The Historical Context of the 19th Century Church Awakening

"Talk about the church is every where today. Every one has an inkling that 'Church' is no mere name."[2] With these words Wilhelm Löhe, now nearly 100 years ago in December of 1844, began the forward to his Three Books About the Church. It was a time of questioning about and seeking after the church, the likes of which had not been experienced since the days of the Reformation. It was a time when the modern Roman Catholic Church, in its pilgrimage to Trier,[3] stood before the German nation after its victory over the Enlightenment and national churchism. Friedrich Wilhelm IV[4] called the general synod in Berlin. Lutheranism came to a new realization of its ecclesiastical heritage and its ecumenical task. The Tractarian Movement[5] in Anglicanism experienced its high point and its crisis with the conversion of its great leader, J.H. Newmann, to the Catholic Church. In the Disruption of 1845[6] the Church of Scotland experienced the rebirth of the Reformed Church, and Reformed Protestantism of the world devised its ecumenical program in the Evangelical Alliance.[7] A generation had passed since the end of the Napoleonic wars.[8] In these thirty years the awakening (lasting all in all some forty years) reached the high-point in its rediscovery of the church.

From The Lutheran Doctrine of the Office of the Ministry , c. 1943-44.

[Translated by Pastor Matthew Harrison and available on-line here: http://www.clai.org.au/articles/sasse/offminst.htm]

Note - This is classic Sasse, placing theological developments in their wider historical context and linking disparate church movements together to reveal how the movement of the Spirit oft-times effects all confessions -MH.


Footnotes by Pr Matthew Harrison

[1] [This essay is the translation of Die lutherische Lehre vom geistlichen Amt. As of January 1995 it had never been published and was by and large unknown. It had been given in its original type-written manuscript form to Bishop Jobst Schöne by Friedrich Wilhelm Hopf, and Schöne in turn graciously sent a copy to the translator. It was likely written ca. 1943-44, and delivered at a Bavarian pastors' conference.]

[2] [Löhe's Three Books About The Church, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969, translated by James Schaff, is again available in print shop form from Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 6600 N. Clinton, Ft. Wayne, IN 46825. Sasse had made a thorough study of this work while studying at Hartford Theological Seminary, Hartford Connecticut, in 1924-25.]

[3] [Trier is a Prussian city with an ancient history as a Roman outpost. It is located in a heavily Roman Catholic district and is the seat of the bishop. The city was famous in the nineteenth century for a relic supposed to be the cloak of Christ, and millions made the pilgrimage to view it in 1844 and 1891. Meusel, Handlexikon, v. VI, p. 746.]

[4] [King of Prussia 1840-1857; son of Frederick William III; forced to grant constitution by the revolution of 1848. On July 23, 1845 he issued the "Generalkonzession" which permitted Lutherans who remained separate from the Prussian Union to organize free churches. Concordia Cyclopedia, p. 312. "Viewed from the perspective of the church, Friedrich Wilhelm IV was not only an Evangelical Christian who uprightly confessed his Lord and also had an understanding for the right of confession (as shown by one of his first acts as king, the emancipation of the separated Lutherans), he was absorbed totally in the question of the church." Meusel, Kirchliches Handlexikon. In Verbindung mit einer Anzahl ev.=lutherischer Theologen, Leipzig: Verlag von Justus Naumann, 1889.]

[5] [Roman Catholic revival in the Anglican Church which began at Oxford with the publication of Tracts for the Times. Ninety in all appeared written by Newmann, Froude, Keble, Marriott and Pusey. Newman resigned the Church of England in 1843 and was received in to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. The Tractarian Movement brought a revival and strengthening of the High Church Movement and its emphasis on worship, sacraments, doctrine. The Evangelical Alliance was formed in opposition. , p. 774.]

[6] ["The Free Church of Scotland, largest and most influential, came into being on a national scale in 1843. Those who left (or "came out") of the Established Church in what is called The Disruption claimed to be the true Church of Scotland and made their organization independent of the state, holding that the spiritual liberty and independence of the church were at stake." Concordia Cyclopedia, p. 634.]

[7] ["Formed in London in 1846, among those attending the organizational meeting were F.A.G. Tholuck and S.S. Schmucker. Purpose of the Alliance was to unite ev. Christians, champion liberty of conscience and tolerance, and oppose Roman Catholicism and Tractarianism. Doctrinal articles adopted: 1. the divine inspiration, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures; 2. the right and duty of private judgement; 3. the unity of the Godhead and the Trinity of divine persons; 4. the total depravity of human nature as a result of the fall; 5. the incarnation of the Son of God, His work of redemption for sinful mankind...; 6. justification only by faith; 7. the work of the Holy Spirit in converting and sanctifying the sinner; 8. the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the final judgment by the Savior, receiving the righteous into eternal life and condemning the ungodly to eternal perdition; 9. the divine institution of the office of the ministry and the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper). The Alliance did not try to unite the churches organically but simply to bring about a closer fellowship of individual Christians. Every member was asked to pray for the common cause on the morning of the 1st day of every week... Concordia Cyclopedia, p. 279-80.]

[8] [Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815.]

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