At the beginning of the book which contains the first of the church records of Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg, you will find the Bible passage shown above. It is written in Rev. Gotthold Loeber’s handwriting. The passage comes from Psalm 85 verses 2-5. Here is a King James Version translation of that passage:
“2 Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of Thy people, Thou hast covered all their sin. Selah. 3 Thou hast taken away all Thy wrath: Thou hast turned [Thyself] from the fierceness of Thine anger. 4 Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause Thine anger toward us to cease. 5 Wilt Thou be angry with us forever? Wilt Thou draw out Thine anger to all generations?
One can only wonder why Rev. Loeber chose this passage to begin a book of church records for a brand new congregation.
Here is how I view it:
The Saxon immigration started off with such lofty goals. Both the clergy and the laity pictured a great future in an American paradise. Then came the actual trip across the Atlantic. Each ship coming on this voyage experienced death amongst its passengers, including the deaths of several children. One of the five ships, the Amalia, was lost at sea with all of its passengers and cargo. Then once in America, many of the immigrants became disenchanted with the clergy leadership as they perceived that much of the treasury was being squandered by the clergy who seemed to be living a life of leisure while the laypeople suffered hardships. Then you add to this simmering pot of discontent the scandal which became known about their leader, Rev. Martin Stephan. Reports indicated that he was having improper relationships with several young women. The end result was that at the end of May in 1839, Rev. Stephan was deposed from their community in Perry County, Missouri and rowed across the Mississippi to Illinois with instructions to never return. This new colony in Missouri was in disarray, with the lay people having lost much of their confidence in the pastors.
It was at this time that Rev. Loeber wrote the words above. I would conclude that he was feeling the pangs of a guilty conscience. I am thinking that he may have been feeling that he himself was partly responsible for the disunity that now persisted among the people in Perry County. He probably felt a deep need for forgiveness, both for himself and for the entire community. I think that is why he chose the words of Psalm 85 to be included in the church records at that time.
As it turns out, it was not going to be until April of 1841 before the disease of discontent began to heal. The event which was the turning point came to be known as the Altenburg Debate. Rev. C.F.W. Walther and Adolph Marbach spent two days debating the issues at hand on April 15 and April 20. Rev. Walther had convinced even Marbach that there was still a legitimate church here in America, and this gave the community a renewed hope in their future here.
The last verse recorded above asks two questions. Wilt Thou be angry with us forever? Wilt Thou draw out Thine anger to all generations? Maybe after the Altenburg Debate, Rev. Loeber could answer those questions with a resounding “NO!”
This coming week, we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Altenburg Debate.