SPM Church Concept
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Nils-Olov Nilsson

A. Introduction

This chapter is a summary of the development of the local church issue in the Swedish Pentecostal Movement (SPM) from 1913-1948. Among the many books and articles used in the chapter, two of them have been especially helpful, namely Rhode Struble's doctoral dissertation, "Den samfundsfria församlingen och de karismatiska gåvorna: Den svenska Pingströrelsens församlingssyn, 1907-1947," and Carl-Eric Sahlberg's doctoral dissertation, "Pingströrelsen och tidningen Dagen: från sekt till kristet samhälle 1907-1963." (1) Both dissertations are groundbreaking works and consequently important contributions to the historical development of the SPM.

Besides these two documents, Arthur Sundstedt´s five volumes on the history of the Swedish Pentecostalism, Carl Björkquist´s brief study titled, "Den svenska pingstväckelsen," Efraim Briem´s book "Den moderna pingströrelsen," and several other publications have been very helpful in this research work.

The purpose of this chapter will be to sum up the history of the Swedish Pentecostal Movement and its relation to some of the ecclesiastical issues. What the reader will see is how the SPM has moved from a sect, isolated from the rest of the Swedish Christian family, into a well-respected movement at the end of the 1940's, with the largest single Pentecostal congregation in the world.

There is no issue that has dominated the SPM more than the meaning and importance of the local church. Since the very beginning in 1913, when the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm was expelled from the Swedish Baptists, the most prominent question has been the free and independent local church, free from denominational structures and influences. This subject has completely overshadowed typical Pentecostal issues like the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Second Coming of Jesus. Already in the first Pentecostal National Conference at Korsberga, 1916, the local church and its organization was on the agenda. (2)

Even though very few people attended the first Pentecostal National Conference, the purpose was clear: the Pentecostal Movement in Sweden should be a fellowship of free churches, built upon a spiritual unity instead of an external organization. (3) Evangelii Härold wrote that "No resolutions were neither taken nor accepted," (4) which meant that there would be no body of leaders that would act and govern over the rest of the Pentecostal churches in Sweden. Another report from the same conference described the event as a fellowship characterized by "a joyful freedom and oneness," "a unity in the discussions," and "joyful days of heaven on earth." (5) It is obvious from these statements that freedom (from denominational bonds), and spiritual unity, were important to the SPM from the very beginning.

The reason why the SPM emphasized the importance of a correct understanding of the autonomous, local church goes back to the fact that the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm was expelled from the Swedish Baptist Movement in 1913. (6) The denominational decision of expelling a whole church from its movement was probably one of the factors that moved Pethrus to a new, local-church concept based upon Pentecostal freedom. In this approach there was no place for an organization.

B. The Baptist Movement and Its Influence on the Swedish Pentecostal Movement

During the first years of the 1900s, Pentecostalism grew within the Swedish Baptist churches. Examples of such churches are those in the cities of Skövde, Arvika, and Örebro, in which speaking in tongues was experienced for the first time in 1907. (7) The Pentecostal revival came to Arvika through an Norwegian evangelist, J. Seland. (8) The person who brought the Pentecostal message to Skövde was Anders Jansson. Later, he changed his name to Anders Ek. Both Ek and Barrat (indirectly) had been in contact with the revival in Los Angeles. (9)

But very early, the Filadelfia Church in Örebro became the center for the growing interest of the Pentecostal Message. (10) The Senior Pastor at that time was the Swedish-American John Ongman. He had spent more than twenty years in the U.S., and his strong leadership style impacted many of the Baptist leaders. (11) In addition, Anders Ek's visits in Örebro probably had a strong influence upon the subsequent development among the Swedish Baptists and the SPM. (12) From Örebro, Pentecostalism moved to Stockholm where the Elim Church opened up to "the New Movement." (13) Struble says that "Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and speaking in tongues was very common." (14)

It is obvious that the many Baptist leaders and churches were touched and influenced by the "New Movement." But this openness toward Pentecostalism also became a problem for the Baptist Movement since many small Spirit-filled ecclesiola (so-called true ekklesia) were birthed within the traditional Baptist churches. Later, these groups gave birth to "Pentecostal-Baptist" congregations, in which the Pentecostal message and glossolalia became a daily experience. (15)

At this time Lewi Pethrus studied at Bethel Seminary in Stockholm. However, he left the seminary in order to become the senior pastor in the Baptist Church in Lidköping, located in the province of Västergötland. He had ministered there since 1906. (16) In 1911 he was invited to pastor the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm, also a Baptist Church. The following two years proved to be very decisive for this church and its relationship with the Baptist Union. But it was not the Pentecostal issue that brought the conflict between Pethrus and the Baptists. It was Holy Communion. (17)

To separate the Filadelfia Church from the Baptist Union was probably one of the biggest mistakes the Swedish Baptists ever did. They did not understand at that time that by expelling the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm from the Baptist Movement they also threw out one of the greatest church leaders Sweden ever had. Furthermore, they lost a strong and active Baptist church with 500 members. (18)

This reduction of members and churches and the complete break-through for the "new movement," made the Baptist leaders react. They made an attempt to bring these groups back to the movement. John Ongman was asked to step in and reconcile both parties. (19) He was one of the very few persons who was able to take on such a delicate task; few leaders were so favorable towards the Pentecostal Movement as he was. (20) But Filadelfia in Stockholm and its pastor, Lewi Pethrus, experiencing the newly won freedom from denominational bonds, refused to accept the invitation. There was no way back to the Baptist Union. (21)

C. Congregationalism in the Swedish Baptist Movement

The Swedish Baptist Union is a denomination in which the local churches, at least in the beginning, acted independently. (22) In 1887, the National Baptist Conference voted for a new organizational structure, which in part reduced the churches' right of self-determination and gave the Districts the authority to accept or reject churches which applied for membership. (23) But in spite of this extended transformation of by-laws, the churches still retained much of their independence. (24) Even so, there was no uniform acceptance of the organizational forms. Instead, strong forces within the Swedish Baptist Union worked for its decentralization. (25)

In 1858, at the Baptist National Convention--with representatives from both Germany and England--the fundamental approach was congregational. That is, the decision of who would participate in the communion lay in the hands of the local churches. (26) In England the Baptists practiced an open communion, (27) whereas in Germany they advocated a closed communion. (28) However, the English representatives suggested that both the closed and the open communions should be permitted. (29) It is important, at this stage to clarify that no Swedish conference, nor any by-laws established in the past, supported the closed communion. (30)

One of the subjects of debate at the Conference in 1858 was about whom were allowed to partake of the holy communion. In other words, were the non-Baptists allowed to participate, even though they had been baptized through immersion? The Conference gave each church the liberty to decide for itself. (31) But in spite of this resolution, the closed communion (including only Baptists) became the dominant interpretation of the communion texts. John Ongman, who stood very close to the Pentecostals, also supported the closed Communion. (32)

While ministering as a Baptist pastor in the city of Lidköping, Lewi Pethrus practiced the open communion, accepting converts and baptized Christians to the Lord´s table. (33) When Lewi Pethrus moved to Stockholm in 1910 to become the Senior Pastor of the Filadelfia Baptist Church, he continued practicing the open communion. It was his constant support for the open communion (against the District's will), that finally made it impossible for the District to continue accepting the Filadelfia Church as a member of the Baptist Union. Therefore, eventually the District expelled the church in 1913. (34) Even though the Baptists, mostly through John Ongman, tried to make Lewi Pethrus change his mind, he never went back to his origin. (35) He rerouted his spiritual journey, and through his dynamic leadership, he became the leader of the Pentecostal Movement. (36)

When the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm left the Baptists, it adopted the Baptist congregational view. The freedom became one of the cornerstones of the SPM. (37) During the years between 1913 and 1919, along with the attacks from the Baptists, the SPM tried to define its new view of a biblical local church concept. Even though the Baptists have had a strong influence on the congregational view in the SPM, it is very possible that dispensational ecclesiology played an equal role in the formation of the autonomous church and its isolationist approach. It is true that William H. Durham, an American Baptist pastor from Chicago, strongly influenced Lewi Pethrus. (38) However, when looking deeper into the elements of the radical view on ecclesiology, defended by both Durham and Pethrus, it is highly probable that they drew from the extreme congregationalism reflected among the Brethren; that is at least the conclusion one arrives at when studying Darby's writings. (39)

In an article entitled, Har Kristi församling rätt att vara fri? (40) Pethrus clearly stated that the Bible never refers to a denominational church concept. Instead, he alleged that it was during the post-apostolic era that the apostolic fellowship pattern was replaced by an organizational form of government. The fatal decision was taken in the Council at Nicea (41) with the acceptance of the famous Creed. This act made any intervention or guidance of the Holy Spirit impossible.

The beginning of the restoration of the Church began with the Reformation and its focus upon justification by faith. It continued with the Methodists´emphasis on new birth, sanctification, and the free church concept. Later came the Baptists and the water baptism through immersion. When the "new movement" arrived with the rediscovery of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Pentecostal church came very close to the apostolic church, its life and structures. But there was one thing left to be done, namely, the restoration of the autonomy to the local church. (42)

Therefore, Pethrus turned against the Baptists when they asserted that a Baptist church, which is not a member of the District, should not belong to the Swedish Baptist Union. (43) This dogmatic attitude towards the sufficiency of the local church is evident in the way Pethrus understood missions. He firmly defended each church´s right to do missions, thereby challenging the denominational approach. (44) Pethrus never ceased to believe that it is the local church which shall do missions and not the denomination as a whole. (45)

This view of a completely autonomous local church quickly became a doctrine. Soon Pethrus got support for his view from T. B. Barrat in Norway, who in 1916 decided to establish a local church according to the apostolic pattern. His view was published in Evangelii Härold in June 1916. (46) His decision to establish a "biblical church" made it impossible for Barrat to continue his work among the Methodists. Consequently, he decided to leave the Methodists on April 12, 1916. (47) One of the major reasons for Barrat's decision to leave the Methodists was that he did not find any church among the various denominations in Kristiania that had been "set in order" or "had been established" in full accordance with the Word. (48)

D The Bible Conference at Kölingared 1919

Since this conference became so significant for the future doctrinal development of the local church concept in the SPM, it is necessary to look into its statements and also the way it was referred to among other Christians in Sweden.

In 1919, John Ongman entered into polemics with Pethrus. He stated clearly that no church could have more freedom than a Baptist Church. Therefore, there was no need to refer to a new freedom. (49) This statement was part of the debate that had been going on before the Conference at Kölingared. The discussions were somewhat harsh, since so much was at stake. Even the Örebro Mission's Conference the same year regretted the steps taken by the Pentecostals. The delegates urged Pethrus and his adherents to stay within the Baptist Movement. At the same time the conference asked the delegates to be "generous towards the Movement of which Pethrus was taking leadership." (50)

It is obvious that nothing would draw Pethrus and the Pentecostals back to "denominationalism" and the "whore system." (51) In response to their behavior, John Ongman argued that the steps taken at Kölingared were signs of spiritual pride and nothing else: "I cannot understand how it is possible for individuals to show such a lack of love towards those children of God, who don't share all their doctrines regarding the spiritual work." (52) This reaction gives a picture of Ongman's strong Baptist convictions, in spite of his friendship with the "New Movement." Another example of these convictions can be seen in the fact that he did not want to baptize T. B. Barrat in 1913, alleging that "a person who has been baptized in a Baptist Church should be a member of that church." (53) The tension between the SPM and the Örebro Mission could be felt from the very beginning of the SPM. Carl-Erik Sahlberg points out how the students, studying at John Ongman's Bible School in Örebro, "with great difficulties made it to the fields." (54) As a consequence, the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm started its own Bible school in Stockholm in 1915. Sahlberg argues that the start of the Bible school in Stockholm was "the very first, concrete and marked message from the New Movement against the Örebro Mission." (55)

But now the time has come to analyze the statement given at the Kölingared Conference in 1919. The 102 leaders who signed the statement were convinced that a national board, or a denominational structure, was not part of the biblical teaching. "We consider that the denominational system as such, is derived from the unbiblical churches in the world, and is not supported by the New Testamental Scriptures which for us is the only rule." (56) This message was like a slap on the face of the church leaders. The SPM, with this declaration, made clear to the other free churches (and of course to the old established religious groups as well) that the SPM should be considered an example of the true restoration of the apostolic church, with free and autonomous congregations. (57) In contrast, the ecclesiastical organizations blocked the freedom of the Holy Spirit in the world "by putting human institutions in places corresponding to the spiritual ministries and gifts." (58) With this pronouncement, the delegates (59) also wanted to emphasize that true unity among Christians can only be achieved in a fellowship where the Holy Spirit is free to move and speak. That the denominational churches were on a wrong track can be concluded from the way they "oppressed the congregations which wanted to be guided by the Holy Spirit." (60) The decision to stay away from denominationalism did not mean that the SPM isolated itself from all the believers in the denominations. "Because we are united through the fellowship of the Spirit with all the individuals who are spiritual." (61)

This declaration reveals the sectarian spirit which prevailed in the SPM during the first years of its life. But the sectarian spirit was also reflected in the urgency of mission. The norm is that a movement which is committed to missions consider itself as the bearer of the truth. That was exactly what happened to the SPM. It had great success in its mission work, especially in South America. (62) Another sign of its isolationist spirit was its apolitical attitude, or a complete separation from political involvement. It would be a long time before politics played an important role in the SPM.


E. Denominational Reactions to the Conference at Kölingared 1919

It is easy to foresee the negative reaction that would come from the non-Pentecostal churches in response to the Conference at Kölingared. Even though the Baptists, at their Conference in 1919, took an important step in order to make it easier for the Pentecostals to come back, the declaration at Kölingared made that return impossible. (63) The Swedish Covenant Church also reacted strongly against the Pentecostals and their isolationist spirit. Gustav Mosesson, Dean at their theological institute, turned against the Pentecostals and their desire to leave older denominations and plant new churches. (64) A lso representatives from the Swedish State Church (Lutherans) expressed in 1912 that "the modern so-called 'speaking in tongues' is nothing else than an expression of religious self-deception and religious infirmity." (65)


1. Carl-Erik Sahlberg, Pingströrelsen och tidningen Dagen: Från sekt till kristet samhälle (Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 1977).

2. Evangelii Härold, 1916, p. 111. Cf. Struble, pp. 193-225, where he demonstrates that at the Pentecostal National Conferences, the Pastor's Conferences (they started in 1934), and the Evangelist's Conferences--the most important conferences in the SPM--the teaching on the local church, and its activities has been the most prominent issues.

3. Rhode Struble, Den samfundsfria församlingen och de karismatiska tjänsterna: Den svenska pingströrelsens församlingssyn , Doctoral Dissertation at Lund University, Lund (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell Intarnational, 1983).

4. Evangelii Härold, 1916, p. 111.

5. Ibid., p. 112.

6. For a comprehensive study of the whole process, including the role of the "open communion," see Struble, 1982, pp. 24-33.

7. Struble, p. 15.

8. Arthur Sundstedt, 1969, pp. 199-200, 206.

9. Struble, p. 15.

10. Ibid.

11. Cf. Alf Lindberg, Förkunnarna och deras utbildning. Utbildningsfrågan inom Pingströrelsen, Lewi Pethrus ideologiska roll och de kvinnliga förkunnarnas situation (Biblioteca Historico-Ecclesiastica Lundensis, 27; Lund: Lund University Press, 1991), p. 117.

12. Struble, p. 15.

13. Ibid., p. 18.

14. Ibid.

15. Alf Lindberg, 1985, pp.150-151. It is interesting that the Seventh Baptist Church in Stockholm, the Filadelfia Church, was such a "Pentecostal-Baptist" church. For many of these churches it took a lot of hard work to be accepted by the District. A well-known example is the Filadelfia Church in Örebro. Ibid., 119.

16. Ibid., p.15.

17. Even though the Holy Communion was the final issue that caused this irremediable split between the Filadelfia Church and the Baptist Union, the Pentecostal issues such as speaking in tongues, and a new approach to worship, were instrumental in the final outcome.

18. Ibid., 28. After this separation, many other Baptists left their churches and Baptist churches were united with Pentecostal fellowship. Cf. also Struble, p. 37.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Evangelii Härold, 1916, p. 122. In spite of several attempts to discuss and reconsider a new invitation back to the Baptists, the SPM, in an official statement, at its Bible Conference at Kölingared in 1919, decided to take a definite stand against all kind of denominational structures or forms. Since then, the SPM has constantly fought for their right to continue as a fellowship of Pentecostal churches.

22. Cf. Struble, 1982, p. 21. Cf. Gunnar Westin, "Svenska Batistsamfundet 1887-1914 (Stockholm, 1965), pp. 196-198, 306, where he argues that this congregational independence in the Baptist Movement goes far back in time, and it was therefore logical that when the Baptists started in Sweden in the nineteenth century, it accepted the same approach.

23. Cf. Westin, 1965, pp. 35-38.

24. One characteristic of the Swedish Baptist Movement was that it, for example, allowed the Örebro Mission, a mission organization, working within its own ranks. This freedom of expression in the Movement, was also reflected in the various magazines which appeared side by side opposing or supporting the official points of view. Such magazines were Weckoposten (advocating the Movement) and Baneret (siding with J. Ongman).

25. Struble, p. 22.

26. Westin, 1965, pp. 21-68. Quoted in Struble, 1982, p. 56.

27. Struble, p. 22.

28. Ibid., p. 23.

29. Ibid., p. 23.

30. Westin, 1965, p. 368.

31. Struble, p. 22.

32. Ibid., p. 23. Cf. Alf Lindberg, Väckelse, Frikyrklighet, Pingströrelse (Stockholm: Pingstskolornas Skriftserie, 1985), p. 55.

33. Ibid., p. 24. Consequently, he accepted Christians that were not Baptists, going then, against the official stand-point of the Swedish Baptist Movement.

34. Struble, p. 29.

35. Struble, on pp. 36-44, gives an interesting insight about how the Baptists made several efforts to bring Lewi Pethrus back, but without result. Even though the National Baptist Conference in 1919 voted for a motion which gave the churches right to accept non-baptists at the Communion, and furthermore, recommended Baptists to non-Baptist churches, Pethrus decided to stay with the new Pentecostals.

36. One of the most prominent leaders among the Baptists once said, "Don´t excommunicate Lewi Pethrus. We will have to regret it later." Alf Lindberg, 1985, p. 173. The well known Norwegian scholar Nils Bloch-Hoell declared that "Lewi Pethrus is possibly one of the most talented leaders the Pentecostal Movement has ever birthed." Quoted in Alf Lindberg, 1985, p. 174. Emmanuel Linderholm, a Swedish Scholar, makes the following comment on Pethrus' personality: "His great talents, his blameless personality, his strong will together with his charismatic gifts, have made him the leader of the Swedish Pentecostal Movement. Ibid., p. 174.

37. The concept that the local church was considered to be autonomous and free from organizational shackles, influenced upon all areas in the church. They talked about free missionaries, free Bibles schools, free evangelists etc.

38. His influence has been pointed out earlier in this dissertation.

39. Ibid.

40. Evangelii Härold, 1916, p. 58.

41. Lewi Pethrus, Samlade Skrifter, Band 4 (Stockholm: Filadelfiaförlaget, 1958), p. 136.

42. Ibid., pp. 143-144.

43. Ibid. In this attack against the Baptists, Pethrus got support from John Ongman, who in his book Församlingsläraren och hans kall, stated: "Ingenstädes finna vi, att församlingarna sammanslöto sig till distriktsföreningar för att på så sätt bedriva mission." (Quoted in Pethrus, Kristen Enhet, 1919).

44. Later, this dissertation will cover the development (especially in the SPM) and the struggle of the local church and its right to do missions.

45. Ibid.

46. Evangelii Härold, 1916, pp. 93-94. Barrat mentions in the article, that the church in Stavanger accepted the same by-laws as the church in Kristiania (the city where Barrat ministered), appointing men and women for the various ministries and tasks.

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid. When the Scandinavian Pentecostals talked about a biblical local church, they used phrases like "set in order."

49. Veckoposten, March 30, 1919. Quoted in Sahlberg,1977, p. 23.

50. Minutes from the Örebro Mission Board, March 18, 1919, article 10, and May 5, 1919, article 4. Quoted in Sahlberg, 1977, p. 23.

51. Evangelii Härold, 1920, pp. 38. Cf. Arthur Sundstedt, Pingstväckelsen och dess vidare utveckling (Stockholm: Normans förlag, 1971), pp. 244-246.

52. Vecoposten, February 2, 1920. In this context it is interesting to listen to some comments by John Ongman. He says: "It is a disaster for the Pentecostal Movement in Sweden that it was taken care of by such inexperienced young men . . . How many times have we not tried to correct these extreme acts, but to make Pethrus change his mind, is as easy as bringing down the moon." Veckoposten, March 20, 1920.

53. Sahlberg, 1977, p. 23. When the Elim Church was "set in order," in 1916, there were people in Örebro who contended that it was an unnecessary step by the Pentecostals. Probably, John Ongman was one of them. See, 50 år i ord och bild: Elimförsamlingen i Örebro 1916-1966 (Örebro: Tryckcentralen, 1966), pp. 5-6. What convinced the first members of the Elim Church was the fact that the Bible did not talk about an organized church.

54. Sahlberg, 1977, p. 24.

55. Ibid.

56. Evangelii Härold, 1919, p. 116.

57. Ibid.

58. Ibid.

59. See even Lewi Pethrus, De kristnas enhet, 1919, where he expands on the autonomous church and the non-biblical denominations.

60. Evangelii Härold, 1919, 116.

61. Ibid.

62. Arthur Sundstedt, 1971, pp. 55 ff.

63. The Baptists, at their Conference, changed their mind regarding the closed communion. See Gunnar Westin, Svenska Baptistsamfundet 1884-1914 (Stockholm: 1965), pp. 390ff. Quoted in Sahlberg, 1977, p. 32.

64. Sahlberg, 1977, p. 33. Other reactions came from The Holiness Covenant Movement, which previously had shown a favorable attitude towards the Pentecostals. This denomination disagreed upon the speaking in tongues as the only evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Cf. Trons Segrar, 1907, p. 75.

65. Sahlberg, 1977, p. 34.

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