Old Missouri’s Negro Mission

We seek to reach this goal only through the clear, pure preaching of the Gospel, which yields its fruit in its proper time.

The following report is a translation from the April 1, 1884 issue of Der Lutheraner. Franz Pieper was a young professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and a member of the Commission for Negro Mission. It is a simple but fascinating window into the missionary zeal of the Old Missouri Synod, which is instructive for us today.

In reading Pieper’s report, one notices how the Negro-Mission did not simply cater to felt needs. The sects employed that method, gaining converts mostly through emotional manipulation. In withholding instruction in basic Christian doctrine, the poor people were left in a state hardly different from before. Missouri’s Negro-Mission asserted the Catechism with young and old, gaining true converts who could articulate their faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were unashamed to share something true, something superior—a concise summary of the Christian doctrine made for the common man, no matter the color of his skin.

One will also notice the realist outlook which the Old Missourians had in their missionary efforts. Pieper spells it out clearly. Missouri’s priority was the “Inner Mission”, which was their effort to target Germans still pouring into the United States. They made this their focus because the Missouri Synod shared a common language and culture with these people. They were “neighbors” in the closest sense of the word. Using God-given reason, it would make sense to pour most of their limited resources into this area. At the same time, one sees Pieper’s clear heart for the Negro-Mission. This was difficult work. Converts were mostly gained only one at a time. But armed with the Catechism, there was work at hand to be done. Jesus died for all people, and this truth was not lost on the Old Missouri Synod. It would have been much easier to abandon that work entirely, but with honest and faithful theological leadership, it was work these men saw as necessary. One sees in this report how their labors bore fruit.

Pieper’s report can teach us much today. If we would heal the racial divides which are so exploited in our country today, we do not do it by teaching critical race theory or heightening cultural sensitivity on our Lutheran college campuses. It is not in appropriating Negro spirituals into our worship, especially when so many Lutherans today are probably more familiar with the Gospel-bereft “Were You There” than with Gerhardt’s magnificent “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” Such efforts have only accelerated our decline. We must assert the Catechism again and show how it is appropriate for all cultures, all sinners in need of a Savior.

As the Old Missourians did, we must start at home with those closest to us, those who are in actual earshot. With little successes, we can keep radiating outward. It is true that many of our parishes are becoming quite empty, but God be praised that we still have them. We can fill them again and let that Gospel momentum carry out to the heathen who need Jesus too. For too long we have been content to support foreign missions while our own parishes have fallen apart. Pieper teaches us to start at home, and there is no shame in that. In no way does it signal indifference to the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pieper and those like him had confidence in the tools which they were given. We too can be confident in what we have in the Evangelical Lutheran Church: the Bible, the Catechism, and the Hymnal. We can be confident that God will work in souls to receive the pure Gospel through these tools. We do not have to coddle and stroke and take shortcuts with those who receive our missionary efforts. Such accommodation is really only another subtle form of racism. Instead, we will treat them like men and women, as God made them, people with real hearts and minds, precious souls redeemed by the blood of Christ.

Our Negro Mission

In our Negro-Mission there are presently six workers active: three missionaries and three teachers. They have distributed themselves across the individual stations in the following way. In Little Rock, Arkansas there is a missionary and a teacher. In New Orleans, Louisiana there is a missionary working along with two teachers. In Meherrin, Prince Edward’s County, Virginia there is also a missionary presiding over a school. It will no doubt be interesting to the readers of Der Lutheraner if we share some data from the latest requested parochial report. There are 61 communicant members in these stations: in New Orleans 42, in Little Rock 15, and in Meherrin 4. In the year 1883 there were 42 of these who became newly accepted members: in New Orleans 33, in Little Rock 6, in Meherrin 3 (until February 1884). Through falling away and self-exclusion the mission lost 10 members in the last year, 6 in New Orleans, and 4 in Little Rock. There were 371 students in the parish schools: 215 in New Orleans, 116 in Little Rock, and 40 in Meherrin. 225 students were instructed on Sundays in the Catechism and Biblical History: 125 in New Orleans, 80 in Little Rock, and 20 in Meherrin. 27 adults were instructed: 20 in New Orleans, 6 in Little Rock, and 1 in Meherrin.

If one compares the success of the Negro-Mission with the so-called Inner Mission, there is no comparison. This circumstance is because here and there hearts have cooled in relation to the Negro-Mission. But one ought to understand right now that the Negro-Mission is functioning under quite different and more difficult circumstances. The Negroes must for the most part be won from coarse superstition and radical enthusiasm through the power of the Word of God—one at a time. It is true: the sects working among the Negroes have greater “successes” to show for their labors. But we could probably record the same “successes” if we conducted our work in the same way as the sects. The sects put aside thorough instruction in the Christian doctrine in order to win souls and form congregations; they believe they have done their work with a so-called awakening or conversion. But what passes for an awakening or a conversion, more often with Negroes than with whites, is just an arousal of feelings. Now we also want to have no unconverted, but converted members in our Negro-congregations. But we seek to reach this goal only through the clear, pure preaching of the Gospel, which yields its fruit in its proper time. Such Negroes will be received into our congregations when they have completed thorough instruction in the Catechism and can give an account of their faith.

We do not mean to say it is a small thing that until now has been achieved through God’s grace in the Negro-Mission. Is it a small thing that a number of adults, who in part were unbaptized heathen, have been won? Now they are glad that they have arrived to a recognition of the pure Gospel. They gladly hear God’s Word and also lead a godly life. Some have even fallen asleep happily in the comfort of the Gospel which we brought to them. Above all it is no small thing that several hundred children are learning day in and day out our Lutheran Catechism, this incomparable epitome of the entire biblical doctrine, which Luther “as an old doctor” still prayed every day. This is a seed, which will bring its fruit through God’s grace.

To be sure, our main task in this land remains the so-called Inner Mission. This is the most immediate work to which the Lord of the church has pointed us here. If we neglected this work, we would leave the good work undone which the Lord has commanded us above all things under the prevailing circumstances. But next to this work we should also have a heart for the Negro-Mission which we have begun to tackle. The Lord is also with us in this work according to his promise. What concerns earthly resources, may God give us enough, so that we continue to engage both the Inner Mission, as well as the Negro-Mission and the Mission to the Jews. May the Lord himself, who has so generously blessed us, work that all kinds of good richly dwell among us.

F. Pieper

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Ryan Loeslie

Rev. Ryan Loeslie is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Dimock, SD.

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