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Archiver > NORWAY > 1999-03 > 0921493534

From: Neil A Hofland <>
Subject: Transition - 5 - [164] - [174]
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 10:25:34 +0000


Theodore C. Blegen's "Norwegian Migration to America, The American
Transition" is published with the kind permission of the
Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA), St. Olaf College, 1510
St. Olaf Avenue,
Northfield, MN 55057-1097. (email: ) This book is under
copyright and permission has been granted for educational purposes and is
not to be used in any way for any commercial purpose.

The basic enactments of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America --- usually spoken of as the Norwegian Synod, or the Synod ---
reflect faithfully the general [164] position of the high-church Lutheran
orthodoxy. The confessional stand remains that of 1851, with the omission
of the Grundtvigian phrase about the baptismal covenant. The
Dano-Norwegian ritual and altar book are accepted. The polity is
synodical-presbyterian, with a synod, the highest authority within the
church, occurring every alternate year. No one not properly examined,
rightly called, and ordained is a clergyman. The synod shall establish
rules, general and special, in "religious-ecclesiastical matters," choose
a president from the ranks of the pastors and a church council of six
members, evenly divided between clergymen and laymen. The local
congregations have the right to regulate their internal affairs with the
condition that their acts shall not run counter to the synodical
constitution and enactments. A pastor cannot admit anyone to a
congregation save upon satisfactory testimonial from a former pastor,
acceptance of the church doctrine, and submission to its order. The
parish concept of the congregation is implied in a provision that a
clergyman shall not administer the Lord's Supper to any newcomer if he
has been a resident within the parish for more than a year without
becoming a member of the congregation. It should be noted, however, that
denial of communion was authorized in eases of persons "willingly and
with delight" living "in one or more vices or sins of malice." Every
congregation was enjoined to "establish and maintain religious schools."
Baptism by persons not recognized as "properly examined, called, and
ordained pastors" could not henceforth be acknowledged; and the doctrine
of conversion after death --- a Grundtvigian tenet --- was branded as
"erroneous and dangerous." {66}
The problem of lay preaching, which bulked so large in the ideology of
Eielsen and his followers, was discussed [165] throughout the decade
within the Synod ranks, especially in the late 1850's, and resulted in a
formulation of standpoint in 1862 in the characteristic fashion of a
series of theses. These theses, which constituted a synodical decision,
may be summed up briefly: the office of the public ministry is instituted
by God, who has not instituted any other order for the "public
edification" of Christians; the act of leading public edification is an
exercise of the public ministry; it is "sin when anyone without a call or
in the absence of need undertakes this "; in the ease of real need,
however, anyone who can exercise the office of public ministry in proper
Christian order has both the right and the duty to do so. The Synod
defined this need, or emergency, as the absence of a pastor; or the
presence of a falsely teaching pastor or of a pastor who could not serve
the people "sufficiently." {67}
While the Norwegian Synod thus was defining its doctrine and creating a
compact organization, its strength was recruited by several additional
ministers from Norway who made notable contributions to its leadership.
One of these was Ulrik Vilhelm Koren, who was born in Bergen in 1826,
studied at the university in Christiania from 1844 to 1852, taught
briefly in a Latin school, and emigrated to America in 1853 to serve the
Norwegian congregations in the vicinity of Decorah, in northeastern Iowa.
It is a remarkable fact that three university-trained clerical immigrants
who arrived in the United States from 1850 to 1853 gave the Norwegian
Synod its presidents for the sweep of years from 1853 to 1910. They were
A. C. Preus, the pioneer president, from 1855 to 1862; H. A. Preus,
president in the critical generation from 1862 to 1894; and Koren, whose
term ran from 1894 to 1910. Koren was urbane and scholarly, a church
statesman, the "chief literary defender and expounder" of the Synod's
"aims and ideals.'' {68} His wife, Elisabeth Koren, typified [166] the
contribution made to American life by the wives of the frontier
Norwegian-American clergymen. She made a humble log-cabin parsonage a
place of grace and beauty, a cultural center. Sensitive, gentle, deeply
interested in the people her husband served, a lady of fine traditions
and influence, she left a distinct mark upon immigrant life in the West.
Other Norwegian university men who sought ministerial service in the
West during the 1850's included Olaus F. Duus, stationed at Waupaca and
Whitewater, Wisconsin, from 1854 to 1859; Johan Storm Munch, at Wiota and
Dodgeville from 1855 to 1859; and Peter M. Brodahl, an immigrant of 1855
who served no fewer than twenty-one congregations radiating out from
Black Earth, Wisconsin. All three, like Dietrichson, returned permanently
to Norway after some years on the American frontier. There were also
Fredrik C. Claussen, an immigrant of 1857 who went to Spring Grove,
Minnesota, and with that community as a center served some thirteen
congregations; Claus F. Magelssen, who assumed the Orfordville,
Wisconsin, charge in 1859; and Bernt J. Muus, who established himself in
Goodhue County, Minnesota, in 1859. Muus, a nephew of the famed Ole
Rynning, attended the national university of Norway from 1849 to 1854,
taught in his native country for two years, and for a time served as the
editor of the important Norsk kirketidende. He was a man of extraordinary
drive and energy, undertook to serve as many as twenty-eight
congregations on the Minnesota frontier, interested himself deeply in the
problem of religious education, and like so many of the pioneer ministers
had a talent for the rough-and-tumble of controversy, in which he neither
gave nor asked for quarter. {70} [167]
None of the Norwegian university men of the 1850's possessed greater
ability or exercised a deeper influence upon the Norwegian Americans than
Laur. Larsen, who with a background of five years as a university student
in the university at Christiania arrived in 1857 at the frontier
pastorate of Rush River, Wisconsin. He and his wife, city-bred and of
gentle traditions, adjusted themselves competently to the life of a
pioneer rural community. Larsen developed a small farm about his
parsonage; went on long missionary journeys; oriented himself to the New
World by reading such papers and magazines as the New York Tribune,
Emigranten, Maanedstidende, and the Missouri Synod's Lehre und Wehre;
served his people with complete devotion; had a driving passion for
purity of Lutheran doctrine; and inevitably became prominent in the
councils of the Synod.
The vast growth of Norwegian-American life and the rapid spread of
settlement presented a challenge to Norwegian-American church leadership.
It was plainly not being met by efforts to persuade Norwegian university
men to go to the West. It is true that some fifteen or more graduates of
the Norwegian university had gone to America in the early period, and it
is equally true that they had a remarkable influence upon
Norwegian-American Lutheranism; but in general Norwegian theologians were
reluctant to emigrate. Not a few of those who did returned to Norway;
indeed, in the sweep of time, of sixty-one Norwegian Synod clergymen who
got their training in the Christiania university, thirty returned to
their native land after spending more or less time in American service.
Those who remained were not enough. It was no uncommon thing for one
minister to serve from a half dozen to twenty different congregations
because of the shortage of clergymen. Pioneer leaders like Clausen,
Dietrichson, Paul Andersen, and Elling Eielsen understood that some plan
must be worked out for the training of a ministry in America if the
challenge was to be met with effectiveness. [168] Laur. Larsen, too,
grasped the problem with realistic understanding; and when the Norwegian
Synod turned to the Missouri Synod for aid in solving it, it was Larsen
who was selected by the Norwegian church body to be its representative on
the faculty of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, to aid in training
Norwegian young men for leadership in the immigrant churches.
The hope of stimulating a migration of Norwegian-trained ministers to
America was not abandoned. In fact, Larsen himself went to Norway in 1860
to try to recruit ministers, and one appeal after another was broadcast
in Norway with the purpose of enlisting young men who had enjoyed the
advantages of theological training in the national university of that
country. But the Norwegian Americans, like the Swedish Americans, were
coming to a realization of the patent fact that they would have to depend
upon themselves not only for trained ministers but also for
instrumentalities of higher education in general. When the move toward a
system of higher education took form and Luther College was established,
Larsen was the natural choice for president of that institution. That
office, which he held from 1861 to 1902, was a strategic eminence from
which he exerted leadership among the Norwegian Americans. {71}
So in the 1850's the Norwegian Synod, pioneered by educated leaders
representing the best theological training available in the home country,
presented to the western world the front of an organized and growing
body. If Eielsen, in organizing his followers in 1846 caught faithfully
the spirit of the low-church movement, the Synod leaders of 1853, not
less faithfully, caught that of the high-church orthodoxy. Both
represented transfers of ecclesiastical structure and [169] religious
spirit from Norway to America. Both synods were rooted in tendencies that
had developed in the Old World, but both inevitably represented a
transition to the New. Like every other aspect of immigrant life in
America, the migration of idea and spirit across the Atlantic led to
subtle processes of change. The Norwegian Synod did indeed transfer the
ritual and ceremonies of the state church of Norway; it set up a general
organization which dominated the local; it staked out a parish concept of
the congregation; it allotted a place of high importance and
responsibility to the pastor; and it emphasized orthodoxy --- pure
doctrine --- with a rigor that led an acute critic of a later time to
suggest that it was in effect a substitute for the law that had
accompanied the church in a state-church land. {72}
Yet, with the possible exception of zealots like Dietrichson, the Synod
leaders and vigilant laymen well knew that they were not transferring the
state church itself to America. They realized that in a country of
separation between state and church and on a frontier whose watchwords
were democracy and freedom, there would inevitably be changes,
differences, modifications, new developments. What they sought was to
combine the familiar liturgy and traditional principles of Norwegian
Lutheranism with the development of a free church on American soil,
retaining a high-church motif. Lay preaching was as nearly excluded as
they felt it could be. Yet, facing the conditions of the frontier West,
they could not wholly exclude it. They made a place for emergency, but
they could not accept Eielsen's broad concept of emergency, which
embraced the entire complex of conditions in which the Norwegian
immigrants in America found themselves.
The Norwegian Americans witnessed a sharp issue between high- and
low-church thinking, between the Norwegian [170] Synod and Eielsen's
Synod, with a middle way opened by Paul Andersen and the Synod of
Northern Illinois, and with a multitude of paths leading toward the
American churches. In the controversies between the Norwegian and
Eielsen's synods, the protagonists on both sides were sincere, devout,
deadly in earnest, oftentimes bitter. What they could not grasp was the
fact that the world of the Norwegian immigrant was big enough for both
views. The one was both spur and cheek to the other. The lay fight
against the state-church pastoral concept probably meant ultimately a
more democratic clergy. The Synod emphasis upon education and a powerful
clergy looked toward cultural leadership, a more civilized church. With
the great union of Norwegian Lutheran forces in 1917, the right of lay
preaching was vindicated; but in the long meantime a system of education
for ministers, not in Norway but among the Norwegians in the United
States, had become a reality. The milieu and emergency that lent
contemporary force to Eielsen's contention had disappeared. Eielsen's
theory triumphed as the Synod leaders' practice became virtually
universal. {73}
Both the Haugean concept of the congregation and the geographical, or
parish, idea have played roles in Norwegian-American Lutheranism, with
modifications on both sides, though trends of historical development have
perhaps moved in the general direction of the former. The persistent
struggle for low-church ideals left deep marks upon the church, with the
ultimate result that the Norwegian-American high church [171] was
relatively low as compared with high-churchism in other Lutheran
churches. There was a place in immigrant life for the dignity and beauty
of the Synod service as well as for the personalism that sprang from the
Haugean view. Both sides were Puritan; both struck sharply and
persistently at the frivolities and vices of the times; but probably the
Synod philosophy was more tolerant toward the transplanted traditional
culture, the lore and music and folk custom brought from the Norwegian
valleys to the Middle West, than was the Eielsen school. Immigrant life
had need of all the cultural richness inherent in song and tale and dance
and amusements fashioned through centuries of history, for the
immigrant's struggle to subdue frontiers, like that of the native
American, was carried on to the accompaniment of cultural loss.
If the most striking contrasts appear between the Norwegian and
Eielsen's synods, the tendency represented by Paul Andersen, the Synod of
Northern Illinois, and the Augustana Synod was not less important than
either, pointing as it did toward a more moderate position which drew
certain values from both sides and which at the same time made some
contact with American Lutheranism. Lutheran unionism as tried under the
leadership of such men as Esbjrn and Andersen, however, proved an empty
dream. The experiment of a synodical union that rose above lines of
nationality and language failed. The move in the direction of American
Lutheran liberalism foundered. Not only did the Swedes and Norwegians
secede from the general coalition, but even their effort at co-operation
among themselves was defeated by the divisive force of nationality. The
movement was foundational in Swedish-American Lutheranism, however, and
it also projected itself significantly into Norwegian-American
How deep the issues in the theological controversies and experiments in
the 1840's and 1850's were is evidenced by [172] the fact that most of
the subsequent church development among the Norwegian Lutherans in
America is rooted in this period. The tendency represented by Andersen
led directly to the Norwegian-Danish Augustana Synod and the Conference
of the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, both
launched in 1870. Eielsen's Synod led to Hauge's Synod of 1875, though
Eielsen himself continued the synod that bore his name. The Norwegian
Synod continued as the church body of the majority for several decades,
but it was divided in 1887, when the issue of predestination, largely
generated by the affiliation with the German Missouri Synod, resulted in
the secession of a group of fifty-five ministers known as the
Anti-Missourian Brotherhood. The 1880's witnessed a notable union
movement, and in 1890 the Anti-Missourians, the Conference, and the
Norwegian Augustana Synod joined hands, forming the United Norwegian
Lutheran Church in America. This union, in turn, was jolted when in 1897
one group organized the Lutheran Free Church, in principle a federation
of free congregations. This resulted primarily from a clash between two
viewpoints which had been held in the Conference --- the so-called old
tendency and the new, the latter led and interpreted by Georg Sverdrup
and Sven Oftedal and centering in the Minneapolis theological school and
college, Augsburg Seminary. Meanwhile a more inclusive movement of union
slowly developed through two decades, eventuating in 1917 in a coalition
of the Norwegian Synod, the United church, and Hauge's Synod. Thus many
of the tendencies that had hitherto expressed themselves along separate
lines were merged in one great body --- the Norwegian Lutheran Church in
America. {74}
The very storms and turbulence of Norwegian-American Lutheranism
probably account for the fact that the [173] Norwegians in greater degree
than the Swedes have retained their Lutheran faith in America. The
Swedish Americans greatly outnumber their Norwegian-American brethren,
yet approximately twice as many Norwegians as Swedes are members of the
Lutheran church in America. The Norwegians have had, from first to last,
no fewer than fourteen separate Lutheran' synods, whereas the Swedes,
following the experimental stage of the Synod of Northern Illinois, have
had only one --- the Augustana Synod. The Norwegians broke into camps and
factions; the Swedes, though they were by no means lacking in
intrasynodical controversy, stood essentially united. Often within a
single community a Norwegian immigrant could make his choice of church
affiliation among three or four Norwegian Lutheran churches, whereas the
Swede who did not find himself content to join an Augustana Synod
congregation could not find any Lutheran alternative unless he crossed
the boundaries of language. The theological contentiousness of the
Norwegians created a diversity within the general framework of the
organized Lutheran church which tended to accommodate a similar diversity
of individual religious attitude and impulse and gave liberal scope to
combative fervor.
The frontier era was marked by significant beginnings, the laying of
foundations, rapid growth. Its atmosphere was that of flux, movement,
transition. Both then and later there was no little crossing of church
boundaries as men engaged in the quest for a churchly haven. The dynamic
and eloquent Peter A. Rasmussen, for example, began as a follower of
Elling Eielsen, crossed to the Norwegian Synod, seceded from that body as
an Anti-Missourian, and ultimately found haven in the United Norwegian
Lutheran church. The immigrant lived in a world of religious freedom, and
this meant fundamentally freedom of choice. He was free to choose not
only among the various tendencies and organizations that sought to
interpret Lutheran Christianity, but also [174] among Methodist, Baptist,
Quaker, Mormon, Episcopalian, and other American churches that held out
kindly hands, with offers of help and fellowship in meeting and solving
the baffling problems of religion and life. He could travel the road to
Rome if Catholicism answered his need. He could join the Norwegian colony
of Moravians in Wisconsin, following the leadership of such men as Nils
Otto Tank and A. M. Iverson, if he found himself in sympathy with the
ideals that Count Zinzendorf had put into practice at Herrnhut. {75} He
could go the way of Unitarianism, as did the brilliant preacher and
writer, Kristofer Janson. He could turn away from the church, eschewing
all connection with organized religion, as did Marcus Thrane, the pioneer
labor leader of Norway, who after the collapse of his labor movement
found haven in America, there as in his native land inspired by a vision
of social justice. For one of the glories of the immigrant was that he
shared in the American heritage of genuine religious freedom.

<66> Dr. Rohne translates the constitution, bylaws, and synodical
decisions in his Norwegian American Lutheranism, 129-134. On the founding
of the Norwegian Synod, see also Halvor Halvorsen, ed., Festskrift til
den norske synodes jubilum 1858-1903, 41-78 (Decorah, 1903).
<67> The theses, published in Kirkelig maanedstidende in 1862, are
conveniently translated in Rohne, Norwegian American Lutheranism, 178.
<68> Rohne, Norwegian American Lutheranism, 128.
<69> See Mrs. Koren's classic Fra pioneertiden.
<70> Brief biographies of these clergymen may be found in Norlie, Norsk
lutherske prester.
<71> Karen Larsen, Laur. Larsen: Pioneer College President (Northfield,
1936); and "The Adjustment of a Pioneer Pastor to American Conditions:
Laur. Larsen, 1857-1880," in Studies and Records, 4:1-14. Halvorsen lists
the sixty-one Norwegian Synod clergymen who were trained in the
Christiania university. Halvorsen, Festskrift, 123, 124.
<72> Georg Sverdrup "Den norsk lutherske kirke i Amerika," in Andreas
Helland, ed., Samlede skrifter i udvalg, 1:223 (Minneapolis, 1909).
<73> The right of lay preaching ultimately triumphed in Norway, also. See
Mons O. Wee, Haugeanism, 64-66 (St. Paul, 1919). Eielsen, defender of the
doctrine of lay preaching, was by no means opposed to the training of
preachers. As early as 1854, in a meeting of his own synod, he moved
"that a seminary be erected where young men who are gifted and
Christian-minded could be trained to be parochial teachers as well as
preachers, and where they could receive instruction in the branches most
necessary for the proper performance of these offices." The seminary thus
proposed was established at Lisbon, Illinois, in 1855, with Rasmussen at
its head, and it ranks "as the first educational venture of its kind
among Norwegians in America." J. Magnus Rohne, ed., "Report of the Annual
Meeting of the Haugean Churches Held at Lisbon, Illinois, in June, 1854,"
in Studies and Records, 4:19, 24,
<74> For brief reviews of Norwegian-American Lutheranism, see E. K.
Johnsen, in O. M. Norlie, Norsk lutherske menigheter i Amerika 1843-1916,
1:28-40 (Minneapolis, 1918), and Andreas Helland, Augsburg Seminar
gjennem femti aar 1869-1919, 9-23 (Minneapolis, 1920).
<75> A brief account of the Norwegian-American Moravian enterprise is
presented in Blegen, Norwegian Migration, 355, 336. See also Hjalmar R.
Holand's interesting account of "Ephraim: A Venture in Communism," in his
Old Peninsula Days, 86-108 (Ephraim, Wisconsin, 1934).

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