Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 48 - Perry County, MO (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-048 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> NICK: My Aunt likes to say that our family roots in the Missouri Synod go all the way back to Perry County. I've never really understood what she meant. Where is Perry County, and why is it important for Lutherans? >> DR. LAWRENCE RAST: Nick, a lot of people have asked that question. Just where is Perry County? And the simple answer it's about one hundred miles south of St. Louis. But the deeper question you ask, namely, why is it important for Lutherans really cuts to the heart of the formation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. As I was saying, we see the presence of a variety of Germans who immigrated to the American Midwest and how Wyneken and others had served them: Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and the like. But a key component in the formation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod were the Saxon immigrants who came first to St. Louis and then to Perry County and who have remained in this area and who were a strong part of the group that became the Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio, und andern Staaten or the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other states. How did they get here? Well, we've already talked in this course, Nick, about the presence of rationalism in the German church and the presence of that way of thinking really affected a lot of the ministerial students as they prepared for the office of the ministry. Among those students there was a group that studied at Leipzig in the 1820s that included a number of significant figures who would come forward in the formation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, men like Theodore Brohm and Theodore Buenger and the Walther brothers, Otto Herman Walther and his younger brother Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther. These men studied at Leipzig and were exposed to Rationalism in its most blunt form and resisted this kind of thinking, wanting to be good, solid Christians who believed that what the Bible said was true. However, at that point in time as we've already seen, orthodoxy, Lutheran orthodoxy and confessionalism was fairly weak. It was beginning to make a comeback on the German scene, but at this time in Leipzig, the two options were really Rationalism and Pietism. This group, with the Walthers and Buenger and Brohm and others, gathered together as a sort of holy club or a group that was committed to being truly Christian so that they would be effective witnesses for Christ in this world and good pastors when they finally entered the ministry. However, here we see one of the dangers of Pietism come out. This notion of such a strong emphasis on the sanctified life, such a strong emphasis on the necessity of the Christian individual judging their own worthiness in terms of the law of God oftentimes leads to one of two things. On the one hand, it may lead to a certain spiritual arrogance, a Phariseeism, that says I thank you God that I am not like other men, those sinners. Or, on the other hand, the law of God does its work and crushes and condemns the individual to the point that they realize there is nothing good that they can do. These men in this club faced that letter reality regularly. C. F. W. Walther would later describe it in these terms: When we gather together we would read out of a devotional book. We would read the sections of the book that emphasized what we had to do to make ourselves worthy for Christ. When the book began to speak of faith, when the book spoke of grace, we simply closed it because as we understood it, we were not yet prepared. We had not yet prepared ourselves for that particular message. We were not yet worthy. In C. F. W. Walther's own case what that led to was despair. He could not measure up. He could not make himself worthy in the eyes of the Lord. And despite every effort at disciplining himself, he always came up short. He actually had to withdraw from the university for a short period of time as he recovered at home -- he had some health issues -- during that time at home, he also read through Luther in his father's library. His father was a pastor. He began to work at sorting out this particular issue. But he couldn't come through this to a point of being assured of the forgiveness of sins. That only happened when he received a very comforting letter from a pastor named Martin Stephan. Martin Stephan, who died in 1846, was a remarkable individual. He was on the cutting edge of the confessional revival in Germany. He did this as a pastor, a preacher, in Dresden. In Dresden, he served a little bohemian congregation called St. John's that grew very significantly and quickly, largely due to the fact that Stephan preached the gospel when most of the other pastors in the area continued to preach rationalistic sermons that only at best offered Christ as an example to follow. Stephan, from all indications, preached Christ as the atonement for our sins and stressed that we could be sure of our sins because of the work of Christ on our behalf. And, Nick, what that did was through the Holy Spirit�s working bring people to faith, bring people to the confession of Christ. As this congregation grew, so did Stephan's reputation. And so, many years later when Walther himself found himself in the pit of despair regarding his spiritual state, he was advised to write to Stephan and Stephan did provide Walther with a very clear distinction between law and gospel saying to Walther, of course, you can't measure up. We human beings simply cannot. You're not alone in this regard. But specifically because we can't measure up, the Lord sent Christ his only Son into the world to suffer, die, and rise again for us. That was a turning point in Walther's life. He and his colleagues in this Holy Club all became very much attached to Stephan, they themselves having gone through spiritual crises of their own. And the result was that they were extremely thankful to God for the message that Stephan had proclaimed. Yet, they went a bit farther and actually moved this relationship with Stephan in an unhealthy direction. That is to say, they began to confuse the message with the man. And the results were devastating. Stephan's reputation had grown as I mentioned. And, as a result, he had really encouraged the pastors of the other Dresden congregations to view him with some suspicion. What I mean by that is this: Back in Dresden, the parishes were very clearly demarked by certain boundaries. If you lived in a particular area in Dresden, you went to a particular church. However, because of Stephan's preaching, people began to neglect worship at their own congregations where a rationalist preacher perhaps was preaching and go to Stephan's instead. The preachers and these other churches, unhappy at what they saw as sheep stealing on Stephan's part, complained to the consistories, the consistories being a part of the government, then actually began to observe Stephan's activities. To make a long story short, he was charged with disorderly conduct because of nightly meetings that he held in his parish and in independent localities away from the church, many of which were mixed meetings with men and women. And in certain cases, Stephan was observed alone with younger women, despite the fact that he was married and had eight children. Well, brought up on charges of disorderly conduct in this respect, Stephan was ultimately acquitted. But he himself saw these charges as stemming not from any improper behavior on his part, but rather as persecution of the preaching of the gospel. And his younger pastor followers agreed with him. Things finally got to a point in 1837 where they believed it was time for them to leave Germany so that the gospel would have free course. A gesellschaft, an immigration company was formed. It included leadership among the pastors as well as leadership ultimately in Stephan. Lay people also participated, though to a lesser extent. And the question for this group was: Where do we go. They thought about Australia first but then changed their mind and said America. That's where we'll go. And Stephan had become enamored of the State of Missouri having read some pamphlets that exaggerated the fertility of the soil and the ease with which one might advance economically. So Missouri it was. And in 1838, the late fall, the pastors having resigned their calls, congregational and laypeople having contributed to a centralized treasury, five boats were outfitted and ultimately set sail for America. Four of the boats arrived in New Orleans in the early part of 1839. One of the boats, the Amalia, was lost. As this group prepared to land, however, they engaged in a remarkable endeavor. They put together a document, a document called "Stephan's Investiture." And in this document, they invested Stephan with the title of Bishop. If one reads through the document, and you can do this in Walter Forster's great book, "Zion on the Mississippi," published by Concordia Publishing House and still in print. If you look at this document, the language is nothing short of striking. It�s exceptional in what these people claim for Stephan and the authority that they give him. They open the document by stating that Stephan is, by God's grace, the last unshakeable pillar of the now ruined Lutheran Church in Germany. Think about that statement for a minute. By God's grace the last unshakeable pillar of the now ruined Lutheran Church in Germany. That is to say, God, in a specific and special way, has established Martin Stephan in his ministry as the last pillar of the Lutheran Church. The German Lutheran Church, devastated, in fact, gone. That is, in other words to say, that the church is largely embraced in one man in Martin Stephan himself. And because he's established as that last pillar by God, he is also unshakable. The document then goes on to say that all those who are interested in their salvation have clung to this particular man. Now, as the language of the document continues, they invest Stephan, as I said, with the title of bishop, and they say that this particular kind of polity is required by the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions. Thus, Martin Stephan, in very real terms, is the church, has the authority to run the community as God�s established representative on the earth. And all those who wish to be recognized as true members of the church are connected in some meaningful way with him. That happened while the boats were still on the ocean. When they first landed in New Orleans, they then began to make provision to take steamboats up the river to St. Louis. And while they were steaming up the river, apparently some of the leaders of the group thought they may have gone too far in investing Stephan with such authority. And some grumbling began to occur. Stephan called out the leader of this grumbling, Otto Herman Walther, and literally forced him to repent and apologize publicly lest he be driven off from the group. In the wake of this grumbling, then the community put together yet another document called the "Pledge of Submission or Subjection to Stephan.� And in this Pledge of Subjection, they give Stephan complete authority over their spiritual affairs and their worldly affairs. At the very least at this point, Stephan has achieved what Roman Catholic popes tried to achieve in the Middle Ages, namely, complete authority in temporal and spiritual matters. At the worst assessment of this, one sees that this group almost looks cultish. It's a very dangerous situation. Nevertheless, they arrive in St. Louis and began to make provision for the purchase of land somewhere in Missouri along the Mississippi river. The first option that they look at is a significant area of land at the mouth of the Merrimack River, just a little south of the city of St. Louis. They pass on this land, and instead, purchase a significant tract down in Perry County, as I said about one hundred miles south of St. Louis. There they establish congregations as well as cities. The hope is that they will put together a very coherent colony that will be in many ways self-contained and within it will be embraced the true church. However, things go badly. After the preaching of a sermon by one of the pastors of the group, women come to him and confess that they have been engaged in adulterous activities with none other than Martin Stephan. The entire community is thrown into chaos and confusion as the pastors struggle with how to deal with this, as they lay leadership says, what have we done in following this man who simply is a liar. In fact, things go so quickly badly that the community begins to wonder whether it is even legitimately to be considered God's church. Martin Stephan, bishop of the Saxon colony, now is on the cusp of being deposed. What will happen and how will the church respond? ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****