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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thunderbolt in Church History – Pieper's warning to CSL professors

There is an anecdotal account of a faculty meeting at Concordia Seminary in about the year 1930.  This report comes by way of Joel Pless, currently Associate Professor of Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College.  He published a senior church history paper in 1986 entitled Cancer At Concordia: An examination of how the historical-critical method of Biblical interpretation was introduced to the classroom teaching at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, and what were the subsequent effects. (It wish this were online here, it should be.) [Update 3/26/2013 - It is online now.  For another version of the anecdote, see Curtis Jahn's essay, page 3; 2018-01-16: link updated]
I quote from pages 16-17:
The participation of some St. Louis faculty members in fellowship talks with the old ALC produced much consternation and dissention, both within the faculty and among some of the ministerium of the Missouri Synod. Already before these fellowship talks began in 1935, there were rumblings of dissention within the St. Louis faculty. Retired Wisconsin Synod pastor Rev. A.T. Kretzmann tells of a story during his seminary years (1929-1931) at St. Louis when his uncle, Professor Paul E. Kretzmann came home deeply disturbed one evening. When his wife asked what was wrong, Professor Kretzmann told of the events of a faculty meeting held that afternoon.  During the meeting Seminary president Franz Pieper announced after examining the faculty's printed classnotes that everyone of the professors at St. Louis was in some way deviating from the Word of God, with the exception of himself and Paul Kretzmann.  (Theodore Graebner apparently became so angry at these accusations that he stormed out of the room!) 
The source for the above story was from an interview with Rev. A.T. Kretzmann in his home on Wednesday afternoon, April 2, 1986.  Rev. Kretzmann was a nephew of Prof. Paul E. Kretzmann. Joel Pless goes on to another report concerning who were likely involved:
It is interesting to note who were some of the men on the St. Louis faculty at this time: Theodore Graebner, John Fritz, J.T. Mueller, William Arndt, Walter A. Maier, W. Gustav Polack [William G. Polack], Theodore Engelder, Theodore Laetsch.
The source for this material was from a letter of Paul E. Kretzmann to Rev. Paul Burgdorf, February 19, 1940.  A posting by President Matthew Harrison in his blog about a year ago showed also Ludwig Fuerbringer and Richard W. Heintze in this listing. Another census posting [2018-01-16: link updated] adds to this Martin S. Sommer but has many transcription errors.
Added 1/13/2013:  Here is a photograph taken in February 1927 of the faculty – from page 83 of Der Lutheraner of that year:

This "inside story" of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis shows a major milestone in all of Church History.  For it shows that Franz Pieper, the 20th Century Luther, was not unaware of the trouble brewing there.

I compare Pieper's warning to the St. Louis faculty with:
  • his last words to the Missouri Synod before he died: "May the dear Missouri Synod never forget that it's chief God given calling is to carry into all the world the testimony of the Sola Gratia – salvation by grace alone!"
  • his admonition to them in his last words to study the Brief Statement of 1932 (his Theses) for they "would be a good schooling for all of them."
  • his warning to the Norwegian Synod saying "Nein, Nein, no, no!" to the merger of the Norwegian Synod with other American Lutheran church bodies which denied the doctrine of Election of Grace, not in view of our faith.
  • Luther's warnings and worry over the signs of weakness in his associates like Melanchthon 
Some people may be surprised at Pieper's warning to the faculty of Concordia Seminary, even in 1930, the year before his death.  I am not very surprised for I have scoured the writings of his associates and found them wanting in regards to the Doctrine of Justification.
Paul E. Kretzmann
What does surprise me is that he excluded Paul Kretzmann. Why? Because I had to search long and hard as I read his publications to find the true teaching on Universal, Objective Justification.  When I finally found it, I rejoiced but thought he should have taught it more forcefully.
Theodore Engelder & J.T. Mueller
I was surprised that Pieper's warning could have also been made to the above professors.  If they were indeed warned, I believe they took it to heart and inquired of Dr. Pieper to show them their fault.
Theodore Graebner
My previous comments (here and here) concerning Professor Graebner are confirmed by this report. Here Graebner was being chastised when many considered him "conservative" and "orthodox"!  How he chafed at the collar.  But how sad Siegbert Becker was at the downfall of Graebner as he left the LCMS to join the WELS and publish beautiful defenses of UOJ (here and here) and why he had to leave the LCMS here.

Pieper's warning carries through the Twentieth Century even to now.  It is as fresh now as the moment he delivered it. For a deviation from the Word of God is a very serious matter.  Dear Christians of today, this is no small warning from Franz Pieper, for all Christianity is in the balance!

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