A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC
Snapshots of congregations from around the Church of the Lutheran Confession.
The numbers are grim. 24% consider themselves Protestant. Of these, only 0.9% say that the Bible is the Word of God. This is the state of things in Germany today—a country from which God raised up many faithful servants who proclaimed the pure Gospel and confessed before the pope and all others what God’s Word says about sin and grace. For centuries Germany and a number of the surrounding countries were fertile ground for the growth of Lutheranism. But we see that today most have strayed from the truth because they love the world.
There was a time when St. Louis, Missouri was synonymous with sound Biblical teaching. Germans fleeing the unionism of the Prussian Union emigrated to the area and established what would one day be known as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Anyone who wishes to learn more about what God says in His Word owes a great debt of gratitude to the servants God raised up over the years in that synod. But by the middle of the twentieth century, some in that fellowship had begun to stray from that Word. Soon St. Louis was no longer a center for biblical and Lutheran orthodoxy.
In 1948, the Holy Spirit led twenty-five souls in St. Louis to recognize the leaven of false teaching working in the dough of the Missouri Synod. Six years later these saints formed an independent congregation called The Orthodox Lutheran Church of St. Louis, Missouri. They initially rented a room at the American Legion hall in Maplewood, Missouri. Worship was led by Mr. Herman Strumpler until a full-time pastor could be called.
Julius B. Erhart was installed as the first shepherd of the flock on November 14, 1954. He served the congregation for eleven years. During this time the church was actively seeking a like-minded church with which to practice fellowship, but decided to avoid the WELS and ELS because of their continued fellowship with the Missouri Synod after the latter had been recognized as a false teaching church.
The first church property was purchased in the summer of 1955. It was a stone church originally occupied by a Pentecostal congregation. This was no small purchase, but the Lord moved the hearts of His saints to mortgage houses, sell cars and land, and deplete savings accounts. Selfless generosity was shown in response to the selfless generosity of their Savior!
Though this small congregation established itself among a multitude of churches which had Lutheran in their names, they found that they were quite alone in their adherence to the whole testimony of God. But by God’s grace they became aware that a number of previously LCMS, WELS, and ELS congregations had left their church bodies to avoid false teaching. In 1960, The Orthodox Lutheran Church of Webster Groves made formal application to join the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Later, in 1968, they would change their name to Faith Lutheran Church as a public confession that salvation is found through faith in Christ alone.
In August of 1968, Faith sold its property in Webster Groves and bought property in Manchester, Missouri. This is where the church and parsonage, built in 1971, stand today. The first service in the current sanctuary was held on October 1, 1972.
Faith has been served by ten Pastors: Julius B. Erhart (1954-65), Roland A. Gurgel (vacancy—1965), Leonard Bernthal (1965-69), Norman Harms (1969-71), Michael Sydow (1971-78), Vance Fossum (1978-89), Mark Gullerud (1989-95), Jerome Barthels (1996-98), Todd Ohlmann (1998-2016), and Stefan Sonnenfeld (2017-present).
Today Faith is composed of about seventy-five members, who, though they are close to one another in fellowship and godly love, are not all close to one another in geography. Many of the members are scattered around the St. Louis metropolitan area, including some on the Illinois side. The Holy Spirit moves these souls who thirst for the true living water to put substantial mileage on their vehicles to be at church once, and even twice a week. The congregation also serves some at a much greater distance, with members in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and New Mexico.
The typical week at Faith starts with adult Bible study and Sunday School on Sunday morning. Carol Benter and Debbie Vallely serve as our Sunday School teachers. After that, we all join to worship the Lord. On Wednesdays we have another opportunity to hear the Word together in a midweek Bible class. Confirmation class takes place on Fridays.
One might wonder how a small church in a metro area of nearly three million can have any sort of impact at all. The Missouri Synod is still the big Lutheran presence in the area. St. Louis is also on the edge of “Bible Belt” territory. We are surrounded by mega-churches. And yet, we receive a steady stream of visitors to our modest sanctuary. When we speak with these people, we often hear that they are fed up with false teaching in their churches (which are often Lutheran). A good percentage of our current members came from other church backgrounds—including Roman Catholic and Baptist—yet we are all united in the truth of God’s Word. We can make no greater impact than to preach the Law and Gospel in their purity. The truth sets people free by converting sinners into saints through faith in Jesus, Who sacrificed Himself to forgive our sins.
We all thank God that He still preserves a small seedbed of pure Biblical teaching in a city known for Lutheranism. With the help of God, we seek to boldly proclaim the truth that salvation is not found in having the name Lutheran or having a historical heritage in the Lutheran church, but through faith in Christ alone.
Stefan Sonnenfeld is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church of Manchester, Missouri.