The United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America
A Historical Sketch by Prof. I. F. Grose, A. M.
The United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America is the result of
the union formed between the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana
Synod, the Conference of the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran
Church of America, and the Anti-Missourian Brotherhood.
THE NORWEGIAN AUGUSTANA SYNOD
Dates its origin back to the year 1848. During February of that
year, in Chicago, a Norwegian Lutheran congregation was organized,
which became the nucleus of the Norwegian Angustana Synod. Paul
Anderson, its organizer, was not at that time a regularly ordained
minister; to become such, he had to go to the state of New York,
where in the vicinity of Albany, he was ordained to the ministry
the following summer by the Franckean Synod. In order that Mr. Anderson
might become ordained, he and his congregation had to join that
body. As early as 1851, however, connections with that synod were
severed, so that he and his charge, in conjunction with a number
of other Norwegian and Swedish ministers and congregations, might
properly assist in forming the English Synod of Northern Illinois.
The English contingent of this body did not prove loyal orthodox
Lutherans. A fight to maintain the Lutheran confession ensued, resulting
in the withdrawal of the Norwegians and Swedes, who in 1860 established
the Scandinavian Augustana Synod. The two nationalities worked together
until 1870; then by mutual consent, the Synod was divided into two
distinct bodies: The Norwegian Augustana Synod, and the Swedish
The Norwegian Augustana people had already secured the services
of Professor A. Weenaas, who had come from Norway. He and a large
number of Augustana ministers, however, favored the bringing about
of a union with Rev. C. L. Clausen, who had left the Norwegian Synod
on account of the stand that many of its clergy had taken on the
slavery question. A union was effected, but not all the Augustana
ministers and congregations joined in this movement. Those that
remained bravely took up the work of rebuilding their Synod. The
result of this effort was, that the number of ministers in the synod
increased from ten in 1871 to about thirty in 1890, when the organization
was dissolved for the purpose of becoming a part of the United Church.
Was formed at St. Ansgar, Iowa, in August, 1870. The organization
had fourteen pastors and forty-four congregations to begin with.
Thirteen years later it had eighty pastors and three hundred sixty
Before the formation of the Conference, Professor Weenaas had charge
of the school of the Augustana Synod at Marshall, Wisconsin. When
he left this body and helped to form the Conference, the bulk of
the students cast their lot with their teacher. Thus the Conference
had a school from its very beginning, although the accommodations
were quite primitive compared with modern buildings equipped with
steam-heat, gas fixtures, porcelain baths, and other comforts and
conveniences. According to a report of Rev. I. Tharaldsen, now of
Madison, Minnesota, the majority of the nineteen students occupied
the rooms upstairs in the residence of Professor Weenaas who really
needed this room for his own family. A room ten feet wide, eighteen
feet long and eight feet high, located near the village of Marshall,
served as class room, lecture hall, and chapel.
We infer that no stone-paved or any other kind of sidewalks led
to this rural seat of learning. It lacked nearly all things that
are now considered indispensable appurtenances of a school. But
though bodily comforts did not abound, we are taught the lesson
that large buildings and modern conveniences are not always necessary
for making good, able men and efficient workers. Men now eminent
in the councils of the United Church received no small share of
their school training at Marshall.
Augsburg Seminary, as the school was styled, has played a prominent
part in the history of the Conference, later, also, as we shall
see, in that of the United Church. It was moved to Minneapolis in
1872. The school had a good attendance, and sent out not a few ministers.
The course of study was based on the Greek rather than the Latin
language; hence the designation, "Greek classes," ---
the Latin classics being deemed unimportant in a curriculum leading
up to the ministry. Comparatively little attention was in consequence
paid to the study of that language. To obviate the necessity of
annually collecting money among the congregations to defray the
running expenses of the institution, a fund was raised, the interest
of which should be sufficient to cover the teachers' salaries and
other current expenses.
The Conference enjoyed a flourishing growth during the twenty years
of its existence. At the time of its assimilation with the other
two church bodies, it numbered 453 congregations, representing a
total membership of over 70,000, and more than 100 pastors.
THE ANTI-MISSOURIAN BROTHERHOOD
Was the outgrowth of the predestination and conversion controversy,
which showed signs of existence in the 70's and evinced its most
vigorous vitality during the greater part of the 80's, in the Norwegian
Synod. The Anti-Missourians, as those were called who opposed the
views of Dr. C. F. W. Walther, of St. Louis, Missouri, on these
questions, left the Synod at its annual meeting in Stoughton, Wisconsin,
in 1887. The Anti- Missourians had already during the fall of the
preceding year established a divinity school, which was well attended.
The faculty consisted of Professor M. O. Böckman and Dr. F.
A. Schmidt. Through the generous offer of the management of St.
Olaf's School, as St. Olaf College was then called, lecture-rooms
at that institution were gratuitously tendered the divinity school,
which availed itself of the opportunity and stayed there till it
was moved to Minneapolis in 1890.
AN IMMEDIATE CAUSE FOR THE FORMATION OF THE UNITED CHURCH.
The important question that arose among the Anti-Missourians, after
leaving the Synod, was: Should they form a permanent church organization
of their own, or try to unite as many Norwegian Lutheran bodies
as possible into one? Sentiment among the people favored the latter
idea. In February, 1888, the Anti-Missourian brethren held a meeting
in Minneapolis for the purpose of discussing the advisability and
practicability of making an attempt to effect a union between the
Conference, the Augustana Synod, the Hauge's Synod and themselves.
Rev. P. A. Rasmussen was most fittingly chosen the presiding officer
of this meeting; for he perhaps more than any other one man had
been working up a sentiment favorable for bringing about a union
between the various Norwegian Lutheran church bodies in this country.
He also now urged the wisdom and pointed out the benefit of such
a union. Others of the leading men expressed themselves in much
the same way. Rev. B. J. Muus emphasized this thought: God wants
Christians to work together as much as they can, Christian love
demands such a course. Rev. L. M. Biörn and Rev. N. J. Ellestad
spoke of the great advantages that would be derived from a union,
in regard to the establishment and maintenance of parochial schools
and higher institutions of learning. Rev. Biörn also called
attention to the strong desire for union manifesting itself among
the Norwegian Lutherans of this country, and to the fact that the
Anti-Missourians now had an excellent opportunity of making this
desire a reality. Professor O. Lökensgaard said that the object
was to have only one Norwegian Lutheran church body in America.
Prof. J. N. Kildahl could see no reason why three of the church
bodies and the Anti- Missourians should not unite, as they agreed
on doctrinal essentials.
The result of the meeting was the unanimous adoption of resolutions
to the effect that they would try to do whatever could conscientiously
be done to prevent the formation of a new church organization, and
to diminish the number of Norwegian Lutheran church bodies in this
country, faithfully adhering to the doctrines inherited from the
mother-church of Norway. The meeting also chose a committee of seven
members to confer with like committees from each of the three mentioned
church bodies. These committees were to come together to draw up
the preliminaries for the holding of a large joint meeting which
should contain representative men from the four bodies.
THE JOINT COMMITTEE MEETS AT EAU CLAIRE
The three church bodies responded by appointing the committee
called for. These met at Eau Claire, Wisconsin, during August of
the year of the Minneapolis meeting.
The work of the joint committee consisted of three parts: The settlement
of differences, should any exist; the framing of articles of union,
and the drafting of a constitution for the new organization that
was to grow out of the consolidation of the four original church
bodies. The committee decided that the big meeting should be held
at Scandinavia, Wisconsin, in November of the same year.
The meeting was held, and a very successful one it was. Pastors
and delegates from 688 congregations were present. The congregations
represented were located principally in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa,
North Dakota and South Dakota. The meeting was devoted to the discussion,
amendment and adoption of the joint committee's report.
With reference to the adjustment of differences, the meeting declared
that strict adherence to the Scriptures and to the confessional
and catechetical writings of the Norwegian Lutheran Church would
be an adequate basis for union. The members of the meeting also
declared that they were essentially one in their views on the atonement,
justification, absolution and the observance of Sunday. Concerning
predestination they all subscribed to Pontoppidan's definition,
548, found in his "Sandhed til Gudfrygtighed." They also
agreed to commend and encourage lay-preaching, if subjected to proper
control by the congregations.
The most important provisions in the articles of union were: Augsburg
Seminary in Minneapolis should be the theological seminary of the
United Church; the professors thereof should be salaried by means
of a fund; Augustana Synod should contribute $15,000 to this fund,
Hauge's Synod $20,000, the Anti-Missourians $50,000, and the Conference
$50,000; the faculty of the seminary should consist of two Anti-
Missourians, two from the Conference, one from the Augustana Synod
and one from Hauge's Synod; the preparatory departments of Augsburg
Seminary, Augustana College, and Hauge's Seminary should be conducted
as hitherto for at least one year after the union should be accomplished.
The purposes of the United Church as set forth by the constitution
adopted at this meeting are: Mutually and brotherly to exhort, instruct,
guide, and encourage its members, in accordance with the word of
God; to provide for the education of a ministry and parochial school
teachers; to distribute and encourage the use of Bibles, orthodox
religious text-books, hymnals, and other literature of a religious
and devotional character; to work for the advancement and strengthening
of the kingdom of God among the people of our nationality in this
country by gathering Lutherans and organizing Lutheran congregations,
by helping these to get pastors and teachers, and by promoting Christian
lay-preaching. To give vigorous aid to mission work, so that God's
word may be proclaimed unto Jews and heathens, is also one of the
purposes set forth in the constitution.
The settlement of differences, the articles of union, and the
proposed constitution were submitted to the annual meetings of the
contracting parties. All, save Hauge's Synod, which finally decided
not to enter the union, found the settlement of differences satisfactory
for establishing the union; the articles of union were agreed to,
and the constitution as proposed by the Scandinavia meeting was
adopted. Every congregation that wished to enter this union was
given an opportunity to ratify the above named provisions.
PERMANENT UNION FINALLY EFFECTED
In June, 1890, the Anti-Missourian Brotherhood, the Conference,
and the Augustana Synod met in Minneapolis; severally at first,
to wind up their old organizations. Being satisfied that the conditions
imposed upon the three bodies had been complied with,-the Anti-Missourians
doing even more than their share, having subscribed $92,000 instead
of $50,000-they met in joint assembly June 13, 1890, and organized
themselves into what has since been known as the United Norwegian
Lutheran Church of America.
June 13, 1890, is indeed a red-letter day in the history of the
Norwegian Lutheran church- of our land! Three church bodies were
merged into one!
They met for the first time in the old Trinity Church of the Conference.
This body, having adjourned for all time, awaited the coming of
the other two bodies. The members of the Conference seated themselves
in the rear and along the sides of the church to give the seats
of honor to the Anti-Missourians and the Augustana people. "First,"
write Rev. T. H. Dahl of Stoughton, Wisconsin, " came the Brotherhood,
then the Augustana Synod, marching into the church. They were received
by the Conference in a manner befitting the occasion. The three
bodies being finally in the church the immense audience arose and
joined in singing the Te Deum. Thereupon the Lord's prayer and the
Apostles' Creed were said in concert. It was a touching scene. Wherever
you looked, tear-dimmed eyes would meet your gaze; lips were slowly
moving in prayer; many a face was turned toward the throne on high.
It was evident that the hand of the Lord was touching the hearts
and joining them together." Thus the union was brought about.
THE AUGSBURG SEMINARY DISPUTE
Since that time the United Church has been making great progress,
and yet not as great as it would have made had the Augsburg Seminary
corporation complied with the wish of the Conference and with the
articles of union and transferred Augsburg Seminary, its fund and
property, to the United Church. This it did not do. The trouble
lasted for eight long years. The aid of the courts had to be invoked.
The district court of Minnesota decided in favor of the United Church.
The case was appealed. Owing to irregularities relating to the incorporation
of Augsburg Seminary, the supreme court of the State reversed the
decision, but suggested that the United Church might seek redress
in a court of equity. Steps were taken to push the suit in such
a court, when an amicable settlement was reached, whereby the United
Church was given the fund, and the board of trustees of Augsburg
Seminary retained the real property.
THE "SCHOOL QUESTION"
Closely identified with the Augsburg Seminary controversy was the
"school question" of the United Church. At its first annual
meeting (1890) a resolution was passed, making St. Olaf College
the college of the United Church. Friends of the Augsburg Seminary
corporation or the "minority," as they were called, asserted
this action to be in violation of the articles of union, which,
they claimed, pledged the United Church to conduct Augsburg Seminary
as it was before the union. Its preparatory and theological departments
should be "one and inseparable, now and forever." The
"majority," as the opponents were called, referred to
the articles of union, which said that the preparatory departments
at Augsburg Seminary should continue at least one year after the
union had been completed. From this was inferred that the United
Church, should it see fit, had a right to make other arrangements
for the preparatory department of Augsburg Seminary.
For the sake of peace, however, the United Church severed its relations
with St. Olaf College in 1893. This action did not produce the desired
effect. Augsburg Seminary was not transferred. The United Church
adopted a resolution to the effect that it would not support any
school which it did not own or control. As Augsburg Seminary was
not transferred, it could consequently get no support from the United
Church. It was then found necessary for the professors and students
belonging to the majority to withdraw from the Augsburg Seminary
buildings. This they did, and the school of the United Church was
located in temporary quarters. It has since been known as the United
Church Seminary, and has very successfully conducted a preparatory,
a collegiate and a theological department.
Meanwhile St. Olaf College was thrown upon its own. resources.
Had it not been for the persistent, systematic, and energetic efforts
of Professor H. T. Ytterboe, the institution would undoubtedly have
succumbed financially. For six weary years did he untiringly devote
himself to the soliciting of funds for defraying the current expenses
of the college. So well did he succeed and so kindly was he received
by members of congregations throughout the country, that the work
of the institution could be continued uninterruptedly till no obstacles
were found to be in the way of again making St. Olaf College the
college of the United Church.
When the Augsburg Seminary controversy had been amicably settled,
the situation was greatly simplified; but not all difficulties had
been cleared away. There remained a difference of opinion as to
what should constitute the make-up of a college. Some wished it
to be a component part of the theological seminary, that is, college
and seminary should be one institution under one head; others wished
the two schools to be one locally but two governmentally; others
again urged to have them separate locally as well as governmentally.
Professor Th. N. Mohn was an ardent advocate of the last plan.
He maintained that if the various departments were at one place
under one head as one institution, it would become a school chiefly
for educating the ministry, while the rest of the Lutheran youth
would seek their education elsewhere. The United Church should give
all its young men and women an opportunity to get a liberal education
based on Christian principles, in Lutheran schools, where the saving
of souls is made the prime aim; but the academic standard of these
schools should, nevertheless, be as high as that of any schools
of the kind in the land. Professor Mohn advocated this principle
in private, in the meetings of the teachers' association, in committee
consultations, and at the annual gatherings of the United Church.
Being ably seconded by others, the majority in the United Church
was finally made to see this question in the same light.
On June 27, 1899, a final decision was reached. After the question
had been thoroughly discussed in both the press and the councils
of the Church, it was decided to make the college and seminary two
distinct institutions. 354 voted for such an arrangement; 153, against.
The vote was thereupon made unanimous.
On the next day a resolution was passed to locate the college in
the buildings and on the grounds of St. Olaf College, Northfield,
Minnesota, and to erect the seminary buildings in or near one of
the twin cities. The value of the property thus placed under the
control of the United Church was estimated to be $40,000. The annual
meeting voted an appropriation of $100,000 for erecting the new
seminary buildings as well as additional buildings for St. Olaf
The Normal School, located at Madison, Minnesota, is under the direct
control of the United Church. A new dormitory has recently been
built, and the school is enjoying a steady and healthy growth.
The Augustana College at Canton, South Dakota, was the school of
the Augustana Synod before the union had been effected. It is now
partly supported by the United Church. Efforts are being made to
put up a new building.
Other schools are in operation, which have no official connection
with the United Church, but are counted as institutions of that
body, for the reason that they are managed and supported by people
who belong to the United Church. On the list of such schools are:
Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota; St. Ansgar Seminary and
Institute, St. Ansgar, Iowa; Scandinavia Academy, Scandinavia, Wisconsin;
and Pleasant View Luther College, Ottawa, Illinois.
The United Church owns and operates an orphan asylum at Beloit,
Iowa. The buildings and real estate are listed at $25,290. About
one hundred orphans are there housed and cared for.
Rev. E. J. Homme has for years conducted an orphan asylum as well
as a home for aged people at Wittenberg, Wisconsin.
The Lake Park Orphan Home at Lake Park, Minnesota, is indirectly
conducted under the auspices of the United Church.
A deaconess home and hospital at Chicago, Illinois, is doing deeds
of charity largely through the financial and moral aid given it
by people who belong to the United Church.
Hospitals at Austin, Crookston, and Zumbrota, all in Minnesota,
have been established and are managed chiefly by United Church people.
THE MADAGASCAR MISSION
The United Church maintains a foreign mission of its own in Madagascar.
It has three mission stations and four missionaries. Two more are
soon to be added to this corps of devoted workers. The work is progressing
in spite of obstacles placed in its way, chiefly by influences emanating
from the French Jesuits.
The official statistics submitted in June, 1899, show the numerical
strength and value of the property belonging to the United Church.
It numbers 1083 congregations, 225,605 souls, 126,872 communicants,
and 661 parochial school teachers. It has a fund aggregating $108,805.77,
not counting what was got in the settlement with the Augsburg Seminary
corporation; the publishing house of the Church is inventoried at
$54,516.41. The total assets of the United Church are $220,104.47.
According to the list of addresses in the Church almanac, 347 is
the number of pastors, missionaries and professors.
The future of the United Church does indeed look bright and promising.
It maintains a strict adherence to the Scriptures and the Norwegian
Lutheran confession of faith. It preaches the word of God in its
truth and purity, and urges its members to lead pure and holy lives
in accordance therewith. It is laying the foundation of a fine educational
system. It endeavors, as far as it can, to take care of the father-
and motherless and others who stand in need of help. It seems be
to destined by the grace of God to become the great means of bestowing
rich, spiritual blessings upon the sons and daughters of this country
whose ancestry is the same as that of the sturdy people dwelling
amid the snow-capped mountains, along the forest-fringed fiords,
and in the immediate neighborhood of the dashing waterfalls and
swift-rushing streams of the wonderful Land of the Midnight Sun.