By PASTOR RALPH ANDERSEN
[Editor’s Note: The following is from pages 54-61 in “The Created Life,” the author’s dissertation, submitted May 1978 for a Doctor of Ministry Degree from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Though this excerpt may be one of many portions of the dissertation that have previously appeared in Church and Life, the timing is appropriate as this month marks sixty years since the final Grand View Seminary Pastor’s Institute]
In addition to language, a second major factor at work in limiting the numerical growth possibilities for the immigrant Danish Church was what has been called the Grundtvigian influence. The papers presented at the final Grand View Seminary Pastors' Institute in 1962 (the final Pastors' Institute of the AELC [American Evangelical Lutheran Church].) are helpful in understanding and analyzing phases of the history and heritage of the AELC, notably in regard to this Grundtvigian influence.
In reviewing a paper by Pastor Enok Mortensen titled "Our Father's Church We Build," Pastor Thorvald Hansen raises certain points that deal with the "inherent weakness" of the AELC. He suggests that "it does appear that the Danish Church, which grew out of a particular social and cultural soil was nourished by a Grundtvigian climate and that, precisely therefore, it was always an inherently weak body.39 He supports Mortensen's conclusion that national, social and cultural factors were determinative in the development of the Danish Church in America; further, that there never was a deliberate attempt to establish a Grundtvigian church, although the church as it developed did have such influences within it. The significant thing that Hansen pulls out of this historical review is that the very same influences that led to the formation of the Danish Church were influential in making it what he describes as an "inclusive church." Hansen uses the term inclusive "to indicate that there were many viewpoints within the same church.”
It seems an inescapable conclusion that an emphasis on the confession of faith had to issue in an inclusive church. The early Christians confessed Jesus as Lord. As long as they did so the church was roomy. It is, of course, true that many heresies came into being and therefore creeds became necessary in order to define the church... as long as that emphasis continued (Grundtvig's ideas about the origin of the Apostles' creed) the church could not be other than inclusive...
...it was precisely because the church did become inclusive that it has been burdened with an inherent weakness. It is not difficult to show that an inclusive group or a liberal group can never have the strength of a narrow and dogmatic group... a liberal organization or party, regardless of size, is, in the nature of the case, a weak one. In a word, it is difficult to organize liberalism or inclusiveness. ...I would go so far as to question whether or not, difficult as it is to organize and maintain, an inclusive church is not the only one worth organizing and maintaining. There is a sense in which it may be said that the easier it is to define and maintain a group the farther it is from being a church.40
Pastor A. C. Kildegaard reviews the history and heritage of the church in a paper presented at the institute titled, "The AELC: Its Life and Death." He uses the three categories of mood, stance, and concern and considers each of these in terms of contradiction or paradox.
In regard to mood, Kildegaard defines a number of experiences beginning with the opposition and controversy surrounding the beginning of the church. Positive reasons for ethical decisions were forgotten in the resentment and fear of pietism. Doctrinal questions were bypassed while historical and cultural understandings were emphasized. There was always the danger of elevating "our own ways and customs to a theology and thereby being ready to define ourselves." Whenever two or more gathered—always there was singing! Kildegaard concludes his simple observation of mood by saying that "although much of our life can be described as reaction to pietism, we also managed to develop a piety of our own."41
In regard to stance, Kildegaard sees this as centering in the worship, which was centered in the Word: "We gathered to confess the Word of our Baptism, to hear that Word which gave nurture to our lives in Christ, and to share that Word which was Christ at His table. And we sang…"42 partly because of the Grundtvigian heritage "in which we were constrained to deal seriously with this business of what it means to be human... we remained suspicious of religious forms and practices.” Kildegaard also points out how much easier it was to say what we were not, but much more difficult to define what we were.
In regard to concern, Kildegaard refers to the difficulties in the transition from the Danish to the English language and how important this was for the Dane who "is a hard man to convert." He points out the concerns and caring that were shared at the annual "great national folk festival which was our convention." But finally he concludes that "The circumstances of our lives change and the forms which served well yesterday become inadequate and obsolete. It is always man's temptation to absolutize the forms, and when they fail we conclude that life has failed... The Folk Schools of yesterday died decisively some thirty years ago, but the truth from which they sprang is not dead and this will find expression in new ways."43
Kildegaard points to how narrow and provincial the AELC often was, and yet life within the church was as broad as life itself. Although there was often tension due to strong personalities, yet there was always a concern for the totality of human life. The "breaking out of our shells" that occurred was not so much an attempt to conform as it was an effort to discover that which others could give.
Without particularly being aware of it, we were in the throes of what sociologists have described as Hanson's law of the immigrants. The first generation lives in that life which it has known and which it guards. But the second generation rejects and is ashamed of its foreign parentage. We were caught in that reversal as also for us the forms and the language of our parents were lost and discarded. But the third generation re-discovers and in a new context seeks to recover that which gave life to a past golden age. It was not simply regrettable, but it was necessary to turn that corner and to redefine ourselves. It would be pointless and futile to try to recover and restore that which is dead and gone... As Christians we do not believe in immortality, but we do believe in resurrection... it (is) necessary for the seed to die, before a new growth (can) manifest itself.44
Kildegaard summarizes the life of the AELC in terms of contrasts: "Concerned with humanity, yet deeply aware that our source of life is from God and known only in His Word. Church centered and defined in terms of His eternal Word—yet despairing and distrustful of forms and rituals that are usually definitive of Church. Narrow and ethnic—yet broad and concerned with the totality of life. This we have been, and dying does not come easily. What we will be in a new life is not yet evident—but our trust and our hope is in Him who Is the source of all life."45
In responding to Kildegaard's paper and reflecting upon his own life in the AELC, Pastor Ottar Jorgensen makes note of the "quiet and stable ongoing life of our church." This was seen in "a living or common people's theology in word and sacrament that permeated the life of our church." He offers a personal illustration:
My Mother was a very understanding person. She could appreciate the fact that life in each generation had to express itself in its own way. She could bear with the movement using the watchwords, 'freedom' and 'spirit,’ but once when matters of vital importance were under discussion in the home, she said: 'If anyone asked me what Christianity is, and what I believe, I would confess the covenant of my baptism, the Apostles’ Creed.’46
Jorgensen thinks of the mind, temper, stance, and concern of the AELC as personified in Doving's translation of a verse of Grundtvig's "Built onThe Rock”:
Here stands the font before our eyes,
Telling how God did receive us;
Th' altar recalls Christ's sacrifice
And what His table doth give us;
Here sounds the word that doth proclaim
Christ yesterday, today, the same,
Yea, and for aye our Redeemer.
In another paper presented at the institute, Dr. Johannes Knudsen ("Facing the Issues Today”) makes note of the fact that "Our church's heritage is primarily the Grundtvig heritage, but it is not only that. It is also Kierkegaard, more often than we realize. Beyond this it is, first of all and generally speaking, a Danish heritage. Secondly, it is a life adapted to and changed by the American heritage." Knudsen refers to the difficulty in generalizing about the characteristics of the Danish heritage:
We all know that a man from Jylland is hard working, slow to speak and stubborn. We also know that the counterpart from Fyn is happy-go-lucky, imaginative and blabbermouthed. If I had to characterize the Dane in general, I would say that he was friendly, cooperative, hospitable, and with an intense sense of community. At the same time I would say that he was introvertive, independent, stubborn, and suspicious of leadership, particularly that of his own people. He is at the same time intensely loyal to his heritage and critically suspicious of its nature. He speaks highly in praise of his mother tongue, yet 'it is Danish tradition to change language with surprising rapidity…'47
Knudsen goes on to concentrate more specifically upon the Grundtvigian heritage of the AELC by singling out and describing two of Grundtvig's views—his view of the church and his view of man. In describing Grundtvig's view of the church, he notes that "The important thing for Grundtvig was not to find a new expression for the Christian faith… It was not important to build a system of theology which could refute other systems. What was important was to find a way in which the revelation in Christ could be living and active in his own day. In other words, he did not have a conceptual but a dynamic approach to Christianity.”
In his search for the living power of Christ he emphasized the church which is the body of Christ. The church is not merely a concept into which we can fit other concepts and from which we can draw inspiration. It is the corporate and historic body, created by God's Holy Spirit and living today. Through this emphasis Grundtvig restored to his church and to Lutheranism in general a dimension which had been lacking, but which has received renewed attention in the twentieth century.48
In noting a renewed interest and emphasis upon the church, Knudsen sees this as having been traditionally an emphasis in the AELC. This emphasis includes seeing the church as the vehicle and bearer of faith with a renewed interest in history and tradition, and a particular emphasis upon worship and the sacraments. He sees this as being primarily due to "the rather universal movement toward the common aspects of life in almost all human situations."
In describing Grundtvig's view of man, Knudsen notes how Grundtvig was strongly influenced by the church father Irenaeus, who lived a century and a half before Augustine. "In his theology Irenaeus placed great emphasis upon the incarnation, the fact that Jesus was truly man. The human life of Jesus...reveals man as he was created in the image of God. This created life is good, and it was not utterly destroyed by the fall into sin." It is at this point that we note a fundamental difference between Irenaeus' view—which Grundtvig adopted—and the Augustinian view. "Augustine maintained that the fall into sin had totally depraved man so that there was nothing left of the original and good creation. For Grundtvig the created life is important and good, even though it is in the bondage of sin.”49
Even as he stressed the power of sin and man's bondage in sin, Grundtvig therefore also stressed the created life of man. We might give this life other names and call it the biological life, the natural life, the cultured life, the common life... I prefer 'the created life,' for this expresses the most important aspect of all. Our life is created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore it is not only good; it must be appreciated and it must be used. Sin misuses this life; it distorts it and perverts it. Ultimately, therefore, death destroys it.. Because sin and death have this power, we must speak of the total sinfulness of man, but we must mean thereby that there is no part of man's life and nature which escapes the dominance of sin. We must not mean that sin has utterly destroyed the image and likeness of God, so that there is none of it left and so that the new creature in Christ is an utterly different creature. If man can do nothing else on his own, he can still long for life and salvation with God. He can respond to the life from God. Even in the redeemed life in Christ he is yet good and evil, saint and sinner, created, fallen and redeemed at the same time. Luther called it simul justus et peccator. But let us never forget that the created life has value, God-given value.50
Knudsen continues by noting how this created life is a joy and a challenge; it offers wonderful privileges as well as corresponding responsibilities, with these opportunities being expressed in both individual and communal ways. In this human activity there are of course terribly destructive forces at work, but man is always to work to seek to overcome the evil and promote the good.
Knudsen firmly believes that Grundtvig's basic view of man is important for our own time and in a discussion of the future. "The doctrine of man is going to be the most burning issue in theology in the next generation. Many other sciences are concerned about the same issue... Grundtvig has an important message for our day, if we have the clarity and the force to bring it."51
39. The American Evangelical Lutheran Church: Phases of Its History and Heritage, 1962, p. 12.
40. ibid., pp. 12-13
41. ibid.,p.1 6
42. ibid.,p. 17
43. ibid.,p. 20
44. ibid.,pp. 21-22
45. ibid., p. 22
46. ibid., p. 23
47. ibid., p. 38
48. ibid., p. 40
49. ibid.,p. 42
50. ibid.,pp. 42-43
51. ibid., p. 44
Bridget Lois Jensen