Iceland, Protestantism in

Iceland, Protestantism in
   Iceland was under Danish rule at the time of the Reformation, and most of the country accepted the decision of Denmark's rulers to adhere to the Lutheran cause. After the defeat of a minor rebellion, when Jon Arason, the bishop of Hölar, refused to break with Rome, there was a gradual transition to Lutheran practice. In the short term, the most important impact was the closing of the monasteries. In the long term, worship in Icelandic (rather than Latin or Danish) meant that the church became the center of the developing Icelandic identity.
   When Iceland obtained home rule in 1874, the new constitution, while granting religious freedom, maintained the Evangelical Lutheran Church as "a national church . . . supported by the State." This was reaffirmed in the 1944 constitution of the new independent Republic of Iceland. Democratic reforms were adopted early in the 20th century that allowed for some independent decision making in parish councils, and let congregations choose their own pastors. Under a 1998 law, the church became largely autonomous, though it is still the designated established church, supported by government taxes. At the end of the 19th century, Lutherans who wanted freedom from the state church founded the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Iceland, which now has in excess of 7,000 members.
   The majority of Icelanders are members of the state church. Almost all children are baptized as Lutheran and more than 90 percent are subsequently confirmed. The church conducts 75 percent of all marriages and 99 percent of all funerals. At the same time, participation and church attendance is low. Liberal theology and biblical criticism are pursued at the Department of Theology of the University of iceland, although there is still a large conservative core that opposes many of these innovations.
   Iceland's relative isolation and small population (about 250,000) have made it a low priority for the international Free Church movements. In the 1890s, the Salvation Army and the Seventh-day Adventist Church established work, followed in the 20th century by the Christian Brethren, the Pentecostalists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Baptists.
   The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland is a member of the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches.
   See also Denmark.
   Further reading:
   ■ Jön R. Hjâlmarsson, History of Iceland: From the Settlement to the Present Day (Reykjavik Iceland Review, 1993)
   ■ L. S. Hunter, Scandinavian Churches: A Picture of the Development of the Churches of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden (London: Faber & Faber, 1965)
   ■ Karl Sigurbjörnsson, The Church of Iceland: Past and Present (Reykjavik: Church of iceland, 1998).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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