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Monday, November 28, 2005

What was the truth about Martin Stephan? 


When going to original sources, some Missouri Synod Lutherans cite C.F.W. Walter, some cite Luther, and some cite the Bible. Few, if any, cite Martin Stephan.

Let's start with the LCMS statement from its 150th anniversary:


From its very beginnings the LCMS has been made up of individuals from many backgrounds -- a people called by God to live out their Christian faith together as a church. One group was Saxon Lutherans in Germany who in the early part of the 1800's were determined to remain faithful to the Word of God in spite of the age in which they lived. In the forms of a forced church union and the unbelief that accompanied Rationalism, temptation and persecution became a part of their daily lives. While they suffered both in body and in spirit because of their beliefs, they were sustained by their faith in Jesus Christ that they confessed in the teachings of the Lutheran Church.

Led by Pastor Martin Stephan, these faithful Christians turned their faces in a new direction to which God seemed to be pointing them. America and its freedoms offered the promise that they could continue to believe and practice their old Lutheran faith. Landing at New Orleans and traveling by steamer up the Mississippi, the group came to Missouri. Eventually a young pastor named C.F.W. Walther was to lead them in their new homeland. Walther was to rise as a church leader and he eventually became the first president of the Missouri Synod....



So why didn't Stephan become the first president? From American Historical Review:


Mary Todd, a member of the Missouri Synod who also teaches in one of its universities, offers a fascinating history of the denomination that is grounded in prodigious research. In the process, she lays bare some of the less savory aspects of the synod's past, beginning with the tale of its real founder, Martin Stephan, who rarely appears in the sanitized versions of Missouri's history. Stephan was a charismatic, pietist preacher in Saxony who managed to gather around him a coterie of young theological students—as well as, apparently, a coterie of young women. After the authorities shut down Stephan's conventicles, he and his followers made plans to emigrate to the United States. Stephan assumed the title and the elaborate trappings of bishop, and while his followers struggled to gain a foothold in the New World, Stephan began construction of his sumptuous bishop's residence in Perry County, Missouri, using the band's common fund, which he controlled. His followers eventually confirmed their suspicions about Stephan's financial malfeasance and his dalliances with an assortment of women. The clergy ousted their leader and sent him into exile, literally rowing him across the Missouri River in 1839 and depositing him in Illinois.


Wikipedia has a different view:


Due to jealousy and short sightedness, Martin soon became embroiled in allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct, and was thrown out of the settlement without cause, leaving C.F.W. Walther, who had left Dresden before a warrant for his arrest was served for kidnapping as the senior clergyman. After being placed on trial by an unofficial court, all of Martin's possessions were taken from him and he was sent across the Mississippi river without any clothes, obviously in an attempt to kill him. However, he established another congregation at Red bud, IL at Trinity Church, which is his final resting place. In a retrial of the facts many years later, the decision to remove Martin as the leader of the Saxons was determined to be unjust....You can view many of the possessions that were stolen from Martin Stephan, including a silver chalice given to Martin by the Duke of Saxony and his congregation to commemorate his 30 years of service in the Holy Ministry, on line or in person at the Concordia Historical Institute.


Incidentially, I was unable to find any other information on this "retrial."

Here's Trinity Lutheran Church's version of events:


Among the pastors who have faithfully served this congregation is Pastor Martin Stephan. Stephan, born August 13, 1777 in Stramberg, Moravia, is considered to be the "first Lutheran bishop in North America." Serving as a Lutheran pastor in Dresden, Germany, Stephan became the leader of the Saxon Immigration to Perry County, Missouri in 1839. He was called to Trinity in the Fall of 1845 and served as the first resident pastor, living in the church. He served this congregation until his death February 26, 1846. He was among the first to be laid to rest in Trinity's cemetery.


Another Trinity Lutheran Church account:


In the Fall of 1845, Pastor Martin Stephan was called to serve. Pastor Stephan was the leader of the Saxon immigration to Perry County, Missouri in 1839 and was the first Lutheran Bishop in America. He became the first resident pastor, living in the church itself. He served the congregation until his death Feb. 26, 1846. He is buried in Trinity's cemetery.

The congregation joined the LCMS December 29, 1889.



George F. Wollenburg wrote this extended account:


On New Years Eve, 1838, Stephan delivered a long harangue to a group of his followers on the ship, Olbers. It was reported by candidate Brohm: "I ask little for myself...l must concern myself with lice and bedbugs - tormented and downtrodden man that I am - must concern myself with chamber pots. I do not desire to lead the Gesellschaft,...but so long as I am the one to do it, I demand obedience....l have forsaken my children (a reference to leaving his wife and seven children behind him in Germany.) I would also forsake you, although I love you.... I do not wish to rule, but also do not wish to permit another to rule."

Upon their arrival in St. Louis, plans were made for the proper episcopal accouterments. A staff, a cap, and a cross and chain were prepared for the bishop. Appropriate clerical vestments were planned, not only for the bishop, but also for the pastors. The cost of this equipment was covered by obtaining contributions from the people, who donated their jewelry to the cause.

Financial problems also plagued the colony. Among other matters, one of the causes for the financial problems was the irregularities due to the control which Stephan exercised. The bishop decided that he was entitled to live in a style suited to his high office.

Stephan had purchased a special coach in which to leave Dresden, Germany. This was freighted all the way to St. Louis. It was not suitable for use in Perry County and was sold in St. Louis at a loss of 200 Thaler. The bishop ordered quantities of the best and most expensive wines for his use, which were paid for out of the funds of the Gesellshaft.

We are all familiar with the eventual deposing of Stephan and his expulsion from the Perry County settlement in the summer of 1840. He was accused of sexual improprieties with several women of the group. His deposition was led by lay members and ultimately also by the clergy, who not only deposed him as bishop, but in their deposition also excommunicated him.

The result of this was theological chaos. The absolute conviction that they were the only remaining true church and that Stephan was God's chosen leader coupled with a great zeal for what they believed to be God's will led them to this tragic state of affairs.



From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Comments:
The last paragraph says it all. Not much has changed, huh?
 
The best account is in Walter O. Forster's Zion on the Mississippi (CPH, 1953, 606 pages).

A shorter account is given in Carl Eduard Vehse's The Stephanite Emigration to America.

If official LCMS publications tend to slight Martin Stephan, they either misrepresent or ignore Dr. Vehse and his influence on C.F.W. Walther and the polity of the Missouri Synod.
 
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