Pr. Eric Jonas Swensson

September, 2011

Photo of Pr. Eric SwenssonFrancke's years at Halle can be regarded as a case study of a Pietist pastor, but perhaps more importantly, a model for all Christians who want to answer the call of the Lord faithfully. His ministry is a model for a “faith ministry” something that did not develop into a movement until after 1860, pursued by people like Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission. That is, Francke decided if he sensed God wanted something done, he was not going to wait until he knew where the money was coming from. I think he came to trust God would do this for him after the famous story of the Thirty Talers (see below).

Portrait of August Francke

Pastor August Francke

He began slowly. In the beginning, one day a week Francke received people in the parsonage to give out bread. He began as well to solicit funds from his visitors who were better off, placing a box for offerings in his living room, which makes sense as he had many visitors from the nobility, authorities and burghers. Realizing that he was only feeding many of the poor physically, Francke surprised everyone one day asking questions of the poor from the catechism before handing out the bread. This became a regular practice, teaching for half an hour before distribution of bread. He also began to give money to parents of poor children for school books, but learning that often the books went missing, he rented a building and began a school using students from Halle as teachers. He began an orphanage in one rented building and then another, as money came in. In a way that became a pattern for things to come, as he discerned the Lord blessing a work, Francke would often continue it by delegating to an aide, and pursue another venture. In this case, he decided to build a new building. The best example of how faith-prayer became Francke's modus operandi is the example of the construction of the great orphanage.

Statue of August Francke

Pastor August Francke

Having been encouraged and assisted in his attempts he finally resolved that God would answer his prayers to attempt something big, to attempt the erection of a large building, where these orphan children might be received, provided for, and instructed. By a series of wonderful and almost incredible events, he completed a building whose programs included a library of over 20,000 volumes, six schools, an orphanage, a hospital, a program that furnished other institutions with everything they would need to open a hospital of their own, a museum of natural history (do not believe people who say Pietists were ‘anti-intellectual”), and a printing house devoted to making Bibles, hymnals and Christian literature (tracts) available at much less cost that previously imagined. In the year 1727, when Francke died, there were in all the schools connected with this establishment two thousand two hundred pupils. One hundred and thirty-four of these were orphans who lived in the Orphan House, and who with one hundred and sixty other children and two hundred and fifty indigent students, daily ate at the pubic tables of the establishment without charge.


Franckesche Stiftungen

We have a quote from Francke during the time of construction of the Orphan House which illustrates his method of administering an expanding faith ministry. On the day when he was to pay the construction workers, but did not have any funds, he reported, “Contemplating the clear heavens my heart was strengthened in faith (which I ascribe not to my powers, but purely to the grace of God, so that I thought to myself, ‘How glorious it is when one has nothing and can rely on nothing, but knows the living God who has created heaven and earth and puts his trust in him alone.’” At the end of that day, the paymaster came and asked if he was going to be able to pay his men. The answer was no. Francke said that before he had time to speak a student knocked on the door and reported that someone who wished to be anonymous had brought a pouch with thirty gold talers. He went back into the other room and asked the foreman how much was needed for the payment of the builders. He said, “Thirty talers.” Francke said, “Here they are,”and asked if he needed more. He said, “No.”’ Francke said this event strengthened the two he and the foreman both much in faith and they “recognized so evidently the wonderful hand of God.”

By the year 1714, Francke's orphanage had over 2,000 resident students and 100 teachers. It had what was one of the largest buildings in Germany. The townspeople ridiculed him for building it out of stone when a barn-like building would have served the purpose, but it commanded respect for the people who came from all over Europe to inspect it and it still stands today [it is a beautiful building—the East German government has a plan to bulldoze it for a boulevard, and from the beginning of the DDR to its end they did nothing for its upkeep, perhaps hoping some of the building would fall down and then they would have an excuse for tearing it down]. Halle and its missions became a city in itself with hospital, residences for widows and elderly, laboratory for medicines, print shop for religious literature and Scripture, schools for the children of nobility, middle class and the poor, continuing education for the burghers who never received a real education, twenty-six schools in all. All of these became model institutions, effective on a scale hitherto unknown. For example, the Canstein Bible Society, the worlds' oldest, named after Pietist noble and lay theologian, Baron Carl Hildebrand von Canstein (1667-1719), printed 100,000 German Bibles and 80,000 New Testaments between 1712 and 1719. In comparison, Wittenberg, the former center of publishing, printed a combined 200,000 New Testament and Bibles between 1522 and 1626.

School drawing

Franckesche Stiftungen - drawing

In the area of missions, which was unknown since the Reformation, Francke instilled a sense of mission, urgency for the coming kingdom in virtually all the students, and sent out some 60 men into foreign mission, and another 220 through his student, Nikolaus Ludwig Graf, count von Zinzendorf (1700-1760). [Another student, Anton Wilhelm Boehm, became chaplain to Queen Anne's consort, and as presiding minister of the chapel of St. James built relationships with English divines for the Pietist cause. The world's first Protestants commissioned for the conversion of indigenous people, Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Pluetschau, were students at Halle when King Frederick IV of Denmark, whose chaplain was a Halle man, arranged for them to be ordained and sent to Tranquebar.

Francke was a forerunner in the use of media as well as Protestant missions. He began the first international newspaper for Germans, Halest Correspondent, which was actually another first, a missions journal distributing accounts from the mission field to an interested public across Europe. This was followed by a biblical journal, Observationes biblicae, in which Francke published results of his efforts to make Luther's Bibel more accurate, taking advantage of new manuscripts and advances in scholarship. Both of these raised income as well as providing publicity and means to solicit donations from afar. It must be emphasized that while funding came from the German nobility and the King of Prussia, Francke engaged in raising money very creatively, he even traded in goods such as Hungarian wines and Russian furs, but these were all areas in which Halle aided emerging Protestant churches, missions or schools.

Most of all, it must be understood that Francke did it throughout and thoroughly as a faith mission. Plans were made and work begun before the necessary finances were secured. It is not to be supposed that Francke accomplished all this through a knack for organization, rather it was the Pietists belief that “It is the same Holy Spirit who is bestowed on us by God who once effected all things in the early Christians, and he is neither less able nor less active today to accomplish the work of sanctification in us.”