The Organization of the Congregation in the Early Lutheran Churches in America

Beale M. Schmucker
The Organization of the
Congregation in the
by Beale M.

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Early Lutheran Churches in America, by Beale M. Schmucker
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Title: The Organization of the Congregation in the Early Lutheran
Churches in America
Author: Beale M. Schmucker

Release Date: October 1, 2006 [eBook #19422]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)

E-text prepared by Kurt A. T. Bodling, former Assistant Director:
Reference and Information Services at Concordia Historical Institute,
St. Louis, Missouri, USA

From the Lutheran Church Review, July, 1887.
Philadelphia: 1887.

The Organization of the Congregation in the Early Lutheran Churches
in America.
The Lutheran Church in this country has had an opportunity, as never
before in its history, to determine for itself the whole form of its
organization, uncontrolled by any external forces. In the old world the
intimate and organic union of the church with the State left little liberty
in this respect. When, therefore, the early Lutheran immigrants in this
country were disposed to form themselves into congregations, to adopt
regulations for their own government, to settle their relations to other
Lutheran congregations, to determine the order of worship to be
observed, they had to feel their way in the dark. No little time passed
before all these matters became settled on a permanent basis. To follow
them in their efforts to obtain a satisfactory organization of the
congregation, is what I propose now to do.
There is grave reason to doubt whether, prior to the arrival in
Pennsylvania of Henry Melchior Muehlenberg, any of the German

Lutheran congregations in Pennsylvania had a well-developed, clearly
defined, written constitution. I have carefully examined all the written
records of nearly all the congregations which were in existence at that
time, and have failed to find evidence of any such constitution. The
first known written constitution of the church at Philadelphia was
introduced in 1746 by Brunnholtz and Muehlenberg, and it was brief
and rudimentary. The congregation at the Swamp, New Hanover, was
the earliest German congregation in America, begun in 1703 by Justus
Falckner, but whatever the form of organization which it may have
received from him, or his immediate successor, no record of it is known
to exist, and the first written constitution now known is in the
hand-writing Muehlenberg. The Tulpehocken congregations were
established by Palatinates from the Hudson and Mohawk, who came to
Pennsylvania in 1723 and 1729. They were familiar with the
congregational organizations in New York under Kocherthal and
Falckner, which were formed under the counsel of Court Preacher
Boehm, probably after the similitude of the Savoy Church in London,
and under the influence of the long established Dutch Lutheran
constitution in New York, based on that at Amsterdam. But no written
constitution is now known in Tulpehocken earlier than that introduced
by Muehlenberg. In all the old congregations the case is the same, so
far as any known evidence proves.
In all the German congregations in Pennsylvania, however, an
organization was found when Muehlenberg came, which had arisen out
of the necessities of the case, and in all of them it had the same
character. There were two orders of officers in each congregation,
called Elders and Vorsteher, elected by the members for a definite term.
The open letter given by the congregations at Philadelphia, Trappe and
New Hanover, to their representatives sent to Europe in 1733, is signed
by the Vorsteher and Elders of the congregations, and there were like
officers in these congregations when Muehlenberg arrived, to whom he
presented his credentials. The form of power of attorney sent by Dr.
Francke to be signed by the congregations in 1734, is addressed to the
Elders and Vorsteher, and the letter sent to Dr. Ziegenhagen in 1739, is
signed by the Elders and Vorsteher. The proceedings of the first
meeting of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania show the presence of

Deputy Elders and Vorsteher from the ten congregations represented.
Indeed, it may be said that in all the congregations there were these two
classes of officers. The distinction between the two classes may not
have been very clear, and sometimes both are spoken of as Vorsteher,
but after a general examination of their records, we are persuaded that it
was a prevalent, if not universal usage of the congregations, before
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