Whose Is Rosenius?

by Elder M. Lindahl

The name of one of Pietisten's patron saints, Carl Olof Rosenius, caught my eye in a recent article in Svenska Dagbladet, for Nov. 11, 1990. Serious dissatisfaction with the beliefs and life style of the Swedish State Church, the cause of the separation of Läsare [Readers] in the last century, was the reason for the organization. Now, as the article below reports, the dissatisfaction continues today and is leading to an imminent break with the Church of Sweden by these "Faithful Friends of the Bible."

These "Friends" seem to trace their paternity to Rosenius [biographical note, page 19], and to Luther. Is their homage to Rosenius justified? Did he encourage the kind of emotions, exclusive attitudes and narrow beliefs that seem to inform their reactionary mind-set? If he did, then how is it we feel at home with him?

But first, to my translation of Curt Jonasson's newspaper article.

5000 Bible-believing Friends about to leave the Swedish Church

"The Bible is God's word to humans today." So said Claes Johansson, chairman of the mission fellowship, the "Bibeltrogna Vänner," (Bible-Believing or Bible-Faithful Friends, referred to in the article by the initials "BV"). "We believe just as it stands and that the Word is valid for all times. Further," he affirmed, "it is not bound to time, space or place."

The Mission fellowship today has about 5000 members as well as contact with several thousands more who give support and attend their services. The offices are in Stockholm, where portraits of Dr. Martin Luther and Sweden's greatest lay preacher, Carl Olof Rosenius, adorn the walls. There the leaders take their places around the conference table in bishop chairs; the chairman sits in an antique archbishop's chair.

A Low Church Movement

BV has been a low church movement within the Swedish Church, but it distances itself more and more from "the modern society." The leaders within BV contend that the Swedish church, with a determined voice and by its actions, sets itself more and more critically against the Bible and the Lutheran confession.

"We are, through our steadfastness, unconditionally bound to the Bible and to the Evangelical Lutheran Confession. We are not legally bound to the Swedish Church," explains Johansson.

Does BV continue to be as faithful to the Bible today as it was at first?

They do not claim to be more faithful to the Bible than others; they simply strive to be faithful to it. They use the 1883 translation of the Bible and Bishop Bo Giertz's translation of the New Testament.

"My understanding is that most of our members use the 1883 translation. Studies show that BV insiders do not use NT 81 (the 1981 Swedish translation of the New Testament) at all. Personally," says Johannson, "I reject NT 81. According to my understanding, this translation in many places conflicts with the basic text."

Loss of Meaning

Vice chairman, Axel Bjärslinde and office manager, Rune Karlsson, think that the Bible, "Sufficiently awesome in itself" seems to have lost meaning among Swedish people, even those in the churches and communities of faith. The upswing in Bible reading among the Swedes, expected when the new translations came out, seems also not to be realized. The question is whether the new translations are useful when they seem to be put to the side. The same can be said about secularization, they say.

"According to certain theologians, we must not at all trust the Bible as it stands. This means that one should believe certain parts and not others; that certain parts are relevant for the time when the text was written and not for ours." They continue: "We will hold fast to the Bible as God's inerrant Word, a Word that holds good for all time. Otherwise we humans have no security."

To back this up, a word of Jesus can be added, as cited by Johansson: "Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away."

Falling Away

Within BV, the Swedish Church is seen as "other than it ought to be" today. They think that it has fallen away, and they say that they will work for its return to the original faith. "We cannot follow the church when it has abandoned the Word. For our part," say Bjärslinde and Karlsson, "we must hold fast to the Evangelical-Lutheran Confession which the church followed before."

According to Bjärslinde and Karlsson, a number of BV members have, For the sake of conscience, left the Swedish Church. They cannot, for example, accept the Church's new pattern of worship, which in certain forms comes close to the Catholic church.

Liberal Theology

To ordain women pastors also conflicts with God's message. Further, they think that the new translations of the New Testament are tainted by liberal theology, foremost the noteworthy passages. New versions of the Lord's Prayer are unacceptable. In the new Psalm Book there are some unapproved things, for example, the ecumenical parts. BV has its own newly revised hymnal, Lova Heren, which came out in 1988.

Next year it will be 80 years since Axel B. Swensson started the Bible-believing Fellowship. He was its secretary until 1930 and then served as chairman until his passing in 1967. BV was born following a theological crisis in the EvangelicalFosterlands Stiftelsen (EFS).

At the annual meeting four years ago, BV decided to establish Lutheran congregations that exist on their own, free from the Swedish Church. Until now, several such congregations have been established, but not very many yet. "It is necessary," conclude BV's administrators, "that our members have the opportunity to take communion as prescribed in God's Word."

What does one make of this group and their claim that they have a close kinship with Carl Olof? We are confronted by a dilemma here: BV and Pietisten (us) both reverently trace their roots to Rosenius. They both admire him and think of him as a spiritual father. Yet, BV, given its doctrine of inerrant Scripture, its suspicion of Biblical scholarship, its cultural setting and orientation to an existing state church, its opposition to women clergy, and so forth, has more in common with Rosenius than we in the U.S. do.

Nostalgia aside, whose is Rosenius? We must admit that these faithful Bible-believers have a right, possibly more than we have, to hang up his portrait in remembrance of his theology and mission work. They oppose many of the same things he did. The BV are still fighting all the old battles, especially those involving the relationship of church and state. They envision Rosenius at their side. They need him in their struggles. He's their man. His legacy is theirs. Agree?

Still, for whatever its worth, we have history on our side. They picked up with Rosenius, if the article is correct, in 1910 or so. His influence on our foremothers and forefathers goes back to the middle of the 19th century. So there!

A better approach is to recognize that his personal and spiritual legacy is rich enough and complex enough to be shared.

The BV appear to appreciate his negative side as it supports their contra-cultural stance. We, as modern-day "Readers," have a positive orientation to culture — to education, to ordaining women, to the use of critical methods of Bible study and to the arts, theatre, dance, movies, and even card-playing as time permits. Grown-up socially, we try to work at maintaining a serious, daily relationship to the Word and to our Lord. We are neither afraid, nor agitated, nor anxious. We are not battling a state church, other Protestant churches, the Catholic church, or our own denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church. Nonetheless, in quite a different setting, we too are rightful heirs of what he stood for — his integrity, his devotion, his personality, his virtues and his Spiritual treasures.

Actually the question, "Whose is Rosenius?" is confused in that Rosenius belongs to no one really. He was, and continues to be, his own man — a courageous, wise and committed free spirit. Just as we accept and love our own parents, despite the fact that they may have imposed some silly restrictions on us and certain weaknesses and problems, so we accept and acknowledge our kinship with Carl Olof. His portrait may not literally grace our walls, but we, thanks to Pietisten, have certainly come to feel at home with him. The fragrance of his spirit lives among us today. "With courage and joy we will meet coming days." (The Covenant Hymnal, tt488, "With God and His Friendship" by Carl Olaf Rosenius, 1816-1868)