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L. von Rohden: Excerpts from The History of the Rhenish Missionary Society (1857)

This excerpt from L. von Rohden's History of the Rhenish Missionary Society (1857) describes the missionary activities of the Awakened (or born-again Christians) among "heathens" and Jews in the western German industrial cities of Elberfeld and Barmen, where this type of Protestant piety gradually flourished from modest beginnings. The group placed biblical revelation above human reason and denounced Protestant rationalism as well as the ideas of the French Revolution.

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Section One.
The missionary society in the homeland.

Early history.

Just like the German Weser river acquires its existence and name from the confluence of the two streams that join their waters at Münden, the Rhenish Missionary Society owes its existence to the union of two important local missionary associations, which, reinforced by several subsidiary associations, combined their forces and gifts in the year 1828 to begin a common work in the name of God. These were the Elberfeld Missionary Society and the Barmen Missionary Society. The former already had many years behind it, having been founded as early as 1799; the latter, significantly younger, had been in existence only since 1818. Let us take a closer look at the history of both societies.

The beginnings of the Elberfeld Missionary Society lie in a barren and stormy time, when faith had died everywhere and love had grown cold, when the revolutionary storms coming from France were filling our German fatherland with poisonous vapours. Rigid death prevailed in the Protestant church of Germany. A solid and upright piety was certainly still found among the lower classes of urban dwellers and peasants, but the refined people were for the most part enlightened folk who smiled at the antiquated superstition. At that time, the Elder, Dr. Urlsperger of Augsburg, first conceived of the idea of uniting all scattered children of God into a “German Society of Christianity” [deutsche Christenthumsgesellschaft]. [It was] the first appearance on German soil of a free Christian association that would reach its hands across all barriers of churches, confessions, and parish boundaries to pursue a common goal without mediation by the hired clergy and the church authorities. How many Christian associations were later founded on this model, and in part grew out of it! The task the Society of Christianity set for itself was the preservation of the pure doctrine and a Christian way of life. The members were to strengthen each other in faith and confession; they joined for regular prayer, a conscientious observance of Sunday, the maintenance of household devotion, and strict discipline and self-examination. Wherever there were people “who take joy in the Gospel of Jesus, accept Him as their God and Lord, as the only mediator and saviour, who adhere to and follow Him and seek their salvation through Him, and who would like to join with true Christians,” they were to be admitted into this society. In London and Basel this plan met with immediate approval. In both cities a select committee was set up that met at the beginning of every month, sifted through the incoming letters and essays [Aufsätze], talked about important truths, and reported all the noteworthy things of the meeting to the other members in the minutes. Similar societies were set up in many German cities – from Stuttgart to Magdeburg and all the way to Berlin. All were in close contact with one another and with Basel as their focal point. That is where they sent their minutes and reports, and from there the comprehensive general report or the chief minutes were, in turn, communicated to all individual societies.

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