Heute vor einem Jahr verstarb der FeG-Pastor August Jung, dessen kirchengeschichtliche Forschungen auch für die Frühgeschichte der deutschen Brüderbewegung etliche neue Erkenntnisse brachten. Im Folgenden der Nachruf, den ich für die diesjährige Ausgabe der Brethren Historical Review geschrieben habe.
Obituary: August Jung (1927–2020)
Some of the most significant contributions to German Brethren historiography have been made by pastors of a ‘rival’ church movement: the Freie evangelische Gemeinden (‘Free Evangelical Churches’, FeG). Carl Brockhaus (1822–1899), the founding father of the German Brethren, and Hermann Heinrich Grafe (1818–1869), the founding father of the FeG, had both been leading members of an evangelistic association called Evangelischer Brüderverein before their new-found ecclesiastical convictions drove them in different directions. Interest in these common origins began earlier in the FeG than in the Brethren movement, so that pioneering studies on FeG history such as the article series Blätter aus vergangenen Tagen (‘Leaves from bygone days’, 1918/19) by Gustav Ischebeck (1863–1937) or the biography Hermann Heinrich Grafe und seine Zeit (‘Hermann Heinrich Grafe and his time’, 1933) by Walther Hermes (1877–1935) produced valuable insights into the beginnings of the German Brethren movement as well. Ischebeck even wrote a (critical) monograph on John Nelson Darby in 1929, which was translated into French in 1937.1 The most recent representative of this line of FeG pastors with a special interest in Brethren history was August Jung, who died in Iserlohn on 22 December 2020 at the age of 93.
Born in the village of Manderbach near Dillenburg on 8 November 1927, August Jung grew up in a family belonging to the Evangelische Gemeinschaft, a pietist group within the Protestant state church, but also maintaining good contacts with the local Brethren assembly (organised as Bund freikirchlicher Christen from 1937) and with preachers of the FeG.2 After war service and captivity (1939–45), Jung decided to become an FeG pastor himself. From 1947 to 1951 he attended their preachers’ seminary at Ewersbach; after that he served for 40 years as a pastor in various FeG congregations (1951–55 Frankfurt am Main, 1955–62 Hamm and environs, 1962–72 Wuppertal-Barmen, 1972–84 Iserlohn-Letmathe, 1984–90 Duisburg-Wanheimerort). On his retirement he moved to Iserlohn again. He had four children with his wife Heidi, née Weber, whom he had married in 1952.
Jung’s interest in church history began in the 1960s. As pastor of the oldest FeG (Wuppertal-Barmen, founded in 1854), he set up a church archive which was soon able to acquire key documents of FeG history, including Hermann Heinrich Grafe’s diaries and the founding minutes of the FeG federation of 1874. In 1983, Jung was one of the initiators of the FeG’s Historical Study Group, which launched the scholarly book series Geschichte und Theologie der Freien evangelischen Gemeinden (‘History and Theology of the FeG’) in 1988.
More intensive historical research had to wait until Jung’s retirement, however. Between 1968 and 1987 he had mainly written short articles for the FeG magazine Der Gärtner, but from 1995 to 2007 five eminent books appeared from his pen. Three of them deal with topics from FeG history and were published in the above-mentioned series,3 the other two are of considerable interest to Brethren historians as well.
Als die Väter noch Freunde waren (‘When the fathers were still friends’, 1999)4 is a ground-breaking study on the beginnings of free-church activities in the Bergisches Land, the region around Wuppertal, Remscheid, Solingen, Düsseldorf and Mülheim/Ruhr. The relevance of the book is more than regional, however: It was precisely this area that saw the emergence of no less than four different German free churches in the 1850s. In addition to the Brethren assemblies (Düsseldorf and environs, 1851) and the FeG (Elberfeld-Barmen, 1854), a Baptist congregation unaffiliated with the ‘official’ Baptists in Hamburg (Ehrener Mühle near Solingen, 1851) and even an early Sabbatarian congregation (Flachsberg near Solingen, 1856) were founded here. As far as the Brethren movement is concerned, Jung was able to correct several errors of his predecessors Ischebeck and Hermes; among other things, he postulated that it was not Heinrich Thorens (1817–1864) who acquainted Carl Brockhaus with Darby’s teachings, as had been assumed until then, but Julius Anton von Poseck (1816–1896). The most conclusive evidence for this hypothesis was only discovered after the book had been published,5 but this makes Jung’s historical instinct appear all the more remarkable.
The person of Julius Anton von Poseck fascinated Jung so much that he produced an entire monograph on him in 2002.6 Jung’s claim that German Brethren had deliberately suppressed the memory of Poseck because he had opposed Darby in the Ryde-Ramsgate controversy was perhaps somewhat exaggerated, and his joy of discovery sometimes led him to speculations, but his archival research brought to light much that was new, especially about the first half of Poseck’s life (his family background, his school and student days). Jung’s hypothesis that it took years for the ‘Düsseldorf’ assemblies founded by Poseck and the ‘Elberfeld’ assemblies founded by Brockhaus to establish full fellowship with each other seemed to rest on somewhat shaky foundations when the book appeared, but received unexpected support in 2019 with the publication of the correspondence between Darby and Wigram.7 An English-language summary of Jung’s Poseck research was presented at the first International Brethren History Conference in Gloucester in 2003 and printed in the 2006 volume The Growth of the Brethren Movement.8
A third important work by Jung on Brethren history is a paper he wrote in 2003 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Brethren assembly at his birthplace of Manderbach.9 In this paper, he shed new light on the prehistory of the Brethren movement not only in Manderbach, but in the entire Dillenburg area. The first Brethren leaders in Dillenburg (Philipp Richter, Carl Richter and Philipp Thielmann) had been Baptists for a while, which might be the reason – according to Jung – why Brethren in this region are still popularly called ‘Baptists’, whereas ‘real’ Baptists have not been able to regain a foothold there down to the present day.
August Jung was sympathetic to the Brethren movement – at least to its ‘Open’ wing, which many of his relatives were and are part of. Like his predecessors Ischebeck and Hermes, he had more serious reservations about ‘Exclusivism’ or ‘Darbyism’. In an interview he gave in 2006, he complained about Darby’s ‘unfortunate doctrine of ruin and separation’:
It has wreaked more havoc than any other doctrine in modern church history: dogmatism, grief, sorrow, distress, hatred, anger, strife and factionalism. Talks cannot heal here. Healing can only come from the repentance of those who have inflicted wounds and still keep them open. But repentance cannot be demanded; it must be given by God.10
In 2008, Jung was awarded the first ‘Neviandt Prize’11 for his contribution to FeG historiography. In his laudatory speech, Professor Wolfgang E. Heinrichs from the University of Wuppertal praised him for ‘reading the sources very profoundly and discerningly, doing extremely precise research, refusing to simply copy what is already there, as so many do, but questioning it critically and checking the traditions against the sources’.12 Thanks to Jung’s research, said FeG press spokesman Arndt Schnepper, the history of the FeG had to be rewritten in some points13 – an assessment that can be applied to (German) Brethren history as well.
‘When you look back over all your research activity,’ Jung was asked in the interview quoted above, ‘what are the most important lessons that can be learned from it for today?’ Jung’s answer was carefully considered:
If it were really possible and each generation did not have to make its own mistakes: resolve doctrinal questions early enough, strip theologically disguised power games of their magic, examine doctrinal nuances for possible consequences, assign co-workers to strong personalities to integrate them in a brotherly way, don’t make secondary issues a reason for separation, don’t automatically take democratic decisions for directives of the Holy Spirit, and practise small steps towards each other.
Jung’s great wish was that his nostalgic book title ‘When the fathers were still friends’ would be practically transformed into the ‘even more important motto: That the grandchildren become friends again’.14