The Georg Sverdrup Society

The Georg Sverdrup Society was organized in December 2003 and is open to anyone interested in the life and work of Georg Sverdrup (1848 - 1907), considered as among "the ablest theologians" in the history of Norwegian-American Lutheranism. The society is registered in the state of Minnesota as a 501(C)(3) nonprofit corporation.

Mission Statement:

Directors:

Annual Meeting:

The Georg Sverdrup Socity Annual Meeting is held in October

For information regarding the Georg Sverdrup Society, please send an e-mail to info@georgsverdrupsociety.org.

Biography of Georg Sverdrup

"Georg Sverdrup: A Biographical Sketch"
By Francis W. Monseth
As printed in the 2004 Sverdrup Journal

Georg Sverdrup was born December 16, 1848, into "one of Norway's most illustrious families."1 The Sverdrup name was known in church and state with several Sverdrups occupying positions of leadership and influence in both realms. Born in Balestrand near Bergen, Norway, where Georg's father served as a pastor for 22 years, young Georg received a careful early education in the parsonage under the tutelage of the assistant pastor. Graduating from the cathedral school in Christiania with highest honors in 1865, Sverdrup continued his studies at the Norway's national university as well as in Germany and France, specializing in theology and linguistics.

During his studies, Sverdrup received special inspiration and help from a well-known Old Testament exegete, Carl Paul Caspari, as well as the systematic dogmatician, Gisle Johnson. Both Caspari and Johnson were leaders in a nationwide spiritual revival, the so-called "Johnsonian Awakening." This awakening exerted a profound effect upon Sverdrup and convinced him that "Christianity is something to be experienced rather than a set of doctrines to be demonstrated."2

The continuing fruit of the widespread revival that had occurred under the ministry of Hans Nielsen Hauge at the turn of the 19th century also helped to shape Sverdrup's convictions and emphases. At its best, the Haugean Revival could be described as orthodoxy applied or the application of Bible truth to daily living. It represented a return to the "wholesome Christian pietism" encouraged by its "father," Philip Jacob Spener, in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Church Reform Movement of Norway was another factor in the development of Sverdrup's views on the Christian congregation. Seeking less government control over the Norwegian Church, this movement promoted the freedom of the congregation. It is the considered opinion of several church historians that echoes of the Church Reform Movement were heard in America in the teaching and writing of Georg Sverdrup as a leader in the organization and development of two Norwegian Lutheran church bodies.

Upon completing his education, Sverdrup and his close friend, Sven Oftedal, both responded affirmatively, but not without struggle, to a call to come to America and teach at Augsburg Seminary. Arriving with his bride, Katherine Elizabeth Heidberg, in 1874, he expressed his conviction immediately that the prime task of the Norwegian Lutheran people of America was to be that of the restoration of the New Testament congregation. He did not believe that the apostolic church was to be reviewed in passing as merely the most primitive form of church government which had adapted itself to its existing minimal needs, awaiting further evolution into a highly-structured ecclesiastical system. To his detractors, he queried in response, "Is it really wrong, then, when the days are evil and the night is approaching, to lift up our eyes and mind from the confused and dwarfed present, and to turn to the true, real picture of the congregation which the New Testament gives us?"3

It was Sverdrup's earnest conviction that "the congregation (local church) is the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth"4 The organized local congregation was for him the only entity portrayed in the New Testament entitled to the name "church" (ekklesia). No other ecclesiastical body was or could be superior to the congregation. His deliberate and sustained emphasis, however, was that the prayerful goal of every believer must be the ideal of "free and living" congregations. This freedom was most fundamentally the spiritual freedom that is the result of salvation in Christ, but Sverdrup also spoke of the need for freedom from hierarchical control external to the congregation. It is when the Word of God and 2 the Spirit of God are the true and acknowledged authorities over the congregation that the emergence and growth of genuine spiritual life are most readily realized. As chief architect in the drafting of the "Fundamental Principles" of the Lutheran Free Church, Sverdrup's thought is particularly evident in the fifth statement: "The congregation governs its own affairs, subject to the authority of the Word of God and of the Spirit, and recognizes no other ecclesiastical authority or government over itself." 5

Sverdrup's main subjects at Augsburg Seminary were Old Testament and Dogmatics. He wished above all else to make the Old Testament edifying for congregations. His lectures in Dogmatics were described as "built on the Scriptures and did not stand in the service of the seventeenth century Theology or of the Concordia formula."6 A prolific writer, his main writings were published after his death in a sixvolume edition entitled SamledeSkrifteriUdvalg. Much in demand as a preacher, Sverdrup spoke in a style that was simple and clear. Deeply impressed by the truth of God's Word himself, he sought to impress his hearers with it as well.

Katharine, Sverdrup's first wife, gave birth to seven children before her death in 1884. Three years later, he married her sister, Elise, who bore two children. It seemed to many that Sverdrup was still in the prime of his ministry when he succumbed to a heart attack and died on May 3, 1907. A few days after his funeral, brief notes were found among his papers. Included was the outline of a message intended for the graduates of Augsburg that spring. These scattered thoughts have been considered keys to his life:

"The free people and the free man-men of conviction-value of truth-value of man is dependent on his relations to truth and adherence to i-have faith-Luther at Worms-Jesus' disciples-an unfaithful man is like a rotten beam in a structure-an untrue principle is like quaking ground."7


1 Jens Christian Jensson, ed., American Lutheran Biographies (Milwaukee: A. Houtkamp and Son, 1890), 789.

2 James S. Hamre, Georg Sverdup's Concept of the Role and Calling of the Norwegian-American Lutherans: An Annotated Translation of Selected Writings (unpublished Ph.D. Thesis: University of Iowa, 1967), 12.

3 Andreas Helland, Georg Sverdrup: The Man and His Message (Minneapolis: The Messenger Press, 1947). Epigraph.

4 Clarence J. Carlsen, The Years of Our Church (Minneapolis: The Lutheran Free Church Publishing Company, 1942), 39.

5 Carlsen, 46.

6 John O. Evjen, "Georg Sverdrup" in Augsburg Seminary and the Lutheran Free Church, Lars Lillehei, ed., (Minneapolis, 1928), 12.

7 Evjen, 15.

Writings of Georg Sverdrup

One of the aims of the Georg Sverdrup Society is "to promote translating Sverdrup's writings into English." Additional translated sections of Sverdrup's writings will be made available on this Web site as translations are completed.

Membership Information

All members of The Georg Sverdrup Society receive the Sverdrup Journal featuring selected writings of Sverdrup as well as scholarly research into his life and work.

To contact The Georg Sverdrup Society regarding information or membership, email info@georgsverdrupsociety.org.

If you would like to become a member of the Georg Sverdrup Society or receive more information about the society, please download the membership form (PDF) and mail the completed form to:

Pastor Kris Nyman
1016 Spruce St
Hagerstown, MD 21640

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