Finnish revivalists leave the Church


Northern Europe


Singing during a church service of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. Photo Facebook, Suomen evankelisluterilainen lähetyshiippakunta

The People's Church in Finland is a sinking ship, many believers seem to think. The number of active members is declining rapidly. What factors influence people deciding whether to stay or leave the revivalist Church?

Many Evangelical Christians use the opinion of the church leadership on marriage as a thermometer to measure the faithfulness of the Church. Concerning the liberalisation of the doctrine, the question arises: How much longer can you remain a Church member?

Currently, the marriage debate is heated in the Church. Although the official doctrine is that marriage is meant for one man and one woman only, many regional churches deviate from this guideline and bless same-sex couples. That shows a slow shift towards a more liberal theology.

Almost half of the Revivalist Christians would leave if the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church would ever start blessing same-sex marriages. That was shown by an earlier survey in 2019, as reported by Seurakuntalainen. More than 10 per cent has already left the denomination and only 20 per cent of the members promised to stay.

Overall trend

Seurakuntalainen interviewed two younger generation revivalists. Their backgrounds are the same. Both have grown up in religious families and are children of a pastor. Yet, they came to different conclusions: Sakari Kiviranta has left the Church, while Marianna Juntti has stayed.

Sakari Kiviranta is a Master of Theology and father of three children. Marianna Juntti is an administrative planner and a second-term member of the Church Council.

Kiviranta says that one of the reasons that he left the People's Church is that he saw how quickly the parishes in the capital region of Finland liberalised. He did not have any connections with churches in rural areas, so he thought this was an overall trend. He decided he did not feel at home in his Church anymore. Juntti acknowledges that urban churches are very liberal. "There may not be any services I could attend there. The main reason is that female priests conduct masses", she says.

However, she points out that this situation might differ in rural churches. She still has a strong connection with the parish of Veteli. Her father is the vicar there, and she used to be a trustee. Because the Church is so dear to her, she decided to stay.

"Revival movements are dear to me", she explains to Seurakuntalainen. "And because they are still part of the church, I feel that I am also part of this church."

She admits that the liberalising trends in the Church are worrying. Yet, she sees a lot of potential. "I want to be involved in making the Bible and Jesus the centre of the Church. I feel that I still have the opportunity as a member of the Church Assembly to influence the direction of the Church."

According to Juntti, the Church is currently at crossroads. "I see how the marriage issue is tearing the Church apart. The current situation makes one wonder whether the Church still has a common path. But there is no reason to despair. All things are possible with God, and He can lead the Church on the path of repentance."

Transfer of membership

Kiviranta came to a different conclusion: he felt he could no longer stay in the Church. When he thought he could no longer agree with some points of church life, he started attending the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and transferred his membership.

He says there is a strong division in the People's Church between liberal and conservative forces. However, he points out that the liberals seem to be dominant. "The constant barrage of negative reflections on the state of the church I find very frustrating, and I am tired of constantly being upset by the Church's decisions", he said. What he also found to be problematic is that it is challenging to be a "Bible-trusting Christian in the church."

Yet, leaving the People's Church for him was not an easy decision. "I wondered for a long time whether leaving the Church was perhaps a sin. Yet, he stands firmly behind his decision now. "In my eyes, the People's Church is a sinking ship that only God can miraculously save. I wish that were the case, but we have no biblical promise that the organisation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland will endure till the end of time. Instead, this is promised only about the Church of Christ."

Juntti thinks that the decision to leave the Church is a matter of conscience. "Even those who do not belong to the People's Church are dear brothers and sisters in Christ. The most important thing is that they have a church connection somewhere."

The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence, Kiviranta acknowledges. "Many people who leave Church find that there are challenges everywhere. After all, we are all sinful people."



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