Question(s) for or about Norwegian Lutherans

Started by Jeremy Loesch, May 07, 2012, 06:14:42 AM

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Public School Teacher

The reason why the little Norweigan Synod (ELS) is so little is largely the fault of the Missouri Synod. Important LCMS people told their substantial # of friends and allies to go along with the merger. My estimate is that around one third of those in the Norwegian Synod were Missouri-loyal. Only those families and congregations most doctrinally dedicated to issues like predestination split off.

The letters on this site are a great help in piecing together the history:


Quote from: Rev. Spaceman on May 09, 2012, 01:07:50 PM
Yes, the Finnish language is quite different, and some linguists even believe it is related to Hungarian. 

I remember reading that Finnish it is a Ural-Altaic language.  That language group supposedly includes Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish and other central Asian languages.

David Charlton  

Was Algul Siento a divinity school?

Rev. Spaceman

Quote from: grabau on May 09, 2012, 05:28:54 PM

the Norwegians not of Norske Synod did not affirm BoC. grabau

Interestingly, one of the prececessor bodies (the smallest one) of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of 1890, the Norwegian Augustana Synod, did formally subscribe to the entire BoC.  However, you are right that the subsequent Norwegian denominations did not see the need for a formal subscription to the entire BoC.  This doesn't mean that they didn't value it, however.
Rev. Thomas E. Jacobson, Ph.D


Yes, the  statement in the Lutheran Hymnary said that the other writings were not rejected but were generally not familiar.  That is because Norway was united with Denmark which affirmed only AC  and the SC.  Don't recall details but in Denmark was crime, treason? to subscribe to F of C.  There is some debate whether the Church of Sweden did or not.  I grew up in a congregation that would have been United in origin.  Usages were strictly observed: sign of the cross in baptism, the consecration abd at the benediction.  The surplice worn long before it became common in other Lutheran synods.  I don't know what would have prevailed in more "Haugean" congregations.  grabau


To understand Norwegian Lutheranism, you kind of have to understand the political dynamics between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.  You also have to understand Norwegian farm culture (bondekultur).   Norway was in a royal union with Denmark from about 1400 to 1814.  There were various degrees of Danish rule during that time, as Denmark was the major power of the Scandinavian states due to its continental location.  Cutting to the chase, at the time of the Reformation, Norway was pretty well dominated by Denmark.  Lutheranism was foisted upon the Norwegians as a matter of law rather than conversion.  The last Catholic Bishop of Nidaros, Olaf Engelbrektsson, was eventually run into exile even as he attempted to use the Reformation as the means to inspire some sense of Norwegian nationalism and be rid of Danish rule.  This, of course, wasn't entirely altruistic as there was a whole lot of land in Norway owned by the Roman Catholic Church, and Engelbrektsson had such a standing as to be able to build a castle and raise a small army.  Engelbrektsson tried to get Swedish allies, since Gustaf I Vasa was waging war against Denmark already.  However, he wasn't fully aware of Swedish Lutheran leanings, and received no support. 

The consequence of this was that Norway was forcibly converted to Lutheranism, and after Engelbrektsson was exiled to Holland, it came to the Danes to provide new, Lutheran clergy to Norway.  Consequently, there was immediately a divide between the Norwegians and their own clergy, as Danish and Norwegian languages were significantly different at that point - Danish had absorbed a lot of German and Frisian influence, while Norwegian was approximately similar to modern Faeroese.  So, there was a divide between Norwegians and Danes, even linguistically, for the next few centuries.  Danish massively influenced the language of educated Norwegians to the point that, even today, Norway has two official written languages.  Away from population centers, the Norwegian dialects are considerably older.

So, the Norwegians were tied to the Danes politically and religiously.  Roman Catholic tendencies died out in Norway centuries after the Reformation, despite Danish clergy rigorously rooting out "papistry" and the like.  Towards the end of the 18th century, Norway finally got a University of Theology of its own.

Pietism made its way to Norway via Danish clergy, but it took Hans Nielsen Hauge to drive the point home.  Haugean pietism has taken some really strange twists and turns in the past 200 years, but it was the Haugean revival that ultimately made Lutheranism "Norwegian".  Even for those who disagreed with Hauge on many things, such as H.A. Preus and most of the State Church, it's hard to deny that the Haugean revival completely transformed Norwegian Lutheranism in Norway and in the United States.  He also had a large hand in kick-starting a transformation in the Norwegian economy before the Industrial Revolution arrived some 25 years after his death.

Alongside all of this, it's important to remember that the Norwegian population was mostly rural, quite isolated, and had developed it's own "Bondekultur" (farm-culture).  "Bondekultur" was very old in many ways, reaching back to the age of the Vikings.  Norwegian farm culture emphasized the freedom of the farmer, the strength of the farm community, and viewed the Danish kingdom as an overseer rather than an overlord.  Isolated communities couldn't possibly be contained by Danish military might, and there was little reason for the Danes to attempt such a thing.  They put their sheriffs and magistrates in place.  The sheriffs enforced laws and collected taxes.  If the population thought the laws and taxes were bad, the sheriff disappeared and another had to be appointed.  Since the Norwegian nobility had been largely ended in the Black Death or subsumed by the Danish nobility, there weren't even really any regional nobles to enforce these things such as in Denmark and Sweden.  Certainly, Danish nobles inherited land in Norway, but they tended to sell or rent it as they had little desire to actually live there.  Consequently, sheriffs, clergy, and judges wound up being the primary Danish influence for most Norwegians.  It sounds more or less like freedom, but it's important to remember that these same communities were rife with alcoholism, blood feuds, and adultery.  Even as late as the mid-19th century, regionalism was pervasive in Norway, and the notion of a pan-Norwegian identity was still lacking.  A lot of this changed with the Eidsvoll constitution of 1814, which made Norway a "nation" even though under the Swedish crown. 

Post-Napoleonic Norway became considerably different than Norway under Danish rule.  The Swedes had agreed to most of the terms of the Eidsvoll constitution with their King as ruler rather than go to war against Norway.  So, Norway and Sweden shared a crown for about 90 years, although Norway was largely internally ruled over this time - the King ruled mostly when it came to foreign policy. 

This is the Norway that exported hundreds of thousands of its citizens to the United States.  The State Church hadn't been behind Hauge, but it benefited from the Haugean revival.  The Haugean church became its own sect in the United States, even though it was ultimately just a movement in Norwegian Lutheranism.  Similar movements in Sweden gave rise to large Baptist or Baptist-type movements, which were separate from the State Church in Sweden.

So, as to the question of why Norwegians and Swedes didn't get along, hundreds of years of cross-border warfare will tend to do that.  The last crisis was in 1905, when the Norwegians had enough of the Swedish Crown.  As to the bizarre nature of Norwegian Lutheranism, it has a lot to do with applying Lutheran Pietism to a lapsed pseudo-Catho-Lutheric population.


Thank you, TravisW, for that summary. Throw the Finns (also Lutheran) into the mix in that part of the world, and you have even more complications.


Indeed.  Two unrelated languages, two religions, etc...

To address an earlier mention of what a Hauge service was like, I don't have any copies of orders of service.  What I do have is fuzzy recollections of what my grandparents and great-grandparents discussed.  My grandfather wasn't impressed by the Haugeans (he was 7 when the merger took place).  His parents had been raised in the Norwegian Synod, and that was what he was used to (he wasn't a big fan of things he wasn't used to).  He described the Hauge hymns as being too silly and cheerful, and the most devoted adherents as being a bit "too holy", to the extent of walking into church with their hands together under their chins as a display of piety. 

My great-grandfather was raised in a Hauge church, and he was perfectly happy to switch to a non-Hauge congregation when he moved.  I guess the piety part rubbed him the wrong way, too.  Kind of funny, because toward the end of his life, he always listened to Carl Olaf Rosenius Norheim's radio show - and it didn't get much more pietistic than Rosenius Norheim. 

Anyway, differences between the Synod congregations and Hauge congregations were very noticeable for some decades after the 1917 merger.  Looking through church yearbooks, you can see early "Synod" years where the pastor wore full vestments, often with a ruff.  Some years later, you see the vestments get simpler and simpler until it got to a point where many pastors were simply wearing suits.  The "low church" mentality was part of the Haugean DNA spreading even into formerly non-Haugean congregations. 


Are the Lutheran Brethren considered more "Haugean" than other Lutheran groups.  My wife's family is real big on the Lutheran Brethren and I know that family (all Norwegian immigrants from the Nordfjord area) was wooed into the Lutheran Brethren by some itinerant pastors in about 1920.

Brian J. Bergs.
Minneapolis, MN
But let me tell Thee that now, today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing.
The Grand Inquisitor


Quote from: Bergs on May 14, 2012, 10:15:44 PM
Are the Lutheran Brethren considered more "Haugean" than other Lutheran groups.  My wife's family is real big on the Lutheran Brethren and I know that family (all Norwegian immigrants from the Nordfjord area) was wooed into the Lutheran Brethren by some itinerant pastors in about 1920.

Brian J. Bergs.
Minneapolis, MN

Yes, there's a whole lot more Haugean influence in the LB than in most other Lutheran denominations.  There's some in the Free Lutherans too, but not to quite the same extent.  The most overtly "Haugean" synod remaining in the USA is the Eielsen Synod.  Well, "remaining" -  I think there's one Eielsen congregation left. 


Quote from: Bergs on May 14, 2012, 10:15:44 PM
Are the Lutheran Brethren considered more "Haugean" than other Lutheran groups.  My wife's family is real big on the Lutheran Brethren and I know that family (all Norwegian immigrants from the Nordfjord area) was wooed into the Lutheran Brethren by some itinerant pastors in about 1920.

Brian J. Bergs.
Minneapolis, MN

This is from pp. 140-41 of Volume II of The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian-Americans by E. Clifford Nelson:

"Meanwhile, the United Church suffered its second schism.  In 1900 a group of congregations and pastors under the leadership of Pastor K. O. Lundeberg organized the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.  Despite the controversies between the churches, the 1890s had witnesses a religious 'revival' among Norwegian Lutheran congregations in America.  Called the 'awakening of the nineties,' it was not confined to any particular synod.  Remarkably free of excesses and emotionalism, it was considered a veritable divine visitation.  Nevertheless, sectarian influences began to exert themselves in a demand for 'pure congregations.'

It was in this context that the Church of the Brethren was born.  Pastor Lundeberg, a former Anti-Missuorian and now a member of the United Church, had visited Norway where he came in contact with a 'free church' group of Donatist leanings.  Returning to America gripped with the thought of 'pure congregations,' Lundeberg began to practice his new beliefs by exercising strict discipline in his parish at Kenyon, Minnesota.  He felt that no Lutheran church group was sufficiently apostolic in the practice of church discipline and therefore concluded he must establish a new one.  Together with a recruit from the Lutheran Free Church, Pastor E. M. Broen, Lundeberg issued a call for a conference to be held at Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  It was here that the Church of the Brethren of America was organized in December, 1900.  By 1914, the church numbered eleven pastors, two professors, and three missionaries in China.  It maintained a Bible School at Wahpeton, North Dakota.  In 1911, Pastor Lundeberg had acknowledged his error and rejoined the United Church, but his former colleague, Pastor Broen, continued the work.  In 1959, the church body had a baptized membership of 4,300."

The Church of the Lutheran Brethren still exists, claiming 123 congregations.  Here's the web site.


Our pastor announced on the first meeting of confirmation class that anyone attending dances would not be confirmed. (United Church background).  In spite of pietist values we knew that men of the church enjoyed a beer or two at a rural tavern not at one of the bars on village main street.  We were visited by evangelists of LEM who stressed a kind of decision theology.  But church usages, vestments, sung collects etc. prevailed.  grabau


God Syttende Mai!

William G. Ross

Brian Stoffregen

Quote from: grabau on May 17, 2012, 10:22:57 AM
Our pastor announced on the first meeting of confirmation class that anyone attending dances would not be confirmed. (United Church background).  In spite of pietist values we knew that men of the church enjoyed a beer or two at a rural tavern not at one of the bars on village main street.  We were visited by evangelists of LEM who stressed a kind of decision theology.  But church usages, vestments, sung collects etc. prevailed.  grabau

I spent a summer traveling with an LEM team (1969). Yes, decision theology and legalism. I heard that the next summer, the team members were given a speech against having facial hair -- apparently some didn't like the fact that I had a mustache and beard.

Fredrik Schiotz, the first president of The American Lutheran Church (1960) came out of the ELC. (His name is Danish, but his ancestors had moved to Norway.) His autobiography is called, One Man's Story. His experiences give some of the flavor of Norwegian Lutherans. The second paragraph of a chapter called "New Insights" reads:

During my teenage years there were some legalisms which, at the time, seemed like a part of the Christian faith. Dancing, use of alcoholic beverages, and public discussion of sex were taboo. This was true in my home community and also on the St. Olaf College campus. In fact, during college days I became acquainted with a new legalism called "unionism." This term referred to joint worship services or fellowship with congregations that belonged to churches with whom there was no formal pulpit and altar fellowship. (pp. 33-34)

He talks about how his thinking was changed from a legalistic life-style to practicing the freedom of the gospel. It includes this account about dancing.

Social dancing was not permitted by congregations n the former Evangelical Lutheran Church....

This arbitrary position on social dancing was supported by the general assumption that it would lead to violation of the Sixth Commandment And this, of course, was true of many public dances. Boys went with the intent of "warming up" a girl for later sexual intercourse.

My change in outlook resulted during several quarters of study at the University of Chicago. In the course of preparing a class paper I found a book in the library that reported a study of youth sponsored recreation in the churches of Morris Illinois....

He learned that all the mainline Protestant churches in Morris allowed social dancing as part of the recreation in youth work. But the Lutheran congregation did not. I knew immediately that it was an ELC congregation....

The writer of the book went beyond this initial probing. He checked the city's record on unmarried mothers. This information obtained, he investigated church affiliations. There were more unmarried mothers among the girls from the Lutheran congregation than from any of the other Protestant churches. (pp. 38-39)

These quotes are about the Trinity Lutheran Church in Brooklyn that he served. They had a Norwegian Division with services in the sanctuary and an American Division with English services in the basement.

The congregations' low church liturgical practices did not allow for the use of vestments. I found a bylaw to the constitution which specified: Presetn skal ikke ha Klaar (the constitution had not yet been translated into English). Literally interpreted, this phrases meant, "The pastor shall not have clothes"; but its idiomatic meaning was simply, "The pastor shall not use vestments." (p. 61)

After deciding to center on the Augsburg Confession at the Sunday evening services, he decided to have a midweek meeting to discuss the objections he had been hearing about it. He writes:

When the midweek meeting came, the turnout was better than at any other such meeting while I was in Brooklyn. I explained to the group the background for my decision to preach on our great Reformation "Magna Carta." When this had been done, the floor was thrown open for questions and discussion. What was said was pretty well summarized in the statement of a young man that could be paraphrased as follows: "You see, Pastor, we are not saying that you have not preached the Word of God. But we have a tradition in Trinity that our emphasis should be on life rather than doctrine. And we do not want to lose this tradition." (p. 64)

I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.


I was baptized and confirmed in the congregation in the Twin Cities that was the birthplace of LEM in 1937. The atmosphere, preaching and theology in the church of my youth makes contemporary Lutheranism of almost any stripe nearly unrecognizable in comparison.

Rev. Spaceman

After the 1917 merger and beyond, the leadership had to address questions of how to honor the different traditions that converged to form the NLCA (later the ELC).  There were varying degrees of formality in worship, with even some of the United Church pastors rejecting the use of clerical vestments.  The Hauge Synod pretty much frowned on such a thing.  They also rejected the use of the typical order of worship of the Church of Norway in favor of "free prayer" during worship.  Once the agreement was made for Hauge's Synod to join the 1917 merger, there was a provision stating that the principles of "Hauge style" worship would continue to be taught in seminary.  But even so, most congregations eventually abandoned that practice in favor of more formality in worship.  The practice of preachers wearing only frock coats rather than the full clerical outfit died out for the most part as well.

The Church of the Lutheran Brethren, like all other Norwegian Lutheran bodies to varying degrees, does identify with the tradition of the Haugean revival and its interpretations in America.  The big thing about the COLB that separated them from other bodies, even the Lutheran Free Church, was their understanding of "membership."  Inactive members couldn't vote or have Communion.  They were out to make higher demands on "members."
Rev. Thomas E. Jacobson, Ph.D

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