That By Thy Grace We May Come to Everlasting Life: Norwegian-American Lutherans, 1853-1963   15 comments


Above:  Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, Chicago, Illinois, 1980

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress


Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-18119




We would gladly behold the day when the One, Holy, Catholic, Christian Church shall use one Order of Service, and unite in one Confession of Faith.

–From the Preface to the Common Service (1888); Quoted in Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church (1917), page 308


Let us bow before the Lord and confess our sins.

Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto Thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against Thee in thought, word, and deed.  Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy and beseech Thee for Christ’s sake, grant us remission of all our sins, and by Thy Holy Spirit increase in us true knowledge of Thee and of Thy will and true obedience to Thy word, to the end that by Thy grace we may come to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Concordia Hymnal:  A Hymnal for Church, School and Home (1932), page 408



In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part I (, I wrote about the process which culminated in the unveiling of the Common Service in 1888.  I chose not to write about that liturgy because I had already entered twenty-four pages of writing from a composition book.  In U.S. Liturgy, Part II (, I focused on the Common Service.  In U.S. Liturgy, Part III (, I wrote about it in The United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962) and The American Lutheran Church (1930-1060).   In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part IV (, I focused on The Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (1860-1962).  In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part V (, I wrote about Finnish-Americans.  In U.S. Lutheran Liturgy, Part VI (, I turned my attention to the Missouri Synod.  Now, in Part VII, I write about Norwegian-Americans.

I have been studying this material closely, trying to record information accurately as I have reviewed primary and secondary sources.  This has required a commitment of much time, for there are so many synods about which to read.  And, since I grew up United Methodist in southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the Baptist Belt, Lutherans were scarce, if present at all, when I was quite young.  My spiritual journey has taken me into The Episcopal Church.  Anglicanism and Lutheranism have many theological and liturgical similarities and considerable theological overlap, but my adopted vantage point is still one outside of Lutheranism.  If I have misstated anything, I can correct it.

The material is, by its nature, complicated.  I have tried to organize and format it for maximum ease of reading and learning, however.  So, without further ado, I invite you, O reader, to follow the proverbial bouncing balls with me.



The Norwegian Lutherans in the U.S.A.  represent two streams–the Church of Norway liturgical tradition and the Low Church, Hans Nielsen Hauge line.  Today two denominations–the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (1962) and the Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America (1900) present variations on the latter.  Immediately I address the former tradition, although the two do intertwine.

The Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, formed by a merger in 1917, renamed itself The Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1946.  The 1917 union combined the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (SNELCA) (1853), Hauge’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Synod (HNELS) (1876), and the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (UNLCA) (1890).  The UNLCA was the product of the merger of the following:

  • the Norwegian Augustana Synod (1870) and the Norwegian-Danish Conference (1870), twins which broke away from The Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (1860-1962), and
  • the Anti-Missourian Brotherhood (1887), which broke away from SNELCA.

For obvious reasons Norwegian Lutherans in the U.S.A. used Norwegian liturgies initially.  Since Denmark had ruled Norway for centuries when, in 1814, Sweden took over in Norway, a 1685 Danish liturgy, called in some sources the Bugenhagen service, became the basis for a popular English-language rite.  The first Norwegian Lutheran hymnal in the U.S.A. appeared in 1874.  The first Norwegian Lutheran English-language hymnal published in the U.S.A. rolled off the printing presses five years later.  This was the Hymn Book for the Use of Evangelical Lutheran Schools and Congregations ( of SNELCA.  The Church and Sunday School Hymnal (UNLCA) ( appeared in 1898.  Then UNLCA published The Orders of Services and Ministerial Acts of the Norwegian Lutheran Church (1902) (, based on the revised 1899 liturgy of the Church of Norway.

The Lutheran Hymnary (1913) ( was the product of the three denominations which joined in 1917 to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America (called The Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1946-1960).  This, the first widely-used English-language hymnal and service book for Norwegian-American Lutherans, contained two forms for Holy Communion–the Bugenhagen form and the Common Service rite.  The latter was more interactive than the former.  The 1915 Altar Book ( contained The Lutheran Hymnary (1913) services plus some, per the custom of altar books.

The Lutheran Hymnary (1913) ( became a favorite of many people.  It remained the official hymnal and service book of the merged NLCA, which issued a very slightly revised edition in 1935.  (I have a copy.)  The Service Book and Hymnal became the next official book in 1958.  Then, two years later, The Evangelical Lutheran Church (formed as NLCA) merged into The American Lutheran Church (TALC) (1960-1987).  TALC, in turn, helped to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

A remnant of SNELCA (1853-1917) formed the Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (NSAELC), which renamed itself The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) in 1957.  (For the sake of clarity I will refer to this denomination by its current name beginning now.)  ELS retained The Lutheran Hymnary (1913).  Some congregations kept using it for a long time, for The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), of the Synodical Conference, to which ELS had belonged since 1920, did not suit them.  The Bugenhagen service and many of their favorite hymns were not in the 1941 hymnal.  The current ELS hymnal and service book, the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996), retains the perceived best elements of the 1913 and 1941 books while modernizing the language of the services.



The Lutheran Free Church (LFC) broke away from the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (UNLCA) in 1897.  The LFC encompassed a wide variety of worship styles, from those with some degree of formality to those with none, although the denomination did suggest orders of worship and specific rituals.  The ultimate standard was the Altar Book of the Church of Norway (the 1889 edition then the 1920 version), applied according to pastors’ discretion.

The LFC reprinted the Norwegian Landstad hymnal for years.  Yet English-language resources were numerous.  A 1920 survey revealed the use of twenty-eight hymnals in LFC congregations.  One of these books was Concordia:  A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1917), a charming little book of 253 hymns and a simple order of worship published the UNLCA.  (My 1923 copy of it is really adorable!)  In 1932 the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America (formed via merger in 1917 and renamed The Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1946) published The Concordia Hymnal:  A Hymnal for Church, School and Home, a revision and expansion of the 1917 book.  The 1932 volume contained 434 hymns, two Orders for Morning Service (the second simplified from the first), an Order for Evening Service, and other forms derived from extant Norwegian-American worship resources.  The Concordia Hymnal (1932) sat beside the The Lutheran Hymnary (1913 and 1935) for the denomination which created it.  For the LFC, however, The Concordia Hymnal became the quasi-official denominational hymnal, which the vast majority of congregations used and the use of which the church body encouraged.

The LFC participated in the creation of the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), which featured the Common Service.  A 1960 LFC survey revealed that

less than a handful

of congregations used the liturgical portion of the new volume.  The more common practice was to use the Service Book and Hymnal as just a hymnal and to utilize the more familiar Order for Morning Worship II from The Concordia Hymnal.



The Lutheran Free Church merged into The American Lutheran Church (TALC) (1960-1987) in 1963.  Ahead of this union the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC) organized.  They objected to a host of perceived sins of The American Lutheran Church, including Neo-orthodoxy, a relaxed attitude toward the Roman Catholic Church, ritualism, and the approval of social dancing.

The AFLC has not relaxed its attitude toward dancing in fifty-one years.  During my research into this question at the official denominational website I found three main documents which confirm this.  There was Anne Erickson’s article, “God Wants to Help Parents to Help Their Kids,” in the April 10, 2001, issue of the official Lutheran Ambassador magazine.  She affirmed the anti-school dances position she had learned growing up.  The AFLC operates a Bible school, Association Free Lutheran Bible School, in Plymouth, Minnesota.  Its 2009-2010 Student Life Guidelines say in part:

Gambling, dancing, viewing of pornography or any kind of unwholesome media are not permitted.  These rules are in effect both on and off campus.  (page 13)

And the 2012-2013 Student Life Handbook of the same institution forbids social dancing

on or off campus

as a school-sponsored event or that

the school’s name be associated with any such activity by any student, staff or group.  (pages 14-15).

As for worship, the denominations’ official Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship (1994) includes a ritual modeled after the Order for Morning Service II from The Concordia Hymnal (1932).



I have formulated what I call Taylor’s Law of Denominational Mergers:

Whenever two or more denominations unite, two or more denominations are likely to form.

The Lutheran Free Church, despite its Pietism and Low Church origins and practices, liberalized sufficiently to unite with The American Lutheran Church (1960-1987), of which The Evangelical Lutheran Church (1917-1960) had become a part.  Thus the 1963 merger which ended the existence of the the LFC was really a reunion.

Another conclusion regards the lasting influence of certain old hymnals across generations.  The Lutheran Hymnary (1913) looks very much like the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996).  And the influence of The Concordia Hymnal (1932) upon the Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship (1994) is obvious.  As some new hymnals and service books replace old ones, the contemporary builds upon the traditional.










As much as possible I prefer to work with primary sources, although secondary sources frequently prove invaluable in making the best sense of those primary sources.  And I prefer to work with actual bound volumes as much as possible.  For this post, however, some of my sources have been electronic, and I have provided links to them.  So I consider those linked ones cited properly.  I did find certain bound volumes invaluable.  Those credits follow:

Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship.  Minneapolis, MN:  Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, 1994.

Commission on the Liturgy and Hymnal, The.  Service Book and Hymnal.  Music Edition.  Philadelphia, PA:  United Lutheran Publication House, 1958.

Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church.  Philadelphia, PA:  The Board of Publication of The United Lutheran Church in America, 1917, 1918.

Concordia:  A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1917.

Concordia Hymnal, The:  A Hymnal for Church, School and Home.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1932.

Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.  St. Louis, MO:  MorningStar Music Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, The.  The Lutheran Hymnal.  St. Louis, MO:  Concordia Publishing House, 1941.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 2006.

Fevold, Eugene L.  The Lutheran Free Church:  A Fellowship of American Lutheran Congregations, 1897-1963.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1969.

Lutheran Hymnary Including the Symbols of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, The.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1935.

Melton, J. Gordon.  Encyclopedia of American Religions.  4h. Ed.  Washington, DC:  Gale Research, Inc., 1993.

Pfatteicher, Philip H., and Carlos R. Messerli.  Manual on the Liturgy:  Lutheran Book of Worship.  Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1979.

Stulken, Marilyn Kay.  Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press, 1981.

Wentz, Abdel Ross.  The Lutheran Church in American History.  2d. Ed.  Philadelphia, PA:  The United Lutheran Publication House, 1933.

I also found some PDFs helpful:

“Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship.”  Hymnal Sales, Minneapolis, MN.  This is a document designed to convince congregations to purchase the 1994 hymnal.

Association Free Lutheran Bible School, Plymouth, MN.  AFLBS Student Life Guidelines 2009-2010.

__________.  AFLBS Student Life Handbook 2012-2013.

Christian Worship:  Supplement Introductory Resources.  Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 2008.

DeGarmeaux, Bruce.  “O Come, Let Us Worship!  A Study of Lutheran Liturgy and Hymnody.”  1995.

Erickson, Anne.  “God Wants to Help Parents Help Their Kids.”  Pages 8-9 in The Lutheran Ambassador (April 10, 2001).

Faugstad, Peter.  “Centennial of The Lutheran Hymnary.”  In Lutheran Sentinel, May-June 2013, page 14.

Schalk, Carl.  ”A Brief History of LCMS Hymnals (before LSB).”  Based on a 1997 document; updated to 2006.  Copyrighted by The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

Walker, Larry J., Ed.  “Standing Fast in Freedom.”  2d.  Ed.  Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, 2000.




15 responses to “That By Thy Grace We May Come to Everlasting Life: Norwegian-American Lutherans, 1853-1963

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