Norway is a beautiful country. Mountains and fjords adorn its thousands of miles of coastline, which curves round to meet Russia in the extreme north-east. Large areas of Norway lie within the Artic Circle where, during two of the summer months, the sun never sets. There is corresponding darkness in mid-winter. The summer months allow for farming and fishing, both important sources of income.
Norwegians are easygoing and peace-loving. Their country is modern and communications good, even in winter. People live well in snug wooden houses, enjoying every modern convenience. But as in other western countries, materialism dominates their outlook.
Christianity first came to Norway from Ireland 1000 years ago, and was made the official religion by King Olav. During the Reformation, Norway was ruled by the Danes and embraced Lutheranism, at least at the political level.
Then, 200 years ago, a revival took place among ordinary people — through a Lutheran lay preacher called Hans Nilsen Hauge. Persecuted by the church for preaching without a licence, Hauge nevertheless preached all over Norway.
He did not break with the Lutheran Church, but formed societies, which then became Lutheran missions. This movement of God changed the whole spiritual situation.
Since the early 1800s, up to the Second World War, there have been other spiritual awakenings in Norway. One took place over 100 years ago, when the Free churches were established. One of the first Free churches was at Tromsø, in the north.
North Norway is vast and sparsely populated. Yet before the war and during the German occupation there was a spiritual movement in this area and in the most unlikely places. God used itinerant evangelists from both the Lutheran missions and Free churches.
Though these two groups did not always work in harmony, many people came to saving faith through both. Against all the odds, these new Christians were then kept and spiritually established by the Lord.
Well-ordered churches were established in small towns and the more populous rural areas. In the less populated rural areas, leaders were able to keep Christians together, so that preachers could visit and minister to them.
There would be a hectic series of meetings; some would come to faith; then believers would be taught in preparation for being on their own again. Conventions were organised in the summer months and Christians would travel in from a distance — often using local boat services to attend.
Today, the state Lutheran church is in disarray. On the one hand, its lay missions have had a strong evangelical witness both at home and on the mission field (Hudson Taylor recruited missionaries from Norway to go to China). One of their leaders, Ole Hallesby, was well known as an Evangelical.
On the other hand, its official ministers are a ‘mixed bag’, with sacramentalism, modernism and secularism being taught in the theological colleges. Quite near us is a lady minister who has been divorced twice and is living with another woman, yet she is allowed to remain in office.
There are some faithful Lutheran pastors, who are hard pressed. Some Norwegian Lutheran leaders have contended for the inspiration of Scripture down the years, and although we might not agree with everything they stand for, they have done a good work.
A group of ministers here in north Norway have recently challenged the state church’s liberalism and refused to recognise their bishop — a theological liberal willing to allow homosexuals to minister in the church.
However, several of these faithful men have been put out of their churches. But many people sympathise with them and they are still preaching in the same areas.
The Free churches have managed to keep free of modernism. The Pentecostal church has a big following, being the second largest after the state church. Pentecostals are conservative and critical of many aspects of the wider Charismatic movement.
In the north, young people move away to get work — leaving small groups of elderly Christians. As a result, some meeting places are now closing. But there have also been a few more encouraging signs. Some are seeking the Lord in prayer and organising prayer fellowship by telephone (the only way to keep in touch in large scattered areas). There have been reports of souls saved.
Today the south and west have the bigger concentration of Christians, although many of their church leaders came originally from the north. However, few southern Norwegians are willing to move north to re-evangelise the north of their country.
Norway has more Christian literature than many countries in Europe, but books have to be printed in small editions due to the small population. Most Christian literature is of the more popular, easy-to-read variety.
There are good theological works with a biblical emphasis defending the conservative position. However, the Reformed view, in my experience, is not taught, and there is little consecutive teaching of the Word in the churches.
But it is quite clear that the Lord has been working down the years and this has influenced Norwegian society as a whole.
Our own work
The European Missionary Fellowship has worked in north Norway for over 50 years and five different families have served here. I had a clear call to the work, and for over 44 years have had the privilege of serving the Lord north of the Arctic Circle.
My wife Oline is Norwegian. We married in 1968 and have three children. We worked for six years in the extreme north east near the Russian border, and also in three other small places in different parts of this huge area.
Because I am supported from the UK we have been able to work with small causes, which would not normally have a pastor. We have seen many workers come for periods and then leave again. It has been a plodding yet spiritual work in a time of decline.
Encouragements have been small, but the Lord alone knows what he has accomplished through these years. We hope to continue to serve him here as long as he gives us strength.