Our First President
I’m not sure what to say about Mother’s Day that hasn’t already been said, and while I am thankful for the sacrifices of our veterans, I don’t feel qualified to speak on Memorial Day. However, I can relate some church history: on May 7th we commemorate the life and death of Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther: the first president of our seminaries and the LCMS, and perhaps the most influential theologian we’ve ever had.
Born in Germany and beginning his pastoral career in Saxony, Walther was a fervent reader of Luther and wholly convinced of the validity of our doctrine as the true and right exposition of Scriptures. So when Frederick William III forced a merger of Lutheran and Reformed doctrines to create the Prussian Union, Walther joined Bishop Martin Stephan and about 700 others in the Saxon-Lutheran Immigration of 1838 in order to pursue religious freedom in America.
After dealing with multiple catastrophes, including losing a ship to sea during the voyage, and then facing poverty and disease, Walther was thrust into the spotlight as certain character flaws were exposed about Bishop Stephan.
Upon exiling their bishop to Illinois, the remaining Saxons suffered a huge loss of morale – wondering if they could even be considered the Church anymore. Many thought that they should return to Germany and submit to the Prussian Union. It was Walther’s academic skill, study, and appeal to the Church Fathers that allowed him to argue that the Church is valid wherever the Word of God is rightly proclaimed, that apostolic succession means teaching the faith of the apostles rather than who ordained whom, and that the congregation has the right to call its own pastor rather than have it handed down to them through a hierarchy – beliefs that guide our denomination even to this day. Upon convincing the Saxons to stay in Missouri, Walther then formed relationships with other Lutheran bodies in order to form the LCMS. He continued to teach at the seminaries, and his lectures on how to preach are still taught to Lutheran pastors today.
So let us commemorate and remember this great man and his faithfulness to orthodoxy that he was willing to leave his home, put his health at risk, and take the leadership role nobody wanted so that we might continue to pursue the pure truths of God’s Word.