Swedish Roots

It is from three Pietistic renewal/reform movements fostered by Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke and Count von Zinzendorf that the early Covenant beginnings begin to flourish in Sweden.

George Scott, a Methodist missionary from England, influenced by the Pietists through John Wesley’s teachings, traveled to Sweden bringing the conventions of revival with him. As a resourceful entrepreneur, he created schools, trained preachers and wrote publications that stirred the hearts of the Swedish people. Scott was eventually outcast from Sweden for his robust teachings. His young tutelage, Carl Olof Rosenius, a Swede, took over from where Scott had begun. Rosenius brought to the movement a uniquely Swedish understanding of pietism. He stressed a believer’s church as counter to the norms found in the State Church at the time. 

Another one of the great framers within what would become the Covenant Church is a theologian Paul Petter Waldenström (1838-1917). Known best for his teaching on atonement, he also coined the phrase “Where is written?” which exemplifies his emphasis on the centrality of the God’s Word in the life of the Church. 

In other parts of the world, the wind of democracy was blowing. In Sweden, it was no different. Stirred by these voices of change, the Swedish faithful begin to meet in homes (conventicles) to study the Word of God led by lay leaders (colporteurs). Spurred on with publications such as The Pietist, these meetings were seen as a part of a renewal movement from within the church. There people joined together to meet, pray and study while continuing to be a part of the State Church. In time, with the mounting threat of division, the conventicles were outlawed but the people continued to gather. 

With a high value placed on coming to the Table, the question of communion officiation became a defining moment for those who met together. Because there were not enough pastors to go around, communion societies were founded. It was in 1878 the renewal movement became a reform movement, breaking away from the Lutheran State Church to form the Covenant Church in Sweden known as the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden: Svenska Missionskyrkan. Recently the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden merged with other Protestant denominations to form the Uniting Church in Sweden: Equmeniakyrkan.

Now the Covenant Church in America, planted by Swedish mission friends over a century ago, stands at the crossroads of decision of who and what it will be in the years ahead. What might God be doing? What is our response? Here at Abbey Way we are committed to the continued transformational discovery of walking in God’s good way today. What we know is that our roots are from trusted stock and for that we are truly grateful.

Return to Historical Connections 

Give me … a compassionate heart, quickly moved to grieve for the woes of others and to active pity for them, even as our Lord Jesus Christ beheld our poverty and hasted to help us. Give me grace ever to alleviate the crosses and difficulties of those around me, and never to add to them; teach me to be a consoler in sorrow, to take thought for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan; let my charity show itself not in words only but in deed and truth.
— Johann Arndt (1555-1621), German Lutheran theologian who deeply influenced the Pietists