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Old Lutherans refers to those German Lutherans who refused to join the Prussian Union (Evangelical Christian Church) in the 1830s and 1840s.

Attempted suppression of the Old Lutherans led many to immigrate to Australia and the United States, resulting in the creation of significant Lutheran denominations in those countries.

The legacy of Old Lutherans also survives in Lutheran denominations in modern Germany.


The Prussian Union

King Frederick William III of Prussia

In 1799 King Frederick William III of Prussia issued a decree for a new common liturgical Agenda (service book) to be published, for use in both the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. To accomplish this, a commission to prepare a common agenda was formed.

After more than 20 years of effort, a common liturgical agenda was finally published in 1821. The agenda was not well received by many Lutherans, as it was seen to compromise in the wording of the Words of Institution, to the point where the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was not proclaimed.

The Protestant congregations were directed in 1822 to use only the newly formulated agenda for worship. This met with strong objections and non-compliance from Lutheran pastors around Prussia.[1]

The liturgical agenda was subsequently modified to appease many of the objections of the dissenting Lutherans, and in 1830 Frederick William ordered all Protestant congregations in Prussia to celebrate the Lord's Supper using the new agenda.

Rather than having the unifying effect that Frederick William desired, the decree created a great deal of dissent among Lutheran congregations.[2]

In a compromise with dissenters, who had now earned the name “Old Lutherans”, in 1834 Frederick William issued a decree which stated that Union would only be in the areas of governance and liturgy, but the respective congregations could retain their confessional identities. In addition to this, dissenters were forbidden from organizing sectarian groups.[1]

In defiance of this decree, a number of Lutheran pastors and congregations continued to use the old liturgical agenda and sacramental rites of the Lutheran church.

Becoming aware of this defiance, officials sought out those who acted against the decree. Pastors who were caught were suspended from their ministry. If suspended pastors were caught acting in a pastoral role, they were imprisoned.[1]

Among the leaders of the Old Lutherans was Johann Gottfried Scheibel (1783-1843). Scheibel was a professor of theology in Breslau from 1818 until 1830 when he was suspended from his post for his dissenting views.

Scheibel came to prominence as a leader of the Old Lutherans in the dissent against the Prussian Union. He spoke, preached and wrote against the Union, which consequently resulted in suspension from his post as theological professor.

Undaunted, Scheibel continued in his dissent as he moved to new cities. He was at Dresden in 1832 where he was ordered to leave that same year. He moved to Hermsdorf, where likewise he was asked to leave in 1836, then on to Glauchau and Nuremberg.

He died at Nuremberg about the time that he was being restored to his post as professor at Breslau.[3]

Henrik Steffens, scientist and Old Lutheran

After Scheibel, Eduard Huschke became the leader of Old Lutherans. Other famous Old Lutherans included Henrik Steffens, H. E. F. Guericke, Kahnis and Rudolf Rocholl.

Union also caused a confessional Lutheran counter-reaction called Neo-Lutheranism.

Upon Frederick William's death in 1840, persecution of the Old Lutherans eased substantially. However, Old Lutherans continued to find themselves marginalized, especially the clergy who did not have many of the same rights and support accorded to clergy of the Union church.

Old Lutherans formed several synods, which through various mergers eventually resulted in the present-day Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church (SELK)[4].

Emigration to Australia and America

By 1835 many dissenting Old Lutheran groups were looking to emigration as a means to finding religious freedom. Some groups emigrated to Australia and the United States in the years leading up to 1841.


Australian migration

The first Lutherans to come to Australia in any significant number were immigrants from Prussia, who arrived in 1838 with Pastor August Kavel. These immigrants created three settlements at Klemzig, Hahndorf, and Glen Osmond. In 1841, a second wave of Prussian immigrants arrived, led by Pastor Gotthard Fritzsche. His group settled in Lobethal and Bethanien.[5]

The Lutherans in Western Australia established the Killalpaninna Mission (Bethesda) Station at Cooper's Creek. Johann Flierl, the pioneer missionary of German New Guinea, served there for seven years (1878-1885).[6] When he left for Kaiser-Wilhelmsland in 1885, his cousin, also named Johann Flierl, replaced him at the mission.[7]

North American migrations

Numerous waves of Old Lutherans immigrated to the United States as well during this time period. Among them was a group from Prussia of about 1000 Old Lutherans. They were from Erfurt, Magdeburg and the surrounding area, led by J. A. A. Grabau. They emigrated to the United States in summer 1839. Grabau and his friends founded the "Synod of Lutherans immigrated from Prussia", afterward called Buffalo Synod.[8]

Thousands of other Old Lutherans settled in the Midwest and Upper Midwest of the United States during this period, forming synods that eventually joined in union as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In addition to Old Lutherans there were also immigrants from the German Kingdom of Saxony, where there was not evangelical union. Lutheran pastor Martin Stephan and nearly 1100 other Saxon Lutherans left for the United States in November 1838, eventually settling in and around St. Louis, Missouri. These were the predecessors to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.[5]


See also

External links


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