C. F. W. Walther

Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (October 25, 1811 – May 7, 1887) was a German-American Lutheran minister. He was the first President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and its most influential theologian. He is commemorated by that church on its Calendar of Saints on May 7. He has been described as a man who sacrificed his homeland, his health, and nearly his life for the freedom to speak freely, to believe freely, and to live freely, by emigrating from Germany to the United States.

C. F. W. Walther
Walther cfw young.png
BornOctober 25, 1811
DiedMay 7, 1887
EducationUniversity of Leipzig
Spouse(s)Emilie Buenger
ChurchLutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS)
OrdainedJanuary 15, 1837
WritingsThe Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, Church and Ministry, Der Lutheraner (periodical)
Congregations served
Trinity Lutheran Church, St Louis, Missouri
Offices held
President, LCMS (1847-1850; 1864-1878)
President, Concordia Seminary

LifeEdit

C.F.W. Walther was born a pastor's son in Langenchursdorf in the Kingdom of Saxony (part of modern-day Germany). Out of a strong religious commitment, he immigrated to the United States in 1838. On September 21, 1841, he married Emilie Buenger. They had six children. He started two important publications, and was author of many books and periodical articles. He was also the head pastor of the four Saxon Lutheran congregations (called Gesammtgemeinde) in St. Louis (Trinity, Holy Cross, Immanuel, and Zion). In August 1855, Walther turned down an honorary doctorate from the University of Göttingen, but in 1877 he accepted a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) degree from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He died of a serious illness in St. Louis on May 7, 1887, and was buried at Concordia Cemetery, where a mausoleum was later built in his honor.[1]

EarlyEdit

Ferdinand, as he was called by his family, was first educated by his father. At the age of eight he attended school in Hohenstein for two years. He then entered "Latein Schule" ("Latin school", college preparatory school comparable to today's junior or community college) in Schneeberg, from which he graduated in September 1829.

One month later he enrolled in the University of Leipzig to begin his study of theology and joined his older brother Otto Hermann, who was enrolled in the same university. During his college years in Leipzig he contracted a near-fatal lung disease and had to interrupt his studies for six months. While ill and recuperating, he assiduously read the works of Martin Luther and became convinced that Luther's theology clearly taught the doctrines of Holy Scripture. He also began believing in the importance of a firm confessional position.

In 1833, Ferdinand took his first exam at the university. This examination authorized him to accept a position as a private tutor for a family in the town of Kahla. The experience of two years' tutoring qualified him to take his second examination in Leipzig and graduate. On January 15, 1837, he was ordained to the Lutheran clergy and became a pastor in the town of Bräunsdorf in Saxony. As part of his pastoral duties, he taught religion classes in the local school. He soon, however, found himself at odds with the rationalistic government of the Kingdom of Saxony because he believed it departed from the faith and practice of historic Lutheranism and promoted false doctrine—to him a lack of orthodoxy. Many other conservative Lutherans also opposed the Saxon government's liberal religious policies.

Exodus from SaxonyEdit

Walther and several hundred of the other dissenters came together under the leadership of a pastor holding similar views—Martin Stephan from Dresden. In November 1838, under Stephan's ongoing direction, 800 Saxon immigrants left on five ships for America in what is known as the Saxon Lutheran Migration, hoping for the freedom to practice their religious beliefs. The settlers arrived in New Orleans on January 5, 1839. The group settled either in St. Louis, Missouri or to the south along the Mississippi River in Perry County, Missouri.

Controversy over "Bishop" StephanEdit

Soon after the immigrants were settled in the new homeland, their leader and self-proclaimed "bishop of the new settlement", Martin Stephan, was accused of financial and sexual misconduct and was expelled from the settlement. His departure left Walther as one of the most well-respected clergymen remaining.

The Altenburg DebateEdit

The group of immigrants was deeply disturbed and unsure whether they were still a Lutheran congregation after having left the authorities and church hierarchy in Germany behind. Walther, who was originally called to be the pastor of a dual parish in the Perry County settlements of Dresden and Johannisberg, struggled over the questions that the other pastors and laity were also asking. In April 1841, soon after his brother Otto Herman of St. Louis had died, a public debate was held between Walther and attorney Marbach, one of the lay leaders of the settlers, in what is known as the "Altenburg Debate". Walther convinced Marbach that they could validly consider themselves to be a church. He then accepted the call to his brother's congregation in St. Louis, Trinity Lutheran Church, and served that congregation from May 1841 until his death.[2][3]

Walther's ministryEdit

During his forty years of work in the LCMS, Walther held several key positions. A log cabin college, which Walther helped to found, opened in December 1839 in Altenburg and eventually developed into Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Walther became its first president and held that position for the remainder of his life.

On April 26, 1847, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod was founded. Walther served as its first president, a position he held from 1847 to 1850 and again from 1864 to 1878. In 1861, he also became president of the synod's "practical" seminary (today's Concordia Theological Seminary) while it was co-located with Concordia Seminary for several years.

He also founded and edited several Lutheran periodicals, including Der Lutheraner and Lehre und Wehre. He wrote a number of theological books. Perhaps his best known work is The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, which is a transcription of a series of evening lectures he gave at the seminary[4] He is also the author of the text and tune of the hymn "He's Risen, He's Risen" (German: Erstanden, erstanden ist Jesus Christ) found in the hymnals of the LCMS and other Lutheran bodies.[5][6]

 
Portrait of an elderly C. F. W. Walther

Walther vigorously opposed the theologies of non-Lutheran denominations in America and the influence of the major secular philosophies and movements on Lutheran thought and practice, and defended the doctrinal and cultural heritage of the Lutheran Church.

WorksEdit

BibliographyEdit

SermonsEdit

Several of C.F.W. Walther's sermons have been preserved and translated into English by E. Myers and are available online.[7]

 
Home of C. F. W. Walther on Texas Avenue in St. Louis

Walther filmEdit

In 2011, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Walther's birth, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, produced a five-part high definition video series which followed the life of Dr. Walther, including the history of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

The five-part DVD series was scripted to follow Walther's travels from Wittenberg, Germany, to Wittenberg, Missouri. Each of the five parts focused on a particular area of Dr. Walther’s life, viz:

  • Part 1: An exploration of the theology of Lutheranism vs. Rationalism which the early church sought to escape
  • Part 2: A study on the Ten Commandments, Martin Luther, the theology of the Two Kingdoms and the importance of repentance, confession and absolution
  • Part 3: A look at the chaos, confusion, and conflict that plagued the early Lutheran church in America as it struggled to answer theological questions pertinent to day-to-day life in America
  • Part 4: A review of Walther’s teachings on the invisible church versus the visible church and on the concepts of Law and Gospel
  • Part 5: An examination of Walther's legacy and his impact on modern society

Concordia Seminary distributed the videos to every LCMS congregation in October 2011. A study guide and Bible study materials also accompanied each segment of the video.

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ "C.F.W. (Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm) Walther (1811-1887) Papers, c.1828-1887." <http://www.lutheranhistory.org/collections/fa/m-0004.htm Archived 2017-03-22 at the Wayback Machine> Accessed 14 Mar 2013
  2. ^ Christian Cyclopedia, s.v. "Altenburg Thesis" Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1954).
  3. ^ Christian Cyclopedia, s.v. "Altenburg Thesis" (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2000).
  4. ^ Walther's Law and Gospel, Lutherantheology.com, retrieved July 1, 2013
  5. ^ Lutheran Service Book. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. 2006. p. 480.
  6. ^ "He's Risen He's Risen". Hymnary.org. Retrieved April 2, 2018. and "Walther" for the tune (mp3 is organ only)
  7. ^ Sermons of C. F. W. Walther, Cfwwalther.com, retrieved July 31, 2013

ReferencesEdit

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Religious titles
Preceded by
Synod founded
President
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

1847–1850
Succeeded by
F. C. D. Wyneken
Preceded by
F. C. D. Wyneken
President
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

1864–1878
Succeeded by
H. C. Schwan