Denmark

By Sven Hagen Jensen

×

Sven Hagen Jensen, M.Div. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA) has worked for the church for over 50 years as a pastor, editor, departmental director, and church administrator in Denmark, Nigeria and the Middle East. Jensen enjoys reading, writing, nature and gardening. He is married to Ingelis and has two adult children and four grandchildren.

First Published: January 19, 2023

The Seventh-day Adventist message reached Denmark from the United States in 1872 by means of the Danish monthly Advent Tidende, which John G. Matteson, a native son of Denmark, had started primarily for the Scandinavian people in America. 

Country Overview

Denmark, officially the Kingdom of Denmark, is a country in Northern Europe that includes the autonomous territories of the Faroe Islands and Greenland in the North Atlantic Ocean. Denmark, spanning an area of 42,943 sq. km. (16,580 sq. mi.), consists of the peninsula Jutland and an archipelago of 443 named islands, of which the largest are Sjælland (Zealand), Fyn (Funen), and den Nordjyske Ø (the North Jutlandic Island). The combined area of the Kingdom, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands, is 2,210,575 sq. km. (853,345 sq. mi.). Denmark has a population of 5.9 million (as of October 2022). About eight hundred thousand live in the capital Copenhagen. Home rule was established in the Faroe Islands in 1948 and in Greenland in 1979; the latter obtained further autonomy in 2009.1 The national language is Danish. In the Faroe Islands they also speak their local language, Faroese, and in Greenland, Greenlandic. Norwegian and Swedish are understood by most Danes, and English and German are taught in primary school.

The name Danmark (Denmark) refers to the Danish March or the marches of the Danes.2 A popular legend, however, connects the name with King Dan (or Halfdan), one or more of the earliest kings of Denmark mentioned in medieval Scandinavian texts.3 The Danes can be traced back as early as 500 A.D. and was a North Germanic tribe inhabiting southern Scandinavia, including present day Denmark and the southern part of Sweden. The unified kingdom of Denmark emerged in the eighth century as a maritime power amid the struggle for control of the Baltic Sea. Queen Margrethe II, the present monarch, can trace her lineage back to the Viking kings, Gorm the Old and Harald Bluetooth, at the time when the Danes officially were Christianized (about 960), thus making the monarchy of Denmark the oldest in Europe.4

The earlier history of the country was marked by changes between phases of expansion and times of decline and civil wars. In the Viking era, Canute the Great ruled over England from 1016–1035. In the Middle Ages under the Valdemars (1157–1241) some of the regions by the Baltic Sea were conquered and added to the kingdom. And in the Kalmar Union (1397–1523), Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were under one ruler.5 From 1523 when the union broke up, there was a period of about 150 years when the aristocracy played a dominating role and exercised their influence on the various competitors to the throne. It was a time with strife and many wars. From 1660–1849 absolute power was given to the king.6 The introduction of autocracy also followed a hereditary kingship, the only statutory one in Europe. According to the constitution, Kongeloven (The Law of the King), from 1665 the king now had total power as lawmaker, regent, and supreme judge. In principle the kings could decide unilaterally, but few did, because they relied on advisors in the form of senior civil servants.7

Democracy was introduced in 1849, when male citizens over 30 years were given the right to elect the members of the two chambers in the Danish parliament, Folketinget and Landstinget. The new constitution, Danmarks Riges Grundlov (The Constitution of the Danish Kingdom), was implemented, and a tripartition between legislative, executive, and judicial powers was put in place. The civil rights like–inviolability of property rights, freedom of censorship, religious liberty, and political freedom of assembly–were enshrined in the constitution.8 In 1915 female citizens were also given their election rights.9 In 1953 the Landstinget was dissolved, so there remains only one chamber, Folketinget.10 The electoral age today is 18.

When the new constitution was voted in 1849, the king of Denmark also ruled the duchies of Slesvig, Holstein, and Lauenborg, of which the last two were part of the German Federation of 35 states and four free cities. There was an awaking in the duchies of German nationalism and an uprising among the pro-German, who wanted to free themselves from the rule of the Danish king. A three-year war (1848–1851) followed without any final settlement. In 1864, however, Prussia and Austria declared war on Denmark, and in the end, Slesvig, Holstein, and Lauenborg were lost to Denmark. It was a traumatic experience for the king and the nation that lost one-third of its territory and 40 percent of its population. After World War I, in 1920, a referendum was held in Slesvig, resulting in North Slesvig being reunited with Denmark.11

During World War II, Denmark was occupied by the Nazi regime of Germany from 1940 to 1945. After the war, in 1945, Denmark became a charter member of the United Nations (UN) and in 1949 a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 1960 Denmark joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) together with Austria, Great Britain, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland. In 1973 Denmark left the EFTA and became a member of the European Community (EC), which in 1993 with the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty became the European Union (EU).

Religion

The first attempt to Christianize Denmark that we have reports of took place around 710, when the English archbishop Willibrord traveled to Denmark to undertake missionary activity, but this attempt failed miserably.12 Gradually, however, Christianity came to Denmark, especially when the Roman Catholic archbishop Ansgar from Hamburg was allowed to build a church in 848 in Hedeby in Southern Jutland.13 Around 960 King Harald Bluetooth raised a runic stone in Jelling for his parents, Gorm and Thyra, with the inscription that at the end states “The Harald who conquered all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.”14 This was an indication that also the king had accepted the new faith and by this made Christianity the official religion, although there is evidence that the old Nordic religion thrived alongside Christianity for still some years. With the introduction of Christianity followed the custom and art of building churches. First, they were built in wood. But from about 1050–1250 churches in stone were built all over the country and today can be seen everywhere.15

Like much of western Europe, the Roman Catholic faith was the state religion in Denmark all through the Middle Ages. It was not until the early part of the sixteenth century that the teachings of Luther were introduced. In 1536, after a series of civil struggles, Lutheranism became the new state religion.16 It is still the official religion of the country as laid down in the constitution, although religious liberty is guaranteed. In 2021 73.8 percent of the population were members of the Evangelical-Lutheran church, but only 2.4 percent attend church every week. There are 45,000 Catholics and about 400 free churches with a membership of 50,000. The population of 250,000 adhere to Islam, 35,000 are Buddhists, about twenty-five thousand are Hindus, and 6,000 are Jews. According to a recent (2017) poll, 48 percent of the Danish population consider themselves as non-believers.17 There are at present 2,362 Seventh-day Adventists.18

The Beginning of Seventh-day Adventist Work

The Seventh-day Adventist message reached Denmark from the United States in 1872 by means of the Danish monthly Advent Tidende, which John G. Matteson, a native son of Denmark, had started primarily for the Scandinavian people in America. During May of the same year, Matteson received a letter from a man who had already begun to keep the Sabbath and who was distributing the papers among his neighbors in order to win others. In June Matteson sent 20 daler ($11) to another man in Denmark and asked him to have a tract on the Sabbath printed and distributed. Later Matteson received word that 1,000 copies had been printed and given out; he received many encouraging letters from readers of the Advent Tidende in Denmark, stating that they had begun to follow the teachings of the Bible as they had found them taught in the papers.

In 1875 M. A. Sommer wrote from Denmark that he had been reading the Advent Tidende for two years. As the printer of a monthly paper with a circulation of 4,000, he asked for and received permission of the officers in Battle Creek to incorporate articles from the Advent Tidende into his paper. But when he boldly attacked the ministers of the state church, he was arrested and imprisoned for two months in 1876.

In March 1877 one of the interested readers wrote of some of his attempts to win others. “I hope that the Lord in His mercy will allow His workers to visit Denmark, so that souls also here may be won for the Lord.” After receiving several such letters from different parts of Denmark, Matteson wrote to James White, the president of the General Conference, asking for permission to leave his work in the U.S. and take up missionary work in Denmark. His request was granted, and he was promised the prayers and financial support of American Adventists. Thus, 22 years after leaving his homeland, Matteson arrived in Denmark on June 6, 1877, as the pioneer Adventist worker to all the Scandinavian countries. J. N. Andrews at that time had been in Switzerland for three years. Soon after arriving, Matteson printed a hymnbook containing 70 psalms. He organized Sabbath Schools wherever he found a few interested persons and began the first temperance society in Denmark. After a few months, in spite of great opposition and even threats on his life, he baptized nine converts. In May 1878 he organized the first Seventh-day Adventist church in Denmark, the Alstrup church in Vendsyssel, with 27 members. This was the first Adventist church in Northern Europe.

In September 1878 Knud Brorson arrived from America, having been sent by the General Conference to assist Matteson and thus release him to make frequent trips to Norway and Sweden, where he was fostering a growing work. To aid him further, Matteson selected qualified laymen whom he trained; others he taught how to sell books and papers. On July 1, 1881, Matteson sent out the first issue of Sundhedsbladet, an eight-page monthly health magazine. By this time Matteson had written 30 different pamphlets and tracts that were being distributed all over Scandinavia. At the time of the Denmark Conference session held in June 1906, there were in Denmark 18 churches with 746 church members. Although the membership and resources in Denmark were small, they joined other Scandinavian countries in opening mission work in Ethiopia. Seven years later Denmark sent two licensed ministers to the Faroe Islands as colporteur evangelists, and in 1953 the first worker was sent to open the work in Greenland (see Greenland Mission).

The first church school in Denmark was opened in Dronninglund in 1883. Seven years later another school was started at Hellum, which functioned for many years under the name of Jerslev Friskole, then in 1964 combined with another school to form the Jerslev-Ostervraa Friskole. By 1898 there were six church schools in Denmark, one in Copenhagen and the other five in Jutland. Later schools were added in Roskilde (1966), Ringsted (1968), and Tórshavn, Faroe Islands (1966), while some of the ones in Jutland have been discontinued. At present (2023) there are four remaining elementary church schools in Denmark. In 1887 M. M. Olsen came from America and in 1890 started a mission school that became Vejlefjord Højskole (Danish Junior College), at present known as Vejlefjordskolen.

In September 1897 a small sanitarium, Frydenstrand, was opened in Frederikshavn in north Jutland by Dr. Carl Ottosen. Later the institution was sold to a private church member, who for years continued the medical work that the denomination had begun. Ottosen opened a second medical institution in 1898 at Skodsborg, 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of Copenhagen, in two small buildings. Through the years this sanitarium grew to be one of the largest operated by Adventists anywhere in the world (see Skodsborg Badesanatorium/Skodsborg Sanitarium). Through the years there have also been more than sixty private clinics run by Skodsborg trained physiotherapists scattered throughout Denmark. From about 1930--1976 the church also ran an old people’s home, Aftenhvile, in Nærum. The building is now turned into offices for the Danish Union of Churches and ADRA Denmark, as well as apartments.

Shortly after the Skodsborg Sanitarium was founded, a food factory was established in Copenhagen, which was later operated at Bjæverskov near Ringsted as Nutana Food Factory. From 1992, when the church in Denmark was reorganized into the Danish Union of Churches, the sanitarium and the food factory were no longer in the hands of the church. A publishing house was organized in 1905 to distribute literature printed in Norway, a function that had been handled by a private firm since 1893. In 1966 the Danish Publishing House, Dansk Bogforlag, moved from Copenhagen to Odense, where it produced books, magazines, and other literature until 1992, when the house-to-house sales in Denmark had been prohibited and the traditional literature evangelism work had to stop. Literature distribution then moved to the church headquarters in Nærum (see Danish Publishing House).19

Growth and Mission

Public evangelism, together with sale and distribution of literature, played a major role in sharing the Advent message the first many years in the history of our church. Especially at the time of World War I and II and the years between, many turned out to listen to the prophetic messages. TV and the Internet were no competition, and in the winter months halls, hotels, and classrooms were filled with eager listeners all over the country. In the summer months especially, colporteurs visited the farms and villages and towns. Among the more prominent preachers were M. M. Olsen, J. F. Hansen, J. C. Raft, Chr. Resen, Tobias, and Chr. Tobiassen, J. F. Kirkeløkke, G. H. Westmann, and Axel Varmer. There were barely any church buildings at the time. New churches were organized, and the church members would gather in private homes, clinics, and hired halls.20 By 1930 Seventh-day Adventists and their friends met for Sabbath School and worship services in more than eighty locations, of which 51 had organized churches.21 In 1947 the Danish Bible Correspondence School was organized, and a new way of evangelism was opened.22 In 1968 the church peaked with 4,062 members in 64 organized congregations.23 Also, in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s a number of new church buildings were increased to accommodate the growing number of members.24 In 1963 a youth and conference center was built in Kikhavn, Northern Zealand, and in 1978 another youth and conference center, Himmerlandsgaarden, was acquired in Northern Jutland.25

In the 1970’s and 1980’s evangelists from Australia, New Zealand, and the USA came to Northern Europe and Denmark to revive public evangelism. Among them the most notable were J. F. Coltheart, David Lawson, and Mark Finley. Again, crowds were gathering, but the hardened secular mind has been difficult to reach. The media ministry has received much more attention in the last few years, and new methods and approaches are being developed to reach out to the public. Centers of Influence is the newest approach.

Welfare work (Dorcas) can be found in almost every church. Loads of secondhand clothing was shipped to needy countries in Europe and Africa. Today the Happy Hand shops with recycled goods raise funds for needy causes. In a number of years health and temperance work with Stop Smoking clinics and temperance movies in public schools were promoted. Pathfinder work has been growing and today reaches out to many non-Adventist children and teenagers.26

Over the years 93 individuals have been sent from the church in Denmark to foreign fields as regular missionaries, many with their spouses. Thirty-four went to East Africa, 26 to West Africa, 12 to Greenland, eight to the Middle East, five to India, two to Pakistan, and also to South America, Indonesia, Manchuria, Nepal, Madagascar, and Russia. They were sent as pioneer workers, mission directors, business administrators, teachers, physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, etc. In addition, 23 persons have been sent out on short term assignments and 21 through ADRA as country and program directors, builders, student missionaries, and more. This does not count other Danes who are serving the church in North America, Europe, and Australia.27

Within the last 12-15 years an influx of refugees, especially from Rwanda and DR Congo in East Africa, have impacted the church. Many of them have come as Adventists or with an Adventist background. This has given a new dynamic to an otherwise aging church. The growing number of children and the emphasis to singing and fellowship has given new life, but also challenges with translation, finance, and transportation. Also, new initiatives to reach out to the population in Greenland has been set in motion with literature in their native language and house-to-house visitation in the summer months.

The secular impact on the church is formidable. Children, teenagers, and young people are daily bombarded with aggressive non-biblical values through public institutions, the press, and the social and other medias. The Seventh-day Adventist children, youth, and pathfinder department (SABUS), together with Adventist homes and schools, try to provide a better alternative through written and digital materials, church activities, camps, events, and Bible teaching.

Churches and Institutions

Since 1880 there have been about one hundred ten organized Adventist churches of different sizes. Some were house churches, others met in rented halls, or owned their own meeting place. There have been 45 church buildings, of which 38 remain. Today there are 40 organized churches. As mentioned above, the once so well renowned institutions Skodsborg Sanatorium, the Danish Food Factory, and the Danish Publishing House are no longer operative. The remaining institutions are in addition to the Danish Junior College, Vejlefjordskolen, and the Bible Correspondence School, two nursing homes, Solbakken (1973) in Randers, and Søndervang (1976) in Faxe. In 1988 the Historic Archive of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Denmark (HASDA) was opened. 28

Organization

Less than three years after his arrival in Denmark, on May 30, 1880, Matteson organized the first conference outside of North America, the Denmark Conference, with seven churches and 120 adherents, of whom 91 were baptized members. From 1902 to 1931 the Denmark Conference was part of the Scandinavian Union Conference, which was made up of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Greenland. At a session held during March 18-22, 1931, the Scandinavian Union was divided to form the East Nordic and the West Nordic Union conferences. The latter included the countries of Denmark and Norway. In the same year, Denmark was divided to form the East Denmark and the West Denmark conferences. In 1992 the West Nordic Union Conference was dissolved, and the Danish Union of Churches was formed29 (see Danish Union of Churches Conference for more details). 30

Sources

“Christianity comes to Denmark.” The National Museum of Denmark, https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/religion-magic-death-and-rituals/christianity-comes-to-denmark.

“Denmark.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denmark

“Enevælden 1660-1849” (Autocracy 1660-1849). Danmarkshistorien.dk, Aarhus Universitet, Aarhus.

“Kvinders valgret 1849-1915” (Women´s election rights 1845-1915). Danmarkshistorien.dk, Aarhus Universitet, Aarhus.

Asholm, Gunnar, “50 år med Korrespondanceskolen” (50 Years with the Correspondence School). Adventnyt, June 1997.

Feldbæk, Ole. Danmarks Historie (The History of Denmark). Copenhagen, Denmark: Gyldendahl, 2021.

Fenger, Ole. “Kirkebyggeriet” (The building of churches). Danmarkshistoriern.lex.dk website.

Historic Archive of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Denmark (HASDA), Vejlefjordskolen, Daugård.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1931 and 1969.

Website: Grænseforeningen for en åben danskhed (The Border Association for an open Danish Nationality).

Notes

  1. “Denmark,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denmark.

  2. “Etymology of Denmark,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_Denmark.

  3. The Chronicle of Lejre (Chronicon Lethrense), written about 1170, states that Dan first ruled Zealand. When he had saved his people from an attack by Emperor Augustus the Jutes, the men of Funen and Scania accepted him as king. His wife was named Dana. “Dan (King),” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_(king)

  4. “History of Denmark,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Denmark.

  5. Ole Feldbæk, Danmarks Historie (Copenhagen, Denmark: Gyldendahl, 2021).

  6. Ibid.

  7. “Enevælden 1660-1849,” Danmarkshistorien.dk, Aarhus Universitet, Aarhus. https://danmarkshistorien.dk/vis/materiale/enevaelden.

  8. Ole Feldbæk, 189-190.

  9. “Kvinders valgret 1849-1915,” Damarkshistorien.dk, Aarhus Universitet, Aarhus. https://danmarkshistorien.dk/vis/materiale/kvindelig-valgret-1849-1915.

  10. “Landstinget,” Wikipedia. https://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landstinget.

  11. “Treårskrigen 1848-1850” (The Three-Year War 1848-1850) and “Krigen i 1864” (The War of 1964), Grænseforeningen for en åben danskhed, from https://graenseforeningen.dk/om-graenselandet/leksikon/treaarskrigen-1848-1850-under-redigering and https://graenseforeningen.dk/om-graenselandet/leksikon/krigen-i-1864. Accessed November 18, 2022.

  12. “Christianity comes to Denmark,” the website of the National Museum, https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/religion-magic-death-and-rituals/christianity-comes-to-denmark.

  13. “Ansgar,” Wikipedia. https://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ansgar.

  14. “Jellinge stenene,” the website of the National Museum.

  15. Ole Fenger, “Kirkebyggeriet” (The building of churches), Danmarkshistorien.lex.dk website. https://danmarkshistorien.lex.dk/Kirkebyggeriet.

  16. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996), “Denmark.”

  17. “Denmark,” Wikipedia.

  18. September 30, 2022.

  19. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996), “Denmark.” And information kept in the Historic Archive of Seventh-day Adventists in Denmark (HASDA).

  20. Personal knowledge of the author.

  21. “Denmark Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (1931), 227.

  22. Gunnar D. Asholm, “50 år med Korrespondanceskolen,” Adventnyt, June 1997, 8-9.

  23. “East Denmark Conference,” “West Denmark Conference,” and “Greenland Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (1969), 196-197.

  24. Personal knowledge of the author.

  25. Ibid. And information from HASDA.

  26. Ibid.

  27. “Missionærer i udlandet” (Missionaries abroad), HASDA files, accessed November 21, 2022.

  28. Email message from Preben Jalving, HASDA, November 21, 2022.

  29. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996), “Denmark.”

  30. Danish Union of Churches Conference. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=2CSY.

×

Jensen, Sven Hagen. "Denmark." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 19, 2023. Accessed April 09, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BCT3.

Jensen, Sven Hagen. "Denmark." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 19, 2023. Date of access April 09, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BCT3.

Jensen, Sven Hagen (2023, January 19). Denmark. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 09, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BCT3.