Friday, March 11, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we look at the Swedish Pentecostal movement and Lewi Pethrus.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 11th of March 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Suppose you’ve listened to this show recently. In that case, you might remember that the Pentecostal movement, while technically originating out of Topeka Kansas and Charles Fox Parham, came to prominence in Los Angeles during the Azusa Street Revivals of the early 20th century. We know much of American Evangelical Christianity- while not Pentecostal, will be marked by this.

What also surprises me about this movement was how quickly it reached the rest of the world. This would be on account of new forms of communication, the decline in denominational loyalties, world travel was opened to the masses, “signs and wonders” services proving to be a big draw, and the Pentecostal and Holiness traditions recruited sent missionaries.

The Azusa revival sent out missionaries within its first year. A young man originally from Sweden, Andrew Johnson, brought the new theology back home. Here he would meet up with Thomas Barrett- a British-born Norwegian who had worked with A.B. Simpson (a Canadian Pentecostal and founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance).

All of this, happening around 1906, caught the attention of a young, rural, one-time apprentice cobbler named Lewi Pethrus.

Lewi Pethrus was born on the 11th of March in 1884. He worked as an apprentice cobbler until he was baptized in 1899 at 15 and decided to enter the ministry.

In 1902 he had a spiritual experience similar to the Pentecostal understanding of Baptism in the Holy Spirit. He attended Seminary but was disheartened by an assigned book that denied the divinity of Christ. He claims to have lost his faith only to have regained it during another spiritual experience in 1905.

In 1907 he traveled to Oslo to hear Thomas Barrett (British-born Norwegian who worked with Johnson and Simpson). He identified what happened to him in 1902 as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and from here on, Pethrus considered himself a member of the Pentecostal movement.

He would become a pastor in the Swedish Baptist church, and wherever he went, he drew crowds. This would lead him to become the pastor at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Stockholm. His popularity and his teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit led many in the Baptist Union of churches to distrust him.

[[[really fast, although we talk about this on this weekend’s show- Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a 20th-century interpretation of the story of Pentecost in the book of Acts- they believe that this is separate from water baptism and is an extraordinary work of the spirit to equip believers- it is accompanied with signs- most often speaking in tongues, or Glossolalia)]]]

Lewi’s church was officially removed from the Union for practicing open communion (that is, anyone can partake of communion despite theological differences). Interestingly, in Sweden, most non-conforming churches practiced open communion- but it was technically not allowed (the church of Sweden is officially Lutheran). It was the easiest way to remove the popular but troublesome pastor.

Lewi would remain pastor at Philadelphia Baptist until 1958 (47 years). The church would become the largest in Sweden during this time, with over 5,000 parishioners. It would start a Bible college, a folk school (a vocational training center), a radio station, an influential hymnal, and a daily paper. The church was the host for the Pentecostal World conference in 1947, and Pethrus received an honorary doctorate from Wheaton College.

In 1958 he retired from the pastorate but continued to work for social reform- he started a philanthropic trust and began to lobby for poor Swedes. In the ’60s, he founded Sweden’s Christian Democratic Party. In a curious paradigm shift from American pentecostalism, while theologically and culturally, the Swedish Pentecostals are very conservative; fiscally, they favor a strong welfare state. The party is one of several European Christian Democratic parties that flourished in the 20th century.

Pethrus was made a knight in the Order of Vasa (a big deal!) in the 70s and died in 1974. Born on this day in 1884- Lewi Pethrus was 90 years old.

The Last word for today comes from Acts 2:

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 11th of March 2022 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who is a fan of all things Swedish- despite them almost always coming disassembled with an Allen wrench and diagrams for instructions. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who will tell you once again; it is pronounced Ikea (e-kay-ah). I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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