Gottfried Osei-Mensah and I were privileged to be guest speakers at the Norwegian Lausanne Conference near Oslo over the first weekend of September. This visit to Norway was for me an occasion of special pleasure because my ancestors were Vikings. Since Stut is Norwegian for a bull, it is presumed that they were cattle-breeders who on one of their raids in the North of England decided to stay. I am thankful not only to have piratical blood in my veins, but also that my pagan Norse forebears were introduced to Christ in England.

There is another link between Norway and England of which I enjoyed reminding my Norwegian friends, namely that while Norsemen were plundering England, the English were evangelizing Norway. True, the first Scandinavian converts had been won by Anskar, “the apostle of the north” (A.D. 801–865). But it was King Olaf Tryggvasson and King Olaf Haraldsson, both originally Viking chiefs, who after their conversion at the beginning of the eleventh century, invited English clergy to evangelize and teach their people. Canute (1016–1035), king of England and Denmark (which then included Norway), completed the process of Christianizing Norway. Consequently, Kenneth Scott Latourette could write, “The Church in Norway was the offspring of the English Church.”

In the sixteenth century, King Christian II of Denmark and Norway championed the Reformation and the clergy quickly became Lutherans. Yet the religious revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries constituted a kind of second reformation. Its key figure was Hans Hauge (1771–1824). He was a farmer who had a profound evangelical conversion experience in 1796 and then, as Norway’s equivalent to John Wesley, traveled widely, preached and wrote about personal repentance and holiness, and also pioneered Christian social projects. Others followed him. It was a grass roots, lay movement from the beginning and led in due course to the formation of the Norwegian Missionary Society (1842), the Lutheran Inner or “Home” Mission Society (1868), and the Norwegian Lutheran Mission (1891). These organizations have all remained within the State Church, while at the same time jealously guarding their independence and preserving a decentralized structure. Between them they have several thousand local groups.

The Free Churches became legal in 1845 but have remained comparatively small. Five of them (Lutheran Free, Methodist, Baptist, Mission Covenant, and Free Evangelical Assemblies) have about 8,000 adult members each, totaling 40,000, which is also the number of Pentecostals. Still, 95 per cent of Norway’s citizens remain members of the State (Lutheran) Church. The charismatic movement, which has brought renewal to a number of churches, is viewed as being in continuity with the earlier pietistic revivals and has been enriched and kept from excesses by good Lutheran theology.

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Why is evangelicalism stronger in Norway than in the other Scandinavian countries? And why is it that at the fourth and fifth assemblies of the World Council of Churches at Uppsala and Nairobi, respectively, the most forceful theological analysis of ecumenical positions came from the Norwegian delegation, who also on both occasions threatened to withdraw? The answer surely lies in the Free Faculty of Theology, which this year celebrates its seventieth anniversary. In 1908 faithful evangelicals were shocked by the governmental appointment to the University Theological Faculty of a New Testament professor who denied the deity of Jesus. This symbol of liberal infiltration into the church convinced many of the need to start again. So Professor Sigurd Odland resigned his post in the University and founded with others the Free Faculty of Theology. It opened with eight students, but today has about 1,000, some 600 of whom are studying for the pastorate and other church ministries. This means that four-fifths of the State Church clergy train at the Free Faculty. Not that its evangelicalism has escaped question. A few years ago the greatly respected Carl Wisløff retired three years earlier than he need have done in protest against what he judged to be liberalizing tendencies in the Free Faculty.

What about the state connection? It has a long history. It is also defended by senior evangelical leaders on the ground that it preserves the unity of the church and the freedom of conservatives. Certainly it has not muzzled the church. For example, during the terrible five-year Nazi occupation of Norway, courageous leadership of the resistance movement was given by Bishop E. Berggrav of Oslo. In the last decade church-state tension has steadily increased. The government has introduced legislation on Christianity in state preschools that challenges the teaching of Christian values, and on sex discrimination that has led to the ordination of about twenty women priests; this is felt by many to have been an unwarranted imposition by the state. A yet more direct clash took place in 1975 when a bill to make abortion available more or less on demand was strenuously opposed by all ten bishops. When the bill was passed, Bishop Per Lønning resigned. As government pressure on the church grows, so also does the demand—especially among younger clergy—for church freedom. “We need more space for breathing in the Christian way,” Bishop Haakon Andersen said to me. “It is only a matter of time,” added a theologian of the Free Faculty, whose lecture was reported in the press.

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The Lutheran Church of Norway has been one of the pioneers in evangelical student work. Informal Scandinavian student groups were meeting already at the end of the nineteenth century, and in 1895 the Scandinavian Student Christian Movement (SCM) was formed. Theoological problems soon arose, and in 1924 the Norges Kristelige Student og Gymnasiastlag (Laget for short) came into being, with an evangelical constitution. Its members’ evangelistic zeal was evident from the start. They were concerned about their contemporaries who deserted the Oslo churches each weekend in order to go hiking (in the summer) and skiing (in the winter) in the mountain area nearby. So in 1933 they got busy hauling logs and themselves built “The Chapel of the North Forest,” which now has residential as well as canteen facilities. Every Sunday evening the students organize their own evangelistic services there, and many have been won for Christ.

In 1934 the first international student conference was held in Oslo. The main speaker was Ole Hallesby who was the acknowledged evangelical leader in Norway from 1920 to 1960, and whose books Prayer, Conscience, and Why I Am a Christian have been read with great profit by generations of students. “It is God’s hour,” he said at the conference; “it is an unspeakable privilege to move forward at God’s time.” He was referring to the possibility of an international evangelical student movement. Further international conferences were held almost annually, and then after the war the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) was formed in 1946, with Hallesby as its first honorary president.

In my travels in different parts of the Third World, I have constantly been impressed by the fine quality of the missionaries sent out from Norway. Their numbers are extremely impressive too. From a country of 4 million people, of whom only 2 per cent are regular churchgoers (though 12 to 15 per cent are thought to be converted Christians), no fewer than 1,536 missionaries are at present serving, the largest number (703) being in sixteen countries of Africa. The thirty-eight Norwegians who came to the Lausanne Congress returned with much enthusiasm, and within just over six months had formed the Norwegian Lausanne Committee under the chairmanship of Bishop Erling Utnem. Because of his ill health he has been succeeded by Sigurd Aske who, introducing the Conference for Christian Leaders in early September, said that the Lausanne Covenant had given them “a path to follow amid a world of theological uncertainty and ecumenical pluralism.”

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As a lost son of Norway, who had temporarily returned to his fatherland, I felt proud to have connections with such a vigorous Christian community.

John R. W. Stott is rector emeritus of All Souls Church, London.

John R. W. Stott (1921 – 2011) is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, author, and theologian. For 66 years he served All Souls Church, Langham Place, in London, England, where he pioneered effective urban evangelistic and pastoral ministry. During these years he authored more than 50 books, and served as one of the original Contributing Editors for Christianity Today. Stott had a global vision and built strong relationships with church leaders outside the West in the Majority World. A hallmark of Stott's ministry was his vision for expository biblical preaching that addresses the hearts and minds of contemporary men and women. In 1969 he founded a trust that eventually became Langham Partnership International (, a ministry that continues his vision of partnership with the Majority World Church. Stott was honored by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World."

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