Swedish Christian History
The name Sweden, or Sverige as it is called in Swedish, originates from the word “Svea rike” (in English, “Kingdom of Svea”). The foundation of the country cannot be specifically dated to a certain time in history.
The Swedish people are a conglomeration of various tribes, some Germanic in origin, whereas others can be traced to the Israelites of the Bible. It is likely that parts of the tribe of Gad, more specifically the clan of Shuni, settled in Sweden during the mass migrations. Some remnants of the tribe of Dan also settled in Sweden. As the tribe Dan gave its name to newly conquered territories and towns, their trail from the Middle East through Europe can be traced up past the Dardanelles, via the Danube river, to northern European towns like Gdansk, and finally into Denmark and Scandinavia. Study the book The Tribes by Yair Davidy for more details. Also see our FAQ section for further information on the wanderings of the tribes of Israel.
Birger Jarl united the many small kingdoms in Sweden in the 13th century and introduced common laws. Through this, the country of Sweden is considered by many to have been founded. He also established a small village called Stockholm, which in the future would grow in importance and become the capital of the country.
The Vikings (as the inhabitants of Scandinavia were then called) had been active between 800 and 1050 A.D., and their main religious beliefs were in the ancient Nordic idols, Odin, Thor, and so on (the Aesir cult). These Vikings, descended from the tribes of Israel among others, created settlements throughout Northern Europe, including Scotland, England, Iceland and Normandy in France.
During the 9th century, a French monk called Ansgar brought the Roman Catholic faith to Sweden, without much success. Then in the 10th century, Catholic missionaries from Germany and Britain came over to Sweden, and the Catholic faith spread slowly during the following centuries.
Over a period of 300 years, Sweden was ruled by many kings and queens. Some were native, but many came from other countries, like the Danish king Kristian II who reigned from 1520 to 1521. He was a ruthless man who wanted to bring Sweden under Danish rule for all time, so he gathered the nobles of Sweden in November 1520 and beheaded 89 of them in what was later called the “Bloodbath of Stockholm”. Kristian II was called “Kristian the Tyrant” after this. He thought that he had humbled the Swedes once and for all, but did not realise that this would have the opposite effect. One man was on his way to the county of Dalarna to try to persuade the men there to fight against Kristian II and save Sweden. The name of this man was Gustav Eriksson Vasa.
Gustav Vasa (King of Sweden, 1523-1560) – The Reformation King
Gustav Vasa managed to persuade the men in Dalarna to march against Kristan II and on the 6th of June 1523, he marched into the gates of Stockholm, after defeating the Danish king, and became the King of Sweden.
Gustav Vasa was one of the greatest kings in Sweden. He built up the Swedish army and navy and introduced the Reformation to Sweden; during his reign the whole of Sweden became Lutheran. One of the most important men during this period was Olaus Petri.
Olaus Petri (1493-1552) – The Reformer
Olaus Petri was born in Örebro in 1493 and was the leading reformer in Sweden. From 1516 to 1518 he studied at the University in Wittenberg, at the same time as Luther started the Reformation in 1517. In 1524, he was appointed Secretary of Stockholm by Gustav Vasa. Through this he gained much influence and was able to preach and - together with Laurentius Andrae - translate the New Testament into Swedish. The New Testament was finished in 1526, and the Old Testament, mainly translated by Olaus’ brother, Laurentius Petri, was finished in 1541. This first entire Bible in Swedish was called “Gustav Vasa’s Bible” after the ruling King. Olaus Petri also wrote books on law as well as a Swedish chronicle. He was a man that did not fear the king and openly criticized him. This resulted in he and Laurentius Andreae being condemned to death, but this sentence was never carried out and he ended his days as a vicar in Storkyrkan (the main church) in Stockholm.
Gustav II Adolph (King of Sweden, 1611-1632) – “The Lion of the North – Saviour of Protestants”
Gustav II Adolph was born in 1594. He was the son of Karl IX and his wife Kristina of Holstein-Gottorp. Gustav II Adolph became king of Sweden in 1611 and married Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. She gave birth to a daughter who later would become Queen Kristina of Sweden.
Like Gustav Vasa, Gustav II Adolph is also considered one of Sweden’s greatest kings and he established Sweden as a Great Power. During the Thirty Years’ War, Gustav II Adolph personally led his troops in Germany. He, like the Danish king Christian IV before him, came to aid the German Lutherans to forestall Catholic aggression against their homeland.
Subsidized by France and by the Dutch they drove the Catholic forces back from 1630 to 1634 and regained much of the occupied Protestant lands. The two most famous battles of the war were the victorious Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631 and the Battle of Lützen in 1632, where the king was killed. But in the peace of Westfalia in 1648, Sweden gained great territories. At its peak as a Great Power, Sweden included Finland, Estonia, Latvia and parts of northern Germany.
The beginning of the end for the Swedish Great Power period was the outbreak of the Great Nordic War in 1700. When Karl XI died in 1697 he was succeeded by his son Karl XII.
King Karl XII (King of Sweden, 1697-1718) – The Warrior King
Karl XII became king at the age of 15. From that time until his death in Norway in 1718, he was almost constantly at war. He travelled all over Europe and was even in Turkey when he fled from the Russians after a huge defeat of his army in Poltava in 1709. During his reign, Sweden lost many of its territories in Russia and the Baltic States. However, the Swedish Bible was also revised during Karl XII’s reign and published in 1703. This Bible version, which like Gustav Vasa’s Bible was based on the correct original Hebrew and Greek text, is called “Karl XII’s Bible”.
The Revivalist Movement
At the beginning of the 18th century, many in Sweden started protesting against the Lutheran church, because it had become so rigid and movements like pietism had started to grow. Soldiers from the wars against Russia came home from captivity in Siberia, where they had come in contact with the revivalist movement from other prisoners of war from areas like Germany. Many people started to meet at home to read the Bible and take communion. The reaction of the established church was to ban this sort of meeting in 1726, in the so called “Konventikelplakatet”, which made it illegal to take communion at places other than in the church.
This ban was not lifted until 1858, but during these times many met secretly at home, or emigrated to America where they could live a life according to their beliefs. It is estimated that more than one and a half million, or a third of the population, moved to America from the mid 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, because of poverty and for political and religious reasons.
During these times, associations like “Baptiskyrkan” (the Baptist church) and “Missionskyrkan” (the Missionary church) were founded and soon there were revivals all over the country. These associations preached a closer life to Jesus than the state-based Lutheran Church.
The Pentecostal Awakening
Our focus from now on will be on the Pentecostal awakening, since this revival was to be the main source of influence on Swedish Christian life during most of the 20th century.
The Swedish Pentecostal revival originated mainly from the holiness movement that arose in North America during the 1860’s and which, towards the end of the 19th century, reached Sweden by various means. The main influence was the personal contact from immigrants, but Anglo-American revival literature spread in Sweden during this time was also very important for the Pentecostal breakthrough in Sweden.
The year 1907 can be identified as the year when the Pentecostal revival came to Sweden. Many considered this new movement a direct answer to prayer. Since the turn of the century, people throughout Sweden had been praying for a revival among God’s people and for the conversion of others.
In Sweden, the Pentecostal revival was often called ”The New Movement”. It started in three places almost at the same time, namely in Skövde (a town in Västergötland), in Arvika (a little town near Norway) and in Stockholm.
T. B. Barratt – The Pentecostal Preacher of the Nordic Countries
The Norwegian pastor T. B. Barratt would play a major role in the Pentecostal revival throughout the Nordic countries, not least through his preaching journeys and literary activity. As a preacher within the Episcopal Methodist church, he went to the U.S. in 1906 in order to raise funds for a larger building project in Oslo. The fundraising was a financial failure. Instead, he experienced a baptism in the Holy Spirit during his journey.
Among those who went to the Norwegian capital during the year 1907 to listen to T. B. Barratt was the 23-year-old Baptist preacher from the town of Lidköping, Lewi Pethrus. He had read in “Dagens Nyheter” (a major Swedish daily newspaper) about Barratt’s revival in Oslo. He answered yes to Barratt’s questions: "Will you become anything for Jesus? Will you do anything for Jesus? Will you go anywhere for Jesus?"
Lewi Pethrus – The Man who “Lit the Fire”
Lewi Pethrus was born in 1884 in Västra Tunhem in the county of Västergötland. He was baptised at the age of 15, in Vargön’s Baptist assembly and went to Norway as a preacher in 1900. He tells us in his memoirs that already in 1902, during a sea voyage along the Norwegian coast after a prayer night, he began speaking in tongues without realising what he had experienced. During the visit in Oslo in 1907, he received clarity about his experience, and he went back to his assembly in Lidköping in Västergötland filled with the Holy Spirit, and large crowds were baptised with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.
During the autumn of 1910 Lewi Pethrus was appointed pastor of the newly started 7th Baptist Church, Stockholm which held their meetings in Philadelphia Hall, 11 Uppsala Street. In 1913, due to a principally deviating view regarding the right to partake in the communion service, the Filadelfia assembly was excommunicated from the association of Baptist assemblies.
This excommunication was the signal for an independent development of the Filadelfia assembly in Stockholm, and it became an example for many assemblies that had been in touch due to the revival. Entirely new Pentecostal assemblies were founded at an increasing rate throughout the country. Already in 1923, there were about 300 "free" Pentecostal assemblies. The Filadelfia assembly in Stockholm had 70 members when Lewi Pethrus started his ministry there. It had grown to 2,300 members in 1923, and was about 6,500 members strong when Lewi Pethrus passed on his ministry role to younger men. By the end of 1998, there were about 490 Pentecostal assemblies with more than 90,000 members throughout Sweden. However, many Swedish Pentecostals have grown lukewarm and Swedish Christianity is in desperate need of a revival in order to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ.
Today, Sweden is a very secular country and the Christian churches that still remain are in decline. For several years, Sweden has had a large Muslim immigration, and eastern religious practices are also widespread. The country is still reaping the material blessings of old Christian revivals, but the younger generations are largely ignorant of where these blessings come from. A scripture which perfectly describes the situation can be found in JEREMIAH 6:16 – and the challenge for Christians is to reach the people that are willing to listen to and obey God’s Word.
“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (JEREMIAH 6:16).