Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.svg
Classification Protestant
Orientation Lutheranism
Polity Episcopal
Associations Lutheran World Federation,
World Council of Churches,
Conference of European Churches,
Porvoo Communion
Geographical areas Finland
Origin 1809
Branched from Church of Sweden
Members 4,200,916 (78,2%)[1]
Official website Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Official Website
The Cathedral of Turku is considered the national shrine of Finland

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Finnish: Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko; Swedish: Evangelisk-lutherska kyrkan i Finland) is the national church of Finland. The church professes the Lutheran branch of Christianity, and is a member of the Porvoo Communion.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church is Finland's largest religious body. As of the end of 2010, 78.2% of the Finns were members of the church[1] a decrease of 1.7% from the previous year. With 4.2 million members, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world. The head of the church is the Archbishop of Turku, currently Kari Mäkinen, who succeeded Jukka Paarma as the Archbishop on 1 June 2010.

Especially in recent years, the number of church members leaving the Lutheran church of Finland has been increasing rapidly. A record 83,097 members left the church in 2010; the large number caused in part by a Finnish television discussion programme broadcast on 12 October 2010 concerning gay rights, in which church clergy and laymen were divided both for and against the proposed legal amendments.[2][3][4]

A Master's degree in theology is compulsory before one can be ordained. The church also has a own vocational postgraduate educational system. A newly ordained pastor is eligible for the position of a parish pastor (Finnish: seurakuntapastori, Swedish: församlingspastor), formerly called assistant priest (Finnish: apupappi). In order to be eligible for the position of a chaplain (Finnish: kappalainen, Swedish: kaplan) or a vicar (Finnish: kirkkoherra, Swedish: kyrkoherde) the Pastoral degree of the church (Finnish: pastoraalitutkinto, Swedish: pastoralutbildning) is compulsory. Before being able to apply for the post of a vicar, a degree in leadership skills (Finnish: Seurakuntatyön johtamisen tutkinto, Swedish: Examen i ledning av församlingsarbete) is also compulsory.

In order to be eligible for the position of a vicar general (Finnish: tuomiorovasti, Swedish: domprost) or a dean of the diocese (Finnish: hiippakuntadekaani, Finnish: stiftsdekan) the Higher Pastoral Degree of the church (Finnish: ylempi pastoraalitutkinto, Swedish: högre pastoralexamen) is compulsory.

In addition to religious worship, local Lutheran communities arrange many non-religious activities as well. In Finland, as in other Nordic countries, most people go to church only occasionally, or on special occasions such as Christmas and weddings.[5]


Position in Finnish society

Religion in Finland [6]
year Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Finnish Orthodox Church Other Not religious
1950 95.7% 1.7% 0.4% 2.7%
1980 90.3% 1.1% 0.7% 7.8%
1990 87.9% 1.1% 0.9% 10.2%
2000 85.1% 1.1% 1.1% 12.7%
2005 83.1% 1.1% 1.1% 14.7%
2009 79.9% 1.1% 1.3% 17.7%
2010 78.2% [1]

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has a legal position as a national church in the country, along with the Finnish Orthodox Church. Finnish society has experienced a general secularization of society, and membership in the church has decreased in recent decades. Nevertheless, the church retains the allegiance of a large majority of the population, a special role in state ceremonies and the right to collect church tax from its members in conjunction with governmental income taxation. In addition to membership tax, businesses also, to some extent, participate by a way of taxation in contributing financially to the church.

Avoiding the church tax (between 1 and 2 percent depending on where you live) has been one of the popular reasons cited for defection from the church.[7] In 2010 the number of defections hit a record of 83,097, caused partly by the church's controversial view that homosexuality is a sin.[2][4] Indeed, Stefan Wallin, Finland's minister responsible for church affairs, accused Päivi Räsänen, the Christian Democrat leader, of deliberately taking a public position against homosexuality and gay rights in order to drive away from the church those people who might hold more liberal views on gay acceptance.[3]


Catholic bishopric

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland traces its lineage from the medieval Diocese of Turku which more or less coincides geographically with present-day Finland.[8] Christianity was introduced to Finland slowly. The first sign of Christianity can be found in prehistorial burial sites dated to the 11th century. Based on etymological evidence, it seems that the very first influences came from Eastern Christianity.[9] The archeological evidence shows that in the middle 12th century, Christianity was already dominant in the region around present-day Turku. A later legend recounts a crusade dated around 1054, but no contemporary or archeological evidence backs the story. The legend of the martyr bishop St. Henry founding the Finnish Church is also most likely fictional.[10] The introduction of Christianity was mostly a peaceful, slow process. At the same time, Finland was integrated with Sweden. The first historical bishop whose name is known was Thomas who lived in the first half of 13th century. The ecclesiastical hierarchy was finally established during the Second Swedish Crusade

During the Middle Ages, the diocese of Turku was under the primacy of archbishop of Uppsala, mirroring the political situation. The diocese had a school, making it capable of raising its own priests. Several Finns also studied abroad in the universities of Paris and Germany. Before the Reformation, Finland was rather thoroughly a part of Catholic culture. The most important monastic orders active in the bishopric were the Franciscans, Dominicans and the order of Bridgettines. The liturgy of the diocese followed the Dominican model.[11]

Part of the Church of Sweden

Hollola church
The seal of the Diocese of Turku during the 16th and 17th century showed the finger of St. Henry. The post-Reformation diocese included the relic of a pre-Reformation saint in its seal.

The Swedish reformation was started by King Gustav Vasa, who wished to confiscate the church property. The reformation was accomplished in 1520s. In Finland, episcopal castle of Kuusisto and most of the estates of monasteries were confiscated to the state. The first bishop of Turku during the reformation was Martinus Johannis Skytte, the former Vicar General of the province of Dacia of the Dominican Order, who retained most old catholic forms inside the diocese which was part of the now-independent Church of Sweden.[12] After Skytte's death, the diocese of Turku was split into dioceses of Turku and Viipuri, the later nowadays transferred to form the diocese of Tampere.[13]

The doctrinal reformation of Finnish Church took place during the episcopate of Mikael Agricola, who had studied in University of Wittenberg under Martin Luther. He translated the New Testament and large portions of Old Testament into Finnish. In addition, he wrote a large amount of Finnish liturgical texts in the spirit of reformation, however preserving a number of decidedly catholic customs, such as the celebrations of visitatio Mariae, exaltatio crusis, and the use of mitre. Even the images and sculptures of Catholic saints were retained in the churches, although they were no longer venerated.[14][15][16] Agricola was also the first bishop of Turku who was married.[17]

In the end of the 16th century, the reformation of the Church of Sweden was finally accomplished. The following century is known as the time of Lutheran orthodoxy. The membership of the church was obligatory as was the weekly attendance of services, the former under the pain of death, the latter under the pain of fine. In newly conquered Finnish Karelia, the Lutheran Church persecuted the Orthodox population, which to large extent fled to Russia. During the century, the church started the first rudiments of comprehensive education. Every person was required to know the basics tenets of the Christian faith. To ensure this, the parish vergers got the duty of instructing children in reading and Christian faith. The education of priests was also improved, not the least with the founding of The Royal Academy of Turku. The system formed during the century was codified in the Church Act of 1686.

In the early 18th century, Finland was occupied by Russia for a decade in the Great Northern War. It took several decades to repair the ravages of war. A large portion of Finland was annexed by Russia. There, the Lutheran church remained active, now under Russian rule. The two branches of Finnish Lutheranism were reunited in the early 19th century. In both Russia and in Sweden, the Lutheranism was greatly affected by the theology of Enlightenment which had the effect of secularizing the church. This, and the lavish lifestyle of the parish vicars, caused resentment which became visible in local, popular revival movements.[18]

An independent state church

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is a successor to the Church of Sweden of which it was a part until 1809, when the Grand Duchy of Finland was established as a part of the Russian Empire. After this, the church shared the state church status with the Finnish Orthodox Church. In 1869, A new Church Act was passed by the Finnish Lantdag. The Act separated the church and the state, giving the church its own legislative body, the central synod. The changes into the form of the Church could only be made by the central synod, which had the sole right to propose changes to the Church Act. These changes could subsequently either be passed or vetoed by the Lantdag and the Russian Emperor.[19] A year before, the Lutheran parishes were differentiated from the secular municipalities, both being given their own finances and administrative bodies. The general responsibility for comprehensive education and for the care of the poor was transferred from the church to secular municipalities.. The church accepted the separation from the state without qualms, as it wished to get more independence. As the head of state was the Orthodox Russian Emperor, complete integration with the state had been by no means unproblematic for the church.[20]

In 1889 an act was passed allowing other Christian religions to act freely in the country. The members of the Lutheran Church were given the right to leave the church to join other Christian communities.[21] Since 1923 it has been possible to leave the state church without having to join another religious congregation.

For the Church herself, the 19th century was marked by several revivalist movements, four of which were particularly prominent. These movements were:

  • Rukoilevaisuus, founded by peasant girl Liisa Erkintytär, and later, by the priest Abraham Achrenius. The movement has been active mostly in Western Finland
  • The Awakening, founded by the peasant Paavo Ruotsalainen
  • Evankelisuus (connected to Neo-Lutheranism), founded by the priest Fredrik Gabriel Hedberg
  • Laestadianism, founded by Lars Levi Laestadius

The revivalist movements were all born during the first half of the century. They met strong opposition from the bishops and the educated part of the population, but drew large followings in the countryside. In modern Finnish historiography, the revivalist movements have been considered to be a part of the social upheaval caused by the modernization of society.[20][22]

In the late 19th century, the Church started to face opposition from liberalism. The position of the Church was especially questioned by the emerging labour movement. On the spiritual side, the Church was met by baptism and methodism which became the first two private religious communities in Finland. The Church reacted by allowing its own revivalist movements more space and by starting new youth activities, e.g. Sunday schools and Christian youth associations. However, the main current of Finnish nationalism was affected by Lutheranism. For example, the most important philosopher of Finnish nationalism, Johan Vilhelm Snellman, considered Lutheranism an important factor of the Finnish identity, although he was critical of the Church as an organization.[23]

Disestablished national church

In the early 20th century, the old landtag, based on the four estates of realm, was changed into a unicameral parliament selected by equal vote. In 1908, a change of the Church Act freed the members of the church from the legal duty to participate in Holy Communion at least once a year. After this, the church attendance decreased and has become a sign of personal religious feeling.

The Finnish independence in 1917 was immediately followed by the Finnish Civil War. During the war, the Lutheran Church assumed the White position without question, while the Red side engaged in anticlericalism, even murdering priests. In the new constitution of 1919, the new republic was deemed to be non-confessional and the freedom of religion was made a constitutional right. In 1923, the right was implemented through Freedom of Religion Act. Although the act gave the right for every adult Finn to leave the church, and thus be freed from the duty of paying the church tax, the vast majority of the people remained members, regardless of their political opinions.

During the Second World War, the Church was an important factor in Finnish nationalism. The common nationalist cry during the war was Kodin, uskonnon ja isänmaan puolesta (in Swedish: För hem, tro och fosterland; translation to English: For the home, the faith and the Fatherland). However, during the war, the church participated actively in social work, becoming closer to the labour movement. The military chaplains, who shared the life of the common soldiers for several years, also grew closer to the life of the working man. After the war, these priests, so-called asevelipapit/vapenbrödra präster (English: brother-in-arms-priests), continued their work in factories and elsewhere in the society. The diaconial, family and youth work emerged as new forms of church activity and the position of laity in the church was strengthened. The so-called fifth revivalist movement also begun as a result of revivals experienced during the war. Two Finnish archbishops, Martti Simojoki and Mikko Juva, were former military chaplains, their terms of archepiscopy covering two decades.[24][25]

In the 1960s, the church met strong opposition from the radical left. It was considered old-fashioned fortress of reaction. Especially, the rudiments of the state church system were criticized. The 1966 blasphemy trial of the novelist Hannu Salama became a cause célèbre for this position. Salama was sentenced to three months in prison but placed on probation. Salama was subsequently pardoned by President Urho Kekkonen.[26] Another particularly criticized aspect of church-state relationship was the prohibition to hold public dances or show movies on the Saturdays preceding certain Sundays. The prohibition was lifted in 1968.[27]

The Church answered to the situation by modernizing. During 1970s, work on new Finnish Bible translation and a new hymnal were begun. The hymnal, which incorporated a large number of revivalist and youth hymns, was taken into use in 1986 and the Bible translation, based on dynamical equivalence, was finished and authorized in 1992.[28][29] In 1986, the central synod of the church opened the priesthood to women. The change had been first discussed by the synod in 1963, but the motion did not pass. The change was met by heavy opposition and remains controversial.[30]


A wedding ceremony in Kiuruvesi.
Juhannus ceremony.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland sees itself as part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. It is Lutheran in doctrine, following the teachings of Martin Luther. The church is a member of the Lutheran World Federation and the Porvoo Communion, but does not sign the Leuenberg Agreement. The faith of the Church is pronounced in the three confessions of the old church (Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed) and the Lutheran confessional documents as defined in Liber concordiae[31][32] The practical faith is described in the Catechism of the church, which is based on and literally includes the Short Catechism of Martin Luther. The latest version of the Catechism was accepted by the General synod in 1999.[33]

In most contemporarily controversial doctrines, the Church takes a middle position. The Church does not embrace creationism but states[34]

God is the Creator of all. With his word he created the entire universe. Science studies the mystery of the genesis of the world as well as the evolution of nature and people. Faith trusts that underlying all is God’s creative will and love for the creation.

The Church accepts without reservation the doctrines of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection.[34] The Church allows its members to work as military personnel or as judges, considering these duties important to the welfare of the society.[35] The relation of the church to sexuality is somewhat ambiguous. It strictly condemns extramarital sex but in relation to pre-marital sex it states only[35]

Sexuality disconnected from love and from responsibility enslaves people, bringing harm to themselves and others.

Divorce and subsequent remarriage is accepted, with reservations.[35] Abortion is accepted, because the church deems that the woman has all the rights to decide what to do about her own body. However, the woman must not be alone when she makes the decision.[36] In LBGT issues, the Church has not yet adopted a clear position. The synod of bishops has stated that the sexual minorities should not be shunned or persecuted, but that they are, as all people, responsible for the applications of their sexuality. Homosexuals should refrain from practising sex, but they should be guided with love to understand their sexuality and the limitations and positive aspects caused by it.[37]

The apostolic succession of the church is considered to have remained intact through the proper ordination of bishop Mikael Agricola, but it was broken in 1884, when all the Finnish Lutheran bishops died within a year. The succession remained valid in the Church of Sweden where it was returned from in 1930s in the ordination of the bishop of Tampere. However, the concept of apostolic succession is important foremost in ecumenical contexts, particularly in dealings with the Anglican Communion. In the theology of the church herself, the valid signs of the church include only the "pure preaching of the gospel and the performance of the sacraments according to the decree of Christ"[38][39]

The central point of the Church doctrine, does not, however, lie in the areas of sexuality and creation but in the doctrine of justification. The human being is always a sinner, completely unable to reach God by his own merit. However, Christians are atoned by the grace of God, through the sacrifice of Christ, completely undeservedly. The Christian is simultaneously a sinner and a righteous person.[34] At the end of time, the Christ will return and subject all to his judgment. Then everlasting perdition can only be avoided by Christ's mercy.[34]

A Finnish military chaplain administering Holy Communion during the Second World War. The shared experience of battle shaped the Church and the society for decades and affected the stance of the Church in social policy strongly.

The saving grace becomes visible in the two sacraments, the Holy Communion and Baptism. The baptism is administered even to children, as it is effective regardless of personal attitudes, "for Baptism and faith are God’s work in us." Any Christian may perform a valid baptism, but in normal cases, the priest should perform the sacrament. An emergency baptism performed by a member of the church must immediately be reported to the parish where the baptism took place.[40][41] In the Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Altar, Christ gives his own, real body and blood for people to eat and to drink. The Church practises closed Communion but does not put any limitations on its members for partaking the Holy Communion. The only prerequisite needed is faith, however fragile. Children may take part in Communion after their parents have instructed them to understand the meaning of Communion. If a person is in mortal danger and wishes to receive Holy Communion, any Christian is allowed to administer him a valid sacrament. Normally, nonetheless, the administering the sacrament is reserved to priests.[41][42]

The position of the Church on society has changed largely during the last century. While the Church was formerly considered to be a socially conservative force, it is now seen as leftist, even radical. The synod of bishops has in several occasions criticized the market economy sharply, and the Catechism calls repeatedly for moderation in private pursuits, e.g. equating profiteering and exploitative practices with theft. Publicly, the Church supports strongly the existing Finnish social welfare model, which it sees threatened especially by neoliberalism and globalization. This has led to the church being criticized from the political right for being the religious arm of social democracy. The church has answered that it takes no political sides but strives to work for the weakest in the society.[35][43][44][45]

The church does not control its members strictly. Rituals such as weddings and funerals are often considered to be the most important reasons to remain a member.

There were five Revivalist movements in the history of the church: Beseecherism, Evangelicalism, The Fifth Revivalist Movement, The Laestadian movement and pietist Awakening.


The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is based on geographical division. Every member belongs to the parish of their domicile. The parish boundaries follow the municipal boundaries. However, large cities are usually divided into several parishes. In such case, the geographical location of the members' homes places them into the parishes. The membership of a parish varies from a few hundred of a small municipalities to around 60.000 members of the parish of Malmi in Helsinki.[46][47] According to the Church Act, the parish is responsible for all the practical work performed by the church.[48] The parish is headed by the vicar and the parish council. Both are elected by the members, using equal, closed voting. The term of the parish council is four years, while the vicar is elected for life (or until he fills 68 years of age.)[49] A parish is a legal person of public nature, capable of taxing its members. The amount of tax collected is decided by the parish council and falls between 1–2.25 percent of personal income. In practice, the tax is collected by the state, for a fee.[50] Financially, the parishes are responsible for themselves. However, poor parishes can be assisted by the central administration. On the other hand, all parishes are responsible for contributing 10 percent of their income to the central administration of the church and the dioceses.[51][52] The day-to-day affairs of the parish administration are taken care of by the vicar and the parish board, elected by the parish council. In cities, the parishes of the city have a common parish council but a separate parish boards.[53]

Dioceses and bishops

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is divided into nine Dioceses. Each diocese – except the Archdiocese of Turku, which has one archbishop and one bishop – is headed by a Bishop and a cathedral chapter. Eight dioceses are regional, with the remaining one covering all of the country’s Swedish-language parishes. The Church's supreme decision-making body is the Synod, which meets twice a year. Laymen make up a majority of the Synod, but a fixed number of seats have been set aside for clergy. The Synod proposes changes in the Ecclesiastical Act and decides on the Ecclesiastical Order. The Synod deals with questions of doctrine and approves the books of the church. The Synod directs the Church's common activities, administration and finances. Congregation elections are held every four years to fill administrative posts at the local level.

The Church is actively involved in ecumenical relations and is a member of the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches.

Diocese Founded Cathedral Current bishop
Archdiocese of Turku 1156 Turku Cathedral Archbishop Kari Mäkinen (2010-)
Diocese of Tampere 1554 Tampere Cathedral Bishop Matti Repo (2008-)
Diocese of Oulu 1851 Oulu Cathedral Bishop Samuel Salmi (2001-)
Diocese of Mikkeli 1897 Mikkeli Cathedral Bishop Seppo Häkkinen (2009-)
Diocese of Borgå 1923 Porvoo Cathedral Bishop Björn Vikström (2009-)
Diocese of Kuopio 1939 Kuopio Cathedral Bishop Wille Riekkinen (1996-)
Diocese of Lapua 1959 Lapua Cathedral Bishop Simo Peura (2004-)
Diocese of Helsinki 1959 Helsinki Cathedral Bishop Irja Askola (2010-)
Diocese of Espoo 2004 Espoo Cathedral Bishop Mikko Heikka (2004-)

The Military Bishop (at the moment, Hannu Niskanen) is excluded in this table.

See also

Other Nordic Evangelical-Lutheran churches


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