One hundred fifty years is a long time. I realize this is obvious, but I’ve been amazed over the past year at my church – St. John’s Lutheran Church in Two Rivers, Wisconsin – with the thought: this congregation is 150 years old. With everything that can and does happen over that period of time, it’s still kind of shocking to me that a group of Christians can start a church in 1863 and have it still exist in 2013.
The Word Remains
We realize that our church isn’t still around because somehow this group of people in Two Rivers, Wisconsin are better or more faithful than any other people anywhere else. It’s been because God has been with us. And finally, it’s his Word that has really stood the test of time here, not us. There is no one in my congregation that I know for a fact is descended from a founding member of our congregation in 1863. There probably are some, but none that I know about for sure.
That’s why we’ve picked Isaiah 40:11 as the theme verse for our anniversary year: The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. People come and go; buildings come and go. But the pure teaching of God’s Word is what never disappears, and we’re thankful that it’s been going strong here in our part of Wisconsin for 150 years.
The More they Stay the Same
Because one of the former pastors here at St. John’s went on to become a professor at our Seminary and ended up serving in some pivotal years in our church body, we’re fortunate to have people who have preserved many of his writings. Pastor J.P. Koehler served St. John’s from 1880–1888, and his design was instrumental in our current church building, completed in 1890.
One of his writings we have is a portion of a sermon he preached at St. John’s at some point during those years. Interestingly, the sermon was written in English, which was unusual for that time. The quote is great in that it shows what the basis for the teaching of our congregation is: the Word of God.
God has given his word to us & we have nothing else to do but listen to what God says. It is not our buissness to tell the bible what it should say but it is our duty to accept all that what it presents to us… . I don’t think it to be right way, to fix a doctrine or a dogma & then look into the scriptures to get proofs for what we have fixed before. In many cases it is then necessary to strech and to press words & whole sentences, to turn them or separate their parts, so as to get out what we have fixed before allready … . No the right way to study it, is to read it as we read any other book. To take everything as it is written & when certain ideas come before us which seem somewhat out of the way, it is not the right thing to explain them as we think they might have been or as it seems to us to be more agreeable, but we should understand every- thing as it is explained by the bible itself… . [This] is for us … the first question allways, what is written? Wether that is agreeable to us, wether we like it, or wether we believe it that may be a second question, allthough it ought not be any question at all. For those things which are good enough for God to reveal them, may be surely good enough for [us] to accept & believe & follow them.
To the Future
I’ve only been at St. John’s about 2 years, and I don’t know what the future holds for me or the church. It’s possible we may build a new sanctuary at our school location and the building that Koehler helped design will no longer be used. Or, it’s possible that building will be renovated. We don’t know.
It’s possible this congregation will go on for another 150 years, and it’s possible it won’t. But no matter what, God’s Word isn’t going anywhere. That’s the biggest blessing here.
By the way, if you want to check out a little book my church put out commemmorating its 150th Anniversary, check it out here. Also, check out a picture of our current church building that I took a while back below.
- I’m not really sure the best place to point you for a biography of Koehler, as there is so much out there. He served Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary from 1900–1930, and he did so much during those years – way more than I will try to go into here. ↩
- The usual language was German. ↩
- Koehler Family Collection, Concordia Historical Institute, Folder 244. Spelling is the original. ↩
- I was installed here on November 20, 2011. ↩