By 1823 there were about 45,000 Lutherans in American congregations served by about 175 pastors. But there were also large numbers of other Lutherans scattered about who had no spiritual care whatever, and many lost their faith. Even in many of the organized congregations, the pastors were poorly trained or careless about their work. As a result there was much laxity and indifference among those who belonged to Lutheran churches. At about this time, God carried out His plan to bring new faithfulness and strength to the growing Lutheran Church in America. He did this through a new immigration from Saxony, Germany.
The Lutheran Church in Germany was a state church which means that the government managed the church affairs and even appointed the clergy for its congregations. Added to this, the leaders of the Saxon churches were generally rationalists –those who put reason ahead of the inspired words of Holy Scripture. Faithful members of the Saxon Church were being starved from the preaching of the pure Word of God, and so a campaign began to leave Germany and, like many others who were enduring persecution of their religious beliefs –who heard of the great opportunities in the New World across the Atlantic Ocean, set sail for America.
St. Louis, Missouri had about 16,000 inhabitants in 1839. There was great excitement in the city when the Saxons arrived. Had all of them stayed in St. Louis, it would’ve meant an increase in the population by 4 percent.
The “new” Lutherans remained in St. Louis for 3 months and lived in rented houses on the money in the common treasury. During this time they held services in an Episcopal church. They also opened one of their homes to a school with J.F. Ferdinand Winter, the 1st teacher in their Christian Day School.
After some discussion, the “new” Lutherans decided to locate themselves in what became known as Perry County, then a forested area of 4,472 acres. All but 120 of the Saxons went to Perry County, Missouri while the 120 remained in St. Louis to organize the building of our 1st edifice on American soil: Trinity Lutheran Church with O.H. Walther their 1st pastor.
Today Trinity in St. Louis is called “Old Trinity,” and is noted to be the “mother church” of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. L. Geyer organized a Lutheran School in St. Louis & was the first teacher at Trinity. In 1840, Johann F. Buenger became the teacher, whose salary was $15 / month. The school had a good reputation and many non-Lutheran children attended. The subjects taught were: Bible History, Catechism, reading, writing, arithmetic, and English, which might have seemed strange since, these Saxons spoke German and Services were conducted in German. They might have considered it a cross to bear but in order to live and conduct business in the New World, they’d have to communicate in English.
In the course of events, the new Lutherans became troubled by having left Germany and the sanctioned church questioning as to whether they were a “true church.” Some believed they had no right to call pastors or have the Sacraments administered. Thus, God provided opportunity for the pastors and members to search the Scriptures in order to answer the question at hand.
It became known as the “Altenburg Debate” a public debate between Lawyer Marbach and Pastor C.F.W. Walther. Marbach claimed that the Saxons were not a true church and that they could not call pastors or administer the Holy Sacraments; Pastor Walther proved the opposite from the Bible and from the Confessions of the Lutheran Church (a 1580 document called: The Book of Concord containing among other things the Augsburg Confession and the Apology to the Augsburg Confession). Walther showed that even in erring congregations there are true believers and that these make up the Church. He proved from the Bible that the true Church is not dependent upon a man, but that it’s found wherever the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are administered according to the Word of God. He made it clear also that the Office of the Keys does not belong to the clergy or a bishop, but to the congregation of believers. Consequently, they have a right to call pastors and to have the Office of the Keys administered in their congregations. They not only have this right, but it’s their duty. Pastor Walther also showed by Scripture that the value of the sacred acts doesn’t depend on the character of the pastor, but upon the proper administration of the Office according to the Word of God.
After the debate, Lawyer Marback agreed and the Lutheran Church began calling pastors and teachers to serve in the ministry of God’s Word. To this day, the LCMS calls pastors, teachers, deacons, deaconess’, directors of Christians education, directors of Christian outreach, and musicians to serve in its congregations through the establishment of our schools of higher learning: two Seminaries –Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne; and 10 universities.
As God has so often done, He used weakness and hardship to strengthen His people for the building of a true and faithful church. And we know that God protects and prospers the building of His Kingdom of Grace at all times, even tho’ we don’t always understand His plans or His ways until many years later.
The people who belong to the local congregations of The Lutheran Church – Missouri are people of the Bible. The Bible is our Sacred Scriptures, the Word of God. We treasure God’s Word because it teaches us about eternal life through Jesus Christ. The Word is Gospel (“good news”) because it assures us of God’s love and faithfulness. It inspires us to tell others. It moves us to help people in need.
Three principles undergird our beliefs: Scripture, faith, & grace. The Scripture is the only source of knowledge about God and His will for us. Grace tells us that as human beings we cannot earn God’s love, forgiveness, or everlasting life. It is all a gift of His love. Only by faith in Jesus Christ do we receive forgiveness. Through faith in Him we come into a relationship of peace with God.
As people of the Word, we Missouri Synod Lutherans, while we often speak of “the cross” focus more on the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross –but He rose from the dead to assure us that God accepted His sacrifice. He lives and promises us life and salvation in His name.
To this end, I welcome you to come & worship with us. Hear the message of God’s great love for you… a dying/risen love, an unconditional love, and everlasting life-giving love.