Dresden Mission Society

Prepared by: 
Christine Lockwood and Regina Ganter, 2019

The Dresden Mission Society was the first confessional Lutheran mission society established in Germany. The Australian colonies became its first mission engagement in 1838, at the same time as the first Gossner missionaries also arrived in Australia. The theological formation of the Dresden missionaries set them at odds with colonial policy.


The Lutheran mission approach


The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden, also known as the Dresden Mission Society (DMS)grew out of a Confessional revival movement in the German states during the 1830s. This movement was marked by a renewed commitment to the Lutheran Confessions 1 in part fostered by a forced union of Lutheran and Calvinist churches in Prussia and the persecution of those who wished to remain Lutheran (‘Old Lutherans’).2 Previously, German mission seminaries had prepared men to serve with non-Lutheran mission societies, especially Dutch and British ones. The goal of the DMS, established in 1836, was ‘to gather, nurture and maintain congregations on the basis of the divine Word, in keeping with the evangelical Lutheran confession, through the direct sending out of missionaries.’3 The DMS was the first mission society to be committed to teaching according to the Lutheran Confessions and clearly Lutheran in its approach.4


The DMS aimed to give its missionaries a sound academic education and thorough grounding in the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions, as well as practical skills including medical knowledge. The Biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew) were taught so missionaries could understand and translate the Scriptures and acquire linguistic skills helpful for the study of indigenous languages.5 English and Latin were also studied.


This was in contrast to the Gossner Mission Society, founded in December 1836 in Berlin, to offer a pragmatic training for 'Godly mechanics' in the mission field. The first Gossner candidates arrived in northern New South Wales in April 1838 assisted by migration promoter J. D. Lang, just a few months before the first four Dresden candidates arrived in South Australia with the support of G. F. Angas of the South Australia Company, in October 1838.



Instructions to missionaries


These were shaped by Lutheran teaching, the heart of which is justification by faith, the teaching that salvation is a gift of God’s grace, received through faith in the atoning life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This faith too is seen as a gift of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word.6


The missionaries were to focus on spiritual work, sharing God’s love and offering the Gospel of forgiveness to all. As ‘ambassadors for Christ’ and ‘servants of the Christian church of the Lutheran Confession among the heathen,’ they were instructed to ‘testify to the heathen of the Gospel of the grace of God’, preaching ‘the word of reconciliation’. They were to do what they could to relieve Aboriginal people’s physical suffering but were not instructed to ‘civilise’ or Europeanise them.7The DMS did not see it as the job of its Australian missionaries to remake indigenous societies. The DMS believed colonial authorities were responsible for protecting and providing for Aboriginal people and understood that they had undertaken to do this. Its missionaries were to avoid imposing their own cultural standards but to let the Holy Spirit guide converts to make any cultural changes needed in response to the gospel and in line with the New Testament. 8 They were to use local languages, translate Luther’s Small Catechism and the Scriptures, teach people to read them in their own language, baptise converts, train Aboriginal assistants and establish Aboriginal Lutheran congregations.9 They were to model themselves on the Apostle Paul who ‘became all things to all people’, live with the people as nearly at their level as possible and partially support themselves.10 Read more



DMS missionaries in Australia


George Fife Angas of the South Australia Company invited missionaries Schürmann, Teichelmann who arrived in October 1838, followed by H.A.E. Meyer with his wife and Samuel Klose in August 1840. For details please see these biographies and the entries for Piltawodli, Encounter Bay, and Port Lincoln. At the same time the DMS also began sending missionaries to India, indeed Meyer had been trained in Tamil but preferred to join Teichelmann in South Australia.  


1 Lutheran Confessions: writings setting out Lutheran teaching and collected in the Book of Concord of 1580.

2 Scherer, James A. 'The Triumph of Confessionalism in Nineteenth-Century German Lutheran Missions', Missio Apostolica, 1, No. 2, November 1993: 71-81.

3 Eighteenth annual report of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden, 17 August 1836 to 10 August 1837:34.

4 Ibid.

5 Eighteenth annual report of the Evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society in Dresden, 17 August 1836 to 10 August 1837: 11-17.

6 Augsburg Confession Article IV, Robert Kolb and Timothy J Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord, The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (1580), Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2000:38

7 ‘Instructions for the two missionaries of the evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society at Dresden, Chr. G. Teichelmann from Dahme (ducal Saxony) and Clamor W. Schuermann from Schledehausen (via Osnabrueck) 1837.’

8 Johann Georg Gottfried Wermelskirch, "Gutachten der Dresdener Missions-Gesellschaft, die Vielweiberei betreffend," Dresdener Missions-Nachrichten (1839): 136, 138.

9 ‘Instructions for the two missionaries of the evangelical-Lutheran Mission Society at Dresden.’

10 DMS to W. Smillie, 18 March 1843, G26, Assorted Correspondence, Adelaide Missionaries (Dresden) Letters 1/Folder G, Lutheran Archives, Adelaide(LAA).