It has sent shock waves through the Swedish evangelical community. On March 10, 2014, Swedish mega pastor Ulf Ekman announced to the church he founded over 30 years ago that he and his wife were converting to the Roman Catholic faith.
Ekman had pastored Word of Life, the largest Evangelical church in Sweden with a membership of 3,300 people, since its start in 1983. In March 2013, he stepped down as head pastor, leading to his recent announcement a year later.
As early as 2007, Ekman was showing an unusual interest in the Roman Catholic church. His sermons, articles and even choice of giving were revealing a definite lean towards the Catholic faith. This interest in Catholicism resulted in criticism from within Word of Life and without.
Ekman’s final announcement brought closure to this journey.
Word of Life is based in Uppsala, Sweden. It has a staff of 12, a 1,000-student church school and the largest Bible school in Sweden. It is a major charismatic influence not only in Sweden but around the world.
According to one prominent Swedish faith blogger, Ekman’s decision to become a Catholic has shocked, angered, confused and even caused some despair among Swedish evangelicals.
In a statement on his personal website, Ekman said:
We have seen a great love for Jesus and a sound theology, founded on the Bible and classic dogma. We have experienced the richness of sacramental life. We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood, that keeps the faith of the church and passes it on from one generation to the next. We have met an ethical and moral strength and consistency that dare to face up to the general opinion, and a kindness towards the poor and the weak. And, last but not least, we have come in contact with representatives for millions of charismatic Catholics and we have seen their living faith.
Like many evangelicals, I wonder about the move.
But Ekman believes Jesus is leading him to join the Catholic Church. I am encouraged by his connection with the Catholic charismatic movement.
I met members of the Catholic charismatic movement in Peru some years back and though still staunchly Catholic, one leader admitted privately that there tends to be less emphasis on such contentious Catholic practices as prayer to the saints and veneration of Mary among Charismatic Catholics.
He added that it doesn’t even seem to be a purposeful decision, it just happens. I suspect much of this is due to the renewed influence of the Holy Spirit in the movement.
Ekman’s argument on the solid leadership structure of the Catholic church that maintains the faith of the church I find perplexing.
Pope Francis recently stated in an interview that atheists don’t have to believe to go to heaven, they just have to live a good life. What Ekman considers the Catholic church’s greatest strength, I call its greatest weakness — the church is overly-vulnerable to the beliefs of one man.