Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 63 - Seminex (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-063 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> DAVID: We are starting to approach our own time, and I suspect that we are all at least vaguely familiar with the fact that the LCMS underwent great turmoil in the 1970's. I'm speaking of course about Seminex. Would you please describe this time and define the issues for us. What would you have us understand about this period of Missouri's history and what lesson would you have as learn? >> DR. LAWRENCE RAST: David, you put your finger on a very difficult period in our synod's history, a period that is really not that long ago, only some 30 years, and the effects of which are clearly still affecting many of us today. If I might say so personally, my own family was profoundly affected by the events of the 1970's when a number of family members actually chose to leave the Missouri Synod because of the positions that it took. So what happened? What was going on? Well, to understand that, we need to step back some ways into the earlier part of the 20th century as the synod struggled to maintain its identity and its mission as it transitioned from a largely German church to a fully American church. In that period of transition, a number of different perspectives were offered as to the future of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. And some very vigorous challenges were presented to the synod as a whole in terms of its overall outlook. The basic question: How would the Missouri Synod relate to the 20th century American scene? Some said we simply need to reaffirm our older commitments. Others said this is a short-sighted view. We need to take into account the situation in which we find ourselves and literally accommodate ourselves to the present situation. Still others said we need to be faithful yet recognize the diversity and the complexity of the current scene. How can we continue to speak faithfully the unchanging gospel message in changing times? Not surprisingly with such differences of opinion, different answers as to the future of Missouri were offered. As time went by and the Missouri Synod Americanized, it simply could not any longer isolate itself from broader cultural and theological influences. And one of the main influences was a topic that was confronting all of American Lutheranism by the middle part of the 20th century. I'm simply speaking here of the question of the authority and character of scripture. Previous to this point Missouri had simply assumed the Bible is the word of God and had repeatedly spoken to that point. As late as 1932, in its brief statement written by Francis Pieper the synod had said that it affirmed the plenary verbal inspiration of scripture. However, other Lutheran churches had begun to dabble in other perspectives, other methodologies, and other constructions of describing the word of God were beginning to be offered. Some would say things like the Bible contains the word of God but wouldn't go so far as to say the Bible is the word of God. Others would say the Bible is the cradle of Christ, for example, echoing the words of Luther but would step back from making a hard and fast statement: namely, the Bible is and simply is. Within the Missouri Synod, this revealed a division of thought that would have profound influences on the future of the church. This especially came to the forefront surrounding one man, a professor at Concordia Seminary St. Louis, named Martin Scharleman, who in a series of exploratory essays in the late '50s began to consider just what does it mean that the Bible is the word of God or that the Bible is God's self-revelation. In one of his exploratory essays he was especially critical of the nature and character of the word inerrancy saying that this notion of the bible being without error, using this particular technical term, led to confusion and actually opened the door to a reformed concept of the Scriptures where the Scriptures became rule and law, rather than source of the gospel. The reaction to Professor Scharleman was vigorous and sustained. In 1962 at the synod�s convention, he was actually challenged to the point where his position as a professor was in jeopardy. He appeared before the synod, apologized for the controversy he had caused, and then withdrew his essays. For some that was not enough because he did not retract or correct what they believed were the errors in those essays. And so they believed what had happened in the wake of the 1962 convention was the allowance for competing perspectives, irreconcilable perspectives, regarding the nature and character of the word of God. This tension was heightened over the course of the 1960's and into the early '70s as new professors, mainly at Concordia Seminary St. Louis, but also to a lesser extent at Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Illinois, the former Fort Wayne seminary now again the Fort Wayne Seminary, as professors began to explore this method, the higher critical method, and take it to its more extreme conclusions. Most of these professors argued they were doing so from a Lutheran posture and were not in any way challenging the authority of the scriptures. But others said by refusing to grant the absolute verbal, plenary inspiration of Scriptures, they were cutting out the ground of the Christian faith. They were turning into Bible doubters, as opposed to Bible believers. It was clear the synod was on the road towards a clash. In 1969, two important things happened. First off, the sitting president of Concordia Seminary St. Louis retired and was succeeded by John Tietjen as president. Shortly after then, within the month, a man was elected to the presidency of the Missouri Synod named J. A. O. Preus -- shortly after Tietjen�s appointment as president of Concordia Seminary St. Louis, J. A. O. Preus was elected President of synod. From the beginning, there was a sense, and many believed this was truly the case, that Preus was committed to the removal of Tietjen and the correction of the faculty at Concordia Seminary St. Louis. The events as they played out over the next several years bear that out. There was the sense that two irreconcilable theologies and positions regarding scripture had come to establish themselves within the seminary, and it would be necessary to address directly this tension. Not surprisingly, the divisions that these perspectives created within the synod lead to heightened tensions. In 1971 in Milwaukee, the synod�s convention approved the use and adoption of extraconfessional statements to determine the theological adequacy of certain professorial expressions. The synod adopted a particular statement in 1973 at the New Orleans convention. At that same convention, it authorized the president of the synod, with the help of the Board of Control of Concordia Seminary, to investigate the seminary and the character of president Tietjen�s leadership. Things came to a head over the latter part of 1973 as several professors were retired and then, in the early part of 1974, when president Tietjen was suspended from his duties on January 20th for failure to carry them out sufficiently. The faculty and student body of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis responded by declaring a moratorium on classes. They refused to attend class. Several professors did continue to hold class but the vast majority of students simply did not participate. When finally, the board of control issued a directive in late February 1974 to the professors either to return to their classrooms or to face the cancellation of their contracts, the faculty refused. And the majority of the student body affirmed them in their action. And the result was a walkout. This simply meant that 45 out of 50 professors and nearly 500 students in the student body of Concordia left the campus at 801 * (Inaudible) and established a new seminary called Concordia Seminary in Exile, known more commonly as Seminex. This precipitated a crisis within the Missouri Synod as the vast majority of fourth-year students faced their calls. Would they be placed or not because they had not been certified by a recognized synodical Seminary? There was much wrangling, discussion, and finally, many of the graduates were placed, but it was a slow and painstaking process. Some said this was an improper action on the part of congregations to call and then to have the district president allowed to be ordained men who had not been rightly certified by the seminary faculty. The upshot of it was that a number of district presidents, eight in total, were accused of malfeasance in their own duties. And in April 1976, these men were relieved of their positions. At the same time, the controversy at the seminary and then within the districts was playing out, there was controversy within the mission board. And a number of mission board members were relieved of their responsibilities. The response overall of the more moderate group that located its source at the Concordia Seminary St. Louis and then with Seminex was to form a confessing movement within the Missouri Synod called ELIM, Evangelical Lutherans in Mission. Later on, they also started another group called Partners in Mission to answer the mission question. The result was literally, you had a church structure already in place of an opposing viewpoint within the synod to that held by the synodical administration and a significant proportion of the synod�s members. The question would be: Could the two positions reconciled. By 1976, certain theologians were saying, from both sides, we can't. And in December 1976, a significant number of congregations, pastors, and members of congregations left the Missouri Synod to form a new church body: The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Congregations and Churches, the AELC. The AELC then continued its work in supporting Seminex and later on was a participant in the merger that led to the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In fact, many say it was the catalyst for that eventual merger. But the Missouri Synod itself had suffered a split. The numbers of those who left varies depending on who you ask. I've seen estimates as high as 450,000 members leaving. I've seen estimates as low as 75,000 members leaving. Perhaps we shoot the gap and look about 175,000 to 200,000 members leaving with a number of pastors as well. President Tietjen continued to express regret on his own part that more did not come out of the Missouri Synod. He expected fully 40 percent of the synod�s membership to leave when the split occurred. But that was not realized. Out of the 2.8 million members of the Missouri Synod, approximately 200,000 left. What does this all mean? And what are the lessons here? The Missouri Synod has continued to experience tension in its midst. And even as we're pushing into the 21st century, we still hear of differences of opinion within our synodical fellowship. How do we approach these things? How do we handle them? We can learn some things from the past. Once again, I think we look at how seriously people were taking their theology and to affirm that seriousness with which they approached these matters. At the same time, we have to be agreed on a basis for the discussion, scripture, the confessions, the right interpretation thereof, and what this specifically means. It is not enough simply to pass resolutions. As good work as synodical conventions do, they alternately are not the forum in which these kinds of arguments will ultimately be resolved. That happens when the people of God, pastors, laypeople, get together within forums under the word of God and the confessions to discuss honestly their differences and to move forward with the Spirit�s help towards a God-pleasing unity. That is no small task, and I know it's one that will continue to face the church. If we've learned anything I think over the course of this particular class is that Lutherans have faced much turmoil and much difficulty as they worked at these questions: Exactly what does it mean to be a Lutheran? What will our church look like here in the American setting? But I can tell you as well that those sorts of questions are not unique to Lutherans. Christians from a variety of traditions struggle with the same issues. What God calls us to repeatedly is faithfulness, faithfulness to his revealed word, faithfulness to that word rightly confessed by the Lutheran confessions, and that then in energizing and moving us toward a vigorous mission of sharing Christ crucified and risen again to a world in need. I don't think the problems will ever entirely go away. That's why we called it the church militant. But even in the midst of ongoing discussion, sometimes tension, even at points, turmoil, the Lord calls us to that faithful confession of his name and a mission that proclaims his name among all nations. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****