The Predestination Controversy

Stavanger Lutheran Church in Ossian Iowa.

Norwegian Lutheran immigrants to the United States created several different denominations over the years, but the most prominent during the 19th century was the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church known as The Norwegian Synod. The Synod was organized in 1853. In later decades the Synod was rocked by several theological controversies, including fights over absolution, justification, and eventually election/predestination.

    Reading literature from that time you quickly realize that the Predestination Controversy (naadevalgsstriden) was not confined to seminaries but divided entire Norwegian communities in the Midwest. Jon Gjerde puts it this way:

The controversy began among the clergy but quickly spread to the laity. Church members passionately discussed the theological questions, according to one participant, “on the streets and in the alleys, in stores and in saloons, and through a continuous flow of agitating articles [in newspapers and periodicals].” words occasionally led to fights. “They argued predestination in the saloons, with their tongues,” said one, “and settled it in the alley with their fists.” Although fisticuffs were rare, certain Norwegian congregations suffered wrenching internal strife. “The ties of old friendship broke,” remembered one man. “Neighbor did not speak to neighbor. The daughter who was married to a member of the other party became a stranger in her father’s house. Man and wife turned into dog and cat. Brothers and sisters were sundered from one  another.” (Gjerde 1997 page 118)

Bibliography

Gjerde, Jon. 1997. The Minds of the West Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

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