Necessary Roughness on “First Thoughts on Walther Movie”

Dan Engle over on Necessary Roughness posted this “First Thoughts” of the Walther movie that has been sent to all congregations. We previously talked about this movie here.

Be sure to watch for the movie and see if you can get it used at your church!



My pastor asked if I was interested in watching the new Walther movie produced by Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and distributed to every congregation. I’ve not had a chance to check out all the discs in the 4-DVD set, but I watched the movie last night.

The target audience for the movie seems to be the Lutheran who already knows some history. It shows Lutherans persecuted for secret church services in Germany, but it doesn’t really go into the mandate of the Prussian Union that attempted to force Lutherans to worship with people who denied the doctrines of the sacraments.

The movie covers the voyage over, the landing in New Orleans and move to St. Louis, the attempted establishment of a Lutheran commune in Perry County, MO, and C.F.W. Walther’s wrestling with whether or not the Lutherans in America were actually a church, when their bishop who led them to America was discovered to be a chronic adulterer and was exiled.

The discussion of the governmental shift from bishop-led commune to individual and congregational self-effort was rather abrupt and needed more development. It seemed like people were angry at the bishop for his desire to build roads to his new house; then suddenly people were angry at the system of church government. There was opportunity for a discussion of vocation and letting the talents of the people dictate what they could do, but maybe this was a discussion that didn’t happen in the day.

The background hymns sung by Erin Bode were wonderful; I do hope she blesses Time Out with a hymn or two.

Some of the other audio work needed some improvement, though. A couple of times a person would address a group in a room, and the background noise was noticeably different from microphone to microphone.

I liked the “interviews” with some of the characters to explain some of the details that were going on. I felt that taking the movie into more of a documentary direction than a drama would have served it well.

I learned how to pronounce “Vehse” (veh-see) .

I commend the effort of Concordia Seminary in the making of this movie. Covering the history of the period for 2-3 weeks prior to viewing the movie would help it to be appreciated by those would can really stand to benefit.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

Norm has been involved behind the scenes in many of the "go-to" websites for Lutherans going back many years.


Necessary Roughness on “First Thoughts on Walther Movie” — 34 Comments

  1. The movie will be a nice addition to our library, and will certainly flesh out an understanding of the origens of the LCMS.

    Loeber’s tactful confession and absolution with the four women should be an inspiration to our layman that they can approach the pastor without fear of reprisal and find comfort when confronted by their sins.

    Maybe it was formulative but I thought too much time was devoted to Stephan, and would have liked to see Walther developed a bit more than just up to 1847.

    Overall I think this video will shed valuable light on a story that is largly unknown to most laymen. May God use it to bless His church with a greater appreciation for the heritage that has been handed down to them.

  2. The teaching of the Lutheran church is, I am persuaded, alone pure and true–I know of no other which so fully gives peace to mind and heart, head and sensibility, intelligence and spirit. How otherwise could the author himself write, Page 32, that he “had attended many sessions of meditation, but had found none that could be esteemed side by side with those held by Pastor Stephan?” This was effected certainly by nothing else than the simple merit and the mighty force of the true divine Word in the Lutheran church, whose true exponent, except with regard to church governance, Stephan undoubtedly was. — Carl Eduard Vehse (11 April1840)

    Something is not quite adding up.

    The “Sentence of Deposition Pronounced upon Stephan” prominently bears the names of lawyer Vehse and other members of “the Council,” the misty origins and function of which Professor Forster confessed a personal bafflement (Zion on the Mississippi, Concordia Publishing House reprint edition, 1983, p. 416). The sentence of deposition was publicly read and enacted “at the mouth of the Brazo” on 30 May 1839. It is reproduced on pp. 123-124 as an appendix, in the link provided by Dr. Strickert, and on p. 418 of Forster’s splendid investigation. It begins in this manner:

    “After you, Martin Stephan, erstwhile Bishop of the evangelical Lutheran congregation which immigrated to North America from Saxony, have been accused before the subscribed Council of the sins of fornication and adultery, committed repeatedly, and of prodigal maladministration of the property of others, also because you have become guilty of false doctrine … but have also, by rejection of the Council, rejected the Word of God, the church, the office [of the ministry] and all divine order … we hereby declare by virtue of our office

    That you have forfeited not only your investiture with this spiritual office, but also the rights and privileges of a member of the Christian Church, in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. ”

    This is a peculiar and disturbing piece of thinking. Professor Forster notes that there is no record of any decision by the Christian community at large, which designated the Council’s members. He doubts there was any time available, to select a representative entity in an orderly and decent manner. Accordingly, its authority to expel an individual from the sheltered haven of the Christian Church is open to legitimate question. “The Council’s” declaration that a failure to recognize “the Council’s”jurisdiction is tantamount to a rejection of the Word of God, is presumptuous and painfully overreaching to the point of hysteria, if not an instance of errant teaching itself. It makes Vehse’s 1840 conclusion, which introduces this post, all the more unsettling and hollow: there, the lawyer proclaims to his paying German audience that Stephan was “undoubtedly” a “true exponent” of the “true divine Word.” But only a year earlier, Vehse and his very uncalled colleagues are seen accusing the “erstwhile Bishop” of false doctrine and the flouting of God’s Word.

    From what I have read of the comments so far at this site, concerning the film distributed to every congregation of the LCMS, there is little reason to presume that the entirety of the Saxon immigrants’ behavior will be addressed in any way other than that of a blinded hagiographer’s. My guess is that much of the heritage, for laymen choosing to limit their curiosity to the magic of moving pictures, will continue to be unknown. But a community fundamentally unsure of itself and frightened by what may lurk under the bed … one steadfastly given to cuddling grand folktales to the heart, at least as closely as Romulus and Remus suckled a mother wolf … would have it no other way.

    Professor Forster’s book is a compelling read, because a sense of the origins of the LCMS is truly fleshed out. The anthropological character (and dilemma) of the pilgrim Lutheran is exposed by the book, as it is in truth: there are no complete saints, . Instead, each character, in the book, is experienced as a saint/sinner. And once again, God’s grace is made perfect in weakness. And poverty. And starvation. And despairing clinical depression. And pestilence. And a rogue “Council.”

    As a final note, I see that Dr. Stickert is convinced that the screen-writer’s shortened discussion of a socio-political shift “from a bishop-led commune to individual and congregational self-effort” sorrily limited the kudos thrown in Dr. Vehse’s direction. Perhaps. Actually, however, Dr. Strickert should be grateful for that tape discarded on the editing-room’s floor. The abrupt break prevented a detailed examination of a “mob psychology” building among the pious Lutherans outside the Stephan cabin, featuring “the sound of a riding whip striking the boards on the outside of the [cleric’s] house” (Forster, p.419). The professor of history reports that “Vehse, E.M. Buerger, and the [newly arrived] elders of the New York group were especially pugnacious in their attitudes (p. 419).” All in all, the Lutherans of 1839 seem to have exchanged that commune, then, for the spirit of Occupied Brazo. If it’s not in the film, you have a management of history that MSNBC would die for.

    Michael L. Anderson

  3. Well, I haven’t seen the movie, but from reading these contributions, I have to wonder if the average pew-sitter will be able to make any sense out of it. It sounds quite confusing, and slightly skewed.


  4. @Dan at Necessary Roughness #4 : “In fact, the movie did have Walther’s line regarding the restudy of Vehse’s theses.”

    Amazing! I’ll be checking my church’s office to see if they’ve received the DVD yet.

    The list of the film’s characters are mostly of those associated with the Saxon emigration or Lutheran leaders involved with C.F.W. Walther in the 1847 founding of the Die Deutsche Evangelish-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und Anderen Staaten.

    However, the “Walther” movie cast surprisingly includes one character, Rev. Friedrich Brunn (played by Chad Lakes), whom C.F.W. Walther met once, in his 1860 trip to Steeden, Germany, to request assistance in supplying pro-seminary students to the fledging Missouri Synod’s seminaries. Over the next two decades Brunn sent over 230 young men to the Missouri Synod.

    Was there a scene with Rev. Brunn in the movie?

  5. @Carl Vehse #6

    I wasn’t looking for Rev. Brunn while watching the movie. I scanned the part of the movie where the Synod was formed all the way to the end, and there wasn’t a scene where somebody was labeled as Rev. Brunn. There was, however, a scene where Walther and several others are gathered around a table toasting the formation of the Synod, and not everyone is labeled there.

  6. @Dan at Necessary Roughness #7

    Oh, well. Maybe the scene with Rev. Brunn will show up in the “Director’s Cut” Edition of the movie in a year or so. . . along with the tearful scene of Martin Stephan telling his wife, Julia, and their seven daughters standing on the Bremen docks he’ll send for them just as soon as his bishop’s mansion is ready.

    “There was, however, a scene where Walther and several others are gathered around a table toasting the formation of the Synod”

    The 1847 formation of the Missouri Synod occurred in Chicago, so I hope the movie didn’t resort to ‘product placement’ and show them raising steins of Budweiser, especially since Anheuser-Busch wasn’t founded in St. Louis until five years later. Perhaps it was some Chicago beer from Lill & Diversey Brewery (started as Haas & Sulzer in 1833), or a lager from John Huck Brewery (started in 1847), which became popular with Chicago’s German community.

  7. @Carl Vehse #8
    “I hope the movie didn’t resort to ‘product placement’ and show them raising steins of Budweiser, especially since Anheuser-Busch wasn’t founded in St. Louis until five years later…”

    I heard that they all hopped on their horses, and rode to Fort Wayne, where they imbibed some quantities of “Old Frothingslosh”. You know, the “Pale Stale ale with the foam on the bottom.” In those days, the Maumee River was a bit more pristine than it is now, and a good source of brewing water. And I have it on very good authority that it was a favorite place for the seminarians to swim after 12 hours with Drs. Sihler and Craemer. Whether or not they also tipped one now and then is not known. Well, not recorded, anyway.


  8. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I was very pleased with the Walther movie and its accompanying commentary. We will be using the videos for our Sunday Bible class, starting on October 23rd, the week of Walther’s 200th birthday. All congregations should have received their copy of the Walther DVD by now, free of charge.

    [Full disclosure: I had nothing to do with this video or any part of this project].

    People reading the critical comments related to this post should not be discouraged from watching the movie. I remember watching a new Jesus movie with a bunch of Christian college friends back in the late 1970s. Out of a group of about ten, someone spoke up almost every minute about something in error, or poorly done. It was hard to “enjoy” the movie, much less get an impression of what it was all about. So, please, just enjoy the movie first–save your critical comments for later!

    Novels, theatre, and movies ALWAYS have to make compromises when treating a historical subject. Sometimes a historical development that took two years in real time has to be covered in two seconds. Novels, theatre, and movies have to assume that the audience knows nothing about the background or setting of the characters–and no one will watch a movie that tries to explain all those things.

    That is why I think the combination of movie with historian’s commentary is especially impressive. For the average audience, the movie will do just fine (our Sunday school will join our adult Bible class to watch the movie). For the educated audience (i.e., faithful worship and adult Bible class attenders), the historian’s commentary will answer just about any question they might have.

    As a church historian, I was thrilled to see our best LCMS historians commenting and delivering great insights into this story. At Concordia Seminary, Dr. Tom Egger, Dr. Gerhard Bode Jr., Dr. Thomas Manteufel, and Dr. William Schumacher all give stellar talks; at Concordia Theological Seminary, Dr. Larry Rast and Dr. Cameron Mackenzie, give just as impressive commentary. We are really blessed in our synod to have so many qualified professors and historians in this present generation.

    I found the presidents’ commentary to be less useful. On the other hand, it is helpful for our people to see the successors of Walther’s offices (LCMS presidents and seminary presidents) who are still living today; so I will be showing it to my adult Bible class.

    Michael L. Anderson is right to point to Forster’s book as the present authority on the subject of the movie. It can be purchased here: Forster

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  9. Rev. Noland speaks wisely and prudently, and his endorsement of Professor Forster’s book is spot on. It is not reckless, I hope, to wish that the book eventually find its way onto the bookshelf of every LCMS congregation. At least to prop the DVD upright, say. Forget the popcorn box, though, if you’re into reading the Forster book; one may need an over-stuffed chair and a good bottle of scotch, instead, to best absorb its riveting and at times highly disturbing story.

    Then again, I really have no idea how many church libraries are outfitted in this fashion. Proceed at your own risk.

    Let’s be clear, though: I have no quarrel whatsoever with entertainment of a Godly type. The film under discussion is attested to be of this variety, by good men; and accordingly, I am certain it will prove inspiring and warm the hearts of the people. At times, I do have severe difficulties with accepting the truth, but then I’m human. Screen-writers, bearing a similar flesh, probably have the same difficulty with the banana peel of truth as I do. The yellow vestment of the unrapped sweet may prove a source for some slapstick, but it also carries a real potential for embarrassment, and it may lead to actual hurt. It’s no mystery then that peels come to be considered as threats best avoided, especially in darkened theaters.

    The bottom line is that the authority by which “the Council” so confidently engaged in its excommunicative action, or came to see a resistance to its decisions as rejecting the very Word of God, is not established by Professor Forster’s research. So “the Council” comes off as rather brutish and self-contradictory in its righteousness. At least Ambrose was chosen bishop, by consensual acclamation of the assembled people. “The Council” in contrast springs up abruptly, something like Athena from the migrainous forehead of Zeus, all set to dispense its wisdom. In the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, the “enormous sins” of the brutish papacy are identified. One such: “he defends his errors with violence and murder, and he forbids judicial inquiry … when the church has been deprived of valid judicial process, it is not possible to remove ungodly teachings and impious forms of worship, and they destroy countless souls generations upon generations (TPPP.51; K-W p. 339).” A riding crop will not do it, in other words. In the absence of valid authority, discord will most certainly break out. Look what happened in Eden, when Adam wandered off … sheer hell. While a murderous lynching by evangelical immigrants did not occur at the mouth of the Brazo, by the grace of God, it may be concluded from Professor Forster’s narrative that the soil for such violence was being tilled with no little passion. It was an ugly scene. Curiously, the clerical presence at the hubbub, to still the storm, is not prominent in the Professor Forster’s account. Maybe they were sitting in an over-stuffed chair, back at the cabin. Any scotch around, given the nature of the uproar generated by Vehse et al., would likely have helped.

    On further reflection, now that I think about it, one could hardly expect the hubbub to be prominently featured in the film, given its title. Screen-writers, you’re excused.

    It’s a little disappointing that generations upon generations of Lutherans are still given to sweeping things under the rug, even those of events from almost two hundred years ago, of course; but we too have our cherished traditions. That’s why we so consistently install doors which close at headquarters, to allow our District Board of Directors to sell deeded property in Minneapolis.

    Michael Anderson

  10. Those concerned that many will not know what is going on: WATCH THE FOUR PART DVD’s! Show the 30 min (approx.) commentaries from the historians and then watch the 30 min (approx.) of the movie as divided up. Provide the handouts that came on the last DVD. This is how the movie should be viewed in congregations, at least at first.

  11. @Carl Vehse #6
    Don’t recall the name but then I have only watched the DVD once. I did find that the sudden ended of each “chapter” was a bit bad. If would have been much better if it had really flowed like a movie. My confirmation students made the same comment.

  12. @Martin R. Noland #10
    All in all I would give the DVD a passing grade. Like some others I would have liked to seen more about Walther and less about Stephan, but I did not pay to make the movie. I would recommend even with some of the challenges presented. Have not done anything with the other material that came. Have you Dr. Noland?

  13. I thought the movie was done very well, especially considering that it appears to use local St Louis talent, instead of the “first string” found in Hollywood. In my opinion, the movies does a good job of giving us an overview of the Saxon immigration, their struggles and the eventual founding of the Church body we call the “Lutheran Church Missouri Synod”.

    Having read Robert Koenig’s book “Except the Corn Die”, I did notice that the writers of the screen play borrowed heavily from that book. IN my opinion, it was a good thing.

  14. Did anyone notice the extra bonus material, the 1938/41 LCMS movie “Call of the Cross” was included on the last DVD? Haven’t made it through that yet.

  15. @RevRandall #17

    Great! According to Concordia Historical Institute the Rev. Herman A. Bielenberg (1899-1989) wrote the original script and supervised the production of “The Call of the Cross”, a film about the Saxon immigration of 1839. The 1938 film was also the first sound motion picture produced by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

    The log cabin at Concordia Seminary was built in May 1939 as a movie prop for the film, “Call of the Cross,” as a replica of the original log cabin school built in 1839 in Perry County (and still there in Frohna!). YouTube has a video tour of the “Concordia Seminary Log Cabin.”

    In 2007 when requesting information about obtaining a copy of “Call of the Cross” I was told by Concordia Historical Institute that they had only archival copies of the film, that it was not available for sale in VHS or DVD format, and there were no known copies of the original script. Rev. Bielenberg’s son (a retired pastor) also did not have any copy of the original script. I’m glad to see the movie is now available.

  16. I am not nearly so interested in past history as in present day faithfulness to Scripture and the Confessions. No amount of eulogizing “what we were” will whitewash the fractured half non-Lutheran entity LCMS has become.

    [But I suspect that “fractured” in one way or another is what it has always been. Walther wasn’t writing passionate articles against German Methodism for lack of something else to do.]

  17. It shows Lutherans persecuted for secret church services in Germany, but it doesn’t really go into the mandate of the Prussian Union that attempted to force Lutherans to worship with people who denied the doctrines of the sacraments.

    Not to be straining gnats here, but the Prussion Union was established in the Kingdom of Prussia (Grabau and his group), not in the independent state called Kingdom of Saxony where the Walther group was from.

    Questions for the history buffs: what was church life in Saxony like in the first half of the 19th century? Was the Lutheran church really coming to its end? Was Stephan really the only orthodox theologian left (as some held), or was that part of the group think that had somehow gotten hold of those early emigrants, and from which they rudely awoke once they arrived in MO? (And apparently, the “rudeness” was well reciprocated with whip cracking…)

  18. I learned how to pronounce “Vehse” (veh-see) .

    Congratulations. I think it’s pronounced fe-sa, for lack of IPA capabilities. The tone being on the first syllable, and the final “a” being unpronounced like the indefinite article “a” in English.

    Seriously, however, does the movie talk about any of the other important doctrinal controversies Walther was involved? The Predestinarian Controversy comes to mind, of course, but then also what about the discussion on taking interest (=usury) and other themes covered, discussed, and inclucated at free conferences and — what an unheard-of idea! — at synodical conventions and pastoral meetings?

    I hope, Walther is not reduced to the “church and ministry” guy, or to the “law and gospel” guy. Even if our theological discussions today are often reduced to those topics (or carricatures thereof), Walther was a full-versed theologian and teacher of the church. Just consider Bayer’s (or Pieper’s) dogmatics for the full spectrum of what systematics professors back then and today cover.

    And Walther covered it, and was not shy to articulate it even in inner-Lutheran controversy for the sake of clarity and clarifying the often sub-par (i.e., “ethnic”) allegiances that tied a given group of Lutherans to a given doctrinal position.

    Maybe people have gotten tired of the carricatures mentioned above, and a rediscovery of Walther would have to start elsewhere, maybe from Luther and the confessions, esp. given that he wanted to teach nothing else than what Luther taught.

  19. @Holger Sonntag #22
    @Holger Sonntag #23

    Dear Pastor Sonntag,

    These are excellent questions and comments. You are correct to observe the difference between Prussia and Saxony at the time of the emigration. A lot of folks get that confused. The challenge to pastors in Saxony at the time is described, in the current Concordia Pulpit Resources, in the sermon “C.F.W. Walther Our Father in Christ.” The real challenge in Saxony was rationalism, and dim prospects for young pastors that were not rationalists.

    Stephan was hardly the only “confessor” in that day, but he was a good self-publicist, so that is why the Mulde River Valley pastors knew about him, contacted him, and then were drawn to him. Other “confessional” leaders in Germany at the time included Scheibel, Harms, Harless, Rudelbach,, and they are unfortunately given short-“schrift” in our histories. To bring them, or even Grabau, into the movie would have muddied the story for the average audience.

    Regarding the caricature of Walther, that is a more serious issue. I agree that he is typically set forth as a two-dimensional “Church and Ministry” and “Law and Gospel” guy, but that really does him a disservice. You are absolutely correct that he was really a “Back to Luther” guy, and those two emphases came from his prior commitment to Luther and the Confessions. On his role as a father of confessional Lutheranism in America, see the upcoming article in CTQ titled “Walther and the Revival of Confessional Lutheranism,” to be published later this year or at the beginning of 2012.

    Walther also produced an edited version of Baier’s dogmatics, which was what he used for his lectures in dogmatic theology. If you compare the Walther edition of Baier with Pieper’s dogmatics, you will see that the outline is similar, and that there is not a lot original in Pieper. So Walther played an important role in passing on the orthodox Lutheran dogmatic tradition to the next generation, via Pieper,

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  20. For more information about the Saxon Lutheran churches in the early 1800s check out:

    Chapter 1, “European Background,” and Chapter 2, “Rise of Stephanism in Saxony, 1810-1837,” in Zion on the Mississippi, Walter O. Forster, CPH, 1953.

    Chapter 2, “A Pastorate in Saxony, 1830-1840,” in Government in the Missouri Synod, Carl S. Mundinger, CPH, 1947.

    Chapter 2, “The European Background,” in Moving Frountiers, Robert C. Schultz, Carl S. Meyer (ed.), CPH, 1964.

  21. The Walther film webpage notes: “A study guide and Bible study materials will also accompany each segment of the video.”

    Has anyone seen whether the study guide provides additional historical information for the movie, especially for “Part 1: Explore the theology of Lutheranism vs. Rationalism which the early church sought to escape.”?

  22. Does anyone else find using videos in bible class takes away from the precious few hours per year us laymen get to spend learning at the feet of our pastors?

  23. @Rev. Roger D. Sterle #14

    @Carl Vehse #27

    @R.D. #28

    Dear Pastors Sterle and Stricker, and R.D.,,

    You have asked some questions about using the Walther movie. The following is what I am doing this Fall, presented here for the sake of those wondering how they might use the material themselves. Our Bible class period is really only 45 minutes of usable time. When class is done, I rush out to vest and greet people coming in to church. Others who have more time would want to adjust the schedule.

    Oct. 9 – Overview of Walther’s Law and Gospel theses, part one.

    Oct. 16 – Overview of Walther’s Law and Gospel theses, part two.

    Oct. 23 – Movie (DVD chaps. 1-16), opening title, up to scene where Loeber confides in Walther about confessions made to him. 40 mins.

    Oct. 30 – Movie (DVD chaps. 17-29), “Wittenberg, MO, May 10, 1839” title, up to scene where Walther is arguing with Sproede in the latter’s cabin, and decides to move out. 40 mins.

    Nov. 6 – Movie (DVD chaps. 30-42), Walther seals letter to Otto Herman Walther regarding changes in his relationship to his parish and packs his books, up to conclusion. 40 mins.

    Nov. 13 – Historians, Disk Two, Part One, 33 mins; followed by group discussion.

    Nov. 20 – Historians, Disk Two, Part Two and Disk Three, Part One, 36 mins; followed by group discussion.

    Nov. 27 – Historians, Disk Three, Part Two, 30 mins; followed by group discussion.

    Dec. 4 – Presidents, Disk Four, 42 minutes.

    I am not planning to use the “Call of the Cross” found on Disk Four, except to mention that one of its consultants was one of our former pastors, W.G. Polack.

    I am not planning to use the deleted scenes (five of those) on Disk Four.

    The PDFs included on Disk Four include:

    1) Walther discussion guide, five pages. I would recommend these for groups viewing the movie whose leader is not highly familiar with the story.

    2) Walther Movie poster in full color. We don’t have a decent full-color printer at church, so I won’t use this.

    3) Walther Bibliography. This was done by Dr. Thomas Manteufel, and recently published in Concordia Journal Summer 2011. I will give a copy to any class member interested in the topic and studying it further.

    I have not seen any other materials mentioned by “Carl Vehse” at comment #27. Publicity materials do not always match final product, for a variety of reasons.

    I just received the “Lutheran Witness” October 2011, and noted that they have done an excellent job highlighting Walther in that issue. You can use the Witness articles in place of anything you expected to get from with the Walther’ movie.

    In the “Witness,” President Harrison has a fine introduction to Walther, as well as an article on “Walther’s Breakdowns.” Iowa East District President Brian Saunders has a really excellent overview article on Walther’s life and work, copies of which I am going to hand out to by my bible class. CTS-FW professor John Pless has a superb article on Walther’s Law and Gospel. Senior Assistant to the LCMS President, Jon Vieker, has a great article on Walther’s musical talents and contributions. And David Fiedler, Executive Director for General Services at the International Center, has a good article on the Walther mausoleum.

    In response to R.D., watching videos just to watch videos is a waste of time, I agree. Nor should a pastor use that as a substitute for his own preparation for class. A pastor that uses a video in class needs to allow time for his own commentary on it (especially if there are doctrinal errors present) and group discussions.

    There are some videos that make a true-and-relevant story about Christianity come alive. There are not many of these that are useful for Lutherans. I think that the best among these are: “The Bible in the Beginning” (directed by John Houston); “The Ten Commandments” (with Charlton Heston); “Martin Luther” (with Nial McGinnis, 1953); and now this Walther movie (directed by Dale Ward). I haven’t decided which Jesus movie I prefer, and I don’t like the more recent Luther movies for a variety of reasons.

    I would not use a fictional story like “Ben Hur” or “The Robe” because they are not historical, but historical fictions.

    There are also a good number of documentary videos that let the classes see things they will never experience for themselves, like the Holy Land, Wittenberg, European cathedrals and monasteries, and other important sites in Christian history. There are many good materials from Lutheran Visuals (see and also the videos from Tobias Communications hosted by Paul Maier (see I used to use Francis Schaeffer’s “How Should We then Live,” but have increasingly become critical of his Calvinist approach to history and his overly pessimistic view of American government and culture.

    I hope that this is useful to all BJS readers and their congregations; and I again highly encourage people to view this Walther movie on this, the 200th anniversary of Walther’s birth.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  24. In the Walther film and in the historians’ interviews the Vehse-Fischer-Jaeckel group of 1839 is combined with a later group headed by Marbach and Sproede. These were two separate groups at two separate times, presenting two different arguments. There is no indication that Marbach supported the 1839 Protest document then or later after Vehse returned to Germany. Furthermore while both groups thought the emigration was wrong, only Marbach’s group demanded the Saxons had to return to Germany to make things right.

    In one movie scene (at 1:01:31), Vehse and Fischer are joined by Marbach and Spoede to meet with Pastors Walther and Loeber about abolishing the communal property system and allowing private ownership. This is based on pp. 278-9 in Rev. Robert Koenig’s Except the Corn Die, but Koenig had the two pastors meeting with Vehse, Jaeckel and Fischer. Whether or not there was such a meeting on the porch in Perry County, these were the three laymen who actually did resign from the Administrative Board on June 22, 1839 (Forster, pp. 440-1), in part because the clergy refused to abandon the communal system.

    In the Part 3 historians video, Prof. William Schumacher states: “Two of the leading layman, Adolph Marbach, the lawyer, and Carl Eduard Vehse, they compose a tract that raises exactly these questions, that argues we’re not really a church, we messed up. We’re a sect, probably more of a cult. The way forward for us is to go crawling back to Saxony, confess that we’ve done wrong and that we fell into this error and asked to be reconciled with the church there. Then we can really be confident that we are part of the church. At the time that was a fairly persuasive argument.”

    That was Marbach’s argument. He never had anything to do with Vehse’s six theses or the later expanded version of Vehse, Fischer, and Jaeckel. And it was Walther who used what Vehse had pointed out from Scripture, the Confessions, and Luther to defeat Marbach’s position at the Altenburg Debate.

  25. Here’s some dialogue from a scene (at 1:13:15 in the Walther movie) of a December 1839 meeting of pastors and laity in Perry County:

    Vehse: “I am still struggling with our idea of the church and how everything has been organized. Because of this, come tomorrow I will be taking a southbound steamer to New Orleans and then across the ocean and back to the homeland. I feel I have done all I can do here in this colony and no matter what else I say or do, nothing will change . We are not church at all. We are a rebellious rabble who left our homeland and deserted our rightful God-given callings.”

    Spoede: “And from men who are not pastors at all, but deserters from their ordination vows, their divine calling, their God-given obligation.”

    Walther: “Now, just a minute, Mr. Sproede, those are harsh words.”

    First, this meeting and dialogue of December 15, 1839, is not from Rev. Koenig’s book nor from Prof. Forster’s historical book. In fact it never took place, because as Dr. Vehse stated in his own book, on Dec. 16, he left from St. Louis, not Perry County.

    Second, the scriptwriter is wrong in having the actor portray Vehse as still strugging with his idea of the church. Vehse, Fischer, and Jaekel had previously submitted their Protest document in September and followed it up with additional documents in November. The Protest document of the three men presented a clear Lutheran stand on the church, including a number of doctrinal points which were adopted in Walther’s 1851 theses on church and ministry. If anything, to Vehse’s frustration, it was the pastors who were still confused and struggling, until Walther, sparked by rereading the Protest document in 1841, presented the Lutheran position in the April Altenburg Debate.

    Third, this is what Rev. Robert J. Koenig actually wrote in his Except the Corn Die (p. 357) regarding Vehse’s departure:

    “Dr. Carl Eduard Vehse had left in a huff and returned to the fatherland in December, 1839, after more than six months of seemingly fruitless efforts to convince the ministers of the Saxon colony that a church is a church because it is composed of Christians, not because of any authority handed down from above through any arrangement of higher and lower ecclesiastical authority. He had hoped to get the men of the clergy to realize that any assembly of two or more Christians could rightly be designated as a church and could validly carry out all the functions of a church, such as establishing the office of the ministry and calling as its minister a man who is preferably, but not necessarily, trained in theology. His view seemed to be much too radical a departure from their tradition-bound thinking and their refusal to yield to his arguments had exhausted his patience.”

  26. An example of the struggle between the clergy and Vehse-Fischer-Jaekel (they were alone without support from their fellow Saxons, who were mostly occupied with keeping their families alive despite sickness and hunger) was illustrated by a scene of an August, 1839 meeting between C.F.W. Walther and Carl Eduard Vehse regarding the church.

    The scene (1:05:37 in the movie) starts out similarly to the book description (pp. 301-2 in Except the Corn Die) of a supposed discussion between Vehse and Walther. The movie scene then deviates at the end by leaving out a point which is tied to why Vehse came down from St. Louis to Perry County at that time – the funeral of Johann Georg Gube, who had died and whose name was on the Perry County land deed. Before he died Gube had named Heinrich Bimpage his executor and it would require the Saxons to bring a (friendly) lawsuit against Bimpage to make sure the land stayed with the Saxons in Perry County. In the movie scene, Walther brings a document to Vehse’s log cabin.

    Vehse: Ah, I see my theses have made their way back from St. Louis. [Vehse had initally given a draft copy of six theses to Otto Herman Walther in St. Louis and ask him to review them and consult with the other pastors.]

    Walther: I’m impressed. Very well thought out and argued. But you say that Christians have the right and obligation of grouping themselves into congregations and choosing a pastor. You seem to assume they are already Christians before they have a pastor. [Note: In the book, Rev. Koenig has Walther state: “But, as I see it, there is one flaw in your theological thinking that forces me to disagree.”] How do people become Christians before they hear the Word of God?

    Vehse: Cannot the Word of God alone make Christians out of people who read and study it without a preacher teaching it to them.

    Walther: That is a possibility I have considered. But in how many instances does it work that way?

    Vehse: Surely you don’t agree with Stephan’s view that there is no Word of God until the minister brings it to the hearers. And no Christians until the Word of God is heard.

    Walther: But isn’t that the importance of Romans Chapter 10: ‘How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach except they be sent.’ Doesn’t that indicate, Dr. Vehse, that preachers are sent by God rather then called by the people who want to hear.

    Vehse: But if I recall correctly, Pastor Walther, even the writer of Romans was commissioned by the congregation of lay men and women in Antioch before he want out on his missionary journeys. He may have been sent by God, that is true, but Paul didn’t simply go out on his own initiative, regardless of how strongly he felt God was sending him. He went out at the initiative of a congregation of laymen.

    Walther: Do you mind if I give these matters a further study?

    BTW, C.F.W. Walther later wrote a number of articles in Der Lutheraner that later formed a book, The Congregation’s Right to Choose its Pastor.

  27. I recently immersed myself in the 4-DVD set on Walther/Stephan along with Forster’s Zion on the Mississippi, as well as my fourth reading of Walther’s Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel. As an early movie fan, I also enjoyed very much the 1938 Call of the Cross. Congratulations to everyone involved in the DVD production.

    Everyone seemed to be leaving Germany during the early 19th century! My own ancestors, Lutherans since at least 1630, left Stuttgart in 1828 to go the other direction: to South Russia where as German/Russians they maintained a very strong,orthodox Lutheranism in a foreign land. Then on coming to America a hundred years ago, they found the same Pietism and Rationalism which Walter and Stephan encountered.

    And here we are today! The ELCA is wandering in all directions but confessional Lutheranism. Thank God the LCMS and Wisconsin Synod seem to be standing tall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.