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Archive for October 7th, 2019

Biography:  Pastor Muhlenberg was born in Einbeck, Germany in 1711, the seventh of nine children.  He graduated from Gottingen University and studied also at Halle, serving as schoolmaster.  Halle was the center for Pietism under August Hermann Francke who sent Muhlenberg to the new world. First he went to London for study and there had a gown made which became the pattern for English Lutheran clergy in America.

Pastor Muhlenberg came to the colonies  in 1742.  A tireless traveler, Muhlenberg helped to found many Lutheran congregations and was the guiding force behind the first American Lutheran synod, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, founded Sunday, August 14, 1748 in Philadelphia.  At this synod Muhlenberg submitted a liturgy which was ratified and remained the only authorized American Lutheran liturgy for 40 years(1). He valued the role of music in Lutheran worship (often serving as his own organist)  The transition from the state church of Germany to the free churches of America brought challenges and Pastor Muhlenberg wrote a model congregational constitution in 1762 which became the basis for local church government.  He preached in German, Dutch and English and it was reported with a powerful voice.  And during his pastoral ministry, Muhlenberg kept a journal of his travels and service, remembering that Pennsylvania was practically the frontier in those days.  

Muhlenberg and his sons were also leaders in American public life. His son John Peter Gabriel left his pastorate in Woodstock, Virginia and became a general under Washington and later in life served as congressman and senator from Pennsylvania.  He announced his intention to serve in the Continental Army and the cause of political freedom from the pulpit when he took off his preaching robe to reveal his uniform saying there is a time to pray and a time to fight.  One of Pennsylvania’s statues in Statuary Hall in the U. S. Capitol depicts this moment .  It might be legend, but it illustrates that we are called to serve as citizens in the two kingdoms, the temporal, that is, our nation and the eternal, the reign of God in Jesus Christ. John’s brother, Frederick Augustus Conrad,  also a Lutheran pastor became a member of the Continental Congress and became the first speaker of the House of Representatives in the new nation under the new Constitution.

Muhlenberg established the shape of Lutheran parishes for America during a 45-year ministry in Pennsylvania. Muhlenberg is remembered as a church leader, a journalist, a liturgist, and—above all—a pastor to the congregation in his charge.  He and has family also reflect the beginnings of our nation and service to the Constitution.  If your high school son or daughter needs to do a paper on the beginnings of our nation, the Muhlenbergs would make fine subject matter!   Pastor Muhlenberg died in 1787, in Trappe, Pennsylvania, leaving behind a large extended family and a lasting heritage: American Lutheranism. (Sources:  Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip Pfatteicher and The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Reflection: 

Pastor Muhlenberg wrote an extensive journal which is a record of his pastoral ministry but also the times and his heart.  His journals are in three volumes. In this selection, we see his ministry, times and his heart:

1748. November 5.I am worn out from much reading; I am incapacitated for study; I cannot even manage my own household because I must be away most of the time. The Reverend Fathers called me for only three years on trial, but the dear God has doubled the three years and upheld me all this time with forbearance. I write this not out of any discontent of slothfulness, but out of the feeling of spiritual and physical incapacity and a yearning desire to achieve a little more quietude where I could gather my thoughts better, spend more time with my wife and children, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Pr. Muhlenberg had a hard go of it in the new world.  October is pastor appreciation month.  Pastors and people together get  tired and worn out and come to the brink of despair.  Dr. Luther has this evangelical encouragement:

 “Nearly all people are tempted by despair, and the godlier they are, the more frequently they are attacked with this weapon of Satan. What else should you do in this situation than say: ‘I know that I am baptized and that God, for the sake of His Son, has promised me grace. This promise will not lie, even if I should be cast into utter darkness. Therefore what Satan suggests to me is not God’s will; but God is testing me in this manner, that it may become manifest what is hidden in my heart. It is not that God does not know this, but that I do not know it. He Himself wants to make use of this occasion to crush the head of the serpent in me (Gn 3:15). For the heart of man is unsearchable; and the mind of the flesh, is enmity against God’ (Rm 8:7). Nor does man perceive this except through the word of the law, through which the head of the serpent is killed, in order that we may be made alive, as Scripture says (1Sa 2:6): ‘The Lord brings down to Sheol and raises up.’”

Pastor Muhlenberg was a missionary to our very young colonies and nation. The day has arrived in which we need faithful Christian missionaries to our nation again:  in our amoral and immoral nation in which so many think they know what Christianity is and have forgotten, even derided, her sound doctrines delivered by the Lord and His Apostles, that with them, we all repent and walk in the Lord.

Let us pray…

Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd of Your people, we give You thanks for Your servant Henry Melchior  Muhlenberg, who was faithful in the care and nurture of the flock entrusted to his care.  So, they may follow his example and teaching of his holy life, give strength to pastors today who shepherd Your flock that, by Your grace may grow into the fullness of life intended for them in paradise;  for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit one God now and forever. Amen.

Pray often for your pastor and all pastors

(1) One of the great hopes and goals for American Lutheranism has been a unified liturgy and this was almost realized in the 1970s with the publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship, a project initiated by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).  Two of the Lutheran church bodies began to ordain women.  The LCMS kept to the Scriptures on ordination of women. This and other major doctrinal differences caused the then 3 Lutheran Church bodies to part ways and the LCMS did not authorize the LBW. (Those two liberal Lutheran Church bodies, along with the breakaway denomination from the LCMS merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in ’87 which has become a very liberal statist church totally identifiable with amoral American society and culture). Now in the Lutheran Church there can be a different ‘liturgy’ in each congregation and the doctrinal differences have widened and deepened.

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