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02 January 2013
  + Wilhelm Loehe, Pastor and Theologian +
2 January AD 1872

Wilhelm Loehe Christened Johann Konrad Wilhelm Löhe, he established a reputation already as a young pastor for being "too" theologically conservative and "too" politically progressive. This led to his being moved to at least twelve positions until he received his own parish in Neuendettelsau, Bavaria in 1837. Beginning his career with difficulty, he accomplished much from such a small place. Even though he had aspirations of a more prominent position in a major city, church and government officials never allowed that to pass.

The Catholic king of Bavaria was de facto leader of the Lutheran Church. His main desire was to keep the churches from becoming places of political unrest. Thus arose strict restrictions, such as an assembly of more than five people needing a police permit. He prohibited mission circles and other "subversive enterprises," thus relegating church activities to not much more than Sunday services only.

In 1840, Loehe read a newspaper account from America by Pastor Friedrich Wyneken. It told of German emigrants not having church or pastoral care — nobody could baptize their children, teach, visit the sick, or bury the dead. Pastor Loehe felt compelled to aid the German Lutherans in America and published an article in a church periodical asking for help. Beginning in the spring of 1841, several young men responded to Loehe's letter, expressing the desire help the settlers with their own skills and occupations. In the summer of 1842 he sent them to America at his own expense. He called them Nothelfer ("helpers in need") or "auxiliary saints", and trained them to be "emergency pastors."

Wilhelm Löhe
Even while he had no theologians to assist his plans, Loehe published a map entitled "Overview for the German Lutheran Mission Work in the United States." It illustrated a system he developed for advancing pastoral care and outreach among German speakers in the United States. More young men followed and by his death, at least 185 came to America. Loehe paid for many of them himself and was always trying to raise money.

After only six years of marriage, Loehe's wife died, leaving him to raise their four children alone. Even among such hardships, his dreams remained clear and his desire to serve the Lord strong. Indeed, recent years have brought recognition for his farsightedness. This contrasts sharply with the handed-down opinions of many contemporaries who, while recognizing him as a founder of social institutions and mission education in Neuendettelsau, regarded him as divisive, narrow-minded, or combative. Changes in attitude began taking place especially after 1985, when several thousand of his letters were published, many previously unknown to scholars in Germany.

Seeking to support and strengthen missions and pastoral ministry in the United States, Loehe established a large parish cooperative throughout Germany. As support grew, he could publish his 1845 "Letter from the Home Country to the German Lutheran Emigrants" which 946 people, including 350 theologians, signed.

With the home churches finally behind him, he could at last send pastors! Loehe saw to the training of twenty-two pastors for work in America. Due in large part to his direct influence a seminary was established in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1846 as well as a teachers' institute in Saginaw, Michigan. Some of the men he sent to the U.S. helped to establish The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Today, two LCMS seminaries, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri continue equipping and forming men to send out into the Savior's harvest fields.

Besides his interest in the United States, Loehe also assisted in training and sending pastors to care for emigrants in Brazil and Australia, both of which still have relatively small but vital Lutheran populations. He will continue to be remembered for his confessional integrity and his interest in liturgy and catechetics. He also never forgot the physical needs of those less fortunate and his works of Christian charity include the establishment of a deaconess training house, homes for the aged, an asylum for the mentally ill, and other caring institutions.

Please see Loehe etexts translated through Project Wittenberg for his Sonntagsblatt Appeal, his 1842 Instructions of Adam Ernst and Georg Burger, a letter from C.F.W. Walther to Loehe About the Fort Wayne Seminary, and Loehe's Report of Walther's and Wyneken's Visit.

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