Feast of Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe (January 2)   2 comments

Loehe

Above:  Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe

Image in the Public Domain

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JOHANN KONRAD WILHELM LOEHE (FEBRUARY 21, 1808-JANUARY 2, 1872)

Bavarian Lutheran Minister and Coordinator of Domestic and Foreign Missions

The name of Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe comes from the calendars of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) and the Lutheran Service Book (2006).  The former lists him as a “renewer of the church,” and the latter simply as a pastor.  Both descriptions are accurate yet inadequate.  The fact that I honor Loehe indicates that I respect him, not that I agree with him all of the time.  I cannot, in fact, think of anyone with whom I never disagree.

Our saint, who was frequently at odds with his ecclesiastical superiors, proved that life in exile need not prevent one from leaving an impressive legacy.  The native of Furth, near Nuremberg, Middle Franconia, lost his father, a shopkeeper, at the age of eight years.  Loehe studied at Nuremberg before matriculating at the University of Erlangen in 1826.   At first Loehe leaned toward Reformed theology, but encounters with the Lutheran Confessions changed his mind.  Our saint, who graduated in 1830, became an ordained minister the following year.  From 1831 to 1837 he served at a series of churches.  He alienated many people, especially his superiors.  Loehe, a minister of the Bavarian state Lutheran church, argued against state control of the church.  He also opposed rationalist influences in the Lutheran Church on one side and Pietistic minimalization of sacraments on the other side.  Holy Communion, Loehe said, was the proper center of parish life.  Our saint, a confessional Lutheran, circulated a proposed confessional basis for the church.  His superiors were not impressed.  From 1837 to his death in 1872 Loehe served a small church in Neuendettelsau, Bavaria, an out-of-the-way village.  This was ecclesiastical exile.

He speaks the Word the bread and wine to bless:

“This is my flesh and blood!”

He bids us eat and drink with thankfulness

This gift of holy food.

All human thought must falter–

Our God stoops low to heal,

Now present on the altar,

For us both host and meal!

–Loehe, translated by Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr.; text copyrighted in 2002 by GIA Publications, Inc.; quoted in the Lutheran Service Book (2006), hymn #639

Loehe was a Neo-Lutheran, a member of a movement similar to the Oxford Movement within Anglicanism.  His exaltation of the Holy Communion prompted many detractors to accuse him of Crypto-Catholicism.  Another theological issue in the minds of some critics of Loehe was his stress on the catholic nature of the Lutheran Church as its Confessions defined it.  For Loehe, to whose theology the cross of Christ was central, the Lutheran Confessions conformed without deviation to the New Testament.   He wrote at least two hymns which exist in English translation.  I quoted one stanza of one of those hymns above.  The second hymn, “O Son of God, in Co-Eternal Might,” has graced my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.

Loehe operated an ambitious foreign missions program from Neuendettelsau, where he founded a school for missionaries.  In 1841 he became concerned about the needs of Lutheran churches in the United States.  He encouraged many German emigrants to settle in the Saginaw valley of Michigan in 1845. Our saint also prepared and published maps to encourage German emigrants to settle in extant German immigrant communities in North America.  In 1845 Loehe commenced a mission among Native Americans.  The founding of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, took place during the following year.  Loehe sent missionaries not only to North America but to Australia, New Guinea, the Ukraine, and Brazil.

Loehe’s effect on North American Lutheranism was great.  He initially supported the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Ohio and Other States (1818-1930), one of the more conservative Lutheran synods.  Pastors Loehe had sent and who had affiliated with the Joint Synod of Ohio became disenchanted, however.  They complained about the following issues:

  1. The lack of an acceptable confessional standard,
  2. The ascendancy of the English language at the seminary, and
  3. The progress of the process of Americanization.

These pastors and Loehe helped to found the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, now The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, in 1847.  The Missouri Synod also acquired the seminary at Fort Wayne and the mission program among Native Americans.

Relations between the Loehe forces and the Missourians broke down, however.  One reason was disagreement regarding the theology of ordained ministry.  The Missourian position held that the congregation held all powers and rights of ordained ministry via its participation in the priesthood of believers.  The congregation, therefore, transferred these powers and rights to the minister when it called him to serve it.  Loehe rejected this transference theology.  It was, he argued, an example of “American mob-rule.”  No, our saint said, ministerial authority was independent of the congregation a pastor served.  Such authority came directly from God via ordination, he argued.

Another issue was contention between Loehe and the Missourians concerned interpretation of the Lutheran Confessions.  The Missourian position held that the Lutheran Confessions were in complete harmony with the scriptures.  There was, therefore, no ambiguity on any issue.  Loehe disagreed.  As I established a few paragraphs ago, our saint thought that the Lutheran Confessions conformed without deviation to the New Testament.  He stated, however, that the only proper context in which to interpret the Confessions was historical.  Loehe concluded, therefore, that both the Lutheran Confessions and the scriptures left room for a variety of opinions about certain controversial questions.  For example, is the Pope the Antichrist?  And how much interest may a banker charge morally?  Loehe’s tone was both confessional and irenic.

The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Iowa and Other States, or the Iowa Synod for short, separated from the Missouri Synod in 1854.  Its first confessional statement was one paragraph long:

The synod subscribes to all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church because it recognizes all the symbolical decisions on controverted questions before or during the time of the Reformation as corresponding to the divine Word.  But because within the Lutheran Church there are different tendencies, the synod espouses that one which strives for greater completeness by means of the confessions and on the basis of the Word of God.  In the founding of congregations the synod is not content with mere acceptance of its principles of doctrine and life, but requires probation and therefore re-established the catechumenate of the ancient church.  The goal to be sought in its congregations is the apostolic life; to attain this, official and fraternal discipline is to be practiced.

–Quoted in E. Clifford Nelson, editor, The Lutherans in North America–Revised Edition (1980), page 182

The Missouri Synod, the Joint Synod of Ohio, and the Buffalo Synod agreed that the preceding statement was too vague and that subsequent elaborations were inadequate.  The Buffalo Synod, the Joint Synod of Ohio, and the Iowa Synod resolved their differences in time, however, for they merged to form The American Lutheran Church (1930-1960), a predecessor of The American Lutheran Church (1960-1987), a predecessor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Loehe also established a motherhouse for deaconesses at Neuendettelsau.  These women lived communally, practiced celibacy, provided social services (mostly in Bavaria), and made paraments for church buildings.  Our saint sent six deaconesses to North America.

Loehe, who married in 1837, spent most of his life as a widower.  His wife died at age 24, leaving him to raise four children.  That must have been difficult for him.

Our saint died at Neuendettelsau on January 2, 1872, after suffering a stroke.  He was 64 years old.  He had used his time on the planet well.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 17:  THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF HENRIETTE LUISE VON HAYN, GERMAN MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, we praise your for your servant Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:25-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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2 responses to “Feast of Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe (January 2)

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  1. Pingback: O Son of God, In Co-Eternal Might | GATHERED PRAYERS

  2. Pingback: Feast of William Passavant (January 3) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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