Now remember, I am a visitor here in Norway. Also, keep in mind, a blog is not a thesis. I consider this particular blog a sort of diary – travelogue filled with observations, impressions and comment.
I recently got in trouble by saying that Norwegians didn’t have C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” or “Screwtape Letters.” I was informed by the same fellow who complained about my comments concerning the price of pizza in Tonsberg that Norway does have these books in their language and for this I was thankful to hear. He went on to scold me about doing better research before telling “gullible” (his culturally sensitive word, not mine) Americans this sort of misleading information. He’s right. I probably should have done a quick “Google” search but I am often pinched for time and these blogs take a lot of time out my schedule. Sometimes I am just happy to get them written and published, warts and all. Anyway, they apparently do have these books but as I pointed out to another friend in an email, what’s the point of having such books if people don’t know they exist? I am told there is no good Norwegian word for “mere” so I probably would have missed it anyway as “mere” is most likely rendered as “normal.” I wouldn’t have thought of that.
I am likely to get in trouble again with this post as I am going to talk about something I only know about from “hear say.” But if I offend you with my, “shoot from the hip” analysis, as long as you are nice, I will listen to your perspective on the following subject. Even if we disagree, remember, we are approaching seven billion people in the world and I am but one. Slap your hands together and move on.
Last Sunday people from all over Norway – people who rarely darken the doorway of the Lutheran state church – put on their finest traditional dress and go to their respective churches for a national “coming of age” event called “Confirmation.”
I found this surprising since I almost never run into anyone while traveling here that has much use for church, Christianity or God. I have always thought of “Confirmation” as a very serious bit of business where one publicly confirms their Christian faith. Apparently, this is no longer so and has taken on a more secular significance. I have been told that Lutheran youth have not had to confirm their faith by vows for over fifty years. One is a Christian simply by virtue of baptism.
As much as 80% of Norway would be Lutheran by baptism and membership. For every head that can be counted, the church receives and annual stipend. This is true of the other legal churches as well. If one should change his or her denominational or church allegiance the government must be notified and the money will go in another direction. I should point out that the confirmation candidates receive financial gifts as well… MONEY – lot’s of it. So whether or not people hold any conviction regarding religious matters, it is for the most part, immaterial.
Still, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. While much of the state church is steeped in formality and tradition there is a living faith within the Lutheran community where lives are being transformed, churches planted and missionaries sent. One friend points out that while the Lutheran church often lacks vibrancy, the largest percentage of active, regenerate believers in Norway are undoubtedly Lutheran.
When over lunch I asked the more important question about whether people took this pomp and ceremony seriously from a spiritual vantage point I was told an emphatic, “No.” Most young people thought it was meaningless and just something that all or at least most Norwegians are expected to do.
It is well-known that Norway is a highly secular state where people rarely attend church. I wanted to know so I asked, “What percentage of those being confirmed take their vows seriously?” In other words, “Do you think very many put any confidence in the Lutheran Church or the Christian gospel?” Again, (and no real surprise) I was told by the group at the table that they would suppose only 1% would remain active in the Christian faith. Confirmation would make little difference. I privately wondered if , “Thou shalt not take the Lord thy God’s name in vain,” might not be what this verse really means?
Like it or not, these are the facts…
My dad used to talk about the “burnt over” country where seed could not take root. As another analogy, people can be vaccinated against catching the real thing. This is just such a place. It is tough going here with most people up to their necks in skepticism. When I have tried to talk to people at the small shopping center and coffee shop in the nearby village, I have been met with either coldness or, in some cases, rudeness. Faith is not a subject to be talked about outside of the walls of a religious institution. It is no wonder Muslims in Europe are puzzled with Christianity and see it as meaningless in determining the course of one life, let alone all of history.
Culturally speaking, God has been gagged and Christianity muzzled.
The Bible has a verse for all that I detect, … “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” 2 Timothy 3:5
Martin Luther would roll over in his grave to see what has become of the Lutheran Church. It is true, it begins with a man, then a movement, next a machine and finally a monument. In the words of A.W. Tozer, “Denominations can backslide too.”