“Your Grandfather’s Church” is a Litmus Test of the Steadfast

(Pr. Walter Otten) Naperville, Illinois is an interesting place to visit. It has a long and well-preserved history, highlighted by Naper Settlement, a re-creation of past lifestyles in this now-booming city. The citizens of this town commemorated the beginning of the third millennium by erecting one of the nation’s largest carillons along the picturesque DuPage riverwalk.    Bethany Lutheran Church and School is located in the very center of this sprawling city. The Rev. Dr.  Timothy Rossow serves as one of Bethany’s pastors and he is also the pastor that has given life to THE BROTHERS OF JOHN THE STEADFAST.


I live about twenty-five minutes from Naperville and was recently asked to preach there, but not at Bethany Lutheran Church.   Although I am a retired LCMS pastor, I was asked to preach at the United Church of   Christ and I was asked to preach in German.    The invitation came about because this United Church of Christ still offers a German worship service and they somehow found out that I was born to immigrant parents in whose home both German and English were spoken. Despite the apparent match of their need and my ability, I declined the invitation to preach at this church..


The next day I was given the theme for the column I have agreed to write for the Brothers of John the Steadfas,. “This Was Your Grandfather’s Church”.   Upon reflection, I realized that my returning the invitation to preach at the United Church of Christ might have been too hasty.    If this church believed what “My Grandfather’s Church” believed, maybe I could preach at their worship service.   I phoned the church again to gather more information to see if they could assure me that they believed what “My Grandfather’s Church” believed..


 The Lutheran “grandfather” whose life and confession inspired me to call the church back was not a biological grandfather. He was one of my predecessors at the church I was first called to serve, St. Peter Lutheran Church of Rhineland, Ontario, Canada. That predecessor was Pastor Adam Ernst, the first Sendling of Pastor Wilhelm Loehe.


Pastor Adam Ernst was born in Oettingen, Germany on November 27th, 1815. When he   read Wyneken’s “Appeal for Help in the Distress of the German Lutherans in North America”, he resolved to lay down his cobbler’s apprentice tools and offer his personal service. His pastor sent him to Pastor Wilhelm Loehe in Neuendettelsau. After one year with Loehe, this “grandfather’ was sent to America in 1842.


Pastor Ernst began his pastoral ministry by serving a settlement of Lutherans 30 miles from Columbus, Ohio. Through the pages of “Der Lutheraner” Ernst came to know about Walther and the Saxons and he realized he was in doctrinal harmony with them.  In 1845 the “Loehe men” met in Cleveland and elected Ernst as one of the delegates to meet with Walther and the Saxons. Ernst signed the first constitution when the Synod was organized at First St. Paul in Chicago in 1847.


Ernst’s ministry led him to serve a congregation in Eden, New York. From there he made mission trips to surrounding districts. National borders were no obstacle for Ernst and in  Rhineland, Ontario, Canada. he found a group of Germans that did not know whether they were Lutherans or Calvinists. History records that there “he was instrumental in bringing about an organization that was truly Lutheran.” St. Peter Lutheran Church of Rhineland was founded in 1854. My ministry began there in 1959.


From St. Peter in Rhineland Pastor Ernst was called to serve in Elmira, Ontario. The Lutheran church in nearby Berlin, Ontario (now re-named Kitchener) was served by the liberal Pastor F. W. Bindemann.    The writer of Bindemann’s obituary in The BERLINER JOURNAL of Dec. 7th, 1865 brought forth this response from one of its readers, “Pastor Bindemann was one of the great figures in early Canadian church history…He does not appear to have made any pretence of being Lutheran…He played a lone game, was independent of every synodical connection, and was subject to no law but his own. In his preaching he was an advocate of liberalism in theology, and was styled by some as a universalist.”


The members of St. Paul of Kitchener, now without a pastor, came to Pastor Ernst and  asked him either to help them find another pastor, and if that were not possible, “to undertake to serve the congregation himself.” Ernst could find no pastor for St. Paul of Berlin but he sought and obtained permission of his own congregation to serve St. Paul, Berlin.  He would do so, however only under the provision “that matters coming into question could be reconciled to God’s Word and will.” This vacant church formerly served by a liberal universalist, would now be served the true word of God.


Here are the propositions Ernst set before the vacant congregation. They are the convictions of “My Grandfather’s Church”


·             “You all know that I am a Lutheran pastor. As such I believe that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and that all things therein, from the first verse to the last verse, are true.


·             “I therefore also believe, teach and confess that there is a Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


·             “I believe that Jesus Christ is not a mere man, a “wise man of Nazareth,’ but that He is the true Son of God and only Saviour of the world.


·             “I believe that man is justified before God, and eternally saved, through faith in Christ, and not by works.


·             “I believe that baptism is not merely a rite of initiation, or an inaugural ceremony, for entry into Christianity, but that it works regeneration (the new birth) and thereby, if it so be that one believes, one receives forgiveness of sins.


·             “I believe that in the Lord’s Supper not only the bread and the wine are present as signs and symbols of the body and blood of Christ, but in, with, and under the bread is the true body and in, with, and under the wine is the true blood of Christ, according to His own words, “This is my body, this is my blood.


·             “I also believe that God through the called and ordained servant of the Word forgives sins. To be sure, God only can forgive sins, but He does so through man.


·             “I furthermore believe that there is a heaven and a hell and a resurrection of all the dead.


·             “”In brief, I believe everything the Bible teaches. I will also, at the very outset, confess publicly that I can admit no one to the Lord’s Supper who does not profess to believe all these things or rejects a single one of these articles of faith.


Ernst went on to write of what he required of the congregation.


·             “In the first place, a valid call. That means a call, not for a year or two or ten years, but for as long a time as God wills…


·             “In the second place, the congregation must be willing to receive instruction from the Word of God and not hinder the pastor (who by God has been entrusted with the cure of souls) when he would be looking after the spiritual welfare of individual members.


·             “In the third place, before partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the members must be willing to announce themselves and thus provide the pastor with an opportunity to advise individual souls.


·             “Furthermore, the congregation must agree to have the children receive instruction from a Lutheran catechism only.


·             “And finally, the congregation must be willing to introduce orthodox hymnbooks. However, as to the latter point, I would allow them time; it was not to be done today or tomorrow, but the understanding was that it to be done as soon as possible. However, if at the very beginning, they would declare that unwillingness ever to do so, we would henceforth and ever after remain parted company.”


Because of what this “grandfather” both confessed and did in 1867 St. Paul of Berlin (Kitchener) was one of the strongest and largest churches of the Ontario District when I entered that District almost 100 years later.



When I got back in touch with the United Church of Christ in Naperville, I used the convictions of “My Grandfather’s Church” to determine if it would be god-pleasing for me to preach there.   The assurances that Pastor Ernst received from St. Paul of Berlin, Ontario, Canada were not given to me by the people of the Naperville United Church of Christ and I knew that it would be impossible for me to preach the word of God at this parish. I’ve preached at the church Rossow serves. The pastors and elders of that english speaking church in Naperville abide by Pastor/Grandfather Ernst’s propositions but the German speaking folks a few blocks away, ironically do not confess the doctrine of our Grandfather’s church.

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