RURAL BRYANT, SD, PRESENTS:
American Pioneer & Lutheran Church President,
The Vine and Branches Magazine,
Abiding Word Ministries, Fall 2011
German pietism led by Spener and others surely enriched the Norwegian church in Norway and also in America, and Norwegian Haugeism enriched the Germans to in the Lutheran churches over in America. We can well guess that German pietism enriched the English dissenter churches too, and encouraged them to continue in their struggle for free and independent worship of God as they saw fit and which they believed was based on the Bible, not man's rituals and conventions and faulty doctrine.
German hymnody alone was a rich storehouse of evangelical faith in God, that the Moravians in particular brought to America's spiritual treasury. The two brother Wesleys of England, Charles and John, went to American colonies as missionaries, and it was Moravians on board, their singing of hymns, that converted the Wesleys to an intensely personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Their doctrines did nto change, but it was the heart-change that made the difference for the Wesleys, inspired largely by the Moravians in their singing hymns on board ship during the transatlantic crossings.
Who knows but that we owe to the German Moravian brethren the great English revival in the late 18th century under the Wesleys that transformed England and brought that nation back from the brink of revolution which would have destroyed the country as revolution had destroyed France in the 1790s.
We do know that German Lutherans emigrated to America and became vigorous clergy on the frontier, establishing churches and whole denominations of the Lutheran faith.
Where did they get such fervor? It wasn't a sure result of the German church, which was always tending to formalism and non-evangelicalism. We have read that a mere 100 years after Luther, Lutheranism had declined to a dead, largely ceremonial orthodoxy, the fire of personal faith all but extinguished by the most rigid adherence to religiously correct theology as the "authorities" of the dominant religious schools and bishoprics elected to define it. They observed the "letter of the law" with zeal, but the "spirit" of the law was missed entirely. So then, how did German Lutherans come to want to bring the Evangelical Faith to America that was once again discovered by Martin Luther in the 15th century? Why did they bother to do this? Was Germany such a poor place to live and practice their faith? Or did they seek a freer environment, with more prospects for the people of God, than the hodge-podge of tradition- shackled, authoritarian, duke and prince and king-ruled principalities that was Germany in those years.
This is a good subject needing to be explored! We do know that they came and we do know what they accomplished. We can be grateful to them for their work, as without it the American Frontier might have remained largely unchurched and without the evangelical faith. Catholic Missions had been established in the Southwest and even in the Dakotas and Montana for a very long time previous to this, but the evangelical faith was a newcomer, relatively.
When our Norwegian and German ancestors arrived in Iowa and the Dakotas, they found a society that could offer them churches other than the Catholic missions which in the upper regions ministered largely to the Indian tribes. This enabled them to continue in their own Biblical faith, and also to establish new congregations, without the added difficulty and discouragement of having to go it alone.
Churches were indeed central to the success of the Frontier settlements, and vital to the immigrant families involved. Ours was no exception. The local church was the center of the community, small or large, and the immigrant family, German, Norwegian, or "Yankee."
I am not a theologian, nor have I earned credentials of a church historian, but sacred and secular history always fascinated me, and I read widely all during my undergraduate and later during my many, deliberately extended graduate years (7 at least!). I was given religion classes in a parochial Lutheran high school for three years, and later in a Lutheran college in Sioux Falls, SD, for a year or more, finally attending a Bible college in Tacoma and then Parkland, Washington, for another 3 years. but it is my reading on my own over the last year or so that I learned what I am now speaking about, little as it is. In college I also studied German culture and literature. If I can increase my grasp of German church, I will do so, as I want to know many more things concerning the German side of my evangelical faith.
Therefore I encourage you and others to read whatever come to hand on this subject. We must often educate ourselves. Perhaps that is the best way after all, as then it is more personal, not prescribed by a college curriculum, but is the product of a hunger of the soul to know the truth which sets free.
Lastly, let me say that we have old friends of ours who came originally from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, so that I cannot say it is altogether different from what Lutheranism became in 100 years of decline after Luther. For this couple, by their testimony, it became most unevangelical, most orthodox and with no personal faith permitted in it. It was an intolerant culture and a mindset of religious creedalism rather than a living faith. When they were born again and came to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, they were opposed by their families and their church and pastor, who regarded them as apostates and strayed from the church doctrine. Understandably, it was a most trying time for the couple, both young new believers that they were at the time. They survived the anger and the rejection and the admonishments of their pastor to quit this faith in Jesus they had come to know personally, and are today affiliated with the Alliance Church, and he and his wife are continuing their work for God. He is an author of two excellent books, "Can These Bones Live?" and "The Fruit of Eden." We have learned much from them about the Missouri Synod and its ways from their experience. We have to wonder if this is what the founders of the Synod dreaded, this dead, anti-evangelical spirit and pharisaical practice--but which, in time, came about due to the passing of generations and their gradual but cumulative forgetting of the fervent original faith that was Biblical AND inspired by the Holy Spirit.
We are still in contact with the couple from Missouri and now Oregon, as they were dear friends of my mother Pearl Ginther, and also myself, and they esteemed her as a woman of God and sound Biblical evangelical faith. I hope to share their books in days to come, or excerpts from chapters at least. Anyone can purchase their books, by going on-line to their website. I could not recommend them more highly. If you are interested from these remarks, you can view the excerpts when they come on-line on these pages.
Here now is the article on C.F.W. Walther. He was centered on Missouri, rather than in the Dakotas, but still the Midwest, and still the American Frontier, that stretched from Wisconsin to California in those days. It will help us a little to learn what went into the founding of this particular Lutheran synod in Missouri in which German Lutherans were principally involved.--Ed.
Walther helped to establish the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1847. He served as its first president until 1850. He was elected as president in 1864 and served until 1878. Walther also served as president and teacher of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis from 1850 until his death in 1887.
A bicentennial clebration service will be held Sunday October 23, at 2:00 at the historic Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis where C.F.W. Walther was called to be pastor after his brother Otto Herman Walther died of typhoid. He served as pastor of Trinity from 1841 until his death. Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, will deliver the sermon.
Concordia Seminary has produced a five-part, high-definition video series entitled WALTHER. The series presents events in the life of Walther along with a history of the LC-MS.
Walther's writings are extensive. However, his book, "The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel," is a classic in theology that should be read again and again not only by Lutheran pastors but by all Christians who seek a right understanding of Scripture and Lutheran theology.
C.F.W. Walther is sometimes referred to as "the Martin Luther of America," because of the influence he had in the Lutheran Church here. In 1887 Walther was awarded an honorary doctorate in theology by Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.