It was never my intention to plant a Reformed Church in Finland, indeed, if I was to be honest, at that time I did not even know there was such a thing as a “Reformed Church”.
I am Kyle McCartan, a Northern Irishman and I have been living in Finland together with my wife Sara since the year 2000. In the summer of 2009, we were sent out to begin a church plant. Our sending church was a small independent church based in Jakobstad, a town and municipality in the Ostrobothnia region of western Finland. The town has a population of around 19,000.
Finland is a part of Scandinavia, in northern part of Europe, and shares land borders with Norway, Sweden, and Russia. The country is fairly large, it almost the size of Germany, but with a fraction of its population. Germany having 83 million citizens and Finland having only 5.5 million. Nearly two-thirds of Finland is blanketed by thick woodlands, making it the most densely forested country in Europe.
The climate of Finland is characterised by long, cold, dark winters and short, light, mild, and moderately rainy summers. Winter is long and cold throughout the country; it lasts almost five months even in Helsinki, which lies on the southern coast. The average winter temperatures in the north are between -17.2°C (1°F) and -7.8°C (18°F), while in the south of Finland around -8.3°C (17.1°F) to -0.6°C (30.9°F) range.
Finnish winter when in all its glory, the darkness, the cold, and thoroughly blanketed in deep, brilliant white snow, is truly beautiful.
And the summer, nature just explodes into life, due to the long hours of daylight. There is an old saying about Finnish summer that I think captures it nicely. That Finland is full of “endless summer days and long white nights”!
The Finns have a reputation for being a quiet and shy people. Indeed, they can come across as quite introverted, reflective, somber even, and for some, they can seem cold, stubborn and standoffish. They are normally unwilling to speak unless they have something of importance to say. There is a saying that when a Finn says something, they really mean it.
My wife Sara, herself a Finn, has often remarked at the irony, that the Lord should have brought a talkative, loud and extroverted Irishman (yes, I am a stereotype of my people), to Finland to plant a church. Truly, who can understand the ways of the Lord!
The official religion of Finland is Lutheranism, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the main denomination having around 3.7 million members from Finland’s 5.5 million citizenship. But the vast majority of those members are nominal. Having no real connection to the Church other than that they were “baptized” into the faith as infants and then “confirmed” into the membership of the Church as young teenagers at the age of 14.
The famous 18th century theologian Charles Hodge, once said of European Lutheranism, that is gave its people just enough of the Gospel and of religion to make them feel as if they were immune to the Faith, that they were somehow “inoculated against the callings of the Gospel”. That it served to deaden their consciences to the duty of Faith.
The “Free-Churches” here, the non-Lutheran churches, make up a tiny fraction of the population. With all the denominations, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostals and Mission Churches having to band together to support their dwindling and ageing numbers.
The common trend, in attempt to boost attendance numbers, has been to embrace the modern so called “Hillsong model” of church worship, with a great emphasis given to the experience of the Sunday service, appealing to the flesh and feelings. Turning the Lord’s Day worship service into a piece of theatre and a source of human entertainment.
Our journey, began in 2009, we decided right from the beginning that we would concentrate our efforts in the rural areas. Outside the influence of any larger town. The Lord laid the villages upon our hearts and so it was to the villages we went.
In the early days of our efforts, we experienced great resistance and were constantly hounded and harassed by local Lutherans Priests who objected to our work, labelling us as a sect, a cult, and as dangerous deceivers. Our troubles really heated up when we “dared” to hold an open-air Baptism service. This was just too much for the local priests, and I was summoned to a meeting.
I had been told that it was to be an “informal chat”. It ended up more as an inquisition, there seven of them, a group made up of both priests and church leaders. They said in no uncertain terms, that they found the idea of a Baptism Service unnecessary and offensive. They even had a statement made by the leaders of a little general Baptist, affirming the Lutheran infant baptism was an acceptable form of Christian Baptism. They actual demanded that we cancel it, until they were able to speak to all those planning on being baptised.
The eldest priest there, who was holding court, had somehow got a hold of a copy of my teaching on Baptism, and sat and just belittled it. Claiming it was somehow nothing more than a “modern Pentecostal error!” An invention of 18th century Americans. It had no historical bases and that I had no understanding of sound theology.
I sat quietly until he had finished, and then reached into bag and took out my newly translated copies of the 1644 LBCF and the 1689 LBCF and handed them around. You should have seen the look of confusion on their faces. And then that confusion turn to repulsion as I explained the history of the documents. That repulsion erupted into anger when I suggested we could look at the scriptures concerning infant baptism if they could find them. This sent the oldest priest once again into a long tirade and diatribe against Baptists and especially foreign ones. I, in the end ended the meeting, by reminding them that Finland is a free country, and in the country’s constitution it guarantees all its citizens the right to freely practice their faith.
Sadly, this troubling and harassing continued in one way or another, for several years, but honestly as a Church we are all the best for it. It served as a refiner's fire, it caused us to really have to know what we believe and why. The Bible and the promises of God became all the more real. Our Lord Jesus all the more precious.
Today, after all these years, the Lord has blessed us so much. We are no longer a church plant; we are a planted Church. Well established and secure. Yet, now the battle to keep us moving forward begins. A friend of mine, a Pentecostal pastor once smilingly confided to me, that in his opinion, there was no more attractive church to pastor, than a mature Reformed Baptist church.
And there lies the danger, those fierce wolves, Paul warns us of in Act 20:29. Men of flexible doctrinal integrity, please be in prayer that the Lord would raise up new generations of leaders who will stand up for the truth of the Scriptures and that the Lord should grant us the discernment and wisdom to be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil, and that the Kingdom of our Lord may continue ever advancing, even here in the dark and distance north.