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Richard Gruetzner… (October 5, 1939. …): Thank you! An excellent and interesting article that adds a few small pieces to the family history p…
George Nielsen (2. Birkmann Lette…): I had not seen the letter before and it reinforces my envy of Birkmann’s memory. It also reminded …

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Introduction to Birkmann's Tribute to Johann Kilian Upon His Death by Ray Martens

Saturday 07 October 2084 at 06:28 am

From Gotthilf Birkmann's many writings one can glean something about the bond formed between him and the Rev. Johann Kilian. Kilian had made a most favorable impression on the young (not yet twenty-three) Birkmann when the two first met in the spring of 1877 at a pastoral conference in Warda, Texas, involving the eleven pastors serving in Texas at the time. That initial impression was enhanced when Birkmann was a guest in the Kilian home (along with three other visiting pastors) for the conference hosted by St. Paul's, Serbin, the following fall. (The occasion was the first on which Birkmann met the Kilian daughter, Hulda, then sixteen and living at home with her parents and two siblings. Clearly, courtship and marriage were not on his mind at the time, but Gotthilf and Hulda were married eight and a half years later in 1886, after both her parents had died. Even in 1884when he wrote this article, he probably had no inkling that he was writing about a father-in­ law and the grandfather of his first three children.) Though minimally documented, Birkmann and Kilian must have met and talked often between 1877 and 1884, when Kilian died, for Birkmann surely knew him quite intimately and admired him greatly.

The article, in Birkmann's typical rambling style, includes significant historical detail, doubtlessly shared with him by Kilian himself, but also based on publications which had come to Birkmann's attention. (Note, for example, the reference to the journal, Zeitschrift für die gesammte lutherische Theologie und Kirche [Journal for the Entirety of Lutheran Theology and Church], written and co-edited by Andreas G. Rudelbach and H. E. F. Guericke, conservative Lutheran pastors and prolific authors, and published in Leipzig, Germany, from 1839 forward. That journal enjoyed some circulation also in the United States.) Birkmann does not avoid an occasional editorial comment about what the Missouri Synod might have done better, but he concentrates on what Kilian did well in the face of difficult situations, and has produced what reads as a heartfelt and somewhat emotional tribute.

Birkmann's readers in 1884 would have understood references to a "union" and to "Old Lutherans" without commentary because these belonged to the experiences of their immediate forbears in most cases. Current readers, however, will surely benefit by a little context. Rulers of nations and provinces in Europe typically have selected, governed, and fostered churches for their subjects. The House of Hohenzollern, from which came the rulers of Prussia (and the surrounding territories, including much of Saxony), characteristically was willing to foster both Roman Catholic and Evangelical churches, but they became increasingly insistent that there should be but one united Evangelical Church, not Lutheran and Reformed independent of each other. It was Frederick Wilhelm III (who ruled 1797-1840) who brought the matter to a head with a series of always more onerous decrees: that a council develop one liturgical agenda (service book) - twenty years in the making ­ for the use of both groups, that its use be mandatory, and that penalties be enforced for the failure to use it. The point was to force a (Prussian) "Union" of these two denominations. A wave of protest led to some modifications, but quite a large group of Lutheran dissidents, known as "Old Lutherans," refused to adopt an agenda, which, in their view, among other points at issue, denied or at least compromised the doctrine of the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord's Supper. 1830 was the notorious year in which it became a crime not to comply. Even though enforcement of these standards was relaxed by the succeeding Prussian king in 1840, numerous staunch Lutherans were convinced that they could not avoid the poison of unionism without leaving their homeland altogether.