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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente


87. |German Ev. Luth. Conference of Tennessee.| -- Although the Tennessee Synod has always been and is now only one of the smaller American Lutheran synods, its history reveals much that is gratifying, instructive, edifying, and interesting. The first report is entitled: |Report of the transactions of the first conference of the German Ev. Luth. pastors and deputies held in the State of Tennessee, in Solomon's Church, Cove Creek, Green Co., on the 17th, 18th, and 19th of July, 1820.| The conference was organized by Pastors Jacob Zink of Virginia, Paul Henkel of Virginia, Adam Miller of Tennessee, Philip Henkel of Tennessee, George Esterly of Tennessee, and David Henkel of North Carolina (who was unable to attend the first meeting), and 19 deputies of congregations in Tennessee. (Bericht 1820, 3.) By 1827 the number of pastors had increased to 14, by 1856 to 32, and by 1900 to 40. At present the Tennessee Synod numbers about 130 congregations and 14,500 communicants. The name |Synod| appears for the first time in the English Report of 1825, and is found in the constitution since 1827. In the minutes of 1820 we read: |Firstly, it was deemed necessary and good that all business and proceedings of this conference, or synod, shall be conducted in the German language. All written reports of the proceedings belonging to the whole shall also be published in the German language.| (4.) Synod also regarded it |as most necessary that we be as diligent as possible to acquaint our children with all our doctrines of faith in our German language, since in it we are able to instruct them in the easiest way.| (9.) A footnote makes the following comment: |The reason why we desire a purely German-speaking conference: Experience has taught us that where a conference is German-English, either the one or the other party considers itself offended. When German is spoken, the English brethren understand little, and very frequently nothing at all. When English is spoken, many a German brother is unable to grasp the matter, and accordingly unable to judge in questions of the greatest importance. Besides, at the present time there are very few purely English pastors who accept the doctrine of our Church and desire to preach it.| (4.) The same sentiments are voiced in the following statement of this report: |False Lutherans prefer to seek entrance among the German church-people, because they still contribute most to the support of the ministry. Some Germans also of our day are of such a kind that if they are able to preach a little English, no matter how broken and jargonlike it is spoken, they are inflated with such senseless pride that they would no longer preach a thing in their mother-tongue nor care the least for the order of the Church, if it were not a question of bread and of keeping the good will of some obdurate Germans. They preach because they take pleasure in hearing themselves. Those who are really English and understand their language do not care to hear such, except at times, and then for their amusement only. The Germans therefore are under no obligations to the good will of such sirs, when they serve them in their language and according to their order.| (31.) Originally, then, the Tennessee Synod was determined to be and to remain a purely German-speaking body.

88. Attitude toward the English Language. -- That the interest manifested by the Tennessee Synod in the German language was not due to any unreasonable prejudice or hatred toward the English language as such, appears from the fact that since 1821 the minutes of Synod were printed both in English and German. Moreover, in the minutes of the second convention, 1821, we read: |At the request of some of our brethren of North Carolina it was resolved that there be annually a synod held in North Carolina, or in an adjoining State in the English language. The members of the German Tennessee Synod may also help to compose this Synod. It shall be governed agreeably to the same constitution as that of the German Tennessee Synod (the language excepted). Those who compose this Synod may appoint the place and time of the meeting, when and where they may deem it expedient.| (Report 1821, 7.) The Report of 1822 records: |Resolved: Because this Synod is German-speaking, and Mr. Blalock not understanding this language, he cannot therefore have a seat and vote in this body. Yet, the Revs. Paul and David Henkel are allowed as individual ministers to examine him, and in case he is qualified, to ordain him. It is to be understood that Mr. Blalock is to be ordained a minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church; but in case he should acquire a knowledge of the German language, which he expects to do, he can then have a seat and vote in the German synod. But whilst he understands the English language only, he may with other ministers, who walk agreeably to the doctrines and rules of the German synod, organize an English-speaking synod, in conformity to a resolution passed last year.| (5.) In 1826 the resolution was adopted: |Whereas there are sundry members belonging to this Synod who do not understand the German language, and yet do not wish to form a separate body, it was resolved that the Secretary, during this session, shall act as an interpreter between the German and English brethren. It was further resolved that at the next session, during the three first days, all the business shall be transacted in the German language, i.e., if so much time shall be requisite; after which the business shall be resumed in the English language.| (3.) The anxiety caused by the language-question appears from the following letter of Philip Henkel, dated October 19, 1826: |After my return from Synod, I found our German congregation-members very much dissatisfied because they believed that we had violated the constitution, and I am afraid that a separation will be the result. For the old Germans will never suffer the Tennessee Synod to become a German-English-speaking body. We must certainly act carefully in this matter, otherwise our Synod will be ruined. . . . They said that they were willing to sacrifice the constitution, provided that we remain an exclusively German-speaking body. I also am willing to relinquish the constitution, provided that the Augsburg Confession is made the constitution of this synod. We shall find that we shall not be able to keep the Germans and English together, even when we conduct synod at the same place three days in the German and three days in the English language, for the Germans will have to suffer the burden. The English will always want to attend; then they are coarsely treated by the Germans; the English complain; thus the matter will be ruined. My advice, therefore, is: Let us always hold a German-speaking synod, and afterwards an English-speaking one. In this way we shall be able to exist. For my part, I am willing to attend both. Every constitution except the Augsburg Confession may then be set aside. If the Germans refuse to maintain their language, we can't help it, and we are not at fault if they perish. If you approve the plan of holding first an exclusively German-speaking synod and then an exclusively English-speaking synod, and also of abolishing every constitution except the Augsburg Confession, advise me at your earliest convenience. I will then write to the rest of the preachers, and appoint the time and place for synod. This seems to be the only means of keeping our people united, for at present they are apart, and who knows how we may bring them together. After the constitution has been transgressed, everybody feels free. But if the Augsburg Confession were the constitution, every member would readily agree to it. These are my thoughts. Write soon. Philip Henkel.| (L. u. W.60, 63.) In the minutes of 1827 we read: |14. Some members of this congregation alleged the following charge against Mr. Adam Miller, Jr.: that he neglected to officiate in the German language, and thus deprived those of religious instructions and edification who do not understand the English. The Synod was convinced of the justice of the complaint, and considered it highly necessary that these brethren should be served in the German language. Mr. Miller, in defense of his conduct, said that he did not understand the German language accurately and therefore could not officiate in it, and that hitherto he has not had an opportunity of learning it. But he promised to acquire a more accurate knowledge of this language, provided his congregations were willing to spare him from their service for one year. He intends to study this language with David Henkel. The members of his congregations who were present agreed for him to do so, but requested to be visited a few times by some of the other ministers during the time they should be vacant. The Synod highly approved Mr. Miller's resolution, and wished him to persevere in this laudable undertaking.| (12.) The Synod of 1827 was confronted by conflicting petitions as to the language-question. The following memorials were read: |1. A memorial from St. James's Church in Greene County, Tenn., subscribed by 23 persons. They pray this Synod not to alter the constitution. Further, that this body remain exclusively German, and that some measures be taken to establish a separate English Synod....4. In a letter in which the Rev. Adam Miller, Sr., states the reasons of his absence, he prays this body to allow the English brethren equal privileges, so that they may not be under the necessity of establishing a separate Synod.| (14.) The constitution, which was proposed at this meeting and accepted in the following year, disposed of this question as follows: |All debates shall first be held in the German language, whereupon the same shall be resumed in the English; provided there shall be both German and English members present. After the debates on a subject shall have been ended, then the decision shall be made.| (R.1827, 24; B.1828, 28.) In the following years the English language rapidly gained the ascendency, until finally the German disappeared entirely. (R.1831, 9; B.1841, 8.9.) Rev. Th. Brohm, after visiting the Tennessee Synod, wrote in the Lutheraner of January 2, 1855: |Though of German origin, the Tennessee Synod in the course of time has lost its German element, and has become a purely English synod.|

89. Born of Lutheran Loyalty. -- The organization of the Tennessee Synod came as a protest against the projected General Synod, and especially against existing conditions in the Synod of North Carolina, to which the Tennessee pastors belonged until their secession in 1820. March 14, 1820, Philip Henkel had written to his brother: |If I am spared, I shall attend synod. . . . If the old ministers will not act agreeably to the Augsburg Confession, we will erect a synod in Tennessee.| The |old ministers| were Stork, Shober, Jacob and Daniel Sherer, and other pastors of the North Carolina Synod who advocated a union with the sects and the connection with the General Synod, and sought to suppress such testimony on behalf of Lutheran truth and consistency as the Henkels had begun to bear publicly. Aversion to faithful confessional Lutheranism was the real reason why the Synod of North Carolina in 1816 refused to ordain the young, but able David Henkel, which, even at that time, almost resulted in a withdrawal of the Henkels and their delegates. The tension was greatly increased when the Synod of 1819 degraded David Henkel to the rank of catechist, on the false charge that he had preached transubstantiation and other papistic heresies and thereby given offense to the |Reformed brethren.| As a matter of fact, he had proclaimed the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord's Supper. The North Carolina Synod made the entry into their minutes. |He [David Henkel] is therefore no preacher of the Lutheran Church of North Carolina and adjacent States.| (G., 696.) A source of additional ill will was the autocratic procedure of the officers in arbitrarily convening the Synod of 1819, five weeks before the constitutional time (whence known as the |Untimely Synod|), and that without sending out notices sufficiently early, and for a purpose most odious to the Henkels and their adherents, viz., to elect a delegate (Shober was chosen) to the convention of the Pennsylvania Synod at Baltimore in order to participate in the framing of a tentative constitution for the projected General Synod. Resenting the arrogance and unconstitutional action of the officers as well as the obnoxious resolutions of the |Untimely Synod,| those members of the North Carolina Synod who had been either unwilling or unable (having been notified too late) to take part in the deliberations of the |Untimely Synod,| five weeks later, at the time prescribed by the constitution, held a synod of their own at Buffalo Creek, in Stork's congregation, where the |Untimely Synod| had been held, under the oaks, near the church, Stork having refused them the use of the church for this purpose. |The Synod,| Stork declared, |has been held; and there is no need of holding it again.| He ordered his elders not to open the church, but finally permitted them to hold services there, with the express proviso, however, that no business was to be transacted in it. (B.1820, 21.) Philip Henkel was elected president, and Bell and David Henkel were ordained. (21.) In the following year, a few months after the so-called |Quarreling Synod| (|Streitsynode|), where the majority of the North Carolina Synod decided in favor of a union with the General Synod, the minority, as related above, organized the Tennessee Synod. (15.) In the minutes (Bericht) of 1820, the members of the new synod justify their withdrawal and organization as a separate body by calling attention especially to the following points: 1. The officers and some of the members of the North Carolina Synod had proven by their words and actions that they |could no longer be regarded as truly Evangelical Lutheran pastors.| (12.15.) 2. The |Untimely Synod| had declared the excommunication of a member of David Henkel's congregation to be invalid, without investigating the matter in that congregation, thereby infringing upon the rights of the congregation. (20.) 3. The same synod had not rebuked its president, Rev. Stork, when he made the statement that he could not believe the Lutheran doctrine that Christ as man was in possession of all divine attributes, and that he would not believe it if 500 Bibles should say so.4. The Synod of 1820 had declared David Henkel's ordination |under the oaks| invalid, and had published a sort of letter of excommunication against him. (22.) 5. Synod had refused to settle the mooted questions according to the Augsburg Confession and the synodical constitution, but, instead, had demanded that the minority should yield to the majority. |We, however, thought,| says the Report, |that the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession (concerning which we were convinced that it could be proven by the doctrine of the Bible) should have greater weight with us than the voice of a majority of men who are opposed to the doctrine and ordinance of our Church.| (23.) 6. Synod had permitted the un-Lutheran remarks made at the convention and elsewhere on Baptism, the Eucharist, Election, Conversion, and the certainty of the state of grace, as well as on union with all religious parties, to pass unreproved. -- Stating the causes of the deplorable schism, David Henkel wrote in 1827: |A most unhappy difference exists between this body and the North Carolina Synod. Previous to the year 1820 some members of the former and some of the latter constituted one Synod. In this year the North Carolina Synod entered into the connection of a General Synod with some other synods. This is a connection and institution which heretofore did not exist in the Lutheran community, and to which the Tennessee Synod object as an institution calculated to subvert ecclesiastical liberty, and to prepare the way for innovations. This, together with the difference in regard to some of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion, are the principal reasons of the division.| (R.1827, 32.) In brief, the organization of the Tennessee Synod was a solemn protest against synodical tyranny and anticonfessional teaching then prevailing in the North Carolina Synod and in all other Lutheran bodies in America. Accordingly, as compared with her contemporaries, it remains the peculiar glory of the Tennessee Synod that she was born of Lutheran loyalty.

90. Back to Luther! Back to the Lutheran Symbols! -- Such, in substance and effect, was the slogan sounded by the Tennessee Synod, for the first time in the history of the Lutheran Church in America, after long years of confessional disloyalty and of doctrinal and practical deterioration. By dint of earnest and conscientious study of the Lutheran Symbols and of Luther's writings, the Tennessee pastors, in particular the Henkels, had attained to a clear knowledge of Lutheran truth and practise, thereby, at the same time, becoming fully convinced that of all teachings in Christendom the Lutheran doctrine alone is in full accord with Holy Writ. March 13, 1823, Solomon Henkel wrote: |A week ago Mr. York was here, bringing with him Luther's Works. They are bound in 13 folio volumes and cost [USD]100. I purchased the books.| To penetrate deeper and deeper into the writings of Luther, to persuade others to do the same, and to make this possible to them, such was the ardent desire and earnest endeavor of the Tennessee pastors. Evidently with this purpose in view, Paul Henkel had established a printery at New Market, Va., where books and tracts breathing a Lutheran spirit were published. Synodical colporteurs diligently canvassed them among the congregations. Sound Lutheran works, e.g., the Augsburg Confession, sermons by Luther and Arndt, the article on Good Works from the Formula of Concord, were from time to time, by resolution of Synod, appended to the synodical reports. (1831, 11.) Nor was their zeal satisfied with fostering true Lutheranism in their own midst. In order to acquaint the English-speaking public with the truths and treasures of our Church, they issued translations of standard Lutheran works. Besides an agenda and a hymnal, the New Market printery published in 1829 an English translation of Luther's Small Catechism with notes by David Henkel; in 1834, a translation of the Augsburg Confession with a preface by Karl Henkel (in 1827 David Henkel had already been commissioned to prepare a correct translation); in 1851, an English version of the entire Book of Concord, of which a second and improved edition appeared in 1854; in 1852, |Luther on the Sacraments,| being translations of some writings of Luther by Jos. Salyards and Solomon D. Henkel, 423 pages octavo; in 1869, Luther's Epistle Sermons, an English edition of which had been determined upon in 1855. (Rep.1826, 7; 1830, 17; 1841, 15; 1855, 14.) On March 1, 1824, a certain Sam Blankenbecker wrote to David Henkel: |There are two sorts of Lutherans: the one sort believes there is no doctrine right and pure but the Lutheran; the other thinks that also the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists are equally right and pure; and such Lutherans are very hurtful to others.| The Tennessee Synod belonged to the first class. They were conscious Lutherans, who knew what they were and what they stood for. The fact is that in those days Tennessee was the only synod with a true Lutheran heart and an honest Lutheran face.

91. Despised and Ostracized. -- Their return to Luther and the Lutheran Symbols brought the Henkels and the Tennessee Synod into direct opposition to, and sharp conflict with, all other Lutheran synods of that day. For, though still bearing, and priding themselves on, the Lutheran name, they all had long ago begun to abandon the confessions and distinctive doctrines of the Church which the cherished and coveted name of Luther stood for. Their leaders had become indifferentists, unionists, and Reformed and Methodistic enthusiasts. Over against this lack of Lutheran faithfulness and apostasy from the Confessions the Henkels gave no uncertain testimony. Being Lutherans in their hearts as well as in their heads, they boldly confessed the truths, and most energetically championed the cause of genuine Lutheranism. And they squared their actions with their words and convictions. Consistent also in their practise, they refused to fellowship and recognize the errorists everywhere, even when found in Lutheran synods. No wonder, then, that the Henkels and their uncompromising attitude met with no sympathy on the part of the Lutheran synods then found in America. And, being, as they were, a standing protest against the apostasy of these synods, it was but natural, carnally, that the Tenneesee [tr. note: sic] confessors were avoided, ignored, despised, hated, maligned, and ostracized by their opponents. Tennessee was decried and stigmatized as the |Quarreling Conference| (|Streitkonferenz|). The |Henkelites,| it was said, had been convicted of error at the |Quarreling Synod|; there they had not been able to prove their doctrine; they were false Lutherans; some of them had been excluded from Synod, therefore they had no authority to officiate as ministers; their synod was not a lawful synod; its transactions were invalid, etc. (1820, 22.30; 1824, App.3; 1827, 43 f.) All endeavors on the part of the Tennessee Synod to bring about an understanding and a unification in the truth were spurned by the other synods |with silent contempt,| says David Henkel. (1827, 6.25.) In the Maryland Synod the prediction was heard: |This Tennessee Synod will go to pieces finally.| The Address of the General Synod of 1823 states: |Our Church, which was originally embraced in two independent synods [Ministeriums of Pennsylvania and New York], has spread over so extensive a portion of the United States that at present we have five synods [North Carolina, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York Synods], and shall shortly have several more.| (3.9.14.) The General Synod, then, refused to recognize Tennessee as a Lutheran synod in America. In a letter, dated January 23, 1826, and addressed to Solomon Henkel, H. Muhlenberg remarked that the Tennessee Synod |had as yet not been recognized as a synod by the other Lutheran synods.| In 1839 the General Synod censured both the Franckean and Tennessee Synods as the two extremes |causing disturbances and divisions in our churches| and standing in the way of a union of the Lutheran Church in America -- a resolution which was rescinded in 1864. Thus universal contempt and proscription was the reward which Tennessee received for her endeavors to lead the Lutheran Church out of the mire of sectarian aberrations back to Luther and the Lutheran Symbols. Rev. Brohm, after his visit with the Tennessee Synod, wrote in the Lutheraner of June 5, 1855: |In order to heal, if in any way possible, the deplorable breach, the Tennessee Synod, in the course of seven years, made repeated attempts to persuade her opponents [in the North Carolina Synod] to discuss the mooted doctrines, offering them conditions most just and most acceptable . . . . But with exasperating indifference all these offers were stubbornly despised and rejected. Tennessee directed various questions also to the Pennsylvania Synod in order to learn their views on the pending doctrinal controversies. But this body, too, did not even deign to answer. The Tennessee Synod, however, though rebuffed on all sides and stigmatized as a fanatical sect, quietly went its way, without suffering itself to be confused or led astray. Unanimity and love reigned among its members. The number of congregations which united with them and desired pastors from them constantly increased, so that the Synod was not able to satisfy all requests. The synodical resolutions offer ample evidence of the lively interest and diligence of their pastors to appropriate more and more fully the riches of the Reformation, and to make their congregations partakers thereof.| (11, 166.) The first request for a minister came from Cape Girardeau, Mo. The minutes record: |At the earnest request and desire of a number of German inhabitants in Cape Girardeau (|Cape Cheredo|), Mo., through H. Johannes Schmidt and Georg Klemmer, who earnestly pray that they might be visited, it was resolved that H. Jacob Zink should make a journey thither, as soon as possible, to preach the Gospel to them and to perform all other official acts that may be required. For this laudable undertaking we wish him the rich blessing of the Lord.| (B.1820, 10.)

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