“I envy you, you are doubly blessed! You are Jewish and have Jesus. I only have Jesus,” came a comment from the audience after a speech given by a former Caspari Center colleague touring Finland some time ago. While theologically misguided, this comment demonstrated an appreciation and respect many Finnish Christians have for the Jewish people.
Despite a rapid liberalization and secularization process, the Finnish population is predominantly Christian, with 72.9% belonging to the Lutheran Church of Finland. Thanks to several so-called“revival movements” that have stayed within the church, there is a long tradition of Bible-based faith involving a strong emphasis on studying and teaching the whole Bible. Reading the Bible in its entirety, and especially the Old Testament, makes it difficult to avoid the concept of Israel and the role of the Jewish people. For decades, special organized tours have taken people to the Land of the Bible. In these authentic surroundings, many have come to rediscover the Word of God and their faith in a totally new way.
There is, however, an underlying current of replacement theology, especially among some of the trained theologians and church workers. This current tends to be more of an unformulated thought, rather than a thoroughly argued conviction, among lay Christians. Christians who would never dream of calling themselves anti-Semitic might ask revealing questions like, “But didn’t the Jews kill Jesus?” or “Why do we still say ‘to the Jew first’? Why not first to some other nation?”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way it is perceived through the lens of the mainstream media influences many. Not everybody wants to go to the trouble of finding out what is really happening in Israel and discovering that the reality is not as black and white as we would like it to be. It’s also very tempting to take sides in the conflict. A prayer for Israel as God’s chosen people, and for her salvation, is still among the official service prayers in the church, but a fear of being too political keeps many pastors from praying it. There is also keen interest in eschatology, which leads some to concentrate more on future visions than on current reality. And yet, prophetic promises for Israel provide great hope and encouragement to many as they continue working and praying faithfully for Israel and for the people living in the area.
Several Finnish Christian organizations are working among the Jewish people in different parts of the world. A natural direction for Finnish Christians to reach out to Jews is the former Soviet Union. Some organizations show friendship and solidarity with the Jewish people, but many others support and channel prayer and finances in order to bring the gospel to Jews. These organizations consider that the Jews have a right to hear the Gospel, and they gratefully acknowledge the debt they owe to the Jewish people. Over the past few years, different agencies have begun supporting various Messianic ministries in Israel, including the Caspari Center.
Friendship with Israel brings people from different denominations together and is one of the few unifying factors among believers in Finland. There are small signs of a new understanding of the role of Jewish people in God’s plan among Finnish Christians. In 2017, the Lutheran Reformation will be widely celebrated around the world, including in Finland. Luther’s hateful teachings about the Jews have not been passed on; rather, they’ve been left behind in history as there is a desire to ignore such a past. Even so, we hope that the courage to deal also with this part of the Lutheran legacy will be found. And we pray that the treasure of salvation by grace will encourage and inspire us Finnish Christians to faithfully share, with Jews and with all peoples, the richness and fullness of the blessing that we, as Gentiles and Jewish people, already have in Jesus.
After a few years as a Caspari Center staff member, Hanna now works with one of the Caspari Center’s partner organizations, Finnish Lutheran Overseas Mission (FLOM) in Finland.