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LCMS. Office of the President. Behnken Administration

Identifier: Collection ID-1699

Scope and Contents

The Behnken Administration Records are arranged into two series: Correspondence and Subject Files. Correspondence, assorted photographs, and background materials are present throughout the records. The bulk of the collection dates from circa 1943 to 1962. Few materials date from the early years of the Behnken administration. Background materials include essays, reports, clippings, and publications that were not produced by the LCMS or by the Concordia Publishing House. Please consult the CHI library for any references to publications not physically located in this collection.

The Correspondence series is arranged into two small groups: a subject group and an alphabetical group.

The subject group letters are arranged within the folders in two ways. The correspondence in folders 1-15 is comprised of letters received by Behnken and his replies to those letters. These are arranged in chronological order within each folder. Much of this correspondence is comprised of complaints by either laymen or pastors concerning disputes in their congregations or with colleagues. The letters in folder 16 are copies of correspondence between other parties that were sent to Behnken for his information. These items are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the addressee.

The alphabetical group of the Correspondence series (f.17-24) consists of letters on a variety of topics received by Behnken and his replies, if any, to those letters. The original filing order has been maintained and these items are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the sender. Most of the material in this series is dated from the 1940s and from the 1950s. Some correspondence related to materials in the Subject Files series has been removed and placed with the appropriate topics.

The Subject Files series is arranged alphabetically by topic and chronologically within each folder. The contents of the folders are primarily correspondence related to a wide variety of topics or with many individuals. Behnken’s replies, usually carbon copies on onion skin paper, were attached to, and filed behind, incoming letters. Therefore, the letters and their replies are filed according to the date of the incoming correspondence. In some folders there are loose carbon copies of Behnken’s outgoing letters which might have been replies but that were not attached to any incoming correspondence. Due to the size of the collection, no effort was made to match these stray carbons to incoming letters. These letters are filed in chronological order along with the incoming letters.

Behnken served as president during the decades of the 20th century that ushered in great change in international affairs and growth in the American socio-economic structure. Many of the records revealed the attitudes, actions taken, and effects of the Second World War and of the Cold War. From the time that Behnken took office in 1935 until his retirement in 1965, the North American membership of the Synod increased from approximately 1.25 million to about 2.6 million. The annual operating budget of the Synod increased roughly eighteen-fold during his administration. It was also during his tenure that the transition from German to English as the official language of the Synod took place. The proceedings of the 1938 Synodical Convention were conducted in English for the first time.

The expansion of mission work experienced a vital period of growth during Behnken’s tenure. LCMS conducted missions in many U.S. communities such as among African Americans and among the deaf and blind. Work also increased among the people on the continents of Asia and South America. Behnken traveled to the South Pacific, India, and Japan in 1955 and sojourned to South America in 1957. The files concerning these trips contained correspondence and some photographs sent to Behnken by the missionaries he met. There were also many unidentified photographs and slides in the John W. Behnken Family Papers. Researchers are urged to consult that collection for additional information related to Behnken’s travels.

The Board for Home Missions in Europe and the National Advisory Emergency Planning Council worked independently, and in conjunction with the National Lutheran Council, to help rebuild churches and congregations in Europe after the Second World War. Behnken visited Europe in October and November of 1945. He met fellow Lutherans in London, in Switzerland, and in the occupied zones of Germany. His letters describe vividly the devastation and the hardships that people faced as they attempted to rebuild their lives (f.304). There are also reports on conditions and activities from various locations in Europe written by Dr. F. E. Mayer, Dr. L. Meyer, and Dr. Walter Daib from 1946 to 1948.

Another significant topic reflected in the records was the drive for unity among various Lutheran groups in the United States, in Australia, and in Europe. Much material regarding discussions over theory and correct doctrine appeared in such files as the Advisory Committee on Doctrine and Practice, the Committee on Doctrinal Unity, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia, the Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran Union, and the National Lutheran Council.

Other names commonly used for the Committee on Doctrinal Unity include Committee on Lutheran Union, Committee on Church Union, and the Union Committee. Much of the correspondence in the Committee on Doctrinal Unity folders is not related to the Committee itself, but rather to the tasks set before the Committee and to the reactions/opinions of various individuals to these tasks.

The Synodical Conference organized the Committee on Intersynodical Relations in 1945 to discuss issues considered divisive to the Conference members. Behnken’s files contain annotated minutes, notes, and some correspondence. Some of the issues discussed by the members of the Synodical Conference include the National Lutheran Council, prayer-fellowship, and the Boy Scout issue. Additional materials on topics found in the Committee on Intersynodical Relations appear in the Wisconsin Synod files.

The Wisconsin Synod files, 1926-1955, contain correspondence and essays/minutes from meetings held between representatives of the two groups. The meeting essays are not identified well and an attempt has been made to file them appropriately. Discussions relate to cases in which the two Synods encountered disagreements in regards to particular congregational conflicts. The remainder of the materials relate to the various issues that caused strained relations between the two Synods.

Internal doctrine and principles are topics of discussions in the late 1940s after a group of 44 LCMS clergymen met in September 1945 and issued “A Statement.” Behnken’s records contain much correspondence with members of the 44, particularly with Rev. E. J. Friedrich, who called the initial meeting of the group. The correspondence includes letters with the Praesidium; the Committee of Ten that Behnken appointed to meet with the Continuation Committee of the 44; and the many letters Behnken received from LCMS pastors and laymen relating their mostly negative views of “A Statement.” The correspondence is arranged in chronological order from 1944 to 1950.

Also present are essays and statements from various individuals which critique “A Statement” and Behnken’s copies of the various documents under discussion during this time. In addition, there are reports and minutes from the meeting held between the Ten and Ten (the Committee of Ten and the Continuation Committee).

There are many theses and opinions solicited by the Praesidium from the faculties of the St. Louis and Springfield seminaries concerning doctrinal questions that arose from “A Statement” and from the events taking place among both American and European Lutheran groups. The question of prayer fellowship had been discussed before “A Statement” was released. Most of these discussions and the subsequent publications emerged in the 1940s and in the 1950s. Drafts, revised papers, and opinions of the Praesidium members and various LCMS ministers are located in the Doctrinal Guidelines files and in the Faculty Opinion files.

Many suggested revisions in the Doctrinal Guidelines files were sent to Behnken by his colleagues and, unfortunately, these revisions have been separated from the cover letters which accompanied them. Therefore, it is difficult to determine which changes were suggested by whom and when the proposals were mailed. Some effort has been made to match the letters and the draft revisions but there are more cover letters present than drafts. Most of the correspondence about the issues appears in the correspondence folders. However, there are some letters in the folders concerning the specific guidelines. The researcher is reminded that Behnken’s replies, when they appear, follow the incoming letters and the accompanying enclosures.

Educational matters related to growth and doctrinal issues are well represented in the records. The discussions on Lutheran union fueled debates among the Synod’s educational community. Behnken looked upon his role in the appointment of faculty to the Synod’s schools as a serious responsibility of his office. He attended most meetings related to faculty matters. The Electoral College files and those files on individual schools and professors reveal the nature of the educational issues that existed during this time.

The John W. Behnken Family Papers contain correspondence, photographs, and background material related to issues represented in the Office of the President Records. Minutes and reports of various committees and boards that were not annotated by Behnken have been removed and placed with the records of the respective committee/board. Please consult the records of any LCMS office, board, or committee and the personal papers of any individuals represented in this collection for additional information on the Behnken Administration.

There is an audio recording of an interview of Dr. Behnken conducted by Dr. August R. Suelflow in November 1965. This recording is included in the Concordia Historical Institute. Oral History Collection (M-0014).

Folders added to the collection after arrangement and description was completed have been placed at the end of the collection, beginning with folder 483.


  • 1935 - 1962


Historical Note

The Office of the President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was one of four offices created in 1847 at the drafting of the organization’s Constitution. The eligibility guidelines agreed upon for this office required that the individual be a member of the clergy and be an active, voting member of a congregation.

The Synod elected C. F. W. Walther the first president. He performed his duties on a part-time basis along with his other pastoral and professorial tasks. From 1847 to 1854 the responsibilities of the President were as follows: to serve as general administrator, to plan and chair the Synod’s conventions, to serve as chairman of the Examining Commission and to sign all documents pertaining thereto, to visit all parishes during a three-year period, to ordain and install all clergymen (a task which could be delegated), to render advice and counsel upon request, to call special synodical sessions in urgent emergencies (after approval by vote), and to suspend temporarily from office any pastor for an immoral life or for heresy.

When the Synod created four districts in 1854, it transferred many of the applicable original duties to the district presidents. However, not until 1864 was the provision for the president to visit all parishes removed from the list of duties. In its stead, the Synod required the president to visit all educational institutions annually and to attend all district conventions and pastoral conferences. At this time, the president became the inspector of the district presidents, requiring him to oversee all synodical and district officers and teachers. The Synod declared that the chief responsibility of the president was to maintain internal unity in doctrine and practice and to speak on behalf of the organization.

In 1874, due to growth, to the addition of two more districts (total of six), and to the request of Dr. Walther not to be re-elected, the Synod altered the responsibilities of the office of the president once again. It no longer required the president to preach at the opening sessions of the district conventions or to attend pastoral conferences that coincided with the district conventions. It also adjusted Dr. Walther’s schedule at Concordia Seminary to fall within the months of November and April and added two regional vice-presidents to assist him.

In addition, the Synod asserted that the president was not a member of the Electoral College in order to prevent any bias in elections. It expressly stated that the president was also not a member of the various synodical boards and commissions, but that he acted as a their supervisor.

In 1881, after the urging of President H. C. Schwan, the Synod transformed the office into a full-time position and provided for a salary and for a free home. To this point the office had been a part-time position, compelling the officer to balance the presidential duties along with the duties to his parish and/or to his teaching. Recognizing the growth of the membership and of the administrative functions, the Synod again altered the supervisory and appointment powers of the office. At various points during the last years of the 19th century, the Synod added new responsibilities and modified older ones.

The effects of continued growth became more evident in the 20th century. In 1908, at the behest of Dr. F. A. O. Pieper, the Synod allowed the president to seek advice and counsel from the vice-presidents (Praesidium) in difficult and important synodical and inter-synodical matters. By 1911, the Synod declared that the president, in order to properly carry out his duties, not hold a pastorate or a professorship. In 1917 the president became a member of the newly formed Board of Directors. In 1926 the Synod directed the district presidents to deal with inter-synodical disputes before consulting with the president in an effort to solve them more quickly. In 1947 the Synod resolved that the president be a member of the College of (District) Presidents. Since the inception of the College of Presidents in 1864, the synodical president had served in an advisory capacity only.

For more detailed information concerning the office of the president please see the following sources:

  • The Development of the Formal Structure of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod From 1847-1897 (A Report to the Synodical Survey Commission), Report 2C, November 1960, by August R. Suelflow.
  • Synodical Handbook (editions printed from 1873 to present)
  • Proceedings of the Synodical Convention

Biographical Note

The Rev. Dr. John William Behnken was born to Helen (Wunderlich) and the Rev. George William Behnken on 19 March 1884 in Cypress, Harris County, Texas. Two other children were born to this union, Meta and William. Behnken’s father died when he was four years old, one month before William’s birth. Five years later his mother married the Rev. Gotthilf Birkmann (1854-1944), a widower with three children and the future president of the Synod’s Texas District. This union produced seven children.

John W. Behnken began his education at Texas parochial schools: in Klein from 1890 to 1893 and continued in Fedor from 1893-1897. In 1897, at the age of 13, Behnken entered St. John’s Academy in Winfield, Kansas. He graduated in 1903 and traveled to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He graduated in 1906 and was ordained on August 12th. Behnken undertook his first pastoral service substituting for his stepfather from July to October. He then moved to Houston where he performed mission work until April 1908. While doing this work he organized the congregation of the Redeemer Church. In April 1908 he became pastor at Houston’s Holy Trinity Church, where he served until August 1935. In addition to his academic work in Kansas and St. Louis, Behnken received honorary degrees from Concordia Seminary in 1934 (Doctor of Divinity) and from Valparaiso University in 1953 (Doctor of Laws).

Behnken married Gertrude Geisler on 13 August 1909. She died on 27 July 1910, shortly after the birth of their son, Victor Louis on 21 July. On 22 April 1914 Behnken married Hilda Anna Grassmuck (born 4 Sept. 1890). The second marriage produced seven children: Ruth Lucille (Droegemueller - 5 Sept. 1915); John William, Jr. (25 October 1917); Donald Edward (25 January 1920); Lester Lloyd (19 August 1921); Lois Marie (Roehrs - 5 Aug.1924) ; Kenneth Wayne (29 Oct. 1927); and Helen LaDelle (Schmelder - 26 Nov. 1932). All eight of the Behnken children entered church service as either pastor, chaplain, parish school teacher, or pastor’s wife. Hilda (Grassmuck) Behnken died at the age of 64 on 20 January 1954.

John W. Behnken held offices in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod throughout most of his career. He served as Vice President of the Texas District from 1919 to 1926 and as District President from 1926 to 1929. He was Second Vice-President of the Synod from 1929 to 1932 and as First Vice-President from 1932 to 1935. In 1935 he became the sixth President of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He remained in the office for 27 years (9 terms), until his retirement in 1962. On this occasion Behnken was named honorary president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

From 1962 until his death, Behnken held the position of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Foundation. He served on the Executive Committee of the “Faith Forward” Movement initiated in 1962. Behnken continued to represent Synod at District conventions as long his health permitted. He died at the age of 83 on 23 February 1968 in Hollywood, Florida.


15.83 Linear Feet (Thirty-eight 5" letter boxes;)

1 Volumes (Oversized scrapbook)

Language of Materials



Physical Location

A.07.1.1 to A.07.1.6

Oversize item

Archives 3 Flat File Drawer 1

Custodial History

Original Collection ID: A-0001

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Office of the President Records, Behnken Administration, were transferred to the Concordia Historical Institute by Dr. J. W. Behnken in July 1960 and in December 1961. Additional records were transferred as a portion of the Executive Offices files by the Executive Officer of the Synod, The Rev. Walter F. Wolbrecht, in July 1963. Additional donations were made by The Rev. William J. Schmelder in May 1968 and at various later dates.

Bibliography of John W. Behnken

"Sermon Outlines," Concordia Theological Monthly
  • Volume 6 (March 1935) pages 199-201
  • Volume 6 (April 1935) pages 297-299
  • Volume 6 (August 1935) pages 605-607
  • Volume 6 (October 1935) pages 766-768
  • Volume 7 (February 1936) pages 136-138
  • Volume 7 (April 1936) pages 288-289
  • Volume 7 (July 1936) pages 521-523
  • Volume 7 (November 1936) pages 847-849
  • Volume 8 (January 1937) pages 40-41
  • Volume 8 (April 1937) pages 284-285
  • Volume 8 (August 1937) pages 607-608
  • Volume 10 (April 1939) pages 280-282
  • Volume 10 (August 1939) pages 614-616
  • Volume 11 (March 1940) pages 191-193
  • Volume 11 (April 1940) pages 293-295
  • Volume 11 (May 1940) pages 359-361
  • Volume 12 (February 1941) pages 120-121
  • Volume 12 (July 1941) pages 529-530
  • Volume 12 (November 1941) pages 847-849
  • Volume 13 (January 1942) pages 54-56
  • Volume 13 (April 1942) pages 295-296
  • Volume 13 (November 1942) pages 866-868
  • Volume 14 (January 1943) pages 42-44
  • Volume 14 (May 1943) pages 357-359
  • Volume 15 (January 1944) pages 59-60
  • Volume 15 (May 1944) pages 336-338
  • Volume 17 (June 1946) pages 448-450
  • Volume 18 (May 1947) pages 364-365
  • Volume 18 (October 1947) pages 767-769
  • Volume 20 (March 1949) pages 189-190
  • Volume 21 (October 1950) pages 756-759

  • "Emergency Appeal to Our Pastors," Concordia Theological Monthly. Volume 3 (October 1932) 721-724.
  • "Fellowship Among Lutherans," Concordia Theological Monthly. Volume 18 (February 1947) 120-126.
  • "Forward," Concordia Theological Monthly. Volume 32 (October 1961) 581-582.
  • "Forward," This Church of Ours: For Times Like These. St. Louis: Ev. Luth. Syn. of Mo., Ohio, and other states, undated
  • God is Our Refuge and Strength. New York: The Lutheran Press, 1942.
  • Know Your Synod's Work. St. Louis: CPH, 1961
  • "Lutheran Council in the United States of America," Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly. Volume 39 (January 1967) 147-156.
  • Mercies Manifold: Radio Messages Broadcast During the Summer of 1949. St. Louis: CPH, 1950.
  • and L. Meyer. Mission to Europe. (copy of the report made by the authors to the Emergency Planning Council meeting at CPH on 28 December 1945).
  • Noonday Sermons. St. Louis, CPH, 1925
  • "Pastor and Synod," Concordia Theological Monthly. Volume 8 (October 1937) 729-736.
  • Preconvention Meditation by the President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. St. Louis, CPH, 1962.
  • "Sola Gratia," Concordia Theological Monthly. Volume 23 (October 1952) 750-752.
  • "A Statement," Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly. Volume 43 (November 1970) 182-185.
  • "Statement Re Organization for 'Cooperation in Externals'," Concordia Theological Monthly. Volume 14 (April 1943) 288-291.
  • This I Recall. St. Louis, CPH, 1964. (autobiography)
  • Training for Mind and Heart. St. Louis: Lutheran Hour Address, undated
  • "The Way We Have Come," Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly. Volume 39 (July 1966) 51-63.
LCMS. Office of the President. Behnken Administration
In Progress
Marvin A. Huggins
Revised 1 August 2003 and 30 August 2004
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Concordia Historical Institute Repository

804 Seminary Place
Saint Louis MO 63105 USA