Skip to Main Content
HOME : Diehtu : Siida : Christianity : Læstadianism


By Johanna

As is true with most indigenous groups, the Sámi developed their own religion. Shamanism and spiritual yoiking, among other things, shaped this religion. Their religion would be profoundly changed by the influence of the rulers who began invading their lands and claiming the territory. Through all the changes, the Sámi have been able to retain some of their original spiritual ceremonies, like yoiking. However, today many Sámi practice Læstadianism, a religion that began with its founder Lars Levi Læstadius.

Christianity in Sápmi Before 1841

Old picture of Sami in front of traditional Sami dwelling

The Christian conversion of Scandinavia came late compared with the rest of Western Europe. Denmark was the first of the Western European countries to accept Christianity after King Harald Bluetooth was christened in 960. Christianity came to Russia at the hands of the sovereigns who converted their kingdoms and their citizens into Christians by coercion in 988. Norway and its territories such as Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands turned to Christianity in the year 1000 under King Olaf Tryggvason. Christianity spread slowly in Sweden after the baptism of King Olof Skötkonung at the end of the 10th century and by the 12th century the southern part of the country had become Christian.

The Kalmar Union of the three crowns of Denmark, Norway and Sweden was formed in 1397. This union lasted until 1523 when Gustaf Vasa became king of Sweden. The union then broke into two entities: Sweden-Finland and Denmark-Norway. During much of this early period Sápmi was isolated and not affected much by Christianity. Nevertheless, there was missionary activity and church building. Forty Norwegian churches and missions were built along the Finnmark coast before 1589. Between 1700-1750 another ten churches were built further inland in Finnmark, one of which was for the Mountain Sámi. In Sweden Sápmi twenty-three churches were built before 1702, with the majority being built inland.

Nevertheless, there was missionary activity and church building. Forty Norwegian churches and missions were built along the Finnmark coast before 1589. Between 1700-1750 another ten churches were built further inland in Finnmark, one of which was for the Mountain Sámi. In Sweden Sápmi twenty-three churches were built before 1702, with the majority being built inland.

In the 1550's the Protestant reformation reached Scandinavia. Its strength derived from the fact that it was instituted by royal decrees. After this, Christianity was forced upon the Sámi. Missionary activity aimed at getting them to abandon their old religion and to convert to Christianity. The Lutheran reformation wiped out most of the Catholic customs during the 16th century. The Lutheran ideal was to require the common people to be able to read the Bible on their own.

In 1808 Russia took over Finland. The new ruler was the Orthodox Tsar, but the Lutheran church remained the state church of Finland.1


The borders between Norway and Sweden and Norway and Finland were established in 1751. The borders between Norway and Russia were established in 1826. Sweden and Finland set their borders in 1809.2 The traditional revivalist movements of religious life emerged at the beginning of the 19th century. These were Pietism, Evangelism and Læstadianism. The state and the clergy opposed these movements. People feared they would cause political unrest and upset the Russians. They were denied the right of assembly and their leaders’ movements were restricted.


Læstadianism is an evangelical and fundamental movement inside the Lutheran church that began in 1844. Læstadianism first began in Northern Fennoscandia and quickly spread throughout the Sámi and Finnish speaking communities in Northern Norway in the late 1840’s. The Sámi reindeer nomads who had summer pastures in Norway and winter pastures in Sweden spread the religion through the land. While in Sweden they came into contact with the founder, Lars Levi Læstadius and were converted. During migration, reindeer nomads spread Læstadianism among the coastal Sámi population in Norway. The language spoken in the religion was therefore Finnish or Sámi, and the languages were characterized as “holy languages” or “languages of the heart” by the following Congregationalists. The movement has been interpreted as a symbolic opposition. Læstadian symbols and values rival Norwegian symbols, values and interests. It also contains prescriptions on how to behave in both the religious and mundane sphere. Læstadianism is “a way of life” and its followers are not willing to split the world in a sacred and mundane sphere. Their values signify total dischotomization. Læstadianism can be understood as a way of expressing opposition to various value systems. It is estimated that approximately 320,000 people belong to the movement. Over time the movement has divided into several fractions. The “firstborn” Læstadians still can be found mostly in Northern Sweden, but they have expanded to the south. In Norway the Læstadians are mostly found in the northern parts, but there are also communities in Nord Trøndelag, Trondheim, Olso, Bergen and Porsgrunn. Through immigration the faith has reached towards Russia, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Siberia, the United States of America and Canada. Communities can also be found in Brussels, Düsseldorf, and Denmark. The “firstborn” go under the name “The Old Apostolic Lutheran Church.” Every Christmas members of the different communities are sent to Gällivare in Sweden Lappland. At these gatherings educational and practical questions are brought forth to discuss.

The Founder: Lars Levi Læstadius

Lars Levi Læstadius was a Swedish preacher and botanist who bridged the gap between faith and science. He was one of Scandinavia’s most eminent botanists and the founder of Læstadianism, a form of Lutheranism. This movement was the greatest religious revival of all times in northern Scandinavia. Læstasius was born January 10, 1800 to a family of Norrland clergyman in Jäckvik, Arjeplog parish. His father Karl Læstadius was a former mine bailiff in the silver mines in the Nasa mountains. He was an alcoholic who supported the family as a cultivator of new land. His mother was a Swedish Sámi from Gausträsk, Sorsele. After his father lost his job in 1808 the family moved in with his half-brother, Carl Erik, in Kvikkjokk, Lappland. Carl was an amateur botanist and stimulated Lars’ interests in plants. In 1819 when Lars was 16 he entered the Härnösand Gymnasium where he familiarized himself with Latin, Greek theology and logic. He began a botanical study tour that took him to the coast of Helgeland in Norway. A report of this tour was printed and won him enough status and recognition that the Swedish Academy of Science and Letters decided to finance his later field trips. He was extremely interested in nature, spending his summers in Kvikkjokk, Lappland gathering plants. He was his era’s most knowledgeable specialist of arctic flora. Læstadius entered Uppsala University in 1820 and continued studying Latin, Greek, theology, French, German and mathematics. He entered the seminary when he was 21 and he was ordained in the Härnösand cathedral in 1825. From 1825 to 1849 he served as a clergyman in Karesuando where he preached and attended to the sacraments, taught the people and promoted sobriety. Between 1826-1848 he was both a botanist and minister in Karesuando, in northern Sweden. In 1827, at age 27, Læstadius married Brita Alstadius. His own illness and the deaths of three of his children and half brother troubled his life. Together he and his wife had fifteen children. He continued his scientific activity from 1838- 1940, participating in the 1838 Recherche expedition as a botanist. Recherche was financed by France. He became a member of Uppsala Scientific Society in 1839. In 1843 Læstadius went to Härnösand to complete his pastoral examination. Before returning home he was ordered by the cathedral chapter to visit the schools and parishes in Sápmi Lapland. On New Year’s Day in 1844 a visit to the Åsele church was conducted. Following his sermon one of his listeners, Milla Clementsdotter, came to talk to him. He was able to lead her into personal faith. After his meeting with Clementsdotter, “Mary of Lapland,” his sermons contained a new message. When he came home form his journey the following words were heard in the pulpit in Karesuando:

“By the Grace of God, the Gospel must be preached to penitent, hopeless souls that bow to repentance.”

The following year marked the beginning of the pietistic revival that would influence northern Scandinavia’s religious and cultural life for years to come. The revival came to be known as the Læstadian Revival. The revival had tremendous impact on the Sámi population. Læstadius mastered both Sámi and Finnish, which proved to be his most important language as a minister of the gospel. His sermons had received new color and power. With his new sermons people from other parishes also began to gather in Kaaresuvanto on important church holidays. On the second Sunday of prayer in 1845, the following words were heard from the pulpit,

“It is love which causes a pardoned soul to hate the former works of Adam. The love of Jesus requires him to forsake drunkenness, vile language, greed, vanity, worldly joy and anger. And the same love requires and forces him to speak of spiritual matters whenever the occasion is granted.”

He had experienced an epochal moment in his life and began to preach that thieves were forgiven for their sins, the sale of drinking of wine was understood as a sin, and those that had received forgiveness were overcome with emotion. Læstadius became the church rector in Pajala in 1849. He spent much of the 1840’s consumed in his duties of his office, and the start of his strong revivalist movement.

His half brother Carl Erik introduced Lars and his younger brother Petrus to Sweden's nature. Lars Levi was very interested in plants. During his years of study he gathered and sold mountain plants to help pay for his studies. During this time he met botanists in Sweden and other countries. He received a Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1841 in recognition of his scientific achievements. The great preacher died in Pajala on February 21, 1861. He said,

“I believe that the great Conciliator and King who was crowned with thorns will not reject me.”

yellow flower

Læstadius discovered two of Norway’s most remarkable plants: the lifelong saxifraga (saxifraga paniculata) and Læstadius poppy (papaver laestadianum). There are several plants named after him including Papaver laestadianum, Arnica alpina laestadiuanum, Salix laestadiana, and Carex laestadii. His herbarium contained 6500 plants and was purchased by the Swedish Academy of Science and Letters after his death.

The Læstadian Movement with Lars Levi Læstadius

Lars Levi Læstadius has been called the Laplandic apostle. When he became the rector he didn’t know many words of Finnish. He had to learn the language because most of the church was speaking Finnish, the rest spoke Sámi. During divine church services Finnish was used. Sámi was used in conversations, home services and parish catechetical meetings. Sámi texts that have been preserved indicate that Læstadius used the Arjeplog Sámi dialect of his home area while adding words from the mountain Sámi dialect. In Pajala, the use of Sámi decreased and of Swedish increased, however, Finnish remained the main language. Læstadius employed three channels as aids in the work: a temperance movement that had started before the awakening, a village prayer tradition used in Norrland, and the school system. With the annual migration of the reindeer-herding Sámi people spending their summers on the coast or tundra and the winters in the taiga, they were able to spread the awakening across the area. The awakening stretched from the Norwegian coast to an area extending from Rais in the north to Balsfjorden in the south. As the awakening grew stronger, Læstadius called repented laymen to help him in his work. The work was hindered by a bill passed in 1726 forbidding devotional meetings conducted by lay preachers.

Læstadius chose unlearned men as his disciples and they walked around preaching his doctrines to the people. Their biggest mission was to decrease the huge problems with alcoholism. They were very successful with this after sermons about the effects of alcohol. This created a strong unity among the people.

The movement was based on an old religious foundation called, Uorvvut, which spread like “wildfire.” Uorvvut means shouters or callers, and was given to the movement because of the traveling preachers who preached sermons about doomsday and penance. The members of this movement paid attention to the preacher Læstadius and soon adopted him as their own. His reputation grew and the movement attracted followers from the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the town of Pajala. The Uorrvvut movement had begun in Kautokeino in the 1700’s and had spread among the reindeerherding Sámi. The movement was similar to the Læstadian movement with rigid legalistic sermons.

During Læstadius’ time the awakening spread from the shores of the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic to Kiruna, Kittilä, and the northern shore of the Gulf of Bothnia between Tornio and Oulu. The awakening also reached the Swedish–speaking people in the Alkainuu area. Læstadius traveled outside his parish only when he visited other parishes and schools, while the lay preachers traveled broadly expanding the awakening.

After his death in 1861 the awakening was left in the care of the lay preachers who had worked with him as messengers of sobriety and mission school teachers. The awakening had already spread east of the Tornio River and soon to America. Letters were used to keep in contact as distances were great and travel was difficult.

A Sermon of Læstadius Given on the Fourth Day of Rogation in 1857:

"Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not." (Psalm 115:2-6)

King David writes in Psalm 115: "Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God?" That is, the God of the children of Israel. When the children of Israel encountered adversities in the world, the heathen were quite ready to mock and say, "Where is now their God?" Yet today, the heathen mock Christians in this way when some misfortune besets them, saying, "Where is now their God?" David has in many places marveled that the ungodly have so much success in this world, but he has also shown where the trust of Christians is when he says in the aforementioned place, "But our God is in the heavens. He hath done whatsoever he hath pleased." He shows here that the God of the Christians is in heaven. Although Christians often have to suffer in this world, their God is in heaven. But where is the God of the heathen? David says in verses 4-6 of the same Psalm, "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not." Thus David now writes of the gods of the heathen. They are worthless gods, which cannot effect anything. But are the gods of the heathen better now than in the time of David? At that time, the heathen had visible idols, that is, images of gold, silver, brass, wood, clay or other substances. Now the visible gods are the liquor flask, ostentatious clothing, beautiful buildings, painted sleighs, cattle, horses and sheep. For Luther says: "That which a person loves the most is his god." The heathen trust in these things the most, and we can say of these idols with David, "They have mouths, but they speak not" and "they have ears, but they hear not." That is, they are dumb, helpless gods, who cannot help in distress. But the invisible gods are innumerable, and the heathen serve them the most, such as the devil of fornication, the devil of honor, the devil of greed, the devil of anger, the devil of drunkenness, the devil of arrogance, the devil of deceit and the devil of envy, which all rule in the hearts of the heathen. The drunkard’s favorite god is the visible flowing liquor, rum, or whatever his name may be, which we call the devil’s shit, for the devil teaches people to ruin God’s grain and to make it harmful to body and soul. The people who drink it become animals. And what is the favorite god of the liquor merchant? Why, nothing other than that round liquor barrel, on which the liquor devil sits astride, as the heathen have painted him in their pictures. What is the whore’s favorite god? That which she loves the most, some whoremonger, who deceives her and makes her an animal. What is the favorite god of the slave of the world? Moolah or money, objects, possessions, beautiful buildings, beautiful horses or other worldly vanity, which are of no avail in death. All these transient things are the gods of the heathen. Some also have their belly for their god. Gluttons and drinkers are servants of idols, for they view their belly as their god. "But our God is in the heavens," David says. He is not in the belly, nor in the liver and spleen, nor in the gall and intestines. And since the heathen mock Christians, as David says, and say, "Where is their God?" we can also say to the heathen, "Where are their gods?" They must be in the liquor flask. They must be in the barn or shed. They must be in the whorehouse. Some female devil must be their god, like Diana of the Ephesians. "But our God is in the heavens," David says, although the heathen, mocking the children of Israel, say, "Where is their God?" as the heathen of this time say in mockery of the Christians. "But our God is in the heavens," David testifies on behalf of the Christians." The heathen indeed think that the God of the Christians is in the same place as that of the heathen, that is, in the liquor merchant’s house or whorehouse, but it is not so. The God of the Christians is in heaven, and that of the heathen is in the liquor bottle and whorehouse. Today we must view where the gods of the heathen are and to whom they give honor. But, above all, we must pray to the God of heaven that he would give true enlightenment to all the heathen so that they would come to know their gods, how useless they are in helping their servants in distress. Let all Christians who have previously, in the manner of the heathen, served the gods of this world but have now come to know the worthlessness of the gods of the heathen, confess it openly in the manner of David. When the heathen mock Christians, saying, "Where is their God?" Christians can answer with David: "Our God is in the heavens." And although the heathen do not believe that the God of the Christians is in heaven, they will finally see and confess it when they begin to realize that these deaf and dumb gods no longer avail. But the God of the Christians is in heaven, and he hears the prayers of the sorrowing, penitent and oppressed. For the Prophet says, "He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?" [Psalm 94:9] And truly he sees and hears the groans of those who pray with a humble and penitent heart: "Our Father which art in heaven, etc." The text of the morning service for the fourth day of rogation is found written in Psalm 115:1, and the words are as follows: "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake." Guided by our holy text, we will consider to whom glory is to be given:

1. To whom do the heathen give glory?
2. To whom do the Christians give glory?

1. To whom do the heathen give glory? When King David says, "Not unto us, O Lord, but unto thy name give glory," it seems that David had experienced temptations to want glory for himself from God but soon realized that it wasn’t fitting for him to get glory from God, but let God instead give glory to his own name, for people do not glorify God. The Jews, however, were, in their opinion, zealous for God’s glory because they said to the Savior, "Give God the glory." The heathen have also wanted the Christians to give glory to heathen gods, but the Christians have not done so. Since the Christians know the nature of the gods of the heathen, that is, beautiful buildings, beautiful horses, ostentatious clothing, painted sleighs, etc., we cannot give glory to such deaf and dumb gods, but the heathen indeed give them glory. They desire and think that other heathen should give them glory when they display their finery, elegance and objects and ask, "Isn’t this beautiful? Isn’t this elegant?" Other heathen reply, "Indeed it is!" and "If only I had such!" This now is the glory of the heathen, that they take glory from one another. The Savior told the Jews, "How can ye honor God, which receive honor one of another" [John 5:44]? Worldly lords also give glory to one another. Pilate honored Herod that he was a better judge and wiser in examining prisoners and inducing them to confess. With this in mind, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, but Herod again honored Pilate that he was a better judge. And as a result of this mutual show of respect, Herod and Pilate became friends. And how do the heathen now think that they will gain glory from the world? Indeed, with elegance and finery in clothing, buildings, parties and drinking bouts. Some boast of their strength, thinking they will gain glory in this way. Some show their finery and elegance to other heathen, thinking they will gain glory in this way. Some race, thinking they will gain glory by horses. Some engage in drinking contests for the sake of glory, but in this competition and pursuit of glory many a pagan has started burning. Such now is the glory of the heathen. If many do not believe that God also gives drinkers, whores and thieves glory, they indeed believe that at least the world will give them glory. The world will, in any case, praise and extol their finery, elegance and beauty. And what does the world do but give glory not only to people but also to horses and dogs? And to the devil they give the greatest glory because they cry out his name in curses and oaths. But do the heathen still believe that God has given them glory? I have heard and seen heathen become angry when Christians say that the devil has given them glory. From this it can be deduced that even today the heathen believe that God has given them glory. But where is it written in the Bible that God has given the heathen glory? God has not given many people glory, for all men lost their glory a long time ago by the fall into sin. Nevertheless, all the heathen love the vainglory of the world, and virtuous whores, honest thieves and compassionate liquor merchants even seek their glory in court. And this you will come to know, that it is not God who has given the heathen glory, but it is the devil who has done so. He has given the whore glory. He has given the thief glory. He has given the liquor merchant glory. Therefore, they, in turn, glorify the devil when they cry out his name night and day. And now we know to whom the heathen give glory. They give glory to the devil and the world, and for themselves, in particular, they claim great glory. 2. To whom do the Christians give glory? Since David says, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory," he had undoubtedly felt the effects of glory previously but soon realized that this glory, which belongs only to God, was not appropriate for him, although God had given David the honor that by the mouth of a prophet he gave him forgiveness of sins, saying, "I have found a man after mine own heart" [Acts 13:22]. God’s praise of a person would be the greatest glory, and the kind of person whom God praises could say that God has given him glory. But David had not lived in such a way that he could claim glory for himself. Therefore, he said, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory." The one and only person who has ever lived on earth to whom God has given glory is the Son of God, our Savior. But all others have received glory from the devil, particularly those who claim glory for themselves, whether it is the glory of the world or of being the best Christian. Christians indeed do not want to gain the glory of this world. They have been taught by God enough to know that the world’s glory is vain. But that glory of being the best Christian tends to cling yet to some. And the prayer of the sons of Zebedee as to who can sit on the right and who on the left in the Savior's kingdom, that is, who could get nearest the Savior, tends to be in the minds of Christians. [For self-righteousness wants to exalt some and press others into the Slough of Despond.] But if the Savior rebuked the sons of Zebedee for wanting for themselves the glory of being the best Christian, we indeed have had to place the same passage before those who want to claim for themselves the glory of being the best Christian, although there are not many in this Christianity who have climbed to the pinnacle of the temple. There are, however, many who cannot see Jesus because of the crowd, but when they, like Zacchæus, climb the tree of life, there they will see him, and it is to such that Jesus wants to come as a guest.

You who seek to see Jesus and cannot see him because of the crowd and are too short to look over the others, climb the tree of life, and you will see Jesus. Perhaps he will honor you by coming to you as a guest, and that will be glory enough for you. But now if there were so many children around Jesus, that is, children he would bless, and you could not at all get close to the Savior because of them, would you shove the children out of the way to get closer yourself? I think that Christians who have come to self-knowledge could not push children aside but would stand afar off and cry, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us" [Luke 18:38]. But those who want to glorify Jesus must first become the dunghill of the world, for not a single person will get into the kingdom of heaven with the glory of the world. Christians would indeed often like to give glory, thanks and praise to Jesus, but there is no power. Therefore, they must glorify Jesus as did the woman who, from love, poured the precious ointment of spikenard on his head or as the Samaritan who fell at his feet and thanked God. But it is especially by their deaths that many Christians have glorified God, as, for example, Peter, to whom the Savior foretold by what death he would glorify God. By their deaths, Christians can glorify God even today, when the heathen can see what great power of faith God gives them so that they would have the strength to enter death with joy and gladness while heathen and apostates go instead like shameful dogs to hell. Some condemn themselves on their deathbeds. Some complain that God doesn’t hear their prayers. Some say, "Since there was no delving into my spiritual state before, there is no need for it now." And some do not speak a single word; they don’t even bid farewell before leaving. Some are delirious and curse on their deathbed. Some command many thousands of devils to come to fetch their carcasses. Thus the unclean spirit certainly gets great glory from their deaths, but what kind of glory do they, in turn, get from him? If the heathen would believe that the devil has given them glory, they would cast his glory back to him in this time of grace. But the heathen do not believe that the devil has given them glory.

Christians give God glory when they confess themselves to be children of God, as Jesus confessed himself to be the Son of God. But here a great dispute occurs with the devil, for the devil of self-righteousness says thus: "Whoever confesses himself a child of God exalts himself, but whoever doesn’t confess himself a child of God is a humble Christian. He gives God glory. But whoever confesses himself a child of God [deceives and] glorifies himself." A great dispute begins with the devil already when some penitent person has to confess his sins before the world and not before God alone, but an even greater dispute begins with the devil, when a penitent person [who knows his heart is bad] has to confess himself a child of God. Here the devil of self-righteousness is horrified and preaches in the intellect: "Oh really! So you are a child of God and are as black and ugly as the devil himself. [You have bad thoughts, lusts and desires. You have not yet been properly penitent.] Don’t you dare confess yourself to be a child of God [before you perform the proper repentance]. If you climb so high, I will cast you into hell. So! You are a child of God [though you commit sin every day]. If you [still] confess yourself to be a child of God, you will blaspheme God." Many a penitent soul, thus confronted, has given the devil glory and said, "I am not a child of God." If the devil now comes to ask you, penitent devil, whether you are a child of God, you will reply, "I am not." Then all the servants of self-righteousness will say, "He is a humble Christian. He doesn’t climb as high as these fanatics, who blaspheme God with their confession. They make themselves holy." But why then did the Jews say to Jesus, "Give God the glory and tell us, art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" They had, therefore, the belief that Jesus would give God the glory by confessing the truth. They undoubtedly thought that Jesus would no longer dare blaspheme God before the council but would tell them clearly that he is not the Son of God and would glorify God in accordance with their thoughts. But when Jesus boldly confessed himself to be the Son of God, the high priest was so horrified that he rent his clothing, saying, "Now ye have heard his blasphemy" [Matthew 26:65]. And all judged him worthy of death according to their law, for they said, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" [John 19:7]. These servants of self-righteousness found many faults in the life of Jesus, and when he still confessed himself to be the Son of God, it was the greatest blasphemy of God.

The servants of self-righteousness of our time also do the same, who watch for the faults of Christians. And when they, in spite of all, confess themselves to be the children of God, it is the greatest blasphemy of God. And the devil of self-righteousness also preaches to the awakened and penitent: "If you confess yourself a child of God when you have such a bad heart, bad lusts and desires and commit sin every day, you will deceive yourself and blaspheme God and lie against your heart before God because you feel one thing and confess another." And he also says, "You are hardened because you have a heart as hard and bad as that of the devil." The devil of self-righteousness preaches these and other such things to the awakened, penitent and believing. And many a doubting soul has believed these sermons of self-righteousness, has given the devil glory and has said, "I am not a child of God." This denial is also quite acceptable to the servants of self-righteousness, who are always watching for the faults of Christians and say, "They confess faith and have no more conscience than the devil, though they commit sin and iniquity." And the devil of self-righteousness accuses the Christians night and day, demanding that you become angels and live according to the law. Do not, therefore, doubt, sorrowing and heavy-laden souls, though you feel that you commit sin and iniquity in weakness and also feel that you have a bad heart, bad lusts and desires. The devil of self-righteousness condemns you through your own heart, and the servants of self-righteousness, who see many sins and faults in you, demand that you give God the glory and confess, "I am not a child of God because I still feel so much sin and evil in myself." For they say, "Is someone like him a Christian, who commits sin? His conscience has never even stirred." What kind of glory will you sorrowing and heavy-laden souls now give to God when self-righteousness preaches thus? You are likely to give the devil glory and say, "I am not a child of God." Do not give the devil glory, sorrowing and doubting souls, but give glory to God and believe and confess boldly with your mouths that you are children of God, and he will take you into his lap, let you suck his breasts flowing with grace, will confess you as his children before his Father, and will place a ring on your hand, a cross on your chest and a crown of glory on your head in the New Jerusalem. Follow the bloody footsteps of Jesus from the garden to the hill of Golgotha, to which he has borne the sins of the whole world and where he has cried out, "Now all is finished" [John 19:30]. He opened the gates of Paradise on Good Friday and testified to the penitent thief, who gave God the glory, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" [Luke 23:43]. Therefore, give God the glory, doubting and heavy-laden souls, and you will be allowed to see the brightness of God’s glory. Believe as a sinner and glorify the Lord Jesus with your confession, and with an unveiled face you will be allowed to view the brightness of the Lord’s glory and those glorious mansions in the kingdom of glory. Believe and glorify by your confession the King of Zion, who has won the kingdom with his bloody warfare. And into this kingdom he calls all penitent harlots, publicans, whores and thieves, those whom self-righteousness has condemned to hell, those oppressed by the law, those heavy-laden with the burden of sin and those who are laboring. He sends his servants to call the good and the bad to the joyous wedding that he has prepared in this kingdom.

Let those rare souls who have come into living faith and have felt the Father’s love through the Son in the Holy Spirit, of whom there is always the hope that they will soon be allowed to see God and the great Crossbearer face to face, pray to the author and finisher of faith that he would also help into living faith the wretches who have true sorrow and longing for eternal life, so that they too could once see the light before eternal darkness overtakes them in the land of the shadow of death, where they sit as slaves of unbelief. Believe and follow the bloody footsteps of Jesus from the garden to the hill of Golgotha. Hasten to gather drops of atoning blood into your polluted vessels before death overtakes you on the road because of your unbelief and you fail to arrive with the believing children of Israel in the promised land, which is on the other side of the unbridged stream and is no longer far from a single one of us. Soon the angel of death will come to cut the branches of the vine from off the earth. Soon visitors will come from heaven. Soon the Bridegroom will come to fetch his elect bride. So keep your lamps burning, for midnight will soon arrive. Soon there will come the cry: "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him" [Matthew 25:6]. Then you bridesmaids can with great joy follow the Bridegroom into the wedding chamber, where you can sing to God and the Lamb a hymn of praise now and eternally. Amen.

The Lay Preachers and the Sámi

This period of Læstadianism was a Sámi period. The following lay preachers and many others preached in Sámi and Finnish:

Juhani Raattamaa was one of Læstadius’ closest friends. He was the catechist of Kaaresuvanto and the churchwarden beginning in 1829. He died in 1899. He was responsible for making preaching trips to Rovaniemi, Kuusamo and Oulu. In 1898 he said,

“I have seen this Christianity begin from a mustard seed. Now it is a tree whose branches extend over the oceans, and I have to say, ‘O, Immanuel, how great is Thy grace.’”

Erkki Antti Junonpieti was one of the most significant continuers of Læstadius’ work. He became known as the “gracious preacher” of the Tornio River Valley. He was also responsible for preaching trips to Finland.

Iisakki Huhtasaari was a preacher since the 1850’s and best known in the Tornio River Valley. He made preaching trips to Finland in Kajaani and Kokkola.

The first members of the Læstadian movement were the Mountain Sámi. Unfortunately, the revival did not spread among them or to the regions they inhabited. The first phase of the movement abounded in Sámi preachers who covered a large area when moving with the reindeer. Læstadius trained these preachers, but the power of Læstadianism was based on the work the movement did when stripping the community of alcohol and other curses southerners brought to the area.

There was a backlash against the spreading of Læstadianism among the Sámi when the Kautokeino Uprising took place. In 1852 a group of thirty five Sámi nomads and believers of the Læstadian Revival marched on the town of Kautokeino. They came to wage war against the unrepentant. During this clash of faith, they killed the village’s shopkeeper and bailiff, maltreated the town’s minister and burned the local shopkeeper’s home. The uprising was due to the poor social conditions which the Sámi were going through, but Læstadius and his movement were blamed by many for what had happened. Publicly this event was interpreted as an outburst of irrational rage. The leaders of the revolt, Aslak Haetta and Mons Somby, were executed in 1854 and many other Sámi went to prison. As a result of this, Læstadianism never took root in Kautokeino as it did in other towns. Disciples of the Læstadian movement are adherents of the literal Biblical interpretation with great emphasis being placed on man’s inherent sinfulness. Confessing of sins before a congregation evokes conversion to the true faith, then this may be followed by confession to one of the movement’s leaders who will grant forgiveness of sin by a laying on of hands. Læstadians serve as stern Lutherans with strict morals who are known to be extremely conservative in ethical and religious issues. The movement had and still has a great impact on the northern Scandinavian Peninsula.

From its beginning the movement has been an important part of Sámi culture. It has had both a positive and negative influence on many of today’s Sámi population. The movement has been regarded since the 1860’s as a distinctly Finnish movement that split into several fractions. Recently research has shown that the Sámi played a major role in the movement as well. It was usually thought that Læstadianism was the result of one man’s activities and may have been slightly influenced by other Nordic revivalist movements. This is not true because Læstadius was a third generation Sámi priest who grew up on the borderlines of the three Sámi cultures: born in Ume Lappland, his mother was a Sámi from the Pite area and he spent his childhood in Lule Lappland. As a child he was able to speak two to three different Sámi languages. Research has shown that Læstadius’ adopted the mythology concerning certain Sámi supernatural beings, even believing in the earthly spirits. Before turning to Christianity he wrote a paper titled Fragmenter i lappisk mythologi, which he used as a source of information to fight the old religion and include the Sámi way of thinking into his sermons after his conversion.

The most efficient way the word was spread was through the mission school system, which began in 1848 under the leadership of Raattamaa, a lay preacher and schoolmaster from Linio, Jukkasjärvi. The awakening changed many villages completely. The drunks repented and pubs closed their doors, as did courthouses. The effects of Læstadianism spread to the Finnish side through daily conversation and through the mission schools established on the borders. The first awakenings took place in Enontekiö and Munio in the winter of 1846-1847 and a little later in Kittilä in 1849. This liberalization of social and church laws opened the doors for even more lay preachers who began to be invited and sent to preach in other areas.

The Awakening Continues after the Death of the Founder

By the time of Læstadius death the movement had spread to an area from Hammerfest to Jokkmokk and from Vesisaari to Oulu. There were hundreds of lay preachers, and from the beginning some priests. Before the Russian revolution there were many Læstadian Christians in St. Petersburg and the surrounding area. However, the revolution hindered their activity, although it did not end it. Services were still held in the village of Lahti during the war in 1942. The first Læstadian services were held in Cokato, Minnesota in 1863. Jaakko Wuollet, a preacher in Vesisaari, moved to America in 1873, where he began serving in Cakato. In the beginning services in the United States were held only in Finnish, later the sermons were translated to English. Today, the main language is English, although some sermons are translated into Finnish.

The awakening that began in Kaaresuvanto, Tornio’s Lappland, quickly spread over a wide area especially in Finland and from there via northern Norway to North America. The widely spread movement remained intact, although inner tensions surfaced. Little by little disagreements came to a head and at the turn of the century, “first born” Conservative Læstadians and the newly awakened separated from the main body. Conservative Læstadianism is an ecclesiastical revival movement. It has some traits that resemble a protest movement. It has criticized both the church and the clergy. While at times, the church has criticized and been resistant towards the movement. For reasons rooted in the doctrine and church history, the Conservative Læstadian faith has stayed within the church.

Toward the turn of the century many social changes were taking place in Finland and local attempts toward separatism were becoming evident in eastern Finland. The idea of separating from the church was rejected.

The New Conservative Læstadianism

In the area of the initial awakening in the 1880’s there arose the need to gather and discuss the doctrine and mission work. The meetings were held in conjunction with the Lannavaara winter services in northwestern Finland. A meeting was held in Helsinki around Christmas time in 1888. It was attended by speakers from all parts of the area of the awakening. After the schism of the turn of the century the believers of Oulu called the Læstadian preachers to a meeting to discuss certain questions of doctrine and the sending of missionary preachers. The result of the meeting in 1906 was the conservative Læstadians organizing themselves and beginning to hold annual meetings in conjunction with the mission work.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century differences of opinion appeared in doctrinal matters. However, the movement was able to stay as one group until the end of the century. Raattamaa was the authoritative figure whom people turned to help settle the disputes within the doctrine. When he died in 1899 the difference in opinions were in understanding of righteousness, the Kingdom of God, and the sacraments. It was during this time that the New Awakened and the “First Born” separated and formed new groups. Conservative Læstadians remained as the main branch from which all other schisms have departed.

The teachings of the Conservative Læstadians are based on the Holy Bible and the Lutheran Confession. The message they preach is of suffering, death and victorious resurrection of Christ. The work of Christ continues in the world as the work of the Holy Spirit in his kingdom. It is from this foundation that the Conservative Læstadians teach of the Kingdom of God, and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The Bible is the highest authority on faith according to them. They also believe that the duty of the church is to teach the basis of Christianity, to root people and to take care of the Holy Sacraments. There are about 100 priests and nearly 700 lay preachers within the movement.

This is a revivalist movement that began within the state church. The background is found in northern Sweden’s new readerism. Domestic and foreign mission work is carried out by arranging devotional services based on the Holy Bible and Evangelic Lutheran faith, confession and doctrine. The preachings are based on the Bible and Luther’s teachings. Some doctrines of the church state that sins are forgiven “in Jesus’ name and blood.” They believe that the wording is not what is most important, but that a person believes the preached word.

The teachings of Conservative Læstadianism emphasize the congregation of God as the place of pure salvation through the forgiveness of sins and of living fellowship amongst believers. They emphasize their significance as strengtheners of faith when teaching about the sacraments. Explanations of the Bible and singing form the main content of the service tradition. Greetings of “God’s greetings” and “God’s peace” are still used today. The living faith provides the strength to follow through with all ethical decision, such as values of family life, lifelong marriage and sobriety.

Sometimes they have criticized the ecclesiastical, spiritual and temporal conditions. It has remained faithful to the state church and has supported it in words and actions. The movement has a positive attitude toward community activity.

Nearly half of all associations were once in towns, although the majority of the Læstadian Christians lived in the country. This indicates the awakening also spread into the towns along the Læstadian Christians who moved there. Many stories have been told of carpenters, railroad builders, shoemakers, and leather workers who brought the awakening with them when they came. Service facilities were also needed in towns. Associations of Peace were established when a service facility was awarded. In the country it was easier for the followers to gather in homes, so these Associations of Peace were not established there until later.

In 1906 a Main Office of Mission Activity was established to take care of the mission work of the new Conservative Læstadians. It was located in Oulu, which had become the center of the movement in the late 1800’s. Later, the Central Association of the Finnish Associations of Peace (SRK) was established in 1917 to continue the work of the Main Office and to function as a unifying body for the local Associations of Peace. The SRK carries out mission work in Finland and other countries. SRK also cooperates with sister associations in Sweden and the USA. Mission work is also carried out in penal institutions. According to the SRK’s annual report in 1998 there were 895 mission services to Finland, 116 prison services, and 9,790 services arranged by the Associations of Peace. In all, 1.2 million people attended these services with 1126 working days used for the mission work in other countries.

The first Associations of Peace were established in 1888 in Helsinki, Turku, and Tornio. The name refers to the words of the Bible, “for he is our Peace.” At the end of the century Finland had 21 Associations of Peace, today there are 200 in Finland. The Conservative Læststadians arrange devotional services. They are held not only in their own facilities, but also in homes, churches, and schools. The service consists of prayers, singing of hymns and songs and sermons.

The most significant event of the Conservative Læststadians are the annual Summer Services held every year in June or July in different parts of Finland. The services were held for the first time in 1912 in Rovaniemi and have been called the “summer services” since the beginning of the 1950’s. The locations and dates of the annual meeting and these summer services were held in locations accessible by train until the 1960’s. As the use of private cars became more common railroad connections were no longer necessary. In addition as more space was needed and the number of service guests increased and lodging in tents became more popular it became necessary to locate the services outside the city. Services are now held outdoor to accommodate the large groups of people. “Loudspeakers” were first used in Rovaniemi in 1931 and services were held in a tent for the first time in Kajaani in 1938. The flags of the countries from the service guests are flown on the grounds since 1932.

The Associations of Peace, or Rauhanyhdistys, have held Sunday school for a long time and trips and camps are arranged for the children and youth. The Central Association did this youth work as early as the 1950s. Presently the SRK has six camps. This responsibility for the youth has led the Læstadians to establish Christian folk schools, the first being established in Ylitotnio in 1921. This folk school was left in the possession of the Words of Lifers after schism of 1960, but the other three schools Reisjää (established 1954), Jämsä (established 1963) and Ranua (established 1987) still remain. The first Læstadian publication was a 16-page leaflet from the minutes of the establishing meeting when the Main Office of Mission Activity was established.

The Associations of Peace with the largest membership are located in Olul with 1700 members, Helsinki with 1300, Jyväskylä with 750 and Tampere with 720. The movement has many followers in Central and Northern Ostrobothnia, the Helsinki are and the northeast. The Conservatives are also found in Sweden, America, Russia, and Estonia, with a few in Norway, England, Germany and Hungary. The central organization of Sweden's Associations of Peace is Sveriges Fridsföreningars Centralorganisation (SFC). The Læstadian Lutheran Church (LLC) is the central organization of America’s Conservative Læstadians. In Russia there are eight organizations and one in Estonia.

Since 1923 the SRK has published the Old Church Bible (1776) and devotional books such as “the Word for this Sunday,” which contains explainations of the Gospel books of the Bible. Four clergymen and four lay preachers have published other explanatory books. Some Læstadians have also published editions of books. The SRK has also produced audio material since 1976. As early as 1880 periodicals have appeared among the Læstadians. Initially published by private individuals, the SRK has published them since 1912. Some current periodicals include a weekly newspaper, Päivämies, a missionary monthly called Siionin Lähetyslehti and a children’s monthly called Siionin kevät.

Since the times of the awakening, songs and hymns have been a part of services and home devotions. The theme of the songs is the reconciliatory work of the Redeemer. The old hymnbook dating 1701 was used often and the hymns in it have become so dear that they were added to songbooks published by the Læstadians. A collection of Hymns of Zion from 1790 and Spiritual Songs of Willing Souls from 1790 were used. After the 1870’s the Læstadians began to write their own songs. In the 1880’s the hymns comprised a large collection. Some of the most significant songwriters of the 1880’s were Paavali Ervasti, Juho Ranginen and Gustaf Skinnari.

The Russian Læstadians in St. Petersburg compiled their own songbook, “Songs of the Children of Zion” in 1920.

Another song collection, “Songs and Hymns of Zion,” was gathered and published by O.H. Jussila in 1916. This book has been revised three times, the last time in 1976, and t has established itself as the songbook used by the Læstadians. This book is usually used together with the hymnbook. The LLC was organized on June 9, 1973 under the name “Associations of American Læstadian Congregations” (AALC). It changed its name to the LLC in 1994 to better convey the spiritual heritage and nature of its organization. The LLC takes its name from Martin Luther and Lars Levi Læstastadius. The Læstadian movement first reached North America with Finnish immigrant in the 1860’s. Congregations were first formally organized in Cokato, Minnesota in 1872 and Calumet, Michigan in 1873. Today the LLC has 27 member congregations in the US and Canada. The highest concentration of members is in Minnesota, Washington, Arizona, Michigan and Saskatchewan. Sixty-eight lay preachers serve the congregations. The movement has suffered problems since 1890. The subjects of the disagreements have been justifying God’s congregation and the sacraments. The last division occurred in 1973. The teachings of Læstadianism are based on the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions, centermost among these is the sermon of Jesus’ suffering, death and victorious resurrection. The church teaches of God’s Kingdom and preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They hold in accord with the Lutheran Confessions that the Bible is the highest guide and authority for Christian faith, doctrine and life.

Sámi Attitude Towards Læstadiasm Today

In the book, No Beginning, No End, by Elina Helander and Kaarina Kailo, the authors interviewed Sámi people about their culture. Kirsti Paltto said it is easy to subjugate and control Sámi women today because of Christianity.

She said, "Christianity has taught Sámi men that women should be man's servants. Fathers have transmitted this attitude to their daughters through Læstadiasm." She also cited the influence of Læstadius in their literature, and that almost everyone has been influenced by him. Sámi writers like Rauni Magga Lukkari said Læstadias influenced his writings because he sat through several religious meetings when he was a child. He said "what has influenced the language usage is Læstadianism and writings associated with it."

The Future of Læstadianism

Nowadays a New Year starts with either a week of prayers or a general meeting. There are many Læstadians in Finland, Norway, Russia, Hungary and the United States. The movement is not always met with understanding and people still mock and despise the weekday of a Læstadiast. Many people view the movement as very strict, traditional and conservative. The movement in recent years is becoming more modern. The Læstadianists are split into two groups, the East Læstadstadians and the West Læstadstadians. The West is seen as stricter than the East. Families are often very large among the Læstadstadians because they are not allowed to use prevention. This is another way for them to secure the survival of the movement.

Dalai Lama and Sami


Cultural Change and Ethnic Continuity – Læstadianism as a Politically Incorporating Value in a Coast Sámi Municipality by Øystein Steinlien.

The Læstadianism Movement

History of Lars Levi Læstadius

DIHTOSIS: The Læstadian Movement and the Sámi

Lars Levi Læstadius

The Læstadian Lutheran Church

Religion and Spirituality Helander, Elina and Kaarina Kailo, eds. No Beginning, No End: the Sami Speak Up. Canadian Circumpolar Institute, 1998.


1Churches became more independent and the bonds between church and state were loosened by the Ecclesiastical Act of 1869. During this time the Synod, the supreme decision making body of the church, was founded.

2From 1814-1905 Norway was under Sweden, and became independent in 1905.
In 1917 Finland became independent. In Finland, Independence was declared in 1917 and Civil War broke out. Relations between the church leaders and the working class became more distant. Finland and Russia set their borders in 1944. In 1939 the Winter War against the Soviet Union was characterized as a struggle in defense of the home, faith and fatherland. The church was now the source of support and unity. The administration and financial independence of the church increased during the war with the establishment of the Church Central Fund in 1941 and the Ecclesiastical Board in 1944. In more recent years a renewal in interest in religion has been apparent. The position of the revivalist movements has become stronger and the number of new religious groups has multiplied.