A Lutheran revival movement advocating a return to the original values of Christianity, known for its traditionalism and strong community ties.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Lutheran
Founder: Lars Levi Laestadius
Founded: 19th Century
Location: Sweden
Size: Approximately 2 million members
Other Names: Apostolic Lutheranism

Laestadianism, also called Laestadian Lutheranism or Apostolic Lutheranism, is a pietistic Lutheran revival movement that emerged in the mid-19th century in Sápmi. The movement is named after Lars Levi Laestadius, a Swedish Lutheran state church administrator and leader of the temperance movement. It represents the largest pietistic revivalist movement in the Nordic countries, having widespread members mainly in Finland, Northern America, Norway, Russia, and Sweden, with smaller congregations in Africa, South America, and Central Europe.

The organizational structure of Laestadianism varies by region. In Finland, most Laestadians are part of the national Lutheran Church of Finland, while in America, due to the absence of an official Lutheran church, they established their own denominations, leading to the formation of three primary sub-groups in the mid-20th century. These are Conservative Laestadianism, the Firstborn (Old Apostolic Lutheran Church in North America), and Rauhan Sana (Apostolic Lutheran Church of America in the US and Canada), collectively representing about 90% of Laestadians. These groups, despite their foundational similarities, have seen various splits, resulting in approximately 19 branches, with around 15 active today. Laestadians also engage in missionary work across 23 countries, with an estimated global following of between 144,000 and 219,000 individuals.

A distinctive feature of Laestadianism is its doctrine, with a strong emphasis on the Lutheran principle of justification—forgiveness and grace. It holds a particular belief in the true Christians doctrine, highlighting a clear distinction in lifestyle and beliefs between true believers and those deemed as false Christians or unbelievers. This is further accentuated by practices like the audible declaration of the forgiveness of sins, where believers affirm each other’s forgiveness in Jesus’ name and blood, a practice deeply rooted in Laestadian faith that emphasizes communal and personal confession.

The movement, however, has not been without its controversies and internal divisions, evidenced by the spit into three major branches in the early 20th century. Despite their shared core beliefs, these groups have historically practiced mutual exclusivity, with leaders of the larger sub-groups often denying salvation to members of other Laestadian sub-groups, including those with nearly identical doctrinal positions.

Notably, the Conservative Laestadianism branch has been embroiled in a significant controversy regarding allegations of child sexual abuse within its Finnish congregations, reportedly occurring over at least three decades and leading to numerous criminal cases. This scandal has prompted significant public scrutiny and criticism, impacting the sect’s image and raising questions about its governance and accountability mechanisms.

Laestadianism’s influence extends into the production of literature and religious publications, with five newspapers published in three languages and distribution across eight languages. The movement’s most important book remains the Bible, alongside hymnals and doctrinal texts that guide their faith and practices​​​​.

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