The American Context

      There were numerous motives for hundreds of thousands of Swedes to immigrate to America in nineteenth and twentieth centuries.   Early on, farmers and entrepreneurs were pulled to the New World by a sense of adventure and opportunity.  However, beginning in 1868, the dominating force for immigration was the push from the Swedish homeland by famine and overpopulation.

These Swedes were met with open arms by their new land.  Phil Anderson is quoted saying that because of the Swedish culture and educational system they “brought a hunger for food, land, basic literacy, and love for freedom.”  Karl Olson describes the Swedish Immigrant as literate and resourceful and they understood success and a natural blessing from God.  

Every immigrant had huge list of new cultural ideas and ideals that they had to wade through.  One of the biggest questions of the person in a new land was of how and where they were going to worship God.  The Swedish immigrant came from a land of limited religions options and arrived in a climate that can be accurately described as religion competition.  Swedish immigrants chose numerous denominations to commit to, but the majority joined: the Lutheran Church, the Congregationalists, the Baptists (primarily Baptist General Conference) and the Evangelical Free Church.

On February 18, 1885, official delegates from churches across the Midwestern United States met in Chicago to organize as a union of churches that would, at the end of the meeting, be called the “Swedish Mission Covenant Church.”  The meeting began with an Ash Wednesday preaching service.  F. M. Johnson shared from Psalm 119:63 that says “I am a companion of all who fear thee,” and C. A. Bjork preached on the topic of unity.

The two questions that were discussed in the meeting were:

{C}{C}1.            {C}Is it right or wrong for Christian congregations and societies to unite for the purpose of cooperation in the work of God’s kingdom and on what basis should a union be effected?

{C}{C}2.            {C}How may we, in a Christian and practical manner, achieve a brotherly union among our believing countrymen in America for the propagation of the Gospel and for (the development of) Christian life within the congregation?

The assembly did conclude that this kind of union was natural and flowed from scriptural principles for unity.  They also believed that this union would “permit a more effective means for the spreading of the Gospel and the encouragement of a sound corporate life within the congregations.” (Olson, By One Spirit, P. 316)

What made this new denomination distinctive from others at that time are the same distinctives that the now, Evangelical Covenant Church, hold today.  Our six “Affirmations” are:

            • The centrality of the word of God,

            • The necessity of the new birth,

            • A commitment to the whole mission of the Church,

            • The Church as a fellowship of believers,

     • A conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit, and

     • The reality of freedom in Christ.

Written and compiled by: Robert S. Nass