I Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther
ninste: 1 Churchman
sychol- Tlze third in a series of Walther Lectures delivered at the Seminary
during the past schoolyear. Dr. Mundinger was fornzerly yresi-
Nelv , dent of St. John's College, Winfield, Kansas, and is presently
/ a professor there. He is author of GOVERSMENT I N T H E Con. I hl~ssouar SYNOD.
Proba. , 1
! "I T WILL BE unnecessary to write a biography of Doctor ll'alther since we may assume that the details of his life are well known
to our Christians." These words, written on October 3, 1 9 1 1, by
Dr. L. F. Fuerbringer, editor of Dcr Lutheraner, depict the degree
of familiarization with the life of Doctor PValther in the Lutheran
Church-Missouri Synod of fifty years ago.
Are the facts of Dr. Walther's life sufficiently linown to our
people today? Can we assume that "our Christians," young and old,
are knowledgeable of the great theologian? Is it within the realm
of possibility that some of our students of theology, and even clergy-
men, are not as conversant with the life of the founder of our church
as they might be?
Several years ago the Walther League fi.lessenger, a magazine
published by the organization of young people which derives its
name from Dr. Walther, tried to determine the degree of familiarity
of our people with the life of Walther. Their findings were most
astonishing! Many of them seriously thought that Walther League
was named after Walter A. Maier, the Lutheran Hozir speaker. One
of them even posed these questions: "LVho and what does W'alther
represent?" "What church is he affiliated with?" (Vlralther League
Messenger, Feb., 1959, p. 42). As recently as January of this year
( 196 1) the editor of the Walther League Messenger wrote: "Take
my word for it, as well as the word of the men on the staff here,
that few Walther Leaguers know who LValther is." Can this be
accepted as an apt description of our membership in general?
In order to understand fully what kind of a churchman Dr.
C. F. W. Walther was, we should have to discuss several ep
out of his life. However, the one we shall primarily consider
What was the Altenburg Debate? What were the issues?
were the factions? What was settled through the Theses ac
at Altenburg? The Altenburg Debate was not really a debat
was more of a discussioil of issues that had been simmering for
time and finally had come to the boiling point.
The Altenburg Debate took place on the 15th and 20
April, 1841. The events which led u p to the debate occ
two years or more before. Martin Stcphan had been depost
n ' h y 30, 1839. The man who led the Saxon immigrants in xt
in:: Stel->han froin their inidst was none other than C. F. W. Wa
He left St. Louis on the 19th of May, arriving in Perry Coun
thc dark of night. He carefully and stealthily saw that their
transactions were completed; that the right people were info
of the ir~isdeecls of Stephan; peached on Sunday morning to a
gathering of the colony, and, after thus mending his fence:
turned to St. Louis. He was in Perry Coullty about eight or
Several days passed. kvalther and the rest of the clergy
cussed further the doings of Stcphan. They informed the pf
who relnaillecl in St. Louis hocv they intended to deal with Step
and thcn lllade preparations for the remainder of the colony t
c-lo~vn to Perry Counts. Tcvo boats, the Prairie and the Toledo,
hired to transfer the pcople from St. Louis to Perry County.
Prairie arrived at the mouth of the Brazcnu on May 29, 1839.
Toledo dischnrgcd its passengers at the same place at five p.m.
On the mornblp of the 30th a council consisting of all
pastors and h)ur of the leading laymen held a meeting. They
resolved to issue another summons to Pastor Stephan to appear
fore them. Mowcver, he refusesd to appear. The council count(
by promptly excom~nunicating him. Then and there, after sea
illg his house once more, they deternlined to put him in a row1
aild to ship him to the Illillois side of the Mississippi river. H
ever, tlleir plan couldn't be carried out the same day, Logs I
f Carl Ferdinand Wilhclm Walther, Churchmatt 2 5
collling down the river froin the north, and no one was brave enough
to get into a boat and row him over to the other side. All were
incensed at Stephan! They wouldn't eve11 allow him to live in his
house. He had to live in a tent nearby. The next day, May 3 1, at
10 : 30 a. m. Stephan, stooped over a cane, and protesting his inno-
jopted ! cence with visible emotion, was coi~ducted to a waiting ferry. He
te. It was rowed across the Mississippi river by two men. Equipped with
r Some a spade and axe, he n7as placed on the Illinois side near a curious
rock forination which bore the lurid name of "The Devil's Bake
Sth of r
ed on ,
IS, re- ,
Why was C. F. I&/. Lt7alther chosen for this mission? Had he
shown any qualities of leadership to this date? Was he particu-
larly active in the matters of the colony? Was he experienced by
age or otherwise? He n7as the youngest of all the clergymen, being
2 7 years old. He had not been active in the affairs of the colony.
In fact, he was one of the least important of the clerical group. The
answers to the questions are purely conjectural. He was probably
chosen because no one else wanted to go. We know that God had
His hand in the whole matter. C. F. IV. Walther was slowly but
surely ripening into leadership.
y dis- Thc fall of Stephan signaled the beginning of difficult and tur-
cople bulcnt times for the Saxons. The troubles, the anxieties, which
phan, beset them were enclless. I shall not discuss the deep needs of food
to go and shelter, nor do I wish to mention the great amount of sickness,
were fever, and disease which harrassed the colony; remember, they were
The out in the wilderness under God's heaven.
r be- 1
h a t
But the worst development was the rise of two opposing groups,
a clerical faction and a lay faction. The clerical faction seemed
dominant, but the lay faction was strong enough to create doubts
in the hearts of the colonists. The truth of the matter was that the
lay faction was largely in the right and thc clerical faction was
tenaciously clinging to its hierarchical system of government. They
were trying to play Hamlet without Hamlet. Stephan was dead as
far as the colony was concerned. But they tried to keep the old
regime going. All were agreed that Stephan had disgraced hiil~self,
but they said his ideas of church and civil government were correct.
The thing to do was to carry on as before.
The laymen, however, tried their level best to discret
clerical gmup. What were the principles on which the la:
wished to see the governmeilt of the church based? In their
protest (Protestationschrift) we find statenlents like these
Christians are priests through baptism by faith and must el
the priestly office, not only as a nlatter of right but as a inal
command." "As spiritual priests, laymen have the right to
all doctrine and to supervise all the activities of the clerg!.."
final decision of all disl>utes rests with the local congregation.
local congregation has the p v e r and the duty to establish all
regarding liturgy, ceremonies, and church constitution.
true c l~~r rch is invisible." "It is dangerous to judge people
doctrine ancl as to their faithfulness over against established teat
EclualIy dangerous is the habit of extolling clergymen as a cia:
cause such a habit engenders servility and hypocrisv." "The
type of church polity is the one that cluring the firs!
centuries of the Christian era. All that time individual cong
tions, somc small and some large, existed independently sid
side." "The assosciation of individual congregations is not n
sary and may he harmful. The concept of the ecclesia rcpresc
tiva, i.c., that the church is represented in thc clergy leads to pa
and to a lack of intcrcst in church matters on the part of the 13
"Men who have not studied, yes, ordinary men, may admin
the sacr:~ments. Stephan taught false doctrine concern in^
cllurch, concerning church polity, concerning secular governln
co~lcerni~lg the office of the ministr~., concerning escommunicat
and conccl-niog the cure of souls. > t
7 7 1 llc I n ) ])art!, as these principles taken from the Protestat?
scltr-i\t sho\v, stood for an extreme congregationalism, with he
emphasis on the individual. Like the Anabaptists, they took I
tain isolated quotations from J,uther's writings of the early 1 5 2
tore ~I ICI I I o t ~ t of contest, and tried to construct a new church pol
Had thc lay party prevailed during these two vears of intense str
glc, tilt. clirrrch polit! of the kIissouri Svnod would have beer
higllIy i11di.c irlualistic congregationalisn~, sometvhat akin to the po
of thc Southern Baptist Con~lention. The fact that both the
party ancl the clerical party werc authoritarians, that both %vent
Lilther's writings for their ammunition, made an intensely diffic
e ri ta-
l i t \ .
At times the lay party went to almost ludicrous lengths-with
the ail\ of quotations from Luther-in their efforts to subordinate
the clerg) to the lait!. \i7ith candor thev advocated a s~~bord ina te
for the clergy; for instance, in public processions the clergy
was to follow the laity to clenlonstrate the honored position of the
Ferdillaiid Sprocde, one of the leading layinen of the colony,
\\.]lo had been a particularly ardent Stephanite, a hot-headed and
rather pugnacious fello~v, a baker b!~ occupation, wrote a document
ill which he "gave the preachers a terrific shellacking and condemned
their call and office." His argument was that the colonists were
no congregation ancl that therefore \Valther had no call. T h e con-
ciregatio~~ which \\'alther served in Perrv Coui~tt. and from which b
he was called to Tr ini t~l Church, St. Louis, could not give him a re-
lease because, said Sprocde, "The!, were no congregation, and there-
fore thc call which he claimed to have from them was no call at all."
Though C. F. \V. Walther opposed a public confession of guilt
on the l>art of the emigrating company, he does not seem to have
tried to keep individuals from making such statements; there was
a regular epidemic of confessing during 1840-1 841. His brother
ll~adc one. IIis brother-in-law, Pastor E. G. \Y. Keyl, made a lengthy
one. Pastor C. H. Loebcr also inade a rather long confession, which
he called "Renunciation of Stephanism." Pastor Ernst Rdoritz Buer-
su tells us that h e made three sincere and lengthy confessions in
three different meetings. Candidate Theodore Brohnl felt the urge
to writc a confession. This was followed b.cl a clocument of Magister
\\ egc, in \vI~icll he is said to have been guilt! of gross exaggeration.
EI.E~-! elerginan l ~ ~ a s confessing, except C. F. \V. \Valther.
\Vhy didn't IValther want to confess? Why didn't he want
to join his fellow pastors in making a clean breast in a common
co~~fession? Didn't he have anything to confess? First, he did not
bclicve in a common confession, because a common confession
~ ~ o u l d have to say that they were all guilty. I t would distort the
facts. I-le knew that many men had joined the colony more or less
innocently. Why, he asked, should the innocent man be put i n the
same category with a man who was Stephan's secretary?
Furthermore, many of the people who wrote confessions con-
fessed things which were not sinful in themselves. \Valther was
particularly opposed to making certain acts sinful which wl
sinful. He called it "Sundenmacherei." The whole con(
Law and Gospel came into play. Walther by this time ws
shadowing his future stand on the Law and GospeI.
When all is said and done we have to remember the st-
Walther at that particular moment. Walther had been an ea
ly zealous Stephanite in Saxony. His rabid Stephanism had
hinl into endless trouble with both the civil and ecclesiastic
thorities in Saxony. He had repeated rows with his teac
Brauensdorf. He had a tiff with the school officials because hl
bornly refused to introduce certain new textbooks. Furthe:
he had broken up several homes by insisting that the wife, '
Christian" (Stephanite), would have to leave her husbanc
"follow Christ to America." Furthermore, C. F. W. Walthc
been guilty of "kidnappingH his niece and nephew, Theodor
Marie Schubert. The warrants for his arrest arrived one da
at Urenlerhavcn when the colony Icft Germany. He had hur
left, getting pernlission to sail on the first boat, the Johann (
In addition to this, Walther's release from his former I
was not entirely clean. While he received a formal release fro]
consistory, his obstreperous behavior as a Stephanite preventec
from securing an entirely clean release. The confessions im
that the enligration was sinful and that they would have to rl
to their homeland. The possibility of a return to Germany
rather distasteful to the youi~g pastor. Consequently, C. F
Walther refused to join the parade of confessors.
Finally, a public debate on the questions which hacl all
disrupted thc colony was set for April 15 and 20, 184 1, a t A
burg, Perry County, Missouri. To what extent Walther prorr
the rising claillor for a full and free public debate of all the it
invol~red in the lay-clerical controversy cannot be ascertained
any degree of certainty from the documents a t hand; but we do k
that lle hacl been sweating over the problenls of the colony for r
than tn7o pears.
This public debate is a definite milestone in that i t mar
turlliilg point in the development of church polity in the colt
At all events, from that t i n~e on the colonists knew where they w
headed. I\'hetller it was really the "Easter Day" of the bedev
Carl Fcrdinand Wilhelm Walther, Churchman 29
atus of 1
'a real ,
d and '
~ e o r g ,
as one of the participants, the exuberant Schieferdecker,
later called it, may be questioned. This much is certain: it helped
to clarify the people's thinking. It catapulted C. F. W. Walther
into a p~sitioll of promineilt c l~urchmanshi~.
\vho were the debaters? Walther, of course, was the chief
leader 017 the clerical side. Frarlz Marbach, a lawyer, was beyond
a doubt the most able of the lay leaders. Marbach was concerned
with the moral aspects of the problem in his discussions. Hc had
dralvn a number of counter theses with which he hoped to destroy
the propositions which Walther had set forth. Hc attacked the
pmblclll negatively. His first question was, "What is a false church?"
Ele offcrs a threefold definition in answer. A false church is cvery
cIlurch which is not the true orthodox church; it is cvery church
l\-hicl~ has been adulterated, but which has not entirely lost the
foulldation of thc true church which is Jesus Christ; and finally,
hlarbach said, "A false church in the most eminent sense is a group
of people who have not been called by means of the true Word to
the true Christ, but by means of the false word to a false Christ."
This latter definition of a false church is the one which Rllarbach
applies to their colony. The conclusions which he draws from his
various definitions of a false church show how coinpletely he is
caught in the idea that their problem is a moral one. To apply the
word "church" to an organization that is built upon something that