Baptist Developments in the Nordic Countries during the Twentieth Century: In the Nordic Countries, Baptists Have Had an Uphill Struggle against the Dominant Lutheranism

By Eidberg, Peder A. | Baptist History and Heritage, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Baptist Developments in the Nordic Countries during the Twentieth Century: In the Nordic Countries, Baptists Have Had an Uphill Struggle against the Dominant Lutheranism


Eidberg, Peder A., Baptist History and Heritage


The Nordic Countries included in this article are Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. A fifth Nordic country, Iceland, is not included.

Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are also designated the Scandinavian countries, located around the waters of Skagerrak and Kattegat, and with centuries of common political history, cultural similarities--as well as certain differences--and languages which are close enough to be understood in all three countries. They are kingdoms with a parliamentary political system.

Finland has common borders with Russia, Norway and Sweden. Much of its history is linked to Sweden as well as to its eastern neighbor, less to Norway. Finland is a republic. The country has two official languages, Swedish and Finnish, which belong to two different linguistic families and can not be mutually understood.

In all of the countries there have been Lutheran state churches since the Reformation. In Finland, they have also an orthodox state church. The reason for this is that in certain eastern regions of the country the population is predominantly Greek Orthodox.

The state church system implies close connections between the established church and the political system at all levels, from parliament and national government to the local municipality. This has been the context within which Baptist work in the Nordic countries has had to work, both the local churches and the denominations. The article will not attempt to cover all of the Baptist developments in the last century. It will concentrate on two major aspects: the struggle for religious liberty and civil rights and the development in theological thinking and church practice, represented in the understanding of baptism in relation to membership in Baptist churches.

Baptist Beginnings in the Nordic Countries

Baptists came first to Denmark. In Copenhagen, a group of people, led by Peder Chr. Monster, had in the 1830s started to question the Lutheran practice of infant baptism. Based on the study of the New Testament, they reached a believer's baptism position. To this group, Julius Kobner from Hamburg came in the spring of 1839. He was a former Danish Jew who had embraced Christianity and become a Baptist. On October 31, 1839, he and J. G. Oncken baptized eleven persons, and two days later the first Baptist church in Denmark was organized. The Baptist movement grew steadily, and in 1900, there were around 3,900 Baptists in Denmark.

The next Nordic country to have a Baptist church was Sweden. A former Swedish sailor, Frederik Olaus Nilsson, and a Danish Baptist preacher, A. P. Forster, were instrumental in organizing the first church in 1848, after a baptismal service in the waters of Skagerrak at Vallersvik. Swedish Baptists in the nineteenth century were the fastest growing of the Nordic Baptist groups, numbering around forty thousand in 1900.

In the fall of 1856, the first Baptist baptism in Finland took place on the little island of Foglo at the Aland Islands; a Baptist church was organized in connection with that baptism. This happened among the Swedish-speaking population. (1) The Baptist witness spread to the mainland of Finland, and from 1870, Swedish-speaking churches were organized in several places. The first Finnish-speaking church came in 1870. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the number of Baptists in Finland was around 1,800.

A young Norwegian student in Copenhagen, Enoch Richard Haftorsen Svee, was among the eleven persons who started the first Baptist church in Denmark. With support from American Baptists through J. G. Oncken, Svee returned to Norway in 1842 to start Baptist work. However, he died the following year, and the attempts came to nothing.

A new beginning was made in 1857. The former Danish sailor Frederick Ludwig Rymker came from Denmark, also supported by American Baptists, but the growth was modest. In 1860, the first Baptist church in Norway was organized by Rymker. …

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