I was fortunate to spend two weeks this month (August, 2017) traveling around Iceland. Northern places have always intrigued me. I had been to the Yukon and Alaska in 2002 with college buddies and to Vinland (maritime Canada) and Markland (Labrador) of the Icelandic Sagas with my brother back in 2007, but now I’ve been to the “Ultima Thule” of the ancient Greek traveler Pytheas.
Iceland was incredible and beautiful, but it is clear that something is missing: Christianity.
One might immediately say, “Well, isn’t the country over 90% Christian?” Though true that the vast majority of the country is on the books as members of the Lutheran state church, it seems almost no one attends. One Sunday I was in the second largest city in the country, Akureyri (somehow pronounced with only three syllables!, Ah-ku-ree) and came by the Lutheran church to see its service times. They did not have any morning services, but only an 8 PM “prayer meeting”!
There are 138 Lutheran ministers in Iceland, but what do they do? If the church in the second largest city is down to a single weekly prayer meeting, what is the status of the other churches?
Researching further, it seems the Icelandic Lutheran church is similar to the ELCA in America. That is the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America,” a denomination whose views would disgust Martin Luther. The Icelandic Lutheran Church, completely contrary to the Bible’s own teaching, has a woman Bishop. Their main church, in Reykjavik, is little more than a tourist attraction with an occasional organ recital. If they were to try to survive off of donations, rather than the state, they would almost certainly quickly falter.
So how did it get like this? I really don’t know, but gathered a few ideas on the history. Christianity was accepted as the state religion in 1000 A.D. at the Althing, but the worship of Norse Gods seemed to have continued behind the scenes. The island went Lutheran after the Reformation despite a strong fight put up by one of the Catholic priests who ended up have his head chopped off. In modern times, I can’t hardly tell what has happened. There is little information online. Maybe if I could read Icelandic it would be easier to research the church in Iceland.
Anyways, beyond the decrepit state church, there are a smattering of the usual suspects in the country: one Catholic church, some Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and Pentecostals. These groups have at most a few churches, and a few thousand members; the largest of which is probably the Pentecostals. The one Pentecostal we met had not been to church in a few months and basically never read the Bible from what I could gather. He was strongly attached to prayer (a good thing) but in a way that seemed out of balance with the rest of what a healthy Christian life should look like.
In the last couple days of my trip I found one “Reformed” Baptist church in Reykjavik. If I lived in Iceland it would be here that I would attend. The pastor was supported largely by U.S. donations as the church had scarcely 20 attenders on average. The service was contemporary. The Gospel was preached in Icelandic with an English interpreter one could listen to on headphones. Though the pastor had not attended seminary, he had a strong drive to learn, and could very well be God’s worker for a revival in Iceland. Let us pray for revival in Iceland, and in the North, and in the whole world.