- In 1520, the Danish king Christian II (1481-1559) entered Stockholm with his army and beheaded many members of the Swedish nobility. In response, Gustavus Vasa (1523-60) led a revolt that overthrew the Danes. Gustavus Vasa took the throne of an independent Sweden as Gustav I.Gustav's actions coincided with the rise of the Reformation. The new Lutheran faith had an extra attraction for Gustav, as he confiscated the Catholic Church's many property holdings to pay the debts incurred in the Danish war.In several steps through the 1520s, Lutheranism gained dominance: the king became head of the church; Lutheran dogma was formally endorsed; the New Testament was translated into Swedish; and a new Swedish liturgy replaced the old Latin one. The spread of Lutheranism culminated in 1634, when a new constitution required all Swedes to adhere to the Augsburg Confession of Faith.In 1741, recognition was granted to the Anglican and Reformed (Calvinist) Churches, which primarily served expatriates living in Stockholm. In 1781, the government issued an Edict of Toleration that extended some degree of religious freedom to all who professed Christianity. The edict provided cover for the many Free Church movements that had either emerged in the country or were introduced from abroad, primarily England or the United States. Swedes began to migrate to North America in the 17th century, and by the 19th century, Americans of Swedish descent formed a sizable portion of the American Lutheran community. Swedish Americans formed several Lutheran SYNODS that have subsequently merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.The most important of the 19th-century movements to emerge in Sweden was the Mission Covenant Church, which grew out of a revival movement initiated by Karl Olof Rosenius (1816-68). Rosenius organized people into conventicles, informal groups outside of the control of Lutheran authorities, which placed emphasis on a personal religious life. He also developed a new hymnody. Independent congregations emerged through the middle of the century, and in 1817 they established a formal organization as a new denomination. Many followers of Rosenius joined the Swedish migration to America and became the source of the Evangelical Free Church and the Evangelical Covenant Church in America.other groups began to populate the religious landscape, including Methodists (1826), Baptists (1848), and the Salvation Army (1882). The Free Church movement had a rather inauspicious beginning in 1830, when English Methodist George Scott got permission to build a "revivalist" church, Methodist in belief and practice, that remained within the Church of Sweden; Scott also began a periodical, Pietisten. Several years later, while in the United States, he made some comments interpreted as insulting to Swedes and was banned from the country.Pentecostalism was introduced in 1907 from Norway. The first congregation was organized in 1913. The Pentecostal congregations eschewed pan-congregational structures, but have been able to accomplish a significant amount of work with an informal fellowship. Swedish Pentecostal missionaries have, for example, been in the forefront of the spread of Pentecostalism around the world. Lewi Pethrus (1884-1974) was the most dominant voice of the movement. A Baptist who converted under the ministry of Thomas B. Barrett (1862-1940), he was for many years the pastor of the Philadelphia Church in Stockholm.The Mission Covenant Church and the Pentecostal movement are the largest Protestant groups outside of the Church of Sweden, between them claiming as much as 10 percent of the Christian community.Through the 20th century, significant changes have occurred in the Church of Sweden, though it retained its dominant position in society. Each person whose parents are not a member of another religious body is automatically entered on the church rolls. The church continues to assume some responsibility for the Swedish population as a whole, performing most marriages and burials. Since the introduction of a new law on religious freedom in 1951, an individual may formally withdraw from membership. While few have taken that option, several million have indicated in various surveys that they no longer consider themselves Christian and have adopted an agonistic or atheist outlook and lifestyle. The Lutheran Church of Sweden counts some 65 percent of the population as affiliated.Through the century, the church was able to offer important leadership to the Lutheran community internationally. Several Swedish Lutheran church leaders have become widely known for their contributions to theology and ecumenism, most notably Bishop Nathan Soderblom (1886-1931), Anders Nygren (1890-1978), Gustav Aulen (1879-1978), and Archbishop Erling Eidem (1880-1972). The Swedish church was influential in the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948, and in 1968 hosted the council's fourth meeting at Uppsala. Nygren served as the first president of the Lutheran World Federation.Further reading:■ L. S. Hunter, Scandinavian Churches: a Picture of the Development of the Churches of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden (London: Faber & Faber, 1965)■ R. Murray, ed., The Church of Sweden: Past and Present, trans. by N. G. Sahlin (Malmo, Sweden: Alhrm, 1960)■ Anders Nygren, ed., This Is the Church (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1952; Swedish ed., 1943)■ Margareta Skog, ed., Det religiösa Sverige (Orebro: Bokförlaget Libris, 2001).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.