Name Calling by George Nielsen

This article appeared in the October 2013 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (

In an era of political correctness we have learned to be aware of how groups choose to be named. It was not always that way and on occasion. The very group that had been labeled with a derogatory term later adopted that term as an acceptable name for its identification.

The first example is the use of the name “Lutheran.” Dr. von Eck first used it in a negative reference toward Luther’s supporters in July 1519 during the Leipzig Debate. Soon the followers of Luther used it to identify themselves. The same is true of the name “Wend.” “Wend” was not the name the Slavic people of Eastern Europe used to identify themselves, but a term first used by the Germans – and it was also derogatory. However, by the time of the Wendish migration to Texas, the term lost its sting and the Wends accepted it as a legitimate name. (In contemporary Europe the Wends prefer the term “Sorbs.”)

Another term associated with the Texas Wends is the term “Old Lutheran” (Alt lutherisch). The term arose during the forced union of the Calvinist and Lutheran faiths by the Prussian ruler. Even though most Lutherans eventually participated in the transition to the state church, some did not. They wanted to preserve the Lutheran teachings and practices and were therefore identified as Old Lutheran. The name stuck and even the loyal Lutherans accepted it.

Kilian’s letter to Pastor William Passavant is the only instance I know of where he objected to the term. On other occasions he had used the term himself to identify his parishioners. The letter itself is significant because it is the first example of Kilian writing in English. Even though the use of a dictionary is obvious, one must be impressed with Kilian’s linguistic talent.

The letter also shows how Kilian was aligning himself with a Lutheran synod. By 1857, Kilian had established ties with the Missouri Synod and, in tum, rejected affiliation with those Texas Lutherans who had ties to the General Synod – a synod Kilian thought was too similar to the Prussian state church. Passavant also was a member of the General Synod and, with his letter, Kilian gently distanced himself from Passavant. In the letter, Kilian requested that his name be removed from the mailing list of “The Missionary” and then freed himself of any obligation of writing an article for that journal. And in the comments on “Old Lutheran” Kilian spelled out his guiding principle of synodical affiliation.

[Draft of letter to Rev. Passavant, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania]

Wendish Settlement, Cunningham’s P. 0. Bastrop Co. Texas

May 16 A. D. 1857

Reverend Dear Sir!

One whole year is gone, since I received your kind letter dated the 20th day of April 1856. Excuse the long delay of my reply, which was difficult for me, because by my very little knowledge of the English language I am prevented from fully expressing my mind and because I am too much engaged in business as preacher, schoolmaster and farmer. My congregation of this place amounts now to fifty families. Every fifth Sunday I preach in my second Wendish congregation of twenty families in Austin Co. forty miles from here. Besides I must travel sometimes to other less parties [smaller groups] committed to my ministerial care. Under such burden of various occupations I can’t gain time to read all papers which come at my hand, however interesting they may be. The sheets of the “Missionary” I received hitherto regularly, but I was seldom able to peruse them. My domestic comfort also has not yet increased so far as to favor any diffuse [extensive] reading. By such experience I am compelled to beseech you: Send me no more numbers of “The Missionary.” For the received numbers I enclose here-in one Dollar, the balance of your donation gratefully accepting. No party-views oblige me to that course. My only motive being the wish to disengage myself from this distracting and embarrassing super abundance of periodicals, however instructive. Under my present circumstances my motto must be: “Non multa, sed multum.” [not many, but much.]

Your request to get a letter for the Missionary about our Settlement in Texas, I can’t comply with. Such a publication seems me too responsible and untimely, because the civil and ecclesiastical development of our congregation has not yet reached a mature and sure steadiness [stability] this our juvenileness [in this early stage] we will deem be best provided in silence and retirement, especially as being afflicted by the failure of the crop in the last one year and by other mishaps.

You say: “I am not an old Lutheran in the historical sense of that term.” That term is used in Germany by our enemies only, that is, by the defenders of a wrong union with Calvinists, which union Dr. Luther detested. What means the term “old Lutheran”? Are there any new Lutherans? Where [can] I find their confession faith unanimously and solemnly published? Till I find such public confession of a “New Lutheran Church” I adhere to the distinction of “Lutheran” and “no Lutheran” reproving the term “Old Lutheran” and denominating [assigning] “unfaithful brethren” [to] all so-called Lutherans who are blunting the sound Lutheran antithesis [arguments]. But I hope that by the grace of God the progressing time [future] will cure the unionistic as well as the Romanistic boils of our beloved Church. Meanwhile I must walk in my solitary path with patience.

Lastly I express my delight in your report, that little orphans of our heavily disciplined [stricken] company with Mrs. Richter found a home under Your care in Your city. I am greeting them. We are not yet able to send them a ‘Scherflein,” [small amount or mite] because we not yet got one crop in Texas, wherefore my people sometimes struggles with difficulties of ailment. The merciful God bless You and Your Orphan’s Home with everlasting goods.

In our Lord Jesus Christ I am Yours, John Kilian, minister.

The original draft cannot be found and the copy used is based on a transcription by Dr. Joseph Wilson. To read more about the state church of Prussia go to, click on Wend Blogs, click on Stockwendish and scroll down to Old Lutheranism and the Wends.


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