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It Is Good for Us To Learn From the Past

Matthew Keranen | The Voice of Zion June 2020 --

In October 2019 the SRK, our sister organization in Finland, published Myrskyjen keskellä, Suomen Rauhanyhdistysten Keskusyhdistyksen historia 3 (1962–1980). This title in English is In the Midst of Storms, History of Central Association of Finnish Association ]]>

This is the third in a series of books on SRK history. It follows Protected in Two Shells (2010) and Expanding Gospel Work (2011). The LLC has published a summary in English of these two history works under the title Expanding Gospel Work (2012).

In the Midst of Storms tells the history of the SRK during the years from 1962 to 1980. It is not the history of Christianity, nor is it a history of local RYs, rauhanyhdistykset (Associations of Peace, i.e. local Conservative Laestadian congregations). The source material is mainly from the SRK archives. In addition, interviews were conducted with those who were in roles of responsibility in the SRK during the time period in question.

SRK representatives share that this history book aims to describe objectively, based on sources, what happened, why it happened and what the consequences were. It is important to view the study as a whole in order to get a thorough, overall picture of the time period covered in the book. During this time period, there were difficulties, and God’s blessings and guidance were also truly evident in the work in Christianity.

In discussing this book, SRK representatives stated that they felt it was necessary to publish this book and the timing of it is good. SRK Board Chairman Matti Taskila wrote, “God has prepared a suitable time to confront recent history.”

We at the LLC are interested in this book for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we wish to read more about the history of our sister organization. Because our organizations have worked together for decades, their history is partly our history as well. Moreover, as has previously been printed in this periodical, we have embarked on our own history project. In 2023, the LLC, formerly AALC, will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The LLC Board has allotted resources for a book to be written on the 50-year history of our organization. Keith Waaraniemi will research and write the book and I will serve as project manager.

We consider it very important for believers to know our common history. A backward view on where we’ve traveled, what we’ve overcome and how God has guided our every footstep as an organization gives us assurance that He will show us our path forward as well. While God’s kingdom remains, its workers and work fields change over time. May we preserve our story for the dwellers and workers to come.

It is valuable that through our history project, the younger generations will have access to objective and factual information on LLC history.

To learn more about the SRK history project and the book in question, I interviewed Markku Seppänen and Ari-Pekka Palola and translated their answers into English. Markku Seppänen is chairman of the SRK Publishing Committee, which oversees the contents of all SRK periodicals, recorded albums and books. Ari-Pekka Palola is SRK’s Publishing Director. He wrote and researched the SRK history books, and Markku oversaw the review, editing and publishing processes.

The following interview contains Markku’s and Ari-Pekka’s answers in their entirety.

What does the SRK hope to accomplish in publishing a series of thorough historical studies?

Markku: It has always been important for believers to follow in the footsteps of believers who went before us. We can learn from their lives. We can follow the phases of the battling congregation and note how God has guided and protected on the foundation of God’s unchanging Word. He has been present in the midst of adversity as well.

The most recently written period of history from 1962 to 1980 was distant enough from the perspective of historiography, but also near enough. It is yet possible in the form of interviews to hear the experiences of those still living who carried responsibility at the time.

Ari-Pekka: Knowing the history of Christianity has been deemed necessary in order for us to understand present-day matters and so we would have a clear picture of e.g. what the issues were in various schisms. Schisms and many other issues relating to phases of Christianity were so complicated that unraveling them has required extensive and thorough research. Otherwise, we would not have gotten the correct overall picture of them.

Why is it important to know your history?

Ari-Pekka: It is good to know what kinds of phases have led to the present day. This has not been at all self-evident. Many things that are a regular part of life in Christianity today have come about in a particular situation for a specific purpose. Similarly, many decisions have been made in particular circumstances and they are easier to understand when they are examined against that backdrop. The history also includes many events and schisms, the effects of which are still visible in many ways.

How do you explain the benefit of this work, in a nutshell, to a young person?

Markku: I would like to tell them that it is good for us to learn from the past. From history we can see how the doctrinal foundation of faith has remained the same. God has blessed and guided those who trusted God’s Word and those who were preserved in the love of believers. From history we see how the work of the gospel has progressed. In an open and objective history writing one can find answers to questions or false rumors that weigh on one’s mind. The falls and wrongdoing of individual believers may have been generalized to apply to all of Christianity. For most on the outside, the Bible’s teaching of one kingdom of God has been the greatest stumbling block.

A wrong spirit causes discord and confusion among Christians. The reason for schisms and false doctrines seems at all times to be that a person grows in his or her own mind and falls away from the place of a child. Then love grows cold and there often comes a judgmental and rationalizing spirit. At the worst, God’s congregation can begin to look cheap and God’s children very faulty.

Ari-Pekka: In a nutshell: knowing the past helps to understand many things that one may wonder about. It also gives the opportunity to avoid repeating mistakes that have sometimes been made.

How objective is it possible for one to be studying the history of Christianity “from the inside?”

Markku: Ari-Pekka Palola is a recognized historian. The SRK history study has been conducted using scientific history study methods. Personally I even think that the deepest essence of the history of Christianity cannot be studied without understanding and personally experiencing the foundation of faith. In my opinion, a more in-depth history of Christianity requires a scholarly approach that is simultaneously hermeneutic, empathetic and understanding. Still, all research is always flawed. It is also good to note that In the Midst of Storms is not the history of Associations of Peace (RYs) or of the entire Conservative Laestadianism but rather the history of our central organization, the SRK.

In reading our history it is necessary to look at the whole entity from the perspective of faith and view events at hand as having been allowed by God.

Ari-Pekka: In research, objectivity is always a big challenge when the author belongs to the group that is being researched. The author must at all times consciously strive to examine things objectively and avoid presenting the views of an “insider.” It requires constant awareness. On the other hand, “insiderism” is also beneficial in automatically understanding the nature, meaning and purpose of certain things. One must just attempt to explain them such that even an outsider understands.

This book deals with the years 1962–1980. What are your most important findings from this period?

Markku: This period of history (1962-1980) was very significant. During this period, Finland, Europe and the whole world underwent a time of strong societal change. Traditional values were questioned and secularization was evident in society and in the church [Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland]. This development caused great concern among believers over how we could remain in faith and brotherly love.

God guarded His congregation. The work of Christianity expanded and prospered in unprecedented ways. During that time the foundation was laid for current child and youth work with camp centers and various kinds of activities.

On the other hand, there were also doctrinal battles. It is most important to see how believers were protected in the doctrine, faith and love of Christ. In Finland only a small group separated from the believers.

The Bible shows that there have been times of battle since the days of the apostles. Even these times of crisis have been allowed by God. Even though things that are wrong have found their way into Christianity, there has always existed the correctly believing congregation.

Ari-Pekka: The main research findings in this new book relate to how great difficulties and strong growth of work in Christianity existed side by side throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Christianity existed amid great external pressure and in the beginning of the 1960s and throughout most of the 1970s there were also internal difficulties.

Despite these difficulties, the work developed rapidly: camp work expanded, the first camp centers were acquired, day circle and Bible class work was started. Publication work expanded, books and recordings were published alongside periodicals. The number of visitors to Summer Services doubled. Also during the time of caretaking meetings the work developed and believers were willing to devote a great deal of time and resources to the work of Christianity. This shows that their faith community was important to them and they wanted to be part of it despite the negative issues.

What is your message to people who may be troubled at things that have happened in the past?

Markku: At different stages in history there have been difficult times and trials. They are part of life. Such times are experienced in an individual’s life and also in the life of God’s congregation. The challenges of a changing time can create conflicts with living faith. That is why God’s Word encourages us to watch.

Unrest has also been caused by doctrinal arguments, false doctrines and schisms. These too are the reality of a battling congregation. God does work through us imperfect and sinful people. Jesus, however, lives amidst His disciples and can calm the storms.

Others may have drifted in the battle outside the kingdom of God. Some of them may have experienced wrong, law-minded hardness. God’s kingdom is so precious that it is not worth leaving because of the faults of individuals. To those who have fallen away and to all who made mistakes yet belongs Jesus’ unfathomably great love, inviting gospel and the word of forgiveness.

It is most important to remain humble in the place of a child and to personally believe one’s sins forgiven. No one of us can rise above others. In the living congregation the voice of the Good Shepherd is always heard; with love it calls, guides, encourages and comforts. God can protect us in faith. In a miraculous way God protected the believers even in Russia where they lived for a long time under anti-God rule in a closed state and also experienced severe persecution. A book about their experiences will be published in Finland this summer.

Ari-Pekka: To people struggling with issues that happened in the past, I wish to say: it is easier to deal with your difficult experiences if you understand the context they are part of. Then you will notice that it is not an injustice specifically against me. Mistakes have been made in caring for many things, and these should be openly acknowledged. This is the case, for example, in connection with caretaking meetings.

However, this does not mean that all caretaking meetings and all the issues discussed at them were wrong. Someone may have been talked to about an actual concern, but in the wrong way. It is a more difficult situation for one who was talked to about something that was later deemed unfounded. That has also happened. If those who made mistakes in soul care are still alive, it pays to discuss the matter with them. Hopefully they are ready to admit their mistakes and correct matters on their part. If the individuals are already dead or are not ready to admit their mistakes, it can alleviate your situation if you for your own part are able to forgive them. It is good to remember that they have acted to the best of their understanding and have not made bad mistakes on purpose.

How has this latest book been received in Finland? What sorts of discussions has it raised?

Markku: Discussion among those outside our group has been surprisingly moderate and calm. It seems to me that the history book has usually increased understanding and calmed the attitudes toward Conservative Laestadians. According to some opinions, the history book should have dealt more with the fate of those who drifted away from the group after the caretaking meetings and also the effects on people of negative aspects related to the caretaking meetings.

In past years, Conservative Laestadianism has been labeled by individual abuses during the period of caretaking meetings as well as by false doctrines that do not belong to living faith and which in some places have made their way into Christianity. Those included the demand for public confession, digging into one’s heart, withholding forgiveness and law-minded hardness, which contained characteristics of the New Awakening movement from the beginning of the last century. These issues come to correct light in this new history book.

The history book has aroused a great deal of interest among believers. This has also been shown by the book’s sales figures. The reception of the book has been calm for the most part. There has been some discussion on whether it is necessary to use names in addressing the mistakes of those centrally involved in the work of God’s kingdom who have been in error. Most of them have later received the grace of repentance and have passed away in faith. It is good to note this. Handling these topics requires skill and tact while remaining in the truth. It is important to maintain a respectful attitude toward all that has happened and to remember our own weaknesses. No one of us has been protected in faith and on the right path by our own merits, but rather by God’s grace and with the power of forgiveness.

Ari-Pekka: The new history book has been well received and it has been read a lot. The first printing of 2500 books sold out before Christmas and we had to print more. Many have said that they’ve read the book and are particularly pleased that it addressed the caretaking meetings openly and honestly. There has been only a smattering of critical comments.

In what ways do SRK and LLC’s history intertwine?

Markku: These histories have a very natural and close connection. As I understand it, there has been close and equal interaction between the central organizations. Mission work is done in cooperation. Even the older history of Finnish and American Christianity, including schisms, are closely connected. What is important is open and confidential cooperation and discussion of faith, doctrine and life, for which especially in these times there is good possibilities with the development in technology. New history is born every day.

Ari-Pekka: The history of the SRK and LLC has been closely linked since the founding of theAALC. SRK’s support was of great importance to American Christians after the heresy. The SRK supported the establishment of the AALC and the beginning of its work in many ways and provided a lot of pastoral or caretaking support as well to American Christianity. This led to a situation in the late 1970s in which the AALC brothers did not dare to make decisions without first asking the opinion of SRK brothers. The SRK sought to avoid such an arrangement and stressed that they are not infallible and are unable to assume such responsibility for America’s affairs.

What does the course of history tell about our future?

Markku: History tells how God protects His children and congregation even in times of difficulty. We should not be overly attached to personalities or individuals but rather rely on God and His Word. It is important that the voice of the Good Shepherd is heard in all situations and that we would not grow in the work of the Lord. In the kingdom of God, the least is the greatest.

The Good Shepherd calls those who have drifted away, loves the fallen with the mind of the Good Samaritan, forgives, lifts, carries and comforts those who erred. The Good Shepherd seeks those who are lost high in the mountains and hills of pride, those trapped in the maze of reason and philosophies and those submerged in permissiveness of sin, and He calls them back into the very middle of His flock to believe. God’s grace is the best teacher.

Ari-Pekka: Events in history do not automatically tell anything about the future, but they do tell us what kinds of things can happen in the future as well. There are many phenomena that have tended to recur in Christianity in perhaps slightly different forms. We can assume that this will continue to be the case in the future. And when that happens, we can potentially be aware of the situation and benefit from our past experiences as we respond to it.

Your greetings to North American believers and those working onAALC/LLC History

Markku: My wife Liisa and I have very warm memories from a speaking trip in 2003. It was wonderful to experience that love and hospitality shown to us. We met dear sisters and brothers, many of whom have already gone to glory. We have often remembered our trip.

Our prayer is that we would remain there and here on the same path of faith. It is important to protect the love between children of God. Even true doctrine will not save if love for God’s congregation is lacking. God leads us through this battling congregation to the rejoicing congregation in the glory of heaven one day. We are yet on the journey, children of the day, and we can look to the future with confidence. God will surely help us in all our phases.

Working on this history has emphasized to me the importance of remembering past generations with gratitude. In their day, they have spared no effort in serving God’s congregation with their own gifts, correcting their mistakes and acknowledging their weaknesses. Most of them have already reached the destination victoriously.

Ari-Pekka: Greetings to the LLC history writers: Try to view things objectively, even when it feels difficult. Don’t try to write the entire history of Christianity in America but focus rather on the phases of the AALC/LLC and examine issues related to individual congregations consistently from an LLC perspective. Be prepared to take a critical look at your own actions as well and to admit your own mistakes openly. Remember that none of us are infallible, neither do we need to be. Also, remember that the history book is not meant to be a history of the kingdom of God and no work can ever be that.

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