A Brief History of the Evangelical Covenant Church

Psa 119:63 I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.


This wepage presents the history of the Evangelical Covenant Church in a brief form. See the Annotated Bibliography for extended treatments of the history. Many important names and places are left out of this webpage due to the desire to make the page usable by a wider audience.

Apologies are offered in advance for important and missing pieces of information. In particular, if you have a relative who was important in Covenant Church history and he/she is not mentioned, I hereby apologize.

Hopefully, this page will present not mere historical accidents, but a sense of our God's Providence that was involved in the founding and history of the Covenant Church.

Intended Audience

The intended audience of this page is anyone on the Internet who wants to know the major points in Covenant Church history, but is intimidated by the 800+ page history of the Covenant Church, "By One Spirit" by Karl A. Olsson.

The contents of this page are largely drawn from Olsson's fine book. Due to the large amount of reliance on his materials, there is no direct cross referencing to his book. His book has a fine index which should allow anyone who wants to examine the events described herein in more details than this page allows. This page is intended to be a structure of history rather than a detailed history.

This audience may include long time members of the church who want to know more about their own church's history as well as prospective members who want to know what they are getting into before they commit to membership.

Finally, students of denominations may be interested in this history since there is very little detailed historical information presently available on the Internet (early 2003). Hopefully this will be changing in the near future. Here are some additional resources for research.

The numerous hyperlinks in this page will hopefully lead the curious down many interesting paths well beyond the scope of this page.

Broad Brushstrokes

The history of the Covenant Church started amidst the waves of revival in the Lutheran state church of Sweden (map of Sweden) and continues to the United States (map of USA) with the waves of immigration in the mid to late 1800's. The rigid faith of the state church was challenged by the people who had life breathed into them by the revivals. These people were called Pietists.

This page is the story of those people. Their story continues to be expressed to this day in the church called the Covenant.

Index to this Webpage

Additional Resources

Christianity Comes Late to Sweden - 829

Christianity came late to Sweden. Sweden was the last country in Europe to become Christianized. In 829, Ansgar, the first missionary, was sent to Sweden. Ansgar came at the request of the Swedish king/chieftain, Björn who asked the son of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious to send a monk in order to introduce the Christian faith. In turn, Louis sent Angsgar to Birka. The first Christian (Roman Catholic) church was built there by Ansgar. In some ways, this event was a foreshadow of the first non-Swedish church being built many years later by George Scott.

The manner that this happened is important since from the earliest days in Sweden Christianity was a top down, rather than bottom up, faith.

The Protestant Reformation in Sweden

Olavus Petri

Olavus Petri was a disciple of Martin Luther in Germany. Petri was responsible for bringing the Protestant Reformation from Germany to Sweden. Petri made the first translation of the Scriptures into Swedish in 1526.

King Vasa

Like the initial penetration of the church into Sweden, the Swedish Reformation was a top-down process. The King of Sweden, Gustav Vasa (1523-1561), saw that a large part of the land was owned by the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation in Europe gave him an opprunity to change that situation.. By aligning himself with the Protestant Reformation, particularly the Lutheran branch, Vasa gained control of this land. The church was organized under the state. At the Diet of Vasteras in 1527, Vasa got power over the church. The church in Sweden was the state church.

Pietist Beginnings

Pietism has its roots in Germany. There was a long recognition by many that the Reformation started by Luther had not reached down far enough into the hearts of the people. This was to take form in the writings of many who called for reforms in the church and these calls formed the basis of Pietism.

Arndt "True Christianity" 1609

Johann Arndt was a German parish priest who was looking for ways to increase the piety of his church. Arndt wrote "True Christianity" which outlined his program for piety. He was a write of other devotional works.

Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705)

Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) was a German Lutheran pastor and is known as the father of Pietism. Spener sought to reform the Lutheran Church of Germany which was rigidly organized based on class distinctions. Spener proposed changes to the church which included small groups, implementation of the priesthood of all believers and a change to presbyterian polity.

In 1675 Spener wrote a forward to Johann Arndt's sermons on the Gospels. This large forward was so popular that it was published on its own as a tract titled, "Pia Desideria: or Heartfelt Desires for a God-pleasing Improvement of the True Protestant Church." Spener offered six proposals for improving the church including reform in the use of Scripture, improving the nature of theological education and aiming sermons at spiritual edification rather than demonstrations of the preacher's erudition.

Spener was an advocate of conventicles.

August Hermann Francke (mid 1600's)

Francke was an early German social reformer. He was a professor at the Martin Luther University which was in Halle. He was a parish pastor when he observed the misery that followed the thirty years war in Europe. He built a university, orphanage and library at Halle.

During the war, Francke sent pastors to Russia to care for Swedish prisoners. There were revivals among these Swedish prisoners in Russia. After their return to Sweden at the end of the war, they spread the message of Pietism. This outlines several of these places and persons.

Count Von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

The Moravians (aka  Herrnhutters) were founded in Bohemia in 1457. They were followers of John Hus.

Count Zinzendorf encountered the Moravians in Germany in 1722 when they petitioned to stay on his land. The Moravians (also known as Unitas Fratrum/Bohemian Brethren/Moravian Brethren) were missionaries to Europe. Zinzendorf gave them land and they founded a colony called Herrnhut. The Herrnhutter's ideas about Christian life was very similar to what would eventually be the views of the Covenant Church.

For Zinzendorf, God acts with us in our emotions. This was contrary to the prevailing views that the Christian faith as intellectual and propositional. Zinzendorf looked at the question of how the mentally incompetent can relate to God. He saw that there was more than intellect in faith.

The First Non-State Church Built in Sweden - 1840

From the time of the Reformation until the 1840 the state church in Sweden was the only church.

The Industrial Revolution was brought to Sweden by the English Industrialist, Samuel Owen. Owen had worked with James Watt (inventor of the steam engine) in Birmingham, England. Owen came to Stockholm, Sweden in 1809 and built a plant to build steam engines. Owen was a committed Methodist. In 1830 Owen brought a Methodist preacher, George Scott, to preach to the English language workers at his plant.

Scott quickly learned Swedish and started conducting services in Swedish. Scott's Methodism stressed personal conversion. Scott for at least a while was shielded from the authorities since he was a foreigner. In a key event of free church history, Scott built the first non-state church (the Bethlehem Church) in 1840.

Scott was the publisher of what became the newpaper of the revival, Pietisten (the Pietist).

Scott was deported out of Sweden for violation of the Conventicles act of 1726 which outlawed conventicles in Sweden. This law was not revoked until 1858.

The Revival in Sweden

Revival broke out in Sweden. These are some of the main leaders of the revival movement.

Carl O. Rosenius (1816-1868)

Rosenius became the leader of the revival in Sweden after Scott was deported. He is so closely associated with the revival that the revival is often termed the "Rosenian Revival"

Rosenius was a layman who took over the position as the editor of the Pietisten for Scott. The influence of the Pietisten on the revival is primary. This is the publication that was read by the lasare and colporteurs.

Paul Peter Waldenström (1838-1917)

P. P. Waldenström heard Rosenius preach in 1858 and was moved by the Pietist message. He wrote an allegory titled "Squire Adammson", in 1862, which was critical of the state church and portrayed the means of salvation outside of the wisdom of the church.

Waldenström became a leader of the free church movement in Sweden.  He was a part of the Uppsalla Communion Controversy.

Waldenström became the editor of the Pietisten after the death of Rosenius (1868).

Waldenström's views on the nature of the church were important to what would eventually become the Evangelical Covenant Church and Evangelical Free Church in America. Most importantly, his view of the atonement would start a controversy which would shake loose the foundational influence of the creeds on the early Mission Friends. Waldenström was the editor of the Pietisten in 1868 after the death of Rosenius.

Waldenström visited America three times beterrn 1889 and 1910. These visits were very important to the Mission Friends.

Waldenström remained a member of the state church of Sweden until his death and he is buried in the Swedish state church cemetary.

Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899)

D. L. Moody was an American evangelist/revivalist who was very influential in the Swedish revival movement of the mid 1800's. Doctrinally he was an "attenuated Calvinist." Moody taught the Methodist view of the "separated life". In his preaching, he emphasized instantaneous conversion. Moody was connected to the Mission Friend in many ways. He gave them money and they had him preach in 1869. He was also a Dispensationalist.

Carl Johan Nyvall (1829-1904)

C. J. Nyvall was a follower of Waldenström. He had lived at Waldenström's house while in school. C. J. Nyvall was at the organizational meetings of both the Swedish Covenant Church and the church that would become the Evangelical Covenant Church. Traveled as itinerant preacher through the midwest in the winter of 1884 and into early 1885. He is the father of David Nyvall.

Carl A. Bjork

Bjork was a cobbler in Sweden when he was converted under the Rosenian revival. He became a colporteur and came to Swede Bend in 1864. The revival broke out there in 1867 under his preaching.

Like the colporteurs of his day, he used to preach by reading the Pietisten. One day, someone his his copy and he was forced to preach extemporaneously and had great success preaching from his heart. Later he took over the Mission Synod from Sanngren.

Eric August Skogsburgh

Skogsburgh was a Mission Friends revivalist. He was called the "Swedish Moody", Skogsburgh had arrived in Chicago in 1876. He favored the mass meeting and mass media. He deliberately modeled his approach around Moody. His method peaked in the period from 1870's through 1900 although he lived much longer.

David Nyvall (1863-1946)

David Nyvall was a noted speaker and educator. Nyvall was president of the seminary. The North Park seminary classroom building is named after David Nyvall. Nyvall was brother-in-law to Skogsburgh. Nyvall was involved in the gold scandal. Nyvall early on recognized that the second and third generation of the Covenant Church would need to be an American rather than a Swedish church. Nyvall left the seminary over the gold scandal and returned later. He served as the president of the seminary until 1924.

Musicians of the Revival

The Rosenian revival had musicians who captured the spirit of the revival in simple songs. These songs had a deep piety. Knowing more about the lives of these musicians may help to bridge the gap between the hymnal and praise music generations by facilitating understanding of why these songs are so precious to our older Covenant folks. Their stories are captured in the book, "Twice-Born Hymns" (which is unfortunately out of print).

Oscar Ahnfelt (1813-1882)

Ahnfelt had been converted under Rosenius. Ahnfelt was committed to the revival in Sweden. Ahnfelt was a prolific songwriter who wrote over 200 hymns for the revival. He was known as "the Lord's Troubador." He advocated free church congregations. He was a missionary in 1850.

Lina Sandell-Berg (1832-1903)

Lina Sandell wrote 650 hymns for the revival.

Nils Frykman (1843-1911)

Nils Frykman was one of the foremost songwriters of the revival penning over 300 hymns. He was a pastor in the Covenant Church.

Issues that Affected the Formation of the Covenant Church

There were several key issues that affected the formation of the Covenant Church in Sweden and the US. They are described in the following sections.

Church Membership Openness

The state church of Sweden had included every person born in the country. This meant that the state church included non-regenerate persons. This was disturbing to the children of the Rosenian revival. Many of them believed that church membership should be restricted to the regenerate only.

Waldenström's Atonement Controversy (1872)

Waldenström had a view of the atonement which was out of step with the predominant view in his day. This led to a great deal of division in the free church in Sweden and very quickly in America. His views are:

  1. The fall of man did not change God's heart.
  2. Wrath was not in God's mind afer the fall.
  3. The change after the fall was in man.
  4. The atonement takes away man's sin.
  5. The atonement is in Jesus Christ.

The adoption of this view by many of the Pietists shook the confidence in the Augsburg Confession (1530) which had been a cornerstone of belief. This led to an increase of the notion as the Bible as the only reliable rule for faith.

Uppsala Communion Case (1876)

The Mission Society wanted to celebrate communion with the lasare inside the society and outside of the State Church of Sweden. This was a violation of church law. Waldenström served communion outside of the sanctuary. This set off a firestorm of controversy and trouble centered around Waldenström.

Free Church Concept

The Free Church concept traces to the writings of Martin Luther where he wrote:

Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practise other Christian works. (From: The German Mass and Order of Divine Service, Jan. 1526 by Martin Luther, 1483-1546 - Read entire text.)

Many churches include this small group concept today as their home or cell church meetings.

Immigration to America

A total of 1.3 million Swedes came to America. 300,000 did not remain, but returned to Sweden. Among the reasons that the Swedes came to North America were the famines in Sweden, lack of airable land in Sweden, the practice of primogenitor where the oldest son inherited the family farm, the romantic notions of the "get rich quick" experience in America and stories that had come back from the people who had already emmigrated. For women, Sweden offered few opportunities.

Hawkinson paints in vivid pictures the immigrant experience of uprooting, planting and managing that the early pioneers embodied.

Formation of the Covenant in Sweden (1878)

The Svenska Missionsforbundet (SMF) was formed in Sweden in 1878. This is now known as the Swedish Mission Church.

Synods and Mission Societies

The Covenant Church was founded out of a series of synods and mission societies that had attempted to organize Swedish Lutherans in America. For the Swedes, the Synods were an experiment in organization that failed fairly quickly. They failed for many reasons. One of the reasons that the Synods failed was the widespread adoption of the atonement views of Waldenström by the children of the Rosenian revival. This led the people to the view that the Bible alone is trustworthy. Another reason was the influence of the children revival who rejected the idea of church membership consisting of unregenerate people.

The ancestry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is described here.

General Synod (Founded 1820)

The General Synod was founded in 1820. By 1860 two-thirds of the Lutherans in America were part of the General Synod. The General Synod split in 1867. This Synod was predominently German.

This synod was split into two camps. One was the conservative - symbolist camp and the other was the liberal "American" camp.

Synod of Northern Illinois

The Swede Esbjorn joined in 1851 as the first Swedish pastor. Others followed. The rest were German. in 1860 the Swedish churches resigned.

Augustana Synod

The Augustana Synod was founded in 1860 from the Scandanavian Lutheran churches which left the Synod of Northern Illinios. This synod was confessional - requiring the unmodified Augburg Confession. One of the weaknesses of the Augustana Synod was the low standard for church membership. There was no explicit requirement that members be regenerate. This would be a serious deficiency for the Swedish Mission Friends.

Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society (Swede Bend, Iowa)

The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society was formed in Swede Bend, Iowa July 4, 1868 from of the Augustana Synod. C. Bjork preached there.

Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society (Princeton, Illinois)

A Rosenian family, the Lundholms founded this mission society in 1867 in Priceton. They attracted a lot of attention and were known for exuberance.

Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Mission in the United States

Formed in Keokuk, Iowa in 1972. Charles Anderson was the first chairman. They ordained and licensed. They made sure that their pastors preached the word and administered the sacraments properly. They had a school in Keokuk, Iowa.

Mission Society

The Mission Society was incorporated in 1870. They were the first to have lay-led communion. They licensed ministers and later ordained them. The Mission  Friends got their "apostolic succession" when they were ordained by a Swedish pastor. Due to Charles Anderson, Sanngren then Bjork were ordained.

Mission Friends

The First Mission Friend congregation was formed in 1868. The Mission Friends incorporated in 1871. Mission Friends continued to meet through the 1930's. Their meetings were known for three things. They had open preaching where anyone that was gifted could preach. They had open questions and discussions. The questions were judged for appropriateness and then discussed together as a group. They had close and warm fellowship.

Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Ansgari Synod (aka Ansgar Synod)

Formed by Charles Anderson and others in 1874. The Ansgar Synod had nearly as many churches but a much smaller membership than the Mission Synod. They held to the three creeds and the unaltered Augsburg Confession.

Mission Society at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Chicago

When a Swedish immigrant arrived at Immanuel Lutheran church in Chicago, he has the pastor, Pastor Carlson if there are any Christians in the church. The pastor understood that he meant are there any children of the Rosenian revival in the church. The pastor pointed out a couple of others. These like minded individuals formed a Mission Society inside the church in 1867. Initially, they did not consider themselves a new church. The first meeting outside the church was held in 1869. They incorporated in 1870.

Mission Synod

The first Mission Friends congregation was formed in 1868 and the synod was incorporated in 1871.

Evangelical Free Church

The Evangelical Free church was formed out of the split in the Mission Friends between the more radical free church advocates and the other Mission Friends who wanted to organize together. Those who favored the more radical free church form where there was no denomination connection between the churches became a part of the Evangelical Free Church.

The Free Church Triumvirate of J. G Princell, John Martinson and Fredrik Franson were cornerstones of this movement. Princell had been suspended and defrocked from the Augustana Synod for holding to the Waldenström view of the atonement. Princell had been presiden of Ansgar College.

There were a couple of attempts to merge the Evangelical Free Church with the Covenant Church. The first of these came in 1896. In these early days, the Free Church was smaller than the Covenant. This attempt failed as did ones in 1913 and 1920. The differences between the two churches could not be reconciled.

Publications - Journals/Newspapers

There were a number of prominent publications over the years. As primary materials these provide a valuable insight into the events of the formation of the Evangelical Covenant and Evangelical Free churches. They often provide a critical analysis of the other parts of the American Mission Friends experiences.

Zions Baner (1871-1877)

This was the Swedish Mission Friends newspaper. The paper lasted from 1871-1877. Charles Anderson was the publisher. The Chicago Bladet took over for Zions Baner.

Chicago-bladet (1877-1949)

Martenson was the publisher of the Chicago-bladet. Martenson was a Dispensationalist.

Missions-Wannen (1874-1882 and 1882-1960)

This monthly journal was a rival to Anderson's Zions Baner. The Mission Synod was the publisher. They tried to stay close to the editorial policy of the Pietisten. They wre non-controversial at start. Their slogan was "When reviled he did not revile in return." It was sold to a private company in 1882 when it had about 3000 subscribers. After being sold, the tone of the paper changed.

Since, at its founding, the Covenant Church initially had no publishing company, the publishing company (Mission Friend Publishing Company) that had the paper became the defacto publisher for the church. The company the hymnal used by the church, Sionsharpan (1891).

Other publications became vilified over the following years. The publisher, Otto Hogfeldt had strong criticism for the Covenant Church. Mission-Wannen was finally shut down in 1960.

Educational Institutes

Many of the children of the revival tended to distrust seminaries. They had come to appreciate the simple preaching of the colporteurs. For this reasons, earlier on it was difficult to get support for educational institutions.

Ansgar College

The Ansgar Synod had Ansgar College in Knoxville. This was viewed as a failure since the money to support the seminary/college had not come as it was hoped. Also, the Ansgar Synod had made a deal with Knox that if the synod were to dissolve then control of the college would go to the city. Anderson ran the school initially and then Karl Erixon took over for him. The school had a strong anti-denominational bias.

Role of Dispensational Doctrine

The role of Dispensational doctrine on the direction that the denominations eventually took can not be overstated. Several aspects need to be examined in this regard. The Covenant has reacted strongly against Dispensationalism at times in its past although it seems that there have long been Dispensationalists within the Covenant. Early on, many of the Dispensationalists found a home in the Free Church.

Prophecy Conferences

There was a great interest in Bible prophecy at that time among many of the Mission Friends. This involved many prophecy conferences.

Millennial Views

The Evangelical Free Church came to be associated with Dispensationalism and the Covenant Church came be associated with Amillenial doctrine although there the lines were not always fast and clear. This relates to their notions of the Kingdom of God. For a Dispensationalist, the kingdom of God is often viewed in future terms. When Jesus returns, He will set up His earthly kingdom. The Dispensational emphasis that Christ will return at any time is known as imminence. The radical free church reasoned that if Christ is about to return, then why initiate any social programs?

For the non-Dispensationalist, the kingdom of God is both future and present. Thus, social action becomes important and such common projects as building retirement homes and hospitals becomes something that should be done.

Attempt to Merge Synods

In 1878, there was a proposal to merge the Ansgar and Mission Synods. This proposal failed for several reasons. For one, the leaderhip of the Mission Synod saw no reason to merge give its larger membership. The Mission Synod proposed that the Ansgar Synod dissolve. For Ansgar, this would have meant that they would lose Ansgar College. The Mission Synod also had a policy of only allowing regenerate membership. The Mission Synod was generally more conservative.

The Organizational Meeting - 1885

The Covenant Church was born Feb 1885 at a meeting held in Chicago, Illinois. The new denomination was formed out of the Ansgar and Mission Synods plus some independent congregations. Present at the organizational meeting were 62 delegates. They voted unanimously to form the new church and called it the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant.

Bjork was made the first president of the Covenant and he served in this position for 25 years (1885-1910). For the first ten years, he served as a church pastor and president. Bjork had few organizational skill and David Nyvall filled this need as the denomination secretary for eight years starting in 1895.

The Annual Meeting

From its organization, te Annual Meeting of the Covenant Church was and is the highest authority in the denomination. This is where decisions are ultimately made. Each church sends two delegates to the annual meeting. Pastors are often sent as delegates to the annual meeting. The location of the annual meeting moved around the country.

Theological Education

The new church quickly moved from its lay origins into having trained ministers.

Chicago Theological Seminary Swedish Department (1885-1903)

Initially, the new denomination had no seminary.

The interest that the Congregationalists had in the Covenant was peaked when M. W. Montgomery took a trip to Sweden and Norway. After his trip he wrote a book, "A Wind From the Holy Spirit in Sweden and Norway" that got many other Congregationalists interested in the Covenant. The Congregationalists looked at the Covenant church as a prime candidate for merger.

The Congregationalists (now part of the United Church of Christ) had a seminary in Chicago, the Chicago Theological Seminary. The Congregationalists offered to open a Swedish department with a Swedish chair at the seminary in order to train pastors. The idea was that the students would get most of their training from the American side of the school and the church history and Swedish Preaching classes from the Swedish teacher. They went to Sweden and asked Waldenstrom who should fill the position. He recommended Fridolf Risberg as the first chair of that position. There was no tuition at the school and rent was $1 a week. Initially, the Covenant went along with this due to the fact that the church was quite poor and new. However, due to theological distance between the Covenant and the Congregationalists this arrangement would not last. But it did ensure that many of the first generation ministers were theologically trained.

The Covenant Seminary at Skogsbergh School

In 1891, the Covenant, at its annual meeting, voted to establish its own theological seminary. The location was to be the Skogsbergh School in Minneapolis. David Nyvall was prominent in the formation of North Park Seminary. Nyvall had joined the staff of the Skogsbergh School in 1890 as the president and teacher at the seminary.

North Park Theological Seminary (1891-present)

The Covenant, it is said, maintains unity by having only one seminary. While there are other ways of becoming a pastor in the Covenant Church, this remains the primary point of entry into pastoral ministry. North Park Seminary is located in the city of Chicago, on the Northwest side of the city. The location is in an urban setting. Years later, the Seminary had the opportunity to relocate outside of the city but chose to remain in the city.

The cornerstone for Old Main, the first building on the eight and a half acre campus, was laid in 1893. The school was opened in the fall of 1894.

Enrollment at the seminary has fluctuated over the years. The following are selected school years and enrollment numbers for the seminary.

These numbers include students who were serving in internships in churches. The current enrollment is much stronger due to the Presidential Scholarship program started in 2000, which pays tuition for 60 students (20 per year).

The original mission of the school was to have three departments; business, preparatory and seminary. David Nyvall served as the first president of the seminary until 1905. The typical graduating class size is more than 20.

Today the seminary is a three year program and it is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.

Since the Covenant has no doctrinal statement as a basis of unity, the way that the Covenant ideals is passed down is by necessity a personal transmission. The school becomes the "preserver and interpreter" of Covenant identity. The denomination today also places the responsibility for determining the fitness of a candidate on the shoulders of the seminary. The seminary remains the sole path to becoming a Covenant pastor although there is now an external orientation program which allows someone who has received their theological education to become a Covenant pastor by taking some courses.

Covenant Bible Colleges

There are three campuses of the Covenant Bible College. These are located in Alberta, Canada, La Merced, Ecuador (near Quito) and Windsor, Colorado.

Covenant Publications

To the consternation of Hogfeldt, a printing shop was set up in the basement of the North Park. Initially, the press put out a missionary magazine, Missionaren (printed until 1905).. The press was seen by Hogsfeldt as a competitor to Missions-Wannen. At the annual meeting of 1895, the Covenant made Missionaren its official organ. This set it at odds with Missions-Wannen and the Mission Friends Publishing Company.

In 1915 the publication "The Covenant Weekly" was started. "The Covenant Companion" was originally issued as a youth paper in 1923. Today it is the denominational monthly magazine. There is also a quarterly scholarly journal of the church, The Covenant Quarterly.

The Home Altar is a devotional publication designed to be used by laypersons for their daily devotions.

A Book of Worship was published in 1960 which was used until The Covenant Book of Worship was published in 1981. Other books of worship have been used since 1901. A new book of worship is due out soon. The book of worship is not required practices but serves as a sort of "best practices" of the Covenant. It is a useful place to look to see how things should be done. In light of the absense of formal doctrinal statements, literature like this provides a valuable key to the practice of the faith in the Covenant.


The hymnals of the Covenant church contain the music of Covenant. The following are the publication dates of the hymnals:

Missions and Benevolence Efforts

From the very beginning of the Covenant there was a strong social content. This took the form of benevolence in local missions and in sending out foreign missionaries. In 1944 the Covenant created a civil relations committee. Today, the Center for Justice Ministries and other works demonstrate the continued committment to these ministries of the Covenant.

Local Missions

Ministry to Immigrants

The Organizational Meeting of 1885 made the decision to support the ministry of P. Peterson at Castle Garden. Castle Garden, in New Yorkl, was the immigrant station. This function was eventually taken over by the government and moved eventually to Ellis Island in the 1890s although a mission to immigrants lasted until 1932 when the flow of immigrants was greatly reduced.

Sailors' Homes

They also supported sailors' houses in Boston, Philadelphia as well as later (1903) in San Francisco. The life of sailors was a tough story. When the sailors reached the port there were many unwholesome choices. The sailors' houses gave men a place to stay while they were in port that had Christian worship and fellowship.


The Covenant also set up the House of Mercy as a Covenant hospice for the poor who were ill in Chicago. This was particularly organized in order to serve women and travelers who might be stranded in Chicago. Today, the health care portion of this is the Swedish Covenant Hospital in North Chicago near the North Park campus. The hospital has had a long tradition of training nurses (started in 1899) and today is a teaching hospital for doctors as well. The hospital appointed a chaplain in 1942 and today has a strong record of work in the area of Clinical Pastoral Education.

This was followed up by a hospital in Turlock, California.

The care of the elderly done by the Home of Mercy is now done by the Covenant Home.


The high mortality rate created a number of orphans and there was no state system to take care of them. The Covenant saw this need early on and built homes for orphans in Cromwell, Connecticut (1898) and Princeton, Illinios (1917).

Retirement Homes

The early immigrants were often young and in the cases when they were older they were accompanied by their children who could take care of them. However, as the first generation of immigrants started to age the issue of elder care became a hot topic. Between 1918 and 1929 the Covenant started six institutions of the aged to take care of the elderly in the different conferences.

One of these was started in 1945 in Florida, the Covenant Palms.

Foreign Missions

The Covenant had a tradition of mission which had started with the mission of George Scott and his influence on the Swedish Missionary Society. Early on the Covenant supported foreign mission efforts. The Covenant supported missionaries in Alaska in 1889 and China in 1890. The work of missions was seriously affected for several years by the 1893 Depression. By 1976 there were 119 missionaries on seven mission fields.

Alaska Missions

There were two periods of initial missions activity. In the first period, the Covenant took over the missions work of the Swedish Covenant in 1889. This period ended with the Depression of 1894. This was followed by a second period which was marked by the gold rush and was marked with significant expansion of the mission. In 1904, 269 Alaskan natives were baptized. This period lasted until 1910. The mission lasted until 1930. The arrival of large numbers of whites brought alcoholism, gold lust and other vices to the natives. The tireless efforts of Covenant missionaries bore much fruit in Alaska.

The Gold Scandal (1898-1920)

One of the missionaries to Alaska involved the David Nyvall and the Covenant in what became known in the early Covenant as the Gold Scandal. This missionary, P. H. Anderson, was a graduate of North Park and ended up in Nome, Alaska as a Covenant Missionary. While he was in Alaska, he caught gold fever and purchased a claim called Number Nine Above. This strike ended up paying out several hundred thousand dollars between 1898 and the early years of 1900. A dispute arose over whether the Covenant owned the claim or Anderson.

Anderson wanted to give a generous amount of money to the Covenant with the provision that he get a release. The executive board gave him the release and a portion of the money was used to pay for North Park College. However, there was discontent with this later and the larger board reversed the earlier decision and decided that they wanted more. This dispute spilled into the courts and lasted in the courts for many years reaching the Supreme Court.

Eventually (in 1920), the matter was decided in favor of Anderson who then generously paid the entire legal bills for the Covenant which were about two thirds of his total income from the mine.

China Missions

The missionary efforts of Hudson Taylor and Erik Folke had made a great impression on the minds of the Mission Friends. At the Annual Meeting in 1889, it was decided to send a missionary to work with the missionary from the Swedish Covenant Church who was already at work in China. Two missionaries were ordained and commissioned and one was dedicated for the mission to China. The effort was a cooperative one with the Swedish Covenant church. The Covenant missionaries settled in Fancheng, China.

The life of the missionaries was difficult there in the beginning. One of the missionaries was stoned and beaten. Two missionaries from the Swedish Covenant were killed. The mindset and worldview of the Chinese was very foreign to the American missionaries. This forced them to examine their paradigms for ministry which were not well suited to this context. Their mission was sucessful and others joined them. By 1912 there were a thousand converts in China. A seminary was built in China in 1909.

The mission work also consisted of building schools and medical facilities. The peak of the China mission was between 1912 and 1926. In 1931 four of the Covenant missionaries were kidnapped. One was held for ten weeks. In 1948 three Covenant missionaries were killed by bandits. After that time, the political situation deteriorated until the ultimate fall of China to the communists.

Taiwan Missions

After the fall of China, the mission work moved to Hong Kong and then onto Taiwan. This was started in 1951. The work started in the capital city of Taipei. By 1960 there were fourteen churches in three areas. The church in Taiwan celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2002. There are now 32 churches in Taiwan.

African Missions

Covenant missions to Africa centered around the Congo and started before World War II. In 1937 the Covenant sent its first missionaries to the Congo to take over the missions efforts of the Evangelical Free Church. The Free had been in the Congo since the first sortee in 1920. The church had 800 members when the Covenant took it over. In 1950 there were four stations in the Congo. By 1959 the Covenant had over 14,000 members in the Congo. The church in Congo reached 85,000 members by 1985.

The main emphasis of the mission was teaching and medical work. This was true in many of the mission efforts of the church.

The Covenant church in Africa is now in 9 countries of Africa. The church in Africa also has a webpage.

See the books Soul Graft and Slivers From the Cross for the story of African missionaries Brad and Ruth Hill in the late 1970s through the 1990s.

Mexico Missions

Mission to Mexico started in the mid 1940s. By 1960 there were three missions in Mexico.

Japan Missions

Mission to Japan began after World War II. Due to the occupation of Japan by American troops the country became a mission opportunity. Work began in 1950 in Nagaoka in Niigata. In 1957 the first national pastor was ordained.

Ecuador Missions

When the mission to Ecuador began in 1947 there were only 1000 evangelicals in the entire country of Ecuador.

Covenant in Canada

The Canadian frontier was opened in a land rush and many Swedes went to Canada to get in on the rush. There were efforts to reach the Swedes in Canada which resulted in three hundred Covenant people in Canada by 1910. Today, the Covenant Church has no presence in Eastern Canada. The Covenant Bible Institute (Covenant Bible College) was founded in 1941 in Alberta, Canada.

Covenant World Relief

Covenant World Relief was established in 1946 as an agency to feed the hungry of the world.

Covenant Women

The Covenant Women's Auxiliary was started in 1916. The organization parallels the church at the local and conference level as well as the national level. The Covenant created the Department of Covenant Women's Work in 1978. Today, the organization is Covenant Women Ministries.

Youth Programs

The Covenant has supported youth programs from the time of the second generation of imigrants. Early on Swede schools were established so that the younger children could know enough Swedish to be able to participate in worship.

The Youth programs have varied over the years. The Covenant High Congress (Covenant High In Christ) was started in 1956 and presently has a conference for High School aged youth every three years (2003 is the most current date).

The English Language and the Immigrants

The transition from Swedish to English was a difficult move. Most of the talented preachers of the first generation of the Covenant were not comfortable preaching in English.

The early Covenant Church showed little interest in the youth or Sunday School. The children of the first generation in many cases did not possess sufficient competence in Swedish and the church began to lose the younger generation to other churches. Some in the older generation recognized that the church would need to switch to English but many morned the loss of the Swedish. No place did this show up more than in the Sunday School programs of the Covenant. 

In 1917 a survey was done that indicated that nearly two thirds of the Covenant churches conducted Sunday School in Swedish only. About one third used Swedish and English and none used English alone.

In 1918 the governors of several states  (including Iowa - where there were and are Covenant churches today) declared that any language other than English could not be used even in worship services. This was difficult for Covenant pastods who spoke no English and forced a quicker transition to English than many would have liked. At the Annual Meeting of 1918 the decision was made to make the transition to English as soon as possible. It was decided that ministerial training would have to be done in English.

By the third generation, the Swedish language was a distant thing of the past. 

English did not become common in worship services until the 1930s. Up until that time the church had been bilingual. Oddly, the Swedish that was spoken by the second, and, in some cases, third generation was not the Swedish of contemporary Sweden. The language had been time-locked along with their immigrant parent.

The first American born president of the Covenant, Theodore W. Anderson was installed in 1933. Anderson was president for the Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary) of the Covenant.

As late as 1947, there no single Covenant ordinand had a non-Scandinavian name. By 1976, this number was 50 percent. The Covenant made a lot of progress in a relatively short amount of time from being an ethnic church to being an American church (open to non-Swedes).

The Fundamentalist Modernist Controversy of the 1920s

In the 1920s the Covenant got caught in the middle of the raging controversy between the Fundamentalists and the Modernists. The publication of The Fundamentalists in 1914 placed the Christian faith in a set of propositions. This was contrary to the anti-creedal beginnings of the Covenant although most Covenant people accepted these teachings as truth. Rather than declare itself on one side or another, the denomination strove to take a middle road. David Nyvall compared the Modernists to the sails of a ship and the Fundamentalists to the anchor. There were important Covenant pastors and people on both sides of the controversy.

The principle of freedom permits Fundamentalists and non-Fundamentalists to work together for common mission. The problem was that for many of the Fundamentalists this was an unacceptable compromise. In their insistence that others conform to their views they overstepped the bounds of Covenant freedom. Over the years, this resulted in charges of heresy against various people in the seminary and denomination by Fundamentalists or their supporters. In each case, the person making the charge of heresy was the one who ended up being rejected by the power structures of the church. For many, this insistance on unity over truth has been problematic. The overarching principle of the Covenant is to "live and let live".

One of the points was the Bible as the infallible word of God. At the Annual Meeting of 1924, the Covenant affirmed their allegiance to the Bible as the word of God. The Covenant was bound by the Constitution of the church, which was non-credal, but affirmative of the importance of the Bible. This played out particularly in charges of heresy against the seminary. These were finally settled with the Omaha mandate.

The Covenant made this decision, like other controversial decisions, not on the basis of doctrine, but on the basis of preserving union. Errors were not perceived as being theological but rather procedural errors. In some cases, these procedures were not all that clear to the people involved. This was particularly evident later in the case of William Doughty (1958) who had made some charges against the orthodoxy of the seminary. In this way, the person who brings the charge of heresy is the one who is castigated, not the one whom the charge was brought against. This pattern was to repeat over and over again as the years went by.

There has also been an east-west aspect of this issue. The west coast churches have tended to be more conservative than those on the east coast and midwest. This is not a uniform observation, but rather a generalization. There were people who came to the Covenant after World War II expecting to find a Fundamentalist church and were disappointed. This is particularly true since, as noted, the Covenant unity is not based on subscription to a set of theological propositions, but rather is based on a common sense of new life in Christ.

The Covenant Position on War

During World War I, Waldenström opposed the extreme pacifists of the state church of Sweden. The Covenant is not an officially pacifist church but there are many members who are strongly inclined towards pacifism. In the past, some Covenanters were skeptical of the Boy Scouts due to the paramilitary organization of the Scouts.

For others, their natural inclanation is towards pacifism but they also see the need to use the sword to restrain evil. Karl Olsson was one such person. There was a report in 1935 that his cousin was killed while driving an ambulance for the Ethiopian army. The report turned out to be untrue, but it forced Olsson to rethink his own position on the war which was pacifist until that time. In his own words, "my resolve to make a personal contribution toward the neutralization of the tyrannical powers, then beginning to dominate the world, never wavered." He signed up for the military. He even goes on to describe the experience of the change of mind as being ""converted.""

At the evening meeting of the Annual Meeting of 1935, a Covenant pastor, Harold Carlson, delivered a message for peace. At the Annual Meeting of 1941, the Covenant took a stand opposing American involvement in the war. The vote at that time was 85 to 53. More than 10,000 Covenanters  ultimately served in World War II. The Covenant also had a verly disproportionate number of Chaplains in the military. By the formula of one per 100,000 the Covenant should have only had one chaplain but there were 29 chaplains. This was because the Congregationalists had a shortage of chaplains and allowed the Covenant to fill these slots.

The Challenge of Multi-Culturalism

The elimination of the Swedish language constrictions opened the door for non-Swedes. The value of our freedom in Christ has always been a strong drawing point for non-Swedes. The limits of this freedom have also been tested in the past. People have been attracted to the Covenant due to its Evangelical emphasis who do not understand that it is not a Fundamentalist church. This is not the Covenant piety. To the other extreme, the Covenant is not a liberal denomination either. Communicating the Covenant identity to non-Swedes is an ongoing challenge for the Covenant

Social Action in the Covenant

Similarly, there is a tension that has long existed in the Covenant church between people who see the mission of the church as primarily evangelisticl and those who believe in strong social action.  This tension was present in the 1930s and exists to the present.

The Covenant has various policies and resolutions that have been made over the years on a number of subjects. Subjects include divorce, abortion, assisted suicide, women in ministry and baptism. The resolutions are not binding laws for the church, but express the views of the members of the church who voted to support them at an Annual Meeting.

The Covenant, at its Annual Meeting in 1976, voted to allow the ordination of women. The first women were ordained in 1978.

Church Government in the Covenant

The polity of the local Covenant church is congregational. This means that the church is governed by votes of the local members. The pastor is a member of the local church and has one vote in the local church, just like any other member.

However, the pastor is part of the Covenant Ministerium. As such, the pastor is part of two congregations. The Ministerium of the church is presbyterial. This dual nature was recognized as early as the mid 1930s although the precursor of the structure was formulated at the Organizational meeting. the ministerium ordains and license pastors. It also can discipline pastors. The power of the ministerium has grown from the beginnings when it was merely optional for the denomination to assist local churches in ordination. In 1968, the power of the Ministerium was increased by the creation of the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Ministry. Today the ministerium also helps place pastors and has a pension system.

The pastor at a Covenant church is called by the congregation. He or she can also be dismissed by the congregation.

The Ecumenical Movement

The Covenant has attempted at various times in its history to merge with other churches.  For the reasons outlined herein, this has failed. Similarly, although the Covenant has an affinity for the work of ecumenism, the non-creedal stance of the Covenant has prevented it (as a denomination)  from allying itself formally with other denominations in groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the National Council of the Churches of Christ. In 1956 the Covenant came out with a policy of official neutrality in this area. It should be noted that some local churches and pastors have joined the NAE.

Glossary of Terms

Annotated Bibliography

____, Covenant Affirmations. Evangelical Covenant Church, 1976.

There are several versions of the Covenant Affirmations. One is short, another medium and the other is long. This is the medium length version. For a fuller treatment, see Frisk's book.

____, The Covenant Book of Worship. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1981.

This is the minister's manual for the Covenant Church clergy. It contains orders of worship and creeds.

____, The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1996.

One place to see the effect of the Pietistic faith of the Covenant Church fathers is in the hymnology of the za

in shorthand (pp. 45-60). This version can be compared to the published minutes with some interesting observations about the tone of the meeting.

This book also contains early short accounts of the history of the Covenant Church as recorded by early leaders.

Anderson, Philip J. Amicus Dei: Essays on Faith and Friendship: Presented to Karl A. Olsson on his 75th Birthday. The Covenant Quarterly May/August 1988. Covenant Publication.

The life history of Karl Olsson is in this publication.

Anderson, Philip J. One Body: Many Members: The Covenant Church in Historical Perspective. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1983.

Erb, Peter. Johann Arndt: True Christianity. Paulist Press, 1979.

Erb, Peter. The Pietists: Selected Writings. Paulist Press; 1983.

Erickson, J. Irving. Twice-Born Hymns. Covenant Press, 1976.

Contains biographies of the hymn writers from the Rosenian revival.

Erickson, Scott E. David Nyvall and the Shape of an Immigrant Church: Ethnic, Denominational and Edicational Priorities Among Swedes in America. Coronet Books, May 1996.

Frisk, Donald. Covenant Affirmations: This We Believe. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1981.

This is a 186 page volume which attempts to describe the common doctrines held by the Covenant Church. This is a difficult task for a non-creedal church.

Hawkinson, James and Johnson, Robert. Servant Leadership: Authority and Governance in the Evangelical Covenant Church (Volume 1) & Servant Leadership: Contemporary Models and the Emerging Challenge (Volume 2). Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1993.

Originally published as the November 1992 and February 1993 Covenant Quarterly. Although these are not strictly historical books, they do have a lot of information about leadership in the Covenant Church. There is an excellent article on Phillipp Jakob Spener in one of the volumes.

Hawkinson, Zenos E. Anatomy of the Pilgrim Experience: Reflections on Being a Covenanter. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 2000.

Hill, Brad. Soul Graft. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1988.

This book is the story of missionary Brad Hill and his wife Ruth in the Congo. Brad served in the Congo for 19 years. He is presently the pastor at Glenview Covenant Church. See also the rest of the book in Slivers from the Cross. This is a great book about the mission to Africa in the late 1970s and onward.

Hill, Brad and Hill, Ruth. Slivers from the Cross. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1990.

This book is the continuation of the story of missionary Brad Hill and his wife Ruth in the Congo. Brad served in the Congo for 19 years. He is presently the pastor at Glenview Covenant Church. This is a great book about the mission to Africa in the late 1970s and onward.

Olsson, Karl. By One Spirit. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1962.

This is the current classic history book of the Covenant Church. Olsson was an English major by education. History is covered from Spener through 1962. Olsson was personally involved in some the controversies of the early 60's in the Covenant church. The index in the back of the book is surprisingly good. For further research, this is the right place to start. Much of the material in this page is paraphrased from Olsson's book.

Olsson pastored a number of Covenant churches. He was part of the faculty at North Park from 1938-1942 and 1948-1959 in both the school and seminary parts.

Olsson, Karl. Into One Body: By the Cross. Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1986.

This two volume history of the Covenant church was produced for the 100 year anniversary of the Organizational Meeting. The first volume covers the beginning up to the 1930's. The second volume covers from the 1930's to the 1980's.

Pietisten Online

Interesting website on Pietism with connections to Covenant Church. In the spirit of the Pietisten newpaper.

Spener, Philip Jacob. Pia Desideria. Fortress Press, 1974.

Stein, K. James. Philipp Jakob Spener: Pietist Patriarch, Chicago, Illinois: Covenant Publications, 1986.

Spener was the guiding spirit of Pietism. Most of the books about Spener are currently out of print, but the Covenant Bookstore has copies of this particular book.

Swedish-American Historical Society.

They are based in Chicago and publish a quarterly journal that is helpful.

Research Resources

Primary Research Materials

To examine the primary documents of the Covenant Church, it is necessary to travel to North Park University in Northwest Chicago. The lower level of the library contains the archives of the Covenant Church. The early publications are all kept in the archives.

The Covenant Bookstore is located on Foster Avenue across from North Park University in Northwest Chicago.

Purpose of the Page

This page is intended to be published as an open history project for the Covenant Church. Submissions and corrections should be sent to doug@dougstheology.org. Links will be considered as appropriate. No responsibility is taken when links go outside of this page.

© 2003 - Douglas Gilliland - All Rights Reserved

Permission is given to copy this webpage or link to this page as long as this copyright notice is retained and none of the contents of the page are changed in any way.

Project for HSTY-7300 - History and Theology of the Covenant Church.

Special thanks to Professor Phil Anderson for letting me do my class project as a web page and as a gift to the Covenant Church.