The white-haired man was easily recognized by all as he took his regular walk to the post office in his dark suit and tie, for he seldom wore an overcoat or hat even in the Wisconsin winters. Who was this hardy gentleman? His parents had named him John Peter Carl Meyer, but he often went by J. P. Meyer or, more familiarly, Nixie. (nix is Latin for snow.) He signed most of his published articles with a simple M.
His father, Johannes, was a German-born pastor trained under Theodore Harms at the Hermannsburg Mission Seminary. He had planned to go to Africa but was persuaded to go to Wisconsin instead, where he served a congregation in Caledonia. He died there when John was only eleven.
John graduated from Northwestern College in 1893, and from the seminary in Wauwatosa, where he studied under Adolf Hoenecke, in 1896. He “bounced around” for his first twenty-four years in the ministry: pastor in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin; dean at Northwestern College; professor at Dr. Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota; pastor at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin; then back to New Ulm as professor and college president.
In 1920, a vacancy occurred at the seminary in Wauwatosa. Hermann Meyer, John’s younger brother, had died, and John was called to replace him. He would stay there for the forty-four years remaining of his life, and would continue active until weeks before his death. During that time, he taught classes in Christian doctrine, introduction to the New Testament, the interpretation of various books of the Bible, church history, and the Lutheran confessions. He also preached once a month at a nearby congregation.
These were not easy years. He was very active in what has aptly been called “The Thirty Year Controversy” between the Missouri and Wisconsin synods. Missouri had been pursuing the praiseworthy goal of Lutheran unity among the many synods in America, but lost its way when it agreed to joint resolutions with the American Lutheran Church that did not truly settle their differences on a broad spectrum of issues, including such important matters as election and conversion. Missouri also began engaging in unionistic practices in such areas as the military chaplaincy and Boy Scouts. Nixie was in the thick of all these discussions.
Professor Meyer was known as a patient and humble scholar, but these frequent meetings could become taxing. At one meeting between the seminary faculties, Nixie had had enough of the condescending attitude of some St. Louis professors. For his presentation, he began making frequent use of Latin and even responded to questions in that language, driving home the point that his scholarship was second to none.
This scholarship, and his tremendous energy, can be seen in the more than 250 articles he published in the Quartalschrift, the synod’s scholarly magazine. That number rises to nearly 800 when book reviews and comments on news are included. Then there were numerous conference papers and several series of articles written for the Northwestern Lutheran, the magazine for the laity.
Meyer’s humility is often commented on and was shown in several ways. He declined an honorary doctorate degree. He would not put his name to his articles, but only that simple M. Once he was asked to comment on his prominent former colleagues and he said with humor, “Now all that’s left is Nichts” (German for “nothing” and a homonym of nix). When repeatedly asked (even through Convention resolution) to put his class notes on Christian doctrine into book form, he resisted. He did complete the scholarly introduction, but got no farther. He insisted that people go to Scripture for their answers and not just say, “Nixie dixit” (Nixie says).
Pastors’ libraries could benefit from his commentary on Second Corinthians, Ministers of Christ. Church libraries will benefit from having his Studies in the Augsburg Confession. It was written for the lay person and provides a thorough study of that fundamental Lutheran confession.
Norman Greve is pastor of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iron River, Michigan.