Wilhelm Loehe and his legacy.
Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe was born on February 21, 1808, and died on January 2, 1872. Instrumental in sending countless church workers to North America who became part of the Missouri and Iowa Synods, he also was known for his establishment of a deaconess training institution and a mission society at Neuendettelsau, Germany. His contributions to worship and liturgical life continue to bear fruit in our day. An International Loehe Society has recently been established at Wartburg Theological Seminary, whose origin itself goes back to Loehe followers. Those who would like to consider membership should send a note and $25 to Professor Craig L. Nessan at Wartburg (333 Wartburg Place, P.O. Box 5004, Dubuque, IA 52004-5004) or to Professor John Pless at Concordia Theological Seminary (6600 N. Clinton Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46825). Nessan is Co-President of the Society with German theologian Dietrich Blaufuss, and Pless is Co-Secretary of the Society with German theologian Phillip Hauenstein. The articles in this issue originally were addresses at the founding conference of the International Loehe Society, in Dubuque, Iowa, July 13-15, 2005. The next conference of the Loehe Society will be in July 2008 in Neuendettelsau and will mark the two hundredth anniversary of Loehe's birth.
Erika Geiger relates the biography of Loehe. After study at Erlangen he was ordained in 1831, but because he was criticized by ecclesiastical authorities he had to "settle" for a position at Neuendettelsau. His wife died when she was 24, leaving him with four small children. Loehe gradually distanced himself from the revival movement and committed himself strongly to the Lutheran Church. In 1842 he sent his first two "emergency workers" to Ohio and shortly thereafter initiated mission work among Native Americans. Following a dispute with the Missouri Synod, Loehe's supporters moved to Iowa with a teachers college, from which Wartburg Seminary was to emerge. Back home in Germany, Loehe struggled with the church authorities because of his desire to maintain the separation between the Lutheran and Reformed churches. In addition to his work in North America, Loehe founded a Deaconess Institute at Neuendettelsau dedicated to providing care for the ill and the handicapped. It was soon surrounded by auxiliary institutions, and the deaconesses he trained proved to be significant workers in society in general and also during Germany's wars. Loehe died of a stroke at the age of 64. Loehe addressed the social problems of his day and was a passionate advocate of the church as the communion of saints. He attempted to maintain a creative tension between those things in the church that should remain unchanged and other things which were in need of development and reform.
Hans Schwarz locates Loehe within the ecclesiastical and theological movements of the nineteenth century and notes that Loehe did as much as Muhlenberg to influence Lutheranism in North America although he never set foot on these shores, probably because he thought a trip would be too expensive. The pietistic awakening in Germany was influenced by idealism, romanticism, confessionalism, and neo-Lutheranism. Other significant, primarily conservative, voices in German Lutheranism at Loehe's time belonged to Claus Harms, August Friedrich Christian Vilmar, Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, and Friedrich August Gottwald Tholuck. In England the Oxford Movement revolted against reason and religious skepticism. Loehe was also deeply influenced and shaped by the members of his own family and was well known as a frugal manager. He came from a pious home and had early contacts with Pietism. At Neuendettelsau Loehe brought new life to the congregation and reintroduced private confession. He initiated many works of mercy and also developed a theology supporting such work. Loehe opposed the supremacy of the state and advocated the separation between Lutherans and the Reformed. Above all, faith active in love became true in his life and work.
Dietrich Blaufuss traces the fate of Loehe in German historiography since his death in 1872. During his lifetime and thereafter Loehe often was criticized for advocating a free church as an alternative to the state church, but he also was called the great apologist for the people's church. Others wrote that through Loehe's efforts Neuendettelsau had been transformed into a great Christian colony, into a city on the mountain. From that place, it was said, the sanctifying rays of merciful love touched two continents. Accounts of Loehe give him a halo or the hat of a heretic, both of which are distortions. At the centennial of his birth, one of his successors as director of the deaconess motherhouse gave a more balanced picture. He defended Loehe, renounced views of him that were outdated, named those things that were problematic, and marked that which remained valid, namely: Loehe lived from the Word of God and lived in it, he depicted it, grasped it faithfully, and experienced it in love. There are now two Loehe societies and an extensive collection of his writings--that needs supplementation and indexing. Further gains in understanding Loehe will have to deal extensively and critically with these sources.
Thomas H. Schattauer hails Loehe as a seminal figure in the recovery of liturgical practice. He worked to enrich the reading of Scripture; he sought to restore the Eucharist to the center of Sunday worship; and he encouraged practices of confession and forgiveness. Christian worship is something done together, not alone or in a solitary way. Worship is a participatory act, an act of communion, and an essential element of mission. Loehe sought to engage the congregation in the deepest movements of the liturgy--in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, in the act of praying, and in the offering of gifts for those in need. Communion has both christological and ecclesiological dimensions that can be distinguished but are ultimately not separable. Worship has a missional focus because it deals with life and because word and sacrament are the principal means for mission. Mission is nothing but the one church of God in motion.
John T. Pless traces the history of Loehe and the Missouri Synod and attempts to define his legacy in that church body. F. C. D. Wyneken, an important early leader in Missouri, got Loehe's attention with his urgent appeal for orthodox church workers; he also was influenced by Loehe to distance himself from the Reformed tradition. The men sent by Loehe were soon exposed to "American Lutheranism," the accommodationist movement associated with the name of S. S. Schmucker. Loehe and others broke with the Ohio Synod in a controversy over the Lord's Supper. Many of the Loehe followers participated in the formation of the Missouri Synod in 1847, comprising more than half of its ministerium. By 1853, when the relationship between Loehe and the Missouri Synod ended, 82 of his men had come to the Synod via the Fort Wayne seminary. Loehe was uneasy about the equal representation of clergy and laity in the governance of Missouri and its inherent congregationalism. Loehe tried to mediate a dispute between Walther and Grabau and earned disfavor from supporters of both sides! Walther and Wyneken visited Loehe in Neuendettelsau in 1851 and temporarily closed the rift. Soon the controversy was rekindled, and the eventual split in 1853 involved theological disputes over the nature of the church and the relationship between congregation and office and somewhat unclear disputes involving the Loehe followers in Michigan. It took almost a century for a more positive appreciation of Loehe to emerge in Missouri, thanks in part to the influence of Hermann Sasse. Other Missourians honoring Loehe include John H. Tietjen, Walter Bouman, and Kenneth F. Korby. The new Missouri hymnal and agenda to be published this summer gives a prominent place to the thought of Loehe.
Craig L. Nessan points out that Loehe was responsible for missionary impulses in Neuendettelsau and other parts of the world in addition to his support for the mission in North America. The teachers' seminary brought from Michigan to Iowa by Loehe followers soon also became a theological seminary and in 1857 gained the name of Wartburg. The rapidly expanding Iowa Synod took seriously the challenge of spreading the gospel among Native Americans. When these efforts proved relatively unsuccessful, the Iowa Synod transferred the remaining funds earmarked for this purpose to assist the Neuendettelsau Mission Society for its work in Papua New Guinea. During its rapid growth among German immigrants the Iowa Synod was repeatedly challenged on such issues as chiliasm (the millennium), the anti-Christ, and predestination by the Missouri Synod. The missionary orientation of Wartburg was furthered by faculty members belonging to the Fritschel family and by the famed J. Michael Reu. When the Iowa Synod merged with the Ohio and Buffalo Synods in 1930, it numbered approximately 212,000 baptized members. The focus on mission in the Iowa Synod lives on in Wartburg Theological Seminary today.
David C. Ratke observes that in important points Loehe departed from Lutheran Orthodoxy and from the Erlangen school. Six themes emerge in Loehe's theology: community and fellowship, catholicity and unity, apostolicity, confession, Word and sacrament, and context. The church witnesses to and proclaims the gospel because of the fundamental human need for community and fellowship. Loehe suggested that women could have a ministry and thereby an identity apart from men. The word gathers all people into the universal church, a catholicity that is broken yet whole. Loehe was attracted to the communitarian elements in the apostolic understanding of the church. His commitment to mission in America was motivated by his awareness of the plight of Germans who had emigrated to America; his commitment to inner mission in Germany was motivated by his awareness of the plight of people in Germany. He was adamant that people ought to experience oneness and wholeness with both God and one another in worship. He urged a return to the values of the early church: care and concern for the powerless; worship that is joyous and generous; reaching out intentionally to those on the other side of our walls. While Loehe was committed to hospitality, he sometimes sought to hang on to what was familiar, to rigid doctrine, or to the German language.
In his sermon at the closing of the Loehe Society meeting at Wartburg, Larry Trachte spoke of the great things God accomplishes through election of little people, like Wilhelm Loehe and you and me. Loehe embraced a theology that was personal, yet communal; intellectual, yet practical; confessional, yet outward seeking. We are all called to witness to the One who became for us wisdom from God.
H. S. Wilson reflects on the significance of the growth in numbers and in passion of the church in the global South. With this growth has also emerged a theological divide, with the North, at least in part, more liberal and secularized and the South maintaining the opposite positions. The world religions contributed to the liberation of the Third World from the Christian colonial West, and at the same time an indigenous Christianity emerged out of Western missionary Christianity. The conservative nature of Christianity in the South was shaped by social circumstances and the failure of the inherited Western Christianity to provide an answer. As the world gets steadily compressed through globalization, cultural clashes and tensions are intensified. Concerned individuals and institutions have raised voices against the new imperialistic tendencies within the elemental forces of globalization and strive to use it for the benefit of humanity.
Wilhelm Loehe was a major leader of North American Lutherans although he never set foot on this continent. He was a child of his times, and some of his opinions and actions were controversial in his own time, and some surely would also be so today. But no one can gainsay his passion for mission and worship and the church. Loehe held together aspects of the church's life that today often appear to be in tension or even opposition: liturgy, pietism, confessionalism, social ministry (diakonia), and mission. We remember him in order to praise him and his God, to learn from him, and to discover what he meant back then and what he might mean for the church and world today.
Ralph W. Klein, Editor
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|Author:||Klein, Ralph W.|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2006|
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