01 October 2017

What Separates Norwegian Lutherans in America?

I’ve found that among the most eye-opening dialogues are those between early Norwegian-Americans. Two such men in particular come to mind: Rev. U. V. Koren and Martin Ulvestad. Their debate focused on the question of “Why is There No Church Unity Among Norwegian Lutherans in America?”

Source: Luther Seminary • ELCA Region 3 Archives

Martin Ulvestad (1865-1942) was born in Volda, Møre og Romsdal, Norway, and immigrated at age 20 in 1888 from Trondheim. His ‘claim to fame’ was as an author, publisher, and historian. He lived in Minneapolis, Tacoma, and Seattle (1917-1942). The 1930 Federal Census lists his occupation as "Publisher, Norwegian Genealogy." You can read more about him at Great Norwegian Lexicon and The Promise of America. His final resting spot is listed on Find-A-Grave Memorial #84290423. He is best known for his two volume Norwegian language history "Nordmændene i Amerika" (Norwegians in America) was published in 1907. It was translated and republished in this century by Astri My Astri Publishing.

Rev Ulrik Vilhelm Koren (1826-1910) was a Norwegian-American author, theologian and church leader, as well as a pioneer Lutheran minister who served at Little Iowa Congregation (later called Washington Prairie Lutheran) in Winneshiek County, Iowa. He was the first Lutheran minister from Norway to settle west of the Mississippi.  You can read about him on the Great Norwegian Lexicon, and find his final resting spot on Find-A-Grave Memorial #133783360.  On a personal note, he was the minister of the church my mother’s paternal family attended, and was also the mentor and role model for my grandfather, Rev. Gustav Hegg.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Mr. Ulvestad made several public statements in various publications, asking the question, What separates Norwegian Lutherans in America? He followed this with the following challenge: “What is needed is a straightforward explanation and comparison of the doctrinal differences that are said to exist.”

Mr. Ulvestad continued, saying, “…[I’ve] come to the conclusion, that it is [Norwegian Lutheran] Christianity, and not our doctrinal concepts, that has suffered the most.” He wrote, “If this were the main issue about which there was disagreement, namely, the way to life in God and the way to salvation, then there would be no talk of uniting. One cannot compromise the Word of God. The way which God has prescribed seems, however, to be clear enough, if only we would follow it.”

Reverend Koren, an octogenarian, took up the challenge and wrote a public response to Mr. Ulvestad's question, which was then printed in the Clergy Bulletin in 1905. The piece was lengthy – 15,400 words – and covered a vast amount of history and theology.

Today we have the opportunity to read and study the famous article in English translation You can read it online here:

If you are up to the challenge, please read the piece and share some of your thoughts about it.

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