Henry Muhlenberg: A Vision for Unity

in history •  last year 

September 6 in Christian History.

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Henry Muhlenberg was a minister, theologian, linguist, and missionary whose influence revolutionized the religious landscape of colonial America and birthed the American Lutheran church.

Mulenberg was born on September 6, 1711, in Einbeck Germany. Passionate about ministry, Muhlenberg studied theology at the university of Gottingen. However, he was eager to broaden his academic training, and went on to study music and languages at the university of Halle. Both of these skills would prove invaluable throughout his ministry career.

In the mid 18th century, the Pietist movement was spreading throughout Lutheran Germany. Pietists sought to move the emphasis of Lutheranism from dry and impersonal theology to practical Christian living. Without breaking away from the Lutheran church, Pietists planted small groups throughout the country that taught Christians how to read the Bible, pray, and live out their Christian faith. Muhlenberg eagerly joined the Pietist movement, and became enthused with the prospect of spreading the gospel of faith throughout the world.

Meanwhile, the few American Lutheran churches that existed were being torn apart by this controversial new movement. They also found themselves in a perpetual state of conflict due to their mixed German and Swedish heritage. Without any trained clergy to lead the churches, they were falling into disunity and ineffectiveness. These struggling churches sent out a plea to Germany for trained ministers to lead them. Henry Muhlenberg answered the call, and sailed for Philadelphia in 1747.

Muhlenberg took charge of the church in Providence (now Trappe), Pennsylvania. However, he began planting churches in the surround areas. While simultaneously leading three congregations, Muhlenburg traveled throughout the colonies preaching, aiding, and overseeing Lutheran churches from New York to Georgia. His extensive linguistic knowledge allowed him to preach in German, Dutch, and English. He became famous among Lutherans and non-Lutherans for his ability to mitigate disputes and sow unity. He was accepted by Germans and Swedes alike, and was named Senior Lutheran Pastor in North America.

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In 1748, Muhlenburg called the American Lutheran churches together to form the Pennsylvania Ministerium. The disjointed churches came together to form a unified and organized body of believers. Muhlenberg reunited the Pietist and Orthodox Lutherans in a permanent body. He wrote an early hymnal, and created a common liturgy that would further work to unite the churches. He wrote the basic tenets for a constitution which layed out the beliefs and practices of the church. This constitution would unite the churches with common belief and ground them on a firm theological footing while remaining tolerant to Pietism and Orthodox Lutheranism.

Henry Muhlenberg almost singlehandedly planted the Lutheran church of America. He is a shining example of a life given fully to the service of God and his people.

Verse of the day: 1 Corinthians 1:10
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

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