Christianity in Sweden

Christianity in Sweden

The story of the development of Christianity in Sweden is very much connected with developments in Europe and America. In particular the influence from Moravia, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, Denmark, America and Norway, all of which will be covered in the links below.

The idea of this page is to provide a simple overview of the subject for those with an desire to understand how Sweden got to be the way it is today from a Christian perspective. It is intended to help the reader to "join the dots together" and make sense of what seems quite confusing at first.

The most obvious starting point will be the work of John Wycliffe, and the influence on Jon Hus and the Moravians. All before Luther's time.

Olaus Petri (Olof Persson - his Swedish name) attended the University of Leipzig until 1516, and received a Master's degree at the University of Wittenberg in February 1518. While in Wittenberg he met with and was influenced by the main characters of the German Reformation, Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther. Olaus Petri is credited with bringing the reformation to Sweden.

.The Reformation had a major impact on Northern Europe at a spiritual level and a political power level. The authorities in Rome could not accept the loss of power and control, and so the counter-reformation was Rome's attempt to reverse the changes. One of Rome's decisions to overturn the acceptance of the new teaching caused several Catholic clerics to be thrown out of a Prague window in 1618 thus starting the thirty year war which caused huge devastation. The role of Sweden in defedning the Protestants against the Catholics in the 30 year war was pivotal to the future of the Reformed faith in Europe.

Following the 30 year war, Europe was tired, and the Lutheran church became spiritually poor. This low spiritual state in the Lutheran churches gave rise to a reactionary movement known as  "Pietism". It arose in Germany through Lutheran theologian named Spener who emphased that Christianity was about a Spiritual work in a believer's life which would manifest itself in particular ways, and not about confession only.

This Pietism grew in the Lutheran churches of Northern Europe, including Scandinavia and Finland, and created tensions within the Lutheran church between those who believed "confession" was enough, and those who insisted on seeing a changed life demonstrated through piety.

At the same time as the "Piety" issues were being dealt with in the Lutheran church, the influx of Moravians into Sweden brought an independent form of piety into the country. These three views of true Christian experience are the basis for most of what happened next.

In order to continue with the specific story in Sweden, a quick trip to England wil be helpful, as follows.

Shropshire and Staffordshire

The history of the connection between England and Sweden is a long and interesting one, but it  is not so accessible to the English speaking world because of the language barrier.

For those who live or have lived in Shropshire or Staffordshire, it may be a surprise to learn of the profound influence they have had on the world and on Sweden in Particular.

Shropshire's Iron bridge has become a symbol of the industrial revolution, and Charles Darwin was born and raised in Shrewsbury. Trade unions were influenced and social reforms brought about by those coming from the revival movement at Mow Cop.

Yet the most surprising thing is the influence on Sweden of one man from a small village on the border between these two English shires, a village called Norton-in-Hales. Famous for winning the Britain in bloom competion.

Norton-in-Hales' Bradling Stone with the Anglican church in the background. Any male found working after noon on Shrove Tuesday was bumped or “bradled" according to folklore.

Dissent in Sweden

Martin Luther's Reformation started in 1517 and Sweden defended it against the Catholic oppresssion in what became known as the 30 year war in Europe from 1618 to 1648. Scandinavia and Finland were transformed with the new religious liberty and recovered understanding of the Bible and salvation by grace alone.

In 1525 another group of Christians arose claiming that the Reformation didn't go far enough, and this movement is referred to today as the "radical reformation" which had an emphasis on believers baptism along with many and diverse other things.

In 1738 John Wesley had an experience of grace which transformed his life and ministry. Along with George Whitfield, the Methodist church was born. In 1740 George went to America and preached the gospel to thousands, wherby there was the first "Great Awakening".

Morally, England was becoming decadent. Drunkenness was rampant; gambling was extensive. England was described as "one vast casino."

In 1928 Archbishop Davidson wrote that "Wesley practically changed the outlook and even the character of the English nation."

In the early 1800s Sweden was much the same as England some years earlier, with gross immorality, drunkeness and gambling. It was an Englishman from Norton-in-Hales who realised Sweden's desperate need. His name was Samuel Owen, not a member of the clergy, but an engineer.

Samuel invited the Methodist church in England to send someone over to Stockholm, which resulted in the first Methodist church in Sweden, even if it didn't last long.

Just as the Reformation was a challenge to Rome, the dissenters were a challenge to the Lutheran state church in Scandinavia. Despite much opposition, the movement for freedom of worship and gospel preaching was well under way. Looking at it from an opposite point of view, the loss of control by the traditional church in Europe, along with the freedom of the immigrants once they got to America, paved the way for an explosion of religious ideas and heresies resulting in 41,000 Christian denominations today, even excluding many sects and cults.

The blue boxes below are more or less in a timeline sequence but there is considerable overlap.

The "Moravians" played a significant role in a lot of the church history we are familiar with, perhaps with barely a mention in many texts, so for the present, they mark the start of the jpourney through the most significant developments in Church history. This is not yet complete and only reaches the early 1900s so far. Pentecostalism and the several interconnected movements will be included shortly.

This page is under construction. Please check for latest updates as research continues.