History of The
Lutheran Free Church1
Zion Lutheran Church was a member of the LFC (Lutheran Free Church) from the founding of Zion in 1903 until the LFC merged with the ALC (American Lutheran Church) in 1963.
The Norwegian roots of the LFC trace back to the Haugean Revival in 1796-1804 (p.7)1, the Johnsonian Awakening in the 1850’s (p.10), and the Western Revival in the 1870’s & 1880’s (see p.14 & Dena’s story). In the United States the LFC was heavily influenced by the early leaders of what is now Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN2 and the Spiritual Awakening of the 1890’s.
Hans Nielson Hauge was an itinerant lay evangelist who covered much of Norway, often meeting in private homes. “His deepest concern was to convict his hearers of sin and to awaken personal faith; his message was repentance and conversion…he stressed the fact that a distinctive way of life is the necessary consequence of a vital faith...Christian faith must express itself in obedience to the law of God” (p.7).
Gisle Johnson, a theological professor at the University of Oslo, “stressed the need for an experienced and living Christianity…he provided a theological dimension to the spiritual renewal of his time…full loyalty to the Lutheran confessional writings was stressed.” (p.11). “Many pastors who migrated to America were powerfully influenced by Johnson… August Weenass…the first president of Augsburg Theological Seminary, was a thoroughgoing Johnsonian who taught Johnson’s theological system to his classes.” (p.13).
“The most influential leader and promoter of the lay-oriented Western Revival was Pastor Lars Oftedal a brother of Augsburg’s Sven. Another key figure was Pastor Jakob Sverdrup, who emerged as a political leader representing the liberal lay movement. Jakob Sverdrup was a brother of Augsburg’s Georg.” (p.14).
Sven Oftedal became a theological professor at Augsburg in 1873, Georg Sverdrup in 1874. In large measure they determined the spirit and form of the LFC. (p.31). “The two professors brought with them from Norway a deep commitment to the ideal of a free church—a spiritually-alive church in which all gifts of grace are utilized and given expression in the congregation, and a self-governing democratically-led church which is free from clerical domination.” They contended “for personal Christianity, spiritual awakening, witnessing by the laity, evangelism, a democratic ministry, and a church life which followed as closely as possible the pattern set forth in the New Testament.” (p.32-33).
The LFC was influenced by the Spiritual Awakening of the 1890’s when, “Many people were convicted of sin, gripped by the Gospel, and converted. Dormant Christians were awakened, revitalized, and nurtured in the faith. Entire congregations appear to have been rejuvenated and activated.” (p.88).
The LFC was brought into being as an association of independent congregations in 1897 with a document titled, “Rules for a Lutheran Free Church.” (p.61,94-98). Twelve “Fundamental Principles” were adopted. (p.100-101).
Augsburg was the focus of LFC’s educational endeavors, but two high schools were added: Bethany in Everett, WA and Oak Grove in Fargo, ND. Bethany had a relatively short history, but Oak Grove is still an active institution today. Many members of Zion Lutheran Church attended High School at Oak Grove. (p.114,120).
It is well worth the time to read Appendix E pages 316-3301, where Bernhard Christensen outlines seven items regarded as characteristic of the LFC. For example:
1 Based on the book, “The Lutheran Free Church” by Eugene L. Frevold, 1969 Augsburg Publishing House. Numbers in parenthesis refer to pages in the book. There is a good chance you can borrow this book through your local public library's inter-library loan program.
2 The history of Augsburg College is covered in the book, “From Fjord to Freeway” by Carl H. Chrislock, 1969 Augsburg College.
Fundamental Principles of the Lutheran