Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12, 2012

America's Early Germans: Defenders of Protestant Principles

Prior to the early 1700s it may have seemed that German Protestants were lucky. Although they suffered the tragic calamity of the Thirty Years’ War throughout the 1600s, they escaped the religious wars that butchered France during the Reformation era, and they were not subjected to the burnings Spain liked so well to employ. Reformed and Lutheran families became the backbone of German culture. Yet they did face persecution of a different kind: Earlier laws stated that if one’s prince was Reformed, one must be Reformed, and if one’s prince was Lutheran, one must be Lutheran. This caused much grief for families who could not sensibly travel from one region to another. 

In the first years of the 18th century, the War of Spanish Succession exploded across Europe, and Catholic France --- still persecuting her own Protestant subjects --- moved into Germany’s Palatinate. Many German Protestants were terrified at the prospect of being occupied by the same country that had subjected French co-religionists to such heartache.  Thus began the exodus of German Protestants to the New World. Over the decades the reasons for emigration varied: religious freedom, desire for wealth, starting a new and exciting life. Land and industry were extremely beguiling reasons as time passed. 

The Germans brought their deep Christian faith and reverence for Scripture, and they became possibly the largest Protestant group in the New World at the time. Many settlers of different cultures incorrectly saw the Germans as simple illiterate farmers. Yet men such as Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach had sprung from Germany, as did many other religious reformers, scholars, musicians, and so forth. 

The Germans (known especially in Pennsylvania as “Deutsch,” the native word for “German,” then corrupted to “Dutch”) became numerous and contributed much to America’s cultural heritage and to the Protestant tradition. They passed their love of Scripture down through the generations, becoming the ancestors of godly families for whom church was not a chore but a blessing. 

The German Protestants were noted for three characteristics:

(1) A deep reverence for the Word of God and for the faith that sprang from the Reformation

(2) A thorough understanding of the ‘Protestant work ethic’ and a desire to succeed

(3) A rich dialect that is similar to modern-day German but has its own unique differences

The German Protestant immigrants, beginning in the late 17th century and continuing through the 18th and beyond, gave rise to countless families that established the five solas (Christ alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, grace alone, for the glory of God alone) in the New World and established firm, unapologetic Protestant principles. I am proud to call myself a descendant of these hearty German immigrants. And I am very proud to uphold their faith.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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