*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 19th of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
On this day, the 19th January in 1859, the Finnish Missionary Society was officially formed. Now, maybe you’re thinking, “I like Finland and the Fins as much as anyone, but I think we all know the story of how the Fins carved out a distinct nation from the Swedes but in doing so had to balance Russian influence to the East”… or maybe not? It’s an interesting story, and as we do on this show, from time to time, let’s take a quick look at the church’s history in Finland and why this Finnish Missionary Society was a big deal. Let’s break it down.
Finland is not Scandinavian. It’s next to the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden but don’t call them Scandinavian. Finland is Nordic and Northern European, but the Finnish are descendants of a Finno-Ugric people who historically lived in the remote woodlands called Suomi or “land of lakes.”
From the 8th to the 12th century, they suffered periodic invasions by Vikings, Swedes, and Danes. In the 13th century, the Northern Crusades spread Western Catholic Christianity into pagan areas and some Orthodox Christians. In 1397 the Fins were subsumed into the Kalmar Union- effectively becoming part of Sweden. This would put the Finnish church in the western Roman Catholic tradition and at odds with their Orthodox neighbors to the East.
During the Reformation, the Fins went the way of Gustav Vasa and adopted the Lutheran Reformation. Despite the Reformation being imposed “from above,” the Finnish Reformation took on a trendy flavor through the work of Mikael Agricola, who studied under Luther at Wittenberg created a Finnish language Primer for schools, translated Luther’s catechism into Finnish as well as the New Testament into Finnish. This is the beginning of modern Finnish- the Reformation meant- to the local populace- a language, education, a more democratic spirit, and Finnish identity.
Jump ahead to around 1800 and Russia would annex Finland from Sweden and rule it, albeit as a Grand Duchy instead of traditional Russian territory. Why? Napoleon. As the average-sized tyrant swept through Europe, Finland became a buffer between Eastern Europe and Napoleon before the Russians figured out that their best weapon would always be the winter.
As a grand duchy under the Russian Tsar, Russian Orthodoxy would be the official creed of the land; Tsar Alexander II, that Tsar known for his widespread reforms, gave Finland more autonomy and its Diet. But the whiplash from Swedish and Lutheran to Russian and Orthodox left much less connected to any particular church body.
And, as we mentioned, it is in this context that the Finnish Missionary Society was formed on the 19th of January in 1859. And while the 19th century was the century for foreign missions- the Finnish Missionary Society was initially called to evangelize the Fins. But evangelizing people, most of whom nominally belong to the state church, is difficult. Eventually, the Fins would get in on the scramble for Africa- the Finnish Missionary Society would thus be connected to Namibia and the machinations of European religious colonization.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Finland became autonomous, and the Russian Orthodox Church gave way to a new Finnish orthodox church which posed problems for the National Lutheran Church. The Finnish Missionary Society was rebranded as the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission as part of the self-conscious “Lutheran” identity of the newly independent and democratic Finland.
Today the Finnish State recognizes the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Finnish Orthodox Church as official state churches. 76% of all Fins belong to the Lutheran state church, with only about 1% members of the Orthodox Church.
Today we remember a significant event in the history of Finnish Christianity and Nationalism with the formation of the Finnish Missionary Society on this day in 1859.
The last word for today comes from Matthew
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Finnish Death Metal bands include Stratovarius, Poisonblack, Finntroll, and Children of Bodom. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose favorite fins include the Dorsal, Caudal, and former Mighty Duck Teemu Selanne. 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.