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.
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
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!