Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 45 - Lutheranism on the American Frontier (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-045 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: These Germans certainly came to an area of the country that was very much on the periphery of the heavy population at the time. What was Lutheranism like on the American frontier in the 19th century? >> DR. LAWRENCE RAST: Lutheranism on the American frontier, Nick, was a diversified reality. You had all sorts of different things happening. And it was extremely challenging to these German immigrants as they made their way to the United States to make sense of the American setting and adjust themselves to it. For example, the first fully constituted Lutheran Church west of the Appalachian Mountains was not formed until 1806. This congregation called itself Hopeful Church, and it was established in Boone County, Kentucky just across the river from Cincinnati. This congregation was a unique congregation in some ways. That is, they were pathfinders, and they had moved out in front of many other Lutherans heading west. At the same time, they shared some characteristics with congregations back east. Hopeful Congregation was what we call a union congregation. That is, it was a congregation united of Lutherans and Reformed, German Lutherans and German Reformed. And written specifically into the constitution of this particular congregation was this united character of the congregation. Now, what does that mean? Well, as their constitution plays itself out, they make it very clear that they are one congregation that worships together and that will be served by one pastor. In this respect, they reflect a development within Lutheran practice over the course of the 1700's and early 1800's. So, for example, early in the 1700's, we already see the presence of the so-called union congregations. And these union congregations were, oftentimes, simply a combined effort on the part of Lutherans and the Reformed to build a church building that would be used by both groups, though at different times. That is to say, the Lutherans would use it, for example, on a Sunday at 8:00 in the morning and then would give way to the Reformed so that they could use the church building at 12:00, two distinct entities sharing the same building and doing so for the sake of good stewardship. Many of the Germans who came to America were exceptionally poor, and they simply couldn't afford to build their own church building. Nor could they, in many cases, afford, or in some cases, even find a pastor to serve both congregations, if you will. And so what these congregations often did as well was to hire one pastor who would then serve the two separate congregations using the one church building. And the pastor would preach to the Lutherans at 8:00, and preach to the Reformed at 12:00. Not surprisingly, as time went by, the distinctions between the two groups oftentimes broke down. After all, the pastors likely didn't write two different sermons for the two different communities. So if you slept in a little bit as a Lutheran, you could still go to church at the later hour and hear the same sermon within the context of a liturgical service, albeit, a German Reformed liturgical service. But what really broke down the distinctions within these union congregations over time, of course, was intermarriage. The Lutheran young man seeing the attractive Reformed young woman, and by the end of things, you had one congregation served by one pastor. That's what Hopeful Church was, a united congregation in the fullest sense, although they still would maintain their distinct identity as Lutherans and Reformed, if you put it on paper. Nevertheless, in worship and practice and all things, otherwise, they worshiped completely together, and they were completely united. That's Hopeful Church, and these union congregations are typical for Lutheranism on the frontier. Again, the issue being the ability of the congregations to support a pastor, to support the work of the church in terms of building a meeting place, and holding consistent worship. However, on the frontier, it was extremely difficult for these congregations to acquire pastoral care. That is to say, many of the pastors simply didn't come over the mountains so there was a very uneven representation in terms of being able to attract pastors to serve these congregations. In Hopeful Church's case, they hoped to get a pastor to serve them, to preach, to baptize, to administer the sacrament, to confirm once a year or oftener, as they put it, if possible. In the interim, these lay people were thrust upon their own abilities, and what they would do would be to meet weekly, read a sermon out of some collection of sermons, oftentimes from a Pietistic perspective, sing some hymns, pray, and go on. So the pressures were terrific for these folks. And if the congregations were to be established, it was done by the laypeople. And Hopeful Church also illustrates a concept that is important for the later history of Lutheranism in America: namely, that discipline within the congregation had to be carried out, not by a pastor, but by the laypeople. Why? There simply weren't pastors present. So they were a mixed blessing, shall we say. These congregations struggled for survival. In order to survive, they oftentimes united with the Reformed creating unionistic circumstances, but at the same time, they anticipated some of the movements and developments in polity that we will see in other synods, for example, the Tennessee Synod, and later on, the Missouri Synod in which the activities of the congregation and the centrality of the work of the laity comes to the forefront. As time moved on, the frontier pushed West, but it really didn't get all that far west all that quickly. As things moved into the 1830's, especially, and as German immigrants poured into the West, they often found themselves facing similar challenges that Hopeful Church had faced much earlier. But in these cases, the pressure was perhaps even more intense. As Germans moved in to the great wilds of the American Midwest, they found themselves oftentimes largely isolated. And the result was they oftentimes went without any spiritual care for years on end. So, for example, when Friedrich Wyneken made his way to northeastern Indiana in 1838, he found scattered Germans throughout all three states surrounding him, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, and little to tie these folks together. The spiritual care that was offered was oftentimes of a tradition outside of Lutheranism. By the 1830's, German Methodism had begun to grow strong. And so, if there was spiritual care to be offered, it oftentimes was given by the Methodist preachers and circuit riders. The result: Many Germans were lost to the Lutheran confession. So terrific challenges faced these Germans on the American frontier. Terrific opportunities were there as well. And what we will see, as we explore this particular theme in the next few questions, is how one man largely came to the frontier and acted as a catalyst for taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the scattered and sometimes lost German souls. ***** 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. *****