April 15th – A Significant Day in Lutheran History

Tomorrow, my congregation will gather after our Sunday worship to have a voters’ meeting. I am of the opinion that the concept of congregations in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod having voters’ meetings began right here in Altenburg. In fact, I think it began on the land that I now own. I am not going to write my standard post today because I have other things planned that keep me from doing the research. However, I think I will have enough time to do what I will call “Getting on My Soapbox”.

April 15th was the first day of an event that took place in the early days of the German Lutheran settlement in Perry County…the Altenburg Debate. That debate began on April 15, 1841, but would end up concluding during the next week on April 20th. I am not going to go into much detail about the debate because several previous posts have already been written about this event. You can find those previous posts by placing the term “Altenburg Debate” in the search box on this website.

I will focus my attention on the impact that the Altenburg Debate had on what is sometime called church polity…how congregations are governed. Prior to the debate, the way many churches were governed (and some still are) consisted basically of the clergy making all the decisions related to the church. Several items were hashed out in the debate between the lawyer, Adolph Marbach, and his cohorts and Rev. C.F.W. Walther and other clergymen. I think a pretty strong case can be made that Rev. Walther changed his mind about the role of a Lutheran pastor as a result of his study in preparation for this debate. He used many of the books that are part of what are called Luther’s Works. Many of those books had been brought along with the Stephanites in the 1838-1839 immigration. I know this is overly simplified, but I think the bottom line is that Walther realized that the role of the Lutheran pastor was to proclaim the Word of God faithfully and administer the sacraments properly. He ended up admitting the the role of the pastor is not to necessarily be in charge of the administration of his congregation.

What resulted about 6 years later when the leaders of Lutheran churches in America gathered to organize a new Lutheran synod, Rev. Walther was a proponent of having the clergy in charge of spiritual matters in the church organization, while the lay people were given a voice when synodical conventions were held. That synod, which we now know as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, was officially established in 1847. Last year, we celebrated the 175th anniversary of that organization. In local congregations, lay people were the ones given the role of making the business decisions that were necessary. It was during voters’ meetings that decisions were made by the laity about whether to construct a building, hire a secretary, vote on who the church’s leaders would be, etc.

There are probably Lutheran church members who would be of the opinion that they wish that voters’ meeting were never invented. However, I think the participants in the Altenburg Debate, which took place right after the scandal involving Rev. Martin Stephan’s leadership, realized that a different approach should be taken in American Lutheran churches. I, for one, am thankful for voters’ meetings, despite the fact that I do not always enjoy attending them.

I would argue that the 1841 Altenburg Debate is a very significant event in the history of the Missouri Synod, and it took place right here in Altenburg. The location of that debate was the Log Cabin College, which was also the birthplace of Concordia Seminary. Behind my barn, there is a monument marking the place where the Log Cabin College was originally built in 1839. I keep a path mowed to this monument just in case someone comes to visit me, and they want to go out and see it.

First Site of Log Cabin College

The Log Cabin College was moved over the years and is now located in a park across the street from Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg and our Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum. Our museum is operated by the Perry County Lutheran Historical Society, whose original mission back in 1910 was to preserve this cabin. Over 100 years ago, in 1915, a pavilion roof was placed over the cabin to help preserve it.

Log Cabin College

The Log Cabin College officially opened as a school on December 9, 1839, which is still used to this day by Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as their birth date. But, did you know that an argument can be made that the very first use by this building was as a wedding chapel. In the post, The Wedding in My Pasture, the story was told about how the wedding of Rev. Otto Herman Walther, C.F.W.’s brother, and Agnes Buenger took place on November 15, 1839 at the Log Cabin College. That was about 3 weeks before the school started on December 9th. Today, we remember that this other very significant event, the Altenburg Debate, took place at the Log Cabin College. At that particular time, the cabin was still located behind my barn (except my barn was built quite a few years later).

I think the stories of the Log Cabin College being built, the establishment of Concordia Seminary, and the Altenburg Debate are all great reasons for people to come to Altenburg to visit our museum and the Log Cabin College. Especially for Missouri Synod Lutherans, I think a visit to Altenburg is comparable to Americans interested in their country’s history making a trip to visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution was hammered out. Especially if you have never visited Altenburg before, I think you should put it on your bucket list.

I am going to toot our horn a little bit. Not only can people come to see the Log Cabin College and the Trinity Lutheran Church sanctuary that was dedicated in 1867, but we have a world-class museum that contains many Smithsonian-like exhibits that tell the story of the immigration that took place here as well as the early history of East Perry County German Lutheranism. We are open almost every day of the year, including Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Lutherans especially like to hear that our admission is always free (although donations are willingly accepted and encouraged). If those hours do not work for you, let someone here know, and we will accommodate you. There are enough people around here who can let you in during off-hours, including me.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod loves our museum. We tell an important part of their history. That part of the story includes some of the prominent leaders of the synod who helped organized it like C.F.W. Walther, Gotthold Loeber, Theodore Brohm, J.F. Buenger, Ottomar Fuerbringer, and E.G. Keyl. Yet, we do not cost the Missouri Synod a dime. We receive no subsidy from them. We are 100% self-sufficient, which also means that we rely on donors to help us continue our mission of operating the Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum.

Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum

I will also add that there is another important Lutheran historical site in our neighborhood, the Saxon Lutheran Memorial in Frohna. While visiting this area, you should also include a visit to their site.

I am just going to take a moment to suggest to you that you might consider supporting our museum and historical society by sending a donation our way. I will even be so bold to suggest that you make regular donations or that you consider including our museum in your estate planning. Okay, now I will get off my soap box.

One thought on “April 15th – A Significant Day in Lutheran History

  1. Apsolutley wonderful post. Rev Charles Gross came to Perry co about 1842 with parents to live with CW Walther family and probably at school in the cabin. Later graduated from St. Louis seminary and first charge to Bethlaham Lutheran in 1856 at Richmond Virginia. Wife Augusta Westerfeld. In 1869 with his family took a position at Trinity Lutheran at Buffalo NY. Wife passed in 1871 and 2nd married Maria Her daughter of Rev John Her. With first and 2nd family transferred to Fort Wayne Indiana I think St. John’s church about 1878. Related Rev Moritz Michael , Rev John FS Her Omaha German Lutheran in 1887, many Michael pastors, many Gross pastors , also Froebel families and Rev Mueller, Rev Beyer , Rev Erck , Rev. Erbe, And about 100 plus more. Would love to share this legacy for those that maybe related and discover the seminary details where most of them graduated from but don’t know how. Rev John Her came from Klingzen Germany in 1852 to New York and had many duties in NY , Ohio , Maryland , indiana. We are thankful for his diary and had it translated. The family is always connected to Concordia. Would appreciate any help and suggestions for sharing. Most of all is on Ancrstry and Family Search. Would love to visit Altenburg but to old to travel anymore. Always read your stories and do very much appreciate every word. Keep it going. What a treasure to live right there. Thanks you very much.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s