Franz August Otto Pieper-

The 20th Century Luther


Martin Chemnitz has been called the Second Martin, referring to his defense of the doctrines brought to light by the reformer, Martin Luther. C.F.W. Walther has been called the American Luther, clearing away again all hindrance to the glory of the pure Gospel. Now there stands one who cannot be passed over in the lineage of great Lutheran teachers. The place was St. Louis, Missouri, America but more importantly, the doctrine was Lutheran.…. Christian.

The President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis from the time of C.F.W. Walther’s death in 1887 to the time of his death in 1931, Pieper held the most visible position among orthodox Lutherans during this period. He also held the position of Synod President during a portion of this time. But it was his teaching that makes him stand out. As the 20th Century draws to a close, a survey of all those who were in teaching and leadership positions within the Lutheran Church in American and the world, shows one who stands out - Dr. Franz August Otto Pieper. He taught as the overriding doctrine of Scripture to be the universal/objective reconciliation/redemption/justification of the world. Now it remains for Dr. Pieper to take his place. The Lord knows this epithet will remain.  I confess - no one has pressed the kingdom of heaven into my lap more firmly than Dr. Pieper.

After his death, there began considerable controversies over the doctrines as written in the Brief Statement of 1932. In discussions with other American Lutheran church bodies, it was notably the doctrine of the universal will of grace and universal justification that brought contention and actual scorn.

The Norwegian Merger of 1917: A False Charge

This is perhaps the saddest part of this essay. It involves St. Louis professors and also a later Missouri Synod President. It involves the Synod that requested the essay on Justification at the first meeting of the Synodical Conference - the Norwegian Synod (now known as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod).

Rev. Theodore A. Aaberg of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (Norwegian Synod) in his 1968 book A City Set on a Hill offered an evaluation of the question regarding the advice given by the Missouri Synod professors F. Pieper, W.H.T. Dau, and T. Graebner (pgs 274-282). There would be no question in this matter except the leaders of the Minority then joined the Majority in union with the United and Hauge Synods in 1917 and further said one thing and those who gave the advice said another. The leading spokesman for the Missouri professors was Franz Pieper.

C.K. Preus was the son of the first president of the Norwegian Synod and president of the Synod’s seminary at Decorah, Iowa. I.B. Torrison was a Synod pastor. During a meeting of the Minority pastors of January 17-18, 1917 at the West Hotel, Minneapolis, they said "the letter meant that the ‘Minority’ should not separate itself from the Norwegian Synod but stay and bear witness to the truth and continue so to do as the Synod merged with the other bodies" (J.C.K. Preus, The Union Movement.., p. 9) In this same publication, J.C.K. Preus stated: "One deplorable result was the charge made by a few ‘Minority’ men to the effect that Preus and Torrison had not reported correctly the advice given by the St. Louis professors". C.K. Preus (and J.C.K. Preus, his son) in effect charges Dr. Pieper with giving conflicting advice, between the December 28, 1916 personal meeting and the January 9, 1917 letter. The following is the letter:


Letter of Jan. 9, 1917:

St. Louis, Mo.,
Jan. 9, 1917.

Dear Prof. C.K. Preus
Pastor I.B. Torrison
Decorah, Iowa

Dear Brothers:

                We send you, according to your request, the written record of the decision which we arrived at on Dec. 28th during the conversations you asked for.

Concerning the matter which you laid before us, the question is not whether the Minority should enter into the situation as it now is developing in the Norwegian Synod- something we could not advise anyone to do. But the question is whether or not the Minority is compelled for conscience’ sake to step out of the Norwegian Synod, or whether circumstances are still such that further witness for the truth is your duty. Our opinion is:

                1. Since it is admitted by the Union Committee that the insistence of the Minority that thesis I of "Opgjor" be eliminated is in agreement with the Scriptures and the Confessions,

                2. Since the Union Committee has openly declared that the expression in Thesis IV of "Opgjor" ("the sense of responsibility in regard to the acceptance or rejection of grace") is to be thus understood, that God alone is the cause of acceptance, man alone the cause of rejection,

                3. Since silence is not imposed on the Minority, but rather freedom of speech is expressly conceded in regard to "Opgjor",

                we believe that the time for the Minority to sever its connection with the Norwegian Synod has not yet come, but that it is much more your duty through your witness to the truth in the Norwegian Synod, if God wills, to bring about its complete recognition.

[Signed] W.H.T. Dau
F. Pieper
Th. Graebner

This charge is false.

Graebner letter of 1938:

the charge was again made in later years after Pieper’s death by one of the St. Louis professors, Theodore Graebner. The charge is made in a letter by Professor Graebner to Dr. Nils Ylvisaker on November 12, 1938, which follows:

                                                                                                                November 12, 1938

Dr. Nils Ylvisaker

425 South Fourth Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dear friend Ylvisaker:

Since we met in Decorah in the Fall of 1936, I have often been at the point of sending you in writing the assurance which I gave you orally. I do not now refer to the matter of negotiations between the Norwegian Lutheran Church and the Missouri Synod with reference to church union. I have in mind rather the discussion which took place in St. Louis in December, 1916, between representatives of your Minority group and of our faculty. I informed you at the time that you were free to use my report of what took place at that meeting. In view of the approachment between the Missouri Synod and the American Lutheran Church, it will be necessary for your body to consider the basis of union and to take some official action with reference to it. As so much depends upon the attitude in which a matter of this kind is approached, I feel that I would be remiss in my duty toward the cause of Lutheran Union if I, on my part, did not do everything possible to help bury old grievances and remove misunderstandings. The present letter is written from this point of view.

                You have referred at various times to the matter of our dealing with the Minority Committee in 1916. You told me in Decorah that to the end of his life, Torrison grieved about the manner in which he and Preus had been treated. I surprised you by admitting at once that the grievance was justified. I shall state here what I told you in 1936 and thus clear the record.

                Preus and Torrison came to St. Louis to visit Dr. Pieper, Dr. Dau, and myself for the purpose of having this question answered: "Will the Missouri editors look upon the Norwegian Minority as in fellowship if they enter the Union with the understanding admitted on both sides that they may testify to the doctrine which they had always held?" The discussion took place in the old faculty room and lasted several hours. The main problem was - did our visitors correctly gage the possibilities of such testimony? Dr. Pieper smiled when the assurance was given that the other bodies entering the union would countenance such witness bearing. We were assured that if the union is once accomplished, there would be no opposition to the teaching of the Missouri Synod doctrine regarding Election, etc. It was then agreed that a body entering with such understanding would be regarded as in statu confessionis so long as its testimony would be given consideration. We promised to give the Norwegian delegates this opinion in writing.

                The next morning Dr. Pieper called us to the Seminary and submitted the letter he had drawn up. This letter referred not with one syllable to the problem which had been placed before us. Instead, it contained an opinion on a question which had not once been mentioned in the five hours of discussion. In effect it read thus:

                "We do not regard it as unionism if the Minority remains with the Norwegian Synod and do not hold that it should leave the Synod at this time". I told you at Decorah and I am repeating it now that Dr. Preus and Rev. Torrison had every reason to be confounded by such an "opinion." It is not for me to judge what caused Dr. Pieper to write this meaningless letter. All that I have a right to say is this: due to my enormous respect for Dr. Pieper as a theologian, I did not have the courage to protest against the letter but became a partner in these evasive tactics. I made this acknowledgment to you personally and you may make use of it in any way you see fit.

                I shall add what I thought necessary to say to you as an explanation for my reticence on this matter when the union was finally negotiated. The simple fact is this that the Minority men did not carry out the good intentions of 1916 and endeavor by means of articles in the church papers, and on the floor of conferences and synods to labor for a reconsideration of the clauses that were to them as objectionable as they were to us. I say this good purpose was not carried out. Had it been, I would have made clear on my own account that according to the Lutheran doctrine of Church fellowship, these men are our brethren.

                Let me for the sake of completeness also make a memorandum of your reply to this in 1936. According to your point of view the Madison Agreement is not the basis for union of the three Norwegian bodies. You also declared and I was ready to admit that all these twenty years no articles had appeared in the Church papers which could be regarded as synergistic or as denying the doctrine of Election. You assured me that the public teaching of your Church in no sense differed from that of our own; also that where unionistic arrangements have been noted, your officers take appropriate action.

                Preus and Torrison are with the saints of God and whatever injustice they experienced in this life cannot disturb their rest. It is rather to satisfy my own sense of justice that I have written the acknowledgments contained in the above. For the sake of the memory of our honored Dr. Pieper, who is also now where all human frailty has become a thing of the past, I would of course not like to have these statements given general publicity. But where you will find occasion to use them in order to remove ancient hard feelings you should make use of them. For that purpose they were written.

Very cordially yours,

Who was it that Concordia Publishing House chose to write the biography of Dr. Franz Pieper at his death in 1931? Professor Theodore Graebner, the one who now charges in 1938 (and 1936 privately) Pieper with writing a "meaningless" letter and bringing "injustice" to Preus and Torrison, the one who caused Torrison to grieve to the end of his life at being mistreated. Lord, have mercy on us! There was no other man in the world who knew as much as Theodore Graebner about what was going on in the world. He was the editor of the Lutheran Witness, the main publication of the Missouri Synod to its members. And it was to Graebner that many in the Minority wrote of suspicion with Preus/Torrisons’s explanation of Pieper/Dau/Graebner’s January 9 letter. But Professor Graebner did not understand the advice given by Dr. Pieper on December 28 or January 9. And worst of all, he gives Pieper the charge of meaninglessness, evasiveness, and injustice yet trying to sooth his conscience with "my enormous respect for Dr. Pieper as a theologian".

J.W. Behnken

Another man who further promulgated the Missouri professors so-called change of heart and consequent "misunderstandings" was the President of the Missouri Synod J.W. Behnken, elected in 1935. He was acquainted with N.M. Ylvisaker of the union church through camp work during World War I. He reviewed the documents of Dr. Ylvisaker (not to be confused with his brother S.C. Ylvisaker of the Norwegian Synod) which allegedly showed the change of heart. Dr. Behnken is reported by J.C.K. Preus as being "astounded" at what he saw. He then made haste to get Professor Theodore Graebner together with N.M. Ylvisaker to "clear up the whole matter". The matters of doctrine were left behind. As the resulting above letter shows, Theodore Graebner "corrects misunderstandings" by impugning the motives and position of Dr. Pieper and making a mockery of the doctrines at issue.

There was no other man on earth who loved the Norwegian Synod more than - - Franz Pieper.




It was Graebner, Preus Torrison, and Behnken who were confused. . No other man than Franz Pieper would have chosen his words most carefully when discussing this matter. No other man would have listened most carefully when Preus and Torrison spoke in their December 28 personal meeting. Prior to the merger, there had been plenty of correspondence, books, and essays to fully inform the head of the Norwegian Seminary at Decorah, Iowa, C.K. Preus, as to the true doctrine and the dangers of false teaching on election, conversion, and unionism. Pieper wrote Zur Einigung (For Agreement) which outlined the true teaching and all historical information relative to it.









Behnken followed as a sheep to slaughter the false reports of N.M. Ylvisaker and Graebner. How so? By ignoring the clear doctrines involved in the matter.


It was Graebner, Preus, Torrison, and possibly Dau who were evasive.


He admits: "I did not have the courage to protest". His own words testify against himself. Preus and Torrison after the Jan. 1917 letter no longer corresponded publicly with Pieper. A wall appeared that Pieper could no longer go through, though he tried ever so strenuously.


He lived until 1944. There is no public statement from him that he repudiated Graebner’s testimony. Dau advised along with Pieper that the Opjgoer and the Austin Agreement were to be done away with and to win the majority to the truth. Why would Dau leave Graebner’s false charges unchallenged? It is a silence of the worst kind.



It was Graebner, Preus, Torrison, and Behnken who brought injustice. All of these ignored the real Injustice against the doctrine of God’s Word- the bondage of man’s will and salvation by pure grace, full and free, unconditional without any cooperation on man’s part. In fact, it was the doctrine that they hated. In this injustice to God’s Word, they also brought injustice to Franz Pieper.


Theodore Aaberg

It is surprising that Theodore Aaberg in his book A City Set on a Hill published by the ELS would give weight to the false charges by saying "neither C.K. Preus nor Torrison can be faulted for reporting that at their December 28 meeting in St. Louis, the Missouri professors advised them to go into the Merger." (p. 279) and "The writer is of the opinion that the advice given on December 28, 1916, and in the letter of January 9, 1917, may not have been precisely the same" (p. 281), and "Was Prof. Pieper perhaps even indicating a certain change in their recommendation from Dec. 28, 1916, when he introduced their advice in the letter..." (p. 282). However, Aaberg even questions himself when he later says: "Preus and Torrison may have given on December 28, 1916, a rosier picture than the facts justified" (p. 281). And Aaberg wonderfully summarizes the truth on page 282 by saying: "The testimony of all three Missouri professors, from 1917-1938, definitely excludes the possibility of their having advised Preus and Torrison on Dec. 28, 1916, that the Minority should enter the Merger on the unionistic basis on which it finally did enter." Only that Theodore Graebner shows in his 1938 letter that indeed his advice was changing, if not already renouncing the 1917 advice.

Aaberg does not comment on Graebner’s letter in the matter of his testimony against Dr. Pieper. I must. For there was no other man on earth who loved the Norwegian Synod more than Franz Pieper. The testimony of those pastors who started the ELS bring their testimony:

Testimony of ELS founders:

(transcribe Synod pastors letters)

The turnabout by Theodore Graebner is of the same magnitude as that of F.A. Schmidt’s agitating charges in bringing about the Election Controversy and Philip Melancthon’s later synergistic writings. His turnabout in regard to doctrine is of immense magnitude in church history for it gave aid and comfort to those in error. Not only those in the Norwegian Synod, but also those who trusted the teaching and truth brought by Dr. Pieper in the Missouri Synod. The effect of this was felt far and wide. He was well known because of his many contacts. He was editor of the Lutheran Witness and active in the Concordia Historical Institute. Graebner’s letter is a sobering testimony of the poison of unionism.


F.A.O. Pieper as Theologian

C.F.W. Walther as Theologian

The definitive writing on C.F.W. Walther was made by his successor, Franz Pieper. It was done in the pages of Lehre und Wehre during the years after Walther’s death. It did not recount the earthly matters of Walther’s life, rather the teachings of the man.


Lehre und Wehre


Christian Dogmatics, 3 volume set


Brief Statement of 1932

Nearly all those who trace their beginnings back to the Missouri Synod or fellowship with them, claim the Brief Statement of 1932 as their own also. The Brief Statement is recognized as originating from Dr. Pieper, though it is not usually publicly stated.


Following Pieper’s death, there were some writings made about him. But one searches in vain for the joy of the sweet voice of grace by honoring the wealth of Pieper’s teaching. The only exception can be found in Theodore Engelder, but he was not given a great voice, rather looked on as "not a yes man".



(Later T. Graebner, Behnken)

Franz Pieper has been reported as causing confusion in the matter of the 1917 Norwegian Merger. This was done by one of the professors of Concordia, Theodore Gräbner. It was also involved Professor N.M. Ylvisaker of the merged NELS and President J.W. Behnken of the Missouri Synod.


mid-20th Century (to present)

(Carl Meyer, etc )

Many would fault Pieper (and sometimes Stöckhardt) for being over-zealous against unionism. Carl Meyer says in the 1975 edition of the Lutheran Cyclopedia under the heading of a period of Conservation in the Missouri Synod, 1887-1932 (page 491):

In relations with other churches the synod seemed to stand aloof. It maintained fellowship with synods of the Synodical Conference (despite friction with the Wisconsin Synod) and with the Norwegian Synod but made no move to unite with other Lutherans.

This is a false charge. It is a veiled accusation at Pieper who was in the middle (along with Stöckhardt and Bente) of the Free Conferences of 1903 - 1906, where several meetings were held with Ohio and Iowa, along with other Synodical Conference members. And for standing aloof, C.S. Meyer calls holding fast the faithful Word- "standing aloof". This was exactly the same charge as that of the opponents of the Missouri Synod then. In fact there was no one who worked harder to find true unity than - - Franz Pieper.  Rather the beauty of the Synodical Conference (as so many long for today, at true beauty!) was the direct result of the tireless attention by Dr. Pieper to true doctrine, pure doctrine, the absolutely unconditional Gospel of accomplished reconciliation, completed redemption, universal reconciliation/justification.

Herman Otten

(later Wisconsin, Becker/Curia)

J.P. Koehler



A few would fault Pieper for the "difference" in terminology between his teaching on the so-called universal justification and that, for example, of fellow Synodical Conference teacher Adolph Hoenecke of the Wisconsin Synod. However, Franz Pieper did not consider the difference significant. He said the theology of Hoenecke and Walther was the same.



Writings about Pieper

When one compares the writings of Franz Pieper on his predecessor Walther to the writings of his successors on him, the comparison is astounding. The only one who carried the old Missouri doctrine to any degree of purity beyond Pieper would be Theodore Engelder and the earlier J.T. Mueller.

Theodore Graebner biography


Ludwig Führbringer - 80 Eventful Years




Theodore Laetsch


A Final Word

Franz Pieper, along with Georg Stöckhardt, Herman A. Preus, Jacob Aall Ottesen, U.V. Koren, Adolph Hoenecke and others, recognized the greatness of the doctrine as taught by C.F.W. Walther. And it started with the Lutheran doctrine of Justification- Objective and Universal!

"That’s nice" says the world, "but of course you must believe first before you can be justified. You must remember the great Lutheran tenet, ‘justification by faith.’"

No, I believe what Dr. Pieper taught- there is a justification that exists before faith, before believing it, for all. That is called the universal/objective justification.

"Well, surely you would not discount faith in the order of salvation, would you?" says the world.

I would eliminate faith as a requirement that makes justification true. That would be making faith a work of mine. The Bible teaches that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law. Thereby is the teaching of faith upheld for it teaches the object of saving faith, the vicarious satisfaction worked by Christ.

The picture of the Missouri Synod since the death of Franz Pieper leaves a true Lutheran weeping. For when one considers the glorious beauty of the Gospel as it truly is, as it was proclaimed by the fathers of the Missouri Synod (and the Synodical Conference members), it brings a petition to the lips of all who covet their soul’s salvation that the Lord would again grant teachers who would proclaim it as they did.

What remains to be said in this essay is what would be most important to Dr. Pieper. You, dear reader, must know also that though all men have deserved only eternal punishment and damnation as the result of sin, nevertheless, God has accepted the payment made by His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, in his perfect life, suffering and death. And the Father receipted the payment for all the world to know, for on Easter morning He raised His Son from the dead, declaring the whole world to be righteous in Christ. Now the entire world stands pardoned, acquitted of all guilt. This is the Gospel that was commanded to be preached. Now there is nothing we can do, only believe this, that you are already saved. C.F.W. Walther wrote in 1868: "…you often hear pastors preach, 'You are saved if you believe.' What they should be saying is, 'You are saved so that you might believe."

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