Swedish megachurch leader Ulf Ekman who formerly led the Word of Life charismatic church in Uppsala explained his decision to convert to Roman Catholicism, and revealed that he was "bombarded with questions" by his congregation, some of whom understood his decision, and some who didn't.
"Well, it became very quiet. And when it becomes quiet in a charismatic church, then you know people are thinking. When I'd finished there was actually spontaneous applause. That surprised me a lot and many, many people came up to me afterwards," Ekman said in an interview with Catholic Herald.
"Then, the day after, we had a question-and-answer session. I stood for two hours and they bombarded me with questions about Catholicism. The rest of the week all our pastors were ready to help people and answer questions. Every night there were sessions for that. So there has been a mixed feeling. Some understand. Some don't understand at all."
Ekman, who founded Word of Life in 1983, announced in March before his congregation that he and his wife, Birgitta, are converting to the Roman Catholic faith.
The Swedish church leader explained that he and Birgitta had prayed long and hard on the decision, and were influenced by "millions of charismatic Catholics" whom they saw living out their faith.
"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," Ekman said at the time.
In the recent interview, the Word of Life founder reflected on the thought process and the many steps he and his wife took along the way in making the decision to join the Vatican.
"I felt the necessity to take it slowly because I felt responsibility for all the different congregations. So for me in the beginning it felt like an impossibility. It felt like something my heart was yearning for, but impossible to do in reality. But then there came a point when I felt that, no, this is possible, even though it seems difficult to do," he said.
"I also felt in this process a relief in being exposed to a number of different prejudices that you are not always clear that you have. But as you go along you notice them: lack of knowledge, just common prejudices, because we have cultural blind spots in Scandinavia when it comes to Catholics."
Ekman clarified that he and his wife will be confirmed in the Catholic faith in the spring. He added that he does not hope to take up a role within the Catholic Church, and is just content to join the church body.
As for whether his teachings while part of the Word of Faith movement have been wrong, he said the answer is "no."
"I believe I've taught the Bible to the best of my ability. We've preached the Gospel and evangelized according to the light we've had. I'm very happy about all the work that has been done and all the congregations that have been built. I in no way dismiss that. It's not a going from, it's a going to. It's a longing for more fullness, for a deeper understanding and participating in what the Church really is," Ekman explained.
Following Ekman's announcement in March, the Swedish Evangelical Alliance responded by praising him for his work, but also highlighting the "crucial dividing lines" between Catholics and Evangelicals.
"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. His international significance goes far beyond what most Swedes understand; countless people around the world thank God for the ministry of Ulf Ekman," Stefan Gustavsson, general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, stated, as reported by IRD President Mark Tooley.
"In other matters, there are crucial dividing lines which can't be avoided," he added.
"This applies to the matter of salvation where we do not agree on the importance of justification by faith. The matter of authority where we do not agree on the relationship between Scripture and tradition and it also applies to the view of the Church where we do not agree that the body of Christ has a visible organizational structure led from Rome, to name some of the main issues," Gustavsson further explained.
"Unity is a prayer and desire that all Christians share – or should share – and is one of the reasons that Ulf Ekman gives for his decision. At the same time there is also an underlying problem. The claim by the Catholic Church to be the visible expression of the Body of Christ have ever since the split between orthodox and catholic in 1054, is just one of the causes of division – and continues to be so."