THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHURCH-CONCEPT:
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
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
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
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
3. Rhode Struble, Den samfundsfria församlingen och de karismatiska tjänsterna: Den svenska pingströrelsens
församlingssyn , Doctoral Dissertation at Lund University, Lund (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell Intarnational,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
48. Ibid. When the Scandinavian Pentecostals talked about a biblical local church, they used phrases like "set in
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.
56. Evangelii Härold, 1919, p. 116.
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.
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.