Lutheran Free Church

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The Lutheran Free Church (LFC) was a Lutheran denomination that existed in the United States from 1897 to 1963 mainly in Minnesota and North Dakota. The history of the church predates its official start and a breakaway group of congregations continues to the present under the LFC legacy.[1]


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Georg Sverdrup and Sven Oftedal were two scholars from prominent Haugean families in Norway who came to Augsburg Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to teach in the 1870s, bringing with them a genuinely radical view of Christian education, centered on Scripture and the simple doctrines of Christianity. The Haugean movement took its name from Norwegian lay evangelist Hans Nielsen Hauge who spoke up against the Church establishment in Norway. Sverdrup and Oftedal had been concerned with hierarchy within the Christian church and as well as the study of the Bible. They believed that, according to the New Testament of the Holy Bible, the local congregation was the correct form of God's kingdom on earth.[2]

Their vision was for a church that:

  • Promoted a "living" Christianity,
  • Emphasized an evangelism that would result in changed lives,
  • Enabled the church member to exercise their spiritual gifts.

In 1890, the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America was formed by three Lutheran church bodies that included the Conference of the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Augsburg was the school of the "Conference" and thus Sverdrup and Oftedal.

A dispute within the UNLC over which school Augsburg or St. Olaf should be the college of the church body lead in 1893 to the creation of the Friends of Augsburg. By 1896, Sverdrup, Oftedal and others felt their beliefs of a "free church in a free land" were being compromised and broke away from the UNLC, forming the Lutheran Free Church in 1897.

The LFC's publishing house was the Messenger Press and its official English language magazine was the Lutheran Messenger started in 1918. The church also had for most of its earlier history a Norwegian language publication Folkebladet (the People's Paper).

In harmony with its emphasis on utilizing and developing the natural spiritual gifts of all the members of the Church the LFC, gave a freer range to women within its church body to hold non-ordained ministries, offices and responsibilities in its organization than many of its contemporary Lutheran counterparts.[3] In harmony with its evangelical emphasis the LFC strongly emphasized the importance of foreign missions (with missions fields in Madagascar and the Cameroons) and spent more of its financial resources on foreign missions and supported a larger number of foreign missionaries than many of its contemporary Lutheran church bodies of comparable size.

By the 1950s, however there was a growing movement by many Lutherans throughout the United States to join their many small Lutheran bodies into larger body. The Lutheran Free Church joined the American Lutheran Church on February 1, 1963 after three votes (1955, 1957 and 1961). The ALC in time also joined with other Lutheran churches and, in 1988, formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). About 40 Lutheran Free Churches however did not join the ALC, instead forming the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC) in October 1962. Today the AFLC has more than 250 congregations.

Presidents of the LFC[edit]

Term of office: one year 1897-1920. Three years 1920-1963

Name Term
Elias P. Harbo 1897–1899
Endre E. Gynild 1899–1901
Elias P. Harbo 1901–1903
Christopher K. Ytrehus 1903–1905
Endre E. Gynild 1905–1907
Elias P. Harbo 1907–1909
Endre E. Gynild 1909–1910
Paul Winter 1910–1912
Endre E. Gynild 1912–1914
Johan Mattson 1914–1916
Endre E. Gynild 1916–1918
Johan Mattson 1918–1920
Olai H. Sletten 1920–1923
Endre E. Gynild 1923–1928
Hans J. Urdahl 1928–1930
Thorvald O. Burntvedt 1930–1958
John Stensvaag 1958–1963

Annual Conferences[edit]


  1. ^ The Lutheran Free Church (Minneapolis: Frikirkens Boghandels Forlag, 1910)
  2. ^ Standing Fast in Freedom (The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations)
  3. ^ A point stressed on numerous occasions by Gracia Grindal, a professor at Luther Theological Seminary.

Other sources[edit]

  • Clarence J. Carlsen, The Years of Our Church (Minneapolis, MN: The Lutheran Free Church Publishing Company, 1942) [1]
  • Eugene L. Fevold, The Lutheran Free Church: A Fellowship of American Lutheran Congregations 1897-1963 (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969)
  • Aarflot, Andreas Hans Nielsen Hauge, his life and message (Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN. 1979)
  • Hamre, James S. Georg Sverdrup: Educator, Theologian, Churchman (Northfield, MN: Norwegian-American Historical Association. 1986)
  • Loiell Dyrud, The Quest for Freedom: The Lutheran Free Church to The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (Minneapolis, MN: Ambassador Publications, 2000)