The Hunting Dog – An Investigation into the Launching and Pursuit of foreign missions by Orthodox Lutheranism


(An Investigation into the Launching and Pursuit of foreign missions by Orthodox Lutheranism)


Introspection is always good as the first step toward improvement.  If we find that we have done wrong, been negligent, and ignored what we aught to have done, then repentance is called for.  Perhaps some eyes will be opened by this essay.  Perhaps some feathers will be ruffled.  Complacency in the face of our Lord’s impending return is not part of being awake and alert and watchful and preparing.  We can at times so swiftly slide into the malaise that terminates in a sound sleep.
Based upon my research, I will advance a rather uncomplimentary picture of orthodox Lutheranism’s slow and tardy grasp of reaching the un-reached for Christ.  “Let us press on.  All Africa must be won for Christ.  Though a thousand missionaries die, send more.” (1)  This clarion call to the dark continent by Jacob Riis writing from the Gold Coast in the deadly years you will not find picked up and echoed vibrantly by the orthodox.  The statistic of the Basel Mission losing eight of its first ten missionaries in nine short years, (2)  you will not find profusely repeated in the annals of orthodox Lutheranism.
My perspective is not that of sniper from the enemy camp, eager to pick off.  Nor am I a fifth columnist working from within to destroy.  While I certainly would have benefited being raised a sound Lutheran, I did not have that advantage.  I do have the advantage of having joined as an adult.  I have no long tradition and heritage and perhaps family line to protect from the pointed finger.  I am a Lutheran pastor whose teachings are orthodox.  I am also confessionally in the other sense one who has missed the boat and continues to miss it.  My practice comes rather breathless up to the dock to catch my teachings.
Think of orthodox Lutheranism as a hunting dog.  He is well trained.  He has within him all the skill and knowledge to do the job.  And just let a coon or rabbit traverse the yard and he will be up and at it!  But what about beyond the familiar confines of the present yard where he holds sway so imperiously?  When he hears the baying of a pack of coyotes on a distant ridge, he barks.  He barks and does not venture forth.  And there are many times he who is so skilled and knowledgeable just simply sleeps, content with the tranquility of his little domain.  While he sleeps, the master takes the mongrel on the hunt.  The mongrel has not the breeding of the hunting dog, but he goes.
I feel quite certain that as we saunter through four centuries the ton of bricks need not fall to force upon you the similitude of the aforementioned canine’s case to that of orthodox Lutheranism, of which I am a part.  And let us learn from history as the old adage has it lest we make the same mistakes.


We date the Reformation from October 31, 1517.  One would hardly expect in the early years of the return to the Word that outreach beyond would take place.  Some would say that the hunting dog is being trained.  The period from Luther to the Formula of Concord (1580) was indeed a tumultuous time what with Lutheran contending against Roman Catholic, Reformed and Pseudo-Lutheran. Upon Luther’s death the Schmalkaldic War raged with a final settlement in 1555.  That is a calculated deterrent for reaching out the.  Lutheran mission historians seem to consistently defend Luther as being ‘mission-minded’. (Laury 1899, Wolf 1911, Polack 1930) Wendland more recently in the “Wisconsin Lutheran quarterly” in an article ‘Luther on Missions’ defends Luther’s mission mindedness.  “To blame this lack of outreach on Luther’s ‘faulty mission theology’ or ‘lack of mission sensitivity’ is not in accord with the facts.” Laury acknowledges.  “His writings, however, do not contain (3) any reference to active work among the heathen.”
Church historian Latourette gives several reasons (4) why the churches of the Reformation did not “reach out as soon as might have been expected…the absence of Protestant missionary machinery…Protestantism’s involvement in its own wars of religion; Protestantism’s lack of contact with non-Christian people through colonial expansion; the entire church-state system at that time, coupled with the indifference of Protestant rulers to spread the faith.”  Let us examine each of his reasons in turn to see why (5) the dog, he barked but didn’t leave the yard.  We examine these in the light of the historical record and in the LIGHT of the Lord’s command to make disciples of all nations, and of His announcement, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

“The absence of Protestant missionary machinery”

The Roman Catholic church had the old monkish orders as well as the new ones from which to send their trained missionaries.  And go they did!
–The King of Spain appointed Las Casas as Protector of the Indians.  This was in 1516.  He treated his duty quite seriously going to: Haiti, Cuba, Central America, Mexico and Peru.
–The Franciscan missions of which we are familiar from their work in the American southwest began in 1598 in New Mexico.
–Jesuits and Franciscans began work in Indonesia in 1525.
–Five Augustinian friars accompanied the Spaniards in their first expedition to the Philippines in 1565.
–Two years after the discover of the mouth of the Congo River by the Portuguese mission work began (1484)
–Beginning in 1560 the Jesuits worked the East coast of Africa from the Limpopo River to the Zambezi.
–Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) worked in China.
–Robert de Nobili (1577-1656) worked in Madura (India) and had converts among the higher castes.
–Juan Fernandez went to Japan in 1549.
–Some Jesuits went to Akbar the Great (d. 1605).
–The greatest of the Catholic missionaries of that time or any time has to be Francis Xavier (1506-1552). From 1540 to 1552 his areas of labor were: Goa and Tranvancore, India, the Moluccas (Malaysia), Amboyne (Indonesia), Nagasaki, and finally dying on an island off China eager to enter yet another land.  It is said that he planted the Cross “in fifty-two different kingdoms, preached through nine thousand miles of territory, and baptized over one million persons.”  In his younger years he had favored the cause of (6) the Reformation in free grace through the Christ.  Yet he remained with Rome and was trained in ‘also’ good works and rituals.  He, as did all the Romanist, tolerated heathen practices, which worked against the truth of the Gospel.
Was it just due to the machinery of the monkish orders that all this was done? And was the absence of the apparatus of the monkish orders such a limiting factor for our 16th century Lutherans?
Raymond Lull was born in 1232 and during his eighty some years his chief concern was to see all men won to the Christian faith.  He only late in life connected himself to the Franciscans.  He wrote extensively and traveled extensively, being stoned to death on his third missionary journey to the Muslims of North Africa.  If this could happen before the Reformation and for the most part apart from the monkish orders, why not from the Reformation Lutherans who had the whole truth of God’s Word?

“Protestantism’s involvement in its own wars of religion”

Final peace from the Schmalkaldic War came in 1555.  Interestingly it was in that year that we have one recorded outreach effort by the Lutherans.  In that year Primus Truber, the reformer of Carniola, Austria, translated and published the Gospel of Matthew in the Slavic tongue of the Croats and Wends.  Through these peoples it was hoped that the Turks could be reached.  This did not happen.
The next war, The Thirty Years’ War, did not start until 1618 when Protestants in Bohemia defenestrated two Catholic officials.  What was done in the interim to reach out beyond the Lutheran lands?  The second outreach effort in the 16th century was to the Lapps.  In 1559 King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden began work among his basically heathen Lapland subjects with the missionary Michael.  Charles IX continued the work with sojourning missionaries who visited but did not live in such an inhospitable climate.  On into the 17th century the Swedes continued the work under the great Gustavus Adolphus and his queen, Christina.  The political disturbances and wars did interfere, and yet work continued under three kings.
What allowed Primus Truber to do what he did?  What moved those three kings and the queen?  What of others?  There were perhaps some others, though from my reading I do not know who they were.  As the doggerel had it about the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel, so I report to you outreach by our Lutherans of the 16th century is hard to find.

“Protestantism’s lack of contact with non-Christian peoples through colonial expansion”

Aberly tells us that Franciscans and Dominicans were numbered among every exploring party beginning with Columbus’ second voyage. (7)  The Romanist monarchs enlisted also Carmelites, Augustinians, Jesuits, Capuchins and Theatines.  Portugal, Spain and France did have empires were these could work.
But, what about North Africa with its heavy Muslim population?  Raymond Lull went there before the Reformation and today the Zwemer Institute among others is ardent to reach the Muslim wherever he is.  Luther reminded his hearers about that Muslim power of the time, the Turk, that they are heathen and should be prayed for and converted. (8)
Truber tried.  Why didn’t it work?  A failure of support?  We will see that this is the case in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Previously the Nestorian heresy spread to the far reaches of Asia without the assist of colonial expansion.  A disconcerting fact of history is that heresy spread sometimes faster than the truth.
Didn’t the Lutherans know of the trips of the Italian merchant family, the Polos, to China in the 1260’s?  Italy with its various principalities was no colonial power.  The Polos were merchants.  As the T’ang dynasty (618-907) had received the Nestorian Christians, the great Kublai Khan received the Polos and asked the Pope to send 100 teachers of science and religion.
In the middle of the next century the question was put to the Wittenberg faculty, “Since faith comes alone from preaching, I would know how East and South and West shall be converted to the only saving faith since I see no one of the Augsburg Confession go forth thither.” (9) The answer from the faculty in 1651 was “the immediate call of the first apostolate had ceased.” (10)  It should be remembered that the view that Jesus’ command applied only to the apostles and that they had already fulfilled was held by many Protestants in that era.  Perhaps already in the 16th century this position was in its embryonic form, although Luther evidently did not teach it.
Let us forget for the moment the lands beyond the Lutheran domains.  What about those rank unbelievers within, the Jews?  What work was done to convert them?  We know what ardor the Jews for Jesus have today to convert just one Jew for whom Jesus died.  We know what a “heart’s desire and prayer” Paul had to win them.  Rom. 10:1, 9:3
Perhaps the portrayal of the Jew in Shylock was an all too typical view in those days that was unmerciful to the unmerciful.  And yet for such as these the Lord also died.

“the entire church-state system at that time, coupled with the indifference of Protestant rulers to spread the faith.”

If it is true that the Wittenberg faculty also stated it was the duty of the state and not the church to provide for the preaching of the Gospel (11), we can well see why the hunting dog would bark but not bite.  Politics and economics can so easily dissuade the monarch from costly mission work.  We certainly must thank God for the several successive Swedish monarchs who did their duty.  The Lutheran church entrusted with the truth and the absolute power of the Gospel would certainly inveigh against neglecting those who have not heard!  Tragically the dog before too long ceased even to bark and slept for the most part in the 17th century when it came to outreach.
The Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588.  The Sea Hawks set the pace for Britain to acquire an empire.  To those lands where the Union Jack waved, Lutheran missionaries came.  Into newly acquired (in the 17th century) territories of the Dutch and the Dane, Lutheran missionaries would come.  But were these missionaries orthdox Lutherans?


Perhaps an apt description as to the state of outreach to the unreached at the turn of the century is as follows: “Here and there one man was reached and roused, his eyes opening to the fact that millions were dying without the gospel; his ears opening to the cry of want and woe which, like the moan and sob of waves on the seashore, tells of storm and wreck.  Now and then a man went forth, while as yet the church as a whole seemed locked in icy indifference and insensibility.” (12)

The Swedish Crown Continues Support of Outreach

The one bright spot in an otherwise abysmal picture of outreach in this century by Lutherans is the continuing work by the Swedes.  Under Gustavus Adolphus the Lapps continued to receive instruction.  Even after his death on the field of battle at (1632) Luetzen the work continued, ably promoted by his queen.  Nicholas Andrea prepared books in the Lapp language and established a mission seminary.  The queen saw to the building of chapel and the sending of ministers.  In 1648 work was also initiated in Finnish Lapland.
“The spiritual destitution in the Baltic provinces likewise aroused the sympathy of the Swedish Lutherans.  Though the natives tenaciously clung to their old forms of belief, still through the faithful preaching of the Gospel the people gradually laid them aside and yielded to evangelical influences. “ (13)
Chancellor Oxenstierna along with others formulated the regulations for the colony of New Sweden in the New World.  One regulatio read in part, “the wild nations bordering upon all other side, the Governor shall understand how to treat with all humanity and respect…at every opportunity exert himself that the same wild people may gradually be instructed in the truth and worship of the Christian religion…” (14)  John Campanius, the pioneed missionary to the Delawared, learned their language and preached the precious Word to these lost souls.  He translated the Small Catechism into their language in 1648.
A large amount of money had been entrusted to the crown for the conversion of the heathen.  Even a ‘good’ king may do wrong.  Gustavus was no exception.  Swedish military campaigns and colonial ventures were expensive.  Having dipped into the trust for these, he was begged by Jasper Svedberg, theology professor of Upsala, to be faithful to the purpose for which the funds were given.  As of old when the prophet confronted the king with his sin and he repented, so Gustavus promised to be faithful to the trust.
The Swedes showed that it could be done, this mission of the church, both with areas contiguous to your nation as well as across the seas.  They had monarchs who supported the venture.  A seminary, preachers and supporters all worked for the venture.  History was not repeated with the Danes, at least in this century.

The Danes Make Money

Denmark secured a trading colony at Tranquebar in 1620 and at Serampore in 1676 (both in India).  Chaplains were sent to minister to the colonists, as was a custom among the Protestant colonial powers.  And although there was supposed to be work done among the natives, it consisted mainly in slaving.  For nearly one hundred years no mission work was done while the money sailed into Copenhagen.  It was not until Frederick IV mounted the throne in 1699 that a change took place, but that is for the next century.
Contrast Danish Lutheran indolence on outreach with that of the Reformed of Holland.
–The Dutch gained the ascendance over the Portuguese in Indonesia around the turn of the century.  And with that the Dutch East India Company promoted outreach among the natives of Java as well as other islands.
–In 1622 a Dutch seminary for the training of foreign missionaries was established at Leyden and lasted for ten years.
–In 1626 George Candidius began work in Formosa.
–In 1642 mission work was done in Ceylon by Anthony Hornhonius.  Work was also done in India north of Madras.
–In 1637 Gov. John Mauria encouraged work in Surinam.

In Germany, the Dog He Barks, but Sleeps

In Germany the voices cried in the wilderness.
–Michael Havemann, general superintendent of Bremen and Verden, “We spend much for wars and vanities; we seek free commerce, trade, and travel in Asia and Africa, where the grandest churches of the apostles and their successors were established, and it is all for the purpose of gain.  But to make Christ better known there and to help those nations out of the darkness of Islam and heathenism, there is little effort in that direction.” (15)
–John Dannhauer of Strassburg advocated the founding of seminaries and schools to instruct and prepare missionaries to go to the New World, the Turk and the Jews.
–Christian Scriver of Quedlinburg in his Seelenschatz, “When the soul reads that nineteen parts of the known world are occupied by heathens, six by Mohammedans, and only five by Christians, its heart heaves, tears start to the eyes, and it wished it had a voice that might sound throughout all parts of the world to preach everywhere the Triune God and Jesus Christ, the Crucified, and to fill all with His saving knowledge…” (16)
–Ludwig von Seckendorf, Reformation historian, did not apologize for the indifference and inactivity of the Lutherans who did not use every means to extend the true doctrine among the heathen.  His Duke, Ernst the Pious of Gotha, tried to reach out to the distant Abyssinians in 1663 using the Reformed missionary Peter Heyling and a John Wansleb, who turned out to be a scoundrel.  This as well as an emissary to the Persians did not work out very well.
Of these and other voices the foremost was certainly Baron Justinian Ernst von Weltz who published five treatises on missions.  He put forward searing questions, “Is it right that we, evangelical Christians, hold the gospel for ourselves alone, and do not seek to spread it?  Is it right that in all places we have so many students of theology, and do not induce them to labor elsewhere in the spiritual vineyard of Jesus Christ?  Is it right that we spend so much on all sorts of dress, delicacies in eating and drinking, etc., but have hitherto thought of no means for the spread of the gospel?” (17)
He put forward the following reasons that the church should busy herself in the task of missions as summarized below:
“1) The will of God to help all men and to bring them to the knowledge of the truth, I Tim. 2:4.  This can be brought to pass only by means of regular missionary preaching of the Gospel, Rom. 10-18.  This will of God binds us to obedience, –compare the missionary commandment, –and love to man must even of itself make us willing to obey,
2) The example of godly men, who in every century from the times of the apostles onward, without letting themselves be terrified by pain, peril, or persecution, have extended the kingdom of Christ among non-Christians.
3) The petitions in the liturgy that God may lead the erring to the knowledge of the truth and enlarge His kingdom.  If these petitions are not to remain mere forms of words, we must send out able men to disseminate evangelical truth.
4) The example of the papists, who founded the society de propaganda fide, must rouse us to emulation that we may extend the true doctrine among the heathen.” (18)
“It is a commentary upon the religious condition of the times that one of the leading and best men among the clergy met Von Welz’ appeal with a bitter rebuke, denouncing him as a dreamer, fanatic, hypocrite, and heretic, and arguing that it was absurd, even wicked, to cast pearls of the gospel before the heathen.” (19)
When his appeals fell on deaf ears, he showed himself the caliber of the disciple he way by renouncing his title, taking 36,000 marks and sailing for Dutch Guiana (Surinam) to preach the Word of Life.  It was said he was torn apart by wild animals in a most inhospitable climate.  He died as he had lived, a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and His great love for lost mankind.
The Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest advocated getting there “Fustest with the mostest,” in order to achieve victory on the field of battle.  In the great struggle against the gates of hell the Lutherans in this century did not get there fustest, and definitely not with the mostest.  And were you to investigate the names mentioned in this century’s review, you would find that some of them though Lutheran in name, were not necessarily of the orthodox party.  In the 18th century you will find that those in the forefront of outreach were Pietists.  Though Lutheran in name, they were because of adherence to some false teachings, not the orthodox.  The accusations would fly against the ‘barren orthodoxy’ and ‘dead formalism’ of that segment of the Lutheran church, which while possessing the truth did not venture forth to share it.  In 1698 the University of Halle was founded.  It became in the eighteenth century a center of the strongest missionary influence and the birthplace of organized foreign missionary effort.


We see it would yet take time to rouse the German hunting dog.  Even a supporter of missions in the last century, von Seckendorf, stated “To send out people into heathen and Turkish lands, there to teach in public and as a result to lose their lives, is nothing less than tempting God.” (20)  Von Welz would be followed to the grave in this new century beginning in 1738 by literally hundreds of fellow martyrs to the cause of Christ in Dutch Guiana.  Had the orthdox Lutherans learned their lesson?  The hundreds who died bringing the Light to those in the kingdom of darkness were Moravians, not Lutherans.
Erdmann Neumeister was an earnest and eloquent preacher and a fine hymnist.  In our hymnal we have his “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive” and “I Know My Faith Is Founded.”  He was also a bitter opponent of Pietism, too bitter.  As pastor of a congregation in Hamburg on Ascension Day in 1722 he concluded his sermon saying, “the so-called missionaries are not necessary today…”Go into all the world,’ the Lord of old did say; but now: ‘Where God has placed thee, there He would have thee stay.” (21)  It would be an auspicious century for mission work among the heathen, but rarely done by orthodox.
The turn of the century saw a significant turning to those dying in unbelief.
–1698 The University of Halle was founded.  While it was the Pietist center, it was also the center of tremendous outreach efforts.
–1699 saw the accession to the throne of Denmark of a man who even as crown prince planned to reach out to the heathen,  Frederick IV.
–1699 in England the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) was formed to minister to scattered Englishmen and to preach the Gospel to non-Christians the Englishmen would come into contact with.
–1701 The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was established to instruct the King’s subjects and win to the Christian faith the aborigines and Negro slaves.  These English societies predated nearly all the Evangelical Lutheran Heathen Missionary Societies by at least one hundred years.

Things were not so rotten in Denmark.

Frederick, when he was a prince was surprised that no efforts were being made to convert the heathen in Danish overseas territories.  When Francis Julius Luetkens became court chaplain in 1704 the king found an able assistant for his outreach thrust.  Volunteers from the Danish Lutheran Church could not be found.  They were found in Germany, men trained at Halle, Ziegenbalg and Pluetschau.  The great missionary in the India field of the Danes, Christian Frederick Schwartz, who came later was also Halle trained.  As a matter of fact most of the missionaries were trained at Halle.  The effort in India was funded through Halle and through the two English mission society, as well as through the crown.  The Danish/Halle work in India proved to be very fruitful.  Our sister churches in India, the BELC and the CLCI, are in the areas where the work began and was extended throughout the 17th century.

To Greenland’s Icy Mountains

At the same time as the work was proceeding in India with the Danish/Halle effort, Hans Egede began his outreach effort in another territory held by Denmark, Greenland.  “It took rare courage to overcome the opposition of his family and the bishops at home; but to remain, after discovering that the people belonged to a different nationality, where trees could not grow, and where desolation and intense cold greeted him, where houses were built of ice and snow, where the food consisted of meat, blubber and fat, and where the people lived in barbarous cruelty, filth and vice, required a more than ordinary faith in the promises of God.  Yet, among such people, Hans Egede cast his lot.  Little by little, the natives became accustomed to the foreigner and Egede to the natives.” (22)
Egede was of the orthodox persuasion.  But with the need for more workers he accepted three of Count von Zinzendorf’s Moravian preachers.  A Royal College of Missions was started at Copenhagen in 1714.  It trained men for the India field as well as for Moravian missions.  For about ten years Egede worked as professor at this college.

Zinzendorf and the Moravians

Nicholas Lewis, Count and Lord of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf, Lord of the Baronies of Freydeck, Schoeneck, Thuernstein, and the Vale of Wachovia, Lord of the Manor of Upper, Middle and Lower Berthelsdorf, Hereditary Warden of the Chace to his Imperial Roman Majesty, in the Duchy of Austria, below the Ens, and at one time Aulic and Justicial Counsellor to the Elector of Saxony…Having said all this let us acknowledge that this nobleman saw himself as a sinner saved by the grace of God to whom he owed everything.  He was brought up a Lutheran.  He was trained at Halle and Wittenberg.  His life-motto was, “I have one passion: it is He, and He alone.” (23) He and his new wife renounced their rank and devoted all their property as well as themselves to the service of Christ.  In 1737 he was ordained Bishop of the Moravian Church.
Under his leadership outreach blossomed in profusion.  “..the Moravians have set and maintained a standard of missionary devotion never yet approached by any other church body.” (24)
–On Feb. 10, 1728 at the Herrnhut Colony a day of prayer and fasting was held from
which a group of twenty-six men expressed a willingness to go anywhere for the Lord.
–In 1732 they went to Greenland and the Danish West Indies.
–In 1735 to Dutch Guiana
–In 1737 to Capetown, South Africa.
–On and on the record goes:  Russia, Nicobar Islands (Bay of Bengal), Nicaragua, Gold Coast (Africa), Lapland,  Pennsylvania (the Indians).
–In their Jubilee year of 1782 they had 27 stations with 165 missionaries in widely separated countries.

Stirrings Elsewhere

With the end of this century and the beginning of the next we see the onset of numerous mission societies.
–1795 London Missionary Society.
–1797 Netherlands Missionary Society.
–1799 Anglican Church Missionary Society.
–1792 Baptist Missionary Society.  In 1793 Carey would sail to India to lead in the work of the modern missionary movement.
This was the century of Herrnhut and Halle and the Danes.  As for the orthodox it was ZZZZZZ when it came to the heathen.  In looking back over the exciting work begun in India, WELS Prof. Peters recognizes, “Here we must not fail to give credit to whom credit is due.”  Francke, the Halle Pietist, did not only train and prepare most of these men for the Tranquebar Mission, but also moved the hearts of many Christians in Germany by his letters and literary productions to become cheerful givers and thus to provide the missionaries with the necessary means of carrying on their work among their very poor converts, often bereft of all support. (25)


This was a century of rampant rationalism when smarty-pants philosophers and worldly-wise types tried to eliminate the Bible with their tripe.  Yet God in his power had Protestant Mission Societies operating in the 19th century. In this century Germany had at least 23 mission societies.  How many do you think were orthodox?  By 1910 there were 93 “Evangelical Lutheran Heathen Missionary Societies in the World”. (26)  This was truly a time of great expansion of the effort and it was the century of the Missionary Society.

Father Jaenicke

The century began with the establishment of a mission school in Berlin in 1800.  Here again it was through the influence of the ‘others’ that this came about.  Pastor John Jaenicke, who founded the school had missions close to his heart and was influenced by his brother who was a missionary in the East Indies.  And as with so many of the societies, it was unionistic.  Much English money came in for support.  Between 1800 and 1827 a large number of the 80 missionaries he trained went into the foreign fields of the English and Dutch societies.
The Berlin Missionary Society was formed in 1824, becoming one of the largest.  It took over Jaenicke’s school.  In 1834 it began work in South Africa, which expanded over time.  In 1891 they went into East Africa and in 1882 China.  It was unionistic.

The Big Four

The first four of the German Lutheran societies that were formed were all interdenominational or as we would say, unionistic.  They are:
Basel Society – 1815
Berlin Society – 1824
Rhenish (Barmen) Society – 1828
Gossner (Berlin II) Society – 1836.
By 1909 (the closest statistics I have near the turn of the century) these four (with the exception of Gossner) were the largest in terms of yearly income.  These four were among the five societies with the highest number of baptized members.  With the exception of Gossner again, they had the largest number of ordained missionaries in the field.  Consult the attached appendix “Evangelical Lutheran Heathen Missionary Societies in the World, 1910”.

The Most Lutheran

Peters cites the most Lutheran of the German societies as: Bleckmar (Hanover Free Church), Hermannsburg and Leipzig. (27) Lenker (General Synod) in the attached appendix cites as “strictly confessional”: Leipzig, Neuendettelsau, the Hanover Free Church (Bleckmar), and Hermannsburg.  Alas, when we investigate these the clay feet (unionism) begin to appear.
The Leipzig Missionary Society (1836), the ‘Aristocrat among Missions’ sought to unite Lutherans of Europe and America in the great missionary enterprise.  For seventeen years, until 1836, they operated out of Dresden as a branch of the Basel Society.  The rules under which the Leipzig Society worked were:
–to carry on the work of missions in the spirit of the Lutheran Church;
–to give the missionaries a thorough course of instruction;
–to adapt the preaching to the needs of the people;
–to leave the heathen unmolested in customs not in conflict with the Word of God. (28)
LC-MS mission festival offerings were sent to Leipzig until 1876 when Zorn and Zucker withdrew from the Leipzig Society over doctrinal issues and joined the LC-MS.  Leipzig’s missionary Cordes began work in India in 1840.  Missionary Baierlein worked among the Chippewa Indians in Frankenmuth, Michigan in the 1840’s and ‘50’s.
The Hermannsburg Society was founded by Pastor Louis Harms in the village of the same name in Hanover in 1849.  He rejected the rationalism of his youth.  Near the end of his university training he was reading John 17:3, “And this is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”  This was the turning point in his life.  Under his ministry at Hermannsburg, “The whole congregation became a missionary society; not merely a few members.  The congregation is known as the ‘Farmers Missionary Society.’  In 1849, twelve persons offered themselves for the foreign field.  A house was set apart for their residence and training.  The motto for study was ‘Be diligent,’ and Luther’s advice, ‘To have prayed well, is to have studied well.’” (29)
Pastor Harms had been affiliated with the unionistic North German Missionary Society (1836).  In 1890 Hermannsburg affiliated with the Lutheran Church of Hanover.  This prompted a withdrawal in 1892 with the formation of the Hanover Free Church (Bleckmar), which was supported by the free churches in Germany.
With the Bleckmar Mission you have a confessional church coming into being.  In 1909 they had ten ordained missionaries on the field of South Africa.
As to the last of the ‘most Lutheran’ of the German societies we know how the Neuendettelsau Institute benefited Lutherans in America with many a Lutheran pastor sent to work among the Germans to gather them into congregations in America.  In 1905 Laury gave this report, “The Neuendettelsau Missionary Institute, founded by Pastor Loehe in 1843, has supplied more pastors for Diaspora congregations in America and Australia than any other institution.  At first all the graduates went to the Missouri and Ohio Synods, but they now enter the service of the Iowa Synod and the Immanuel Synod of South Australia.” (30)  Unfortunately, Neuendettelsau’s departures from the strait way were early on.  Loehe did not leave the state church.  In 1854 he founded the Iowa Synod.
If we were to pursue a further investigation of the societies of Europe we would find them unionistic, interdenominational, or pietistic or affiliated with the state church with few exceptions.  Bleckmar toward the end of the century was a truly confessional work. And yet we have to take note of how the Lord used these many societies as His instruments to carry the Gospel to the heathen.  A mission board today could learn from Leipzig’s rules.  A congregation could learn from the Hermannsburg congregation to be a mission society itself.

How Was It In America?

We already heard of the Swedish work in Delaware.  In 1734 a Lutheran colony of
Salzburgers settled in Georgia.  They settled near a Cherokee tribe and with two Halle missionaries had hoped to work among the Indians.  This came to nothing.  Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-87) (a Halle man) discussed undertaking work among the Indians of Pennsylvania.  It came to naught.  A Basel Society missionary, Schmid served scattered Lutherans and native Indians from Ann Arbor from 1833-1871.  Craemer among others came from Neuendettelsau to work among the Indians of Michigan in 1845.
Pastor Sievers, LC-MS Mission Board chairman, sought from 1850 to 1893 to have work done among the Indians of the old Northwest.  There were not very favorable results.  The WELS began work among the Apaches in 1893.
Among the liberal Lutherans:
–Iowa Synod initiated work among the Crow and Cheyenne in 1856,
–Augustana Synod worked among the Commanches in 1879,
–The Norwegians worked among the Oneida and Stockbridge in 1884,
–The Eielsen Synod worked among the Potawatomis from 1889,
–The Danes began work among the Cherokees in 1892.
It appears from this that the WELS and LC-MS were not far off in work among the Indians than time-wise when the other Lutherans began.

American Lutheran Outreach Overseas

Since the liberal Lutheran synods were formed earlier than our conservative forebearers, it is understandable that the General Council and the General Synod had missionaries in foreign lands first.  The first American Lutheran missionary sent to the heathen overseas was John Christian Frederick Heyer in 1841.  The noble spirit of ‘Father’ Heyer is exciting to read about as he labored for the Lord in India.  Morris Officer, John Harpster, Adam Rowe, and David Day – these names are unknown to us from our conservative Lutheran background.  These men went overseas from those Lutheran churches not of the Synodical Conference.  While the LC-MS and WELS were gathering in the German immigrants for fifty years, these unknown ones were serving and dying in foreign fields.  WELS had no foreign mission in the nineteenth century.  The LC-MS had its first foreign field, India, with the commissioning of two men on October 14, 1894.  The LC-MS was formed in 1847.


The hunting dog, he knows all so well.  So why doesn’t he hunt?  Why does the mongrel go out on the chase, while the sleek and superb hunting dog lolls about the yard?  He barks right well, but….
Wolf, a General Synod American Lutheran wrote, “St. Francis Xavier said: ‘If the lands of the savages had scented woods and mines of gold, Christians would find courage to go there, nor would the perils of the world prevent them.  Shall love be less hearty and less generous than avarice?’
Of all others, we of the Lutheran Church should be the very last to show a lack of courage in carrying on the work of the world’s evangelization.  Of all others we, who have our ecclesiastical descent, from the indomitable, much-enduring and storm-braving hero of the Reformation days, should not be found wanting in bone and sinew, in moral grit and iron in the blood.” (31)
Let us learn from the past mistakes.  Let us learn from the ‘others’, the heterodox who at times have put the orthodox to shame when it comes to mission zeal and sacrifice.  And let us be about the hunt for the lost anywhere and everywhere.

The pitying Christ Himself, with heart of love,
Is loudly calling through the Spirit’s power:
The sound is world-wide, but the few alone
Have ears attuned to catch the trumpet-tone;
The rest, unheeding, seek for earthly dower,
Nor care for treasures stored above.

If eyes could pierce, as did the seer of old,
The veil that dimly shuts our vision in,
The fiery chariots of a heavenly host
Would greet our gaze, equipped to guard each post
Where trusting hearts dare all to lead from sin
God’s bleeding lambs into his fold.

And still brave men are waiting, doubting God,
And weakly pleading: ‘Ah! It costs too much.’
Too much, when every soul that tastes death’s sting
Is worth the mighty ransom of a king?
Too much, when Christ gave all to rescue such,
And bids us follow where He trod?

Oh, that the Church of God might rouse from ease,
Cast off her robes of state; might grandly move
Impetuous to the mighty fray, and girt
With Christ’s own presence, fear not loss nor hurt.
‘Tis he who loses life below to please
His King, wins life with Him above. (32)

Pastor David Koenig
Middleton, Wisconsin
Resurrection Celebration in
The Year of Our Lord 1995


l.    Donald McGavran, Bridges of God (1955), p .48.
2.   McGavran, p. 48.
3.   Ernst Wendland, “Luther on Missions,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, p. 66.
4.   Preston Laury, A History of Lutheran Missions (Reading, 1905), p.21
5.   Wendland, p. 57.
6.   J. Herbert Kane and Robert Glover,  The Progress of World-Wide Missions,
(NY, 1960), p. 43.
7.   Aberly, An Outline of Missions, p. 38.
8.   L. B. Wolf, Missionary Heroes of the Lutheran Church (Philadelphia. 1911), p. 4.
9.   Aberly. p. 38.
10. Wendland, p. 62.
11. Aberly, p. 38.
12. Kane, p. 45.
13. Laury, p. 26.
14. Ibid.
15.W. G. Polack, Into All the World, The Story of Lutheran Foreign Missions
(St. Louis, 1930), pp. 51-52.
16. Ibid., p. 53.
17. Kane, p. 46.
18. Polack, p. 55.
19. Kane. p. 46.
20. Paul Peters, “The Fruits of Luther’s Mission-Mindedness,” WLQ Vol. 67, No. 1,
p. 52.
21. Polack, p. 57.
22. Laury, pp. 69-70.
23. Kane. p. 52.
24. Ibid., p. 53.
25. Peters, p. 56.
26. Wolf, Appendix.
27. Peters, Vol. 67, No. 4, p. 253.
28. Polack, pp. 95-96.
29. Laury, p. 196.
30. Ibid., p. 235.
31. Wolf, pp. 215-216.
32. Ibid., pp. 218-219.


Aberly, An Outline of Missions.
Concordia, On Wings of Faith, 1943.
Edman, V. Raymond, The Light in Dark Ages.  Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1949.
Fuerbringer, L. Men and Missions.  St. Louis: Concordia, 1926.
Kane, J. Herbert and Robert Glover,  The Progress of World-Wide Missions,
NY: Harper, 1960.
Lankenua, The World is Our Field. St. Louis: Concordia, 1928.
Latourette, K. S.  A History of Christianity  Vol. II. 1500-1975, NY: Harper, 1975.
Laury, Preston, A History of Lutheran Missions. Reading: Pilger, 1905.
MaGavran, Donald. Bridges of God.  Friendship, 1955.
Mueller, J. T.  Great Missionaries to China.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1947.
Peters, Paul. WLQ. Vol. 66 No. 2, 67 No. 1 and 4, 68 No. 1 and 4.
Polack. Into All the World, The story of Lutheran Foreign Missions.
St. Louis: Concordia, 1930.
Roth and Kramer. The Church Through the Ages.  St. Louis: Concordia, 1966.
Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church.  A. P. A. Vol. VIII.
Warneck, Gustav.  Outline of the History of Protestant Missions. Oliphant. 1901.
Wendland, Ernst.  WLQ.
Wolf, L. B.  Missionary Heroes of the Lutheran Church.
Philadelphia:  Lutheran  Publication Society, 1911.