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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER BERKENMEYER.

American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente

WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER BERKENMEYER.

24. Activity in New York. -- In New York Falckner was succeeded by W. Ch. Berkenmeyer (1686-1751). Berkenmeyer was born in the duchy of Lueneburg and had studied theology at Altorf under Dr. Sontag, a theologian whose maxim was, |Quo propius Luthero, eo melior theologus, The closer to Luther, the better a theologian.| Upon request of the New York congregation the Lutheran Consistory of Amsterdam, in 1724, called him to serve the Dutch congregations in the Hudson Valley. While en route to his new charge, he was informed that a vagabond preacher by the name of J. B. von Dieren, a former tailor, had succeeded in ingratiating himself with the New York Lutherans, and had been accepted as their preacher. Nothing daunted, Berkenmeyer continued his journey, landing at New York in 1725. At the first meeting of the Church Council he won the hearts of all, even of those who had been instrumental in foisting von Dieren upon the congregation, who now stood convicted as an ignorant pretender, and therefore was dismissed. Dieren continued his agitation in other Lutheran congregations until Berkenmeyer in 1728 published a tract fully exposing the character of the impudent impostor. From the beginning Berkenmeyer's labors were blessed abundantly. Bringing with him money collected by the Lutherans in Amsterdam and receiving additional financial help from London and the congregations of Daniel Falckner, Berkenmeyer was enabled to resume the building operations in New York begun as early as 1670 (1705). On June 29, 1729, the New Trinity Church was dedicated. Berkenmeyer's parish covered a large territory. In addition to New York, Albany, and Loonenburg he served the congregations at Hackensack, Raritan, Clavernack, Newton, West Camp, Tar Bush, Camp, Rheinbeck (where a new church was dedicated on the First Sunday in Advent, 1728), Schenectady, Coxsackie, and in the Schoharie Valley. In Schoharie he baptized the infant daughter of Conrad Weiser, who eighteen years later became the wife of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. In the absence of churches, Berkenmeyer preached in private dwellings or, more frequently, in barns. At one of these services fourteen children were baptized in the |Lutheran barn| of Pieter Lassing. (176.) This immense parish was divided in 1731, Berkenmeyer removing to Loonenburg. Pastor Christian Knoll of Holstein was called to take charge of the southern congregations in and about New York. Berkenmeyer delivered his farewell sermon November 26, 1732, and sixteen days later Knoll preached his first sermon. In 1734 the Lutheran clergy received an addition in the person of Magister Wolff, who succeeded the aged and infirm Daniel Falckner at Raritan and five other congregations in New Jersey. In the same year the three Lutheran pastors and a number of congregations organized the first Lutheran Synod in America, with Berkenmeyer as chairman. Its first and only convention of which we have record was held at Raritan, August 20, 1735; nine congregations were represented by delegates. The chief business of Synod was to settle a quarrel between Wolff and his congregations, one of the charges preferred against the pastor being that he read his sermons instead of delivering them from memory (|statt aus dem Haupte zu predigen|). Peace was restored, but temporarily only. Berkenmeyer continued his ministry in Loonenburg for twenty years. Like other Lutheran divines of his day, the Swedes and Salzburgers not excepted, he kept two slaves, whom he himself united in marriage in 1744. Also during his declining years Berkenmeyer experienced much sorrow. His end came on August 26, 1751. The closing words of his epitaph are: |He has elected us in Christ before the foundation of the world; there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.| In the same year Knoll, who, owing to disputes arising from the language question, had been compelled to resign at New York, took charge of the Loonenburg congregation and continued there until 1765.

25. Berkenmeyer's Sturdy Lutheranism. -- Though not clear in some points and, at times, rigorous in discipline, Berkenmeyer stood for a sound and decided Lutheranism. His orthodoxy appears from the very library which he selected and brought with him for the congregation in New York, consisting of twenty folios, fifty-two quartos, twenty-three octavos, and six duodecimos, among them Calovius's Biblia Illustrata, Balduinus's Commentarius in Epistolas S. Pauli, Dedekennus's Consilia, Huelsemann's De Auxiliis Gratiae, Brochmand's Systema, etc. Owing to his staunch orthodoxy, Berkenmeyer also had an aversion to the Pietists, and refused to cooperate with Muhlenberg and his colaborers from Halle. He disapproved of, and opposed, the unionistic practises of the Swedish and Halle pastors. Speaking of Berkenmeyer's pastorate in New York, Dr. Graebner remarks: |In a firm and faithful manner he had preserved for himself and his congregation, both in doctrine and practise, a staunch Lutheran character, which banished the very thought of fraternizing with the heterodox. At the same time, though a German theologian and commanding an easy, flexible, and forceful Latin, he was a genial Dutchman among his Dutch parishioners, perfectly adapting himself to their manners.| (186.) He was firm and consistent, but not fanatical, bigoted, or narrow. |In 1746, when the Reformed pastor Freylinghausen lay ill with the smallpox at Albany, Berkenmeyer visited him. But never did he establish an intimately friendly intercourse with the Reformed pastors, and in church-matters he was determined to keep himself and his people separate from the Reformed. In the German congregations, such as those in and about Newton, where Lutherans lived among the Reformed, with whom, after suffering together with them, they had emigrated, warnings against apostasy and unionistic practises were even more necessary than in the Dutch congregations, especially, as the Reformed made concessions to Lutherans uniting with them, e.g., by having the Lutheran children recite the Lutheran Catechism in the catechetical instructions of children (Christenlehren). Berkenmeyer, however, knew how to keep awake the Lutheran conscience. When, in 1736, the Calvinists on the Katsbaan, several miles from Newton, forbade their lector henceforth to have the children recite the Lutheran Catechism, this led to a declaration on the part of the Lutherans to the effect that they would no longer attend services at their church. At Schoharie, Berkenmeyer had to preach in the Reformed church; but that did not prevent him from testifying against joint services. He declared that in such union, without unity in the faith, the pastor was required to become 'either a dumb dog or a mameluke'; the theme of his sermon here was: 'Our Duty to Defend the Truth against the Gainsayers.'| (207.) The same earnestness characterized Berkenmeyer's dealings with pastors, whom he recognized only after they had confessed their Lutheranism in clear and unequivocal terms.

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