Oslo Cathedral-1

I just returned from Norway.

90% of Norway’s 4.6 million people are registered as members of the Church of Norway (the Lutheran Church). But beyond being sacramentalized (baptized, married and buried), only around 6% actively attend the services of this “state” church.

While all the signs are there—and increasing—that the age of Christendom is over in Norway, this particular institution is proving to be quite resilient. What sets it apart from other state churches, such as the Anglicans in England, are probably two factors. First, is the small size of the country and secondly the relative homogeneous make up of the population.

Power, privilege and position are rarely relinquished without a struggle and some considerable pain. This is beginning to happen in Norway as finances and steadily declining numbers are beginning to get the attention of the ecclesiastical powers to be. Whether they can respond in time in any way that can alter what seems like the inevitable trend in Western Europe, is a long shot.

But from my superficial observation, I think there may be hope, albeit slight, that the Church of Norway, or portions of it, could be given a new lease on life and that the winds of spiritual renewal and missionality could quite possibly blow again in this body. I suspect so for two reasons:

1. At its center, there remains a core of Lutherans deeply committed to the historic confessions of the church and its mission. There appear to be some godly, thoughtful people who make up a sizeable percentage in this body. Some of the younger leadership is particularly impressive although it includes many who are justifiably skeptic that anything can be done to save this sinking ecclesiological ship. There may be some Charles Simeon’s lurking in the shadows.

2. With its posture in Norwegian society, this church may have a unique opportunity to stem its decline and missionally reinvent itself. If the will is there, the resources may still exist to pull it off. My take is they are on the precipice of the cliff and about to fall off. Whether the leadership has the guts to make such wrenching changes is up for grabs. The historic vote this week by the Church of Norway to ordain openly practicing homosexuals is not an encouraging sign.

There is a lot to admire in Lutheran theology. But there are also aspects, particularly in its polity, that are contributing to the free fall that is occurring in Norway.

What is encouraging is that God and his kingdom purposes are not bound by such institutional limitations. As he has done repeatedly throughout redemptive history, God may work through and/or bypass such moribund structures and bring new life and fresh expressions of his presence to a people in need. May it be so in the land of fjords, brown cheese, and Pinnekjøtt.

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