Dear Saints of Grace,
This article serves as Part Two of a Four Part series giving a very brief breakdown of Lutheranism in America (specifically North America). Last month covered the 17th Century - and so we move on.
The 18th Century
At the beginning of the 1700’s, as more immigrants poured into the New World of North America, confessional Lutheranism took a turn for the worse. (This reveals the ebb & flow process of confessional Lutheranism which was talked about in last month’s newsletter.) The prominent reasons which brought emigrants to the New World were: financial opportunities, the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the brutal winter of 1708-09 and lastly, religious persecution. To pay for their move, many became Redemptioners for three to seven years. This was like being an indentured servant, (working off the money it cost to get them there but not being supported by the employer), leaving many to live in very poor conditions.
Because so many had poured into the new world, and money wasn’t as abundant as they had hoped, the German-speaking Lutheran laity combined their money with the German-speaking Reformed laity to build churches. These would become known as Union Churches.
Initially, the Lutherans & Reformed would worship at different times on Sunday. This led many to eventually not care what the difference was between the two, and confessional Lutheranism was weakened (this would be the ebbing). Another substantial reason for not remaining confessional was the simple exposure to people of other denominations (which didn’t exist in their homelands) and the intermarriages which would follow thereafter.
1725 would see the arrival of W. C. Berkenmeyer; a Confessional Lutheran who attempted to bring more orthodox Lutheran practices back into the churches in the New York area (the flow attempts to return). In 1739, however, a man by the name of H.M. Muhlenberg came to America and contended with him, saying that confessionals didn’t show any heart. A full subscription to the Lutheran Confessions was NOT important to Muhlenberg. He felt that those who agreed upon the ‘fundamental’ doctrines (i.e. the Trinity, person & work of Christ, etc.) could do things together. He also contended with a man named N. L. von Zinzendorf, who went too far in the liberal direction, saying that ordination was not necessary; Confessions, fundamentals, and denominations didn’t matter at all. He further stated that Christians should simply belong to one big church.
Muhlenberg’s crowning achievement would happen in 1748 when he created the Pennsylvania Ministerium; a synod-like joining of Lutheran churches, holding to liturgical uniformity. This Ministerium, however, was very Pietistic (a result driven understanding, requiring others to show that they’ve yielded to the Holy Spirit). This, of course, was NOT confessional. 1785-86 saw John Kunze form the New York Ministerium. In 1792, upon the death of Muhlenberg, everything changed. Those put in charge of the PA. Ministerium wasted no time revising its Constitution and dropping its use of the Lutheran Confessions altogether; making things even more UN-confessional.
As the 19th century approached, the flow returned as Paul Henkel & his son, David, brought a confessional turn back to the newly formed United States of America. We’ll delve into this movement in the next newsletter.
With you IN Christ!