Monday, September 19, 2011

LHP Review: J. K. W. Loehe

Geiger, Erika. Translated by Wolf Knappe. The Life, Work, and Influence of Wilhelm Loehe 1808-1872. St. Louis: Concordia, 2010. 273 Pages. Paper. $39.99. (LHP)

Loehe, Wilhelm. Translated by H. A. Weller and Benjamin T. G. Mayes. Introduction by Henry Eyster Jacobs. Seed-Grains of Prayer: A Manual for Evangelical Christians. Kansas City: Emmanuel Press, 2010. 213 Pages. Paper. $20.00. (L)

Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe is a forgotten founding father of the church body now known as The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. Sometimes Pastor Loehe is intentionally forgotten. That is unfortunate. 

Loehe was a churchman, a scholar, a liturgiologist and liturgist, a confessional Lutheran, and a pastor concerned about both the mission and mercy of the Lutheran Church. 

Today's review features two books, one about and the other by Wilhelm Loehe.

Loehe biographies are hard to find in English. Several exist in German, and at least one translation project is still ongoing.

Part of CPH's "Peer Reviewed" process, I highly recommend The Life, Work, and Influence of Wilhelm Loehe 1808-1872.

The latest and best biography of a father of confessional Lutheranism in North America.
Loehe, who never visited the United States, sent missionaries, founded seminaries, established deaconess training, studied doctrine and liturgy, and fought with church officials. Geiger sets forth Loehe's life, and the divided opinions about him, in a compelling and authoritative narrative.  
This first, full length biography of a key player in Lutheran history is accessible to lay audiences and appreciated by scholars.
Erika Geiger lived in Neuendettelsau, Germany (1953-55) where Loehe and his work made an enduring impression on her. In 1956 she served as a deaconess in a hospital of the Neuendettelsau Deaconess Institute. She later served as an associate professor in Korntal bei Stuttgart, at the Friedrich-Oberlin-Fachoberschule and at the Fachhochschule for Relig639)ionspadagogik, Munich.
Translator Dr. Wolf Knappe (1926– ) comes from a family of German pastors. In 1951 St. Peter's Lutheran Church called him to serve in Wine Hill, IL. He has also served as a guest lecturer and as a translator for Luther Digest. (publisher's website)
Gieger's biography is quite readable in English thanks to the work of Wolf Knappe. Most interesting to me were the chapters about Loehe's split with Missouri and the founding of the Iowa Synod (Chapter 9). I hadn't heard about the details of the Saginaw, MI Teacher's Seminary that was still under Loehe's supervision (135). Was this a "Paul and Barnabas" split? Perhaps not (136). Loehe himself was no doubt disappointed by the confessional standard of the new Iowa Synod (137), a precursor body and precursor theological position to that of today's ELCA.
Personally, I was uncomfortable with the supernatural reports about Loehe (193-5), his relatively common personality conflicts with others (passim), and that he was a chilialist (206). I will also take issue with the author's claim that the hymn on 220 was "the only hymn Loehe ever wrote. What of "Wide Open Stand the Gates" by Loehe (Lutheran Service Book 639)? I would recommend a clarifying footnote in future printings.

Readers will also appreciate:
  • Reading about Loehe and Isaiah 6 at the time of his ordination (42)
  • Learning the background of his prayer book (76ff)
  • Seeing Loehe respond to Wynecken's request for emergency preachers (93, 106)
  • Standing with Loehe with regard to Biblical, Apostolic, and Confessional Lutheran Communion practice (164) and confessional differences (205)
  • Perusing extensive endnotes (221ff)
The new LCMS emphasis for the church finds a precursor in Loehe's martyria, leiturgia (divine service), and diakonia (220).

Thank you to CPH for publishing this missing chapter of LCMS history, theology, mercy, missions, and practice.

Somehow during my time as a seminarian, I was blessed with TWO copies of Loehe's Seed-Grains of Prayer. I have been amazed ever since those times how hard it was for others to find.

Emmanuel Press deserves our thanks for its updated edition. The translation of the German 26th edition by Weller (with an introduction by Henry Jacobs) is supplemented by previously untranslated German portions thanks to Benjamin Mayes.

Prayers 29-34, 78, 86, 95, 144, and 211 are provided in this edition (v).

Why were these prayers omitted in 1914?

Prayer Bells were not a common practice in America. My hometown still had a "whistle" at noon, 5pm, and 10pm. Why not pray at midday (17-19) to contemplate the Passion of Christ, especially in America?

Number 79 (50-51) is a General Confession as it was worded for use after the sermon. It still deserves our attention, consideration, and continued use. Number 86 reprints the Words of Institution of the Sacrament of the Altar (57). Similarly, Number 95 (59ff) is a meditation on the Holy Supper. It may have been omitted because a previous editor may have misunderstood its purpose: "for those who are present at the Sacrament, but do not receive it with the mouth." For whom was it intended?

Number 144 references demonic possession (90). Might people be uncomfortable with the topic in 1914? 2011? The old evil foe still attacks the Church of Christ, yet he will never prevail.

Number 211 includes a prayer of Bernard of Clairvaux (121), recently a topic of scholarly research because of his influence on Luther (and Loehe, it seems).

Loehe, like Luther before him, references the Apocrypha (Tobit, 72). Hymn references are updated for coordination with Lutheran Service Book (6, et al). A table of the dates of Easter (144ff) is updated for modern use.

Seed-Grains of Prayer shows Loehe as pastor and penitent, theologian and a Christian at prayer. I commend this volume for your spiritual edification.

Loehe's influence on the LCMS has been downplayed, I believe, because modern Lutherans were embarrassed by the break with Walther and some of his theological "quirks." We should thank the Lord for Loehe for his steadfastness in making  a good Lutheran confession in the midst of trying times and situations, for enriching our liturgical life, for his example in supporting American Lutherans with pastoral care, for giving us the Concordia Theological Seminary, and for showing the importance of works of mercy through his Deaconness Institute.

Wilhelm Loehe is a good example of a sinner-saint, as Luther taught we all are.

Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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