Just recently, our Bible class at church had watched the DVD Walther, published by Concordia Seminary, and had discussion of the same. The DVD is a general introduction of Lutherans from Saxony Germany who, in the early to mid-19th century, followed Rev. Martin Stephanto America in order to establish a Lutheran community. Rev. Stephan became bishop of the group, yet was later exiled to Illinois on charges of mismanagement of funds and questions of morality.
The group, now without a leader, began to question, among other things, 1) whether what they did was right in the sight of God, 2) whether the congregations they were members of were in fact Christian, and 3) whether the pastors who were shepherding them were truly pastors.
These are not at all insignificant questions. The Saxon Lutherans came to America having followed their religious leader, who was now no longer in office. They left their home congregations in Germany, though the Gospel had not been silenced. The pastors, too, had abandoned their calls. Were they right in staying? And from where does one obtain a clear conscience on such important matters as the Christian church and her pastors?
Following Stephan’s exile, these questions came to the fore. Some of Lutherans answered the question of the church and her pastors by seeking to establish their own congregations. Others resolved to return to Germany. Still others, like Walther, determined to stay, repenting of their sins and seeking to be faithful to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
Walther, one of the pastors, through the study of the Bible, Martin Luther’s writings, and The Lutheran Confessions (The Book of Concord), came to understand that the Christian Church consists not of perfect people or pastors, but of sinners who believe in Christ for their salvation. The visible Christian Church consists of both believers and nonbelievers, having as its marks the Word of God preached in its truth and purity and the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and The Sacrament of the Altar) administered according to their institution. Where these marks are, there is the Christian Church, that is, there believers in Christ will be. The hidden Church is that “Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints” as confessed in the Apostles’ Creed.
The Church is not built on its people, on its pastors, on a building, on relationships, or on human activity. It is built and founded on Christ and His Holy Word. This was Rev. Walther’s confidence and became the confidence of that which is now known as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).
The LCMS was founded in 1847, with C.F.W. Walther as its first president. The immigrants had rough beginnings, yet God blessed their efforts. Walther and the early Synod struggled to remain faithful in the midst of manifold pressures and temptations to compromise the faith. As heirs of America’s Luther, the LCMS today continues this struggle to remain faithful.
Initially, the LCMS consisted of only a handful of pastors and congregations, from Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, and other states. These pastors and congregations gathered together in confessional unity, believing and teaching the same things. The formation of the LCMS grew out of the desire to be faithful to the Lord’s Word with confessional integrity and to unite with others who were like minded for the purpose of witnessing the truth of God’s Word and establishing schools for the education of pastors and teachers. Though today these same purposes seem to be questioned by many within the LCMS, the training of pastors and teachers remains a significant consideration for the LCMS.
I have found the DVD Walther quite helpful for a better understanding of the beginnings of the LCMS. The questions and struggles that the Saxon Lutherans faced in Germany in the 19th century before they emigrated, and the questions and struggles that they faced after they came to America, are similar to those of our time: rationalism, the Gospel, the Church, the Office of the Ministry, the necessity of the true doctrine, etc. They may have lived in different times, but we too have comparable strife. Also as they, we too have what God, in His inestimable mercy, has given us for the preservation of our souls—His Holy Word. Upon this we stand. And upon this, we have life—in Christ!