1860-1864 and 1867-1889 President John Bading

, ,

1933-1953 WELS President John BrennerPresident John Bading

Johann (John) F. Bading was born on November 24, 1824, in Rixdorf near Berlin, Germany. As a teenager walking on Berlin’s Sebastian Street, he saw above a house door the Mark 16:15 motto “Preach the gospel to all creation.” It triggered the resolve to become a preacher of the gospel, and Bading entered a thoroughly Lutheran mission training school in Hermannsburg. He was sent to the mission field of Wisconsin and ordained on October 6, 1853. His Lutheran convictions were displayed at his ordination, when there was a disagreement between him and the Synod’s first president John Muehlhaeuser.

Bading wanted to swear his ordination oath to the entire Book of Concord of 1580, but Muehlhaeuser viewed the Confessions as “paper fences.” Bading got his way and as the second president of the Synod, elected in 1860, Wisconsin took a decidedly more confessional stance. When Bading came to Wisconsin in 1853 at the age of 28, there were only seven pastors in the Wisconsin Synod. By the time of his death in 1913 that number had grown to 298.

His years of service include pastorates at Calumet 1854–1855, Theresa 1855–1860, Watertown 1860–1868, Milwaukee 1868–1908, and limited service there until shortly before his death in 1913. He was synodical secretary in the late 1850’s, president 1860–1864 and 1867–1889, vice-president in 1866 and 1889–1908. He was president of the Northwestern College Board from 1865-1912 for 47 years. He labored energetically and effectively at the task of organizing the Synodical Conference, which was called into being in his St. John’s Church in Milwaukee in July 1872, and was president of that body for thirty years, 1882–1912.

Especially significant in the Bading life and ministry are the three decades of presidential administration running from 1860 to 1889 with brief time out in the mid 1860’s for European fundraising. In all Wisconsin Synod history only one other time period of generation length can match the Bading era in far-reaching importance (i.e. the period that began in 1939-1978). His first presidential address set a pointed tone:

“In our Evangelical Lutheran Church we have His Word in truth and purity. Let us like our fathers hold fast to it in life and death; if necessary, sacrifice for it good and blood, life and limb and rather suffer all than depart one hair’s breadth from the truth we have learned from our beloved Confessions.”

While Bading was president, Wisconsin made its half circle turn on the doctrinal and confessional scale from left to right. It broke with the European mission societies and the less than soundly Lutheran policies they favored. It promptly terminated its involvement with the General Council. It established fellowship with Missouri and helped organize the Synodical Conference. During the first decade of that body’s history and the strife over Scripture truth and synodical structure, Wisconsin contended firmly for doctrinal and organizational integrity. As sainted Seminary professor E.C. Fredrich noted in his extensive treatment of the 2nd President of our Synod:

“Bading and his administration played a vital role in these major developments that placed Wisconsin squarely on the pathway that brought it to the position occupied today and, it is to be hoped fervently, also tomorrow.”

Bading closed his time as president in 1889 with these words:

“My efforts during my long tenure at office, as is well known, were extended in one direction to ward off all so-called union endeavors against the ecclesiastical independence of our Synod; in the other direction, however, also to foster and maintain fellowship with those who are one with us in doctrine and faith. May that mind and spirit, which I deem wholesome, also in the future prevail in our midst and may the future demonstrate that the Lord is with this mind and spirit.”

John Bading died on May 24, 1913, and was laid to rest in Union Cemetery in Milwaukee.

For Further Reading:

  1. A paper by Prof. E. Fredrich about Bading’s formative presidency for WELS…
  2. A paper by Rick Curia about Bading’s trip to Germany