Norway’s Christian Heritage
Norway, known officially as The Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country on the western portion of the Scandinavian peninsula, bordering Sweden, Finland and Russia. The name “Norway” derives from the old seafarers’ route to the North, describing “the way to the North” = Nor-way.
The first Norwegian inhabitants can be traced back to descendants from the Israelite tribe of Naphtali with elements from Gad, Dan and Manasseh.1 The early Norwegians were famous as Vikings and were characterized by reckless courage and a cruelty alternated with generosity and magnanimity.
Little is known of the religious ideas of the early Norwegians. The little that is known rests on later sources, chiefly on the Eddas of the thirteenth century. It seems certain that not only animals, but also human beings (even kings), were sacrificed to the gods, of whom Thor and Odin were the most important. These and other heathen rituals like drinking, believing in trolls, etc., were deeply rooted in the Norwegian people and it took many centuries to break some of these traditions.
It is well known that the Vikings were skilled seafarers and tradesmen who travelled extensively throughout Europe and even touched Africa, America and Asia.
Roman Catholicism Comes to Norway
Roman Catholicism came to Norway in 994 AD through the kings Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf II Haraldsson. In 1152 a national church was established, with the archbishopric in Nidaros (present-day Trondheim). The entry of Catholicism put an end to many cruel heathenistic rituals, but at the same time many clerical leaders misused their power and put the people under a heavy yoke. However, there were some small rays of light as history tells us that a few people, especially those living in the rural areas, away from the established church system, experienced answers to prayer, healings and miracles through a simple faith in Christ. Another positive development was that a first basic translation of the Bible into Norwegian was available as early as 1200, which prepared the way for the next step in developing true Christianity in the country.
The Reformation in Norway
From 1397 until 1814, Norway was absorbed in a union with Denmark and from 1814 until 1905 Norway lived in union with Sweden under the Swedish king. Thus the reformation in Norway is very closely linked to both the Danish and the Swedish reformation history (see the Swedish and Danish Christian history pages).
The Danish King Christian III ordered the introduction of the Lutheran reformation into Norway in 1536 and a Norwegian church council officially adopted the Lutheran reformation in 1539. Monasteries were dissolved, much church property was confiscated by the state and the Catholic bishops were replaced by Lutheran superintendents (who were often referred to as bishops), and the bishops still adhering to Catholicism were deposed.
The Lutheran faith now having become the new state religion, did not mean that the country suddenly experienced a nationwide revival, but more and more preachers and laymen realised the power in The Word and were gripped by a more personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It was not until approximately 1670 that a Norwegian Bible could be bought for a reasonable price, and this development greatly helped to further the knowledge of the true ways of The Lord. However, it did not take long for the Lutheran church to become a rigid organisation as well, bound by many theological regulations. Many of its theologians were rulers, rather than servants, and were soon found bound by worldly pleasures, such as drinking and gambling, and a profane lifestyle.
Pietism, Brotherhoods and Missions
As in other Scandinavian countries, the 18th century saw the transmission of pietism from Germany to Norway. This produced a revival in Norwegian life expressed in the establishment of brotherhoods and missions such as the Quakers, Herrenhuters (followers of Count Zinzendorf) or of those following the German Pietist leaders Spener and Franke (see the German Christian history page). We can find many stories about men and women who laboured tirelessly amongst the people of Norway to bring the gospel to the most remote areas and who did not fear prison or persecution for their beliefs.
As the reader will have realised by now, Norway had so far not produced its own spiritual leaders, but rather followed the developments coming from Europe. Many of the movements so far did not reach the whole nation, but only certain geographical areas. In the meantime Erik Pontoppidan, a Danish Protestant bishop, wrote and distributed the fabulous book ”Sannhet til Gud-fryktighet” (in English: ”Truth to Godly Fear”), which prepared the minds of many young children of generations to come.
Soon after this, God would put one man on the Norwegian map who would be responsible for a nationwide awakening and change of values influenced by God and His Spirit – a man often referred to as:
“The Luther of Norway” - Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771–1824)
Hans Nielsen Hauge was born on April 3rd, 1771, in rural Norway, about fifty miles from Oslo. He had little formal education, but was a skilled carpenter and handyman and was thus economically secure. He was raised in a devout home and as a young man he did much religious reading and was deeply worried that he might be damned.
While working on his father's farm, on 5th April, 1796 (just two days after he turned 25), he had a powerful conversion experience, which he later described as follows:
"One day while I was working outside under the open sky, I sang from memory the hymn, ‘Jesus, I Long for Thy Blessed Communion’. At this point my mind became so exalted that I was not myself aware of, nor can I express, what took place in my soul, for I was beside myself. As soon as I came to my senses, I was filled with regret that I had not served this loving, transcendentally good God. Now it seemed to me that nothing in this world was worthy of any regard. That my soul possessed something supernatural, divine and blessed; that there was a glory that no tongue can utter - that I remember as clearly as if it had happened only a few days ago and it is now nearly twenty years since the love of God visited me so abundantly. Now I wanted very much to serve God, I asked Him to reveal to me what I should do. The answer echoed in my heart, ‘You shall confess My Name before the people; exhort them to repent and seek Me while I may be found and call upon Me while I am near; and touch their hearts that they may turn from darkness to light."2 Hauge began to travel throughout Norway and Denmark, preaching everywhere "the living faith" - the personal commitment to the Lord that transforms the believer's life. He also wrote on the subject, producing about thirty books. In the next several years, Hauge travelled - mostly on foot - across Norway and held countless revival meetings, often after church services. In addition to his religious work, he also offered practical advice encouraging, among other things, settlements in northern Norway. People everywhere were saved and then in turn went out to preach the Gospel as well – thus the revival spread throughout all the country.
The Bible was the highest authority for Hauge’s life and teaching. The spiritual situation in Norway was very dark when Hauge came onto the scene – many pastors within the Lutheran faith were backslidden, drunkards and gamblers. In the middle of this darkness Hauge came with his clear message of salvation, re-birth and reconciliation. He called the people to turn from religious acts to a living faith and preached clearly that baptism as a child does not make a person a Christian, but that in adulthood people need to repent and follow God.
Not only did Hauge bring spiritual revival to the country, he was also a very practical businessman. He established various industries such as sawmills, factories and paper and fabric industries; he also worked as a fisherman and owned four fishing boats.
Hauge’s opinion was that a Christian has to be a Christian in every aspect. He established factories so that thousands of people could gain employment. Hauge had the presence of God over his life and yet he was a quiet and humble man, led by the Holy Spirit, whose only goal in life was to save people from eternal destruction in hell. The revival turned Hauge’s followers into the best citizens in the country and many of them acquired leading positions within the government and society.
Such preaching had its price and Hauge had to suffer a lot of persecution from the established clergymen and other authorities in the country. He was attacked in most of the country’s newspapers, arrested, beaten, sworn at, badly treated and imprisoned for much of the period between 1804 and 1814. Hauge’s time in prison broke his health and led to his premature death.
T. B. Barratt (1862–1940) – Europe’s Pentecostal Apostle
Thomas Ball Barratt, the founder of Pentecostalism in Europe, began his career as a Methodist Episcopal pastor. Each stage of his ministry was characterized by frenetic activity. Driven by holiness theology to transform the world, he established a national youth program for the church and in his congregations. Barratt was active nationally in the temperance movement and he created (together with his sister Mary) an orphanage and a home for unwed mothers. He worked for civil rights for religious dissenters, fought for national independence from Sweden and was elected numerous times onto the city council in Kristiania/Oslo.
In 1905, Barratt travelled to America for a fund-raising tour, but instead of raising funds, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and fire and began to speak in tongues (ACTS 2:4). Upon his return to Oslo, he held revival meetings and many people were saved. The news about this Pentecostal experience soon spread all over Europe and many people came to Oslo to hear Barratt preach.
The work grew and Barratt was soon found travelling all over Scandinavia and Europe, spreading the message of Pentecost – wherever he went revival broke out and people were saved. Barratt also started a Christian newspaper, wrote several books and composed Christian music. He spent a lot of time in prayer and studied his Bible intensively.
Albert Lunde (1877–1939)
At around the same time as Barratt, Norway also saw some other powerfully anointed preachers, amongst them Albert Lunde, who was influenced by the Moody and Sankey revivals in England and America. The influence of God’s Word and Spirit upon his ministry was so strong that people in the prisons were saved even before the preacher got there and Oslo’s renowned department store ”Steen & Strøm” closed its doors for a few hours each day in order to hold Bible classes for both customers and employees.
What Will Come Next?
World War II brought another drastic change to the Norwegian Christian life. The Germans occupied Norway during World War II for about five years, confiscated many of the Christian meeting halls and forbade all evangelists to travel. Soon after the war, Norway experienced a growth in materialism and people were not really interested in God anymore. With the discovery of oil in the 1970’s and Norway’s rich fishing industry, materialism became even stronger and increasingly more Norwegians showed less and less interest in true spiritual values.
Today, secularism is ruling the country while Christian principles and values are removed from society. The religious landscape has changed drastically over the last few decades – the Muslim community is growing in numbers and strength, and eastern religions can be found everywhere today. The number of professing Christians is falling drastically and an openly permissive society is taking shape with activities like free use of drugs, prostitution, homosexuality and abortion, to name but a few. Everything that has ”non-Christian values” is tolerated today and at the same time the old Christian values and moral standards are subtly being removed from our society.
Our former King Haakon VII (he ruled Norway from 1905-1957) was aware of these developments within society and fittingly said that, ”The only thing which can save the world from difficulties and all evil is to turn back to early Christianity and the old Christian values.”
If we want to see the Hand of God move again, then we as a nation need to turn back to His Word:
2 CHRONICLES 7:14
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”
• Firdtjof O. Valton, De Norske Vekkelsers Historie, Filadelfiaforlaget A/S, Oslo (1942).
• Dag Kullerud, Hans Nielsen Hauge – mannen som vekket Norge, Aschehoug (1996).
• Martha Lunde, Albert Lunde – Minner fra hans liv, Aschehoug (1939).