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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente


59. Descent Increasingly Swift. -- The Lutheran Church has always held that, as faith cannot and must not be coerced, the broadest tolerance as to matters of conscience and religion should govern the policy of the State everywhere. On the other hand, the Lutheran Church maintains that, as truth is absolutely intolerant of error, and error is the direct denial of truth, the Christian Church dare not in any shape or manner give recognition to false teaching, but, on the contrary, is bound always to reject it and to confess God's truth alone. Indifferentism as to false doctrine and practise has ever proved to be the most deadly foe of true Lutheranism, which, essentially, is but another name for consistent Christianity. Lutheranism and doctrinal indifferentism are just as destructive mutually as are truth and falsehood. Also the history of the Pennsylvania Synod offers ample proof of this law. In the days of Muhlenberg, Lutherans began to doubt that their doctrinal position, as presented in the Lutheran Symbols, alone is of divine right in the Christian Church, and alone in complete keeping with the Scriptures. Then they began to defend themselves as also being in the right and standing for truth; then, to apologize for their presence in America; then, to be ashamed of themselves and publicly to deny the distinctive tenets of Lutheranism; and, finally, to oppose its doctrines, champion their counterpart, and practically embrace sectarianism. Muhlenberg had lived to see the beginning of the end of true Lutheranism when Franklin College was opened. The descent was increasingly swift. In 1792 the confession of the Lutheran Symbols was omitted in the new constitution of the Ministerium. And when, under the influence of Quitman, the New York Ministerium became rationalistic, the Pennsylvania Synod made no protest, administered no rebuke, and did not sever its fraternal relations with it. Moreover, in a measure, they opened their own doors to Rationalism; the German language was regarded as being of greater import than faithful adherence to the Lutheran Confessions; and refuge against the inroads of Rationalism and the English language was sought in a union with the German Reformed and the German Moravians. The utter degeneration of the Pennsylvania Synod appears from the new Agenda, concerning which Synod resolved in 1818 that it be introduced in all German congregations of the Ministerium. In this Book there were embodied also forms designed to satisfy the Rationalists. Two of the forms for administering the Sacrament of Baptism contained no confession of faith. The confession to the Lutheran Church was stricken from the form for Confirmation. In two of the forms for the administration of the Lord's Supper the Union formula of distribution was employed, viz., |Jesus says: Take and eat -- Jesus says: Take and drink ye all of it,| etc. The second form contained the following general invitation: |In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master, I say to all who acknowledge Him as their Savior, and are determined to be His faithful followers: You are welcome at this Feast of Love.| (669.) The second formula for burials had a rationalistic tang. And the formulas of ordination and licensure no longer demanded adherence to the Lutheran Confessions. (669.)

60. Intrenching behind the German Language. -- The Christian Church, hence also the Lutheran Church, views every language, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, as well as German and English, not as an end, but always as a means only toward furthering her real end, the regeneration and salvation of souls. According to Loehe's Kirchliche Mitteilungen of 1845, No.5, a German emigrant wrote shortly after his arrival in America: |I cannot sufficiently thank God for the grace bestowed upon me; for when I for the first time heard the language of Canaan [English], the language of the New Jerusalem, I was immediately and deeply moved by the Spirit of God and was caught like tinder.| This was certainly not the attitude of the German Lutheran ministers of the Pennsylvania Synod, some of whom, going to the other extreme, were in danger of viewing the English, as compared with the German, as impregnated with the spirit of rationalism and infidelity. Riding, as it were, on the language, rationalism had made its public entry into the New York Ministerium. The real cause, however, was not the language, but the indifferentism and unionism prevailing within this body, which long ago had paved the way for, indeed, had itself bred, religious unbelief. However, mistaking what was merely accidental and a concomitant for the chief and real cause of the calamity in the New York Ministerium, prominent German ministers of the Pennsylvania Synod, in order to guard against a similar turn of events in their own midst, frantically opposed the use of the English language in the Synod and her congregations, and placed such emphasis on the German as made it an end per se peculiar to the Lutheran Church rather than a means employed wherever and whenever the conditions call for it in order to attain her real and supreme object -- the saving of souls. Men like J. H. C. Helmuth and J. F. Schmidt, in a way, identified English and Rationalism, German and Lutheranism (that is to say, unionistic Evangelicalism). Lamenting the inroads that Rationalism was making also in Lutheran congregations, they wrote: |But now the Protestant churches are threatened by a terrible storm, which is not the mere consequence of the natural course of things, but a sign of this time, and it will soon despoil them of the treasures of their Church together with all their happiness, unless teachers and parents will counteract it with united strength. Almost universally, especially in the cities and at the boundaries, they are beginning to educate the children exclusively in the English language, and, in a manner for which they will not be able to answer, to neglect them as regards the German services. This is the consequence of the indifference and the disregard of sound doctrine which, in the present hour of great temptation, is spreading over the face of the earth.| But instead of stemming the tide of Rationalism by returning to Lutheran faithfulness, they ignored the Lutheran Confessions and intrenched themselves behind the German language and the |brethren| in the German Reformed and German Moravian churches. The general church-prayer of the Agenda of 1786, universally introduced in the congregations of the Pennsylvania Synod, contained the passage: |And since it has pleased Thee [God] to transform this State [Pennsylvania] into a blooming garden, the deserts into delightful meadows, grant that we may not forget our nation, but strive to have our dear youth educated in such a manner that German churches and schools may not only be maintained, but brought to a flourishing condition, ever increasing.| (404.) In 1812 the Evangelisches Magazin appeared |under the auspices of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod,| Pastors Helmuth and Schmidt being the editors. Its avowed purpose, however, was not to represent Lutheranism, but specifically to bolster up the cause of the German and to oppose the introduction of the English language. The |Proposal to Synod| concerning the new German paper states: |1. We want to aid the German language as much as we can, because we are convinced that, with her language, our Church will lose unspeakably much, and, finally, for the most part, even her very existence under her [Lutheran] name.2. We know the days of the great apostasy in Europe. . . . Also this devouring monster could be counteracted by a well-arranged Evangelisches Magazin.| (544.) In 1813 the Magazin contained a series of articles urging the Reformed and Lutherans to stand together against all attempts at introducing English. The English language, it is said, is too poor to furnish an adequate translation of the German prayers and hymns and books of devotion. English congregations could not remain either Lutheran or Reformed, because |our religious writings are all German.| Revealing his Utopian dreams, the writer continues: |What would Philadelphia be in forty years if the Germans there were to remain German, and retain their language and customs? It would not be forty years until Philadelphia would be a German city, just as York and Lancaster are German counties. . . . What would be the result throughout Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland in forty or fifty years? An entirely German State, where, as formerly in Germantown, the beautiful German language would be used in the legislative halls and the courts of justice.| (Jacobs, 330.) In 1805 the Pennsylvania Synod resolved that |this Ministerium must remain a German-speaking body| -- a resolution which, especially in Philadelphia, merely served to increase the humiliating and damaging language-strife which had begun several decades before.

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