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Conversion of Sweden's Most Influential Pastor Causes 'Pain and Disillusion'

(UPDATED) Swedish Evangelical Alliance on Ulf Ekman: 'One should not underestimate the [impact] that this creates in many people today.'
Conversion of Sweden's Most Influential Pastor Causes 'Pain and Disillusion'
Image: Screenshot of Word of Life recorded sermon.
Ulf Ekman breaks the news to his Word of Life congregation.

Update (Mar. 14): Ulf Ekman has also resigned from the board of Yoido Full Gospel Church, one of the world's largest congregations, where founding pastor David Yonggi Cho and his son were recently convicted of embezzling $12 million.

In his resignation letter, which Charisma has in full, Ekman explains more of the reasoning behind his conversion to Catholicism:

I discovered how little I really knew about [Catholics], their spirituality and their beliefs. Unconsciously I carried many prejudices and bad attitudes and have been quick to judge them without really knowing what they actually believed. It has been good to discover and to repent from nonchalant and shallow opinions, based not on their own sources but on their opponents, and to discover a very rich heritage, a strong theological foundation and a deep love for Jesus Christ among them.

Ekman concludes:

This is not a severing of ties. The Lord gave me a word a few months ago: 'The task is fulfilled but the friendship remains.' We treasure the friendship we have with you in the Lord and believe we will, in a different capacity continue to have a living fellowship and a deep unity in Jesus.

[Charisma also obtained an English translation of an interview that Ekman and his wife gave to Världen Idag, a Swedish Christian newspaper.]

Meanwhile, the Swedish Evangelical Alliance offers context on Ekman's conversion.

"Ulf Ekman, despite all the controversies along the way, is undoubtedly the most dynamic and influential Christian leader we have had in Sweden during the past half century," general secretary Stefan Gustavsson shared with the IRD's Mark Tooley, but also on the alliance's website and in Swedish newspaper Dagen. He noted, "For those who followed Ulf Ekman, the transition to the Catholic Church is no surprise. He has over a long period of years been enthusiastic, both in books and articles, about a clear Catholic theology."

Gustavsson also assessed the impact of Ekman's conversion:

One must admire Ulf Ekman's integrity to always follow his beliefs, and it is something that has consistently characterized his leadership. But because his beliefs have shifted over the years, his leadership is also partly contradictory seen over time, which the transition to the Catholic Church is evident of. The transition is a personal choice, but since the choice involves an affirmation of Catholic teaching it inevitably contains a built-in criticism from the former undisputed leader against parts of the movement he himself has built up. One should not underestimate the pain and disillusion that this creates in many people today.

One example of Ekman's international reach: Ekman also mentored Kong Hee, founding pastor of Singapore's largest megachurch who was arrested over his wife's pop music outreach and currently faces trial over how $50 million of church funds were handled. The City Harvest pastor tweeted a photo of he and Ekman together in October with the note "Dr Ulf Ekman was my old friend & mentor in the formative years of my church work."


[Originally published March 10, 3:25 p.m., entitled: Sweden's Pentecostal Megapastor Converts to Catholicism | Ulf Ekman stuns his Word of Life megachurch in Sunday sermon: He's crossing the Tiber.]

The founder of a 3,300-member megachurch in one of Sweden's largest cities announced yesterday [Sunday, March 9] his decision to leave his charismatic congregation and join the Roman Catholic Church.

Ulf Ekman, who introduced Sweden to the prosperity-emphasizing Word of Faith movement when he founded Word of Life Ministries and Word of Life Church, had stepped down from the pastorate at the Uppsala church last spring.

"I have come to realize that the movement I for the last 30 years have represented, despite successes and much good that has occurred on various mission fields, is part of the ongoing Protestant fragmentation of Christendom," Ekman wrote in an op-ed for Swedish newspaper Daegens Nyheter.

In joining the Catholic church, Ekman, founder of Scandinavia's largest Bible school, said he plans to pursue unity among Christian movements and denominations. Meanwhile, Word of Life Church announced that it would hold a special meeting for parishioners on Monday.

Charisma and Aletheia report more details of Ekman's conversion. His announcement can be watched here.

Ekman was ordained a minister in the Swedish Lutheran Church in 1979 before leaving the denomination to found Word of Faith Church in Uppsala in 1983, according to his website. More than 9,500 students have graduated from the ministry's affiliated Bible school.

In a note on his ministry website, Ekman explains that he and his wife, Birgitta Ekman, have undergone a slow transformation over the past decade as they have come to know practicing Roman Catholics, including many charismatic Catholics.

"It really challenged our protestant prejudices, and we realized that we in many cases did not have any basis for our criticism of them," Ekman said in the note. "We needed to know the Catholic faith better."

CT has written about other high-profile conversions to Catholicism, including a Q&A with Evangelical Theology Society president Francis Beckwith after he rejoined the Catholic Church in 2007.

CT has also covered Christianity in Sweden, including the Pentecostal World Conference in Stockholm and government evaluation that threatens the training of Swedish pastors. CT assessed the Word-Faith movement in the 1990s.

Below is the announcement of Ekman's switch:

During our last Sunday service, pastor Ulf Ekman shared the news that he and his wife Birgitta will ba accepted into the Catholic Church. A process of many years of prayer and reflection led to this decision.

During the last ten years, Ulf and Birgitta have had contact with catholics and catholic faith, mostly internationally but also in Sweden. This has made them reflect more on the catholic faith and on the spiritual life they have seen in their catholic brothers and sisters.

- For Birgitta and me, this has been a slow process were we have gone from discovering new things, to appreciating what we have discovered, to approach and even learn from our fellow Christians, Ulf Ekman says.

- 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, Ulf Ekman explains.
- All this has been both attractive and challenging. It really challenged our protestant prejudices, and we realized that we in many cases did not have any basis for our criticism of them. We needed to know the Catholic faith better. This led us to the realize that it was actually Jesus Christ who led us to unite with the Catholic Church, Ulf Ekman says.

Ulf and Birgitta Ekman emphazises that this is about a personal journey.

- It has not been our agenda to lead Word of Life in this direction, or to collectively unite the church with the Catholic Church. That would be unreasonable.

In his speech to the church this Sunday, Ulf Ekman stressed that this step was not going from something, but more importantly going towards something else.

- We love the church that we have been a part of building and serving for the last thirty years, and we could never be anything but grateful for the time we have had together, but we have felt a clear calling from the Lord to take this new step. Now, when we do so, we are convinced that the Word of Life church is in good hands and will keep prospering and bear fruit in it's on vision.

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