History of the AFLC

The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC) was organized in October, 1962.
Most of the founders were members of the Lutheran Free Church (LFC), which had voted to merge with
The American Lutheran Church in 1963.

Taken from “Standing Fast in Freedom”
(to order the full booklet contact the AFLC Publications Department)

Rooted in Revival …
Around the beginning of the 1800’s, a Norwegian farmer’s son, a layman, began tramping over the mountains and valleys of the country preaching a message of repentance and personal salvation. HANS NIELSEN HAUGE was immediately branded a troublemaker by the government and the state church, and spent 10 years in prison. The fire the Lord lit through him, however, could not be stifled.

Hauge’s message and ministry reflected the spirit of LUTHERAN PIETISM, a powerful movement of awakening that began among German Lutherans in the late 17th century, led by PHILIP SPENER and AUGUST FRANCKE. The pietistic emphasis on personal faith, godly living and study of Scripture caught fire among the common people, igniting a spiritual and social revolution whose impact is still evident today. A subsequent wave of awakening in Norway, often associated with the ministry of a theological professor, GlSLE JOHNSON, is especially remembered for its influence on a new generation of pastors, ensuring that this renewal would be perpetuated within the church.

Revival fires also burned brightly in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, under the godly leadership of such men as CARL OLOF ROSENIUS, PAAVO RUOTSALAINEN, and WILHELM BECK. These evangelical movements shaped the convictions of many of the Lutherans who planted the church in America.

Thousands of Scandinavian pietists emigrated to the United States to find a better life during the 19th Century. They brought their faith and love of education with them, and they wanted to make sure their children had schools where they could be trained in God’s Word and useful skills. Many Lutheran colleges and seminaries which exist today began at this time. Among those institutions was AUGSBURG COLLEGE in Minneapolis, which in those days also comprised a preparatory school, an academy and a seminary. Two scholars from prominent Haugean families in Norway came to Augsburg to teach in the 1870’s, bringing with them a genuinely radical view of Christian education, centered on Scripture and the simple doctrines of Christianity. Their names were GEORG SVERDRUP and SVEN OFTEDAL.

These two young professors, having witnessed firsthand the opposition of the church hierarchy to the revival movements, had been driven in their frustration to take a fresh look at the New Testament church. Through their study of Scripture, they had come to a stunning conclusion:

“…in the New Testament there is no talk about any bishopric … nor any church council, or synod.. . There is a congregation in each place where there are Christians, and this congregation has its elders or bishops; but there is no ‘church rulership’ of any sort…” – Georg Sverdrup

In other words, the local congregation is the right form of God’s kingdom on earth, and no power but God’s Word and Spirit may dictate to it. This conviction was not only a matter of church government, but a vision of living Christianity. The church they sought to plant in the New World would promote a living Lutheran orthodoxy, served by shepherds who lead rather than overlords who dominate, emphasizing an evangelism that would result in changed lives and encourage lay people to exercise their spiritual gifts.

In 1890 several groups merged to form the United Norwegian Lutheran Church in America. The friends of Augsburg felt uncomfortable in this union, believing their principles were being undermined. In 1896 twelve congregations were expelled from the merged church for their support of Augsburg, which had been determined in court to be a private corporation not subject to control by the new church body. In 1897 a group of like-minded congregations committed to Augsburg’s principles established the LUTHERAN FREE CHURCH. This group drafted a set of FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES which would guide their operations.

Momentum came in the form of a tremendous spiritual revival which swept the Norwegian Lutheran churches during the 1890’s. Many students came to Augsburg as a direct result of it, and through the work of pastors who graduated from the seminary the Lutheran Free Church began to expand beyond its initial concentration in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota to other areas of the U.S. and Canada. In time however the vision grew dim, and a new generation of leadership began to question the future of the Lutheran Free Church. They encouraged participation in a new merger, which produced the American Lutheran Church (1960). It took three referenda before the necessary votes were gathered from LFC congregations, and approval was only gained in 1962, not without much conflict and even litigation.

In October, 1962, representatives of approximately 70 LFC congregations resistant to the merger gathered in Thief River Falls, Minnesota to form what became the ASSOCIATION OF FREE LUTHERAN CONGREGATIONS, founded on the Fundamental Principles of the Lutheran Free Church.

“Our congregations need to be set free, which is essentially the same as saying that they need to be awakened or revived… When God’s Spirit comes upon a congregation, the first and most pronounced effect will he a living zeal for the salvation of souls… When those who have themselves been set free from the bonds of death, arise in the power through which Christ arose from the dead, and begin to labor for the awakening of others, then freedom has dawned in truth. Then bonds are broken, other considerations are brushed aside, and only one thing matters: How can we get those who sleep awakened, how can we get those who are dying saved, how can we get those who are bound set free, how can we get someone along with us on the way to eternal life?”
– Georg Sverdrup

…..to read more, order the booklet “Standing Fast in Freedom”


  • Recognizes the Bible as the inspired and inerrant authority in all matters of faith and life;
  • Recognizes that the teaching and preaching of God’s Word is the main task of the Church, to be conducted in such a way that the saints are built up and unbelievers see their need for salvation;
  • Believes that the congregation is the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth, with no authority above it but the Word and the Spirit of God;
  • Believes that Christian unity is a spiritual concept, not a man-made organization such as the World Council of Churches or the National Council of Churches;
  • Believes that Christians are called to be a salt and light, separated from the ways of the world, and that this difference is to be reflected in the life of the congregation as well as in the institutions of the church body.

Convinced of the need for a new conservative evangelical Lutheran fellowship as well as the relevance of its free church heritage, the AFLC determined at its first conference to continue under the Fundamental Principles of the Lutheran Free Church, committed to promoting free and living congregations. The AFLC is not an incorporated synod, but a free association. Each local congregation is a separate corporation, and five additional corporations are sponsored by them to direct our common endeavors.

The Coordinating Committee of the AFLC is a corporation consisting of seven members chosen from the congregations, and serves to guide the work of our fellowship between conferences. One of their duties is to maintain the clergy roster, and a pastor or candidate for ordination must be approved by the committee through a colloquy process before he can be recommended for call to a congregation. This committee also maintains the congregational roster, which consists of churches who share the AFLC’s faith and principles. Other ministries of the AFLC, such as youth, evangelism, parish education and publications, function under the corporate covering of the Coordinating Committee.

The Schools Corporation consists of fifty members from AFLC congregations, and elects a Board of Trustees who are entrusted with the responsibility of governing the theological seminary and Bible school. The seminary, established in 1964, offers a three-year academic program for the training of parish pastors, plus a one-year internship, while the Bible school, which welcomed its first class in 1966, provides a two-year course of studies in the Bible and related subjects for high school graduates. Both schools share a spacious campus in suburban Minneapolis (Plymouth), Minnesota, with the AFLC headquarters.

The Missions Corporation also includes 100 members from AFLC congregations, and elects from its membership a World Missions Committee and a Home Missions Committee. Our World Mission outreach currently includes Brazil, Mexico, India, and Uganda, and Home Missions subsidizes new congregations in the U.S. and Canada.

The Association Retreat Center (ARC), located near Osceola, Wisconsin, and The AFLC Foundation are also organized as separate corporations.

The AFLC Annual Conference. At the annual conference (held each year in June) reports of the various ministries are presented and recommendations made for the future. The primary purpose of the conferences is spiritual edification, and the agenda includes prayer hours and worship services together with the business sessions. A unique feature of a free association is the fact that all voting members of AFLC congregations may attend as delegates.

There are two auxiliaries in the AFLC. The Women’s Missionary Federation (WMF) serves the women of our church with a program of Bible study and mission emphasis. F.L.Y. (Free Lutheran Youth), formerly the Luther League Federation, sponsors a biennial convention, while seeking to strengthen youth programs in the local congregations and districts.

The official publication of the AFLC is The Lutheran Ambassador, with monthly issues devoted to Word-centered articles and news of the churches. Our parish education department offers “The Ambassador Series,” a Sunday School curriculum, plus materials for confirmation and new member instruction, Bible study, and devotional reading. “The Ambassador Hymnal” is the worship resource available for congregations and individuals, containing over 600 hymns and several orders of worship.

The Fundamental Principles state that a free congregation “esteems and cherishes all the spiritual gifts which the Lord gives for its edification, and seeks to stimulate and encourage their use” (#6). The AFLC is not “charismatic” in the sense that the term is often used today, and the annual conference adopted a statement in 1965 cautioning against an unbalanced promotion of the charismatic movement and warning against abuses.

The AFLC continues to see significant growth, expanding from about 40 congregations in 1962 to more than 275 currently, making us the fourth largest Lutheran church body in the U.S. While most of the congregations are located in the Upper Midwest, the fellowship includes some in 27 different states as well as 3 Canadian provinces, and contacts continue to come from new areas of the country where there is interest in free and living Lutheran congregations.

The common endeavors of the AFLC are dependent on the free-will contributions of members and friends, since there are no financial quotas or suggested goals imposed on congregations. The annual conference adopts a budget, and when God’s people are informed of the needs, they generously support AFLC ministries as the Lord provides.

The AFLC provides a Pension Plan and a Health Insurance Plan for its pastors and workers. For information on this plan, contact the AFLC office at 763-545-5631.

Questions may be addressed to:
The Office of the President
3110 East Medicine Lake Boulevard
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55441
(PH) 763-545-5631