The Swedish Lutheran religion, known as the Church of Sweden, has been the official religious denomination in Sweden since the 1590s. It is one of the Lutheran movements that originated during the Reformation and part of the Evangelical Lutheran denomination. In 2000, the church became autonomous and separated from state control. According to the World Council of Churches, the Church of Sweden has more than 7 million members. However, membership has been on the decline.
St. Ansgar (801-865) introduced Christianity into Scandinavia in the 9th Century. The history of Sweden as a nation and the Church of Sweden as the state church are intertwined. When King Christian II (1481-1559) of Denmark attempted to assassinate two bishops in 1520, Sweden liberated itself from both the king and the Pope. In 1523, the rebellion leader, Gustav Vasa (1496-1560), became the first Swedish king. Vasa followed Martin Luther and the Church of Sweden joined the Lutheran movement.
Although a great deal of reform occurred during the 20th Century, the organization of the Church of Sweden has remained traditional. The basic level of organization is the parish; there are more than 2,000 parishes. Each is overseen by a council that employs a priest and others. The parishes are part of 13 dioceses led by bishops who answer to the Archbishop of Uppsala. The 251-member Church Assembly legislates the church body and its finances.
Church and State
Until the 19th Century, all Swedish citizens were members of the Swedish Lutheran Church, and the church leadership also led the state politically. The national parliament oversaw church affairs, but by the mid-19th Century, it turned operations over to the Church Assembly. In 1951, the state guaranteed religious freedom, and citizens could choose whether to join any religion. However, members of the church still pay their dues as state taxes, which the state then turns over the Church Assembly.
Contemporary Beliefs and Customs
The Swedish Lutheran religion is similar to other evangelical Lutheran churches in terms of beliefs and church customs. For example, infants are baptized and later, in early adolescence, go through a confirmation ceremony. Marriages and funerals are performed in the church. While the church services tend to be very traditional and liturgically conservative, the membership and church is largely politically liberal. Women are allowed into the priesthood and the church tolerates legal abortion and permits gay marriage.
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