Nordic Preacher

Northern Reflections on Preaching, Theology and the Christian Life.

Sermon: The Person of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15)

Last Monday (27th March 2017), I had the privilege of teaching on the topic of The Holy Spirit for Women Walking Wisely, a women’s ministry group at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. If you are interested in listening to the sermon, you can now find the audio recording on the church website.

Sermon: The Person of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15)

Link: www.gracechurch.org/sermons/13052

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apostolinen_uskontunnustus_agricola_abckiria_WEB

The First Finnish Book: A Reading Primer and Catechism

Mikael_Agricola_by_Albert_Edelfelt

The first printed book published in the Finnish language is ‘Abckiria’ (ABC-Book), a basic reading primer together with a small Christian catechism, put together by the Finnish reformer Mikael Agrciola.[1] The primer was printed in the royal publishing house of Stockholm, operated by Amund Laurentsson who had been trained by a German book-printer. The first year of printing was likely 1543. Amund Laurentsson would prove to be a close associate to Agricola for many years, since all his nine books would be published by Amund, whom Agricola later referred to as a good friend.[2]

The catechism found in the primer is not a translation of a previously existing catechism, rather it is the result of Agricola combining many different existing works, similarly as he did in many of his other published works.[3] The main sources that Agricola used for this are Luther’s small catechism, Melanchthon’s catechism, and Andreas Osiander’s catechism.[4] The primer begins with a short poem, encouraging both the young and old to learn God’s commandments and to master the Finnish language.

English translation of the opening poem:

“Learn now, old and young, who have a fresh heart, God’s commandments and the mind, so that you shall know the Finnish language. Law, it makes the soul fearful, but Christ soothes it again. So read from here good child, the beginning of learning without obstacles. Remember them all your life, so Jesus lends you his mercy.”

The poem was adapted from the work of Melanchthon, with Agricola obviously editing it for a Finnish context.[5] The primer displays all the letters of the Finnish alphabet and other textual information, lists all the Ten Commandments translated directly from Hebrew,[6] followed by a Finnish translation of the Apostles’ Creed.

In his translation of the creed, it is noteworthy that Agricola purposefully uses specific words when translating the section speaking about the church. Instead of “holy catholic church” (“pyhä katolinen kirkko”), he translates it as “holy Christian congregation” (“pyhä kristillinen seurakunta”) for the purpose of making a distinction between the idea of the Roman Catholic church with its lofty church buildings, contrasted to the biblical teaching of both the local and worldwide fellowship of believers in the church. The word “seurakunta” (congregation or fellowship) continued to be used by the other Finnish reformers in order to avoid misunderstandings.[7] The Abckiria also includes the Lord’s prayer, morning an evening prayers, and explanations regarding the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s supper.[8]

apostolinen_uskontunnustus_agricola_abckiria_WEB

The Apostles Creed in the Primer

Not even one complete copy of the primer has survived to the present day, but it has been recovered by combining different fragments to make up the whole.[9] Due to its nature being a primer that was meant to be used for everyday learning, it is not surprising that the early copies would have been more damaged than other longer books which would not have been in as much heavy usage by the common people. For a long time, it was taught that all copies of the primer had been completely lost, until 1851 when the first eight pages were found in three parts, having been recycled to make up the stuffing of another book cover. The remaining pages were found in subsequent years, also being used in the cover material for other books.[10]

abckirja_lettersThis primer was the first of Agricola’s works,[11] and understandably so, since it was needed that the Finnish people would be taught the basics of literary Finnish and the essentials of Christian teaching, before they would be able to read and appreciate the New Testament itself, which Agricola had already started working on during his time in Wittenberg.[12] In fact, when writing his primer, he had already completed the early manuscript for his New Testament translation, and was likely referring to this translation when putting together the primer.[13]

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Kenneth G. Appold, The Reformation: A Brief History (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 159.

[2] Kaisa Häkkinen. Spreading the Written Word: Mikael Agricola and the Birth of Literary Finnish (Helsinki: Finnish Literary Society, 2016), 53.

[3] Simo Heininen. Mikael Agricola: Elämä ja Teokset (Helsinki: Edita Prima, 2007), 170.

[4] Häkkinen, 54.

[5] Ibid., 54.

[6] Heininen, 177.

[7] Heininen, 178.

[8] Mikael Agricola. Abckiria. (Stockholm: Amund Laurentsson, 1549).

[9] Häkkinen, 55.

[10] Heininen, 164.

[11] Ibid., 165.

[12] Kauko Pirinen “Finland” in Illustrated History of the Reformation, edited by Oskar Thulin, 229 – 242. (Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), 230.

[13] Heininen, 188.

Sermon: The Glory of Trembling (Isaiah 66:1-5)

faithbuilders-album-artA few weeks ago (8th January 2017), I had the privilege of preaching again in FaithBuilders at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. If you are interested in listening to the sermon, you can now find the audio recording on the Grace Community Church website.

Sermon: The Glory of Trembling (Isaiah 66:1-5)

Link: www.gracechurch.org/sermons/12816

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The Importance and Simplicity of Correct Bible Interpretation

How can we know what God is like and what He expects of us? The truth is, if we were left to our own wisdom and reasoning capabilities, we would never arrive at true knowledge about God and how we are to worship Him. It is true that when we look at the creation around us, we know and understand (and so does the non-believer, even though he suppresses that truth) that God exists and that He is powerful (Romans 1), but we would still remain in darkness about the specific character, requirements and promises of God. Praise be to God that He has not left us in darkness, but has instead revealed Himself to us by giving us His Word, the Bible.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

The Nature of the Bible

It is because of the nature of the Bible that the subject of correct interpretation is very important for us to understand. God gave us His Word over a period of a few thousand years, written by numerous different authors (Moses, Isaiah, John, Paul, etc.) from many different walks of life who lived in many different cultural contexts. In addition to that, God gave His Word to us in the form of human language, specifically in Hebrew (with a bit of Aramaic) and Greek. God inspired men to write His exact words, all the while using the specific personalities, languages, and historical contexts of the Biblical authors. The Bible is therefore both a human book–written by men, and a divine book–inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is because of this ‘dual authorship’ (human and divine) that the method of grammatical-historical interpretation becomes highly important in rightly understanding what God has revealed to us.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21

The Grammatical-Historical Method?

To put it simply, the grammatical-historical method of interpreting Scripture means that we should pay careful attention to the grammar (how language works) and historical context (when the text was written) of any given Bible passage that we are seeking to interpret and understand. Our goal should be to seek and discover the original meaning of the text that was intended by the original author and inspired by the Holy Spirit. If we simply seek to try and come up with our own meaning for any given text, we are actually misusing the Bible and ignoring what God has inspired and what He wanted to be said. The reason it is so important for us to accurately know and understand the true and original meaning of the text, is that this is foundation that we then build our lives upon, God has revealed to us what we need to know about him, and we should seek to live in accordance to that revelation. If we misinterpret the Bible and live according to our own faulty and misguided understanding of what God has said, we are not actually building our lives on the truth of God’s Word, but instead a misrepresentation of it.

Grammatical?

‘Grammatical’refers to the aspect of language and grammar, and just like all good communication requires some form of rules and guidelines for it to be understood rightly, so it is especially with written languages. God has revealed Himself to us in the form of written language, therefore for us to be able to understand what God has spoken, we must understand and pay attention to the way language is built and how grammar works. We cannot just ignore the rules of language or define words to mean whatever we would want them to mean. We can understand that this applies to our own everyday life also, that we need to understand the basic rules of language to be able to communicate and expect to be understood by others. The same is true when we seek to interpret the Bible.

Historical?

The second part of the method is ‘historical’. This aspect also arises from the truth of the dual authorship of Scripture. Since God used men to write His Word, it needs to be remembered that these men wrote in a certain context of history and were surrounded by a specific culture, which is often somewhat different from what we experience in our day and age (which of course also changes based on where we live). The word ‘historic’ also reminds of the fact that the Bible is historical truth, not just some imaginary religious fable or allegory, but instead actual accurate history. Because of this, when interpreting the Bible, we need to realize that whatever passage we are studying is true and accurate, and also to be mindful of how the original historical context might affect our understanding of the passage.

In Everyday Life

When reading a newspaper or an email, we are also using (either consciously or unconsciously) a form of grammatical-historical interpretation to help in understanding what we are reading. The difference that there is when considering the Bible is that since it is the true Word of the living God (unlike the fallible newspaper that fades away the next day), it is much more crucial and meaningful for us to interpret and understand that message correctly. If we misinterpret something in a newspaper it probably has very little effect on our lives, but if we misinterpret the Bible, even our eternal destiny could be depending on it, if we would fail to rightly understand and believe the essential truths of the gospel. There are of course certain places in the Bible that are harder to understand and that don’t have as big of an impact on our lives even if we happen to get it wrong, but we should always still seek to be faithful and accurate to the best of our ability in interpreting and understanding the Word of God so that we can then live according to it, knowing that we are building our lives upon the Word of God and not our own misguided opinions. When we rightly interpret and truly understand the meaning of Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit, we hear God speak to us through the authoritative and living Word of God.

APPENDIX:

Basic Hermeneutics Syllabus for a Church Context

Hearing God Speak - Basic Hermeneutics Syllabus (PDF)For my Hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) class with Dr. Matthew Waymeyer at The Master’s Seminary, one of our assignments was to develop a simple 12 week syllabus of how to teach the essentials of Bible interpretation and the importance of it in a normal church context. I have since used that syllabus myself in the small Bible Study group that I lead from FaithBuilders at Grace Community Church. In case you’re interesting in looking at the syllabus and maybe even using it for your own purposes, please feel free to download it here as a PDF. Please let me know if you find it helpful in some way.

FREE: Hearing God Speak: Principles for Correct Bible Interpretation (PDF)

Sermon: The Blessed Life (Psalm 1)

faithbuilders-album-artLast Sunday (12th June 2016), I had the privilege of preaching in FaithBuilders at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. If you are interested in listening to the sermon, you can now find the audio recording on the Grace Community Church website.

Sermon: The Blessed Life (Psalm 1)
Link: https://www.gracechurch.org/sermons/12178

finnishpagans

Forcing the Finnish Pagans?

As a Protestant Christian from Finland, I trace my spiritual heritage back to the Finnish reformation, when the country turned from Roman Catholicism to Protestant Lutheranism. Although not a Lutheran myself, I am still greatly thankful for how God used this period to bless my home country with the Word of God in the Finnish language (see my blog post on the Finnish Reformation), while at the same time recognizing that a large part of the reformation was also politically motivated. The questions that then remain are, how did Finland become introduced to Christianity in the first place? And, is that part of history, when the Roman Catholic Church ruled in Finland, to be fully rejected as a time of darkness, or is there any aspect that a Bible-believing Christian should still be thankful for and appreciate?

Christianity Arrives to Scandinavia

ansgariusThe first one to preach Christianity in Scandinavia was a German monk named Ansgar. He first arrived to Denmark in 826 and started preaching there. A few years later in 830 he travelled to Sweden for the purpose of evangelizing the people there also. Certain individuals did convert by his ministry both in Denmark and Sweden, but the monks were still persecuted by many of the native people in those lands. Ansgar died in 865, which resulted in the decline of the German missions in Scandinavia.

In the beginning of the 11th century, Christianity started to gain a stronger foothold in Scandinavia; as it was no longer just scattered individuals but also larger groups of people who turned to embrace the Christian faith and deserted their former paganism. These conversions resulted in a decline of the Viking raids that had been common with the Scandinavian people, as many of them now realized the error of their former ways.

When considering the big picture, it is helpful to note that it was mainly these journeys of raid and exploration by the pagan Vikings that connected Scandinavia in the first place with the more civilized and Christian parts of Europe.

The first Christian king of Sweden was Olof Skötkonung who was baptized in 1008. This is when the western part of Sweden also converted to Christianity together with their king, while other parts of the country still remained in paganism. Only in 1150 did Christianity take over the remaining parts of Sweden.

Christianity Arrives to Finland

Even though most of Scandinavia was introduced to Christianity in the 11th century, the tribes in Finland were still living in full paganism and having their own pirate conquests across the Baltic sea and raiding their neighboring countries, especially the coastlands of Sweden. Before the arrival of Christianity, Finland was not really one unified nation, but rather a land of different tribal groups. The process from a scattered pagan land to a more unified people of Finland would last around 400 years, beginning with the arrival of Christianity.

Finland was first introduced to Christianity in the 9th and 10th century by the influence of sailors, merchants and immigrants from other countries who brought with them the teaching of the Catholic Church in the West. It is very likely that some individuals in Finland did convert to the Christian faith, even when the society around them was still pagan. However, at this point it was only scattered individuals who were introduced to the new faith, the land would later gain a stronger witness through certain Swedish immigrants who influenced part of the coastal lands to convert and become a more organized form of Christianity. It could be said that Christianity arrived to Finland in three different stages, the first one being the influence of visiting merchants and seamen, secondly by the Swedish settlers, and then thirdly the three different crusades in the 12th century onwards.

bishophenrikThe main person chosen to propagate Catholic Christianity in Finland was the Bishop of Uppsala, Henrik, who was said to be originally from England. It seems one of the reasons that the King of Sweden wanted to convert the pagan Finnish people, was the pirate journeys, which the Finns had committed against Swedish people. According to tradition, during the first crusade, Erik the King of Sweden first offered the Finnish people Christianity and peace, but when this offer was refused, he had to turn to violent force. The conquered areas were then forced to receive the Christian baptism, while Bishop Henrik is reported to have preached to the people about Christianity. The focus was not much on personal religion, but simply receiving baptism and changing certain aspects concerning outward behavior. King Erik then returned to Sweden, but bishop Henrik stayed in Finland to spread Christianity further into the land. During one of his missionary journeys in Finland, Bishop Henrik was faced with a Finnish man named Lalli, who according to tradition was guilty of murder and was therefore judged for his actions by the Bishop, enraged by this Lalli killed Bishop Henrik. Bishop Henry later become know as ‘the apostle to Finland.’

At the end of the middle ages, there were about 130 churches in Finland. A big part of Finland was still uninhabited at this point, especially the middle and northern part of the country. The Catholic Church meetings were almost completely conducted in Latin, which was foreign to the Finnish speakers. The wealth and pomp of the Roman Catholic Church did still make an impression on the people. The flickering candles, the mystical smoke, the echo of songs in a foreign tongue, the impressive nature of the priest’s clothing and the church buildings, it seems this all made the religious experience somewhat appealing to the superstitious pagan people of Finland.

Rejection or Thankfulness?

It is important for Bible believing Christians to recognize the evil of the crusades and explain that true Christianity is not spread though violent and forceful crusades, but at the same time we can still be thankful for some of the results of the crusades, recognizing that God uses even the evil deeds of men to achieve His purposes. The crusades helped to introduce the Finnish people to Christianity, and even though there was undoubtedly much false teaching propagated in the name of Christianity, there were still aspects of the truth of the gospel given to the people. The teaching that was given to the common man was likely comprised of simply learning the Lord’s Prayer, the “Ave Maria” (the angels greeting to Mary), and the Apostles Creed. Since the people would have memorized these, they could gain from this a basic understanding of Christian doctrine. Even though the teaching of the Catholic Church was in many ways convoluted by false teaching and even political motives, there still was a remnant of truth given to the people, especially when at times there would be portions of the gospels read to the people in their own language.

Because of the Christian influence and the strict rule of the Roman Catholic Church, Finland also saw many materials gains. For example, the raw pagan practices of the past were slowly disappearing from the land as law and order in society were introduced and upheld better. The Finnish people also began to unite more, instead of simply living as scattered enemy tribes, and then Finland also became better connected with other countries in Europe.

Apart from some of these outward benefits for the Finnish people, we need to remember that just like the apostle Paul rejoiced even when men preached Christ for the wrong reasons (Philippians 1:15-18), so too can we be thankful for this period of time in Finnish history (while at the same time rightly condemning all the evil acts and false teaching, which often accompanied it), since it is very possible that God still used this to bring the truth of the gospel to his people who would believe and trust in Christ alone, even when the true gospel message was often accompanied with much false teaching and wrongdoing.

WORKS CONSULTED:

Bergroth, Elis. Suomen Kirkon Historia Pääpiirteissään. Porvoo: W. Söderström, 1892.

Christiansen, Eric. The Northern Crusades: The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.

Fahlbusch, Erwin. “Finland.” In The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Forsström, O. A. Suomen Keskiajan Historia. Jyväskylä: Gummerus, 1898.

“Finland.” The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. Vol. 19. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005.

Grell, Ole Peter. The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalisation of Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Lander, Patricia Slade, and Claudette Charbonneau. The Land and People of Finland. New York: Lippincott, 1990.

Needham, N. R. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part Two: The Middle Ages. London: Grace Publications Trust, 2000.

Pulsiano, Phillip, ed. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993.

Schmidt, Iben. The Popes and the Baltic Crusades, 1147-1254. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

Waaranen, K. A. Kristillisen Kirkon Waiheet. Sortawala: Karjalan Kirjakauppaja Kustannusliike, 1901.

congregation

Why the Church Needs Expository Preaching

The benefits of expository preaching are numerous, this is because it is the Word of God, the Bible, that the Holy Spirit uses to build up and sanctify believers (John 17:17). Some of those benefits can be summarized under the three following headings, explaining what expository preaching exemplifiesteaches, and produces.

1. What Expository Preaching Exemplifies

It models for the church congregation the great importance of faithful and diligent Bible study, it also shows them how they are to approach and interpret the Bible correctly. It exemplifies to them a righteous reverence and submission to the Word of God. It exemplifies that our thoughts and understanding about God cannot be based on our own ideas or even the pastor’s own ideas, but rather they need to be grounded in Scripture. It exemplifies a reliance on the ultimate author of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, who gives understanding to believers when they diligently and prayerfully study the Word of God.

2. What Expository Preaching Teaches

What it teaches a congregation is more that just the interpretation of specific Bible verses, it also teaches great overarching truths about God, the church, life and doctrine. When faithful expository preaching is practiced it teaches the congregation that Christ is the head of the church, not the pastor or anyone else. It is not the pastor’s own ideas that are being taught, rather it is the word of Christ that is expounded and preached. When the Bible is being preached, it teaches the congregation that the Word of God is the highest authority, not human ideas or preferences. When the Scriptures are faithfully expounded and applied to the listeners it shows how biblical doctrine and everyday life are intrinsically connected, it show that God has revealed all we need to live in a way that pleases and honors him.

3. What Expository Preaching Produces

What it produces is the work of the Holy Spirit who uses the Word of God to achieve his purposes. The Spirit uses the faithful proclamation of his Word to convict people of sin and convert them to Christ. The Spirit also uses the Word to sanctify believers in the truth.

Faithful teaching and proclamation of God’s Word will produce converted people in the congregation, according to the will of God. If a pastor preaches his own ideas instead of the Bible he might be able to emotionally manipulate and affect people to some degree, but whatever the result, it is in the end of no eternal value in the eyes of God. But when the preacher seeks to faithfully teach and preach the Word of God to his congregation, this is what God uses to achieve his purposes that will result in the Holy Spirit using the Word of God to convict and convert people to Christ.

Faithful biblical exposition will also continue to teach and mature those believers who have been converted by the Spirit of God. They will hear God’s truth and grow in their understanding of divine truth and how to rightly think and live according to the will of God. This maturity is also expressed in their continuing sanctification by the Word of truth and growing in the likeness of Christ.

A congregation that hears consistent faithful expository preaching will be a strong church that understands the will of God and seeks to walk in submission to his Word. The example of a faithful expositor will also help produce future church leaders in the congregation. When people sit under the clear exposition of God’s Word, being mentored and taught both by the content and example of the pastor, this will help them to see what they are to strive for and imitate their pastor in faithfully serving Christ and accurately preaching his Word.

expository

Defining and Defending Expository Preaching

What is Expository Preaching?

Expository preaching is the faithful teaching and proclamation of God’s Word, the Bible.

It is expository in content, as the preacher aided by the Holy Spirit seeks to clearly teach and explain the God intended original meaning of Scripture in its context.

It is preaching in its form of delivery, as the preacher passionately proclaims the timeless truth derived from the original meaning of the text and faithfully exhorts the listeners to respond to the Word of God.

The Biblical Basis for Expository Preaching

The biblical basis for expository preaching could be summarised under the three following headings: the nature of Scripture, the example of Scripture, and the command of Scripture.

1. The Nature of Scripture

The nature of Scripture being the very Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16) demands that it is to be taught, explained and preached so that believers might be sanctified by the Word (John 17:17) and that sinners would be convicted by the Word and repent (Acts 2:37-28; Hebrews 4:12-13). The inerrancy of Scripture demands expository preaching, since as the Word of God is true in its smallest detail, it therefore deserves from the preacher prayerful and detailed study in order to be confident that he has correctly understood the Word of God so that he can live in light of it and faithfully preach it to others.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV)

2. The Example of Scripture

In the Scriptures we find examples of expository preaching. The book of Deuteronomy is the record of Moses expounding the Law of God to Israel (Deuteronomy 1:5), teaching them the meaning of the Law and commanding them to act accordingly (Deuteronomy 6:1-2). Ezra studied the Law of Yahweh (Ezra 7:10) and then taught the people publicly the clear meaning of God’s Law so that they could understand it (Nehemiah 8:8). One of the examples in the New Testament is Peter when he preached on Pentecost (Acts 2:16-40).

“They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:8, ESV)

3. The Command of Scripture

The final and perhaps most compelling reason for expository preaching is the clear commands of Scripture that demand expository preaching, specifically the commands given by Paul to Timothy to preach the Word by reading, exhorting and teaching the Scriptures (1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13, ESV)

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2, ESV)

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Finishing the Finnish Reformation?

Being an international seminary student in America, and recently studying the Protestant Reformation in Germany and the more recent history of Christianity in England and America, made me realize how little I know about the details of the reformation in my own country of Finland and how it came about. This led me on a quest to study my own reformation heritage in more detail and learn how it applies to the current spiritual situation of Finland.

The Protestant Reformation in Finland and Sweden

When studying the history of the reformation in Finland, it needs to be noted that in many history books it will be included under the heading of the reformation in Sweden, this is because of Finland being ruled by Sweden (from the 13th century until 1809). It would be correct to conclude that the Finnish reformation followed in many ways the pattern directed by the Swedish crown. But it also needs to be noted that Finland did have a reformation of its own that was in many aspects separate from that of Sweden. Since the details of the Swedish reformation are too many to cover in the scope of this article, I will focus on the distinctively Finnish part of the reformation.

Finnish Men Trained in Wittenberg

The first Finnish reformer has been identified as Petrus Särkilahti, a young Finnish man who studied in Wittenberg, Germany under Luther himself. While in Wittenberg, Särkilahti learned and embraced the newly rediscovered truths of the Bible, which had lain hidden under the rule of the Roman Catholic Church. After finishing his studies in Germany, Särkilahti returned back home to Finland in 1524 and began preaching in the native Finnish language. Many people came to hear him as he publicly proclaimed reformation truth in the Finnish language of the people instead of Latin (which the common people did not understand), but he was soon silenced and his name disappears from the historical records, it is likely that he died sometime around 1528. His time of ministry proved to be very short, but in God’s providence it would later show itself to be a very important beginning of a movement.

Mikael Agricola

Mikael Agricola

One of the young men who were profoundly impacted by the witness of Särkilahti and his preaching of Protestant truth was a man called Mikael Agricola. Agricola was a young clergyman who, following in the footsteps of Särkilahti, also went to study in Wittenberg to learn under Luther and Melanchthon. In God’s providence, the main reason that Agricola was able to go and study in Wittenberg was that the recently appointed Bishop of Turku, Martin Skytte, was financing Agricola’s studies and was very supportive of sending young Finnish men to study in Wittenberg. This is especially noteworthy, when taking into account that even though Bishop Skytte was appointed to his position by the King of Sweden and without Papal approval, he still remained a Roman Catholic himself and never fully embraced the Lutheran teaching of the reformation. It seems that Skytte was a very patient man who had endured a lot of hardship in his life and did not want to cause more controversy, but rather saw the value in supporting the Protestant Reformation even though he did not agree with it all. This decision by Skytte to send young Finnish men to be trained in Wittenberg would prove to be a great advancement for the cause of the reformation in Finland, not just in the case of Agricola, but also for many of the other men (around ten in total) who were sent there to study and would later return to help with the reformation in Finland.

Agricola’s Impact in Finland

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Agricola’s ABC-Book

After finishing his training in Wittenberg, Agricola returned to Finland with a letter of recommendation from Luther and Melanchthon. Soon after his arrival, he was given the position as the rector of the Latin school in Turku, where he worked for the next nine years. During that time he also worked on many of his literary projects, the first one of them being his ABC-Book (published in 1543), which was the first book ever published in the Finnish language. The book was a simple primer to the Finnish language and also included a translation of Luther’s Small Catechism. It is mainly because of this groundbreaking work that Agricola is often referred to as the father of the written Finnish language. The next year (1544) he published another monumental work, a biblical prayer book (900 pages), which included different material from the Bible, church fathers, and the reformers. Above all these, his most important achievement was his translation of the New Testament into the Finnish language, which was published in 1548. Agricola was convinced of the reformation principle that the word of God should be accessible to the common man in their native language. It was largely due to this literary work that Agricola sought to undertake in obedience to God and for the good of his fellow countrymen, that the reformation was able to get a hold on the Finnish people in a different way as opposed to if it had only come through the forced political rule of the Swedish crown.

After Bishop Skytte died in 1550, Agricola eventually became the officially recognized Bishop of Turku (1544), making him the first Protestant Lutheran Bishop of Finland. Not long after Agricola became Bishop, the war started between Russia and Finland. In order to make a peace treaty, Agricola departed to help in Moscow. After the settlement was made, they returned back to Finland, but on the way Agricola suddenly died in 1557 on the Karelian Isthmus at Kuolemanjärvi (“Death Lake”).

During Agricola’s life-time paganism and Roman Catholicism still competed with the Protestant faith, however by the time of Agricola’s death Lutheranism had already gained a strong hold on the Finnish people and in 1593 Lutheranism was made the official religion of Finland.

Thankfulness for a Legacy

Agricola's translation of John 17:17

Agricola’s translation of John 17:17

When thinking about my heritage as a Finnish Christian (although not a Lutheran myself, but certainly a Protestant) and how God brought about the Finnish reformation, which in turn gave the Finnish-speaking people the greatest gift on earth–the written Word of God–I am overcome by thankfulness for this legacy and blessing that God has bestowed on Finland. On the other hand, I am saddened by the current situation of Finland, which as a country has again completely rejected God and His Word (even though still on paper claiming to be a ‘Christian’ country). One major lesson that stands out from the work of Agricola, was the great importance that literature–in particular the Word of God, but also other Protestant writings–had in advancing the cause of Christ. The truth of the gospel needs to be made known in the language of the people, and there is still a great need for biblically sound material in the Finnish language.

Was the Finnish reformation finished?

Old church ruin in Finland

Old church ruin in Finland

Agricola and the others with him certainly completed a great task in helping Finland to turn from Catholicism to the Protestant Lutheran faith. However, the reformation will always have to continue, mainly in the reformation of individual sinners who are converted to Christ, but also in the realm of the Christian church’s understanding of Scripture in how it relates to Christian doctrine and practice. Even though we should rightly be thankful for the giants of the reformation and how God used them to give us a clearer understanding of the gospel, we also need to recognize that there were many areas (such as baptism, ecclesiology, eschatology, etc.) in which their understanding and practices were not fully in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore, the call to any Christian, whether Finnish or any other nationality, is to strive forward and continue the reformation, both in our personal lives as we strive for Christlikeness, and in seeking to bring the truth of the gospel of Christ to those around us. Semper reformanda!

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