The Church of Norway is a Protestant state church, headed by the King of Norway, with the Storting as the supreme legislative body. The Royal Family is obligated to practise the Evangelical-Lutheran religion.
In practical terms, it is the King in Council that is responsible for the overall government control of the Church. The Ministry of Cultural and Church Affairs has been given the administrative responsibility while the Storting (Norwegian national assembly) is in charge of adopting church-related legislation and budgets. All bishops and deans are appointed by the Government. The top ecclesiastical body is the General Synod.
Norway was Roman Catholic until the Reformation, when Protestantism was adopted by Royal Decree in 1537 and the Church of Norway established. During the 1700s the Church of Norway came under the influence of Pietism, an individually-oriented Lutheran revivalist movement from Germany emphasizing the connection between belief and action. The Pietists made an active effort to incorporate Christian faith and ethics into the life of each individual, for example by introducing the confirmation ceremony (1736) and Folk School (1739). During this period, Norwegian Pietists demonstrated a great interest in missionary activity, particularly as regards Greenland and the Sámi regions of North Norway.
Lutheran orthodoxy reigned supreme from the early 1600s, and for a long time, no religion other than the Church of Norway was permitted. A religious revival swept through Norway in the 1800s, as lay preachers – unordained evangelists with no clerical training – began to preach the Bible without the approval of official religious circles. A ban on lay preaching was lifted in 1842. The Pietists gained an even stronger foothold through the evangelical revival of the 1800s, and spoke out in protest against what they perceived to be the half-hearted religiosity of ordained clergymen. Thus, unlike the churches of Denmark and Sweden, the Church of Norway during this period came to be strongly associated with Pietism and a powerful lay movement.
The ideals of the lay movement and its conservative interpretation of Christianity gradually began to influence the Norwegian clergy. Norwegian Christian circles in the 1900s were characterized by tension between liberal and conservative camps, particularly with regard to their different views of historical research of the Bible. Since the 1980s, however, greater diversity has emerged in relation to church-related and theological opinions.
The legalization of lay preaching also paved the way for a wide variety of Christian free churches. The largest of these is the Pentecostal Movement, and other major free churches include the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Norway and the Norwegian Baptist Union. Re-established in Norway in the 1850s, the Roman Catholic Church is thriving and has a growing numbers of followers.