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The Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Connection

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Brief Sketch of 
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg's Ministry

An Official Call was extended to 30 year old Pastor/ Pfarrer Henry Melchior Muhlenberg by The Rev. Dr. G. A. Francke on September 6, 1741. The thirtieth birthday of young Pastor Muhlenberg was the date of his new Call. Until the end of his life Muhlenberg remained under the actual direction and supervision of the authorities of Halle.  

His Call was extended to him in response to the urgent requests from three German Lutheran congregations in southeastern Pennsylvania. The young pastor accepted his call with eagerness and set out for America in the spring of 1742. He had a very difficult voyage in a sailing ship across the Atlantic and fourteen weeks after setting forth from London, England reached Charleston South Carolina on September 22.

After visiting Salzburg Lutherans in Georgia he then proceeded to journey by ship North along the Continental coast to his final destination of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, arriving there in November 1742. This would be the center or headquarters of his very challenging labors from that date until the day of his death in 1787, just a little over 45 years later.

Muhlenberg accurately assessed the precarious Lutheran situation in the Americas upon his arrival and took very active steps to Plant the Lutheran Church on solid ground. Instead of limiting his ministry and focus upon just the 3 congregations that had called him as Pastor through Dr. Francke, he expanded and stretched the scope of his ministry to include other Lutheran congregations that were without pastors and German communities that were without Lutheran Congregations.

Throughout his ministry he made extensive mission journeys in the Colonies and states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia. Most of these journeys were by horseback or wooden sail boat or canoe. He also found time to carry on a voluminous correspondence with Lutherans in all of these areas and with Lutherans living in areas beyond the reach of his missionary travels.

He organized new congregations and actively worked to keep all the Lutheran churches with whom he had contact closely in association with one another. He organized the pastors that he was able to gather around himself and his ministry into what was officially called "An Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium in North America." He worked to establish the training of new pastors in America, upon publication of a common Lutheran Service Hymnal, He served as a mediator for disputes in congregations and he developed and introduced constitutional provisions in congregations that greatly added to peace and harmony. He worked tirelessly to to cultivate what he frequently referred to as "practical, active Christianity".

So enormous was the energy that Muhlenberg put forth in missionary ministry over the years in the Eastern North American area that he came to be known as "the Patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America."

A number of reprints of Muhlenberg' s Journals have been made over the years and reprints are available from the "Lutheran Historical Society of Eastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and Whippoorwill Publications, Evansville, Indiana. 1982.

The Connection to Muhlenberg by our ELCM Fellowship

The Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of Eastern Lutherans and Lutherans tracing their origins to one of the congregations established by his Mission efforts or the efforts of those trained by him. He not only was instrumental in establishing a great many new congregations during his 45 years of ministry but the pastors that he helped to train and educate went on to establish many additional congregations.

When he came to Eastern North America, he found a large number of congregations already in existence when he arrived. Many of these were in turmoil and disarray. Where he found such to be the case he would introduce constitutional provisions that greatly aided the cause of peace and harmony for the sake of ongoing mission efforts. In some situations other Christian groups attempted to take over Lutheran congregations and in these cases Muhlenberg was staunch in his insistence upon a foundation not only of Holy Scripture but also based upon the Lutheran Confessional writings.

The form of constitutional governance that he instituted appears to have been borrowed by Muhlenberg from organizational principles developed by the Dutch Lutherans of New York State. In these provisions the members of the governing Board of a congregation are elected by 2/3 majority vote by the congregation. The Board then functions as a legislative body in the congregation and posts notice of all actions by the board. Any member who is opposed to Board actions in specific matters may then submit a written vote of "NO" that must be signed and state the reason (hopefully citing the Scripture and the Confessions) or reasons for the vote of "NO". When 1/3 of the members of a congregation cast written votes of "NO" to a specific action of the Board then a special congregational meeting is held to discuss and resolve the issue in question.

The core of this procedure as refined by Muhlenberg gives the benefit of the doubt to the often silent and satisfied majority of a congregation and thus contributes considerably to the maintaining of harmony in congregations that is so necessary for ongoing mission work. With this provision and others Muhlenberg was thus notably successful in rescuing the day for a great many of the congregations that predated his coming to North America.

Our congregations have adopted the same sense of mission held by Muhlenberg, namely, that the Church in every age must be planted. Ecclesia Plantada was his motto. Ecclesia Plantada literally means just that - "The Church must be planted". Each of our initial congregations has also included the Constitutional provision introduced by Muhlenberg for the harmonious governance and resolution of turmoil in congregations. Like Muhlenberg our congregations also staunchly defend Holy Scripture in all of its parts as God's Word and the Lutheran Confessional writings of the Book of Concord as the correct exposition of Holy Scripture. Also in the footsteps of Muhlenberg we are very much committed to a "practical, active Christianity". This is where our stance in various areas as "Moderate Conservative Lutherans" places emphasis upon "practical, active Christianity". We have no false illusions that our mission action orientation somehow earns or achieves salvation or extra rewards to our credit but we do believe that the Lord has work for us to do in Mission Planting and that we are to be practical and active in achieving the same. Sola Dei Gloria!