Dear Saints of Grace,
It is the aim of the next 4 newsletter articles to introduce to you (albeit in a very brief summary) the story of Lutheranism: How it Arrived and Grew in America. These articles will hopefully help to answer that ever nagging question: “Why are there so many different Lutheran churches; and where do we fit within it all?”
As with most things in the world, there always seems to be an ebb and flow that takes place (i.e. good times and bad times in life; political party control of the Presidency and Congress; even churches, thriving one decade, and struggle in another). The same can be said about Lutheranism. What we will be looking for in this ebb and flow process is something called ‘Confessional’ Lutheranism.
Why is ‘Confessional’ the determinative word here? Please allow me to answer that question with another question (and seriously, stop and ask yourself if you really know the answer): What makes you a Lutheran? -- (allotted time for pondering) -- OK, time’s up. Answer: What makes you a Lutheran is that you believe, teach, and confess the teachings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (as expressed in the Book of Concord) as the best exposition of God’s Word. Let’s see how that Lutheran confession of faith came to America.
The 17th Century
The journey of Lutheranism coming to North America began in 1619 as the Danes would attempt to settle Nova Dania (New Denmark) in Churchill, Manitoba (which is a province of Canada, just north of Montana). Sixty-six Danish settlers unfortunately arrived during an extremely cold winter, but it wasn’t the temperature that proved fatal. Scurvy and lead poisoning would eventually take sixty-three lives. The remaining three sailed back to Sweden the next year.
Subsequent attempts were made through the years, some saying that the Dutch settled New Netherland around 1623, but 1640 is more realistic. This means that it was the Swedes who would truly be the first Lutherans to establish New Sweden in Wilmington, Delaware in 1637 or 1638. Already ‘confessional’ Lutheranism would be put to the test as they were very short on Lutheran pastors.
While waiting for a pastor to be sent from Europe, family devotions, singing hymns, and reading old Lutheran sermons would see them through. Reformed pastors were already in America. Although they didn't hold to the Lutheran Confessions, they believed in Trinitarian Baptism. So, out of respect for the Pastoral Office, Lutheran families relied on Reformed pastors to baptize their children. Some families started to attend Reformed church services, but staying ‘confessional’, they would refrain from taking Holy Communion because the Reformed believe (Confess) that there is no real presence in the Sacrament of the Altar.
In 1655, the Dutch would take over New Sweden (calling it New Amsterdam). But then, in 1664, the British would take over the Dutch, giving New Amsterdam a new name: New York. Also in 1664, the 30 Years War had ended in Europe and the path to the new world was opened. An influx of European immigrants would see an incredible amount of Lutherans come to America. German Lutherans would not really begin to arrive until the 1690’s; settling in nothing but the eastern states, such as PA., NY., NJ., MD., VA., GA., & the Carolinas. Next month we will delve into the 18th Century.
With you IN Christ!