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A history of the Evangelical Lutheran church in the United States online

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of rationalism were to an extent current, and often were
repelled by humble people who had been trained under
more wholesome influences. In 1813 we find in the min-
utes of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania a complaint from
three congregations in Ohio, that their pastor was no
longer faithful " to the old Lutheran doctrine," and Dr.
Lochman was appointed to admonish him " to abide by
the old pure doctrine and to make no innovations." Two
years before, the same synod had warned the traveling
missionary, Paul Henkel, to beware of camp-meetings.
The representative men of the synod, such as Helmuth,
H. E. and H. A. Muhlenberg, Lochman, J. G. Schmucker,
were neither rationalistic nor friends of ''new measures."
Dr. Endress, of Lancaster, showed some sympathy with
the type of theology which we will find prevailing in the
New York Ministerium. Dr. Helmuth's relations with
the Moravians were very intimate, and the proceedings
of their conferences were eagerly read and preserved by
him. With this, he undoubtedly became infected with
the Moravian aversion to explicit theological definitions,
and communicated this tendency to his pupils. There


was no formal rejection or antagonism to the old faith,
except by a few relatively obscure men, whose influence
was not regarded sufficient to occasion much trouble. The
old synod was very tolerant ; this was her chief error.

In the New York Ministerium, the process, which at
first was less rapid, finally burst through all barriers with
the death of Dr. Kunze, in 1807. This was due in large
measure to the overpowering influence of Frederick Henry
Quitman, D.D., pastor at Rhinebeck, a graduate of Halle,
a former pastor in Curagoa, and in 18 14 a doctor of div-
inity of Harvard. He was a man of commanding pres-
ence, who stood in the midst of his brethren like Saul
among the hosts of Israel, and by his intellectual force
silenced opposition. A member of the Ministerium of
New York from 1796 until his death, in 1832, he was for
twenty-one years its president.

The catechism prepared by Dr. Quitman, and published,
''with consent and approbation of the synod," in 1814, is
a monument of the dominant tendency of the time. In
elegant English, entirely above the comprehension of
children, and in an order and with a vigor that showed a
trained logician, an entirely new exposition of the faith
of the church was proposed as a substitute for Luther's

It starts out with the assumption that " the grounds of
rational belief are natural perception, the authority of
competent witnesses, and unquestionable arguments of
reason." It denies that man has been deprived of free
moral agency. The divine image has only been stained
by sin. The catechumen is taught ** to respect humanity "
and "never to disgrace our dignity." That Jesus Christ
is true God is not taught. A great deal is said of his
*' divine authority " and " divine mission " and *' divine
commission." That he is called *' the Son of God " is ex-

3l6 THE LUTHERANS. [Chap. xix.

plained '' as well on account of his exalted dignity, and
preeminence above all created beings, as on account of the
great love which his heavenly Father manifested for him."
So *' he is called our Lord," *' because God has committed
to him the government of the church." He suffered and
died, in order to " seal the doctrine which he had preached
with his blood." '' The forgiveness of sins " in the Apos-
tles' Creed is interpreted as referring to " the sentiments
of charity " we should exercise " for every one who has
erred from the way of truth." Baptism has no more
meaning than to signify that '' as water cleanses our
bodies," '* so we find in communion with Christ whatever
is" necessary to purify our souls." The renunciation of
the devil in baptism is a reminiscence of the days of early
Christianity, when converts from heathenism thus obliged
themselves '* to forsake all idolatry and the sinful pageantry
connected with it." Instead of the blessing which the
Lord bestows in his Holy Supper, upon which Luther's
Catechism dwells, this New York catechism has the fol-
lowing :

What profit does the worthy communicant derive from this sacrament?

He thereby strengthens his attachment to his Lord and Saviour, and his
affection to his fellow-men ; excites himself to new resolutions of holiness ;
increases his inclination and sense of his duty to promote the cause of Christ ;
sets a good example to those around; and renews his impressions of the
saving and comfortable doctrine of the death and resurrection of Christ.

The identity of the resurrection body with that which
we have in this life is denied, and i Corinthians xv. 50,
*' Flesh and blood cannot inherit," etc., is cited as the

In a sketch of the history of religion, in the appendix,
Luther's silence in his later years in regard to '* improve-
ments by his friends " is urged as showing that " he ap-
proved of these emendations." In his list of eminent


theologians of the Lutheran Church, no reference is made
to the dogmaticians of the sixteenth and seventeenth cent-
uries, but, with a few whose inchision in such Hst would
be generally approved, the names of Semler, Ernesti,
Jerusalem, MichaeHs, Doderlein, Koppe, are commended
as advocates of the freedom of thought introduced by the
Reformation. There can be no mistaking the type of
theology which such a catechism represented. It was a
skillful effort to Americanize German rationalism, and sub-
stitute it for the type of theology according to which the
foundations of the church in America had been laid. But,
as could be anticipated, it failed to obtain any extensive
circulation. The stepson of its author. Dr. P. F. Mayer,
provided, silently and without synodical authority, an edi-
tion in English of Luther's Catechism, with proof-texts
— a revision of a previously issued book ; and the synod,
with equal silence, seems to have used it, since the *' au-
thorized " catechism was unsold and brought loss to its

The synod was more orthodox than its president.
Gradually a band of men of entirely different spirit grew
within it, and the lines were clearly drawn between the
two tendencies. Dr. Frederick Christian Schaeffer (born
1792, died 1 831), pastor in New York, son of the pastor at
Philadelphia, Dr. Y. D. Schaeffer, and the eldest of four
brothers whose learning and influence continued to con-
tribute greatly to the development of the Lutheran Church
in Maryland and Pennsylvania, was the most pronounced
in his opposition to the current which was sweeping the
New York Ministerium no one could tell whither. But he
had to struggle as a very young man against those who in
age were his fathers. Nor was the Ministerium of Penn-
sylvania satisfied. Whatever may have been the confusion

1 Dr. B. M. Schmucker, " Lutheran Church Review," vol. v., p. 174.

3i8 THE LUTHERANS. [Chap. xix.

there, a formal protest was made when the delegate of
the latter body, in 1819, sought to rebuke what was re-
garded the deeply rooted Socinianism by preaching to the
New York Ministerium on the text, i John i. 7.

Long before this, viz., in the year of Muhlenberg's
death, a catechism had been published for the congrega-
tions in North CaroUna by Dr. Velthusen, of Helmstadt,
which is pervaded by the same tendency as that of Dr.
Quitman. 1

Such teaching soon showed its entire inability to live in
America. It never gained a hold among the people ; it
never very extensively affected the ministry. Its worst
evil was the loss of time and energy, and the deadness
and indifference which it fostered. It bore within it the
seeds of its own ruin. A bold and defiant criticism must
itself fall beneath its own weapons. The necessities of
the Christian life demand a positive faith, and turn from a
religion of doubt and uncertainty, as patients soon desert
a physician who has no remedies for diseases.

The unionism which prevailed was partly a symptom
of the coming danger, and partly a reaction from it. In
New York the tendency at first was toward the Episco-
pal Church. In 1797, under the leadership of Dr. Kunze,
the resolution was passed :

That on account of an intimate relation subsisting between the English
Episcopalian and Lutheran churches, the identity of their doctrine and the
near approach of their church discipline, this consistory will never acknowl-
edge a newly erected Lutheran church in places where the members may
partake of the services of the said English Episcopal Church. 2

1 " It is superficial, vague, unevangelical, exalting human reason, and de-
grading the work of Christ. ... We are grateful to a loving Lord that our
churches generally derived their men and books from Halle rather than from
Helmstadt."— Dr. B„ M. Schmucker, in " Lutheran Church Review," vol.
v., p. 170.

2 Dr. Nicum explains reasons for this action in his " History," p. 76 sq.


The records of the convention of the Episcopal Church
of the same year show that negotiations were actually in
progress for a union.

In 1797 the Rev. Thomas ElHson, Rector of St. Peter's, Albany, com-
municated to the convention the interesting intelligence that some Lutheran
clergymen had, in the name and on behalf of the consistory of the Lutheran
Church in the State of New York, intimated to him a desire to have it pro-
posed to this convention that their church might be united with the Prot-
estant Episcopal Church in this State, and that their ministers might receive
Episcopal ordination.

It was referred to a committee with Bishop Moore as
chairman, but fell through. Bishop Perry ^ gives certain
reasons, but, on the Lutheran side, others could without
doubt be found.

Seven years later the resolution was unanimously re-

The first separate English Lutheran congregation or-
ganized in this country was Zion's, New York, formed out
of Dr. Kunze's German Church in 1796. In 1805 the
pastor, Rev. George Strebeck, carried a large number of
its members, and members of Christ's Church, with him
into the Episcopal Church, and founded St. Stephen's
Church. Five years later, Rev. Ralph Williston, who had
been a Methodist and became pastor of Zion's in 1805,
took the entire congregation, or as much as had been left
after Mr. Strebeck's defection, into the Episcopal Church.

In I 794 the Lutheran ministers in North Carolina, be-
fore the formation of any synod, ordained Robert Johnson
Miller, a Scotchman, and pledged him to " ye Rules, or-
dinances, and customs of ye Christian Society, called ye
Protestant Episcopal Church in America."^ Under this
pledge, Mr. Miller was pastor of Lutheran congregations
for twenty-seven years. In 18 10 Gottlieb Schober, a

1 Perry, vol. ii., p. 150. ^ Bernheim, p. 339.

320 THE LUTHERANS. [CiiAr. xix.

lawyer and former member of the North CaroHna legis-
lature, fifty-four years old, and to the end of his life
professing to be also a Moravian, was ordained by the
North Carolina Synod, which had been formed in 1803, by
Arnd, Miller, Storch, and Paul Henkel. After the Epis-
copal Church was established in North Carolina, and Mr.
]\Iiller had entered it, the Lutheran Synod and the con-
vention of that church entered into an arrangement for
exchange of delegates, having the right not only of a seat,
but also, except when a division was called for, of a vote
in each body.i

The current in South Carolina was in another direction.
There, in 1788, five Lutheran and two Reformed pastors
united in a Corpus EvaiigelicuvL or ''Uiiio Fcclcsiastica of
the German Protestant Churches." The Lutheran pas-
tors were pledged by the constitution to the symbolical
books. The organization disclaims the idea of any re-
nunciation of his denominational confession by any of the
members. Two lay delegates were provided for each of
the fifteen congregations — of which nine were Lutheran —
represented. The Charleston pastors were never mem-
bers. It was short-lived, no meetings having been held
after 1794.'*^

In Pennsylvania the struggle for the German language
drew the Lutherans and the Reformed more closely to-
gether. Muhlenberg and Schlatter had maintained their
intimacy, without thinking of ignoring or confounding the
important denominational principles which separated them.
But as the importance of sound doctrinal teaching fell
into the background, the language became the watchword
which awakened greater zeal than that of faith. As a
rule, the churches in the rural districts were union churches.
These were sometimes occupied by union congregations,

1 Bernheim, p. 460 sq.

2 " Constitution and Proceedings " in Bernheim, pp. 291-303,



having one church council, in which the two confessions
were indiscriminately mixed, but having, at the same time,
two pastK)rs, one for the Lutheran and the other for the
Reformed members.^ Intermarriage, without any change
of faith on the part of either husband or wife, threw the
family religious life into confusion, as some of the chil-
dren would follow the father, and others the mother.
Among the people the saying was current that the sole
distinction between the churches was that the Lutherans
began the Lord's Prayer with Vatcr iniscr, and the Re-
formed with Unser Vater. The Reformed Synod indorsed
Dr. Helmuth's " Evangelisches Magazin " for circulation
in its congregations.

There had been cooperation between the Lutherans and
Reformed in Franklin College, at Lancaster, Pa. This in-
stitution had been the result of the efforts made by Ben-
jamin Franklin to anglicize and educate the Pennsylvania
Germans, from whom, it had been feared, with their lack
of schools, a new heathenism w^as impending. With
Franklin that heathenism meant nothing more serious than
illiteracy. The Act of Incorporation of 1787'^ prescribes
that the board of trustees shall consist of fourteen Lu-
therans, fourteen Reformed, and the rest from other Chris-
tian communions without distinction. Among the first
trustees were Drs. Helmuth and H. E. Muhlenberg, Revs.
J. N. Kurtz, C. E. Schultze, Jacob van Buskirk, John
Herbst, and F. V. Melsheimer, and General Peter Muhl-
enberg. The Catholic priest at Lancaster was included.
The president was to be chosen alternately from the Lu-
theran and Reformed churches. The purpose of the insti-
tution was stated as '' to promote accurate knov/ledge of
the German and English languages— also of the learned

1 Such congregations are still in existence.

2 A translation into German in "Acten eur Neuesten Kirchengescliichte,"
vol. ii. (1 79 1), p. 366 sq.

322 THE LUTHERANS. [Chap. xix.

languages — of mathematics, moral and natural philosophy,
divinity, and all such other branches of literature as will
tend to make men good and useful citizens."

The first president was Dr. Henry Ernst Muhlenberg.
His inaugural, June 6, 1787, most forcibly shows the value
of a Christian education. He chose for it a text, Ephe-
sians vi. 4, " Bring them up in the nurture and admonition
of the Lord," and claimed that the religious instruction
was to be the main object that should be kept in view in
all the instruction. 1

Another member of the ministerium was in the faculty,
viz., the Rev. F. V. Melsheimer, sometimes called the Father
of American Entomology, who had the comprehensive de-
partment of *' Greek, Latin, and German." It was well at-
tended, there having been one hundred and twelve stu-
dents in the English department alone during the first year.
But the financial management was such that it soon de-
generated into what was little more than a local academy,
until, in 1850, the funds accruing from the sales of lands
given by the State in Venango, Bradford, and Lycoming
counties — part of them subsequent oil-fields — were divided
between the Lutherans" and the Reformed.

The original idea of providing for theological instruction
in Franklin College was not speedily abandoned. In 1818
the Ministerium of Pennsylvania appointed a committee,
which, in connection with a similar committee of the Re-
formed Church, should prepare a plan for a joint educa-
tional institution in connection with Franklin College.
The next year the institution in view is referred to as a

1 Eine Rede, gehalten den 6ten Juny, 1787, bey der Einweihung von der
Deutschen hohen Schule oder Franklin Collegium in Lancaster, von Gotthilf
Hen. Muhlenberg, Principal des Collegium, etc. (Lancaster, 1788), p. 15.

2 The Lutheran share went to found the Franklin professorship in Penn-
sylvania College, Gettysburg, filled from 1850 to 1883 by nominees of the
Ministerium of Pennsylvania.


joint theological seminary. The report of the committee,
of which Dr. J. G. Schmucker was chairman, gives a thor-
oughly elaborated plan. The name was to be " The
Theological Seminary for the Education of Pious Young
Men to the Evangelical Ministry." There were to be two
professors, one elected by the synod of each denomination,
and eighteen trustees, also equally divided. Among their
duties, they were to ** watch against the gradual introduc-
tion of error, and lead the students to a knowledge of
unadulterated truth " ;^ but what this error and this truth
are is not specified. A '* Magazine " was to be pubHshed
by the faculty, to which the pastors of both synods were
expected to subscribe, and for which they were to secure
subscriptions within their congregations. The professors
were to be members of the board, with both a seat and
vote, except in matters of personal interest. Both synods
were to make equal annual contributions toward the sem-

This was a scheme that could not be realized. It was
only one of the manifestations of a desire for union be-
tween these two large German bodies in Pennsylvania,
which frequently came to view during this and the early
part of the succeeding period. An historian of the Re-
formed Church has well said:^

It must be confessed that many ministers of the Reformed and Lutheran
churches favored the organic union of these two bodies, not because they
liad reached a proper doctrinal basis for such union, but because they knew
little and cared less about the questions at issue between them.

A very interesting indication of the current tendency
was the publication, in 181 7, of the '' Gemeinschaftliches
Gesangbuch " as a substitute for the hymn-book prepared

1 MS. "Archives of Ministerium of Pennsylvania" for 1820.
^ " Historic Manual of the Reformed. Church in the United States," by
Joseph Henry Dubbs, D.D. (Lancaster, Pa., 1885), p. 265.

24 THE LUTHERANS. [Chap. xix.

in 1787 by Muhlenberg, Kunze, and Helmuth. It was
intended for the use of both the Lutheran and the Re-
formed, was recommended by the synods of both churches
in Pennsylvania, and bore the indorsement of Dr. Quitman
that *' it is far better adapted to our present times than
those now used at pubhc service in the German Protestant
churches of our country." The relative merits of these
books may be estimated according to these professions
when the words of the eminent Presbyterian professor,
Dr. J. W. Alexander, of Princeton, in criticism of German
hymns, are remembered :

*' In looking through Knapp, I observe, with pain, that
the nearer we come to our own day, the farther we are
from the cross ; more of the Muse, less of the Redeemer." i
Nevertheless these movements— ^strange as the state-
ment may seem — were partially reactionary against the
widespread rationalistic influences that were entering.
When the most vital and most central doctrines were
assailed, it was not unnatural for Christian ministers of
diverging confessions to feel drawn toward each other in
their defense. There would be more sympathy between
a conservative Lutheran and a conservative Reformed
theologian than between him and the professed Lutheran
theology represented by the catechism bearing in 18 14 the
indorsement of the New York Ministerium. Where Lu-
therans were all in confusion because of the defection of
prominent pastors and professors in Germany and Amer-
ica, it was not strange for other Lutherans to find sympa-
thy in the association of those of a more positive faith
within the Reformed Church.

So much must be said, in order to interpret correctly
the position of the more earnest men of this period. But
there is a darker picture — perhaps the darkest in the his-
1 Schaff's " Kirchenfreund," vol. ii., p. 91.



tory of the Lutheran Church in America — that dare not
be passed over by one who would be a faithful historian.
It is that of not a few pastors, orthodox in the general
sense of the term, not from deep personal conviction, but
from intellectual indolence and motives of expediency.
Settled in the midst of large parishes of from six to twelve
congregations, ministering to an uneducated rural popula-
tion, they preached the Word of God, but were occupied
with the secular demands of their farms as much as with
the spiritual interests of their people. That close personal
dealing with individual souls that characterized the minis-
try of Muhlenberg and Brunnholtz was an Impossibility.
The pastor scarcely knew, even by name, the thousands of
members In his parish, as he passed on Sunday, with all
haste, from one church to another. A few volumes of
sermons, from which to gather material ready for prompt
use in the pulpit, and the local newspaper were probably
the sole reading with which he supplemented the theolog-
ical course he had received from some pastor thoroughly
preoccupied with other duties. Not indiflferent to attend-
ance upon synodlcal sessions, where, for a time, the pro-
ceeds of certain European legacies were divided Into small
shares among those present, the connection of such pastors
with the body was otherwise so loose that they were
ready on the least provocation to declare themselves inde-
pendent, and Insisted that it was the office of the synod
only to give advice, which, at their pleasure, they were
free to accept or reject. There were no educational or
missionary enterprises that could enlist their interest.
Was It a wonder that, under a ministry thus secularized,
the hearing of the Word and the receiving of the sacra-
ments degenerated into purely mechanical services, that
church discipline almost completely vanished, and that,
amidst the great progress which the last three quarters of

26 THE LUTHERANS. [Chap. xix.

a century has witnessed within these congregations, the
rehcs of this ecclesiastical semi-barbarism have not alto-
gether passed away ? What the feudal lord was in the
middle ages, the Pennsylvanian German pastor among
both Lutheran and Reformed closely resembled.^

But such degeneracy was not without its protest from
the synod itself. A printed "Appeal," sent out in its name
in i8io, states the case most forcibly:

When the writer sat down to comply with the duty intrusted him by the
synod, the earlier years of his pilgrimage in this western land came into lively
remembrance. The simplicity of life, the warm love to religion and the wor-
ship of God, the kind and cordial demeanor of our dear country people of
those days, passed in review. With the warmest emotion he thought of the
many nights he had spent in their dwellings, of the touching prayers ofTered
by the fathers of families about the hour of midnight to the throne of Jesus,
of the conversations, prolonged into the stillness of the night, with the fathers
and mothers, generally concerning the preaching of the Word heard the pre-
ceding day. Religion was actually with many the chief thing.

It was a general custom, when a pastor spent the night with country peo-
ple, for him to devote the evening to godly conversation with the members of
the family, to which the nearest neighbors were ordinarily invited; they
sang, they prayed, and then, quickened anew to spiritual life, retired to rest.
It belongs, of course, chiefly to the ministers to care for your congrega-
tions ; if they do not themselves pray, if they have no true feeling for relig-
ion, how is it possible for them to quicken the same in your hearts? Alas!
it is often the case that the pastor thinks that he has discharged fully his
duty when he regularly gives his services in preaching, etc. ; this is indeed
praiseworthy, but it is not enough. A minister should always manifest the
warm heart of a parent for the members of his congregation. He should
not always speak in the formal tone of the preacher, but in that of the father,
who wants to deliver his child from a nearly impending clanger, with the

Online LibraryHenry Eyster JacobsA history of the Evangelical Lutheran church in the United States → online text (page 26 of 43)