The forming of the Swedish Mission CovenantIn 1878 the Swedish Mission Covenant organized and broke off from the Lutheran State Church in Sweden. It comes as no surprise that this decision was many years in the making and in a large respect, part of the natural progression of western history, specifically Swedish history.
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenberg door in 1517 a cataclysmic force of personal devotion and piety developed that made it’s way through the European world. Because of Luther’s understanding of the priesthood of all believers, the bible began being translated into the common tongues, and only nine years after that movement started in Germany, the bible was translated into Swedish in 1526.
Lutheran Christianity swept through Sweden when Gustav Vasa Erickson declared himself king in 1523 and successfully revolted against Denmark. In 1527 King Vasa was recognized as the simultaneous head of the state and head of the church at the Diet of Vasteras. The church in Sweden that developed had a strong, biblical foundation that was very important in the later development of the Swedish Mission Covenant. It recognized the Authority of the Bible, that Justification was by faith, through grace, the priesthood of all believers, and that all vocations are Christian through the power of Christ.
However, as time went on, the State Lutheran Church became more structured and in 1593 faith in Christ was legislated at the Synod at Uppsala. This move was critical in understanding the birth of the Swedish Mission Covenant. When faith became legislated, that undermined the foundation of the Lutheran Church, for there is no human way to force faith. This legal action caused the cause of Christ to be damaged and over the next 100 years there was a systemic backsliding.
But God is faithful, and on that soil of spiritual darkness, seeds of revival began to spread. In the 1700’s a new movement began in Germany, called Pietism. This movement was really not new at all, but was recognition, once again, that salvation is by grace, through faith. This message was brought anew to Sweden through German Soldiers in 1712. Small groups of Pietist (called Conventicles) would meet for teaching from the Bible, singing, and silent prayer. A founding leader of Pietism was a man named Philipp Jacob Spener, who’s writings, along with the writing’s of Martin Luther, brought countless Swedes to new life in Christ.
Those in power in the State Church did not meet this Pietistic movement with open arms. In 1726 the Swedish government passed the “Anti-Conventicles Act,” outlawing Biblical study outside of the authorized church structure.
But, God continued to draw Swedes to himself and in the 1730’s a renewal society, called the Moravians began sending missionaries to Sweden with an even stronger message of the pure joy that comes with a personal faith in Jesus Christ.
All those moves of piety were essential ingredients in forming the Swedish Mission Covenant, but what was needed was leadership that would organize and structure a renewal movement, and that happened with the arrival, in 1830, of the Methodist Missionary, George Scott. Scott used money that he raised in churches across Europe and the United States toorganize Unions, Mission Societies, and publications in Sweden. Those were all used to bring the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide through Sweden.
When Scott was deported by the Swedish State in 1842, Carl Olaf Rosenius quickly took his place of leadership. He organized the “Evangelical National Foundation” in 1856 which gave further structure to the movement by licensing colporteurs (teachers), training missionaries, and coordinating the publication of evangelism tracts and the Pietisten, the main newsletter of the movement.
Amazingly the “Anti-Conventicles Act” was repealed in 1858. In 1859 Rosenius met a man named Paul Peter Waldenstrom who later took the lead role in the next 20 years of work in the forming of the Swedish Mission Covenant.
Waldenstrom stepped into a place of leadership when all these actions were coming to a head and Sweden was ready for renewal. Waldenstrom used his fantastic leadership abilities, his immense popularity, his Christ-centered writing ability, and the current events of his time to officially begin the Swedish Mission Covenant in 1878.
Written and compiled by: Robert S. Nass