Internet archive: Full text of “Life and letters of W. A. Passavant, D. D.

We have thought it well to give this sketch of Scandinavian 
church history because of the deep and abiding interest which 
Mr. Passavant took in these Lutherans from the Northland. He 
had made himself thoroughly acquainted with the character, 


condition and history of these people. This is abundantly proved 
by leafing through the files of The Missionary. He realized 
from the beginning that these people were destined to become 
a mighty power all over the West. He understood and appre- 
ciated their sterling character, their trustworthiness, their un- 
ostentatious and intelligent piety, as well as their thrift and 
prospective prosperity. He had a prophet's vision and saw 
what all this must mean to the Church of the Reformation. He 
knew the danger to which they were exposed amid their new 
and strange surroundings. He understood the schemes and de- 
ceptions of the sweet-mouthed proselyters. His great heart 
went out to these children of the Diaspora. He knew that in 
their influx God was giving to His dear Church a second great 
opportunity. He felt that an immense responsibility was laid 
upon the whole Lutheran Church. 


In 1850, he learned from the "Herald of the Prairies,"  published in Chicago, that the Rev. Lars Paul Esbjorn had  made a request, for aid in his labors among the Swedes in Illi-  nois, to the "Central Association of the Congregational Churches  in Illinois." This moved him to write in The Missionary in  January, 1850 :  "While we cannot but recognize with the deepest gratitude  the fraternal course of our Congregational brethren towards the  Rev. Mr. Esbjorn, in lending him their countenance and aid,  without requiring him to change his ecclesiastical relations, we  are deeply pained, that, from the want of a Synod of our own,  composed of Norwegian and Swedish ministers, such a course  would seem to be necessary. Had we not been assured by the  officers of the Home Missionary Society, that it was their design  to do something for the Norwegians and Swedes of the West,  the mission committee of the Pittsburg Synod would have sent  a deputation to our Scandinavian brethren, two years ago, and  labored to bring about a Synodical organization in Wisconsin  and northern Illinois. This mission dare not longer be delayed.  The immigration of Swedes and Norwegians is increasing from  year to year and if we neglect this great interest now, the voice  of our lamentation will be taken up when it is too late. We  speak advisedly when we say that something efficient must be  done, and that quickly, if the interests of Zion and her King  are not to suffer an irreparable injury."  Of the efforts of the very liberalisttc F'ranekean Synod  among the Scandinavians he says in the April number of the  same year:  "From information in our possession, we know that there  are from twenty-five to thirty Norwegian Lutheran churches,  and some of them very large, in Wisconsin alone, in addition  to the churches which have been formed by the Rev. Mr. An-  drewson of the Franckean Synod. Several of these are sup-  plied by worthy pastors, while others are imposed upon by  wretched men, who 'have stolen the livery of heaven to serve  the devil in.' That these churches, or the people to any great  extent will throw away the Augsburg Confession, and substi-  tute in its place the Articles of Faith, drawn up by J. D. Law-  yer, (now erased from the role of the Franckean Synod), w^e  have no idea whatever. Here and there, existing churches may  be broken up, and feeble congregations may be organized upon  the doctrinal basis of the Franckean Synod ; but the mass of the  208 TEE LIFE OF W. A. PASSAVANT.  Lutheran population can never be evangelized after this fashion.  They cling with wondrous .tenacity to the faith of their fathers  and will not, without a struggle, cast away even the form of  sound words. If they are to be influenced to any extent, it  must be from other quarters than the Franckean Synod. The  operations of the 'Old Lutherans' among them will be equally  abortive, though for quite opposite reasons. Under these cir-  cumstances, we would again urge upon the Church, the import-  ance of doing all in their power to effect the organization of a  Scandinavian Synod, based upon our acknowledged Confession.  In this way alone can the thousands of Norwegians and Swedes  be effectually provided with the gospel, and its Institutions, and  the people be led into green pastures and by the quiet waters of  salvation."  Here are some extracts from a letter from Mr. Esbjorn,  published in the July number:  "In appearing before the Central Congregational Associa-  tion, in Galesburg, (narrated in number one of your paper), I  related the points of doctrine of our Lutheran Church, and some  of the members tried to persuade me that our doctrine was not  right in all points, as for instance that of baptism and the Holy  Supper, the possibility of a regenerated man's falling from the  state of grace and others. But I openly confessed that I know  and believe that our doctrine is founded on the Holy Scriptures.  I have, since my conversion, upwards of ten years ago, diligently  examined our doctrine, and found it in accordance with the  Word of God. Other Christians may find it otherwise, for we  know in part, and we prophesy in part in this world, but I  would not say that a Christian brother of another denomination,  for that reason, is only half enlightened by the Holy Ghost, or  'Sees men as trees walking.'  "Just now I received number four of The Missionary. The  article on page twenty-seven, concerning a Scandinavian Evan-  gelical Lutheran Synod, gives me a opportunity to declare that  I have not yet united with any Synod, for I want time to ex-  amine the religious matters in this country. I have the hope  that a Lutheran Synod may be opened in Illinois, and I would  be pleased to unite with the same, unless it 'throws away the  Augsburg Confession.' I openly confess that I never can unite  with a Synod which does so, and the meaning of our organization  is not that.  "We believe that said Confession is in accordance with the  AMONG SCANDINAVIANS AND GERMANS. 209  Word of God, and have not buried any trick under the words,  'that we adopt the resolutions of synods and the symbola, only  as far as they accord with the Word of God. '  "May God out of His great mercy bless you, and all them  who love the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ ! We desire a  remembrance in your prayers."  On this letter Mr. Passavant remarks:  "From this communication it will be seen, that God, in  His providence, has raised up a truly spiritual shepherd for  these scattered sheep, and that amid poverty and many diffi-  culties, he is seeking to lead them into green pastures by the  quiet waters.  ' ' We cannot but believe that God 's hand is in this whole mat-  ter, and that now a commencement will be made for the evangel-  ization of our Swedish population which will be steadily kept up  with the increase of these interesting strangers among us from  year to year. For the present, we could only add that a dele-  gation of our ministers, deeply interested in the welfare of the  Swedish and Norwegian population in the Northwest, propose  (D.v.)to visit Wisconsin and Illinois this summer, for the pur-  pose of ascertaining what measures should be adopted for the  supply of their spiritual need. The result of his visit, we hope,  ere long, to lay before our readers.  "A friend at our elbow has kindly furnished the means for  the purchase of several dozen English catechisms. The bibles  will be attended to as soon as possible. The suggestion of  brother Esbjorn, concerning a tract for distribution among the  Swedish immigrants on their arrival in New York, is a good one,  and as twenty or thirty dollars will print a large edition of a  four page tract, such as he speaks of, we hope some benevolent  person will furnish us this amount.  "Will not some of our brethren send us donations for the  completion of the Swedish Church referred to by brother  Esbjorn ? Christian reader ! how much owest thou thy Lord !  Then sit down quickly, take thy pen, and write a check for  five, twenty, or fifty dollars for these poor brethren in Christ."  


[in 1850] He writes a full account of this memorable and apostolic  journey in the Missionary. He describes most accurately the  , Norwegian and Swedish settlements in Illinois and Wisconsin  with his own estimate of the men who labored there. He seems  to grasp the situation intuitively, and in many instances under-  stands the field and the material better than the Scandinavians  themselves did. We could fill pages from this interesting story.  Lack of space forbids. We select only the account of Chicago  and the dangers and difficulties of its early Lutherans.  Chicago — "Here, the Scandinavian population is esti-  mated at about eight hundred to one thousand, two hundred of  whom may be Swedes. The Rev. P. Anderson, a member of  the Franckean Synod, is pastor of the interesting Norwegian  congregation in this place. They own a neat and comfortable  frame church, and are evidently walking in the fear of the  Lord and the comfort of the Holy Ghost. It is enough for us  to know, and to state for the information of the church and of  the public, that brother Anderson firmly holds the doctrines of  the church set forth in the Augsburg Confession; and that he  instructs his people in the Vf ord of God as thus explained ; like-  wise using Luther's Small Catechism and Pontoppidan's Ex-  position, for the instruction of the youth and others seeking ad-  mission into his church. We could have wished that more of  the usages of the Norwegian Church had been retained in their  worship, but rejoice that we found so m.uch to commend in their  religious services. That he is laboring faithfully and success-  fully and with the most cheering evidences of divine presence  and blessing, we are well assured. His church is filled with an  attentive audience, many of whom testify by their purity of  life to the soundness of their faith. The church now numbers  about one hundred and seventy communicants, with a congre-  gation of about three hundred persons; and gentlemen of in-  telligence not connected with it have assured us that the in-  fluence exerted by ]\Ir. Anderson over the Norwegian popu-  lation, generally, is of the most salutary character. In fact,  the most superficial observer cannot but be struck with the  manifest improvement and progress of the members of this con-  gregation, in the outward decencies and comforts of life, which  212 TEE LIFE OF Tf. A. PASSAT ANT.  we take to be an incidental result, if not a jirimary desigm, in  the promulgation of the gospel. 'The tree is known by its  fruits.' The influence of this church upon the Scandinavian  population cannot but be great. It stands at the door by which  the great body of those taking up their residence in Illinois,  enter the country. It at once extends to them the hand of  brotherly love and Christian kindness; it gathers them in from  the vessels by which they arrive; turns away their feet from  the places of temptation to the house of God; and serves as a  bond of connection between this place and the new home wher-  ever they may be settled. Its labors cannot but tell powerfully  upon the religious interest of a large part of our Norwegian  immigrants. For these reasons, it is obviously of the highest  importance that this church should be efficiently sustained, and  that it should attain such a high standard of Christian character  and activity, that the whole Scandinavian population should  unite in it.  "In addition to this, there is another Scandinavian church  under the care of a Rev. Mr. Unonius. This is a very neat edifice  not quite finished, and capable of containing perhaps three  hundred people, though there were not half that number pres-  ent. Mr. Unonius is a Swede but the services were in Norwegian  or Danish. The liturgj', especially the baptismal service, which  is used for the baptism of an infant, seemed to be a mixture  of the Danish Liturgy and that of the Church of England.  The parents are required at the close to 'Bring this child, when  of a suitable age, to the Bishop to be confirmed,' a thing un-  kno'mi in our Lutheran churches, where the rite of confirmation  is performed by the pastor and not by the bishop. It was in-  teresting and delightful to one accustomed to the glorious Ininns  of the German Lutheran church, to find these in a very fair  Danish translation, and to hear them sung to their original and  appropriate melodies. We were also informed by the pastor,  that he used Luther's Small Catechism, and the excellent Ex-  position of it prepared by Pontoppidan, in the instruction of  the children of the congregation. This and the ceremonies gen-  erally, are sufficiently Lutheran, and had Ave looked no further,  and known no more, we might have thought ourselves among  genuine Lutherans. But several hours' conversation with ]Mr.  Unonius, and a printed sheet which he had published in the  name of his congregation, presents the subject in a very differ-  ent Light, and makes his position and that of his people quite  AMOXG SCAXDIXAVIAXS AXD GERMANS. 213  unique. ]\Ir. Unonius is not a Lutheran but an Episcopalian,  never having been a elero:;s'man in the Lutheran Church, but or-  dained by an Episcopal bishop in this countfy, and regularly  enrolled as a member of the diocese of Illinois. Nor is his  church in connection with any Lutheran body in this or any  other country. Of course, Mr. Unonius having subscribed to  the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, and re-  ceived the Canons and Constitutions of the Episcopal Church  in the United States, thus rejects the Augsburg Confession and  other symbolical books of the Lutheran Church, and can in no  way be regarded as a Lutheran. Notwithstanding all this, he  thus expresses himself in an address, ' (Negle Ord til de Scandi-  na\'ianske Udvandue i Chigago),' which was some time since in-  dustriously circulated among the Scandinavians in Chicago :  'Among all the numerous religious associations, which here  surround us upon all sides, the Protestant Episcopal Church  is the only one that answers to the church in our native land.  Both these churches are real (living) branches upon the holy  catholic, which is 'built upon the foundation of the Apostles and  prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone : ' they ori-  ginate not from any human authority or right, but from God  himself. . . . ! In one word, in the Protestant Episcopal Church  in America, although bearing a different name from the Church  in our native land, we still believe that we find the character,  doctrine and faith of the former, — ^the Lutheran church. It is  not so with any other Church in this country, by what name  soever it may be called.'  "In reference to this exposition of the principles of 'St.  Ansgarius Church, ' as the society over which Rev. Unonius pre-  sides is called, we scarcely know whether to be more filled with  pity and compassion at the ignorance that it displays or aston-  ished at the boldness and recklessness of its charges against the  Lutheran Church in America. We consequently felt it to be  our duty, both in a public meeting of Scandinavians in Rev.  Anderson's church, and in a communication over our signatures  in the 'Prairie Herald,' to expose the flimsy sophistry of these  assertions, and to place such a method of procedure in its true  light before our brethren. "While St. Ansgarius congregation  is bv its constitution, an 'Evangelical Lutheran' church, using  the Lutheran h^nnn book and Liturgj- of their native land, ad-  hering to the Augsburg Confession, and their children are in-  structed in 'Luther's Small Catechism,' it is in law, an Epis-  214 THE LIFE OF W. A. PASSAVANT,  copal church and is so represented in the conventions of the  diocese of Illinois. A Lutheran clergyman could never become  the pastor of this Lutheran church ! "We cannot believe that the  Episcopal church in this country, will, when it understands it,  approve of the course pursued by Mr. Unonius, who is in fact  establishing an Episcopal church among our Norwegian  brethren, under the baseless pretense of its identity with the  Lutheran church of Norway and Sweden. Leaving orthodoxy  out of the question, we ask whether any honest or honorable  man, who is not self-deceived, can approve of such a course  or procedure? We do not for a moment question the right of  our Episcopalian brethren to exert themselves in m.aking pros-  elytes out of the members of our Norwegian or Swedish, or  any other of our churches, but we cannot bring ourselves to be-  lieve that they can approve of this mcde of effecting the work.  "A most important inquiry now addresses itself to our Ame-  rican Church, in view of this large and increasing population of  Scandinavians, who are making their home in this New World.  It is the interesting question, what is our duty to these, our  brethren in the common faith? Here are vast interests, physical,  intellectual, and spiritual, which dare not longer be neglected.  The church should recognize her responsibility, and joyfully  and earnestly labor for their welfare. We may thus briefly  designate the work that ought to be done, —  1. The Church should extend her sympathies and prayers  to these brethren. In this holy cause, all can bear a part. Our  editors and pastors especially, can contribute much to this end,  by the dissemination of the information concerning the wants  of these interesting strangers. The whole church should remem-  ber them in her social and public prayers.  2. A few tracts in Norwegian and Swedish, suited to the  circumstances and wants of these immigrants, to be circulated  among them at New York and other sea, ports, on their arrival  in this country are needed.  3. A missionary chaplain conversant with both these  languages, should be stationed at New York city, to labor among  these immigrants and the Scandinavian seamen, Avho, in great  numbers, frequent that port. We earnestly commend this sub-  ject to the attention of our different missionary societies as one  of primary importance.  4. Our educational societies and colleges should encourage  the education of young men who can preach the Gospel in Eng-  AMONG SCANDINAVIANS AND GERMANS. 215  lish, as well as in their native languages. As a means to this  end, the importance of endowing a professorship of Scandinav-  ian literature, in some of our institutions, cannot be over-  estimated.  If at all practicable, all our Norwegian and Swedish min-  isters and churches should unite in the organization of a Scan-  dinavian Synod. The interests of these people imperatively  demand the existence of such a Synod. It would be a center of  unity, effort and influence to this entire population, and under  God, could not fail of producing the most happy results.  5. The importance of this field of labor to our American  Zion is immense. These immigrants occupy a vast body of the  most fertile and beautiful land in the United States. With our  German brethren they will form the great mass of the popu-  lation in Wisconsin and Illinois. Now is the time to lay deep  and broad the foundation of the churches in the northwest."  
MONG SCANDINAVIANS AND GERMANS. 217    On this matter of proselytism, Mr. Esbjorn writes to Mr.  Passavant :  "It is a sad spectacle to see several denominations in this  country run a race to get the 'simple-hearted Scandinavians'  into their societies, rather for the purpose of giving numerical  strength to themselves than of laboring for conversion and true  life in God. If they get one Swede or Norwegian into their  communion, they seem not to care that a hundred will perish  by the distraction and the hesitation that sach a course undoubt-  edly will create. A Christian minister of high standing of the  Congregational Calvinistic Church who formerly resided in  Chicago, once said to me: 'I would not wish that the Swedes  should be turned over to any other denomination, not even to  my own ; because it is certain that if a true Christian Lutheran  Church be organized among them, that will operate most effect-  ually upon all Swedes to come, yea, it will, also, in a salutary  way, react upon the Church in ^our home ; but if they turn over  to other denominations, such a course will produce prejudices  on the whole and do but little- good. ' Oh ! that such sentiments  might prevail among the foreign denominations that are now so  busy to separate the Swedes and the Norwegians. Oh ! that they  were as anxious for building up the Kingdom of God among  them, as for forming them in accordance with new ' Constitutions  and Canons! Oh! that these persons that undertake to form  churches had better motives than that 'the temporal happiness  and freedom, cannot be obtained, secured and really enjoyed'  without religion ! ' ' 

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