Wagner grew up in Knoxville and attended the University of Tennessee. Raised a Presbyterian, he converted to Lutheranism and earned his bachelor's in divinity at Concordia Seminary in St Louis, Missouri in 1965. He was ordained after a year of Vicarage at St Paul's Lutheran Church in Cullman, and then moved to Wickenburg, Arizona as a missionary pastor and a VA hospital chaplain. After a few months he was invited to become the pastor of St Paul's Lutheran Church in Highland, California.
Wagner's next pulpit was Trinity Lutheran Church in Birmingham. He later served as pastor of Atonement Lutheran Church in Pelham, Epiphany Lutheran Church in Montgomery, and Hope Lutheran Church in Birmingham.
Wagner mentored a runaway, Vernon Arnold, and later became his legal guardian. He was also a collector and amassed a keychain collection numbering in excess of 10,000. He died of cancer in 2009 and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.
- "Charles Edward Wagner" obituary (June 1, 2009) Birmingham News
- Faulk, Kent (July 5, 2009) "Birmingham, Alabama minister Charles Wagner used humor, football to win new souls." Birmingham News