Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Change in the ALC?

Il Coro's recent comments got me thinking about the ALC (Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, a.k.a. "the Federation") again, and how it has changed since I was a kid. So I thought I'd start this thread to give my pet theory on why this is the case, and invite everyone to post their views as well.

Back when I was growing up, it seemed like the ALC was a lot more like the OALC and other branches of Laestadianism. No TV, no sports, no make-up, no jewelry, no drinking, a lot of exclusiveness (thinking we're the only true Christianity), Finnish songs and preaching in the worship service, etc. Nowadays, however, you can find many ALC congregations that aren't much different than any other conservative evangelical denomination out there. People have TVs and even Internet connected computers. Women may dress conservatively, but wear makeup, jewelry, and clothing that are within the mainstream of the populace.

The first lens through which I see the change is that of the immigrant experience. First generation Laestadian Finnish immigrants, many of whom arrived in the late 19th and early 20th century didn't speak English, were uneducated with few opportunities other than farming, mining, and other manual labor. They built the churches as a touchstone and enclave where they could remember the best of what they left "back home," preserving the traditions and even setting them in stone over and against all the strangeness and harshness of a new land.

The second generation had a foot in both America and Finland. Fluent in both Finnish and English and educated in the American public school system, this generation felt the most conflict between the old ways and the new ways. While they were still sheltered from much of mainstream America through long hours helping out on the farm, raising siblings in large families, and not watching TV, English was their primary language and they were immersed in the mainstream culture through school and listening to the radio (often evangelical Christian radio). As this generation reached adulthood English started to become the primary language used in ALC churches, with Finnish songs and sermons becoming secondary.

The third generation and beyond (this generation) is fully acculturated to America. For the most part they have not learned the Finnish language, and speak only English fluently (or maybe some other language they learned in school.) They do not have any special ties to Finnish culture or heritage except for what might be preserved through church, or some foods eaten primarily during the holidays. Many of them have achieved higher education, even advanced degrees in engineering and humanities. Many of this generation feel no particular allegiance to the ALC as part of their cultural heritage and leave for other types of churches or no church at all, in keeping with whatever their worldview may reflect as a mainstream American living in a pluralistic society. Those that stay may stay for the sense of community and extended family, or may stay because by this time the church itself also largely reflects the mainstream of conservative evangelicalism with which they agree. There is now little or no singing or preaching in Finnish, instead largely traditional hymns or in some cases "praise music" drawn directly from the conservative evangelical subculture of "Christian radio" and books.

The other lens through which I see the change is that of factions within the ALC. At least since the 1960s and 1970s, there have been at least two and maybe three factions in the ALC. There is the "Laestadian faction," largely older but some younger members, often in smaller congregations in rural areas. These are most like the OALC and others in their implementation and view of the faith. There is also the "evangelical faction." Often larger congregations near larger cities, these ALCers would listen to James Dobson on the radio, attend Billy Graham crusades, and enjoy contemporary Christian music as well as "praise music." They seek to implement these types of changes within their own ALC congregation. A third and perhaps overlapping faction are those ALCers that support formal clergy training via the Inter-Lutheran (ALC) Theological Seminary. This non-accredited conservative seminary trained many pastors that went on to be ALC pastors, but the more "Laestadian" faction still eschewed formal theological training, so there is a landscape within the ALC of congregations where the leadership has some formal theological training, and others where the pastor has none at all. Still other split the difference, with a head pastor from the seminary but an assortment of assistant pastors without any formal education.

It seems to me that the momentum within the denomination lies with the evangelical faction. As time passes the Finnish heritage becomes less and less relevant, giving the Laestadian faction major headwinds. Conversely, the wind is to the back of the evangelicals, as adherents are looking for a form of ALC that accommodates itself better to the larger American culture with which they increasingly identify -- at least the conservative evangelical subculture. It's still not a perfect fit, because to the extent that Apostolic Lutheranism is actually Lutheran there will be major theological differences with the evangelicals --especially on baptism and eschatology. On the other hand, both Laestadianism and evangelicalism share an anti-intellectualism, populism, and suspicion of institutions, as well as Biblical literalism. To most rank and file modern day ALCers, theological distinctions between Laestadianism and evangelicalism may matter a lot less than the general "tone" and "mood" of the worship experience, and preaching that emotes "the Word."

My big unanswered question: Since the immigrant experience and the evangelical resurgence of the 60s and 70s potentially affects all branches of Laestadianism in the United States, why does it seem like some branches have changed more rapidly than others? Why does the ALC seem more accommodated to mainstream conservative evangelical culture than all of the rest?

23 comments:

  1. ex falc says-

    Tomte, good post, well thought out. I agree with your analysis. My thought as to why some groups don't change is because they fear change, and its a pride issue for many. When everyone fears change, it's hard to be the one to initiate change, because you will be shunned if the congregation is not ready for change.

    The things they do differently than 'worldly' people, for example, not piercing their ears, is something that sets them apart from others. It will be something they'll have to maintain if they want to appear different from mainstream society. Think about it - everyone from the town I grew up in knew the finns as the people who don't pierce their ears or wear make-up. That is their identity. To let go of a tradition like that, means you have to accept that its only a tradition, and is not critical to your faith, and that is where the pride comes in, and people don't want to admit or accept that it really doesn't matter. It was very very difficult for me to get to this point spiritually, where I could humble myself down and let all of the traditions go, stop judging people based on the way they dress, or the way they act, and accept that LLL wasn't a prophet, he was a normal human being like everyone else that had a gift for speaking, that was the hardest thing.

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  2. Excellent analysis, Tomte. I agree that mainstream evangelicalism has had a very large impact on the ALC, and this might be because there always was more tolerant tone in the Federation compared to the other branches. This tone of tolerance (a big tent) was set by Rev. Mickelson, from what I understand.

    I think it could be said that there is a fourth faction, which is no longer affiliated with the ALC but is still tightly bound to it by family and other relationships. This faction resembles nothing of Laestadianism or Lutheranism and their traditions, but is typical of the emergent postmodern church. What happens to the ALC as a result of these pressures remains to be seen.

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  3. This probably belongs on a new post, but I recently saw this on Facebook and thought the readers would enjoy this post:

    The Life-Freeing Nature of Forgiveness

    A simplified life is light, easy, and free. It is a life that has thoughtfully and intentionally removed many of the things that weigh us down.

    On the outside, this can be accomplished by removing many of the material possessions that demand our attention.

    But what about on the inside? Many of us carry in our hearts a heavy burden of past hurts from others. Because we live our lives in relationship with other people, we are bound to be wronged by somebody along the way. And sometimes these hurts can be very deep and heavy when they come from someone close. Carrying the weight of these burdens can result in a life of resentment and bitterness. Simply put, our lives get trapped in the past. And as a result, many become depressed or anxious.

    The path to removing this internal weight is to experience the life-freeing power of forgiveness. Learning to forgive others releases burden and brings freedom back to our heart. It results in less stress, less hostility, lower blood pressure, and reduced symptoms of depression. In addition, it provides the opportunity to live a simplified life on the outside and the inside.

    To experience the life-giving nature of forgiveness, try putting into practice these six steps each time you are hurt by another person.

    1.Admit that you have needed forgiveness in the past. We all make mistakes. We’ve all hurt other people in the past. One of the key steps in being able to practice the power of forgiveness is to realize that you have needed forgiveness at some point in your life too. When we are able to humbly admit that we have needed forgiveness from another, we are in a better position to offer forgiveness to someone who has hurt us.
    2.Understand what forgiveness is not. You were wronged. Don’t minimize the offense by pretending it didn’t happen. Granted, if you were hurt accidentally, you only need to show patience. But if you were hurt intentionally, you’ll need to accept that fact and show forgiveness.
    3.Realize the difference between forgiveness and trust. One of the most misunderstood aspects of forgiveness is when it is confused with trust. Depending on the nature of the offense, your ability to trust has been deeply compromised. Forgiving somebody does not mean that you need to restore that relationship without changes. Remember that forgiveness can be instant, but trust must be built over a period of time. Realize the difference. While offering forgiveness brings freedom, being wise about trust can protect your heart in the future.
    4.Give up your right to get even. Too many people live life keeping score. They keep a mental list of people who have wronged them in the past and live their life looking for opportunities to get even. Forgiveness provides the opportunity to erase the list and to release your heart from the burden of revenge.
    5.Choose to respond with kindness. Anyone can respond to evil with evil. But only the strong can respond with good. Kindness breaks the cycle. It can bring freedom to your soul and release your life from the never-ending, downward cycle of responding to evil with evil.
    6.Repeat the process as needed. As long as you live your life in relationship with others, you are going to be wronged. Accept the fact that nobody is perfect and be prepared to repeat the process above as needed.
    If you are harboring resentment towards another human being because of past hurts, choose to forgive and move on. The harm was their fault. But allowing it to weigh down your life today is yours. Free yourself today by taking the steps to experience the benefits of forgiveness in your life.


    --Stranger in a Strange Land

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  4. I like your entry, SSL. It's interesting how we can see so easily how and where someone else should be forgiving, but it is much more difficult to see it within ourselves. Seeing and doing are two distinctly different things! SISU

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  5. A Nother Lurker7/03/2010 08:02:00 AM

    I would like to add to Tomte's analysis of the ALC through the years.

    What about the influence of individual preachers and other church leaders? I think this is a significant factor in how a congregation moves. A charismatic preacher can lead a congregation in any direction. Also, a Board of Trustees and Sunday School Superintendent and teachers can have a great deal of influence. In earlier days there was the Mickelsen church and the Heidemans. Isn't the IALC often referred to as the Pollarites? And divisions within the IALC are identified by the leaders such as the Matt Reed group, the Melvinites, etc.

    It is my understanding that when pastoral vacancies occur some ALC churches interview and choose potential pastors to preach for weeks or months at a time to see if the congregation is comfortable. If not, the search goes on until a suitable placement is found. Certain congregations will consider or promote Inter-Lutheran Seminary graduates.

    Comments? Additions? Corrections?

    Another topic - Is anyone planning to attend FinnGrandFest 2010 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario at the end of the month?

    Well, a very hot day is predicted for us in the Midwest, so I will go and find a cool place to spend the rest of the day.

    A Nother Lurker

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  6. The ALC just wrapped up the annual convention in Vancouver, Washington today. You can listen to or watch the sermons online at www.alcconvention.com. The final sermons from Sunday July 11 will show up in the next couple of days.

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  7. Wow, I'm sad to see some of the bitterness towards the ALC. I myself have experienced the Excommunication of a family member. I too have struggled with bitterness about it. It is happening right now! With these Annual conventions that just went on this person was told by the Central board not to attend. Sad,very sad! I know it is not ALL the members who feel this is the way to handle such a thing and we need to have compassion on them . The Bible say to love your enemies,bless them that curse you,and pray for them that despitefully use you and persicute you. Boy has my family felt all of this. There is Christians in the ALC though.The truth is spoken by some.Oh, how the enemy of our souls wants to tear apart the Christian church. No, I do not believe only ALC go to heaven.I did wonder as a child. Having the rug ripped out from under me showed me that Christianity is not based on a building here on earth. Don't Black ball everyone there though or you have done the same as those in the ALC who DO believe they are the only ones on the right rode. I now attend a different ALC Church. I love the members of the other church though. I think it is very sad the control humans can have over a group of people and the group doesn't stand up for the truth!

    One of your writers said that she is "gay" and is now shunned. You cannot deny the truth of scripture that she is wrong! And we are to tell her so! But with LOVE! She is openly living against GOD! Jesus sat among the sinners. She needs repentance! So sad that so much tradition and legalism has caused some to rebel ,and they swing the other way.
    If you were to come to our annual convention I would probably be seen as a Legalistic person. There is a great variety of dress. I felt like I was somewhere in the middle. Or to some closer to the bun and dress side. I do not feel it is a sin to wear pants that are modest to church. Some of the dresses people wear are terribly immodest! But you would have seen me in a dress. Why? because they are beautiful. My husband likes me in a dress. As far as ear rings go. I do NOT have my ears pierced. I grew up without it and am totally fine without extra things to worry about. I don't find any need to have them. I have friends who wear ear rings modestly and I hardly notice. It does not matter to me. God looks on the intents of the heart!
    I think it is so sad to see all the ALC bashing going on out there. Every church has its struggles I'm sure.

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  8. Anon. I do not think you are seeing 'bitterness' towards the ALC by Tomte or anyone else here. Those whom you address as 'bitter' are probably more likely to have been those who began to question things that did not match up with the Bible or those who questioned the cultural beliefs of the church, but who were then told that the status quo beliefs of the church were in essence docrine, and that those who did not belong to 'the church' were going to hell. Most of the the posters on this blog are probably those whose only real 'sin' if it can be called that, is being a 'nonconformist' which is anethema amongst many churches within the Apostolic Lutheran groups. You mentioned your own family member essentially being 'excommunicated' from the Conventions. Sounds like he(?) was a non conforming speaker or some other type of nonconformist within the ALC. I do not know what the situation is but generally speaking the ALC would be very wary of anyone rocking the boat so to speak, as they have had to battle with heretics before. In many localities, within a close geographical area, there ends up being both a convervative ALC and also a liberal ALC counterpart church which allows disaffected members to find a church more to their liking. This keeps the peace and it also prevents, 'excommunications.' This phenomena of having both a liberal and a conservative ALC in the same vicinity helps prevent open schisms and splits.
    You mentioned the expose dresses of some of the attendees. How about the 'spray on' pants? It seems to be a real battle everywhere to maintain any level of modesty whatsoever as the whole country seems to have gone over to whoredom and homosexuality. Sometimes the only way to keep some semblance of decency is for the speakers to openly speak out against things, as the Apostle Paul did, and then hope that one is not written off as a legalist or a fanatic. Becoming evangelical without becoming 'liberal' is a tough pathway for a church to walk. But I believe that it is the pathway that the ALC is trying to follow. Aanon

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  9. I am very curious why these individuals have been excommunicated from the ALC. In the branch where I am from, I've never yet heard of an actual excommunication. There have been incidences of individuals refused the greeting, or being talked to/shamed, or being frozen out and excluded, which is also very painful, but I do not believe anyone has been told they could not come anymore. What was their type of offense?

    --Curious lurker

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  10. Saved by Grace7/17/2010 12:03:00 PM

    In the case of the person told not to attend, I believe it was because he is an unrepentant child molester who refuses to abide by the very reasonable yet important rules set forth by his home congregation. I don't think it has anything to do with him being a nonconformist toward church beliefs.

    I would fall into that third group of people that tomte mentioned. I am very Lutheran (and thus do not agree with the evangelical end of the ALC) and not legalistic. I'd like to think this is where the ALC really should be--right in the middle. After all, if we want to be evangelical, why call ourselves Lutherans? Why not just attend a different church? I don't have any problem with people who decide they aren't Lutherans and wish to go to another church that agrees more with their doctrine. Just don't try to make a Lutheran church into a Baptist one. What's the point in that?

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  11. Curious lurker, people are usually not officially excommunicated. What really happens is that they are 'socially excommunicated' from other members of the church. To quote your words, 'There have been incidences of individuals refused the greeting, or being talked to/shamed, or being frozen out and excluded, which is also very painful...' I might also add that malicious gossip is also used as a weapon to keep people following the party line. So I doubt there is little official excommunication within any of the Laestadian groups but rather 'social excommunication' which is taken very, very seriously as Laestadians usually have only socially intermingled with people from within their church. Some people pull a 'geographical' which means they move to a new locality where there is another Apostolic Lutheran Church so that they can escape some type of 'social excommunication.' In the old days things were much harsher and hate filled with factions openly condemning and accusing the other groups of going to hell and being heretics. The younger generation now seems more open minded. Aanon

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  12. Saved by Grace, I agree with everything you said. At one time I followed the evangelical bandwagon, but now consider myself Lutheran, and believe the ALC should remain Lutheran.

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  13. Agreed Norah! The ALC should remain Lutheran and not become a generic 'church.' Adhering to the basic principles of the doctrine of faith helps preserve traditinal Lutheran interpretations of the Bible versus having a polygot church which essentially votes in doctrinal changes. Zanon

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  14. Zanon, I don't want to throw a monkey-wrench into your comments, but what, exactly, is the Lutheran interpretation? I bought a book recently, "Luther's Thought", and right up front the author, F. Edward Cranz, says there are distinct differences in Luther's perspective of the Bible depending on the year(s) in which he was writing. I hadn't known that even though we called ourselves Lutheran!
    SISU

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  15. I think that is the beauty of having the Holy Spirit in my life... sections of the bible do have different interpretations depending on what years of my life I have read them. God knows exactly what I need to hear at every given moment.

    I believe there is much we can learn from each other and from past preachers. I just think its too bad when so much emphasis is put onto one persons understandings, either past or present, that there is no more room for the Holy Spirit to continue working.

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  16. SISU, the best way to see what distinguishes Lutheran beliefs is to read the wikipedia entry on Lutheranism as they are so extensive that there is no point in trying to repeat them here. Many of the creeds and doctrinal confessions of Lutheranism were meant to condense and clarify basic interpretations of the Bible to counter falsehoods permeating Catholicism and other Christian movements at that time. You mentioned Luther's views changing over time; this is true but Luther took pains to caution people to read the Bible for themselves. I think you will find that most people's viewpoints on things change over a period of time and also most Laestadian churches have changed their views also. For example when my mother was young people were saying refrigerators were sin when they first came out. The truth be told the umbrella of Apostolic Lutheran/Laestadian Churches are not really Lutheran in the pure sense. The are really a blend of Lutheranism intermingled with Laestadianism. Each reformer had points of emphasis that should be understood within the context of their time period. Laestadianism had a much stronger emphasis on pietism, sin, contrition and repentance versus the German Lutherans who strongly emphasised doctrine for example. All these doctrinal issues and debates are fine and dandy but for me the only Christians who were a positive influence on me and who spurred me to change for the better were those who were filled with real love. Zanon

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  17. Zanon, you make a very good point when you suggest the Apostolic Lutheran/Laestadian churches are not really Lutheran.

    I'd take that a step further and say that I saw nothing more than lip service to Lutheranism in the OALC. It is pretty much pure Laestadianism. I suspect if you walked into one of those very crowded OALC churches -- and likely most of the other Laestadian churches -- and asked for a show of hands of how many had actually read Luther's 95 theses (or 99, depending on the interpretation), you would not see very many hands. As a matter of fact, I suspect you'd see blank stares if you asked what the theses were!...and that is the foundation of Lutheranism!

    I used to hear the names of Luther and Jan Hus invoked in church, when not one in 100 in the building could have told you who they were, or even that they were both Catholic priests. I doubt very much that those OALC "preachers" had any idea of what or who they were, but they were just parroting a scrap they had heard about them being martyrs.

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  18. I agree with you, CVOW. If one asked about the Luther connection, one usually heard some spiel about Justification by Faith, or some such. My point to Zanon was that Luther evidently did a 180 concerning grace. So, this being an vital part of Lutheranism, which aspect of his teachings does one follow then? I think it could get rather confusing (if one bothered to even READ Luther -- which I confess, I have not in any depth, though I did read "Here I Stand" many, many years ago). SISU

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  19. I agree with you, CVOW. If one asked about the Luther connection, one usually heard some spiel about Justification by Faith, or some such. My point to Zanon was that Luther evidently did a 180 concerning grace. So, this being an vital part of Lutheranism, which aspect of his teachings does one follow then? I think it could get rather confusing (if one bothered to even READ Luther -- which I confess, I have not in any depth, though I did read "Here I Stand" many, many years ago). SISU
    NOTE to TOMTE: It's doing it again, saying I didn't type in the correct word verification. I will try once more. I'm sorry if it's a repeat! SISU

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  20. Sisu, I came to see that many of the Apostolic Lutheran types had this extreme anti-Catholicism bend to them when invoking Huss or Luther's name or their writings. But the truth is that when I have actually talked to Catholics myself, I have found that they are quite evangelical and friendly to outsiders although I would say that most have a relatively shallow understanding of their own doctrine. The type of bogeyman Catholicism that fundamentalist Lutherans talk about really does not exist any more except in isolated parishes. Most Catholics are now pretty open minded and tolerant of others. Overall most church groups have moved away from doctrinal 'fundamentalist' type understandings. Zanon

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  21. Zanon, As a Catholic, I agree.

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  22. Sometimes, it seems that Lutherans conveniently forget that Luther wasn't trying to split from the Catholic church, but was rather trying to bring the Catholic church back into conformance with Scripture. The abuses of the Catholic church at the time of the Reformation make the abuses of the Laestadian church in recent history seem like minor irritations.

    I would venture to say that except for the doctrines of a sinless Mary, praying to the saints, and infallibility of the Pope, Catholics aren't much different than synodic Lutherans.

    Laestadians are considered Lutherans by birthright: the Laestadian movement descended from Protestant Lutheranism. Laestadius himself was an ordained Lutheran minister in the Protestant state
    Church of Sweden. Laestadianism is markedly different from traditional Lutheranism in that the worship style is more informal, dispensing with liturgical tradition.

    (I don't know what this has to do with the original thread. I just find it interesting to study the history of the movement, and how it differs from other movements with a common root.)

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  23. Cvow wrote:

    "Zanon, you make a very good point when you suggest the Apostolic Lutheran/Laestadian churches are not really Lutheran."

    I also strongly agree with you, as to the Conservative Laestadians in Finland. The doctrines are in many ways similar to the Catholics.

    The believers do not know this because they are not informaed on the Augsburg Confession, texts of Luther and they do not study the Bible at all themselves.

    If you would like to see some arguments to this point, please have a look

    http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/476/

    (perhaps Google Translate would help, sorry the text is in Finnish).

    Peeter

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