Lea 1896, 84-86). But “when penitence was erected into a sacrament and the confessor held the keys of heaven,” that idea “became a serious impediment to the enforcement of the new discipline and it had to be gotten rid of. This was accomplished by rendering confession and absolution a condition precedent to worthily partaking of the Eucharist . . . and declaring it a mortal sin to take communion when not in a state of grace” (pp. 85-86). Perhaps, but Cyprian wrote in the third century about the need for penitence and confession “made with investigation of the life of him who fulfils the penitence,” and asserted that “no one can come to communion unless the hands of the bishop and clergy be first imposed upon him” (Epistle 9).

In any event, the year 1852 saw Laestadius still standing guard against the unworthy at the Communion rail:

“Some unworthy supper-guests say: ‘I am not worthy to go to the Lord’s supper, for I am a great sinner.’ But when someone inquires as to what sin troubles their conscience, they answer: ‘it’s not necessary to confess.’ Finally it becomes apparent that it is not unworthiness that hinders them from coming to the Lord’s supper, but a secret pride. Partially it is hatred toward the pastor who does not admit them to the supper without an examination, partially a fear of the scourge of the Holy Spirit, for if they make promises of repentance at the Lord’s Supper, a knot would come upon the conscience when they become bound by that promise” (Laestadius, Palm Sunday sermon; Fourth Postilla, 47-48).

Nowadays, attendees are encouraged to come to the Communion table “just as you are” and are only considered unworthy if they are not “believing,” i.e., not in Conservative Laestadian Christianity. The question of whether forgiveness is received through the sacrament is made moot by a proclamation of the forgiveness of sins that almost always occurs in the sermon preceding the sacrament, and an additional proclamation that is read out during the Communion liturgy. (The roots for this “general absolution” actually go back even before Luther’s time, as discussed in 5.4.2.) In past decades, Communion was often a very emotional affair with young people going to each other and their parents for individual absolution, but now such takes place mostly just between spouses at the communion rail.

“[L]ook in faith upon Jesus as such a Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, even your sins! He approaches you in the word of reconciliation, in this sweet gospel of salvation, which echoes to your hungry soul from the table of the Kingdom of God today. You can believe that the body of the Son of God was once given for you and His holy blood was shed just for the forgiveness of your sins. The Lord Jesus approaches you also in the bread and wine of the communion table. Gather confidently here, even you most timid beggars of grace. This rich table is full of the manna of grace” (Väinö Havas [1898-1941], from Greetings of Peace, 10/1961).

“Christian traveler, even you have a long journey. Go therefore often to the Lord’s Supper. Eat and drink, so that from the holy bread and wine you receive new power to continue. Partake of it often, for Jesus says, ‘As often as you do it, do it in remembrance of me.’. . .You may say that you love Jesus, but neither God nor His children can believe you, if a mile or ten are too long, so that your spiritual laziness will not permit you to go often to the Lord’s Holy Supper” (O.H. Jussila, Greetings of Peace, 1/1953).

Contrary to some of Luther’s teachings (5.4.4), Conservatives assert that there is no forgiveness of sins in Communion:

“The lot of Judas Iscariot shows clearly that sins are not forgiven in Communion. . . . If sins were forgiven by partaking of Communion, then even the sins of Judas Iscariot would have been forgiven. But we know what happened to him, he departed. You know what his fate was, he hanged himself” (Kauko Mantyla, sermon given 1976).

“Neither the unbeliever nor the believer receives forgiveness of his sins in Communion, for God has instituted in His kingdom the office of preaching, by which man is released from his sins through the Holy Spirit” (By Faith, 89).

“In the sacrament of the holy supper, we can receive by faith the Passover lamb, the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, for the strengthening of our faith: [Mk 14:22-25 cited]. Jesus left this supper for His own. Communion is not a sacrament of repentance, but a supper of the children of God, which Luther says requires a believing heart. . . . The Lord’s Holy Supper is, by its basic nature, a holy meal in which one receives food for the soul and which is received by faith for a blessing” (Lepistö 1985, 40-41).

As we’ve seen many times already, “crazy” becomes “mystery” when religion is involved. This next quote makes clear that the Communion participant is actually eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood. That is the “mystery of the Lord’s Supper,” which, alas, “we do not fully understand”:

“Jesus deepened and clarified the meaning and substance of the Passover meal. He, himself, is the Paschal Lamb. The wine [he and the disciples] drank during the meal is His blood, which soon was to be shed for the remission of sins. The unleavened bread, which He broke to give each one his own portion, is His Body. He is the Bread of Life, which is owned by faith. The Passover meal changed into the Lord’s Holy Supper. The Word of the Lord was joined to visible elements, bread and wine, and made them and the partaking of them a Sacrament. . . . As believers in the Lord’s Supper, we can eat the body of Christ and drink His blood and thus enjoy the fruit of His work of atonement. Although we do not fully understand the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, we still go” to it (Uljas 2000, 67-68).

That quote and Luther’s fervent condemnation of Zwingli notwithstanding, not too much is made nowadays of the “real presence” of Christ in the Sacrament. When some wafers fell off one shaky server’s tray some years ago, he and the rest of the servers just shuffled along in their work, trying to ignore it. None of them thought to do anything like Luther did when some consecrated wine spilled on the floor; he got on his hands and knees and licked it up lest it be trod underfoot. Despite the words they say each time they put one of those wafers in a person’s mouth (“The body of Christ, given for you”), the servers seemed not to really believe that anything other than wafers had spilled, either.

Given that Jesus is the “Bread of Life,” this next quote from the March 2007 Voice of Zion seems to disclaim the Real Presence:

“Through faith we understand that the Bread of Life is not in our daily bread, nor is it in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Rather, it is in that perfect sacrifice which Jesus gave on Good Friday on the Middle Cross of Golgotha.”

The LLC website says nothing about the role of Jesus’ body and blood in Communion, merely calling it “a memorial meal established by Jesus. It is intended for believers for the strengthening of their faith” (How We Believe). According to Althaus, Luther criticized such an understanding as not only despising the clear words of Christ, but also making the sacrament into man’s own work of “genuine remembrance and love” (1963, 392). For Luther, he writes, “the meaning of the celebration of the Sacrament is not that we lift ourselves up to Christ by our own thoughts but that Christ lowers himself to us.” Luther’s idea of worship of God is not based on the fervor of one’s own meditation on Christ’s sufferings, but, in Althaus’s words, “on the presence of Christ who bears and forgives our lack of devotion” (p. 393).

Luther makes some theological sense there, but I remain personally incapable of undergoing the mental gymnastics required for a sincere belief in the Real Presence. Nor does it seem required–despite Luther’s reasoning–by the actual biblical text. Jesus sat there and broke pieces off a loaf of bread, handing them to his disciples. He referred to the bread as his body–which was very much in one piece at the time. So what if he did? As Dan Barker says, When Jesus refers to himself as a door (Jn 10:9), you don’t look for hinges.

Look, if someone wants to maintain a belief that the church-supply store wafer he is chewing on is literally a piece of the (risen) corpse of Jesus, one of hundreds of tons’ worth of such pieces parceled out over the last two millennia, that’s fine. But no amount of condemnation by Luther or anyone else can force anyone into what I view as both a deluded and unnecessary interpretation of the text.


Luther wrote, “Such power is given to Baptism by the Word that it is a washing of new birth, as St. Paul also calls it in Titus 3:5”; “[I]f you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism. For Baptism not only illustrates such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it” (Large Catechism, Part 4, from McCain 2005, 425-426 & 430). A January 2007 article in the Voice of Zion disagrees:

“Jesus has established His congregation here on earth where He offers the forgiveness of sins to all men. In his congregation, little children and those who receive the grace of repentance are able to enter into the covenant of Holy Baptism. ‘Baptism does not signify new birth, but it is a covenant of a good conscience with God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (Manual of Sacred Acts)” (VOZ, 1/2007).

The Conservative position is foreign to not just Luther’s teaching, but to the earliest Christian writings. For hundreds of years after Christ, those writings mention nothing about absolution but plenty about the washing of sins in baptism. (The awkward silence of the ancients about absolution will be discussed specifically in 5.1.2.) Justin Martyr describes baptism as part of the process of conversion to Christianity:

As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. [First Apology, Ch. 61, emphasis added]

He notes that penitents “are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting,” for the remission of their past sins, doing so along with those already in the faith. But the regeneration occurs where there is water, and Justin’s next paragraph emphasizes the washing that occurs there: The sinner “may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed” (Ch. 61, emphasis added). In his Dialogue With Trypho, he says the Christians “have believed, and testify that that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented; and this is the water of life” (Ch. 14, emphasis added).

The ritual cleansing was the whole point of baptism, going back to John the Baptist’s “baptism for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Irenaeus called it that as well, saying that “the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins” (Against Heresies, Book 1, Ch. 21). In the “baptism of the Word,” Clement of Alexandria writes, “our transgressions are taken away,” and we “are washed from all our sins.” The steps were “repenting of our sins, renouncing our iniquities,” and being “purified by baptism” (The Instructor, Book 1, Ch. 6). Tertullian remarked, in a discourse on the simplicity of the baptismal rite, how wonderful it is “that death should be washed away by bathing” (Ethical, On Baptism, Ch. 2).

Augustine continues this clear teaching about the washing away of sin in baptism. He laments how he remained sitting “in the chair of lies” as a teacher of rhetoric for a few weeks after his spiritual awakening. “But hast not Thou, O most merciful Lord,” he asks in the prayerful monologue of his Confessions [397 A.D.], “pardoned and remitted this sin also, with my other most horrible and deadly sins, in the holy water?” (Book 4). The significance of the singular baptism event is evident in his prayer for the sins of his beloved deceased mother, as he acknowledges that he dare “not say that from what time Thou regeneratedst her by baptism, no word issued from her mouth against Thy Commandment.” And so, he asks God, “do Thou also forgive her debts, whatever she may have contracted in so many years, since the water of salvation. Forgive her, Lord, forgive, I beseech Thee; enter not into judgment with her” (Book 9). In The City of God [c. 410 A.D.], he continues to maintain the importance of baptism while also allowing for an alternative means of forgiveness: “For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism” (Book 13, Ch. 7).

Augustine’s prayer for his mother and his allowance for confessing but as-yet unbaptized Christians shows how much emphasis there was on the baptismal washing away of sins, to the point that it was often viewed as the sole means of forgiveness. The City of God considers, in all seriousness, whether men should commit suicide “as soon as they have been washed in the laver [ceremonial basin] of regeneration, and have received the forgiveness of all sin.” Then, it would seem, “is the time to escape all future sin, when all past sin is blotted out.” But Augustine concludes that it would be foolish and mad to try persuading someone to kill himself in order to avoid sin. It would also remove the reason for “our consuming time in those exhortations by which we seek to animate the baptized, either to virginal chastity, or vidual continence, or matrimonial fidelity.” If “there could be any just cause of suicide, this were so. And since not even this is so, there is none” (Book 1, Ch. 27).

Baptism was a one-time, life-changing conversion event, and there was a strong view that no more forgiveness was available for any further sins. Consider how Constantine [272-337 A.D.] put off his baptism until his deathbed, following “one custom at the time which postponed baptism until old age or death” in an effort “to be absolved from as much of his sin as possible” (Wikipedia). Augustine himself was subject to this thought process when he fell ill as a boy. He writes that his Christian mother

would in eager haste have provided for my consecration and cleansing by the health-giving sacraments, confessing Thee, Lord Jesus, for the remission of sins, unless I had suddenly recovered. And so, as if I must needs be again polluted should I live, my cleansing was deferred, because the defilements of sin would, after that washing, bring greater and more perilous guilt. [Confessions, Book 1]

For Conservative Laestadianism to go along with any of this would detract from the central role supposedly played by personal absolution, and that just won’t do. The distinctiveness of the movement’s whole doctrine depends on absolution being the sole means of grace (4.6.2). Conservatives cannot allow the sacraments or prayer to share the stage with absolution, no matter what the Bible, the early Church writings, or even Luther said to the contrary (5.4.4). So, to preserve a doctrinal tenet that wasn’t even established until after the Laestadian movement began (4.1.4), the views of the ancients must be discarded. The movement needs Luther (what would the Laestadian Lutheran Church be without him, after all), so he was “believing” but “just a man” who made mistakes (4.2.6). Inconvenient parts of his Small Catechism that Conservative kids receive in Sunday School–like Part 4, §5, which tells them baptism “works forgiveness of sins”–must be disregarded or explained away.

And then, after eviscerating the sacrament of its original purpose, we are left wondering what to do with the corpse. These next quotes have baptism doing all sorts of ceremonial, non-biblical things. It “unites a child to be cared for” in the congregation’s fellowship (whatever that means), gives the child a name, establishes a covenant (debatable), and has the uncomprehending infant promising to put sins away and serve God:

“In baptism, God unites a child to be cared for in the fellowship of His congregation. In connection with baptism a child is given a name. Then the endeavor begins as a child of God with that name. As the child grows, his personal battle against sin begins–baptism constrains him to this” (VOZ, 9/1998).

“God has made promises to people and made covenants with them,” confirming the covenants “with visible signs” for weak man with his poor memory. He “made the first covenant with Noah and his sons,” a second covenant with Abraham, placing “circumcision as a sign of this covenant,” and a “third covenant in His Son the Lord Jesus. The Bible called it a new covenant. As a sign of this covenant Jesus established baptism. . . . This covenant is the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation” (VOZ, 9/1998).

“Baptism itself does not make a person acceptable to God. Man is acceptable only by faith–through believing on Jesus and His power to forgive sins. Baptism is a covenant of faith and a good conscience, a promise that is made to put sins away and to serve God. Parents desire to bring their children to be baptized in obedience of faith to God. Baptism also obligates parents and sponsors to feed and love the child or person with God’s Word. If someone receives the grace of repentance and has not been baptized, the Holy Spirit, according to the instruction of God’s Word, lovingly invites and exhorts him to be baptized after conversion” (VOZ, 6/2009).

Whatever reasons it gives for continuing to practice the sacraments, Conservative Laestadianism’s exclusive focus on absolution leaves both baptism and Communion being treated as essentially ceremonial. Participation in the sacraments is expected, but more out of custom than for reasons that anyone can seem to articulate theologically. Conservatives consider neither baptism nor Communion to convey anything of significance to one’s salvation. Communion is said to strengthen one’s faith, but so is attending song services or being with other believers in most any other devotional context. The rites for either sacrament can be conducted by unbelievers as well as believers. Nobody’s baptism is questioned for having been done in a “worldly” church, and military members are able to obtain Communion from their “worldly” chaplains.

4.7.4 Marriage

One area where I find Conservative Laestadianism to be in refreshing contrast with modern Christianity as a whole is its unwavering commitment to the sanctity of marriage. The rules are very simple, and biblical: you do not engage in sexual activity before or outside marriage, and you remain with the person you marry “in prosperity and adversity alike, until death do us part”:

“If an unbelieving child from a Christian home leaves, to live common-law, his/her common-law partner will not be accepted into the child’s home. If this type are accepted into the home it means the parents accept this type of life and become guilty of the same sin as those who live in it. Common-law is not a bond in any respect according to the Word of God and God’s Word does not respect such a union” (Päivämies, 1977)

Marriage is “the only place for sexual union between a man and a woman,” and is “lifelong and inseparable.” Infidelity is “a sin unto death. One who is unfaithful in marriage won’t inherit God’s kingdom,” though he can still experience the grace of repentance given to King David. Divorced people are “not to marry again” (VOZ, 9/2004).

After over two decades of marriage to a wonderful person with no end in sight, I am very thankful for the purity and strength of this teaching. Unfortunately for some, the simplicity and rigidity of the rules can lead to a lifetime of grief. When one person leaves both the church and the marriage, the remaining spouse is faced with essentially a lifetime of being alone.


The November 1964 Greetings of Peace republished an article by Iver Lehtinen (who had died in 1946) that addressed marriage and divorce in some detail. Lehtinen quoted Mt 19:3-9 (“What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder”), saying that “Jesus has strictly explained marriage to be inseparable before God.” But he went on to write that “those who for the cause of fornication put away their spouse . . . are doing right,” though “whether the spouse is divorced or rejected because of adultery, or even for other causes, they are still not separated before God.” He then discusses the situation where

the fallen one in penitence begs for grace and ceases from sin, to such a one sins are to be forgiven and this one cannot be rejected. . . . When Jesus says for the cause of adultery, he means a continuous life lived in sin; for such a one, who does not cease sinning, is one who is dead in life. Such a spouse Jesus permits one to put away, but not forever; for God does not forsake forever. The rejection is for the condemnation of the flesh and to shame. The rejecter can take him or her again for their spouse if the same repents and ceases from sin; that is acceptable to God.

Then, he addresses the situation where one has (impermissibly) remarried after divorce:

Now, those who for adultery or other causes, have rejected their spouse, and have married another one while the former one is still living, if they do not undo their wrong deeds, refuse to part, they are living in adultery, and not one of adultery is saved. But now, if according to law, one cannot undo their evil deeds because they are confirmed by the earthly laws, even then one is to cease from sin and carry their bed and not to lay in it anymore; for no adulterer who commits adultery in the law, or without the law, shall inherit the Kingdom of God and Christ.

In recent decades, however, there have been a few instances in Conservative Laestadianism of divorcees remaining married to (and presumably sexually active with) their second spouses after (re)entering the church. When I first became aware of such a case around 1987, I shared the consternation of a friend who wondered what had happened to the plain words of Mt 19:9 (“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery”). The prevailing explanation–the sin of remarriage was forgiven and thus a thing of the past–seems contrived, a way to deflect the irresistible force of supposedly inerrant scripture from the immovable object of established human relationships.

A few years after Lehtinen’s death, Eino Rimpiläinen grappled with the fact that Matthew 5:31-32 provided an exception to the rule that otherwise prohibited divorce:

“[T]here is no other reason for separation then faithlessness[,] that is, fornication. One can claim, when the characters of husband and wife are so opposite, so that marriage becomes hell on earth, then it is better to separate. But is it any better before God, to exchange sin for sin? Impatience is exchanged for fornication. Would it not be better in such cases as well as all other cases, that we would remember first of all the holiness of marriage, and the vow which has been made before God and men . . .” (Siionin Lähetyslehti [1949], from Greetings of Peace, 2/1950).

The outcome of an eventual meeting of SRK preachers on the subject was that the exception really didn’t count:

“According to Matthew, in Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees, He allowed divorce because of adultery,” but when “divorce was discussed at length at a speakers’ meeting . . . the speaker-brothers held to” the Gospel of Mark which has no adultery exception. “Marriage is lifelong: what God has joined, let not man put asunder. This does not lessen the seriousness of the sin of adultery, but provides an opportunity for a person to return, repent, and receive forgiveness for a grievous transgression” (Uljas 2000, 103-104).


The biblical injunction to be “not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14) is considered applicable to marriage, and it is simply unthinkable for one to marry outside the church and still be considered a believer. When Arvi Hintsala wrote the following in the November 1949 Greetings of Peace, it was apparently not unheard of but certainly discouraged:

“In these days it is especially noticeable, that the boundary between the world and God’s children does not remain clear. Those who profess Christianity enter bonds of matrimony with unbelievers. There are many sad results. Many, led by their unbelieving companion, become unbeliever[s]. . . . Many a man who during courtship, professed to favor Christianity, has after marriage turned out to be an enemy of the Christians, a drunkard and cruel. Who knows all the suffering, that has come to those who have stepped on that road of disobedience!”

By 1976 marrying an outsider was considered sin:

“Remember, also, when you seek a life’s companion, do not look outside of God’s kingdom. This is sin” (VOZ, 3/1976).

Concerning “the young and marriage matters, . . . one need not be anxious and take these matters into his own hands. . . . Even here there should be that correct foundation so that we would, first of all, ask of God that He would direct and lead and would grant that life’s companion whom He has foreseen. One should await God’s time and if God has not foreseen a marriage partner, to be satisfied to remain single . . . Above all one should not unite with unbelievers” (Ruben Alajoki, sermon given 1979).

My sample does not include any quotes on the topic of intermarriage beyond this. That does not indicate any softening or looking the other way about the issue, however. Perhaps some issues like this are considered so settled and well understood within Conservative Laestadianism that little need is felt to devote extensive discussion to them in church publications and sermons, or perhaps this is just a case where my sampling of those discussions was flawed. In any event, there is no longer just a concern that one might be led by his or her “unbelieving companion” to become an unbeliever. Rather, it is now considered tantamount to giving up one’s faith to marry someone outside the church.

Alajoki’s comment shows how a form of predestination is present in the thinking about marriage. God is the one who directs and leads the single person to Mr. or Mrs. Right. It is a weighty matter, not only because the marriage is permanent “until death do us part” but because it forms the foundation of a new Conservative Laestadian family, most likely one of considerable size. Many life-altering decisions await the new couple after their commitment to eschew the use of contraception (4.7.5), and it is hard to see how they could build a home life that would be acceptable to one believing spouse with the other rejecting the doctrines and behavioral norms of the church.

Still, I suspect Price’s criticism of “the universal fundamentalist ban on Christian teenagers dating non-Christians” has some relevance:

Why the ban? The Christian getting emotionally close to the nonbeliever would be risking eroding the illusion that only one’s co-sectarians are loving and noble. One would soon get the impression that morality and character are not the property of any one faith, and that they are not necessarily dependent on faith at all. No, the church wants her children to stay within the tribe, so as to keep the walls up high. [2006b, 109]

For Conservative Laestadian youth in the U.S. and Canada, the ban can pose a major challenge. Unless he or she travels to Finland or perhaps Africa, the single LLC member’s marriage prospects must come from a group of about 7,000 people. There were 209 LLC confirmation students (9th grade) in 2011. It seems like a reasonable guess that a young person seeking a spouse within the LLC will have about 1,200 possible peers whose ages are within the few years of mismatch that are not exceeded between most husbands and wives. Half of those are of the oppposite sex and, for most young people in the LLC, many of the 600 remaining are cousins.

What kind of a social system limits its next generation’s possibilities for marriage (or romance of any kind, for that matter) to a pool of 400 or so candidates in two countries with a combined population of 340,000,000 people, a dozen times more prospects who speak a foreign language in a country on the other side of the Atlantic, and a handful of others in a few third world countries?


The term “dating” is avoided for its light-hearted connotations. Looking for the spouse of a lifetime is serious business, and it is treated as such, at least officially:

“It doesn’t pay to extinguish the voice of reason in matters of courtship. It pays to be realistic and not superspiritual. One shouldn’t think, for example, that two individuals who are mentally immature without a career or job will be ‘taken care of’ by God when they get married. This is a question of tempting God, similar to that with which Jesus was tempted. But on the other hand, fears about future financial needs do not need to become insurmountable so that one doesn’t dare to get married” (John Lehtola, presentation given 1995).

“Courtship is a serious matter, and yet a joyful one. Enter prayerfully not playfully. Share the gospel and God’s word as a courting couple, pray for one another and for the blessing of God and of His congregation” (Tomm Stewart, presentation given 1996).

“Courting is directed toward marriage, so light-minded ‘flirting’ is not appropriate for a believer. In such there is no question of love, or even of infatuation, but of selfish momentary pleasure, which causes sorrow and tears to the courting companion. The matter in consideration is serious enough, that a person who has fallen into this has reason to examine his heart and the foundations of his faith” (Uljas 2000, 101).

4.7.5 Children

To experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we didn’t need to be born again; we simply needed to be born. Our parents, our teachers, and our favorite theologians took it from there, providing us with all the answers before we ever had time to really wrestle with the questions.

—Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town

Conservative Laestadians use the term “God’s Children” for themselves, and demographically speaking the term is pretty accurate. With vanishingly few conversions from the outside (at least from my observation in the LLC), the membership is almost entirely sustained by “growth from within.” Children by far outnumber the adults sitting in the pews on any given Sunday. The life of an average married couple is kept busy with their many children, the church camps and activities provided for those children, and a slew of cousins and friends coming and going.


The reason for the many children is a firm rejection of contraception in any form whatsoever. It is not just artificial birth control that is considered sinful (as with the Catholic Church but few individual Catholics), but also natural family planning, coitus interruptus, or even abstinence except for limited cases of illness that are considered to fall under the “fasting and prayer” of 1 Cor 7:5.

There are other conservative religious groups that oppose birth control, though it is actually widely accepted in the two that most people think of, Mormonism and Catholicism, official pronouncements notwithstanding. In her book about the fundamentalist Christian “Quiverfull” movement, Kathryn Joyce writes about the “Protestant opposition to birth control” having

three main scriptural bases: Psalm 127; the Genesis command to “be fruitful and multiply”; and the biblical story of Onan, slain by God for spilling his seed on the ground. This story is seen by Provan [1989, The Bible and Birth Control] and the Protestant forefathers–Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley–whose commentaries he drew on, as a form of birth control. (Castigating the “contraceptive mentality” among the elites of his own day, Luther called birth control an “inhuman attitude, which is worse than barbarous,” and lamented, “How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God!”) [Joyce 2009, 146]

Conservative Laestadian attention to the topic appeared not long after the birth control pill did, and has never waned as new generations of married couples confront the challenge of welcoming double-digit numbers of children into their homes and marriages. (For my own part, I have eleven.) Besides the official writings and preachings, there is a great deal of private discussion going on. Comparing notes about the challenges of raising large families, dealing with rude comments by outsiders, etc. is a favorite topic between believing couples. It’s a natural form of mutual support. The same kinds of discussions occur among outsiders (who, for all their Christian fundamentalism and rejection of birth control, are still considered “unbelievers” without any possible connection to those in “living faith”):

There are . . . commonalities, traded among Quiverfull comrades as badges of honor: the frequency with which they’re stopped in line at the grocery store by someone asking if “they’re feeding an army,” if they know “what causes that,” if they know “there’s a pill for that”? Are they Catholic? Are they Mormon? Do they know God gave us brains to use them? They’re also frequently met with a host of assumptions about their beliefs, economic status, ethnicity, and possible welfare reliance. [Joyce 2009, 138]

But there is also private discussion among Conservatives that extends beyond mutual comfort and reinforcement of official teachings. From my reading of private and anonymous Internet forums and conversations with various Finnish friends and correspondents, it seems to me that a fair number–probably still only a minority–of couples in the SRK are now winding up with suspiciously small families. One correspondent tells me that, of the tens of relatives and friends he has in the SRK who have privately discussed the matter with him, almost all have admitted using some form of contraception to space out their children to some extent. The proof is in the small size of their families, he says, with significantly fewer children per family in the Helsinki capital area than in rural areas.

These are not just a few isolated observations. YLE News recently reported in Finland, “Some young Laestadians in Finland secretly use contraception”:

Laestadian women who use birth control keep it secret from their families because Conservative Laestadian teaching holds that contraception is a sin. Many Laestadians begin controlling their family size when they start to suffer from exhaustion or depression. Educated women were especially likely to use contraception, as large families and careers are difficult to combine. [2011]

An informal poll posted on the discussion forum for the Finnish mother’s magazine Vauva reveals some of this private unorthodoxy about birth control among Conservative Laestadians. The options were

(a) Prevention (ehkäisy) is sin and wrong in all situations.

(b) Prevention is acceptable only if pregnancy threatens the woman’s life.

(c) Prevention is acceptable as needed by exhaustion/health status of the woman/man.

(d) Prevention is a matter that is between each couple (on jokaisen avioparin välinen asia), without regard to exhaustion/sickness.

The survey wasn’t even close to being statistically rigorous, and the small sample of people who responded probably isn’t an accurate cross-section of Conservative Laestadianism in Finland. But the result is so much at variance with official doctrine that it cannot be dismissed. Indeed, a lot of the (more) Conservative commenters on the forum expressed shock at what they were seeing. Of the 48 responses that clearly expressed one of the four viewpoints, 31 (65%) of them went with (d), the most liberal of them all. The remaining responses were 10 (21%) for option (c), 4 (8%) for option (b), and just 3 (6%) for (a), the most conservative viewpoint that is asserted in at least the earliest of my sample’s church statements.

The first is a remarkably nasty little one from a 1962 issue of Päivämies that has made the rounds on the Internet. (As with another one below from an unattributed Internet source, the translation is my own.)

“Contraception is a sin of filthiness and murder.”

There isn’t much room for discussion with a statement like that.

“Family planning, restricting the number of children, has become such an open and powerful movement. Young Christian mothers have been the objects of attack by unbelieving doctors and midwives. They are belittled and branded as foolish and ignorant” (Arvo Perala, Greetings of Peace, 8/1970).

The basic justification was and remains that “[b]irth and death are basic matters in the arrangement of God’s work of creation”:

“According to the Bible, God Himself, with His own words and without any mediators, gives this command to multiply and fill the earth. The importance of the matter is stressed by the fact that the command is given twice, both to the first human pair and to Noah. Believers receive perhaps the most ridicule for keeping this commandment of God, in a time when it would be, even in this matter, possible to live an easier life. . . . No matter how ridiculous it sounds in the ears of present-day unbelieving people, we believe that only the Almighty Living God shall set limits and numbers to mankind, He alone shall decide when the earth is full enough, and He has methods for keeping a balance when the Earth is ‘full,’ as nature as a whole is in an incomprehensibly complicated balanced system, at least in its natural state” (Päivämies No. 32, 1975).

In 2009, human rights concerns about mandatory motherhood spurred the SRK into providing more of a theological justification for its opposition to birth control. I discuss that in the next section (4.7.6) below.

There were no exceptions, no regard for the health of the mother. It was all in God’s hands:

A “lenient mind sometimes puts pity for the mother before having love in the truth concerning family planning, especially then when humanly speaking, the birth could appear dangerous. We so easily forget that God has already before our birth ordained the number of our days and the form of our death” (VOZ, 8/1976).

“Never in any form does the prevention of human life come into question for God’s children. As God’s children, we know that life is a holy matter, and the possibility for life is hidden in the seed. Therefore, no form of contraception is acceptable. Even if it were to happen that a believing mother or child would die in childbirth, or during pregnancy, they would go to heaven” (Päivämies, Internet, 1979)

The uncompromising tone of these statements would soften somewhat in the years ahead, but the message remained. You just do not interfere with God’s (pro)creation work:

“We know that one would not think of rejecting or destroying a gift at Christmas. Those who use birth control or abortion are rejecting the gifts God gives” (VOZ, 5/1990).

“Scripture does not teach family planning, but it guides us to regard children as God’s gifts” (Uljas 2000, 106).

“The Bible teaches us to accept children as God’s gifts. Each child is God’s creation and is meant to be born, whether he is born to believing or unbelieving parents, within marriage or outside of marriage. Abortion and contraception are contrary to God’s Word, and we cannot accept them. Accepting God’s order of creation may sometimes seem overpowering in the midst of pressures and in the midst of a growing family. Reason battles against faith. All the same, we don’t have to understand everything through reason. We don’t even understand how a large tree can grow from a small seed, let alone a living human being. Could a father or mother of a large family say that the youngest of the family wouldn’t have the right to live and that he wouldn’t be equally valuable and important as the other children in the family?” (VOZ, 9/2003).

“The unbelieving world often uses the words of the Bible, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth’ (Gen. 1:28), as words of ridicule to shame believing families. God’s blessing of children has become a curse to many modern people. In the name of a high standard of living and personal pleasure, people have started down a road that is contrary to God’s Word. Birth control is now a common practice. Pressures against our Christianity and believing married couples have at times been very strong. Family planning is a temptation especially for young families perhaps also for the reason that modern youth have become used to going places freely. When a growing family suddenly stops this mobility, it can be difficult to adjust to this new lifestyle. Also the desire for comforts has increased pressure toward family planning. On the other hand, the fact that it is common in our surrounding society may cause the understanding that it is acceptable. Acceptance of family planning, however, means abandoning the main thought of the first article of the Creed, trust upon God the giver and maintainer of life. The birth of a child into a family is God’s gift and blessing. In experiencing this, parents need encouragement and sharing of their joy, not pity. The Holy Bible does not instruct us to use birth control. It teaches to accept children with joy as God’s gifts and instructs us to bring them up according to the Lord’s will (Eph. 6:4)” (VOZ, 10/2003).

“Believing fathers and mothers have comprehended as an unrelinquishable value the scriptural teaching that God is the Lord of life and death. He has the power to give life and the power to take it away. For this reason in our Christianity, we have considered children as gifts from God; they bring blessing, joy, meaning, and richness to our lives. That’s why even the parents of large families have wanted to accept children, even though it has perhaps meant that they have had to give up certain things. The basis for Christian parents’ decisions has been obedience to God’s Word, faith upon God as the omnipotent Creator, and trust in His guidance and care. . . . The preservation of the life of both the mother and child is important. A doctor, who has great professional ethics, helps humanity and respects a patient’s wishes by preserving life and maintaining health. Surely parents do not relate belittlingly to their doctor’s assessment given from a medical perspective. In difficult situations, faith guides us to make decisions based on preserving life according to God’s Word” (Päivämies No. 5, 2009).

That last quote is from an article that was translated in the May 2009 Voice of Zion. There, the article is footnoted with the comment: “The Finnish media has erroneously reported that SRK has imposed an official contraception ban.” The comment was no doubt prompted by concern voiced a few months earlier by the European Union’s Human Rights Commission (4.7.6). In what way is the expected behavior of an individual believer different than if there were in fact “an official contraception ban”?

The reality that the article is dancing around with its obtuse references to doctors is that additional children are no longer always accepted when the mother’s life is at stake. There have been many terminations of tubal pregnancies and even outright abortions in such cases. Women in their 40s are routinely advised by their doctors that their uteruses can’t take any more abuse and undergo hysterectomies. However, that viewpoint is not universal. From numerous private discussions in recent years, I have learned (albeit second-hand) of cases in particular congregations and under the guidance of particular clergy where women are still being told to submit to the possibility of pregnancy at the risk of their lives. And I know of one case where such submission proved fatal.

Another consequence of the rigid rejection of contraception (whether you view it as a “ban” or a viewpoint held in miraculous unanimity by all believers) is the lack of accounting for the unique challenges of individual families. Although Conservative Laestadianism forms a remarkably cohesive social group, with large and intertwined families usually providing wonderful opportunities for mutual support and reliable friendships, there are cases where things aren’t so rosy. Those parents unfortunate enough to have bad combinations of genes are faced with a seemingly endless sequence of children with physical or mental challenges. Parents (especially mothers) with fragile mental dispositions can have their lives and marriages clouded by the effects of repeated pregnancies and child-rearing stresses. In one case of which I have first-hand knowledge, a couple has been depriving their marriage of sexual relations for several years because they are no better equipped to deal with the mental health consequences of another pregnancy and child than with the guilt of using contraception.

Christian Upbringing

Paul Heideman lovingly described the act of Christian forgiveness between parent and child in a sermon he delivered sometime in the 1950s:

“[M]ay there always sound this blessing of Jesus’ blood. Even for example when the Christian parents feel that, ‘I have fallen into sin’ and come to you Christian children and say, ‘Will you forgive me, Child?’ May God always fill your hearts and lips with the word of forgiveness in Jesus’ precious blood. . . . Not only that the parents bless the children, but even that the children can in this way bless the parents with that heaven-sent good word, that in Jesus’ blood all sins are forgiven.”

My grandmother Sophia Suominen wrote a plaintive open letter in August 1962 to her 10 children, almost all of whom had left the faith of their childhood by that point. It appeared in the February 1968 Greetings of Peace:

“My dear children whom I have carried in my lap, and lulled to sleep, I have often prayed that the heavenly Father would preserve you from all evil. Even now you are on my heart. The ones who are believing are easy to carry, but you unbelievers are especially heavy, that it feels my heart will break. Mother even worries over the believing children, but I depend on God, that He will keep you together in the congregation of His saints, where there are many fathers and many mothers, brothers and sisters, many blessing hands, and where the blood of Jesus flows freely.”

The worldly influences of secular education were of great concern in the 1970s. Here are some fairly hysterical warnings by Peter Nevala:

“Today we are faced with an ever worsening situation in our schools. . . . I am sure that most of you have believed, even as I believed until a few years ago, that our schools were places where our children were being educated and prepared for a wholesome, useful life as future citizens in our country. Many of you have been shocked, even as I have, when we have discovered that our schools have been slowly changing for the worse. We have discovered that most of the new textbooks now being used in our schools contain objectionable language, revolutionary philosophies and immoral teachings. . . . [W]e are being subjected to a trend of thought in our country which believes that our children actually belong to the state! Our school system has been taken over by people who are known as ‘humanists.’. . . Now we are witnessing psychological conditioning, drugs, sensitivity sessions, primitive religions, witchcraft, Satanism, death education, tribal moralities (Netsilik Eskimos in MACOS program) being forced on students. . . . We must warn our little ones about the godlessness they will be exposed to in school. They must be told the teachers are still to be respected but not believed in anything they say that is contrary to our Christian ethics and beliefs” (VOZ, 1/1977).

Luther warned about the consequences of a father not providing spiritual instruction to his children, a warning that Russell Roiko likewise made in a 1997 presentation:

“There are very serious consequences that result from neglecting the temporal needs of children. Such neglect is an indication of spiritual neglect. It is a much more serious issue. Spiritual responsibility is the duty given by God. If a parent falls into spiritual neglect it has eternal consequences.”

It certainly seems odd to me that almighty God would allow such responsibility, with its “eternal consequences,” to be the province of mere human parents. If he has predestinated the children to heaven or hell before they are even born (4.9.3), it makes no difference what efforts are made to teach them anything of a spiritual nature. The saved ones will go on to accept “living Christianity,” and the damned ones will not, no matter what. And if the contrary but also commonly asserted view is correct, that God wants everyone to be saved, then it’s ridiculous to think that he needs parents to drag their kids to Sunday School and services in order to bring his divine will to fruition.

The disturbing third option that looms just below the surface is this: Children need to be indoctrinated into a religion when they are still too young to challenge the validity of its logically indefensible assertions:

At the tender age this process usually begins . . . children habitually give benefit of the doubt to their parents and role models. As time goes by, the vast Christian American environment consistently pounds the imperative system into their heads day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. By their teenage years, most Christians couldn’t possibly consider the presence of an error in the Bible, much less a completely erroneous foundation, because it’s unquestionably the perfect word of God to them. They believe this notion because they’re lifelong members of a society that has continually reinforced the “special” nature of Christianity. [Long 2005, 14]

The ultimate goal of Mormon indoctrination, Jack Worthy writes, is “to ensure that children believe in Mormonism so strongly and so deeply that their belief can’t be erased or replaced by other belief systems” (2008, 15). To do that, one must “start when children are very young,” “frequently tell them you know the Church is true,” and “get them to frequently say they know the Church is true” (pp. 15-16).

In this last quote from my sample, we read about the “precious task” of rooting the seed:

“In God’s kingdom the seed of the Word is sown with many different gifts. The sowing begins at home. Believing parents have the precious task of helping children and adolescents become rooted in God’s kingdom. The main purpose of all activities in Zion is to proclaim God’s Word” (Siionin Lähetyslehti, 9/2007).

Those “activities in Zion” are almost entirely focused inward, proclaiming God’s Word over and over again to those who have grown up hearing it. There is quite a contrast between the limited amount of evangelizing (4.2.4) and the inordinate concern expressed about the behavior of people already within the fold (4.6.4). In one recent sermon, an LLC preacher recalled driving back and forth in front of the house of a “brother,” working up the nerve to rebuke him about some violation of the rules. Yet that preacher would never dream of knocking on the doors of people on his block and telling them about his church.

To me it seems that there is a cynical, subconscious acknowledgment of a severe imbalance between effort and reward. It is relatively easy to cow an already-indoctrinated fellow believer into repentance and thus ensure his presence in the pew next Sunday. But it is difficult, embarrassing, and almost completely unproductive to try to convert people in the local society to abandon the Christianity they thought was just fine and join what to all external appearances is a weird little fundamentalist sect.

4.7.6 Women

If Eve had persisted in the truth, she would not only not have been subjected to the rule of her husband, but she herself would also have been a partner in the rule which is now entirely the concern of males.

—Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis

Women’s “God-given Lot”

A “core conviction of all fundamentalist movements is that women must be kept in their place” (Cox 2009, 223). In the view of this article from the January 1975 Voice of Zion, that place is women’s “God-given lot as mothers and homemakers”:

“Another thing that comes into our lives from the world is the so-called liberation of women. Women are made to feel discontent with their God-given lot as mothers and homemakers. It seems that our young women would need encouragement to submit themselves unto the will of God even in these matters” (VOZ, 1/1975).

But the reactionary efforts of fundamentalists “are attempting to stem an inexorable movement of the human spirit whose hour has come” (Cox 2009, 223). The women’s liberation movement became uncomfortably prominent for American Conservatives in the 1970s, and their desire to stem it is apparent in this next quote from the July 1979 Voice of Zion:

“When we take notice of what kinds of results the modern-time upbringing has brought about, we surely cannot rejoice in it. . . . Even the struggle for the equality of both sexes is not affirmative. The women have achieved equality many times in sorrowful matters, as drunkenness, and smoking, obscenity, and even in brutality. When women, as mothers and as partakers in much of the upbringing, lose hold of their own lives and of the objectives of upbringing, the consequences are frightening.”

The male author quoted in that article uses the word “we” like he expects his female readers to join in his lament. Conservative Laestadianism has toned down such rhetoric, but it is still surprisingly common for American fundamentalists to tout the “benefits” of submission in women and try to make it seem like the best arrangement for all concerned. Joyce cites the Reformed Baptist theologian John Piper for some extreme examples of such Orwellian doublethink. Piper argues “for the urgency of leading ‘Christian women back to a joyous embrace of godly male leadership in the church’” (2009, 15). He asks women to exchange their freedom “to work, to vote, to drive, to control their bodies and sexual lives” (yes, he’s talking about the U.S., not Saudi Arabia) for “a dubious freedom from, from the dangers and sexual threats of independent life in the world.” He “suggests that women discover their true ‘path of freedom’ in God’s good design of femininity” (p. 17). Another gem cited by Joyce is from two other authors who offer a “fresh vision” for women that “emphasizes gratitude to their husbands for helping relieve them of the burden of decision-making or the busywork that they would focus on if left to their own devices to prioritize their days: ‘slaves’ to their ‘own whims and wishes’” (p. 97).

Statements touting the joys of repression may be especially effective when they come from the repressed themselves, as do these inspiring words of Mary Pride in her book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality:

Childbearing sums up all our special biological and domestic functions. . . . God intended women to spend their lives serving other people. Young women serve their children, their mothers, their husbands, and the community at large. Older women train and assist the younger women, and in some cases become church helpers. . . . We are responsible for keeping society healthy and human. And for this, we get respect. [from Joyce 2009, 135]

That sort of thing makes my skin crawl. Peter Nevala probably wouldn’t have found it objectionable, though, given this quote of his from the April 1985 (not 1885) Voice of Zion:

“[T]he Scripture gives clear teaching about the role God has ordained for the Christian wife: ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body’ (Eph 5:22-23). When this God-given order is violated, whether it be by an overbearing and shameless wife who disdains the Word of God, or results from the cowardice and lenience of the henpecked husband, it brings disorderliness and strife into the family and also into the church! This has never failed! We cannot violate any of God’s clearly expressed wishes in these or other matters with impunity.”

The sad thing is that Nevala is not incorrect in his appeal to the Bible for support of what most of us now recognize as knuckle-dragging sexism. There is such reverence for the Holy Book that “biblical patriarchy” can be the subject of a viable religious movement in 21st century America. And its leader, Doug Phillips, can get on stage and tell a group of women, without apparent risk of injury, “You are a helpmeet. The Bible says that man is not made for the woman but the woman is made for the man. If you have a problem with that, take it up with the Creator, not Phillips. I’m just quoting” (Joyce 2009, 8).

In 4.3.1, we saw how Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted the dilemma of Biblical literalism regarding evolution. He articulates the same kind of “clear choice” for “biblical traditionalists” regarding women:

We must choose between two unavoidable options: either the Bible is affirmed as the inerrant and infallible Word of God, and thus presents a comprehensive vision of true humanity in both unity and diversity, or we must claim that the Bible is, to one extent or another, compromised and warped by a patriarchal and male-dominated bias that must be overcome in the name of humanity. [from Joyce 2009, 16]

His choice is the former, but I’ll go with the latter, thanks very much. I wish inerrantists like Mohler would stop to consider how their slavish devotion to the ancient text warps not just their view of humanity, but also their view of divinity. If the Bible is “inerrant and infallible,” then God is a butcher of innocent children (Numbers 31) and Jesus is both a false prophet (Mark 13) and bald-faced liar (John 18:20). To paraphrase Phillips: If you have a problem with that, take it up with the inerrantist, not me. I’m just observing.

Luther was just as much an inerrantist and literalist about the subject of women as he was about creationism. He was quite serious about the curse of Eve. Besides the “sorrows of gestation and birth,” suffered by women,

Eve has been placed under the power of her husband, she who previously was very free and, as the sharer of all the gifts of God, was in no respect inferior to her husband. This punishment, too, springs from original sin; and the woman bears it just as unwillingly as she bears those pains and inconveniences that have been placed upon her flesh. The rule remains with the husband, and the wife is compelled to obey him by God’s command. He rules the home and the state, wages wars, defends his possessions, tills the soil, builds, plants, etc. The woman, on the other hand, is like a nail driven into the wall. She sits at home . . . [Lectures on Genesis, Ch. 3, §16]

I have to give Luther some credit, though, for the genuine respect and admiration he showed his wife Katherine in an unenlightened age. He encouraged her to read and understand the Bible, and refused to shoo her away from the dinner table when the men started talking about serious matters. He deferred completely to his Kette (an ironic and loving nickname, meaning chain) in practical matters of their large and busy household, and was a big fan of her home-brewed beer.

The following Conservative writer confidently expounds on biology and sociology:

“Men and women are inherently different” and “have their unique masculine and feminine drives. Men have a need to protect and provide and solve problems, whereas women have a need to nurture and ‘nest.’ These differences are God’s blessings, and a reason for celebration. However, the post-feminist era wants to reverse these traditional roles, and devalue the roles played in the home” (VOZ, 11/2004).

I know a fair number of strong-willed, intelligent women in Conservative Laestadianism who don’t hesitate to “protect and provide and solve problems” and snort in derision at sexist generalizations like those. To me, that quote is yet another example of how the preachers tend to put their foot in their mouth whenever they venture to say anything outside their bubble of theological abstraction. The next one is from a man who is a bit more circumspect:

“Spouses should carry the burdens, as well as the joys, together. [Eph 5:22-25 cited] . . . [T]he husband is the head of the household and that means that he is responsible for spiritual leadership and for sowing the seed of faith in the family. He does not function as a dictator” (VOZ, 8/2006).

In his literalism and 16th century mindset, Luther had a clear view of the gender roles. Woman “is needed not only to secure increase but also for companionship and for protection. The management of the household must have the ministration of the dear ladies. In addition–and this is lamentable–woman is also necessary as an antidote against sin.” Alas, men are not satisfied to “copulate only once a year,” but “are compelled to make use of intercourse with their wives in order to avoid sin” (Lectures on Genesis, Ch. 2, §18). Romantic, isn’t it?

Role in the Church

There has been talk among the more liberal elements of the SRK about the ordination of women. One such ordination is set to take place in March 2012. The SRK historian Seppo Lohi is quoted in Ijäs 2012 as saying of this event, “It is history!” However, Lohi notes that female priesthood is not accepted in Conservative Laestadianism, and that the ordination of women is seen as heretical (harhaopiksi) in light of the Bible. An article from the April 2004 Voice of Zion states that position:

“Though God has not meant the office of preaching for women, he has nonetheless employed precious sisters in faith in other capacities in God’s kingdom. An example of this is the sisters mentioned in our text [Mt 28:5-8]; they were the first to witness that Christ had risen from the dead.”

In view of that, Lohi observes (being careful to couch his remarks as those of a researcher) that the prospective female pastor, Mari Leppänen, “loads quite a bit of pressure on herself concerning her relationship to Conservative Laestadianism. She shows that she has a different idea about ​​the ordination of women than the Conservative Laestadian perception.” Regarding the question of Leppänen’s possible separation from the movement, Lohi declines to “use such drastic terms” as that, but says the ordination will undoubtedly lead to discussions and she must explain her action (Ijäs 2012).

Those “discussions” are already in the works for Risto Leppänen, Mari’s husband, who is himself an ordained pastor in the SRK and the Turku congregation’s theological secretary. A recently leaked email from the Turku congregation’s chairman to its board of trustees and Mr. Leppänen “prayerfully invites” them to a meeting to discuss the situation regarding speakers in the Turku RY [congregation]. “The subject of the discussion is the issue about releasing Risto and Heikki [Rainio] from their preaching duties temporarily in our home Zion.”3

Leppänen is certainly not the only theologically educated woman in the SRK for whom this issue is relevant. Laura Kallio, a female Finnish theologian herself, says there are at least five such women, and thinks that the controversy is misplaced because Raattamaa was a proponent of allowing women to preach (Ahonen 2012). Indeed, it does seem that the early decades of Laestadianism saw some preaching by women. One aspiring female Laestadian pastor, a Masters-level theology student who wishes to remain anonymous,

feels that this discussion about female pastors has many of the same characteristics that can be seen in the way the movement has handled its child abuse issues [4.10.1]. “For some reason it takes a long time for the movement to acknowledge the existence of victims and parties and even listen to what it is they have to say,” [she] says . . . [Ahonen 2012]

The SRK addressed the issue in an editorial by Keijo Nissilä, observing that the discussion “about equality has continued to exist and has recently come up in Conservative Laestadian circles as well.” The editorial begins by noting that “the priesthood is from Christ” and thus “isn’t just anyone’s subjective right.” The universal priesthood of believers “engages all of the Spirit’s grace gifts, without distinction.” The Spirit is one and the same, and thus all of its “grace gifts are just as valuable and equal even if they are different.”

The mention of difference, of course, leads to the heart of the matter:

The Bible’s teachings about the Holy Spirit’s grace gifts include not only promises but also restrictions. The most well known of these restrictions is probably Apostle Paul’s declaration to comply with the proper form of worship: Women are to keep silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34-35). This instruction stems from a lecture, or sermon, which gave this charge to the Congregation’s shepherd, or priest, when implementing the framework of the worship process. Apostle Paul argues that he has “the Lord’s command” on this particular directive concerning worship. Unfortunately, we do not feel any closer to understanding the meaning of “the Lord’s command.” The reasoning employed by Apostle Paul is most powerful and authoritative because it is the word of the Lord. [Nissilä 2012]

Well, sexism is rampant in the Bible, and the Pauline passages that are cited to oppose women taking on leadership roles in the church are no exception (7.4). But the Bible also mentions a number of women doing things that the quoted writer might not think “God has meant for women.” Anna was a prophetess who served God with fastings and prayers in the the temple (Lk 2:36-37).4 In Paul’s own writings, Mercer finds some evidence in the earliest Christian period of a temporary and “slight rehabilitation of woman’s role in that some women apparently took leadership positions in the new sect.” He mentions “Phoebe and Priscilla in Romans 16:1-5; Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2-3; and possibly Chloe in 1 Corinthians 1:11 and Junia in Romans 16:7” (Mercer 2009, 122). In Phillipians 4:3, he asked an unnamed individual reader to “help those women which laboured with me in the gospel.”

In many cases, translation and manuscript issues have obscured (perhaps deliberately) the role these women played. The KJV and NASB have Rom 16:1 describe Phoebe as a “servant,” but Mercer says the correct translation is “deacon” (2009, 66). The masculine-sounding name Junias in Rom 16:7 apparently did not exist in Greek, but Junia was common and invariably feminine. A scribe may well have “corrected” what he saw as an aberration in Paul’s listing of a woman as one of those “outstanding among the apostles.” Cox believes “that women played a significantly larger leadership role than had previously been thought. But the power of false history to shape present perception goes even farther. Since the priestly elite insisted that women had always been subservient and marginal, people were unable to see clear evidence to the contrary” (2009, 179-80).

One grey area in recent Conservative Laestadian practice has been whether women should serve on the various congregations’ boards of trustees. The minutes of the LLC’s 2010 annual meeting reveal that the question was raised from one congregation whether “it is against God’s teachings to have a woman on the local Board.” The response from pastoral director Keith Waaraniemi was “that it is not contrary to Scriptures for women to serve in this way. It should be a question of God’s calling and not equality. There are congregations in both North America and Finland that have women on the Church Boards.”

I applaud that development, but let’s not pretend that it’s not contrary to any Scripture for women to be seated in the body that is the highest (practical) authority in each congregation. The writer of 1 Tim 2:11 wanted “women to learn in silence with all subjection,” and would not permit “a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” And referring to “God’s calling” is an ad hoc justification that could just as well apply to the office of preaching. It seems ironic that there are women participating in solemn deliberations to select men (4.2.7) for an office they themselves are deemed unqualified to hold.

Obligatory Motherhood

This last quote defends the profession of motherhood:

“Motherhood, however, is not always honored in society. A career in the workplace can be seen as more honorable than being ‘just a mother.’ The believing mother is sometimes ridiculed, especially those whom God has blessed with many children” (VOZ, 3/2008).

There is certainly some truth to that. Many modern women are postponing and even completely eschewing motherhood for the sake of their career interests. As we just saw in 4.7.5, however, the church does not think that such a decision should even be available to women.

Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel is one society in which motherhood is definitely honored. There one finds mothers “who are raising not merely traditionally large families but families that eclipse even Hassidic tradition in size: well over twelve children and continuing to bear into their late forties in what one midwife called ‘a social obsession to get pregnant’” (Joyce 2009, 185). Yet there is a dark side underneath the way such “mothers are highly honored” in that community:

[T]he effects on the health of these mothers and on their families, often living in poverty, can be tragic–lives of quiet scarcity and unceasing labor, housework, and births. Elder daughters are required to pick up a great deal of household responsibilities early on in life while their mothers recover from pregnancies or . . . die early. “They’re workhorses,” says Dr. Singer [a doctor working in a women’s clinic]. “Their lives, looking from the outside, look like a form of slavery, never-ending. Sometimes I’m incredibly admiring of their stamina, what they’re able to do day after day, after so many children.” [p. 185]

The only thing that seems to separate them from Conservative Laestadian mothers is the “social obsession.” Despite the quoted Voice of Zion language about believing mothers being “blessed,” the fact is that Conservative women are not particularly hesitant to grumble about their repeated pregnancies–and the resulting stress and drudgery–among themselves.5 Publicly, though, they are like the ultra-Orthodox, where

the glorification of mothers of many children and the community’s belief that women, while pregnant, are fulfilling their roles, leads to women scarcely able to articulate that they wish to stop having children. “They won’t even let themselves say the words, ‘I don’t want any more children,’ but will rather say, ‘I’ll bear as many children as God gives me,’” even as they tell Dr. Singer that they’re exhausted. [Joyce 2009, 188]

One mother who was raised in the LLC but left after having seven children tells her own story of exhaustion and disillusionment in a posting on the extoots site. At first, she “noticed the unspoken competition” in her central Minnesota congregation

over clothes, hair, and as they got older, houses and kids’ clothes. Heck, I even played the wishful Keep Up With the [Joneses] game for a time. Can I have six kids and still clothe them all stylishly? If I buy their clothes at the second-hand store, perhaps. Or maybe if I sew their clothes, I can manage.

Then it got to be, can we afford to feed them? And can we possibly make space in this little house for a seventh? And we are still expected to have more? God will provide? Let’s see, my children are now wearing clothes from the free store and we almost qualify for food stamps (and let me tell you, that’s not saying much).

And when I am at the end of my rope with still another pregnancy, nauseated and vomiting all day long for several months (it was a very effective weight loss method, I must say), the only answer I hear is that God will never give me more than I can handle. He will provide.

And then, when my gas is cut off because I can’t afford to pay the bill, and there is no hot water with which to bathe my children, and I look forward to shopping at the food shelf so I can make it till payday, it becomes obvious that something is very wrong with this system.

It is “faith, pure and simple” that Joyce says the Quiverfull movement is all about: “Faith that God won’t give a woman more children than she can handle, and faith that by opening themselves up to receive multiple ‘blessings,’ they will bring God’s favor upon them in other areas of life as well: their husbands will get better jobs; God will send a neighbor with a sack of used children’s clothes just when the soles on Johnny’s shoes fall out” (Joyce 2009, 155).

When the system works, it seems to work well. There are many genuinely happy mothers of large families in Conservative Laestadianism who enjoy “God’s favor upon them” both financially and with a great deal of social support from like-minded friends and extended family. Sometimes, though, it comes to seem that God has indeed given the believing mother “more children than she can handle.” When and if that realization finally hits a desperate parent, it’s too late to do anything about it but try to cope and keep from spiraling any further into pain or poverty, or both.

Human Rights Concerns

Some public pressure has been put on Conservative Laestadianism due to its well-known aversion to contraception. In March 2009, the European Union’s Human Rights Commission expressed concerns that the movement’s teachings–whether a “ban” is said to be in place or not–effectively infringe on the individual right to freely make a determination about contraception. That right, it said, is a matter of human rights protection. It noted that the term “contraception ban” is not used. But it pointed out that Laestadians have experienced “very real social compulsion” about the issue, and “failure to comply will have serious spiritual and secular consequences.”

The historian and SRK pastor Seppo Lohi responded with a detailed theological explanation in a document presented at the SRK’s 2009 Summer Services. It begins with an appeal to tradition, saying that only two other such presentations had been needed to address the issue, the first in 1945 and the second in 1967. Thus Lohi infers “that contraception has not been any special problem to the members of the movement, at least not as a matter of principle.”

Lohi’s remarks quickly begin to show some tension about the human rights question. He uses some obscure terminology (ehdonvallan kysymys, “question where conditions may determine whether something is right or wrong,” and adiafora, “not regarded as essential to faith”) to say that there are no particular conditions or individual preferences where contraception is acceptable, while also claiming that it is up to the parents. Here’s a not-quite literal but hopefully accurate translation:

Even if the birth control issue should not be decided freely, the ultimate decision has always been made by two adults, mother and father. [Conservative Laestadian] Christians have made their choices as matters of faith, based on their God-directed conscience. This means that God’s word has bound their conscience also in those decisions where the secular law would have allowed free decisions and own choices.

Conservative Laestadians, including the women who privately suffer and complain exactly like the Orthodox Jews we just encountered, are making these choices from their consciences! If your conscience tells you that enough is enough already, however, then it’s not correct. In other words, there’s no ban against contraception, but you still can’t use it. The only people I know of who can say two opposite things in a single sentence are politicians, economists, and theologians.

Finally, Lohi gets to his actual theological arguments. He still has a hard time jumping off the dock of tradition and swimming in the cold biblical waters on his own, though:

In Christendom, birth control was widely considered to stand against the Bible and the Christian tradition. In Christianity, the predominant view of humanity dictated that a new life was wholly God’s act of Creation, which shall not be controlled by man. New life is a fundamental task of marriage, arising from God’s command: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28).” Also Luther, in his time, reinforced this conception and said: “Therefore, the word of God, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply,’ is not a command, but more than a mere command, namely a Divine Act, not being in our power to hinder or neglect.”

So we now have one biblical reference, God’s command following two events (biblical creation and Noah’s flood) that never actually occurred (4.3.1, 4.3.2). The next reference we see in Lohi’s presentation is to Mark 10:6-9, Jesus’ directive that God had made people male and female from the beginning of the creation: “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” That is a fine bit of support for rejecting divorce (4.7.4), but what does it have to do with birth control?

Apparently, “the topic is not a question of any single issue, but of the whole marriage concept and of children’s rights, first and foremost.” The purpose of marriage, Lohi ventures without a single Bible quote for support,

is not only personal pleasure and self-indulgence of the spouses, even if God himself said that it is not good for man to be alone. The actual purpose of marriage is reproduction. By means of marriage, God gives us children. For this act of Creation, God invites father and mother to work together with Him and grants them family and home. “Home is the power source of a society” and “child-rich marriages its best warranty.” In preventing the birth of just one child, man takes unto himself a decision lasting even for generations.

Then he refers to the life of a child as holy and its value absolute, finally offering some biblical citations for that principle:

“Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” A child is a member of God’s Kingdom (Mark 10:14). “In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Children are examples of a right relationship with God, the Father. “Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3,5,10). When a life of a child is placed so high, there is nothing comparable in the world. From this child-appreciating view of humanity arises, as obvious, a child’s right to life, existence, parents, home and upbringing, seamlessly connected with marriage. This does not only apply to an already fertilized ovum, which is considered to be the beginning of a new life in a womb.

The actual context of Mark 10:13-16 is Jesus’ affection and tolerance for a bunch of kids who were initially shooed away by the disciples, and his use of them as an object lesson about childlike faith. Via the miracle of creative hermeneutics (4.3.5), Lohi transforms that into a command to “receive” speculative children not even conceived. The DNA defining a couple’s next child exists only in the woman’s ovaries and will not even be generated in her husband until a few days before their big night. If that encounter is postponed by an unexpected business trip, does a child lose its life? Of course not. It’s just a different lucky one of a couple hundred million sperm and possibly a different egg that make their own wildly improbable combination.

Nobody wants to think they are the random outcome of a woman’s ovulation, meiosis churning out cells by the billions in a man’s testicles, and a race between millions of sperm whose microscopic tails furiously whip around in a quantum-level arena of fluid dynamics. But the alternative–claiming that conceptions are divinely ordained ahead of time–makes God into a puppet-master who stage-directs the universe down to its tiniest details. Then we are just puppets in an inane drama whose uncountable trillions of acts and final ending are all pre-ordained, our every movement reflecting a tug of the Deity’s invisible strings. (This relates to the futility of spiritually “fighting the good fight” if predestination is true, 4.9.3.)

Perhaps we should leave Lohi’s speculations for a moment and look at a few Bible passages that do address the value of a child’s life, both born and unborn. On the positive side, there is Jeremiah’s claim that God told him, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer 1:5). The beautiful 139th Psalm includes a discourse about God weaving the writer’s inward parts together in his mother’s womb, and predestinating his life before his birth:

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them. [Psa 138:16, NASB]

Now let’s consider the opposite view. (Despite the claims of its inerrancy and consistency, it seems that the Bible always provides opposing viewpoints when you look closely at it.) In Exodus 21:22, hurting a pregnant woman and causing her to miscarry incurred punishment “as the woman’s husband will lay upon” the perpetrator and “as the judges determine.” The next verses add, “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning,” etc. (emphasis added). Injuring a woman and causing the death of her unborn child was a matter for a civil penalty, but if the brawl continues and a man dies, then we are talking about “life for life.”

Leviticus 27 places monetary valuations on human life. Boys from one month to five years of age were worth five shekels of silver, with the price going up to 20 shekels between the ages of 5-20 years. Men between the ages of 20 to 60 years had the highest price of all, 50 shekels, after which price the old duffers dropped to a mere 15 shekels in value. (Women, of course, had lower values at every age, usually 3/5 that of a comparable male.) No value at all was assigned to newborn infants.

When there is killing of women to be done, the Old Testament doesn’t hesitate to inflict its cruelty on their children as well, both born and unborn. Hosea rants against Ephraim that he will “slay even the beloved fruit of their womb” (9:16). The people of Samaria had “rebelled against her God,” according to Hosea, so “they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up” (13:16). When Judah learned that his daughter-in-law was “with child by whoredom,” his response was, “Bring her forth, and let her be burnt” (Gen 38:24). It was only when she produced some things that he had left during his own sexual encounter with her that he backed down.

Based on the 1945 presentation and the agreement voiced in the subsequent discussion, Lohi concludes that

Conservative Laestadians’ negative attitude to birth control can be summarized as follows: (1) According to God’s order of Creation, marriage is a union between man and woman, and reproduction its principal task. God invites mother and father to collaborate with this act of Creation. (2) Because a child is an act of Creation, a gift from God, and its value absolute according to Jesus, the birth of a new life is from the very beginning a holy event, in which man must not intervene.

Nothing emerged after that to cause Conservatives to re-evalutate their attitude, Lohi said. He cited approvingly this statement from the SRK’s annual meeting of 1974: “Birth control in all its forms requires abandonment of the Christian Church’s First Article of Faith.” And then we learn just what we’re supposed to think about that scientific stuff I mentioned a few paragraphs ago:

If I have faith, this means that Man has not appeared by chance. Unlike animals, a human is created in the image of God, as uniquely valuable. Therefore, the life of a human is sacred. At its deepest, the holiness of life opens perspectives for the core issue of the whole Christian Faith. God did not give His Son to die for beings evolved by a process of chance, but for uniquely valuable humans created in the image of God. The message of the Cross is mindless, if the value of a human is not absolute. This should be acknowledged even now, in the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

So much for science, including evolution. Once again we have arrived back in Eden, a place that Christian theology just cannot seem to leave.

1 All of these four quoted passages except for 1 Cor 5:13 are from epistles considered by many scholars to be “pseudepigraphic,” or, put less politely, forgeries written in Paul’s name well after his time. There is a great deal of debate about whether Paul actually wrote various “Pauline” epistles. The only ones considered “undisputed” by most scholars are Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. By convention, I use the name “Paul” for all the Pauline epistles without implying that the writer was actually a person named “Paul.”

2 One jaded commentator on the Church of England’s increasingly vacant pews referred to baptisms, weddings, and funerals as the only occasions for which the British subject turns to the church: to be “hatched, matched, and dispatched.”

3 According to a correspondent familiar with the Turku congregation and Heikki Rainio’s relationship with it over the past decades, the concerns about Rainio are probably not in connection with Mari Leppänen’s upcoming ordination, but his public criticism of the SRK’s handling of the child sexual abuse issue (4.10.1) and singing in concerts at the state church, apparently still a concern for some. (See the discussion of the behavioral norms regarding entertainment in 4.6.1.)

4 Origen was able to justify to himself and his patriarchal readers “a woman who was a prophetess” coming after Simeon because “it was necessary that women too should be saved.” He consoled himself about it by pointing to how “beautiful the order is! The woman did not come before the man” (Homilies on Luke, No. 17, from Lienhard 1996, 70).

5 Please don’t ask me how I know this, but I do. It’s not an isolated phenomenon by any means. Ladies, carry on.