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Wisconsin Synod.

1. Pastors J. Mühlhäuser,* John Weinmann (perished at sea 1858), and W. Wrede (later returned to Germany) founded The First Ev. Luth. Syn. of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, December 8, 1849. It was formally organized May 1850 at Granville, a village near Milwaukee, as The Ger. Ev. Luth. Ministerium of Wisconsin The name was subsequently changed to The Ger. Ev. Luth. Syn. of Wisconsin and Other (Adjacent) States (Die Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Wisconsin und Andern [Angrenzenden] Staaten; constitution 1853). There were 2 other pastors present, the 5 serving 18 congs.. The founders were graduates of the Barmen Training School for Missionaries and were sent to Am. by the Langenberg Soc., for some years the chief source from which pastors were drawn. Mühlhäuser and his associates were Luths. and upheld the Luth. Confessions, as their first const. shows, but they did not espouse the strict confessionalism for which the syn. later became noted. Congregational delegates constituted the “synod” together with the pastors, but the “ministerium” reserved for itself certain privileges, for example, in the licensing and ordaining of ministers. The great problem was to secure suitable pastors. Mühlhäuser est. connections with Pennsylvania Ministerium (see United Lutheran Church in America, The, Synods of, 22) and with individual pastors in the E and also kept in close touch with the Langenberg Soc., which was soon reenforced in its Am. undertakings by the Berlin Society. The Barmen school furnished many of the early ministers. Others came from Basel. Among these pioneers were C. F. Goldammer, J. Bading.* P. Köhler,* W. Streissguth,* E. Mayerhoff, G. Reim, P. Sprengling, G. Fachtmann, E. F. Moldehnke,* T. Meumann.

2. As the tide of immigration spread and congs. were est. as far N as Green Bay and W as La Crosse, the need for trained men became increasingly acute. The syn., which had already shown a trend toward greater confessionalism, decided in 1863 to est. its own sem. and college. Bading was sent to Eur. to collect funds and a library. Though his mission was successful, the syn. did not reap the results; the money was retained by the Ger. authorities because the Wisconsin Syn. had clarified its confessional position to a positive and uncompromising Lutheranism which was distasteful to its former patrons, who belonged to the Prussian State Church. In the meantime the sem. had been opened in September 1863 in a dwelling in Watertown, with 2 students and Moldehnke as prof. In the following yr. 11 were enrolled and ground was broken for the first bldg. of Northwestern University, as the combined sem. and coll. was now called. A. Martin* was its first president. G. A. T. F. Hönecke* was called as prof. of theol. in 1866. The Wisconsin Syn. broke with its unionistic friends in Ger. by its declaration of 1867 and at the same time took a stand against the General* Council because of the latter's lack of a definite position on altar and pulpit fellowship. It came to agreement in doctrine and practice with the Mo. Syn. 1869. At this time a plan was worked out to simplify and strengthen the educ. system. Missouri was to furnish a prof. and send some of its students to Watertown. Wisconsin was to discontinue its sem. and send its students and a prof. to St. Louis. Under this arrangement F. W. Stellhorn* represented Missouri at Watertown from 1869 to 1874. Hönecke was called to St. Louis, eventually declined, however, when the agreement to exchange profs, was suspended by common consent. In 1878 the arrangement was terminated, when Wisconsin reopened its own sem. under Hönecke, this time in Milwaukee.

3. Having now settled its doctrinal position and found its place in Am. Lutheranism, Wisconsin cooperated in the founding of the Synodical* Conf. 1872. While not entering upon C. F. W. Walther's* plan for the forming of state syns., Wisconsin did lend its wholehearted and active support to Missouri in the controversy on election which in 1881 led to the secession of Ohio and a division in the Norwegian Syn. of that time. This controversy did not materially weaken Wisconsin; it lost a few congs. and pastors, but gained internal strength and also added a few pastors who shared its position.

4. Since the early 1860's relations with the Minnesota* Syn. had been friendly. Delegations at syn. meetings were exchanged. A working arrangement was est. whereby the Minnesota students were sent to Northwestern Coll. At the same time the Evangelisch-Lutherisches Gemeinde-Blatt (founded in 1865 by Wisconsin) was made the official publication of Minnesota as well. When Michigan severed its connection with the General Council in 1888, a closer approach became possible in that direction also and was sponsored particularly by Minnesota As a result Michigan first became a member of the Syn. Conf. and then in 1892 joined the other 2 bodies in forming the Joint Syn. of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Other States, an assoc. in which the constituent syns. retained their individuality and indep. but pooled their resources in the field of higher educ. In 1904 Nebraska, previously a conference of Wisconsin, attained dist. status in the Joint Syn. (see also Nebraska, German Evangelical Lutheran District Synod of). This rather loose type of organization was eventually replaced by a complete amalgamation of these several bodies. A new const. was drafted 1915 and put into operation 1917. In this larger organization (Wisconsin* Ev. Luth. Syn.) the old Wisconsin Syn. lost its identity. Its presidents until 1917 were Mühlhäuser, 1850–60; Bading, 1860–64; Streissguth, 1864–67; Bading, 1867–89; P. A. von Rohr*, 1889–1908; G. E. Bergemann*, 1908–17. ER

J. P. Köhler, Geschichte der Allgemeinen Evangelisch-Lutherischen Synode von Wisconsin und andern Staaten (Milwaukee, 1925), tr., rev., and updated by author, “The History of the Wisconsin Synod,” Faith-Life, XI, 2–XVII, 1 (February 1938–January 1944). ed. L. D. Jordahl and pub. in book form 1970; A. P. Sitz and G. A. Westerhaus, “Brief History of the Wisconsin Synod,” Northwestern Lutheran, May 5, 1940.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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