For centuries, a nightly prayer in homes across much of Europe was: “God, save us from the Vikings.” This did not reflect a concern about a NFL team from Minnesota, but rather a fear of the vicious, Scandinavian raiders who ravaged much of Europe during the middle ages. This attitude is reflected in a song sung to the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.” The first verse says:
God save us from the Vikings
Do not let them look this way,
We still have not rebuilt
What they destroyed way back in May
And if they come again
Then we will all just run away
Oh tidings of misery and woe
Oh tidings of misery and woe
Though I am proud of my Scandinavian heritage, it would be foolish to pretend the Vikings were “nice” people. Though it may be appropriate to admire them for their courage and skill in battle, they were notorious for their cruelty. On one occasion a group of Vikings who had successfully raided an English monastery were ridiculed by their peers for leaving survivors. In response, they returned to the monastery and killed everyone there.
The Viking reign of terror began to diminish in the 11th century. The English defeat of the Viking forces at Stamford Bridge in 1066 was the key from a military perspective. However, what really weakened the Viking culture was Christianity coming to Scandinavia. Brave missionaries brought the Christian message to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. People who were devoted to pagan gods such as Odin, Thor, and Loki began worshiping Jesus Christ, and though there were still plenty of nasty people in Scandinavia, it was no longer considered a virtue to murder, rape, and pillage.
Over the next eight hundred years or so, Christianity helped transform many aspects of Scandinavian society. Compassion for the less fortunate and a desire to find peaceful ways to resolve differences became the norm. By the 19th century, however, people began to see flaws in the Christian churches which had often been corrupted by money and politics. An erosion of religious faith began to occur in Scandinavia, and by the late 20th century, they had become some of the most secular countries in the world. It is estimated that less than five percent of people in Sweden now attend church services on a regular basis. Many people in Scandinavia make claims that the Christian church has a negative impact on the world today.
These claims, however, are extremely ironic. Those in Scandinavia (and other places) who criticize the church, almost always do so from a platform built by Christianity. When the Christian church is criticized for not being fully committed to justice and compassion, it usually means that some do not think the church is as “Christian” as it should be. The standards being used to define justice and compassion are invariably borrowed from Christianity. Though today’s standards of virtue are sometimes a bit twisted, they are almost always rooted in the ethics spelled out in the Bible. Scandinavians did not learn about the importance of justice and compassion from Viking ancestors, but from followers of Jesus Christ! Though the Christian church and individual Christians are far from perfect, Scandinavia (and the world as a whole) is a much better place because of Christianity.
Rev. Dan Erickson
Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church