Lay-Activity and the Norwegian Synod
This Synod which was organized in 1851 and reorganized in 1853 - the Grundtvigian tenets were then gotten rid of - also received some of the living streams that flowed from the Haugean revival in Norway. We don't expect much here. Shall lay-activity live and be revived it must be through revivals and the Christian testimony, of experienced salvation. The prayer meeting must also be encouraged as a strong factor in all lay-activity. We know these conditions were not present in the church body we are now writing about.
But let us be as just as we can, and think of our own failings. We shall give the word to one of their own historians, M. Rohne, a teacher of Christianity at
College . During the many conferences the Synod pastors held with P.A. Rasmussen and his friends, they held one at Luther Valley, Wisconsin, October 4, 1858. We quote: "Rasmussen was reprehended by the council (Rev. Ottesen represented the Synod pastors) for not having protested against Eielsen's un-churchly practice of requesting laymen to pray. Rasmussen defended his point.
"Craemer (a German Missouri professor present) asked if Rasmussen's and Thalberg's orthodoxy could not be acknowledged on all points, save on the question of prayer meetings. All the Synod pastors assented.''
But when Rasmussen stuck up for some "orderly" lay- activity right after, they refused to acknowledge his orthodoxy just the same, at that meeting, but in the course of time they came together.
"In 1859, Rev. J. A. Ottesen in a number of articles in their church paper (Maanedstidende) attacked prayer meetings and laymen's activity in general."
H. A. Preus wrote in 1859 among other things: "We have arrived at a clearer view of the errors - in the Ellingian sect."
In a new conference in 1859 it was said among other things by the Synod men:
"Prayer by a layman, in behalf of all, is contrary to article 14 in the Augsburg Confession, and being contrary to that article, it is contrary to the Scriptures, hence sin."
Professor Creamer said: "No one but the pastor should lead other meetings than family devotions.''
These quotations may be sufficient to show their extremely anti-layman tendencies. The prayer meetings which were the most precious of all meetings to the Haugeans, were to them an abomination.
We shall, however, mention a few laymen who came among them and joined their churches, or became pastors among them.
Even Hegg, J. Johannesen, S. Backe and other Haugeans came over from
in 1840 -- about. They settled at
Muskego, Wisconsin . They had, as we would say, house-to- house meetings and confessed Christ and God's Word. They were happy to receive Clausen as their pastor in 1843. Then Dietrichsen became their pastor in 1844. From then and on they were fighting for their spiritual existence. After a while their meetings which they still kept up fell under some strong church control. In the end they died out. "If lay-activity cannot work independently, its life-nerve is cut." is quoted from Bishop A. Bang in another place.
But let us not forget all the struggling people of God who have no encouragement from pastors and churches. One day they will receive their reward-also these men and women who tried under such difficult conditions to keep the lay-activity alive in
Ingerid Meiningen was born in
Valders, , in 1824. She was converted to God early in life. She carried on a blessed testimony in private and public, not only in her home parish (
North Aurdal ), but in the neighboring parishes. Revivals followed her. She would even travel in the summer-time up to the far-away summer pastures (seter) and have devotional meetings among the girls who take care of the cattle and sheep up there (seterjenter).
In 1869 she came with her husband and children to
Wisconsin , where they joined a large congregation of the old Norwegian Synod. Later she has been praised as a good church member and fine Christian woman and a good worker in the Ladies' Aid.
A Christian man had given her this testimony before she left
: "Such a speaker I had never heard before. It was just like I should hear the Holy Spirit Himself speak to us."
But already before she left
the Bishop, and a preacher or two, had tried to shut her mouth. It may be enough for us to add that she was never encouraged, to say the least, to testify or pray in public after she came to
. If she had, there would have been a big revival in her congregation - and farther out. A thing those ministers had no use for-and even dreaded.
It is to be hoped that in spite of the fact that her wonderful boldness in Christ had been taken away from her, she nevertheless kept her first faith and assurance unto the end. She is a representative of many living Christian women, who have happened to come to spiritually dead congregations, where their testimony and gifts to pray in public have never been encouraged. They have been far removed from other living Christians. They have fought their battle in silence and alone. None of us know anything about them-except God. Still they have been among the 7,000 who never bent their knees to Baal.
Ingred Meiningen went to her rest about 1892 at the age of 84. In her record has been written down as one of the most noted of the women lay-preachers and soul- winners. How blessed it would have been if her gifts had been encouraged, and we could have given her a similar record among us.
C. L. Clausen whose long and inconsistent record is well known, and who was ordained in October of 1843, does not concern our history very much. He seemed to have been converted in
. He became a lay-preacher there and later among the Haugeans in
. It was really the Haugeans (Tollef Backe in Drammen) who sent him over and the so-called
Muskego laymen who had the most to do with getting him ordained. He never agreed with Elling and the early and true Haugeans. He was a broad - church man with high-church leanings. So he went to the Norwegian Synod - or rather, he became one of its founders - both in 1851 and 1853. But there he never felt at home. Synod pastors never trusted him fully. So he kept on going out and in, in and out among them-joining, resigning and joining and resigning again. Finally he stood independent.
Then again he became one of the founders of the Norwegian Danish Conference, etc.
He is a representative of the laymen and pastors who never feel really at home in the out-and-out Hauge Revival Movement; neither do they feel at home in the high church ritualistic element. Otherwise Clausen was a very fine and helpful man. He deserves credit for having taken a definite stand against the slave traffic - that is - at last, for which he had to suffer a great deal and just about be expelled from the "Synod."
P. A. Rasmussen, who has been given so much glorious publicity, we have to mention rather regretfully. He was born in Stavanger in 1829 and seemed to have been converted in
Bergen . He came to
Illinois in 1850 and joined God's people. His name is at the bottom of all the 36 or 37 signers of the "old constitution," which he no doubt helped to revise somewhat and put into paragraphs.
It went wonderful with him and the Elling-Hauge people until after he had been to a German-Missouri school at
Fort Wayne, Indiana . These Missourians ordained him in 1854. Not long after he began to attack the very constitution he had signed. He was secretary of the Hauge-Elling Synod and had much influence, though he was only 25 years old in 1854. In 1856, at the Primrose,
Wisconsin , annual meeting, he parted company with God's people, the group he had joined so happily a few years before. But many went with him, especially his own churches around
Lisbon, Illinois .
From 1856 to 1862 he and a certain Thalberg and a little later an Amlund, N. 0. Fjeld, and perhaps one or two more, kept on steadily with union conferences with "the Synod."
They discussed lay-activity and prayer meetings for years. Rasmussen and the others stood for some strictly controlled lay-activity. The Synod men were, of course, against lay-activity in any form, except family devotion. At the most, they might allow a gathering where a sermon from a book might be read, together with prescribed prayers.
Finally the German Missouri men, who had been with them as advisers, were able to find a formula upon which they compromised and agreed in 1862. Rasmussen then joined them and was with them for 25 years. But not his churches. They stood independent until 1890 and carried on some lay-activity.
It was a very far cry from his definite low church stand in 1850 to his compromise with the Missourians in 1862. But some of the old Hauge remnants seemed to cling to him. By 1887 he left the Synod again and was one of the foremost men in the so-called "Anti-Missourian Brotherhood," which three years later was along in the organization of the
Church . The expression "Anti-Missourian" implies a very thorough disagreement.
Rasmussen should be credited for his great interest in spreading good devotional literature. He even translated and edited Johan Arndt's "True Christianity.'' He was a gifted man. He was also a great lover of foreign missions, especially the Stavanger Mission Society in . He and his churches helped that mission a great deal. We hope that he came back to his former stand that he had taken so well in 1850 -- that he came back to it before he died in 1898.
John N. Fjeld. This lay-preacher from , whom the Norwegian Synod ordained in 1861, was born in
South Aurdal , Valders, in 1818. The layman's historian, H. G. Heggtveit writes: "John Nilsen Fjeld was from 1840 to 1860 one of the most active and tireless laymen
has had." Someone else in said: "Fjeld was richly gifted. The Holy Spirit had given him enlightenment and grace to an uncommon degree. He gathered large audiences around God's word."
How did it go during the 26 years he was pastor in the Synod? We only know two things for sure:
1. In 1862, a year after his ordination, he wrote one or more articles against Elling Eielsen. How happy the enemies must have felt. One old lay-preacher is writing and speaking against another. He accused Elling Eielsen for: "The priesthood of believers is entirely overestimated and carried beyond its bounds, so the regular office of preaching thereby goes into the discard." This does not sound very much like the old lay-preacher Fjeld.
Some of the Haugeans answered Fjeld's accusations : "Den stakkars Fjeld visste vel ikke hvad han gjorde da han angrep Eielsen, nedskrev disse ord og gjorde dem bekjendt for verden.'' - Poor Fjeld hardly knew what he was doing, perhaps, when he attacked Eielsen, wrote down these words and made them known to the world.
"Fjeld,'' they continued, "has joined the stiff and strict Lutherans who are sufficiently known for their enmity toward all true spiritual life and expressions of this life in confessing Christ."
All this shows how difficult it is for Christian life and true lay-activity and the Christian testimony and the right New Testament spiritual view to fight its way through, unless it is encouraged and the gifts of grace taken into use.
So many have fallen by the way-side, not only ordinary Christians, but noted laymen and gifted ministers. It's a wonder from God that lay-activity and the Christian testimony have been able to fight their way through from 1825 to 1941, when we think of all the efforts to destroy it. But it certainly has been a fighting movement from the beginning to the end.
2. We are not quite through with Fjeld yet. He did not remain faithful to "the Synod'' unto the end. He broke loose and left them just a short year before he died- March 12, 1888. He also became an "Anti-Missourian."
Now the Anti-Missourians stood strong on the personal responsibility toward God and even on conversion in that heated "election controversy." The Missourians, or Synod, clung truth and nail to their "pure doctrine."
Fjeld served five congregations around
Horeb, Wiscousin, for nearly 28 years. It is to be hoped that he preached conversion and a real change of heart through grace in Christ, and that he toward the last came back to his first love, to which he had when he was converted and began to testify in South Aurdal.