Relationship often means more than theology
In the process of choosing a church, relationships often means more than theology. Therefore we find lutherans in a pentecostal church and pentecostals in the Norwegian Church.
One can say that it is swarming with lutherans at our Sunday service called “Meeting Point” here at Filadelfia Church in Oslo. In the cantina after the service, I quickly come into contact with one such lutheran.
“So how many lutherans do you guys need, exactly? I know a lot of the people here from church” says 25 year old Joakim Byrknes.
Earlier on he was a missionary kid in Peru and his parents had been sent out from the Norwegian Lutheran Missions Society (NLM). Since then, he has attended lutheran high school and is a member of the NLM church in Oslo. Even so, he has decided to come to Filadelfia once a month to spice up his christian life.
“The preaching here is really good, especially when Egil Svartdahl speaks. They handle important themes well and difficult questions are answered in an understandable way. NLM also has far too little focus on the Holy Spirit. Here we can learn from pentecostals. We have a lot to learn from each other” says Joakim who at the same time is reluctant to leave the lutheran church for good.
Ecclesiastical Pentecostal Church
In the course of a few minutes, Joakim has gathered two other people who also do not see themselves as pentecostals. Rose Elin Austad Nes, age 20, has grown up in a prayer house associated with the lutheran expression on an Island outside the west coast of Norway, Eivind Haugerud, age 28, was raised in the local missions church in a mid-sized city 30 minutes east of Oslo. Unlike Joakim, however, both Eivind and Rose regularly attend Filadelfia.
“My reasons for coming here are simple” says Rose. “It is nice here, the preaching is understandable, and theres great people.”
Eivind moved to Oslo in Autumn, 2012. He wanted to find a church and tried out Filadelfia in the beginning just because his sister attends the church. “Then I found out that I know more people here” he says. “The meetings, preaching, and people seemed good.”
Eivind goes on to explain that he did not see any reason to visit the capital’s mission church first. “I don’t think that there are actually so many differences between the two and the differences which do exist are minor things. Filadelfia is quite an ecclesiastical pentecostal church and not very charismatic. Maybe some of the other pentecostal churches could be a bit intimidating to go to, but not this one.”
Rose thinks that we often forget to take into account relationship when we try to compare what look like two opposite denominations. “Good theology and preaching are what creates a fellowship. Therefore I go to Filadelfia.”
The Decisive Factor of Friendship
These three infant baptized, non pentecostals have the support of various preachers on their views. In 2010, Dr. Karl Inge Tangen, a known preacher and director of the College for Leadership and Theology, wrote a doctorate on how people decide which church to attend.
“My findings in my research pointed to relations, friendship, and personal interaction as having more decisive sway than theology or preaching when it came to choice.” Personal interaction also means more than we think, explains Tangen. “If I were to speculate as to why, I would say that preaching is no longer as decisive as we can hear it anytime we want on the internet or on a podcast.”
Pentecostals In Church
Not so long ago, pentecostals and lutherans only met one another at certain inter-church activities or maybe at Youth With A Mission’s summer family camps. Now interdenominationalism has taken a step forward. Now, if a pentecostal wants to go to the Church of Norway, that is just what he does.
One such person is 78 year old Ragnar Sjølie, now retired but former manager of a Christian TV-production company.
Ragnar and his wife began to attend the Church of Norway 20 years ago. They had just moved from the city center to a far out suburb of Oslo. Some of their kind new neighbors invited them to come along with them to the nearby Church of Norway. The couple, both of whom had been active in the pentecostal movement, could not think of a reason to say no. So they went.
“We thought that when we first moved here that we wanted to be part of the local community and a christian fellowship here. We saw right away that the Church was a nice, evangelical fellowship” says Ragnar as he nods out the window towards the church. Their house is situated atop a small hill. As far as the eye can see the vista is covered with single family homes and gardens. The city center and Filadelfia feel a long ways away out here.
“In the beginning it was challenging” continues Ragnar. He is speaking slowly now, taking a pause after each sentence. Making sure that every word is precise. “It wasn’t exactly regret, but sometimes in the beginning I would catch myself thinking that I should be in Filadelfia when Sunday afternoon would roll around. What did the people in the church think? It happened sometimes too that we would get questions about why we had decided to change churches to the one in here and I would feel the need to explain ourselves. I have realized that I am quite loyal to the church where I had been so active, so it did not come without a cost for me to rearrange my priorities.”
Jesus In The Local Environment
Ragnar and his wife both come from pentecostal families. Both were also heavily involved in Filadelfia, in Kristiansand, a city in southern Norway and then Oslo. Ragnar had worked with IBRA Media, TV Inter, song writing, and music all as a part of the pentecostal movement. Some of this was paid work, other times he worked as a volunteer.
He has more thoughts to share when asked if he thinks our roots and theology are less important factors when it comes to choosing a church. “Yes, I think they are less important. We are very practical in our choices today. Access, location, and people are the key factors now. But the most important thing is finding a church who makes Jesus known in the local community, provided, of course, that the theology is not too provocative. I think that my work in media helped to give me a new perspective. We were not making tv and radio programs from pentecostals to pentecostals, but as christians to the Norwegian people.”
For the past few years Ragnar has been in charge of leading his local church’s ‘Journey Evenings’ where one Wednesday a month he interviews known people about their, “life, times, and faith” as he puts it. “Even though I have been a part of Mortensruds church for all of these years, I still feel a part of Filadelfia.”
Ragnar is still registered as a member of Filadelfia church. This something which he has not changed. He is also often seen at the Thursday morning gatherings which Filadelfia hosts. “Pentelutheran: that’s what my wife calls me” he says.
Pick and Mix
“The pentecostal movement has always come in waves,” says Truls Åkerlund, who is an author, pentecostal preacher, and teacher at the College for Leadership and Theology in Oslo. He recognizes himself in Karl Inge Tangen’s research when he travels to various churches around the country for ministry. “In one way we can say that this is a sign of the times. We like the pick and mix method, even in the religious circles. Relationships have come to the forefront of the order of importance while inherited dogmas are losing their power for many.”
This does not mean, according to Åkerlund, that the salt is necessarily losing its taste.
“If this trend means that we turn towards genuinely seek the truth through the means of the Bible, teachings, and through fellowship with other congregations, than I think that this trend is not a crisis. Far from it.”
The Barratt Movement
When asked about whether we should not honor the traditions of faith passed down from our mothers and fathers, Åkerlund responds with the following. “Yes, there is something within us of the movement we were born into. For example, Thomas Barratt was at first an advocate of infant baptism, so he allowed both in his church before eventually ending up with just believer baptism. There should also be room for processes like this within today’s pentecostal movement. We should hold fast to certain elements of our tradition, while also having room to let other elements go. For example, there are not many people who stand for pacifism today although it was a large part of the early pentecostal movement. There are large differences in the worldwide expression of pentecostal movement while we have some elements which unite us, namely the belief in the works and gifts of the Spirit. We need to hold onto the Bible as the highest authority in our lives and learn, but we also need to be aware that our understanding of it is affected by the times we live in and our context. This also applies to what we have inherited from our spiritual forefathers.”
The Baptismal Divide
Back in Filadelfia’s cantina, our discussion on church is still underway. And naturally we are drawing ever closer to the proverbial hot topic: baptism.
Even though Filadelfia has adult baptisms as a regular part of their services, these three have not felt pressured by it before. So then I ask them what they would do if the leaders were to make it a demand for attending the church.
“If it were a demand for being a part of the church” begins Eivind slowly, but before he can finish Joakim jumps in.
“I would be out the door. No doubt about it.”
“Yes, I would do the same” says Eivind.
Written by Karl Andreas Jahr. Translated by Emily Huyck.