State church says not to evangelize Muslims

The Protestant state church in the Rhineland has issued a statement saying that Christians should not try to evangelize Muslim immigrants.  It maintains that the Great Commission does not mean Christians should try to convert others to their faith.  This, despite the phenomenon of more and more Muslim immigrants becoming Christians, thanks in part to the efforts of the independent Lutheran church (SELK). [Read more…]

Conservatives in liberal churches

The state churches in Scandinavia are theologically liberal, sometimes to an extreme.  For example, in the Church of Sweden the world’s first lesbian bishop called on a congregation to remove its crosses to encourage Muslims to pray there.  Read this.  Notice, though, the opposition to her remarks and how the bishop has no authority over the congregation, since it was established by a “mission” organization.  The point is, there are conservative Christians with orthodox pastors and congregations within those state churches.

When I was in Denmark, I met a number of pastors from the Church of Denmark who came to my lectures.  They were in tune with what I was saying.  I was told that many towns had a conservative congregation along with a liberal congregation, with the former typically filled with worshippers with the latter being almost empty. [Read more…]

Why do so few Europeans go to church?

The distinguished sociologist of religion Peter Berger once promoted “the secularization thesis,” arguing that as societies become more modern, they become less religious.  But he has since said that thesis has been falsified, that the world is getting more religious than ever (and that modernity actually has contributed to the growth of religion).  The more interesting question, he says now, is why Europe has resisted that trend.

I am wondering now, though, after my speaking tour of Scandinavia, if Europe is as secular as it appears.

Nearly 80% of the population of Denmark belongs to the state church.  This requires paying a church tax of from .4% to 1.5% of one’s income, on top of an already crushing tax burden.  These members have been baptized and confirmed and they will be married and buried in the church, but only 3% of them go to church on any given Sunday.

Here are further statistics about the religious climate in Denmark:  According to a 2010 poll, 24% are atheists; 47% believe more vaguely in “some sort of spirit or life force”; and 28% believe in God.  Another poll found that 25% of Danes believe Jesus is the son of God and 18% believe He is the savior of the world.

So, yes, Denmark is a very secular country, with lots of non-believers (about a fourth) and liberal believers (about a half), but another fourth appears to confess Christ.  Perhaps a fifth are Gospel-believing Christians.  That’s actually not bad for a supposedly secular country.

But let’s put the statistics together.  If 80% of the country belong to the Church of Denmark, that must include lots of people who do not particularly believe in Christ, or even God.  And if only 3% of the population attends church regularly, that means that lots of Christians are not attending church either. [Read more…]

State church

Richard Neuhaus once said that the habit of associating Lutheranism with Germany–then blaming Lutheranism for what’s bad in German culture–is misplaced.  Germany has always had a mix of many religious traditions:  not just Lutheranism but Roman Catholicism, Calvinism, anabaptists, etc., etc.   If you want to see Lutheranism’s cultural influence, he said, look at the Scandinavian countries, whose only church, pretty much, has been Lutheran.  More than Prussian militarism, he said, you could argue that Lutheranism helped inspire the Scandinavian welfare state.  (More on that welfare state later!)

I met a member of the conservative theological faculty at the University of Aarhus who studied at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN.  He fondly recalled the classes of Dr. David Scaer, who told him, “I love Denmark.  Everyone is Lutheran.  Even the cows are Lutheran.”

And yet, the Scandinavian state churches, with their near religious monopoly, have become extremely liberal in their official hierarchy.  I don’t know about the cows, but the churches are not always confessionally Lutheran any more.  And yet, there are confessional Lutherans in the country, not just in Inner Mission, but in the state church.  I’m going to run a series of posts telling about some of the paradoxical things I’ve learned about the church situation in Denmark (where I spent most of my time) and the other Scandinavian countries, in the course of which I’ll also pose some questions that you can help me with. [Read more…]

Scandinavia’s two tracks of Christianity

The Scandinavian countries are often called among the most secular in the world, with researchers citing the low rate of weekly church attendance (only 3% in Denmark).  But what goes on in the state churches is only part of the story of Christianity in northern Europe. There is the church, but there are also the Mission organizations.

The Pietist movement, as early as the 18th century, was accompanied by the rise of independent groups and organizations in which Christian laity met for spiritual growth and good works.  In Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, these groups came together as “Mission” organizations and institutionalized themselves as part of the nation’s religious culture.

The “Outer Mission” sent countless missionaries around the world and is largely responsible for Africa today being one of the most Lutheran areas in the world.  The “Inner Mission” took on the task of evangelism and promotion of the faith inside their countries.

The state church is theologically liberal.  Inner Mission is theologically conservative. [Read more…]

Death of a Lutheran saint. . .

. . .and sinner too of course, but Norwegian Bishop Børre Knudsen lived a life of faith and of love and service to his neighbor that even his enemies have come to respect.  He was the foremost pro-life activist in Norway.  He also battled the state church positions on homosexuality and women’s ordination and was the force behind the confessional “Norwegian Church in Exile.”  When he could no longer accept the teachings and practice of the state church, he refused his state salary but continued his ministry!  Learn more after the jump. [Read more…]