In Swedish, please!
A Commission of Inquiry, Please!
Hyssna, Sweden 16th September 2006
Many people have seen it and increasing numbers are beginning to discover it: Our church is in the process of fragmentation. We have to speak the truth in order to save what can be saved. The facts speak clearly. Attendance at worship has collapsed in many places (only a few more than 100,000 people constitute the average attendance at the Sunday service in the 1837 parishes that make up the Church of Sweden), parishes are being amalgamated (681 parishes and 212 joint parishes have disappeared in five years) and the members withdraw from church membership in large numbers.
Current prognoses predict that in 15-20 years, the membership will have decreased so much that the current level of work can no longer be maintained. We can see that already. Everyone will be affected. The Church of Sweden is about to implode. Now we must act and speak out. We must point out the reasons and work out plans of action.
The Church Order, copied on the Swedish Law of local self-government, expressing and aiming at uniformity, holds together a rocking and reeling organisation. The church is held together by its outward organisation, providing a structure of national coverage, by its organisation of territorial parishes, by its jointly held property, investment funds and pension commitments, but also by the secular social legislation regulating employment rights and the system of fees collection.
The formally free Church of Sweden did not become really free. The Church-State reform at the turn of the millennium only meant that the principle of democracy took effect at all levels in a way that was hitherto unknown throughout the history of the universal Church. Those responsible for preparing and adopting the Church Order chose to ignore the fact that the Church is, by its very nature, something different from a regular democracy. It is not an association, nor a popular movement, ant it is not a legally imposed authority. The theologically motivated national "folk-church" became the democratic "folk-church" at the turn of the millennium, in which the people, through their elected representatives have the right to make decisions on all matters, including matters relating to the "faith, confession and teaching" of the church. This is the threat against the identity of our church as part of the universal, worldwide Church of Christ. If decisions that are contrary to the revealed faith continue to be taken, the Church of Sweden will become more and more isolated from the rest of Christendom. This provincialism threatens her catholicity. The description, "the Swedish Church" will take on an entirely new meaning, with the emphasis on "Swedish." If that will still be a church in the real sense of the word remains is debatable.
This is the reason why the Church of Sweden is losing ground in all areas. How can a church province that is profoundly uncertain about its profession of faith in the living Lord ever hope to awaken and sustain faith in the hearts of its people? How can a church that undertakes its activities on a foundation of doubt and uncertainty ever hope to encourage people to live their lives by faith in the Risen Lord and to proclaim their faith through their actions?
The foundation of the Church of Sweden, its faith and teaching, is in principle unchangeable at all times, regardless of any majority decisions by the politically constituted General Synod. The proud reference in opening statement of the Church Order, proclaiming that the church "is founded on the Holy Word of God," does not seem to have any real consequence in practice. We cannot pass over the fact that the politically elected General Synod is the teaching authority of the Church of Sweden, wielding unimpaired power and primacy as the interpreter of matters of faith and teaching. The so-called Doctrine Commission is purely cosmetic. It can be voted down by a two-thirds majority of the political General Synod. What the Universal Church has formulated during a long process of handing on the tradition of teaching, by ecumenical councils, by studies of the Holy Scripture under guidance of the Holy Spirit can all be changed by political majority decisions.
In this outward framework, a modern, experimental theology flourishes, which has made a virtue out of its own constructed theological model of a continuous revelation. Someone has put it like this: "The church wrote the Bible, and therefore the church can rewrite the Bible." Now that is plain speaking. The Bible is not the revealed word of God which contains everything we need to know for our salvation, and by which the church stands and falls. The Bible is rather a collection of people’s experiences of God, and it should be considered in relation to our own experiences and insights. Now you can no longer declare with St Paul: "I know in whom I believe" (2 Tim. 1:12). The cry is rather: "What is it that I no longer have to believe in?" All this takes place under the cover of the concept of biblical interpretation, which now no longer means to translate the words of the Bible into our own circumstances by penetrating ever deeper into the divine Revelation itself, but rather to seek to find out what you might plausibly consider to be the real message of the Bible, and which is often summarised as its "message of love." That is theology without pastoral action, without any enthusiasm for mission and testimony. That can only serve to impoverish the church and its parishes. We have become a church of questions, but without any answers! A "folk-church" without the folks, because the folks are deserting the church!
If you want to pinpoint this a little further, you could say that this theology, which has lost its faith in the Revealed word, make God unknown to us, and Jesus becomes no more than an interesting person, whom some people might find either interesting and others will resist. That which we call the church is no more than an organisation among others, mission equals propaganda and liturgy is reduced to ceremonies. The Christian life-style becomes no more than ethical action, which can change over time. However, the faith in the revealed Word, and in the Risen and living Christ, present in his Church and in the Gospel, is a life-giving power that recreates and transforms us human beings. Even the hardest of hearts might one day be transformed into hearts of flesh...
>In the past, I have been accused of painting a black picture. Never mind. I will not cease to speak what is obvious and what an increasing number of people can feel, right into their bones. The words in the Book of the Apocalypse, 3:17 "You say: How rich I am! What a fortune I have made! I have everything I want" would seem to fit the Church of Sweden only too well. That text in the Bible continues: "In fact, though you do not realise it, you are a pitiful wretch, poor, blind and naked."
It is possible to turn things round. First, however, insight about the real situation is required; an awareness of the crisis, in other words. There are still counter-images and there are places where the profession of the faith in the church as "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" are still proclaimed and expressed, in faith and life. There are people who stand firm in this profession of the faith of the apostles, and who uphold that faith in relation to both doctrinal and ethical issues. They take the view that this faith carries far more weight than the political majorities, who have taken on the role as the teaching authority of the Church of Sweden. It is these people, these groups, which are the future of the Church of Sweden. We must not abandon our church in these difficult circumstances, even though there are serious and skilful attempt to drive us out by administrative measures and ever new decisions. To remain will require sacrifices from many of us, and we will have to find unconventional solutions in order to survive. We will continue to tell the truth about how things really are, and to plead for a "commission of inquiry." A commission that would have the courage to evaluate the consequences of the decisions taken, and that would analyse the causes behind the collapse of customary and popular church attendance and the alienation felt by such large groups of the Swedish population in the face of developments in the parishes. We need to recover our confidence and our courage to profess out faith, and we need to find ways to live an authentic Christian life and to be the Church in a minority situation.
If nothing is done, the ecclesiastical system will collapse. Our role is to remain and firm and assiduously proclaim and keep the apostolic faith. When destruction hits, we must start building again on the old foundation, because "There can be no other foundation than the one already laid: I mean Jesus Christ himself." (1 Cor. 3:11)
Kyrklig samling (The Church Coalition for the Bible and the Confession) wants to continue to play the role as the mouthpiece of the truth. I therefore appeal for support for our work, seeking to be a meeting place for all those in our church who desire that the only guiding principle for the church should be the Bible and the Confessional Documents of the Church of Sweden, as the opening paragraph of our constitution puts it.
MAY THE LORD PROTECT AND KEEP US ALL
Translation: 2006 © Sr Gerd Swensson, Te Deum
2006 © Yngve Kalin