"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Pietism, Baptism, and Laestadianism

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Pietism, Baptism, and Laestadianism

Yesterday at church a new baby was baptized. The sermon leading up to the baptism tied in well, discussing the meaning of the sacrament from a mainline protestant/Episcopalian perspective.

Without getting into too much detail on the theology, we believe that in baptism we bear witness to and make manifest God's action, washing the baptized from sin and welcoming him or her into God's beloved community. We make promises, "with God's help" to support the family and the newly baptized so that they can grow and mature in their faith journey, a life-long process.

As I sat in my pew, I couldn't help but be struck by how opposite this was from the pietism I grew up with in the Laestadian tradition. Sure, we baptized babies in the ALC as well, but it never really made much sense to me there and seemed to be in conflict with the rest of Laestadian theology, such as it was, which to me seemed to take all the emphasis off of what God has done or is doing, and put all the onus on what individuals must do, under fear of losing ones salvation.

Of course, if you corner a Laestadian pastor and put the question baldly, they'll say that salvation is by grace through faith and certainly not through works. But the pietism in Laestadianism belies this. Without the outward marks of piety, one's faith was called into question. If one didn't dress properly, speak properly, greet properly, act properly, think properly, or feel properly you were skating on thin ice at the very least, and probably headed down the road to hell.

Yesterday's baptism was the joyful expectation of another child starting down life's path, a journey of possibilities and adventure, full of wonder about life, God, and other people. It seemed such a contrast to Laestadian baptisms, where the feeling was much more somber, full of fear and trepidation about whether the child would be "saved" when he or she got older, and the dangers and temptations of the world.

I, for one, am sick and tired of fear based religion. Any religion or religious sales-pitch that preys on people's insecurities or fears is not worth following, in my opinion.


  1. You are right that the role of babptism is a little unclear in laestadianism. However as a Lutheran movement, laestadianism accepts the traditional teachings of the Church regarding babptim.

    Some branches give a little different interpretation to it. LLC teach that the child has faith before baptim, and is thus saved, while ALC and OALC holds strictly to the apostolic creed and Lutheran confession.

    Regarding fear based religion; here in Finland where I live, believers mostly don’t believe because of fear. Laestadians are mostly humble people realizing they need forgiveness for their sins. Realizing we are sinful is the very core of human morality and ethics. The problem with US spirituality is often that they think they are without sin as Christians, which often leads hardness, intolerance and self-rightness.

    Nowadays laestadian preachers does not preach about hell as an eternal sea of fire, like a few decades ago, but as an eternal separation from God.

  2. "washing the baptized from sin and welcoming him or her into God's beloved community"

    This is the traditional Church teachings regarding babptism.

  3. Some Christians in US seems to be heavily biased towards Israel in the Midle East conflict. You can’t see much of this kind of (actually destructive) thinking among laestadians. I would say laestadians generally are very neutral in the question.

    If you click on my Nick, it will take you to an article in a Finnish newspaper. There you can see two faces. One is Alexander Stubb, our foreign minister (atheist something), and the other one is A. Pentikäinen, a laestadian.

    Pentikäinen actually forced our foreign minister to apologize his comments that the Israel bombing of a Palestinian clinic in Gaza was something that can be compared to stealing a mobile phone.

    Stubb apologized his comment in front of the whole Finnish media, and as a sign of regret he invited Pentikäinen to drink a beer with him (explicitly without alcohol).

    My last film on the LaestadianInfo channel actually exposes the destructive teachings many modern Christians hold on to in the Middle East conflict.

  4. In the OALC in Finland, there used to be several kinds of views on baptism. One former OALC preacher (now a Lutheran priest) has done a research paper on this topic. However, during the last couple of decades the views stated officially from the pulpit have moved more towards the LLC approach (i.e. nothing really happens in baptism). Preachers who have taught differently have been put under pressure to change their teaching. At the same time, the genuine Lutheran view (i.e. regeneration in baptism) has become more popular at the grass root level in the Finnish OALC. Can someone hear the tension leveling up? :)

  5. I grew up in the ALC in Finland, and I know that it's not true that they hold strictly to the Apostolic Creed and the Lutheran Confessions. That is the official stand, but there are many different opinions. In my childhood prayer house there was recently two totally opposite teachings on baptism on two consecutive Sundays, the first preacher basically saying that baptism does nothing, while the other one holding to the Lutheran view.