Intrepid Lutherans. Last year, our Fourth of July post, The Lutheran Conception of a Christian Commonwealth according to King Gustavus Adolphus, and its Mighty Impact on the Formation of our Great Republic, and on the State of Pennsylvania in particular, recounted the happy history of Swedish Lutheran colonists who originally settled New Sweden – an area that is now Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware – under a Charter devised by the beloved Swedish King, Gustavus Adolphus, prior to his grizzly death at the Battle of Lützen in 1. Axel Ostenstiern. A pious Lutheran aggrieved by the plight of Christians in the face of State sponsored religious persecution, who fought gallantly in the name of Religious Liberty, and died as a victorious leader in its cause, his plan for a colony in the New World, which would guarantee and protect the Fundamental Rights of the people, was defended by him for almost a decade as“a Free State, where the laborer should reap the fruit of his toil, where the Rights of Conscience should be inviolate, and which should be open to the whole Protestant world.. Rights of Conscience.. Under the plan of the Lutheran King, Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedes of New Sweden paved the way for the Quaker, William Penn, who would receive credit for most of the work they had accomplished under the plan of Gustavus Adolphus, prior to Penn’s arrival. Although gratifying in some respect, last year’s post may have been disturbing, if not offensive, to today’s American Confessional Lutheran, whose germano- centric Lutheran universe may have him so deluded as to think that all positive Lutheran accomplishments must be only of direct German origin.
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Today’s post will heap coals upon those suffering such bigoted delusions; for the first Lutheran colonists in America were not German, nor were they Scandinavian: they were Dutch Lutherans. Yes. Lutherans in the Netherlands having been the first Protestants to obtain the crown of martyrdom, Lutherans from the same country were the first Protestants in America to have the honor of suffering solely for their religious opinions. In fact, Germany did not even have the sea- faring capability to mount colonizing expeditions to the New World, even in the 1. Century. In a 1. 9th Century history of The Lutherans in America, published in 1.
Henry Eyster Jacobs of the General Council, we read the sad story of Dutch Lutherans who traveled to America, and, although in Calvinist Holland nevertheless permitted the free exercise of Conscience, were forbidden such exercise in the Dutch colonies run by the Holland West India Company in New Amsterdam (New York) and Beverswycke (Albany). Not for a few years, but for a full generation, the Dutch Lutherans were forbidden, by name, the public exercise of religious Conscience, and were thus also forbidden a pastor by the governing authorities.
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More than reading their sad story, however, we also learn a lesson from these Dutch Lutheran laymen. They publicly resisted. For a full generation. Forbidden public exercise of their religion, required to worship in the manner of the Calvinists, they refused to join them in worship, and instead held services in their homes. That’s right. These Lutherans, absent an orthodox pastor, did “home church” instead – a big no- no in today’s confessional Lutheran circles.
At one point, all colonists were required to have their children baptized in the Reformed Churches, and to swear an oath to raise their children in the Reformed Confession. These Dutch Lutherans refused, and, it seems, baptized their children in their own homes as part of their regular worship. More than mere resistance, however, we must emphasize that such resistance was not carried out in secret, but was known to the authorities, as these Lutherans continued to publicly defend evangelical Christianity and their Right of Free Conscience, openly writing petitions to be granted a pastor of their own Confession. Their continued practice of “home church,” flouted before the authorities, resulted in "anti- Conventicle" laws being passed in the Dutch colonies – laws which were openly disobeyed by the Dutch Lutherans. Theirs was not the practice of Lutheran Quietism, which is so popular today. Eventually – after the Dutch colony on Manhattan Island had been without a Lutheran pastor for almost 3.
Classis of Amsterdam was persuaded to send the Lutherans a pastor of their own Confession. Upon his arrival, he was ordered by the colonial government to be returned on the same ship on which he had arrived, and forbidden to carry out the duties of his Office. Ten years later, another pastor would be sent – an angry drunk who was forcibly removed by the Dutch Lutherans themselves, after what must have been three long years. He was replaced by a third man, who, by all accounts, was a faithful servant of the Word. After almost fifty years since the founding of the Dutch colony in New Amsterdam and Beverswycke, the Lutherans there finally had a pastor, and finally enjoyed Freedom of Conscience.
In the end, God brought this about through the use of tumultuous political events. When governments and societies wage war against Christian conscience, the Lutheran Way has always been to openly resist, meeting our opponents on the battlefield of wits, wielding the Sword of Truth, publicly confessing with the mouth and the pen. Are American Christians prepared for a generation – or more – of open steadfast resistance in the face of continuous persecution? Do we have the fortitude, and the stamina, to undergo and endure it? Can we laymen survive without orthodox pastors, while waging battle after battle with the authorities, like these Dutch Lutherans did? The Earliest Lutherans in America. Chapter Four of Rev.
Edmund Jacob Wolf’s The Lutherans in America, 1. To the devout historian it was a notable coincidence that just at the time that Martin Luther was born into the world, Christopher Columbus was seized with the conviction that Heaven had commissioned him to discover a new world, and to find a new domain for the Christian Church. It devolved upon him, he believed in his heart, to plant the standard of the cross upon shores, concerning whose existence men had then as little knowledge as they had of the possibility of a Church of Christ outside the barriers of the Roman hierarchy.
It was in 1. 48. 3, the year of Luther’s birth, that the discoverer of America found for the first time an opportunity of laying his daring and visionary enterprise before a European court. And nine years later, while Luther was being taught in the schools of Mansfeldt the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, and was often unmercifully beaten by the schoolmaster, Christopher Columbus, after breaking the silence of ages over the trackless waters, offers the first Christian worship in this western world, falling upon his knees, and with tears of joy, giving thanks to God, kissing the new earth which He had given him, and consecrating it to His glory by naming the first islands discovered San Salvador and Santa Trinidata. Click here for Part I of a history of the Life of Martin Luther, which contains links to Parts II and III following)And just as all Europe is quaking from the commotion which the revived faith of the Gospel had produced, Hernán Cortés is marching his little band of heroic Spaniards into the gates of Mexico, overthrowing the most powerful tribes of the Aborigines, and opening the way for the conquest of the New World by the Missionaries of the Cross.
But heaven could not consent that the debased type of Christianity, which was represented by the bigoted and cruel Spaniards, and which was about to be overwhelmed in Europe by the outburst of a new life in the Church, should appropriate this virgin soil. This must be reserved for the spread and the sway of a purer faith. The inestimable treasures of truth, which had just been recovered from the debris of ages, were destined to find here a theater for their fullest expansion and for the unfolding of their noblest products. What a miscarriage of history it would have been, had a system, staggering under the fatal blows of the manifest hand of Providence, seized at the very crisis a new continent for its baleful triumphs. God never meant America to become Roman Catholic. This land was to be the home of the free. That power which has always been the enemy of freedom was not to acquire here an opportunity for strangling the genius of liberty when it took refuge in this western world.
The Gospel, in the glorious revelation it makes of the dignity of the human soul and the equality and brotherhood of all men, is the mighty liberator, and here it was foreordained to have a sphere, untrammeled by chains or bars, for creating a nation of freemen. It is from these shores that liberty is destined to enlighten the world. Roman Catholic governments, with their maritime ascendancy at the time, might serve as agents in the discovery and exploration of this vast continent, they might open the way across the sea for the grand march of colonization and immigration, but the establishment of institutions must be left to the hands of men who had learned in the school of Luther, who had imbibed the doctrines of the Reformation, and who knew to lay the foundations of a republic in which the Freedom of Conscience and the rights of the individual should be forever secure. An insolent and infamous Pope, Alexander VI, by a solemn decree gave, indeed, the whole New World to Spain, but one greater than the Pope gave it to a people who along with Luther had renounced all papal authority. Alexander’s infallibility must, about this time, have been nodding.