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Leipzig: Luther, Bach and Muhlenberg

At the cross roads of the Via Imperii (Bergen to Rome) and the Via Regia (Paris to Novogrod) lies the city of Leipzig Germany. The city of Leipzig first appears in records around the 11th century. Because it was a crossroads city it grew rapidly as a result of international trade. St Nicholas Church was consecrated by the early 12th century and by the 15th century a university was begun.

Leipzig played host to one of Luther’s first public appearances. In 1519 a disputation was held at the castle in Leipzig between Andreas Karlstadt, Martin Luther and Johann Eck. It was at this debate that Luther asserted that there is no scriptural evidence for the Papacy and instead Luther appealed to the Scriptures. This remains a key difference between the Roman Church and Evangelicals to this day. Some two hundred years later Johann Sebastian Bach served as the Cantor for the churches of St. Nicholas and St. Thomas (1723-1750). Bach of course was a devoted Lutheran Christian who always signed his music with the moniker “SDG (Sola Dei Gloria).” Concurrent with Bach’s service as music director for the churches in Leipzig was the occasion of Henry Muhlenberg’s ordination on 24 August 1739 at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig. Did Bach play or direct the music for Muhlenberg’s ordination service? Did the two ever meet? History has not revealed that to us. (Below: Was this Muhlenberg's view at St. Nicholas Church when he was ordained?)

I am always amazed at the beauty of the churches in Leipzig and the stark contrast Muhlenberg faced upon his arrival to Pennsylvania. The Swedish Lutherans who were the first to arrive in the Philadelphia area (Philadelphia’s city flag bears the colors of Sweden) built a lovely church on the Delaware named Gloria Dei (their St. Lucia Day program in December is wonderful). The German Lutherans, however, were scattered in the surrounding counties with no buildings of their own. Muhlenberg set to work organizing the Lutherans and by 1743 they erected the Old Trappe Church (dedicated on 6 October 1745 as “Augustus Lutheran Church” in honor of Augustus Francke), which looks more like a barn than the churches in Leipzig.

It worked and rising up the steps of the Walnut pulpit imported from Germany Muhlenberg delivered the Gospel to God’s people. He baptized their children and adults without distinction (Muhlenberg records a number of baptisms of African American salves and free in his journal). He presided at the altar and distributed the Lord’s Supper to sinners for the forgiveness of their sins.

Finally, in the late 20th century St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig became the focal point of the “Monday Demonstrations” against the Communist East German government. It was here that people were able to meet, pray together for peace and join together in the quest for freedom. There is no better place for this than the church of Jesus Christ. Because in the end we know this:” For freedom Christ has set us free! (Galatians 5:1)!”

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