March 16, 2015
This week, as we continue to talk about participation in God’s mission, we are exploring the work and life of August Rauschenbusch, our founding professor.
There are few passages of Scripture better suited to sum up the passion, the beating heart, of our German Baptist heritage than 1 Corinthians 9:23 (NET): I do all these things because of the Gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.
Our German Baptist Heritage
While numerous persons associated with the seminary, faculty, and students alike, have shared deeply in the mission of God’s redemption of the world, we cannot find a better example of the variety and scope of this mission than in August Rauschenbusch (1816-1899). Born in Westphalia, Rauschenbusch was a man of incredible intelligence, the sixth in an unbroken lineage of Lutheran pastors. It was a lineage later impacted by the movement of the German Baptists in America.
Between 1830 and 1850, approximately two and one half million Germans immigrated to America. Since few pastors came with them, the spiritual need of the German communities in America was great. It was through the work of Konrad Anton Fleischmann (1812-1867), who arrived on these shores from the Old Country in 1838 as a missionary to German speaking immigrants, that German Baptist life in the United States was established.
By 1851, there were enough German speaking Baptist churches to form a conference. One of their first acts was to call for the establishment of a school to train pastors and missionaries. Their vision came to fruition seven years later in 1858 when now Sioux Falls Seminary was founded.
The Work of Our Founding Father
Rauschenbusch came to America in 1846 to work as a missionary among German immigrants in the American Midwest. The following year, he became the head of the German department of the American Tract Society and editor of their German language publication. During this time, he also began wrestling with the question of baptism, having witnessed a Baptist baptism that impressed him as “New Testament baptism.”
In St. Louis in 1849, Rauschenbusch connected with a group of German Baptists and sought believer’s baptism. On May 19, 1850, he was baptized in the Mississippi River (on the Illinois side because he did not want to be baptized in a slave holding state). He was admitted into the Baptist ministry in 1851. And in June of that year, he traveled to Ontario where he won a number of individuals to Baptist views and administered believers’ baptism to them. On September 10, 1851, he organized them into the Bridgeport Baptist Church, the first German Baptist church in Canada. In 1853, he assembled the first hymnal used by German Baptists in America, Die Pilgerharfe (Pilgrim’s Harp), enabling the gospel to be proclaimed in song.
While Rauschenbusch shared in God’s mission in many ways in his life of service to German Baptist communities in the United States and Canada, it was as an educator that he had his deepest and widest effect.
The divinity school at the University of Rochester had included, from 1850, plans for a German department to provide pastors for the German immigrant communities as part of the American Baptist mission to the German community. Though some students came prior to Rauschenbusch’s 1858 arrival, his becoming the first German Baptist professor is the usually accepted date of the department’s beginning.
He was the only person qualified for the work, and until 1877, he taught the entire curriculum: Latin, Greek, theology, ethics, homiletics, history, psychology, botany, zoology, and astronomy. All he did, he did well and selflessly. The department was not adequately funded, yet he persevered.
As Rauschenbusch once said, “I can never break faith with the men who came hither on my invitation.”
Until his retirement in 1889, Rauschenbusch supervised one hundred ninety-nine students. Seventy-seven continued in pastoral service until their death. And so the gospel went forth.
We give thanks to God for August Rauschenbusch and the many individuals who have participated in the gospel so faithfully and selflessly in our 157-year history. They have provided for us a solid foundation from which we can continue to boldly follow God into mission.