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Theological Studies

Comparative analysis of theological developments

By Jyri Komulainen

Theological starting points

Lutheran doctrine considers baptism as the sacrament initiating one who is baptized into the Christian Church and thus providing salvific participation in Jesus Christ. Therefore, baptism has been solidly in the focus of theological attention. Nevertheless, as there seems to be more ecumenical consensus on baptism than on the Eucharist, this latter sacrament has taken the place of primacy in the ecumenical discussions and thereby also in theological research (e.g., in Finland).

When taking this into account, one should not ignore that there is still profound disagreement on validity of child baptism between Lutherans and Free Christian movements such as Pentecostals. This ongoing theological disagreement involves very sophisticated questions regarding the nature of baptism as the God’s gracious gift vis-à-vis as the confessional act of one who is baptized.


Focuses of research

Despite ecumenical discussions on baptisms, most theological studies in the Nordic context seem to be more concerned on the ways of interpreting baptismal theology in the post-Lutheran society than on classical ecumenical issues as such (however, cf. Terje Hegertun 2013).

For instance, there are theological studies on baptism which highlight the need to have novel ways of interaction between the Church doctrine and contextual realities of postmodern society that challenge the traditional Nordic ways of being a folk church. There is also emphasis on “lived theology” which demand to take into consideration myriad ways of living out and interpreting the Christian faith at grass-roots level. Sometimes this takes place in a direct fashion that involves reinterpreting doctrines or developing liturgies based on explicit dialogue with contextual findings and demands (e.g., Anna Karin Hammar 2009, Ulla Morre Bidstrup 2013, Knut Alfsvåg 2019). This may also espouse new hermeneutical tools such as hospitality (Kristin Graff-Kallevåg 2015).

Sometimes the methodology seems to be more circuitous, for instance by searching for neglected dimensions of the Lutheran faith which should be revisited and explicated to find solutions to present problems (e.g., Kristin Graff-Kallevåg 2009, Jonas Adelin Jørgensen & Hans Raun Iversen 2016, Harald Hegstad 2019).

Next to studies searching for fresh understanding of baptismal theology, there are studies content with expounding the basics of Lutheran sacramental theology (Laulaja 2003; Jolkkonen 2004) or mapping traditional Lutheran positions and disagreements with historical meticulousness (Sammeli Juntunen & Olli-Pekka Vainio 2002; also Matti Väisänen 2007 and Tomi Karttunen 2015 with more emphasis on ecumenical theology).

Even though issues related to the youth and baptismal education are often tackled with sociological and pedagogical approaches, there are some studies with more ecclesiological emphasis (e.g., Bård Norheim 2010, 2015).


Some special issues in different countries

In Sweden, there has been significant discussion concerning the character of Christian baptism as exclusive or as inclusive. One reason behind this is the Swedish culture which has put emphasis on the rights of an individual as well as on openness: could the Lutheran majority church exhibit exclusiveness in its rituals?

In Finland, theological studies on baptism have mainly focused on historical Luther-studies with motivation to find solutions and inspiration from earliest tradition of reformation theology. Due to ecumenical discussions with Orthodox and Catholic traditions, Finnish theologians have been writing more on the eucharist than on baptism.  However, a need for specific studies on baptismal theology (Jari Jolkkonen 2009, Risto Saarinen 2009) was prompted by the illegal baptisms conducted by pastors of “the Luther Foundation Finland” in 2008. These baptismal acts drew quite much media attention and entailed theological question whether baptisms violating the Church Order are valid especially when they did not have an intention to annex the baptized into the membership of a Christian church.

In Denmark, there has been some interest in seeing baptism in the framework of ritual theory. This relates to the theological question on passivity or activity of the one who is baptized vis-à-vis God’s primary action.

In Norway, there has been some discussion on baptism and creation, to what extent salvation given in baptism is related to what has been given already in creation. Moreover, the Bishops’ meeting and National Church Council have been very active in producing some material and promoting research on baptism. In Sweden too, Lutheran bishops have provided biskopsbrevet on baptism.

In Iceland, we have not registered any theological research on baptism in recent decades.