The Evangelical-Lutheran Church is the national Church of Norway, is administered by the State’s Church department, and represents some 96 per cent (3.6 million) Norwegians. The remainder include 30,000 Pentecostalists, 17,000 Free Church Lutherans, 12, 000 Methodists, 9,000 Baptists, and 5,000 Roman Catholics. Most of the dissenters sprang originally from Reformed groups in the United States or in Great Britain.
For generations there have always been some convinced nonbelievers in the State Church, and during the last decade a few skeptical intellectuals of the older age group have demonstratively left the Church in favor of a bare “human ethical way of life.” Many talented young students, on the other hand, are showing great interest in the thorny problems of human thought and life, and not a few are eagerly seeking religious solutions. Most notable in the last 40 years is the great expansion of Studentlaget (Christian Student Association) which has won a dominating influence in academic circles. Its marked emphasis on the preaching of the Gospel has resulted in college and university students becoming warm adherents to the Christian faith and to evangelical Lutheran confession. This student work is now associated with the Inter-Varsity Fellowship.
The life, activities and opinion of Norwegian Church members are usually assumed to be very individualistic compared with those in Sweden and Denmark, and criticism has arisen from their unwillingness to cooperate if their Christian conviction argues against it. Certainly internal theological controversy has been more of a burning issue in the Church of Norway than in most other parts of the evangelical world. Large numbers of church people were involved in these periodically blazing battles fought out in journals and newspapers. As a result of controversies at the beginning of this century the Independent Faculty of Theology (Det teologiske Menighetsfakudtet) in Oslo came into existence in 1908. After it gained university status, this faculty became responsible for training a majority of the Norwegian clergy (the figure over the past few years is estimated at 80 per cent).
Christian activity has clearly increased in Norway over the last half century during which it has been found necessary to increase the number of dioceses from six to nine. Most significant, however, is the growing concern in the ranks of the free Christian organizations for missionary ends; the great and comprehensive work of these organizations is a characteristic trait of Christian life in Norway. All of them are wholly independent of the state church, and all are motivated by the firm resolve of pastors and people alike to live and act wholly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One result of this has been that missionary organizations, with their 850 missionaries throughout the world, have all enlarged their incomes and added to their commitments in an almost sensational way. Yearly contributions to missionary work, which amounted to rather less than two million kroner in 1911, now amount to more than 20 million kroner (about $2,800,000).
Within the ordinary working groups of the Church a new spirit of initiative has appeared, inspired to some extent by the encouraging example of the stewardship-adjustment in the evangelical churches of the United States. Conspicuous representatives of this new movement are the Institute of Christian Education (Instituttet for Kristen oppseding, IKO), the Institute of Congregational and Parish Work (Menighetsinstituttet), and the Egede Institute of Missionary Study and Research (Oslo).
[John Nome is Professor of Systematic Theology and Dean of the Free Faculty at Oslo.]
Toward the end of the nineteenth century a radical view of life based on materialistic and socialistic foundations became more and more common in Sweden. In 1882 Uppsala University students founded a society to work for a “modern” outlook on life; early Laborites, influenced by Marx, had generally a critical or hostile attitude to the Church; in literature and among the intelligentsia there were increasing signs of a negative or indifferent attitude to Christianity. Such a view was justified by reference to the advance and implications of scientific discoveries.
The Swedish Church (Evangelical-Lutheran) about the turn of the century was weakened also by sectarian separatism, but then there appeared a series of church leaders who succeeded in rekindling the dying enthusiasm. One of these was Archbishop Nathan Söderblom, whose great passion was the ecumenical movement. In 1925 his efforts were rewarded with the opening in Stockholm of the “Ecumenical Conference on Life and Work” attended by representatives from most Protestant and Greek Orthodox bodies. (It must be added, however, that in 1962 only the national church and the Mission Covenant Church among Swedish bodies are members of the WCC.)
The liberal theology which at the end of last century gained ground at Uppsala allied itself to the Young Church Movement, and thus acquired a stronger influence within the Church, but from the 1920’s there can be traced an organized opposition to modern biblical criticism, originating from “low-church” and “old-church” circles. Here the Evangelical National Missionary Society, a body formed in 1856 by Lutheran groups loyal to the Church of Sweden, took the lead. In addition, there has arisen, chiefly influenced by the Anglican Church, a high-church movement which since the 1940’s has spread to many clergymen and divinity students. These attach great importance to the external form of divine worship: robes, the sign of the cross, genuflection, and so on.
In Sweden the Freedom of Religion Law (1951) makes it possible for anyone to leave the Church without becoming a member of another religious body, but only about 30,000 persons (less than 0.5 per cent of the population) have taken advantage of this. The latest statistics show that 85.52 per cent of children are baptized in the Church, and 86.65 per cent are confirmed. Of marriages, 91.35 per cent are solemnized by a church ceremony; of burials, 96.11 per cent are church-performed. National church members total over 95 per cent of Swedes.
These figures alone do not measure the intensity of religious life, but they evidence the strong grip which the church has on the life of the nation. The most important Free churches are: Swedish Baptist (32, 000), Methodist (11,000), Mission Covenant (96, 000), Salvation Army (41,000), and Pentecostal (92, 000).
In spite of all secularization the kingdom of God is steadily developing. The high standard of life is not enough to satisfy the soul’s yearning for eternal truths. To some extent the young generations appears to have lost all contact with the Christian faith and Christian norms, but at the same time it is obvious that just here there is an unquenchable thirst for spiritual values. The Gospel still shows that it is the “power of God unto salvation.” The irresistible power of the love of Christ appears particularly in the strong interest of Swedish Christians in the propagation of the Gospel in many missionary fields, and in the extensive and specialist work maintained in the so-called underdeveloped countries.
[Nils Rodén is lector at the Secondary School of Västervik. Sweden. An ordained minister in the Church of Sweden, he received the Th.D. degree in 1941.]
Fifty years ago the spiritual life of Denmark was characterized by a certain calm. True, the development towards secularization was under way, and people were led both by their optimistic faith in civilization and by their confidence in a “good, safe world” to conclude that they could do without God. The atheism of Georg Brandes was affecting many of the intellectuals. Yet the population for the most part wished to retain the externals of traditional Christianity, and worried little about what the minister had to say. In the churches by and large a true Gospel was being preached, but there, too, optimism was becoming noticeable: nobody was being made to feel uncomfortable! This imperturbable, superficial attitude to the grave questions of damnation and eternal salvation was naturally a cause of constant concern to true believers. “Watchman’s cries” of warning came particularly from groups such as the Home Mission and Lutheran Mission, but they were little heeded outside their own circles.
Then the First World War dealt a grave blow to men’s trust in civilization, and a definite, albeit only temporary, improvement was evident. But post-war prosperity brought a desire to enjoy life without any restraints from tradition or Church. This is where a true, powerful word of God was needed, but at this very time liberalism began to exercise its crippling effect by usurping the university teaching posts. Believing parents could not but be greatly concerned when their children chose to read theology; and soon young priests and teachers were bringing the poison of liberalism out to the people as well. Barth’s theology brought an improvement, but the situation is still far from satisfactory. Perhaps today nobody wants to be labeled “liberal,” but generally speaking the Divine authority of the Bible is not recognized.
Also as a result of the development of the last 20–30 years the so-called “pietistic” circles, i.e., those who have joined themselves together in groups such as the Home Mission, the “Grundtvigians” (followers of the evangelical Bishop Grundtvig) and the Lutheran Mission, are despised as being behind the times, philistine and pharisaical. Harshest in its criticism is the thirty-year-old “New Era” movement. Many young theologians are counted among its adherents, and it exercises a regrettable influence under the leadership of Professor Lindhardt of Aarhus. Lindhardt calls any form of piety pharisaical subjectivism, and undermines trust in the Bible in such a shameless fashion that one wonders that he still desires to remain a minister in the Danish Church.
Thus the battle for the truth in Denmark has increased in intensity. The Lutheran Church still comprises 95 per cent of the population, but her teaching is far removed from the confessions of faith of her Reformers. But God has preserved a remnant of true believers, and recently even increased its numbers among students also, grounding it still more firmly on the heritage of the Lutheran confession.
O. BÖRLÖS JENSEN
[O. B. Jensen is a teacher in Holte, on the Danish island of Sjaelland.]
Last year a poll on religious views was taken at the Military Academy for Reserve Officers at Hamina in Finland. Only 7.4 per cent of the men answered “no” to the question, Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ? In Finland by government order four days are set aside each year for national prayer, on which occasions all public entertainments are forbidden. This would suggest an essentially religious country.
In a population of just under 4½ million, about 94 per cent belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1.7 per cent to the Orthodox Church, while no other church has more than 8,000 members. Finland’s turbulent history and intense nationalism are such that people and church are virtually inseparable. Thus the birth of Finnish literature stemmed from the Reformation; and those pietistic revivalist movements, which in other countries broke away from the church, did not do so in Finland, and remain the real characteristic of the indigenous church there. Though persecuted as recently as last century, the pietistic movement is found today in many key ecclesiastical posts, and its summer conferences attract large numbers. The movement is not obscurantist, and its main emphasis is on the claims of Jesus Christ and the necessity for decision.
During the first half of this century some social groups became estranged from Christianity, but recently there has been a sharp drop in the number of critics (apart from those on the extreme left) belonging to the educated classes. Church attendance is naturally highest where revivalist movements are strongest, but the church is continually seeking new ways of taking the old Gospel to those who are farthest away from it.
A characteristic feature of Finnish Christianity is its stress on personal spiritual experience, explicable in terms not only of pietism, but of the introspective, meditative nature of the people. Like other Western churches the Church of Finland is challenged by industrialization and urbanization, bringing a sense of boredom and life futility. Ties with the West are close, and American Lutheran churches and American Friends after World War II gave much appreciated assistance toward the reconstruction of war-destroyed churches and rectories in Northern Finland. Finnish Christians are eagerly looking forward to the summer of 1963 when they will be hosts to the Fourth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, the theme of which is CHRIST TODAY.
J. D. DOUGLAS
[The report on Finland was compiled by CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S British Editorial Director, who has spent an extended summer in Northern Finland.]
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