Edmund Reim (1892-1969)
Seminary President (1953-1957)
By Richard D. Balge
When Adolph Reim graduated from the seminary, he and a classmate volunteered to serve as instructors at the recently founded Dr. Martin Luther College. He stayed to serve as a professor, and Edmund Carl Reim was born in New Ulm, Minnesota, on February 12, 1892.
Gottlieb Reim, Edmund’s great-uncle, served as president of the Wisconsin Synod in the mid-1860s. He had received his theological training at a missionary training school in Germany, and there he gained an appreciation of the Lutheran Confessions. As a Wisconsin Synod pastor he played a role in the synod’s move from “moderate Lutheranism” to a confessional Lutheran position.
At age 15, Edmund enrolled at Northwestern College in Watertown, Wisconsin, to prepare for study at the theological seminary. As a collegian he joined the staff of the student magazine, The Black and Red, editing “College Notes.” He played cello in the college orchestra. As a member of the college military company, he suffered painful burns in an accidental explosion of gunpowder.
In 1914, he graduated from the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary, then located in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and accepted a call to serve as assistant pastor of Friedens Congregation in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His assignment included teaching in the congregation’s Lutheran elementary school. His work in the southern areas of the city led to the establishment of two congregations, St. Luke and Bethany.
In 1915, the young pastor married Selma Schaller, the daughter of Professor John Schaller, at one time president of Dr. Martin Luther College and then of the seminary. God blessed the couple with three sons and a daughter. All three sons would serve as pastors in the Wisconsin Synod and all three would follow their father into the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC). One of his sons recalled, “He was a gentle father and preferred to let us learn by our mistakes.” Students would remember him as that kind of professor as well.
From 1922-1930, he served as pastor of St. John, Fox Lake, where he started a Lutheran elementary school and served as the only teacher for seven years. In 1930, he accepted the call to serve two congregations, St. Paul and St. John, at Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, northeast of Fond du Lac. From 1935-1940, he served as pastor of Trinity, Neenah.
When Reim was installed as professor at the seminary in 1940, he brought with him twenty-six years of pastoral experience. The call stipulated his teaching assignments: Symbolics (Lutheran Confessions), Church History, Old Testament Isagogics (Introduction). “Also, Homiletics” (the preparation and delivery of sermons), the call said. Beginning in 1941 and continuing until his resignation in 1957, he also taught Liturgics, the theology and practice of leading worship. For some years he taught Pastoral Theology on the basis of Paul’s Epistles to Timothy and Titus, as well as teaching the first-year course in Encyclopedia and Methodology, a survey of the theological curriculum, evaluation of theological resources, and recommended study habits.
In his seventeen years on the faculty, he served in various administrative capacities. Early in his tenure he assumed the office of bursar. During the 1952-53 term he served as dean of students, and continued in that post during the years of his presidency. In 1953 he became the seventh president in the seminary’s history, succeeding Professor John P. Meyer.
When he became president of the seminary, Professor Reim already had two decades of experience addressing issues of Lutheran union and unionism. His efforts included intensive dialog with representatives of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Wisconsin Synod peers and seminary students agreed with Missouri Synod leaders who spoke of his “irenic disposition.” Even those who did not agree with him or did not later follow his course of action acknowledged that he was a principled, evangelical, patient Christian gentleman.
In 1934, Pastor Reim presented an essay to the Wisconsin Synod’s Northern Wisconsin District, “Church Fellowship and Its Implications.” In 1935, the United Lutheran Church in America addressed “A Friendly Invitation” to other Lutheran church bodies. Synod President John Brenner asked Reim to read his 1934 essay to the 1935 convention of the Wisconsin Synod. “Truth cannot compromise with Error,” the essayist wrote. “When the two meet halfway, Error is still error, but Truth has ceased to be truth. Testimony is at stake. When Testimony loses its note of certainty and concedes an equal place to Contradiction, Testimony is weakened thereby.”
In a June 1940 article, “The Strength of Christian Unity,” he discussed existing differences and tensions between the Missouri and Wisconsin synods. His concluding words still provide sober and apt counsel for the synod that educated him and that he served so faithfully for so many years: “If we will but learn to bow absolutely before the Word of God, if we will but let the decisions which we eventually must make in this union matter be governed entirely by that same authority, if we will learn to eliminate all other considerations from our argumentation and thinking – then we shall be safely guided.”
In the early 1950s, while serving as secretary of the synod’s Standing Committee in Matters of Church Union, the professor outlined the synod’s position on issues such as scouting, the military chaplaincy, and cooperation in ministerial work with churches not in fellowship with the Synodical Conference. What had been a continuing series in The Northwestern Lutheran (predecessor of Forward in Christ) became a booklet, asking and answering the question Where Do We Stand? An Outline of the Wisconsin Position. Professor Reim was its editor and principal author.
He served with President Brenner and Pastor Arthur Voss on a Synodical Conference Committee on Intersynodical Relations. Writing, meeting, conversing, corresponding (while carrying a heavy workload at the seminary), he was likened by President Brenner to “Atlas, carrying the entire battle on his own shoulders.”
At the 1955 biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), delegates unanimously adopted a statement citing Missouri Synod unionism and identifying it as a reason to suspend fellowship: “Whereas the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has created divisions and offenses by its resolutions, policies, and practices not in accord with Scripture, we in obedience to the command of our Lord in Romans 16:17-18, terminate our fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.” Then, by a two-to-one vote, it resolved to “hold in abeyance” a final vote on this resolution.
Final action on the resolution was to be taken at a special convention in 1956, after the Missouri Synod’s convention. About fifty delegates formally protested the “hold in abeyance” provision. Professor Reim, also in protest, offered the synod his resignation as secretary of the Standing Committee and offered the synod and Seminary Board his resignation as president of the seminary. The delegates were unanimous in asking him to continue in both posts and in urging the board not to accept his resignation.
At the special convention in 1956, Professor Reim was strong in his support of the Standing Committee’s recommendation to continue holding the 1955 resolution in abeyance. By a five-to-one margin, the convention resolved to do so.
Meeting in spring of 1957, however, the Standing Committee concluded that the LCMS had not changed its position on the matters that WELS was protesting. The committee’s majority report acknowledged that the situation had worsened but recommended two more years of patient discussion with the Missouri Synod counterparts. Six members of the committee, including Professor Reim, signed a minority report that urged the upcoming convention to terminate fellowship with the LCMS.
At the WELS convention in August, the floor committee charged with making a recommendation on the fellowship issue, voting by a four-to-one margin, called upon the convention to break fellowship with the LCMS: “Resolved, that we now suspend fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod on the basis of Romans 16:17, 18.” By a 77 to 61 vote the delegates rejected this recommendation and resolved to continue in protesting fellowship and continue efforts to restore full unity.
On August 15, 1957, Professor Reim publicly presented his letter of resignation to the synod. In closing, he said: “I trust that you will realize that I take this step, not in anger, but in deepest sorrow, and because I am constrained by the Word of God.”
In Professor Reim’s view resignation from the Wisconsin Synod did not mean resignation from his call as professor and president of the seminary. In a letter to the Seminary Board he wrote, “I have resigned my membership in the synod. I have not resigned my office as teacher at our seminary, nor as its president. … I fully realize that my withdrawal from Synod automatically implies the termination of my call. I have taken this into account, and accept it as the inevitable result. … I have proceeded on the assumption that this will also be the conclusion of the Board.”
He left it to the board to decide whether or not to terminate his call, which – not in haste and not unanimously – it ultimately did. With reference to the Board’s decision, and to similar actions of other calling bodies, Professor Reim’s obituary in The Journal of Theology, the theological periodical of the CLC, would state: “… He had not resigned from these offices, which he held by virtue of a divine call. The validity of such a call is not contingent simply upon synodical membership.”
Professor Reim did not leave the synod in order to join the CLC, which did not yet exist. He did not know where he would go or what he would do. In the autumn of 1957, he went to Rhinelander, where the pastor of the WELS congregation was ill, to assist the congregation in that emergency.
In 1959, the pastors who were organizing the CLC asked him to come to Mankato to help teach future pastors and teachers. When the CLC schools relocated in Eau Claire he continued to teach, serving Immanuel Seminary until the year he died. During those years he also served as editor of his synod’s Journal of Theology. After his retirement from Immanuel, he continued as contributing editor of Lutheran Spokesman. From the time of his resignation to the last years of his service in the CLC, the professor warned his brothers against arrogance or self-righteousness vis-a-vis their erstwhile synod.
When the WELS finally suspended fellowship with the LCMS in 1961, there were those in the WELS who hoped Professor Reim might return to fellowship, if not membership. He did show a deep interest in the Lutheran Free Conferences held during the 1960s and personally attended the meetings as long as he was able to do so.
He was not convinced, however, that the WELS’ action was based on a fully scriptural position. Nevertheless, he was appreciative of the action. He wrote in the October 1961 Journal of Theology: “While the resolution does not settle everything, it did not happen by itself. Some real work was done. Let us be big enough to recognize this. … We are naturally concerned about what is best for our CLC. But let us not lose sight of the larger interest of the Kingdom of God, of the cause of the Gospel.” As he had done since he began his service in the CLC, Reim continued to warn against animosity, arrogance, or self-righteousness toward the Wisconsin Synod.
The Lord called Edmund Carl Reim home on August 22, 1969, a victim of cancer.
For Further Reading:
- Gerald O. Hoenecke, “Edmund C. Reim,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 66, no. 4 (October 1969): 276.
- Edmund C. Reim, Where Do We Stand? An outline of the Wisconsin position (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1950).
- Edmund C. Reim, “Church Fellowship and Its Implications (with Additional Notes on the Possibilities of Lutheran Union).” Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Online Essay File.
- Edmund C. Reim, “An Open Letter to the Protest Committee, Wisconsin Synod,” (October 29, 1958). Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Online Essay File.
- Edward C. Fredrich, The Wisconsin Synod Lutherans (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1992), 198-208.