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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente


52. Attitude toward Non-Lutherans. -- In the Lutheran Encyclopedia H. E. Jacobs says in praise of Muhlenberg: |He knew how to combine width of view and cordiality of friendship towards those of other communions, with strict adherence to principle.| (331.) Similar views had been expressed by Dr. W. J. Mann at the First Free Lutheran Diet at Philadelphia. In his |Theses on the Lutheranism of the Fathers of the Church in This Country| he said: |Their Lutheranism did not differ from the Lutheran orthodoxy of the preceding period, in the matter of doctrine, but to an extent in the manner of applying it. It was orthodoxy practically vitalized. They were less polemical and theoretical. Whilst tolerant toward those of other convictions, they were, however, neither indifferent nor unionistically inclined, and never conformed Lutheranism to any other form of Christianity, though in their days the pressure in this direction was heavy.| (Spaeth, C. P. Krauth, 1, 318.) However, though Muhlenberg's intentions undoubtedly were to be and remain a Lutheran, his fraternal intercourse and intimate fellowship with the Reformed, Episcopalians, Methodists, and other denominations, was of a nature incompatible with true Lutheranism. He evidently regarded the various Christian communions as sister churches, who had practically the same divine right to exist and to propagate their distinctive views as the Lutheran Church. Such was the principle of indifferentism on which Muhlenberg based his practise of fraternal recognition and fellowship. The natural and inevitable result of his relations with the sects was that the free, open, and necessary confession of Lutheran truth over against Reformed error was weakened and muffled, and finally smothered and entirely silenced and omitted. Nor can it be denied that Muhlenberg, by this unionism and indifferentism, wasted and corrupted much of the rich blessings which God bestowed, and purposed to bestow, on the American Lutheran Church through him. Like Dr. Wrangel and the Swedes in Delaware generally, Muhlenberg and his associates entertained the opinion that especially the Lutherans and Episcopalians were not separated by any essential doctrinal differences. Indeed, the Germans in Pennsylvania, like the Swedes in Delaware, seem at times to have seriously considered a union between the Episcopalians and the Lutherans. In brief, Muhlenberg's attitude toward the Reformed and other sects was of a nature which cannot be justified as Lutheran nor construed as non-unionistic in character.

53. The Facts in the Case. -- From the very beginning to the end of his activity in America the practise of Muhlenberg was not free from indifferentism and unionism. Already on his voyage across the ocean he had conducted services according to the Book of Common Prayer. (G., 322.) November 25, 1742, Muhlenberg had arrived in Philadelphia, and on December 28th of the same year he wrote in his journal: |In the afternoon I visited the English pastor of the Episcopal Church. He was very cordial, and informed me that he had always been a good friend of our Lutheran brethren, the Swedish missionaries, and desired to be on friendly terms also with me.| (267.) In 1743 Muhlenberg signified his willingness to build a union church with the Reformed in case they were willing to shoulder their part of the expenses. (272.) In 1751 he reported from New York: |May 31, I visited Mr. Barclay, the most prominent pastor of the Anglican Church, whom the Archbishop has appointed commissioner of the province of New York. . . . The Dutch Reformed have at present four pastors. I called on the oldest of them, Mr. Du Bois, who received me cordially. Thereupon I visited the youngest of the Dutch Reformed Ministerium. I visited also the third member of this body, who, together with his wife, carried on a beautiful and edifying conversation, so that I was truly delighted.| (421.) |June 28, I visited Mr. Pemberton, the pastor of the English Presbyterian congregation, for the first time. He was much pleased with my short call, and remarked that he had received a letter from Pastor Tennent in Philadelphia, who had mentioned my name and advised him to cultivate my company. Almost immediately he began to speak of the sainted Professor Francke, saying that he had read several of his Latin works. Besides this we had several other edifying conversations. Upon my departure he asked me to visit him frequently.| (422.) |July 22, my host and I drove to the oldest Reformed pastor, who gave us a cordial reception. In the afternoon we visited one of the elders of my congregation. In the evening the younger Reformed pastor visited me.| (425.) |On the 23d I again preached in Dutch on the opening verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew. The two Reformed pastors and a large number of people were present.| (425.) |August 17, I preached a penitential sermon and had confession. The church was filled with Lutherans and Reformed, among whom was also the younger pastor.| (428.) |August 21, the members of the congregation who live near by, several Reformed neighbors, and a number of friends of New York assembled to hear my farewell sermon at that place.| (420.) |May 11, our Dutch congregation-members who live near by, and some Reformed neighbors, were invited to attend an hour of edification.| (434.) |In the afternoon I bade farewell to the younger Reformed pastor.| (439.) |Early on Tuesday morning the Reformed Pastor Schlatter came to my home and embraced me after the custom of our old and unfeigned love.| (439.) |In the evening I was called to the six Reformed pastors who had arrived. I went and welcomed them with the words: 'Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.' July 30, I was taken to the pious English merchant, as he had some awakened souls with him. They sang a psalm, read a chapter from a devotional book, and in conclusion urged me to pray. After the dear souls had returned to their homes, I remained with him and had a very delightful and edifying conversation with him and his pious wife.| (440.) Muhlenberg praises the Episcopalian Richard Peters as a |moderate theologian,| possessed of a |catholic spirit,| and reports in 1760: |On the ninth and tenth of August Mr. Richard Peters, secretary of the province and president of the Academy in Philadelphia, visited me in Providence. In the morning he attended our German service, with which, he said, he was greatly delighted. In the afternoon he himself delivered a very solid and edifying sermon to a large audience.| (516.) After his removal to Philadelphia, in 1761, Muhlenberg wrote: |On Monday, March 16, I intended quietly to leave the city. However, Provost Wrangel as well as some of the elders accompanied me, the former as far as the home of Pastor Schlatter, where we were hospitably received and entertained for the night.| (380.) On the services conducted at Barren Hill on Easter Monday, 1762, Muhlenberg reports as follows: |After my sermon Pastor Schlatter added a short admonition, impressing upon them what they had already heard.| (517.) |On Monday, May 25, I went out in the forenoon to visit some English friends. As I happened to pass by the English High Church at eleven o'clock, I was called into the manse, where I found a numerous assembly of the honorable English missionaries, who were conducting their annual meeting. They took me to church with them, showed me unmerited honor, and permitted me to attend their session as a friend and witness.| (380.) May 21, 1762, Muhlenberg noted in his diary: |At noon I was with Mr. R., who related with joy how he, Mr. D., and Provost Wrangel, together with the new Swedish pastor, Mr. Wicksel, and the Reformed pastor, Schlatter, had yesterday, on Ascension Day, attended the new church, where they had heard two splendid and edifying sermons in German and English delivered to two large audiences.| (383.) October 16, 1763, he wrote: |Pastor Handschuh was called upon to bury a Reformed woman who died in childbirth; he delivered the sermon in the old Reformed church.| On October 18, 1763, during the sessions of Synod, and at its request, Whitefield preached in the pulpit of Muhlenberg. In 1767 J. S. Gerock dedicated his new church in New York, |assisted by different High German and English Protestant pastors and teachers,| H. M. Muhlenberg and Hartwick also preaching. (444.) When Muhlenberg dedicated his new Zion Church in Philadelphia, on June 25, 1769, the professors of the Academy as well as the Episcopalian and Presbyterian pastors were invited. The report says: |The second English pastor, Mr. Duchee, opened the services by reading the English prayers, the Prorector of the Academy offered an appropriate prayer, and Commissioner Peters delivered a splendid sermon on the song of the angels, Luke 2, whereupon Rector Muhlenberg, in the name of the corporation and congregation, thanked the honorable assembly, in English, for their favor and kindness in honoring this newly erected church and conducting a service there.| May 27, 1770, Whitefield, upon invitation, also preached in the new church. (518.) Without a word of censure on the part of his father, or of protest on the part of Synod, Peter Muhlenberg, in 1772, at London, subscribed to the Thirty-nine Articles and received Episcopal ordination, in order to be able to perform legal marriage ceremonies within his congregations in Virginia. Invited by the Presbyterian pastor, W. Tennent, Muhlenberg, Sr., preached in his church on two occasions while at Charleston, in 1774. (578.) At Savannah he preached in the union church of the Reformed Pastor Zuebli, and in the Lutheran church at Savannah he enjoyed the sermon of a Methodist pastor. (518.) At the church dedication in Pikestown, in 1775, he preached in German, and an Episcopalian, Mr. Currie, in English, etc.

54. Whitefield in Muhlenberg's Pulpit. -- |The pastors of the first period of the Ministerium,| says Dr. Jacobs, |were on friendly relations with Whitefield. Dr. Wrangel interested himself in securing for him an invitation to meet with the members of the Ministerium during the sessions of 1763. In urging this proposition, Wrangel did not forget the collections which Whitefield had made in Europe for the impoverished Salzburgers. The presence of a man who had pleaded eloquently in English pulpits for contributions to build Lutheran churches in Georgia, and with that eminent success which Benjamin Franklin has noted in a well-known passage in his autobiography, certainly deserved recognition, even apart from Whitefield's services in awakening life in the Church of England and in America. He was present at the examination of the children of St. Michael's Church before the synod, made a fervent prayer and an edifying address. On the next day he bade the synod farewell, and requested the prayers of its members. The next year he was in attendance at the funeral of Pastor Handschuh. In 1770 (May 27) he preached by special invitation in Zion Church.| (286.) In his report, dated October 15, 1763, on the synod of the same year, Muhlenberg himself says: |It was also considered, whether we should not invite Mr. Whitefield and the two well-disposed preachers of the Episcopal Church for Monday and Tuesday, especially to the examination of the children. Among other reasons Dr. Wrangel mentioned the fact that Whitefield had assisted our poor suffering brethren in Georgia [Salzburgers] with collections. In the evening Dr. Wrangel took me to Mr. Whitefield, and in the name of the Ministerium we invited him together with the rector of the High Church, who was present.| October 16, Muhlenberg wrote: |After the services Dr. Wrangel, Pastor Handschuh, and three trustees went to Mr. Whitefield and asked him if on the morrow he would attend our examination in the church, and speak a word of admonition to the children. He answered: Yes, if his weakness permitted, and such were God's gracious will.| October 18, Muhlenberg wrote: |Mr. Whitefield ascended the pulpit, and said a hearty and powerful prayer. Hereupon he addressed himself to the children, delivering, with tears and deep emotion, a condescending sermon about pious children of the Old and New Testaments, together with some modern examples which he had himself experienced, and finally enjoined upon parents their duties. After this the children were examined by Dr. Wrangel, and then, in German, by me. Whitefield, however, being very weak in body, and the church being very crowded, we discontinued and closed with a piece of church music. The pastors and other delegates, the elders and deacons took dinner in the school, the old Mr. Tennent [Episcopalian], who was given the place of honor, delighting us with edifying conversation.| October 19, Muhlenberg wrote: |At four o'clock Mr. George Whitefield visited our Ministerium in the school, bidding us an affectionate farewell, and requesting us to intercede for him before the throne of grace.| Dr. Graebner remarks: |A misstep as serious as this, admitting an errorist like Whitefield to the pulpit of the local pastor and synodical president, such as was done at this synodical meeting, had, at least, not been made before the time of Wrangel.| (383 ff.) Concerning his fellowship with Whitefield in 1770, Muhlenberg made the following entries in his journal: |Friday, May 25... Because I could not do otherwise, I wrote a few lines to Rev. Mr. Whitefield, stating that if he would preach for me on next Sunday night in Zion Church, it would be acceptable to me.| |Sunday, May 27.... Early in the evening Zion Church was filled with people of all sorts of religion, both German and English. We two preachers went to Mr. Whitefield's lodging and took him with us to the church, which was so crowded that we had to take him in through the steeple-door.... He complained of a cold contracted at the morning service, and consequent hoarseness, but preached very acceptably from 2 Chron.7, 1 on 'The Outer and the Inner Glory of the House of God.' He introduced some impressive remarks concerning our fathers -- Francke and Ziegenhagen, etc.| (Jacobs, 287.) At the First Lutheran Diet, Dr. C. P. Krauth explained: |Whitefield was an evangelist of forgotten or ignored doctrines of the Gospel; a witness excluded from many pulpits of his own church because of his earnestness in preaching the truth; in some sense a martyr. This invested him with interest in the eyes of our fathers, and his love to the Lutheran Church and his services to it made him very dear.| (287.)

55. Experiencing the Consequences. -- From what has been said it is evident that Muhlenberg's relations with the sects was not without reprehensible unionism. Even where, in such fellowship, syncretism was not directly practised, the proper confession of Lutheran truth was omitted. As with the Swedes in Delaware, fraternal intercourse proceeded on the silent understanding that the sore spot of doctrinal differences must be carefully avoided. For Lutherans, however, this was tantamount to a denial of the truth. Muhlenberg set an example the influence of which was all the more pernicious by reason of the high esteem in which he was held by the members of Synod, who revered him as a father. As late as 1866 the Pennsylvania Synod defended its intercourse with the Reformed Synod |as a measure introduced by the fathers in the time of Muhlenberg and Schlatter.| And the unionistic practises indulged in by the General Synod throughout its history cannot but be viewed as the fruits of the tree first planted by the Halle emissaries. Nor could they fail to see the abyss into which such unionism must finally lead, as it was apparent already in the history of the Swedes. That Muhlenberg had a presentiment whither things were drifting appears from his warning in 1783 to J. L. Voigt not to open his pulpit to Methodist preachers. (516.) Indeed, Muhlenberg himself lived to see the first bitter fruits of his dalliance with the sects. Four months before his end, June 6, 1787, Franklin College, at Lancaster, was solemnly opened as a German High School and a union theological seminary for Lutherans, Reformed, and a number of other sects. H. E. Muhlenberg delivered the sermon at the opening exercises, which were attended by the entire synod. The name of the institution was chosen in view of the virtues and merits of Benjamin Franklin, who had contributed 200 Pounds. The College had forty-five trustees, consisting of 15 Lutherans, 15 Reformed, and 15 chosen from other communions. A director was to be chosen alternately from the Lutheran and from the Reformed Church. Among the first trustees were J. H. C. Helmuth and other Lutheran pastors. Two of the first four teachers were Lutherans: Pastor H. E. Muhlenberg, the first director, and Pastor F. W. Melsheimer. (515.) Dr. A. Spaeth, agreeing with W. J. Mann, says: |Sooner or later the whole Lutheran Church of America should and could unite on the position of Muhlenberg.| (252.) We would not detract from the merit of Muhlenberg. The slogan of the American Lutheran Church, however, dare never be: |Back to Muhlenberg!| |Back to Halle!| but |Back to Wittenberg!| |Back to Luther! Back to Lutheran sincerity, determination, and consistency both in doctrine and practise!|

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