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Month 5:8, Week 1:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5937:127 AM
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 14 August 2013
Lars Levi Laestadius
The Great Scandinavian Sami Revival


    Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el and may the grace of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) be with us on this the first sabbath of the fifth month. As summer receeds and autumn (fall) slowly takes its place, let us look back and give thanks for the blessings that we have enjoyed this past season which we recently ended spiritually with Shavu'ot. Now we have our souls longingly pointed toward the autumn (fall) festivals!

    The Story of Lars Levi Laestadius

    Today I feel strongly led to talk to you today about a great Swedish Sami Lutheran preacher called Lars Levi Laestadius who began a revival in the 19th century in the north of this country. I'll tell you why presently and why his kind of experience and ministry is important for us in these times. But a little background first [1].

    His Early Life

    Laestadius was born in Swedish Lapland at Jäckvik near Arjeplog in the western mountainous parts of Norrbotten County, the northernmost county in Sweden, to Carl Laestadius (1746-1832), a Swedish hunter, fisherman, tar-maker, and one-time silver mine bailiff, who lost his job due to alcoholism — and to Anna Magdalena (née Johanson) (1759-1824), a Southern Sami who was the elder Laestadius's second wife. The family lived in poverty due to Carl Laestadius's alcoholism and extended absences. However, with help from Lars Levi's older half-brother Carl Erik Laestadius (1775-1817), a pastor at Kvikkjokk, with whom Lars Levi and his younger brother Petrus (1802-1841) lived part of their childhood, the boys were able to pursue educations, first at Härnösand and starting in 1820, at Uppsala University. Due to their benefactor half-brother's death in 1817, the boys were constantly short of funds from the outset of their university studies. Nevertheless, Lars Levi proved to be a brilliant student. Because of his interest in botany, he was made assistant in the botany department while pursuing studies in theology. Lars Levi Laestadius was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1825 by the bishop of Härnösand, Erik Abraham Almquist.

    Marriage and Family

    In 1827 Lars Levi Laestadius married Brita Katarina Alstadius, a local Sami woman who was a childhood friend of his; and together they had twelve children, at least two of whom died in childhood.

    Laestadius's Lutheran Ministry and Revival Movement

    Laestadius's first parish was at Arjeplog in Lapland, where he became the regional missionary for the Pite district. From 1826 to 1849 he was the vicar in Karesuando parish in Lapland. Near the end of his tenure in Karesuando, Laestadius applied for the positions of dean in Pajala parish in Norbotten and inspector of the Lapland parishes; and after he complemented his exams in Härnösand as required, he took over these offices in 1849 and held them until his death in 1861.

    Revival Movement

    At the time of Laestadius's 1826 arrival in Karesuando, the people of Lapland parish suffered from widespread misery and alcoholism.

    Laestadius met a Sami woman named Milla Clementsdotter of Föllinge (also known as Lapp Mary by the Laestadian Lutheran Church) in the municipality of Krokom in Jämtland during an 1844 inspection tour of Åsele in Lapland. She belonged to a revival movement marked by pietistic and Moravian influences and led by pastor Pehr Brandell of the parish of Nora in the municipality of Kramfors in Ångermanland. She told Laestadius about her experiences on her journey to living emunah (faith). This was an important meeting for Laestadius because after it, he first understood the secret of living emunah (faith). He had a deep spiritual experience, and he wrote later that he at last saw the path that leads to eternal life. His sermons acquired, in his own words, "a new kind of colour" to which people began to respond. The movement spread quickly from Sweden to Finland and Norway. What marked Laestadius out from other Lutherans of his time was that he based his sermons solely on the Bible. Combine that with spiritual awakening and you have, as everyone here knows, an unbeatable combination!

    The Change

    According to an account from the Sami cultural perspective:

      "[T]he Sami began to notice that...Laestadius had changed. His sermons were filled with vivid metaphors from the lives of the Sami that they could understand. He preached about a God who cared about the lives of the people. He attacked priests and traders who lined their pockets at the expense of others... After twenty years, something new had begun to happen between the pastor and his parishioners. Young and old alike wanted to learn to read. There was also a bustle and energy in the church, with people confessing their sins, crying and praying for forgiveness (within [Finnish] Laestadianism this was known as liikutuksia, a kind of ecstasy). Not everybody liked it, of course... Those who had previously earned a lot of money through the sale of liquor saw their incomes disappear and derided the new morals... Drunkenness and the theft of reindeer diminished, which had a positive influence on the Sami's relationships, finances and family life." [2]

    Alcohol Destroys the Sami

    None of this happened overnight, of course. During church services almost all the men and many women were half-drunk and this really irritated Lars Levi, who saw how badly the children were doing and the destitution that was spreading due to the widespread abuse of liquor. Even the reindeer were allowed to drift aimlessly, and were often attacked by wolves while the Sami lay drunk in their huts. His angry sermons did not help, however, nor his attempts to have a law introduced that banned the sale of alcohol to the Sami. You don't change people just by imposing restrictions on the outside or getting angry - change has to happen from within. And not just within the Sami people Laestadius ministered to, but within himself. And it had to start within Laestadius himself first of all.

    Laestadius' Crisis

    In the 1840s Lars Levi Laestadius experienced a severe crisis. He was tired and in despair. He became extremely ill with typhoid fever, but recovered. Then his youngest son died of a common childhood illness. Shortly after, his brother Petrus also died, just 39 years old. Lars became sick again, this time with pulmonary tuberculosis. He was tormented by anxiety and feelings of guilt. When he recovered, he travelled to Härnösand to takes his pastor's exam, which he had not had time for until then. After this, the Bishop appointed him Visitator for all the northern Lapp parishes.

    Maria's Revelation of Grace

    During his first journey as Visitator, he travelled to Åsele and preached in the church there. One of the members of the congregation was a young Sami girl called Maria. Her face shone with serenity. After the service she wanted to talk with the priest. That conversation was a turning point for Laestadius, who later stated that the young girl had understood the emet (truth) of grace - Yahweh's undeserved loving kindness - in a way that he had not yet managed. Maria herself probably never knew how much that conversation came to mean for Laestadius and how it changed his life.

    The Beginning of a Sami Awakening

    That is how revival starts - through one person, usually a humble parishoner, who has met Yahweh personally and radiates His presence.

      "Back in Karesuando, the Sami began to notice that Lars Levi Laestadius had changed. His sermons were filled with vivid metaphors from the lives of the Sami that they could understand. He preached about a God who cared about the lives of the people. He attacked priests and traders who lined their pockets at the expense of others. More and more Sami came to the church. Afterwards they sometimes went to the parsonage, which at the time was a simple timber cabin, to receive advice. After twenty years, something new had begun to happen between the pastor and his parishioners. Young and old alike wanted to learn to read. There was also a bustle and energy in the church, with people confessing their sins, crying and praying for forgiveness. Not everybody liked it, of course. Some were upset about Lars Levi's radical sermons and because there was so much energy in the church. Those who had previously earned a lot of money through the sale of liquor saw their incomes disappear and derided the new morals. A number of priests were strong opponents of Laestadius. Yet despite all this, the revival spread, particularly among the Sami. Drunkenness and the theft of reindeer diminished, which had a positive influence on the Sami's relationships, finances and family life." [3]


    Spiritual revival is always met with resistance both from the unregenerated (unsaved) who claim to be believers as well as those who are not. The resistance to Laestadius's radical Christian ethics and morals and to his way of confronting the parishioners about their sins was greater in Pajala where Laestadius moved in 1849. But to his great credit, the bishop decided in 1853 that two separate church services should be held, one for the Laestadians and one for the others. It could be said that Laestadianism, the religious revival named after him, became a movement in its own right at this time throughout northern Sweden, Norway and Finland, although it remained within and never separated from the Church of Sweden. When Laestadius died in 1861, he was succeeded by Johan Raattamaa as the leader of the Laestadian movement.

    The Kautokeino Rebellion - Beginnings

    Unfortunately, not everything went so smoothly everywhere, and especially in northern Norway where a revolt took place amongst some of the Sami which has become known as the Kautokeino Rebellion. A very well-made Norwegian movie was made in 2008 in Norwegian and Sami which is worth seeing if you get the chance [4]. What happened in Norway on 8 November 1852 was a number of Sami in Kautokeino wanted to stop the liquor trade by force. Unlike in Sweden, there were, unfortunately, close ties between the Norwegian Lutheran State Church and the alcohol industry, and so the Norwegian Laestadians formed their own congregations separate from the state church which in those days held an exclusive, intolerant religious monopoly in the land, so trouble and persecution was bound to follow. Why did the Sami Laestadians have their own meetings? Because their priest was closely tied to the alcohol industry, allied himself to the local trader whose alcohol was morally destroying the Sami community, and was in truth no friend of the people. His was a compromised religion.

    The Sami and Norwegians

    The Sami, quite rightly, concluded that their Bible-based moral authority was greater than that of the state church. You also have to remember that during this time, the Sami were economically far poorer than the Norwegian settlers in the north, counting wealth in reindeer or other livestock (rather than currency), and they were considered socially inferior to the Norwegians. The local Norwegian merchant, who sold the local Sami liquor, was a target for the rebellion due to his repeated cheating and exploitation of Sami customers, many of whom were vulnerable alcoholics. Alcoholism was widespread and had been highly destructive to the Sami and their culture during this time. The Laestadians, as you know, were against the sale and use of liquor. But preaching outside of the state church - both physically and spiritually - was also illegal at the time. Thus, the Sami were at odds not only with the local priest, who was Norwegian, and the local merchant, but also Norwegian law and therefore the Norwegian state.


    Some of the abused Sami took the law into their own hands and travelled to the trading post and killed both the county sheriff and the trader. The priest and several other Sami and Norwegians were whipped and mistreated. However, the troublemakers were overpowered by Sami from a neighbouring village and put in prison. Two years later, two of the ringleaders were executed. Fourteen others were sentenced to life in prison and their possessions were sold at auction.

      "All the men arrested for participating in the revolt - except the two leaders Aslak Hætta and Mons Somby (who were beheaded in Alta) - ended up in Akershus Fortress at Oslo. The women, including Ellen Jacobsdatter Hætta, were imprisoned in Trondheim.

      "Many of the rebels died after a few years in captivity.

      "Among the survivors was Lars Hætta, who had been 18 years old at the time of imprisonment. He was given the time and means in jail to make the first translation of the Bible into North Sámi.

      "The Kautokeino rebellion was one of the few violent reactions by the Sami against the exploitation policies of the Norwegian government and was the only known confrontation between Samis and Norwegians with loss of human lives. The rebellion was not a direct response to the forced assimilation policy of Norwegianization that later became an official government policy, but the 1852 rebellion had an impact on the choices made by the new Norwegian state as this policy was implemented. Norway had yet to develop enough cultural self-esteem to assimilate the Sami into ethnic Norwegians, as Norwegians at the time were still struggling to find their own identity separate from Danes and Swedes.

      "However, Norwegianization greatly intensified after the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905. It continued until the Alta controversy in the early 1980s and was not fully eliminated until the summer of 2001." [5]


    We may never know how the fight that led to the deaths started and historians are still debating today what the causes were. There were plenty of injustices in those days, both political and religious. Unfortunately for the Sami, the Kautokeino rebellion set back their aspirations for a very long time that were not fully resolved until my own generation. Sweden and Finland, which were then a single country, were very different from Norway.

    What We Can Learn from the Laestadian Revival

    So what can we learn from the Laestadian Revival? Quite a few things, I hope. Firstly, that revival begins in a way that man can never forsee. In the case of the Sami Awakening, it started with a humble girl called Maria from a small parish called Åsele in Sweden. The flame that was in her was that of grace or Yahweh's undeserved loving-kindness, His unmerited favour. This spark - this flame - touched off a Swedish preacher angered by the destructive effects of alcohol on the Sami community (remembering that he was half Sami and had a Sami wife). His initial reaction was to get angry with the victims of the alcohol trade because he couldn't persuade them to quit and doubtless because they were messing up his church meetings too. He did not have the grace to minister to the people at this time and it took some personal tragedies in his life to bring him to a point of brokenness and contriteness to enable Yahweh to use him. Only then was he providentially led to Maria who kindled the fire of the Ruach (Spirit) within him that made him a mighty preacher of Elohim (God) able to change people from the inside outwards. His legacy lives on.

    Becoming Teetotal

    Laestadius became teetotal - he completely quit alcohol, except when partaking of the Lutheran Communion which used (and still uses) alcoholic wine. This moral reformation brought him into conflict with the alcohol industry and in particular its merchants and priests who did not care a hoot about its destructive influence because of their love of mammon (1 Tim.6:10). The Lutheran Church is itself, in part, to blame for countenancing the use of alcohol and in consequence becoming embroiled with the industry.

    New Testament Teaching on Alcohol

    The New Testament makes is very plain that alcohol, whilst permitted in the Old Covenant, is incompatible with the New because in the New everyone is called to be a cohen (priest). Cohenim (Priests) in the Old Covenant were forbidden to drink alcohol or be under its influence while on duty in the Temple so that they could be focussed fully on their duties serving in the House of Yahweh. Under the New Covenant the Temple or House of Yahweh is our physical bodies in which we are "on duty" 24 hours a day and every day of the week because He requires that we be sober and alert to the Ruach (Spirit) at all times. Indeed we are admonished by Paul:

      "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Ruach (Spirit)!" (Eph.5:18, NIV).

    Like the Rechabites

    We are to be like the ancient Rechabites (Jer.53:1ff.) who were a type of the New Covenant believer and his (and her) priestly obligations as servants of Yahweh (1 Pet.2:9). Unfortunately, alcohol remains a problem in the Christian churches and Messianic synagogues, and especially the latter who lay emphasis on the permissiveness of alcohol in the Old Covenant [6]. This ministry has always fobidden the consumption of alcohol to its members [7] and so we feel a close identity with the Laestadian Movement here in Sweden, at least as far as alcohol is concerned. It also has a following in the United States. [8]

    The Dangers of Institutionalised Religion

    Another lesson we can learn from the Laestadians, and from the Norwegian experience in particular, is the inherant dangers of institutionalised religion that is not properly theocratic. By 'theocratic' I mean an assembly of believers who are truly under Yahweh and not men who claim to be under Him, as all state churches have done at one time or another. These are better described as being 'Anthropocratic' or 'man-ruling' whose fruits are behaviour and morality inconsistent with the Besorah (Gospel). And as we sadly know only too well, far too many Christian and Messianic groups who claim to be governed by Yahweh are alas governed by the devil as they prove by their works. The Messianic Community is not an institution - and until Messiah returns and establishes the Messianic Israelite Theocracy we are likely to remain a loose association of congregations.


    Lars Levi Laestadius was Yahweh's man amongst the Sami of Scandinavia. There can be no question of that even if many of his Lutheran doctrines were disjunctive with the actual teachings of the Bible. Yahweh uses whomsoever He will to bless those hungering for emet (truth) and righteousness with the basic principles of the Besorah (Gospel). He looks first to the intents of the lev (heart) before doctrinal perfection whilst by no means excusing laxity in the latter especially when the emet (truth) is planly understood from the Davar (Word). To young Maria and to Laestadius himself the Sami owe an immeasurable debt, as do those of us have been inspired by them. Amen.


    [1] From Wikipedia, Lars Levi Laestadius
    [2] Lars Levi Laestadius and the Sami
    [3] Ibid., Lars Levi Laestadius and the Sami
    [4] Kautokeino Opprøret - with Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish and English subtitles
    [5] Wikipedia, Kautokeino rebellion
    [6] See the many articles on our Alcohol website
    [7] Olive Branch, Covenants & Commandments chapters 9:15, 122:7-9, 236:9 and 285:16-17
    [8] Wikipedia, Laestadianism in America

    Comments from Readers

    [1] "Both informative and challenging to be right with YHWH" (KE, Sweden, 14 August 2013)

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