The Church of Norway (CoN) has decided to remove from its clergy roster the bishop of a small, recently organized Confessional Lutheran synod in northern Norway.
Bishop Thor Henrik With of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Norway, formed in April, was ordained in the CoN in 1979. He is also General Secretary of the Norwegian Sami Mission and former Chairman of For Bible and Confessions (For Bibel og Bekjennelse), Norway’s oldest confessional movement.
Mrs. Laila Riksaasen Dahl, the CoN bishop in Tunsberg diocese, announced the decision in a meeting with Bishop With on 16 May. On 14 June, the diocese announced that a letter has been mailed containing the formal, written decision stating their grounds. As of this writing (18 June), Bishop With is in Trondheim and thus has not yet received the letter.
Previous threats from CoN bishops to defrock Confessional pastors have claimed that, by opposing recent changes (for example, introduction of same-sex weddings) they are violating their ordination vow to obey church rules and decisions. Confessional pastors argue, however that obedience to unbiblical practices would constitute violation of their more important ordination vows to remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
Confessional Lutherans in northern Norway have long objected to the increasingly liberal stance of the Church of Norway. They also have a long, strongly pro-life tradition. When Norway legalized abortion in 1979, Pastor Børre Knudsen protested by refusing to perform the duties required of state church pastors, such as issuing birth certificates and reporting statistics.
Pastor Knudsen's resistance was patterned after the widespread resistance by Norwegian pastors to the Nazi occupation during World War II. Knudsen was dismissed from his congregation by the government Minister for Church and Education, but most of the congregation followed him to start a Lutheran congregation outside the CoN (called a valgmenighet).
Other pastors followed Knudsen’s example, and several other valgmenigheter were formed throughout Norway. The new diocese is largely the outgrowth of this movement plus a Sami congregation. It holds to the historic doctrine and practice of the Church of Norway, and objects to that church body’s abandonment of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, most recently reflected in the decision to authorize same-sex weddings in the CoN.
Linked are two letters (in PDF format) from Bishop With, one sent the day before he met with Mrs. Dahl, and one sent after the meeting. The written decision of the CoN bishops is expected soon, and this page will be revised to reflect it and responses from Bishop With and others.