It is the 26th of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Today is the anniversary of the founding of the Philadelphia Ministerium in 1748. This is a really important date in the history of American Lutheranism which is a peculiar beast…. Here’s why:

  1. Take for instance the case of the first Lutheran pastor ordained in America (we’ve talked about him before on this show): Justus Falckner. Falckner came from Germany and was ordained by the Swedes to serve a Dutch congregation in the English colony of New York.
  2. The story of “colonial religion” as told by historians like me tend to stick with the ‘main and plain’ story of English non-conformists/Puritans and then the fast-growing Methodist and Baptist church. Honestly, part of this is the lack of foreign language training amongst American historians. But that’s a story for another time.
  3. 30 years ago historian Mark Noll noted that the story of Lutherans in America is “remarkably unremarkable” and they like it that way! (Growing up the most famous Lutheran I had heard of was Garrison Keillor who is, in fact, not a Lutheran at all. He just thinks they can be kinda funny).

You may know the name of the guy that set up the Ministerium: Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Muhlenberg would go on to become one of the chief names in American Lutheranism. Henry is regarded by many as the Father of American Lutheranism.

The Ministerium was first formed out of the need for not only general unity but also for the education of parishioners and their children and also to develop a common liturgy for Lutherans in the new world.

2 things:

  1. We see here an emphasis on education at both the parish and local level as a key component of Lutheran praxis. Going back to Luther’s catechism in the old world to all of the Lutheran educational systems today, we can see the stress that this tradition puts on education.
  2. Say it with me: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi! The law of prayer/worship is the law of belief. Many Lutheran pastors were concerned with the attachment of Lutheran Churches with the “revivalist Christianity” of Methodists and Baptists.

If you are familiar with Lutheranism in America you can likely diagram those synods today that are on the general “right” or “left”. You might recognize the churches coming out of this ministerium to be on “the left”. Or “mainstream”, or “mainline”. It can be exhausting. But you get it.

The easy answer to this can be seen in the education of Muhlenberg and his cohort. They came from Halle- the hotbed of Lutheran Pietism. Ask me what Pietism is and I’ll make it a mailbag!) But in brief, it was a movement that paid homage to the Lutheran Reformers but believed their reform movement was the beginning of a continually reforming church (Semper Reformanda) and this would take into account context. And being that they were one of the strongest missionary movements of its day, they found themselves in a lot of different contexts and tried to thread the needle of fidelity to the past and a forward-looking mission (the question of their success in doing so is a story for another time)

It would all become a word salad of denominational acronyms with locations often attached to them, but before that, it was 10 Lutheran churches meeting together to form some kind of synod: and that’s what they did 273 years ago today with the founding of the Pennsylvania Ministerium in 1748.

The last word for today comes from the Epistle of St. James, the 5th chapter:

13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by the unremarkably remarkable Christoper Gillespie.

The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.