Danish National Church

Danish National Church

The Danish National Church, Church of Denmark or Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark (Danish: "Den Danske Folkekirke" or "Folkekirken", meaning '(The Danish) National Church' or 'People's Church') is a state church and is the largest Christian church in Denmark, including Greenland. It is a Lutheran body and is officially supported by the government, but membership is voluntary. The Queen heads the Church, with the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs, currently Birthe Rønn Hornbech, as the highest administrative authority of the Church. The Danish parliament, Folketinget, is the supreme legislative authority for the church. 82.1% of Danes are members of the National Church, although less than 5% of them attend weekly services.


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 ("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.


According to official statistics from January 2008, 82,1% of Danes are members of the National Church [ [http://www.kirkeministeriet.dk/kirkestatistik.html Official church statistics] ] , although less than 5% of the members attend weekly services. Many more turn to the church for occasions such as christenings, confirmations, weddings and funerals. Membership rates vary from 66% in the Diocese of Copenhagen to 90% in the Diocese of Viborg.

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.


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:

* The Apostles' Creed
* The Nicene Creed
* The Athanasian Creed
* The Augsburg Confession
* Luther's Small Catechism

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 wide-spread 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 an observing member of the Porvoo Communion between Lutheran and Anglican Churches.


The High Mass 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 shortly mention "the Queen and all her House" whereas others will elaborate 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 the Anglican churches, Danish congregations sit while singing and stand while listening to Bible readings.

As in other Lutheran churches, there are only two sacraments, the Christening and the Eucharist. These are usually included in High Masses. Formerly individual or shared confession was a condition to receive the Eucharist. 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. [ [http://www.kristeligt-dagblad.dk/artikel/124512:Kirke---tro--Praester-imod-vielser-af-homoseksuelle-i-kirken "Priests againts marriage of homosexuals in church", Kristeligt Dagblad, 14 January 2004] ] 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 denied giving hands to 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. [ [http://politiken.dk/indland/article311649.ece "Minister for Employment: Fire the Discriminating Priests"] , Politiken, 2007-05-24 (Danish)]

ame-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 churchly marking 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. [ [http://www.lbl.dk/homopolitik/reg-partnerskab/biskoppernes-udtalelse-oktober-1997.html Declaration of Bishops on same-sex unions, 1997] (in Danish)]

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. [ [http://www.roskilde.folkekirken.dk/Stifter/Roskilde/I%20Kirken/Velsignelse%20af%20Homoseksuelle/Ritual%20for%20velsingelse%20af%20registreret%20partnerskab.aspx Recommended scheme for church blessing of registered partnerships, Diocese of Roskilde] (in Danish)] 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 homosexual "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.

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. [ [http://www.kristeligt-dagblad.dk/artikel/139657:Kirke---tro--Biskop-ind-i-sag-om-velsignelser-af-homoseksuelle "Bishop enters case about blessings of homosexuals", Kristeligt Dagblad, 4 August 2003] (in Danish)]

ame-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. [ [http://www.kristeligt-dagblad.dk/artikel/124512:Kirke---tro--Praester-imod-vielser-af-homoseksuelle-i-kirken "Pastors against marriage of homosexuals in church", Kristeligt Dagblad, 14 January 2004] ]

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.

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

Remarriage after divorce

A small number of priests 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.

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 Anglicanism 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 prosecution 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). [ [http://www.km.dk/fileadmin/share/Trossamfund/Freedom_of_religion.pdf "Freedom of religion and religious communities in Denmark"] , Danish Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs]

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. [ [http://www.familiestyrelsen.dk/11/godkendte-trossamfund/ Approved religious communities] , Family Department, Danish Ministry of Justice]

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

§ 2 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 don't pay church tax, but an additional state subsidiary accounts for 12 % of the Church's income. This means every citizen, even non-members, contribute 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.

eparation 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. Proponenents 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. [ [http://metroxpress.dk/dk/article/2007/04/04/10/1005-52/index.xml?print=1 "Danes want to split church from state"] , MetroXpress, 2007-04-04 (Danish)] 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 Scandinavian countries, England, Scotland, Greece and some cantons of Switzerland have official state churches. Spain, Portugal and Italy have official ties to Catholicism (concordat). Further there are varying degrees of public funding of the church in Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany and Sweden, even after the Church of Sweden became independent in 2000.


* [http://www.km.dk/fileadmin/share/Trossamfund/Freedom_of_religion.pdf Freedom of religion and religious communities in Denmark] , Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs
* [http://www.danmark.dk/portal/page?_pageid=34,329047&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL Members of the Church] (in Danish)
* [http://www.danmark.dk/portal/page?_pageid=34,329045&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL Church tax] (in Danish)
* [http://www.km.dk/statstilskud.html State fundings to the National Church] (in Danish)

ee also

* Danish Seamen’s Church and Church Abroad
* Danish Church in Southern Schleswig

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

* Church of Sweden - "Svenska kyrkan"
* Church of Norway - "Den norske kirke"
* National Church of Iceland - "Þjóðkirkjan"
* Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland - "Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko" (Swedish: "Evangelisk-lutherska kyrkan i Finland")
* Church of the Faroe Islands - "Hin føroyska fólkakirkjan"

External links

* [http://www.folkekirken.dk/ The Danish National Church] (in Danish)
* [http://www.km.dk/ The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs] (in Danish)

Notes and References

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