Franz Pieper

by David Strucely

Franz Pieper (1852-1931)

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Missouri Synod had no greater teacher than Franz Pieper. The successor of the synod’s founder, C.F.W. Walther, was well equipped to lead the synod after Walther’s death. The fifty-six year ministry of this man shaped the Missouri Synod as it became the most influential synod in American Lutheranism.

Franz Pieper was born June 27, 1852 in Carwitz, Pomerania to August Pieper, mayor of Carwitz, and Bertha Lohf.1 He had five brothers and one sister;2 three of his brothers like him became called ministers of the gospel: Reinhold was a professor at the Missouri Synod seminary in Springfield, IL; August was a professor at the Wisconsin Synod seminary in Thiensville, WI; and Anton was a pastor in the Wisconsin Synod.3 This is impressive considering the religious climate in Germany during this time.

During the 1800s, Lutheranism in Germany was under serious attack from many sides. The King of Prussia had established the Prussian Union in 1817 which united the Lutheran and Reformed Churches under one banner. This caused great confusion in issues where the Lutheran church and the Reformed church did not agree doctrinally. Although the Lutheran Church was able to maintain its doctrinal positions in some of its churches, in other churches it became increasingly difficult to prevent Reformed theology from creeping in.4 However, Lutheranism was also under attack from outside sources.

The 1800s were also the heyday of Modernism. Modernism rejected the previously held norms of religion, science, and art. Modernism even crept into the theology of Lutheran professors at various universities throughout Germany. Lutheran theology was muddled by new ideas which broke away from the traditional Lutheran theology found in the Lutheran confessions. As more and more theologians discovered new points of theology, the Lutheran doctrinal position became weaker and weaker in Germany. This is the climate in which Franz Pieper began his education.5

At age 16, he began Gymnasium at Koeslin and later at Kolberg. At these schools, he attended a broad variety of classes one would expect in a normal high school education: foreign language, mathematics, history, and science. However, in 1870, his mother moved him and his family to Watertown, WI.6 There, he attended Northwestern University, the college of the Wisconsin Synod, and graduated in 1872. Because the Wisconsin Synod had no seminary, his education continued at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.7 While at Concordia, Pieper received the tools he needed to become a great teacher from one of the greatest teachers in the history of the American Lutheran church, C.F.W. Walther. His years at seminary were relatively uneventful and he graduated in 1875.8

Pieper began his pastoral career that same year in Centerville, WI.9 This call was to two parishes, one being St. John’s in Centerville and the other being St. Peter’s, which was outside of the town. While at Centerville, Pieper became engaged to Minnie Koehn, and later they became married. All this took place in a short two years after which Pieper accepted a call to First German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manitowoc, WI. However, Pieper did not remain long in Manitowoc.

He began his career as seminary professor in 1878 when he was called to be Professor of Dogmatics and Pastoral Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.10 He would remain as professor there until his death in 1931. However, during his time there, his role at the seminary and within the Missouri Synod would change. In 1887, he became president of the seminary, a role which he would maintain until his death. He also served as president of the Missouri Synod from 1899 until 1911. Through his various roles, Pieper was in a position to be a great teacher for the entire Missouri Synod.

When he died in 1931, Pieper had served in the Missouri Synod for fifty-six years.11 All the professors on the Concordia Seminary faculty at the time of his death had learned under him.12 Most of the pastors in the entire synod had learned under him as well. The teaching of Pieper had an influence reaching throughout the entire Missouri Synod; he was truly the synod’s teacher.

Not only did Franz Pieper teach through his role as professor at Concordia Seminary. He also wrote many articles for Der Lutheraner, the Missouri Synod bi-monthly publication, and for Lehre und Wehre, the theological periodical of the Missouri Synod.13 His most famous writing, however, is Christian Dogmatics, a dogmatics textbook which was used at Concordia Seminary for many years. Through all these writings, Pieper was able to teach not only his students, but also many other members of the Missouri Synod.

Through his far-reaching influence, Franz Pieper was able to use his God-given gifts to instruct the Missouri Synod after the death of its first teacher, C.F.W. Walther. It can be seen through his role as professor and as writer that he was able to reach many souls who desired to increase their knowledge of the doctrines of the bible. Franz Pieper was certainly a gift from God to the Missouri Synod.

  1. Theodore Graebner, Dr. Francis Pieper: A Biographical Sketch (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1931), 5. 
  2. Graebner, Dr. Francis Pieper 7. 
  3. Max Lehninger, “D. Franz Pieper,” Theologische Quartalschrift 28 (October 1931): 247-256. 
  4. Graebner, Dr. Francis Pieper 6. 
  5. Graebner, Dr. Franz Pieper 7. 
  6. Dr. L. Fuerbringer, “D. Franz Pieper,” Der Lutheraner, 16 June 1931, 194. 
  7. Graebner, Dr. Francis Pieper 10. 
  8. Fuerbringer, “D. Franz Pieper” 194. 
  9. Graebner, Dr. Francis Pieper 12. 
  10. Lehninger, “D. Franz Pieper” 248. 
  11. Lehninger, “D. Franz Pieper” 249. 
  12. “Dr. Franz Pieper," Ev.-Luth. Gemeinde Blatt (July 12, 1931), 219. 
  13. Fuerbringer, “D. Franz Pieper” 193.