Church of Denmark

Church of Denmark
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark
Marble Church front.jpg
The Marble Church in Copenhagen
Classification Protestant
Orientation Lutheranism
Polity Episcopal
Associations Lutheran World Federation,
World Council of Churches,
Conference of European Churches,
Porvoo Communion
Geographical areas Denmark, Greenland
Origin 1536
Separated from Roman Catholic Church
Separations Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland,
Church of the Faroe Islands
Members 4.469.109 (1. Jan 2011)
Official website
A parish church in Holte.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark[1], Church of Denmark or Danish National Church, (Danish: Den Danske Folkekirke or Folkekirken, literally meaning the "People's Church") is the state church and largest denomination in Denmark and Greenland. The church is Evangelical Lutheran and since the establishment of the Danish Constitution of 1849 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (ELCD) has been regarded as "the church of the people" as well as an official national church. The church is financially supported by the state, but membership is voluntary. The Queen is the supreme authority of the Church, with the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs, currently Manu Sareen, as the highest administrative authority of the Church. The Danish parliament, Folketinget, is the supreme legislative authority for the church. As per 1 Jan 2011, 80.4%[2] of the population of Denmark are members of the National Church.



Church life is organized in 12 dioceses, each led by a bishop, including one for Greenland and one for the Faroe Islands (until 29 July 2007). The further subdivision includes 111 deaneries and 2,200 parishes. There are about 2,400 priests.


Each parish has a parochial council, elected by church members in four-year terms. The parochial council lead the practical business of the local church and decide about employment of personnel, including the priest(s). The priest is subordinate to the council, except in spiritual matters such as conducting service and pastoral care. Both parochial councils and priests are, however, subordinate to bishops.

Voluntary congregations

A special feature is the possibility of creating voluntary congregations (valgmenighed) within the Church. These account for a few percent of church members. They are voluntary associations, electing their own parochial council and priest, whom they will pay off their own pockets. In return, they are exempt of church tax. The voluntary congregation and its priest are subordinate to bishops, and members remain full members of the Church. Historically, when a parish was dominated by a fundamentalist majority and ditto rector, the liberal minority would often set up a voluntary congregation with their own rector - and vice versa. Today the voluntary congregations are often a solution for people who find the idea of a free church appealing, but wish to keep some bonds to the National Church.

Parish optionality

Another, less commonly used feature is parish optionality (sognebåndsløsning, literally "parish bond release"). If a Church member is dissatisfied with the particular rector of his residence parish, he may choose to be serviced by another rector who complies better with his Christian views, for example in a neighbouring parish.


Church of Denmark
year population members percentage
1984 5,113,500 4,684,060 91.6%
1990 5,135,409 4,584,450 89.3%
2000 5,330,500 4,536,422 85.1%
2005 5,413,600 4,498,703 83.3%
2007 5,447,100 4,499,343 82.6%
2008 5,475,791 4,494,589 82.1%
2009 5,511,451 4,492,121 81.5%
2010 5,534,738 4,479,214 80.9%
2011 5.560.628 4,469,109 80.4%
statistical data 1984–2002,[3] 1990–2009[4] and 2010.[5] Source Kirkeministeriet

According to official statistics from January 2010, 80.9% of Danes are members of the National Church.[6] Membership rates vary from 65% in the Diocese of Copenhagen to nearly 90% in the Diocese of Viborg. In recent years, the percentage of Danes that are members of the National Church has been slowly declining, the most important reasons being immigration from non-Lutheran countries, withdrawal of some members, and a somewhat lower rate (73%) of Danish infants being christened.[7]


Everyone who is christened in the National Church automatically becomes a member. Members may resign from the National Church or re-enter if they wish so. Citizens christened in other Christian groups and denominations, including other Lutheran bodies, do not automatically become members of the National Church; their christening is, however, recognised if they seek membership of the National Church. It is not possible to be a member of two or more officially recognised congregations of faith.

Excommunication is legally possible, but an extraordinarily rare occurrence. Examples include declared Satanists. A church member supporting reincarnation was excommunicated, but the Supreme Court repealed the excommunication in 2005.

Faith and church attendance

Fewer than 5%[citation needed] of church members attend services every week. However, the church is still widely used for traditional family ceremonies including christenings and confirmations. In the year 2008, 41% of weddings and 89% funerals were performed in the National Church,[8] and 71% of adolescents in grade 7-8 were confirmed.[9]

According to a 2009 poll, 25 percent of Danes believe Jesus is the son of God, and 18 percent believe he is the saviour of the world.[10]


The church is aimed at having a wide acceptance of theological views, as long as they agree with the official symbolic books as stipulated in the Danish Code of 1683. These are:

Revised versions of the Old and New Testament were authorised by the Queen in 1992. A revised Hymn Book was authorised in 2003. Both the Bible translations and the Hymn Book implied widespread public and theological debate.

Historically, there is a contrast between a liberal current inspired by N.F.S. Grundtvig and more strict, pietist or Bible fundamentalist movements (such as Indre Mission). These tensions have sometimes threatened to divide the Church. Tidehverv is a minor fraction based on Søren Kierkegaard's existentialism and Grundtvig's more conservative and national views.

The Danish National Church is member of the Porvoo Communion between Lutheran and Anglican Churches.


The Communion Service includes three readings from the Bible: a chapter from one of the Gospels, from one of the Epistles or another part of the New Testament and, since 1992, from the Old Testament. Texts are picked from an official list following the church year. Some liturgical features have a fixed content but are free to the form. This accounts for the Common Prayer following the sermon, where the priest is obliged to mention the royal house. Some will simply mention "the Queen and all her House" whereas others will list all members of the royal house by name and title.

The sermon, as in other Protestant churches, is a central part of the service. The priest takes a starting point in the text of that Sunday, but is free to form a personal message of it. At special occasions, even non-priests may be allowed to preach. Hymns are also very central. In contrast to Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, Danish congregations sit while singing and stand while listening to Bible readings.

As in other Lutheran churches, there are only two sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper. These are usually included in the Communion Service. Formerly individual or shared confession was a condition to receive the Lord's Supper. An official confession ritual still exists, but is now used very rarely. There are also official rituals for confirmation, wedding, blessing of a civil wedding and funerals. Emergency baptism may be performed by any Christian if necessary, and later the child will then be "produced" in Church.


Female clergy

Female clergy had been discussed within the church since the 1920s and was allowed in 1948, in spite of rather strong resistance from the clergy. The then present Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs was contacted by a parochial council who wished to employ a female priest. He decided there was no legal obstacle to that.[11] The first female bishop was instituted in 1995. Today two thirds of theology students are women, and the clergy is expected to have a female majority in near future.

Among a small conservative minority, resistance to female clergy remains. In 2007 the Bishop of Viborg, known as a moderately conservative, revealed he had paid special regards to priests who were known to be against female clergy. He had organised ordination ceremonies in a way so that new priests who wished so could avoid shaking hands or the laying on of hands by female priests. According to the bishop, this had happened twice of the 100 ordinations he had performed. The matter made headlines amidst a debate about Muslim fundamentalists who refuses to shake hands with members the opposite sex. Minister for Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs Bertel Haarder said he would discuss the matter with the bishops, but also that tolerance for various views should be respected. In contrast, Minister for Employment Claus Hjort Frederiksen thought the priests in question should be fired, as public employees are obliged to shake hands with anyone.[12]

Same-sex blessings

Since Denmark approved same-sex civil unions (registered partnership) in 1989, the question of church blessing ceremonies for such unions emerged. After an enquiry from the Danish National Association of Gays and Lesbians in 1993, bishops set up a commission to reach a stance on the matter.

In 1997, a compromise among the bishops was reached. The bishops maintained that the marriage was God's framework for the relation between a man and a woman, but this view of marriage was not affected by the fact that some people chose to live in a responsible community with a person of the same sex, approved by society, i.e. a registered partnership. The bishops disapproved of institutionalising new rituals, but couples who wished a non-ritualised marking in church of their registered partnership should be obliged. In such cases, it would be up to the rector to decide, and he should seek advice from his bishop.[13]

Seven bishops have approved a 'recommended scheme for church blessing of registered partnerships' for use in their dioceses, while four bishops have declined to do so.[14] The scheme has substantial omissions which distinguish it from the official (royally approved) ritual for a churchly blessing of a civilly performed marriage. About 30 percent of priests decline to perform church blessings of same-sex partnerships. Some priests, although they disapprove of same-sex marriage, approve of the blessing ceremony because everybody is entitled to the blessing of the church, and because registered partnerships are part of the civil legislation which should be respected.[citation needed]

A church blessing of a registered partnership is to distinguish from the legal ceremony, which is performed by a mayor or another municipal official. At occasions, the legal registered partnership ceremony has been performed not at the city hall, but outside the church, in the church porch, or even in the church itself, immediately followed by the church blessing ceremony. This is not approved by bishops, who claim there should be a clear difference between a marriage and a blessing of a registered partnership.[15]

Same-sex marriage

The possibility of same-sex marriage or civil unions performed by the church that are equivalent to marriage of heterosexual people has been under discussion for some years. The issue was brought up in an unusual way by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2004, who said he would approve of such a change, although he claimed to speak as a private person on this issue, not as prime minister.

Views among proponents vary whether such a ceremony should be called 'marriage' or merely 'registered partnership' (registreret partnerskab), as the present same-sex civil union is called. Most likely, clergy would be allowed to decide for themselves whether to perform same-sex marriages or not. Some pastors and laypeople argue the issue could be resolved by separating legal marriage from religious marriage, as is the case in many other countries. In 2004, a poll among pastors said 60% were against church marriage of same-sex couples.[16]

Similarly, there seems to be a political majority in favor of allowing same-sex marriage in the National Churches of Norway and Sweden; the Norwegian Parliament passed same-sex marriage legislation on June 11, 2008. In 2009 Sweden also changed from registered partnerships to same-sex marriage. The Church of Sweden, while now separate from the State, has since debated same-sex marriage; currently they allow blessings of same-sex couples in the church. In the Church of Sweden, a proposal to perform same-sex weddings was approved on October 22, 2009 by a majority of 176 of 249 voting members.[17]

A 2011 poll of the Danish public found that 75.8% of Danes approve of same-sex marriages being performed in the church.[18]

Gay and lesbian clergy exist, and this is considered a strictly personal issue.

Remarriage after divorce

A small number of ministers decline to re-marry divorced persons, one of the few instances where a priest may turn down a ceremonial duty.

Thorkild Grosbøll case

From 2004 to 2005 rector Thorkild Grosbøll was suspended for claiming he did not believe in ‘a creating and sustaining God’, but still wanted to serve as a priest.

Declaration Dominus Iesus

In 2000, the ecumenical department of the Church criticized the Roman Catholic declaration Dominus Iesus and said that it had a destructive effect on ecumenical relations if one church deprives another church of the right to be called a Church and that it is just as destructive as if one Christian denies another Christian the right to be called a Christian.[19]

Church and state

As head of the National Church, the monarch must belong to the same (article 6 of the Constitution). This applies to the whole royal house as well. As a result, the Prince Consort Henrik converted from Catholicism before marrying the Queen in 1968, and Mary Donaldson also converted from Presbyterianism before marrying Crown Prince Frederik in 2004.

Freedom of religion

With the Reformation in Denmark in 1536, Lutheran Christianity was established as the state religion. For the next century, in a time when religious wars swept Europe, harsh persecution of other faiths followed (Lutheran orthodoxy). Exceptions were granted only to foreign diplomats. For at least a period in the 16th century, small circles of clandestine Catholicism prevailed. From 1683, Roman Catholic, reformed and Jewish congregations were allowed in the new town of Fredericia, the latter two also in Copenhagen. Non-Lutherans were also allowed in Friedrichstadt and on Nordstrand in Slesvig and in Glückstadt in Holstein. With the constitution of 1849, freedom of religion was introduced in Denmark, but Lutheranism remained the state church.

Recognised and approved religions

A religious community does not need any state approval in order to enjoy the freedom of religion granted by the constitution. However, state-approved congregations (godkendte trossamfund) enjoy several privileges. They may conduct legal weddings, establish own cemeteries, get residence permits for foreign priests, are exempt of corporate and property tax, may apply for means from the state lottery fund, and members may tax-deduct membership fees and presents to the congregation.

Additionally, those congregations recognised by royal decree before 1970 (anerkendte trossamfund) may name and baptize children with legal effect, keep their own church registers and transcribe certificates on the basis of such registers (similar to the National Church, which is otherwise responsible for civil registry).[20]

This legal distinction between "recognised" and "approved" communities remains, but is mainly a historical one. Communities recognised before 1970 includes only eight well-established Christian communities as well as the Jewish one. From 1970 until the 1990s only a few more Christian congregations were approved, but since 1998, a much more liberal practice has ensued. Since then, a board of independent experts decide about approval of new religious communities. The board includes professors of law, religious studies and theology and works under the Ministry of Justice, deliberately separate from the Ministry of Ecclesiastical affairs. It merely investigates whether the organisation fulfills basic definitions, such as having a doctrine, creed and cult, in order to be called a congregation of faith. In 2003, the approval of the Asatro organisation Forn Sidr caused some public debate.

As of 2008, there are more than 100 recognised and approved religious communities, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim/Alevi, Buddhist, Hindu, Mandeans, Baha'i and Asatro ones.[21]

The Church of Scientology is not recognised as a religion in Denmark.

Lack of central authority

The church is in practice barred from having official positions in political or other matters, since it has no central bodies that could define such stances: nor a spiritual leader (such as an archbishop), nor a central assembly or synod. Bishops have the last say on doctrinal questions within their respective dioceses. The Queen (in practice the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs) and Parliament are the central bodies, but they usually keep to administrative matters and abstain from interfering with spiritual questions. Church laws are rarely changed, and, when it happens, only administrative matters are affected.

Firstly, these principles are generally believed to ensure a non-secterian, tolerant church where parishioners and priests enjoy a high degree of freedom to practise their own interpretation of Lutheran Christianity. Secondly, many Danish politicians and theologians claim that only this church-state-model will ensure the division of politics and religion, since the Church cannot interfere with political matters or even claim to speak with one voice on behalf of its members. They frequently discourage the term state church and argue it is, as its name states, the "people's church".

Article 66 of the Danish Constitution stipulates a church ordinance shall be laid down by law. This promissory clause dates back from the first Constitution of 1849 but was never put into practice. It was feared that splits could occur if a central authority were created.

In very few cases, politicians have devied from their traditional hands-off course in church doctrinal matters. In these cases, politicians have argued if they did not intervene in church politics, a split of the church might have been the result. See the issues of Female clergy and Same-sex marriage above.

Civil registration

The National Church basically conducts civil registration of births, deaths, change of name etc. (vital records). The keeping of such kirkebøger ("church books") is a centuries-long tradition, dating from when the parish rectors were the only government representatives in rural areas. Recent protests from, notably, Baptists and some Muslims have led to a minor change. In 2005, Minister for Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs Bertel Haarder announced that the keeping of vital records for non-members would be transferred to a central governmental office, so that they are no longer obliged to report to the Church.

Economic support

§ 4 in the Constitution of Denmark stipulates that "The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the National Church and shall be supported by the state". On the other hand, § 68 ensures that no one are obliged to pay personal contributions to any religion other than their own. It has been questioned how these two principles can co-exist. Non-members do not pay church tax, but an additional state subsidiary accounts for 12% of the Church's income. This means every citizen, even a non-member, contributes with an average of 130 kroner annually (23 USD). In addition, the bishops are high-ranking officials whose salary is fully paid by the state. In return, certain public tasks are carried out by the Church, such as conducting vital records registries and managing graveyards which are open to all denominations.

Separation of church and state

The debate about separation of church and state emerges occasionally in Denmark. The current relation is supported by most political parties. It has been challenged for decades by the left wing and by atheists; more recently also by some ideological liberalists and some members of free churches.

Proponents for a separation argue the state church violates equality of religions and the principle of the secular state. Proponents for the current system argue that membership is voluntary, that the National Church has ancient historical roots, and that the Church fulfills certain administrative tasks for the state. They also argue it would be difficult to decide whether church-owned real estate should be handed over to the state or not. The former possessions of the Catholic Church were ceded to the Crown at the reformation in 1536.

According to a poll conducted by the free daily MetroXpress in April 2007, 52% wished to split church and state, 30% were against, and 18% undecided. Minister for Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs Bertel Haarder, spoke out against a split: "Church and state will be separated when more than half of the population are no longer members. N.F.S. Grundtvig said so, and I support that." The oppositional Social Democrats also argued against a split, but said there should be more equality between denominations, possibly by a state subsidiary paid to other approved religious communities as well.[22] Immigrant groups and the Muslim society are divided on the issue, as some think official Christianity is much more preferable to a purely secular state.

Pure equality of religions exists only in a minority of Western European countries. Four other Nordic countries (Norway, Finland, Iceland, and The Faroe Islands), England and Greece have official state churches, while Scotland has an officially recognised "national church" without being connecting to the State. Spain, Portugal, Italy and Austria have official ties to Catholicism (concordat). Further there are varying degrees of public funding of the church in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Sweden − even after the Church of Sweden became independent in 2000 − and in most cantons of Switzerland.

Other current and former state and national churches in the Nordic Evangelical-lutheran tradition

See also


External links

Notes and references

  1. ^ the official English website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark
  2. ^ Official church statistics
  3. ^ (Danish)Statistics 1984 – 2002 by the Kirkeministeriet
  4. ^ (Danish)Statistics 1990 – 2009 Kirkeministeriet
  5. ^ (Danish) Statistics 2010
  6. ^ Official church statistics
  7. ^ Statistics 1990 - 2009 Kirkeministeriet (Danish)
  8. ^ Statistics Denmark
  9. ^ Confirmation statistics, Ministry of Church Affairs
  10. ^ Poll performed in December 2009 among 1114 Danes between ages 18 and 74, Hver fjerde dansker tror på Jesus (One in four Danes believe in Jesus), Kristeligt Dagblad, 23 December 2009 (Danish)
  11. ^ Priests against marriage of homosexuals in church, Kristeligt Dagblad, 14 January 2004
  12. ^ Minister for Employment: Fire the Discriminating Priests, Politiken, 2007-05-24 (Danish)
  13. ^ Declaration of Bishops on same-sex unions, 1997 (Danish)
  14. ^ Recommended scheme for church blessing of registered partnerships, Diocese of Roskilde (Danish)
  15. ^ Bishop enters case about blessings of homosexuals, Kristeligt Dagblad, 4 August 2003 (Danish)
  16. ^ Pastors against marriage of homosexuals in church, Kristeligt Dagblad, 14 January 2004
  17. ^ "Church of Sweden says yes to gay marriage"
  18. ^
  19. ^ To the Roman Catholic Church in Denmark
  20. ^ Freedom of religion and religious communities in Denmark, Danish Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs
  21. ^ Approved religious communities, Family Department, Danish Ministry of Justice
  22. ^ Danes want to split church from state, MetroXpress, 2007-04-04 (Danish)

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