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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente


45. Unqualified Subscription to Entire Book of Concord. -- Like the |Fathers in Halle,| Muhlenberg, self-evidently, desired to be a Lutheran and to build a Lutheran Church in America. He himself says, in a manner somewhat touchy: |I defy Satan and every lying spirit to lay at my door anything which contradicts the teaching of our apostles or the Symbolical Books. I have often said and written that I have found neither error, nor mistake, nor any defect in our Evangelical doctrine, based, as it is, on the apostles and prophets, and exhibited in our Symbolical Books.| Dr. Spaeth: |The standards of the Lutheran Church of the sixteenth century were accepted and endorsed by Muhlenberg without reservation, and in his whole ministerial work he endeavored to come up to this standard, as he had solemnly pledged himself in his ordination vow before the theological faculty of the university at Leipzig, on August 24, 1739, which committed to him the office of 'teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments according to the rule given in the writings of the prophets and apostles, the sum of which is contained in those three symbols, the Apostolic, Nicene, and Athanasian, in the Augsburg Confession laid before Emperor Charles V, A. D.1530, in the Apology of the same, in Dr. Luther's Large and Small Catechism, in the Articles subscribed to in the Smalcald Convention, and in the Formula of Concord. He solemnly promised that he would propose to his hearers what would be conformed and consentient to these writings, and that he would never depart from the sense which they give.' (Dr. W. J. Mann's The Conservatism of Henry Melchior Muehlenberg, in the Lutheran Church Review, January, 1888.) And this was the position not of the patriarch alone, but of his colaborers, of the whole Synod of Pennsylvania, which he organized, and of the sister- or daughter-synod of New York, during the lifetime of Muhlenberg and Kunze. 'Those fathers were very far from giving the Lutheran Church, as they organized it on this new field of labor, a form and character in any essential point different from what the Lutheran Church was in the Old World, and especially in Germany. They retained not only the old doctrinal standards, but also the old traditional elements and forms of worship; the church-year with its great festivals, its Gospel- and Epistle-lessons, the Liturgy, the rite of Confirmation, preparatory service for the Lord's Supper, connected with the confession of sins and absolution. Their doctrinal position was unmistakably Lutheran, in the sense in which Lutheranism is historically known, and is something individual and distinct, and as such stands in opposition to Romanism on the one hand, and to Zwingli, Calvin, and all other so-called Protestant parties on the other. Those fathers were admitted to the ministry on condition of their own declaration that they were in harmony with the Confessio Augustana Invariata, and with all the other Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church. They demanded of those whom they admitted to the sacred office the same condition. They allowed no organization or constitutions of congregations without demanding the acknowledgment of all the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church as the doctrinal basis.'| (1,317.) In a letter dated June 14, 1774, and addressed to one of the members of the Lutheran congregation at Charleston, S. C., some of whose troubles and difficulties he had endeavored to adjust, Muhlenberg stated the rule of his own personal course as follows: |During the thirty-two years of my sojourning in America, time and again occasions were given me to join the Episcopal Church, and to receive four or live times more salary than my poor German fellow-members of the Lutheran faith gave me; but I preferred reproach in and with my people to the treasures in Egypt.| (Jacobs, 298.) The confirmation form of the Agenda contained the question: |Do you intend to remain true to the truth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as you have learned to know it and solemnly confessed it?| (G.,498.)

46. Pledge of Pastors and Congregations. -- In like manner as Muhlenberg himself, all his colaborers and congregations were pledged to the Lutheran confessions. The religious oath which Brunnholtz took reads, in part, as follows: |I, Peter Brunnholtz, do solemnly swear and before God Almighty do take an oath upon my soul . . . that I will abide by the pure and unadulterated Word of God, as, according to the sense of the Spirit, it has been diligently compiled from Holy Scripture against all errorists in the three chief Symbols, and especially also in the true Lutheran church-books, as the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the two Catechisms of Luther, and in the specific Formula of Concord, and that I will teach according to them.| (G., 283.) In similar fashion, Kurtz, Weygand, and all pastors solemnly promised to discharge their office |according to the pure doctrine of the apostles and prophets and all our Synodical Books.| (Lehre u. Wehre, 1856, 120.) According to the Agenda of 1748 the catechumens promised faithfulness unto death |to the truth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church which they had solemnly confessed.| (488.) From the very outset, Muhlenberg also had the congregations subscribe to articles in which they confessed themselves to God's Word and the Lutheran Symbols. (299.) The congregations, in agreement with the constitution of 1762, pledged their pastors to preach |the Word of God according to the foundation of the apostles and prophets and in conformity with the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.| True, the Pennsylvania Synod, at its organization in 1748, did not draw up any special articles of confession, yet, according to the Agenda which had been previously adopted, it was regarded as self-evident that all pastors and congregations subscribe to the Lutheran Symbols. The synodical constitution of 1778, which was entered in the official book of record begun in 1781, contained the following provisions: |As to his life and teaching, every pastor is to be found in consonance with the Word of God and our Symbolical Books.| |In case complaints are lodged against teachers, the investigation must concern itself with: 1. express errors against the clear sense of Holy Writ and our Symbolical Books of faith.| (529.) Muhlenberg's devotion to the Lutheran doctrine appears also from the interest and zeal which he showed in furthering the institution of catechetical instruction and in establishing parochial schools. One of the chief questions to engage the attention of the first convention of Synod in 1748 was, |What is the condition of the schools?| Yet, though Muhlenberg, in the manner described, stood for confessional Lutheranism, it cannot be maintained convincingly that his influence in this direction was sound and salubrious in every respect. His was not the genuine Lutheranism of Luther, but the modified Lutheranism, then advocated in Europe and Germany generally, notably in Halle and the circles of the Pietists, a Lutheranism inoculated with legalism, subjectivism, indifferentism, and unionism. Muhlenberg's confessionalism was of the historic kind, that is to say, reverence for the venerable Lutheran symbols rather than the living power of Lutheran truth itself, directing, permeating, and shaping one's entire ecclesiastical activity both as to teaching and practise.

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