What is Old Lutheranism? Who were the Old Lutherans? Actually the Old Lutherans were just plain confessional Lutherans, but because of the forced union of the Lutheran and Reformed religions in Prussia, called the Prussian Union, those Lutherans who did not accept the union were ridiculed, and in many cases persecuted, and called “Old Lutherans” (Alt-lutherisch). Old Lutherans were sometimes called Mucker by their opponents, that is, bigots, hypocrites and narrow-minded.
Following the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 the King of Saxony, Friedrich August I, had to cede half of his kingdom to Prussia because of his loyalty to Napoleon. The land lost to Prussia included all of Lower Lusatia and the greater part of Upper Lusatia. Upper Lusatia is the place where the Texas Wends originated. The King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III, set about to re-organize his enlarged country. His re-organization included the churches. It did not affect the Roman Catholics very much, but it definitely affected the Lutherans and Reformed. The church at that time was considered part of the state and the king saw the church as an instrument to help unify his newly-enlarged country.
As part of the re-organization, and in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Reformation, the Prussian king issued a decree on September 27, 1817, which announced the union of Lutherans and Reformed into one Evangelical Christian Church. He appealed for the voluntary union of Lutherans and Reformed in all of Prussia. Lutherans under the leadership of pastors, such as, Dr. Claus Harms, Dr. Johann Gottfried Scheibel, Dr. Eduard Huschke and many others objected. Many Lutheran pastors felt that serving in the union made them unfaithful to the Lutheran Confessions. They strictly adhered to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and the entire Book of Concord. They could not, in good conscience, accept the Prussian Union’s form of the Lord’s Supper. In the resulting controversy compulsory measures were adopted in 1821, and subsequently candidates for the ministry were required to pledge loyalty to the so-called Prussian Union. In 1830 it was decreed that “Evangelical” be substituted for the distinctive names “Lutheran” and “Reformed.” Lutherans also objected to the new agenda which the union church prescribed in 1834. Many pastors and lay people were persecuted and often imprisoned for their refusal to use the official agenda of the union. There were more than 40 Lutheran pastors, as well as many laymen, imprisoned in Prussia because they opposed the Prussian Union. Some people fled to other German lands to avoid persecution.
In 1830 reaction against the union resulted in the formation of a Lutheran Free Church, called the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of Prussia.” This church, composed of so-called Old Lutherans, was also known as the “Breslau Synod.” It was headquartered in Breslau in the Province of Silesia. Even to this day some Lutheran congregations in Germany still use Alt-lutherisch (Old Lutheran) as part of their congregational identification. Two of these churches are the Old Lutheran congregations at Weigersdorf and Klitten, the two congregations served by Pastor John Kilian before he came to Texas. The Free Church movement gained a great amount of support and sentiment all over Europe, including the countries that did not have organized Free Churches. One hundred years after the start of the Reformation Europe was devastated by the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). This war produced horrible economic conditions. It took the German lands almost two centuries to fully recover economically from this terrible war. The war also produced moral decay. Many Protestants all over Europe found comfort in Pietism, which ignored many Biblical doctrines. There were also those who succumbed to Rationalism, a philosophy that promotes, among other things, a reliance on reason as the basis for establishing religious truths. But thanks be to God that there were always those who followed confessional Lutheranism based on the Bible.
Beginning in the second half of the 1830s there was a tremendous increase of Lutheran emigration from Europe, one of the chief reasons being freedom of religion. The provinces from which the Prussian Old Lutherans were to come were Brandenburg, Pomerania, Posen, Silesia and the new Prussian Province of Saxony (Provinz-Sachsen, not to be confused with the Kingdom of Saxony). In 1946 the Province of Saxony was combined with Anhalt and is now the modern province of Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) in the Federal Republic of Germany. Two pastors who led Old Lutherans from Prussia to Australia were Rev. August Ludwig Christian Kavel in 1838 and Rev. Gotthard Daniel Fritzsche in 1841. In 1839 Rev. Johannes Andreas August Grabau led a large group of Old Lutherans from Erfurt, Magdeburg and elsewhere in the Province of Saxony, to Buffalo, New York. Many of these emigrants later settled in Wisconsin. Pastor Leberecht Friedrich Ehregott Krause’s congregation from Silesia, a group of 265 people, settled in Buffalo, New York. Pastor Krause, who came to America prior to this group, however never served his congregation in America. He returned to Germany, and later came back to America, and still later went to Australia. The above Silesian congregation became a charter member of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in 1847.
Rev. Wilhelm Iwan’s book Die Altlutherische Auswanderung um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts (The Old Lutheran Emigration in the Middle of the 19th Century), published in 1943, lists 7,134 Old Lutherans who filed papers in Prussia to migrate, 4,977 to America, 2,139 to Australia, and 18 to Russia. He included the Texas Wends who came from Prussia. His book identified only those who desired to emigrate from 1835 to 1854. Many Lutherans from Old Lutheran congregations migrated to America and Australia in subsequent years. The name Old Lutheran was also applied to the Saxon emigration to Missouri in 1838-1839, led by Pastor Martin Stephan, Sr.
Although not from Prussia, Wilhelm Löhe, a pastor in Neuendettelsau in the Franconian part of northern Bavaria, was an energetic confessional Lutheran, certainly akin to the Old Lutheran movement. He began sending “emergency workers,” called Sendlinge, to America in 1842. He trained his workers in his “parsonage seminary.” Many of these “emergency workers” started congregations which joined The Lutheran – Missouri Synod. In 1846 he was instrumental in founding a “Practical Seminary” in Ft. Wayne, IN, and supplied money and many young men to study for the Lutheran ministry. Over the years this seminary was moved to St. Louis, then to Springfield, IL, and is now Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne.
When the Old Lutherans arrived in America confessional Lutheranism was on the verge of disappearing in America. They founded several new Lutheran synods. As time went on, and after numerous alignments and some mergers, descendants of Old Lutherans can be found in all three major Lutheran bodies: The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (via the American Lutheran Church) and The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
The area from which most of the Texas Wends of 1854 emigrated was still in Saxony until 1819 when, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, a new boundary was drawn right through Upper Lusatia, the original home of the Texas Wends. The northern part was ceded to Prussia while the southern part remained in Saxony. Thus well over half of the Texas Wends came from Prussia while the rest came from Saxony. As a matter of interest, today, as a result of the unification of the two Germanys in 1990, the former Silesian and the former Saxon areas, where the Texas Wends originated, are in Saxony, a province of the Federal Republic of Germany.
How did Old Lutheranism come to the Wends in the panhandle of the former German Province of Silesia in Prussia? First of all, it must be remembered that the Prussian Union was ushered in by decree by King Friedrich Wilhelm III and its inauguration was not common knowledge. Weigersdorf did not have a church at that time and the people belonged to the parish of Baruth to the south in Saxony before the new boundary was drawn in 1819. After 1819 the people of Weigersdorf belonged to the parish of Gross-Radisch to the east. When Andreas Urban (1790-1879), a shoemaker in Weigersdorf, went to Spremberg to buy leather he heard of the controversy that was going on at Hönigern, Silesia. Urban alerted the Lutherans in Weigersdorf and surrounding area of what was going on in the church. The pastor at Gross-Radisch stuck with the union and appeals to him fell on deaf ears. The Lutherans in Weigersdorf and surrounding area rallied around Andreas Urban and Teacher Andreas Dutschmann, and in Klitten and surrounding area they rallied around a farmer by the name of Christoph Lehnig.
Weigersdorf did not have a school until 1827 when Andreas Dutschmann, who was born at Rakel in Saxony on August 8, 1808, was engaged as their teacher. The school was started on September 24, 1827 after the County School Supervisor, Superintendent Busch in Rothenburg, approved the opening of the school and Dutschmann as teacher. The school started with 57 pupils. Over the years Dutschmann gained the support of the people.
The confessional Lutherans in and around Weigersdorf and Klitten took the matter to the Lord in prayer before many of them separated themselves from the Prussian Provincial Church, the so-called Prussian Union. By January 17, 1846 one-half of the village of Weigersdorf had left the union church. When the County School Inspector became aware of the fact that Teacher Dutschmann left the union church, he immediately demanded that he return. Dutschmann refused and was immediately removed from his office. On May 5, 1846 the County Judge and two rural police-men from Rothenburg, the lord of the manor and the mayor of Weigersdorf, and several others from the local village, who were threatened with a 2 Taler fine, the fine for disturbing the peace, if they did not go along, came to Dutschmann’s house. They moved Dutschmann’s belongings out of the house and into the nearby woodshed. At that time the Dutschmanns had 3 children and Mrs. Dutschmann was highly pregnant. After living and sleeping in the woodshed for some time Andreas Urban had them move into his retirement room (Auszugsstube). The people in Weigersdorf asked Dutschmann to continue as the teacher of their children in Weigersdorf. A room for a school was furnished by a local resident until a schoolhouse could be built.
In the meantime the Lutherans had quietly contacted Pastor Gessner from Freistadt, Silesia. He had been held in prison for five years for not accepting the union, but by this time had been released. The Lutherans met secretly in the house of Andreas Urban. On May 1, 1843 fourteen members from Weigersdorf and Dauban were received into the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Pastor Gessner could serve them only once every three months. Even at that this group grew in numbers.
On July 23, 1845, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who succeeded his father as king of Prussia, issued the Generalkonzession (General Concession), which permitted the Lutherans, who remained separate from the Prussian Union, to organize free churches. The confessional Lutherans of Weigersdorf and Dauban now met in a chapel in an upper room provided by Johann Schäfer in Dauban. By January 17, 1846 over 100 members, who came from Weigersdorf, Dauban, Klitten, Zimpel, Kaschel, Förstgen, Gebelzig, Gross-Saubernitz, Prauske and other places, had joined this Lutheran group. Since the chapel was too small and the congregation was very scattered, extending to Tzscheln and Spree, etc., to the north, it was decided to build two churches, one in Weigersdorf and one in Klitten. The church in Weigersdorf was dedicated on December 20, 1846, while the church in Klitten was dedicated on October 3, 1847.
Andreas Urban, without a doubt, was the most influential layman during the formative years of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf. As a matter of interest, Andreas Urban immigrated to Australia in 1851 and eventually settled in Gnadenthal near Mt. Rouse, in the vicinity of Hochkirch (now Tarrington), Victoria. He kept in touch with the people in his native land via letters and gave the poor in Weigersdorf financial assistance.
Without a doubt the most influential personality in the early years of the Weigersdorf congregation was Andreas Dutschmann, who was a teacher in Weigersdorf for 58 years and a cantor, lector and elder of the congregation for 40 years. After Pastor Kilian came to Texas his friendship with Teacher Dutschmann continued. They exchanged many letters. They even exchanged flower seeds.
Pastor Johann Kilian, who had served a congregation of the Saxon state church at Kotitz, Saxony, accepted the call of the Old Lutherans of the Weigersdorf and Klitten congregations. At first he served as interim pastor from Kotitz until he had overcome many of the obstacles thrown in his path by the Prussian Union. He moved to Dauban, near Weigersdorf, in 1848, and in 1852 into the parsonage at Weigersdorf.
On March 25, 1854 a new congregation was formed at Dauban by a group of Wends who desired to emigrate. On May 23, 1854 the group called Pastor John Kilian to be their pastor. In September 1854 the Wends started their long journey to Texas, and after many hardships, arrived in Galveston in December and then went overland and settled in Serbin and surrounding area.
After the unification of the two Germanys in 1990 the two Old Lutheran congregations at Weigersdorf and Klitten are members of the Selbstständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church), a partner church of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Both LCMS and SELK are members of the International Lutheran Council.