Norwegians came under Christian influence through the contacts of Vikings with Christian countries and through missionary efforts from Denmark* and England. The first Christian kings (such as Olav*) promoted the Christianization of the country. An archiepiscopal see was established in Trondheim in 1153. The Reformation was introduced in 1537 by command of the king of Denmark and Norway. The seventeenth century was characterized by Lutheran orthodoxy. Pietism* came shortly after 1700 and left a lasting influence upon Norwegian church life. Confirmation was introduced by royal command in 1736, and was made compulsory. The Pietistic “Explanation” to Luther's shorter catechism written by Erik Pontoppidan in 1737 was used in Norway for more than 150 years.

The era of Enlightenment lasted in Norway from 1750 to 1820. The theology professors of the newly established university of Oslo (1811) and the awakening by H.N. Hauge* heralded a period of richer spiritual life. In 1842 lay preaching became lawful, and in 1845 a “Dissenters' Law” for the first time gave citizens opportunity to cancel membership in the state church and to organize free churches. Free churches, however, never became strong in Norway; Christian believers chose to stay and make their influence felt within the state church. The Norwegian Missionary Society was founded in 1842, later followed by several other organizations for foreign missions. The lay movement initiated by Hauge entered a stage of organization in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Pietistic theology of Professor Gisle Johnson (d.1894), who greatly influenced both clergy and laity, formed the “Luther Foundation” (1868) which in 1891 was reorganized under the name of Norwegian Home Mission Society.

New revival movements toward the end of the nineteenth century led to the foundation of a new type of free organization which took a critical attitude toward the state church, emphasizing their independence in relation to the clergy. The greatest of these new organizations was the Norwegian Lutheran Mission, whose spiritual leader was the lay preacher Ludvig Hope (d.1954). To a great degree church life in Norway is characterized by free organizations for home mission and foreign mission. Christian believers worship in “prayer houses,” listening to lay preachers, and some also celebrate the Lord's Supper there. The same believers may or may not go to the parish church to worship there. This lay activity, which runs parallel to the activity of the established church, has been of vital importance for the missionary activity of Norwegians.

In the twentieth century, liberal theology has caused severe struggle, which led to the formation of the conservative Free Faculty of Theology (Menighetsfakultetet) where the majority of the pastors are educated (see Hallesby). During the years of German occupation the church resisted the attempts to Nazify the schools, etc. (see Berggrav). By the middle of the twentieth century the life and thinking of the people were greatly influenced by modern secularism. By 1966 there were 1,078 pastors in the state church and 1,688 lay preachers and staff workers in the free organizations. There are ten dioceses in the country. By 1960 the free churches had a total of 134,551 members. Of the population of Norway (3,867,000 in 1970), some 96 percent belong to the state (national) church.

T.B. Wilson, History of the Church and State in Norway from the Tenth to the Sixteenth Century (1903); K. Gjerset, History of the Norwegian People (2nd ed., 1915); B. Hoye and T.M. Ager, The Fight of the Norwegian Church against Nazism (1943); K. Larsen, A History of Norway (1948); J.M. Shaw, Pulpit under the Sky: A Life of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1955); T.K. Derry, A Short History of Norway (1957); E. Molland, Church Life in Norway 1800-1950 (1957) and “Lutheranism in Norway,” The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, vol. III (1965).