The founder of a 3,300-member megachurch in one of Sweden's largest cities announced [Sunday, March 9] his decision to leave his charismatic congregation and join the Roman Catholic Church. Ulf Ekman, who introduced Sweden to the prosperity-emphasizing Word of Faith movement when he founded Word of Life Ministries and Word of Life Church, had stepped down from the pastorate at the Uppsala church last spring.
"I have come to realize that the movement I for the last 30 years have represented, despite successes and much good that has occurred on various mission fields, is part of the ongoing Protestant fragmentation of Christendom," Ekman wrote in an op-ed for Swedish newspaper Daegens Nyheter.
In joining the Catholic church, Ekman, founder of Scandinavia's largest Bible school, said he plans to pursue unity among Christian movements and denominations. Meanwhile, Word of Life Church announced that it would hold a special meeting for parishioners on Monday. Charisma and Aletheia report more details of Ekman's conversion. His announcement can be watched here.
Ekman was ordained a minister in the Swedish Lutheran Church in 1979 before leaving the denomination to found Word of Faith Church in Uppsala in 1983, according to his website. More than 9,500 students have graduated from the ministry's affiliated Bible school.
In a note on his ministry website, Ekman explains that he and his wife, Birgitta Ekman, have undergone a slow transformation over the past decade as they have come to know practicing Roman Catholics, including many charismatic Catholics.
"It really challenged our protestant prejudices, and we realized that we in many cases did not have any basis for our criticism of them," Ekman said in the note. "We needed to know the Catholic faith better."
Over and over again I have seen the fruits of an experience with a liberal Lutheranism that is skeptical of Scripture and the Confessions produce people who, when they realize the dead end of their liberal road, end up seeking out not a conservative Lutheran body but Rome or Constantinople. There may have been a missed opportunity to connect individuals to an evangelical and catholic practice of the Lutheranism but it seems that there is an inherent bias against looking for other Lutherans. Instead, these folks generally make the big jump to either Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy. The reason for this seems to be that the experience with liberal Lutheranism has soured the whole perspective on the Confessions. In other words, these folks often find it hard to believe that there could be a Lutheran identity and practice which would not end up at the liberal end with its relative dogmatic content and empty confessional subscription.
Some wonder why Missouri, for example, does not gain more of the folks who look around at the emptiness of liberal Lutheran confession and practice. I fear that they refuse to even consider a relative difference and believe that the poison they experienced was the poison of the whole tree, even it if seemed to be less present in some of the branches. Sadly, it is as if we did not even have a chance. Such is one more reason why some wonder if Lutheranism's biggest enemy is not Lutherans -- Lutherans who hold to a high view of Scripture and the Confessions in theory but balk at the catholic practice of the faith OR Lutherans who believe that there is no Lutheranism that will not end up where the liberal agenda has already taken the ELCA or Sweden, etc...
This is why the catholic practice of our evangelical and catholic faith is so important. We cannot have one or the other and be credible. We must express the full picture of Lutheran theological distinctiveness (Confessions) and Lutheran faithful practice (the Mass).
There are many Swedish Lutherans, including some of its clergy of my acquaintance, who believe that the Church of Sweden is more like the Church of England of their imaginations (a kind of "reformed Catholic church" with a few Protestant doctrines) in which Lutheranism is subordinate to this imagined "reformed Catholicism;" and it is also the case that the only binding (in theory) Lutheran confessional document in the church of Sweden is the unaltered Augsburg Confession.
There is also the sad fact that attempts to found a "Confessional Lutheran" alternative there from the 1960s onwards have foundered on strong theological disputes (frequently related to issues about the Eucharist and the "commencement and duration of the sacramental union") between those oriented towards 17th-century Lutheran Qrthodoxism (often with links to the Wisconsin Synod) and those oriented towards a 16th-Century and somewhat
anti-Melanchthonian view of Lutheranism. The "Mission Province," the most recent "orthodox alternative" to the Church of Sweden attempts to unite conservatives of a "Confessionalist" outlook, a "Catholic" outlook, and pietistic/revivalistic outlook, but not without some persistent tensions.
I should have added that many of those Swedes of a "Catholic" outlook hold views concerning episcopacy and the "apostolic succession" which would be virtually anathema to many "Confessionalist Lutherans" in WELS and perhaps even in the Missouri Synod; and I have found that many of them are, accordingly, much more sympathetic to Continuing Anglican church bodies than to Confessionalist Lutheran ones.
Have you, Fr. Peters, ever considered that the problem is not the liberal Lutherans who pay mere lip-service to the Confessions but that what is contained in the Confessions, even by confessionals, is maybe wrong? --Chris
One of the problems with the commonly articulated Conservative brand of Lutheranism is its almost complete disregard of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in doing modern miracles and giving the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians and recorded in patristic history - past the closure of the NT canon.
On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church has a robust theology of the Holy Spirit that avoids the errors of the Word of Faith movement. It also, as evident in its Catechism - which follows patristic tradition, teaches that it is entirely appropriate to pray to be "filled with the Holy Spirit." In contrast, the LCMS catechism (Sauer edition) conflates the ongoing reception of the Holy Spirit to a time bound sacramental view of Baptism.
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