George Stoeckhardt

by Philip Hunter

Perhaps because he succeeded the prolific C.F.W. Walther as Professor of Exegesis at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, George Stoeckhardt is not as well-known as he perhaps should be. Beginning during an early ministry full of adventure and obstacles, and continuing throughout a long ministry in America, Stoeckhardt maintained an intimate connection with the Scriptures in their original languages. Exegetic study and its application were the foundation of his life. For this reason, Christian Education mattered a great deal to him. In these ways and others, Stoeckhardt provides an example for all Christians and especially for called workers.

On February 17, 1842, Karl Georg Stoeckhardt was born in Chemnitz, Saxony. Before his father, a professor, five generations of Stoeckhardts had been ministers. The young George along with his three sisters moved several times, and George attended schools in Tharandt and Meissen. In 1862 he began studying theology in Erlangen, near Nuremberg. One year later he transferred to Leipzig, where he graduated in 1866.

His first teaching experience came as a tutor at the girls’ academy in Tharandt. Stoeckhardt’s experience there surprised him. He had assumed that teaching children would be much simpler work than teaching on the University level. “From the few lectures thus far given,” he wrote to a schoolmate, “I have learned that it is not so easy to teach the simple and clear truths of the Catechism and that it requires more thorough study in another way than is required for theological studies. It would be much easier for me to present to theological students dogmatic or exegetical material in scientific verbiage than to present the same matter to children in a childlike way.”

When the girls’ academy closed, Stoeckhardt moved to Paris, with plans to apply for an instructorship in Erlangen. One month after his arrival, the Franco-Prussian War began, which ultimately united Germany, crushed the French Empire for the last time, and claimed over 100,000 lives. As a result of this, it became very unsafe for Germans who were working in Paris. In fact, Stoeckhardt was twice arrested as a German spy, but was pardoned both times. Having fled to the French/Belgian border, he worked for three months as a medic and chaplain to the wounded soldiers at the war-ending Battle of Sedan.

After this, Stoeckhardt returned to Erlangen to teach. Three semesters later, he left, got married and accepted a call to be pastor at the State Church in Planitz (near Zwickau). The previous pastor had split off and formed a Free Church nearby. It was at this decisive point in his life where he redoubled his study of Holy Scripture. From his study he found that the previous pastor was right in leaving the church. He gathered with other pastors who had found the church to be in error and publicly objected on June 6, 1876. In a flurry of activity, the church leaders suspended Stoeckhardt, who promptly resigned and joined the Free Church. He was soon called as its second pastor. The legal indictments of blasphemy and offending the State Church were coolly received by Stoeckhardt, since by the time he left for St. Louis two years later, they had yet to be called in court.

Stoeckhardt preached at Holy Cross Church for the next nine years. In addition to his pastoral duties, he also taught Old Testament and New Testament exegesis at Concordia Seminary alongside Dr. Walther during these years. This time was unique for the Lutheran Church in America. Sources agree that by the time Stoeckhardt reached St. Louis the Missouri Synod had become a recognized and respected (or feared) denomination. Therefore his task was not to make a name for the Synod. Rather he wished to preserve the Synod’s reputation—that is, its purely Scriptural foundation and a clear distinction between law and gospel in its ministry.

As always, a great threat rose up against such Biblical teachings. The heresy has received the name “The Presdestinarian Controversy.” Perhaps a misnomer, those who were attacking the doctrine of predestination at this time, disagreed not only with the Missouri Synod’s beliefs concerning election, but also about the inerrancy of Scripture, grace, the effects of Law and Gospel, Free Will, etc. Just as in the State Church in Planitz, the pastor and instructor buried himself in the Word. In this time of controversy, Stoeckhardt turned to the source of all wisdom and looked for answers from the Holy God, rather than from men. He gave up no ground in his defense of the Missouri Synod’s Biblical doctrines.

When Dr. Walther died in 1903, the seminary called Stoeckhardt to Walther’s position as full professor of Exegetics. In this time he wrote numerous articles and papers and lectured on nearly every book in the Bible. One more defining moment in the professor’s life came at the 1905 Missouri synod convention in Detroit when he spoke in favor of merging the English Synod with the German-speaking Missouri Synod. While Stoeckhardt spoke against the trend in the English churches of omitting parochial schools, he realized that it was in the best interests of his Church and that it was good for American evangelism to join with this doctrinal church body.

Stoeckhardt continued to write and lecture until his sudden death on January 9, 1913 at age 70. Dr. Francis Pieper spoke at his funeral, as well as Prof. John Schaller, representing the Wisconsin Synod.

George Stoeckhardt’s love for the Scriptures is evident in every episode in his life. His genius for dogmatics and exegesis is evident from his numerous citations in Lutheran commentaries. His love for passing on the Bible to children is apparent in the success of the LCMS and WELS school systems. His concern for people of all nations led him through several countries and language, all the while spreading the Gospel. The man can best be described by the words he spoke at the funeral of Dr. Walther: “We are in possession of the truth,--the entire, undiminished truth,--because we know Christ crucified, and desire to hear of nothing beside Him.”

Bibliography

Biegener, E. "Karl Georg Stoeckhardt, D. Theol.," Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 4 (January, 1949).

Dau, W. H. T. "Dr. George Stoeckhardt," Theological Quarterly. Vol. XVII, No. 2. (April, 1913.).

Naumann, John G. P. "How Doctor Stoeckhardt Got Out of Going to Jail." Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly. Vol. 49, No. 4. (Winter, 1976), p. 179.

Woodring, Dan. “Karl Georg Stoeckhardt--His Life and Labor to Preserve Walther's Legacy.” 2-26-2009. http://www.confessionallutherans.org/papers/stoecky.html

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