– God’s peace! Did you hear me knock? the young woman says with a smile that reaches to her eyes.
– God’s peace! No, I didn’t, but do come in.
She sits down on our kitchen bench, watching me put into a vase the bunch of tulips that she brought.
– So, how is life? I ask with a smile.
– Pretty tough. Doubts.
– Doubts belong to the believer’s life, I guess. But what is it that makes you doubt right now?
– I am wondering if this really is the right flock. At services I felt that it is. But in daily life I doubt: why would this really be the right group?
– Well, there is actually no sense in it if we think about it with our rational mind, I answer.
I sit down opposite to her and continue:
– I remember I was pondering over the same question when I had just received the grace of repentance. I thought how incomprehensible it seemed that God’s congregation could be found exactly here, in small Finland where I live. But then I came to think that it was just as incredible that Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem, let alone in a stable. The people who were seeking God at that time could not understand that either.
* * *
– Where in the Bible is it said that only Conservative Laestadians are saved? I asked my only Laestadian friend at this very same table about ten years ago.
I had been awakened and had started to believe in God again a few years earlier. I actively went to church and did charity work in the parish. But I felt restless. I was constantly wondering: Where are all the believers? Where is that God’s congregation which is seen as the body of Christ in the Bible? I almost exhausted my friend with these questions.
It was extremely annoying to feel that my Laestadian friend did not consider me a believer though I thought I was. I believed in God, I had wanted to give my whole life to Him. I prayed for His guidance. I read the Bible. I did charity work. What was missing then?
I thought I was living in almost the same way as my friend. Well, maybe I used make-up and watched the TV, but I felt that was peanuts. Or actually, when watching the TV, it often came to my mind that I did understand why Conservative Laestadians did not watch it – the programs certainly did not draw one closer to God.
Gradually, and more and more often, I found myself admitting that they were teaching correctly about faith. In my search for the right kind of Christianity I attended different religious meetings, but only began to discern more clearly the fruits of the spirit that I had seen among that group.
I did not find any references to Conservative Laestadians in the Bible. How could they think that only they are saved? My friend told me that the Bible does not speak about Conservative Laestadians, and that they do not even call themselves by that name. They just call themselves believers.
She also told me how Saul, who was later called Paul, met Jesus on the road to Damascus and lost his sight. After that Jesus brought Ananias to visit Saul. Only after hearing the blessing preached by this believer did Saul get back his eyesight and receive the Holy Spirit. Here was one example of how, according to the Bible, no-one can be reconciled with God directly and become a believer on his own. God leads the seeking person to believing people.
But still I did not understand the connection between that portion of the Bible and their congregation. How could they know that this was the right faith? Did they mean that, by having babies or obeying some specific rules, one could get to heaven? But did not Luther teach that man will be saved only by faith, by grace, and by the merit of Christ.
My friend noticed that the reason behind my questions was that I was really seeking God and suffering from true distress of the soul. She gave me the SRK yearbook, whose theme was right and wrong. When I began to read the book, I was amazed: it was exactly the kind of Lutheranism that taught about faith according to the Bible. That was what I had needed to hear in church. I had thought none of it was left any more. Everything was right, everything matched. Everything was based on the word of the Bible. I was ready to go to services.
* * *
At services I observed people. Did they seem distressed? Was there a status system? During the coffee break I asked one woman if it was distressing to be a member of this religious community.
– How could it be distressing to live in this kingdom of grace? she said astonished. She told me she had received the grace of repentance in her youth.
I did not understand much of the sermon. But one thing struck me: the speaker said that there is only one faith and one flock. He referred to the portion of the Bible where Jesus says "and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16). The words offended me, but they also touched my heart.
– I would like to become a Laestadian, I told my believing friend on the phone after the services. How can I do it? Should I pay a membership fee or what?
– No, you need not pay. I am not formally a member of this congregation either. You only need to believe in your heart the absolution preached by the believers. That is how one becomes a believer.
It was good that there was no money involved. Willingly I raised my hand at the next services when sins were preached forgiven. But the matter of faith did not open to me fully. God did not open his door. He knew that I was not yet ready to leave my previous life. As Lot’s wife, I was still looking back. I was afraid that I would lose everything - even my family.
I returned to my old lifestyle. But two years later God brought me to such a dead end that I was ready to give up everything, my whole life, to find the redeeming faith that the Bible speaks about. “Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go. Show me your flock”, my soul cried to God. “You will recognize them by their fruits”, the answer of the Bible rang in my mind.
The most outstanding fruit of the Holy Spirit that I began to see was that Conservative Laestadians placed their trust in God as the Lord of life and death – they wanted to receive all their children as gifts of God. At least they trust in God, they do not do that with their own power, I began to realize.
The gracious God also answered me when I opened the Bible at random and my eyes caught the word Zion. This happened again some time later. The only place where I had ever heard that word was in the services at rauhanyhdistys. Still, I had no idea what the word meant – that it meant God’s kingdom.
In October 2008 I went to the new rauhanyhdistys in Turku for the first time. It was a Wednesday evening and there were not many people. “I have come home”, the words echoed in my mind. It was a wonderful feeling, like opening the door to my home as a child.
I listened to the services and waited for the speaker to preach all sins forgiven, for now I knew that I could receive the forgiveness of sins and believe it personally. Now God would open His door for me. After the services I walked out smiling, without talking to anyone. When I woke up the next morning I felt like floating in the air – I felt so light! The burden of my 36 years of life had been taken off my shoulders, though I had not even known that such a burden existed. I had cried because of my sins and heard in church that Jesus has atoned for them all, but now I felt that all my sins really were gone.
For all of the following week I felt like I was in paradise. Nature around me seemed radiantly beautiful. I felt like all the wounds inside me had healed completely. I had not been aware of those wounds either. I had no doubt that I had found the peace that only Jesus can give to his own.
I had thought that repentance would be something I should be able to do myself. That was why I had been afraid beforehand: what if I could not live like the Laestadians teach people to live? But to repent, I only needed to believe the forgiveness of sins that these believers preached. The lifestyle matters were fruits of the Holy Spirit, they simply began to happen. I no longer wanted to wear make-up, listen to a certain type of music, which sounded mere noise to me, or switch on the TV God took care of my lifestyle change. I did not need to do anything. I was free and happy. I had a life again – the kind of life that I had last enjoyed as a child.
I began to understand that these believers do not expect to be saved by their own works, but only by faith, by grace, and by the merit of Christ. They teach according to the Bible that "God's righteousness is being revealed from faith to faith" (Rom. 1:17), in other words, faith is transferred from one believer to another. The disciples were given the power to forgive sins. Everyone who has received the forgiveness of sins from a believer can himself forgive other people their sins, he will become a source of living water. Conservative Laestadians think that living faith has been transferred from one believer to another throughout history, and God´s congregation has been called by different names at different times while it has moved to new areas.
Martin Luther is also considered to have found this group of believers, of which he tells in the Great Catechism: " I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding. - I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses."
No human being can see with their own eyes which group among all the spiritual groups is the correct one, but Jesus urges us to seek "the kingdom of God and his righteousness" and also promises that one who seeks shall find. What is impossible for a human being is possible for God.
* * * *
I look at the young woman sitting at our kitchen table and think how difficult it is to tell another person about what I have experienced myself. To prove that everything is exactly as it is said in the Bible.
“Because strait is the gate ” “whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. ”
“He that receives you receives me ”
“My peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you.”
I was spiritually dead, but now I live again. I was blind, and I received my eyesight again. I was deaf to the word of God, and now I am able to hear. I was hungry, and you gave me food - the pure bread of God´s word. I was a stranger, and you took me in - as a dweller in God´s family. I was naked, and you clothed me - gave me the wedding garment washed with Jesus’ blood.
Even John the Baptist had doubts while in prison. He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the one that was to come. Jesus answered, " Go and show John again those things which you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me.” (Matthew 11: 4-5)
Yes, I do believe that this is the flock.
Translation: K.H., R.P., T.S., A.V.
Poikkeusolojen vuoksi radion ja netin välityksellä lähetetyt Suviseurat saivat kuulijoiden palautteen perusteella positiivisen vastaanoton. Historiallisten Suviseurojen järjestelyt sujuivat suunnitelmien mukaisesti, eikä suurempia häiriöitä ilmennyt. Seurojen keskeinen sanoma välittyi kaikkialle maailmaan ja seurapuheet käännettiin yhdeksälle kielelle.