Christ Seminary – Seminex
The LCMS Confessing Movement in Exile
Pastor Tom Hahn, Christ Seminary – Seminex, Class of 1978
Tom Hahn was at the Senior College at the beginning of Seminex. After his ordination in 1978 he served several congregations in Alberta, Canada and Wisconsin. Still active in ministry, he reflects here on decisions made early in his seminary education that changed his life. He also reflects on Seminex, the event that changed Lutheranism in America.
“What the hell is going on??”
That’s all I wanted to know: “What the hell is going on??”
A lot of us who were well into our last year at Concordia Senior College in Ft. Wayne were asking that question, as rumors were flying and as questions were being asked, but no answers were being given, and as the entire Concordia “System” that was so safe and so secure and so predictable was now suddenly coming unglued, and unhinged and undone, as all of the synodical wheels seemed to be coming off.
The phone lines between Ft. Wayne and St. Louis were burning up, because we wanted to know, “What the hell is going on??” And we wanted to know where we would literally go from here.
Up until now, life was plainly mapped out for a pre-ministerial student in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: Four years of high school; two years of junior college; two years at the Senior College; and then off to either the St. Louis or the Springfield seminary—before being handed your call documents and your future in a fancy large envelope and then going out into the world and out into a Church and out into the Office of the Holy Ministry.
But—all of a sudden—a lot of things that had been simmering and stewing in the ecclesiastical cauldron that was the Missouri Synod began to boil over. Everything finally blew in the cold winter days of early 1974.
“MAYER OUT; TIETJEN OUT; SEM CLOSED!” was the headline that screamed from the front page of a moderate Lutheran newspaper, called Missouri in Perspective.
And we all wanted to know, “What the hell is going on??”
Like the student body at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the student body of Concordia Senior College, Ft. Wayne, called a moratorium on classes, so that we could find out what the hell was going on and so that we could make the best choice possible on where we would go to seminary in the fall.
Everybody who was anybody was flown in to Ft. Wayne to try to woo us to his school or to his cause or to his side. Jack Preus came. John Tietjen came. They all came. Of course, even Herman Otten came.
And, eventually, it was time to make a decision: Concordia, St. Louis, Concordia, Springfield, or Concordia Seminary in Exile.
Theology and politics were extreme pressure points for all of us. For me, it finally came down to this: Up until 1973, the LCMS had been bragging that its Concordia Seminary in St. Louis was the finest Lutheran seminary in the world, that it had the finest Lutheran seminary faculty in the world. And, to my way of thinking, the finest Lutheran seminary faculty in the world had just moved down the street a bit. So if I wanted to continue to receive the best theological education possible, then, I would just move down the street a bit, too.
I don’t think so.
That “moving down the street a bit” was so much more than just a change of scenery. That “moving down the street a bit” turned out to be a huge leap of faith.
The beautiful Gothic buildings at 801 DeMun were now classrooms scattered across the Roman Catholic and United Church of Christ campuses of St. Louis University and Eden Seminary. The Concordia Quadrangle was now a large open room, dubbed “The Commons,” which was filled with a lot of noise, and with a lot of people and with a lot of faith. It seemed that faith was about the only thing that we had left.
We worshiped in the Jesuit Chapel and, as I’m sure it was in the Chapel in Clayton, the worship was so rich and so meaningful, as the God we were worshiping was so real and so close.
Eventually “Concordia Seminary in Exile” became “Christ Seminary-Seminex” and The Commons at St. Louie U. gave way to the top floors of the old University Club building in downtown St. Louis, where, when you looked to the west, you could see Luther Tower off in the distance, and you wondered if the distance between the two seminaries could one day be bridged. But as time went on, the gap and the gulf between the two schools and between the two Confessing Movements in the LCMS became wider and wider—and wider.
Seminex always seemed to be a maddening mixture of emotions that ran the gambit: The fear of the unknown and of the path not traveled; the hope for reconciliation and the sadness when reconciliation did not come; the frustrations of pulling all-nighters, trying to understand something that seemed to be just out of reach of being understood; the laughter and the camaraderie, when hamburgers and bratwursts were being grilled up on Friday afternoons; the friendships and the love that would never fade or die between those who taught and those who were taught; between anybody and everybody, who knew what “exile” was all about. And the faith in God.
The Faith in God
I think it was God–and the people who had faith in this God–who made Seminex what it was.
It was the people who put their careers and their families and their futures on the line for the sake of the gospel. It was the people who stood up for what they truly believed in. It was the people who were driven by their deep, deep faith in God, and by their deep, deep desire to teach and to send out another generation of preachers who would be “faithful to their calling and faithful to their Lord.” It was the people.
It was the people, like the gentle, but courageous John H. Tietjen, and the liturgical presence of John S. Damm, and that Teacher of Preachers, “Doc” Richard R. Caemmerer. It was the people, like the Selah, Selah, Selah! of George Hoyer, and the Brothers Danker. It was the people, like Klein and Kalin, and Bertram and Schroeder, and Smith and Jones. It was the people.
It was the people, like the artistry of Bob Werberig, and the humor of Gil Thiele, and the music of Mark Bangert. It was the people.
It was the people. It was the faculty and it was the staff. It was the people. It was their wives, and their husbands and their kids. It was the people. It was all of those people.
It was the people. It was all of those people, who were willing to give up everything for the sake of us students and for the sake of the Gospel. It was the people.
It was the people. It was the people, who were so faithful to God and it was the people, who were so loving to us. It was the people.
It was the people; it was these people,—and their faith—and it was God,——-who made Seminex what it was.
And Seminex ultimately was a Confessing Movement of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which itself had originated as a Confessing Movement.
According to an old promotional pamphlet, Seminex was “conceived in crisis and born in faith.”
But the Confessing Movement of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod that gave birth to Christ Seminary-Seminex is so very, very much older than a mere forty years.
The Confessing Movement of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wasn’t born at the Rivergate in New Orleans or on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, or at the “Conference on Evangelical Lutheranism,” held at a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Chicago. The LCMS Confessing Movement wasn’t born in 1974 or in 1973 or in 1969.
The true origin of the LCMS Confessing Movement that was embodied in Seminex, in all actuality, is a recurrence of past confessing movements of the Missouri Synod, and of the Lutheran Church and of the Christian Church.
This was highly evident when one heard and still hears supporters of both factions of the Synodical controversy of the 1970’s claim that their stance and that their actions were and still are grounded in the constitution of the Missouri Synod, and in the Lutheran Confessions of the sixteenth century, and in the Bible itself.
Cries of, “We are just continuing what has happened in the past!” were and still are heard on both sides of the fence that has divided Missouri and that has slashed true Lutheran and Christian unity.
Where would Martin Luther and Jesus Christ Himself have gone to seminary, if they were going to seminary in the early 1970’s?
It depended on who you talked to.
The LCMS Confessing Movement that was Christ Seminary–Seminex “originated” as the Confessing Movement that was the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod itself, which was being formed and was taking shape in the early nineteenth century.
In November of 1838, a group of Saxon Germans found themselves in a “state of confession.” [These Saxon Lutherans] “…were being persecuted by the Saxon government because they believed it their duty to adhere to the doctrines inculcated by their great leader and contained in the Augsburg Confession of Faith.” These Lutherans were searching for religious, as well as civil liberty.1 They felt that their “…precise, exact, and systematic doctrinal formulations…, which presupposed the verbal, historical, and scientific inerrancy of Scripture,” were being shaken by the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. They saw their doctrine and their Scripture and, thus, their very faith being threatened with destruction to the very foundations by the Pietism and the Rationalism brought about by the Enlightenment.
The Saxons also saw their faith being threatened when the Prussian Union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches attempted to blend and combine their orthodox beliefs with Pietism. The Prussian government wasn’t concerned about doctrinal differences that existed between these two churches. The Prussian government’s main concern was national unity. To the Lutherans, this was intolerable. Their faith would not be compromised for any reason.2
These Saxon Lutherans were also in the midst of a Confessional revival. They were taking a renewed and serious look at their faith and at the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. They would preserve these at all costs.3
And so, early in 1839, some seven hundred Saxons exiled themselves from Germany and settled in Perry County and St. Louis, Missouri, holding fast to the traditions and doctrines of the founders of Lutheranism.
On April 26th, 1847, these Saxons, along with other Lutheran immigrants, met in Chicago and formed “Die Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche von Missouri, Ohio und anderen Staaten,” The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other States. The new Synod remained faithful to their anti-rationalism beliefs. They remained faithful to their pure doctrine.
But, during the rest of the nineteenth century and on into the early twentieth century, this loyal spirit of Lutheran Confessionalism became overshadowed by the rigidity of traditionalism and denominationalism4, as Missouri strove for its members to unanimously hold to its publica doctrina, that is, the “doctrine that is public, or generally recognized or accepted.” Frederick Danker saw this “public doctrine” as being equivalent to “tradition”:
…tradition…comprises the collective memory of the corporate ego (i.e. public doctrine) and outsiders wanting in are expected to acquaint themselves with the content of the collective data bank…Missouri’s public doctrine (came to) include more than 618 items…It embraced whatever formulations, interpretations, or practices had gained as strong a foothold in the Missouri Synod that to deviate from them would brand one as “un-Missourian,” the equivalent of ecclesiastical leprosy.5
“Consensus on doctrine and practice…reigned supreme in Missouri.” The LCMS became “more state of mind than church.” Missouri saw the strict adherence to doctrine and practice as being a continuation of their confessional stand of 1839, and of Luther’s in 1517. They were keeping their doctrine and their church—pure. They saw themselves as, indeed, being “synod”; as, indeed, “walking together.”
But, there were others, who saw Missouri not as “walking together”, but, as “marching in a lock-step or tribunal uniformity.”6
This striving for consensus and the insistence of “pure doctrine” began to build walls around the Missouri Synod. Other Lutherans must accept and agree with Missouri’s purity of doctrine, or no cooperation or unity could be possible. “Missourians regarded themselves as forming the only true visible church on earth.”7
In its effort to be a confessional movement to the world and to the Church at-large, Missouri developed a strict traditionalism, which, in turn, developed into a strict denominationalism, which, in turn, developed into painful separatism and isolationism.
But, the LCMS didn’t see it this way. It continued in its quest for pure doctrine from both its own members and from other Lutherans and Christians, as a “genuine gesture toward Christian unity, true ecumenism.” Franz Pieper echoed Missouri’s logic when he declared, “By our doctrinal position we work not to separate, but to gather and unite.”8
Missouri’s thirst for pure doctrine was commendable, in that it showed its loyalty to the Lutheran Confessions and to Holy Scriptures. But, it seemed that her efforts to quench her thirst for pure doctrine also prohibited Missouri from growing, and from reaching out to other Christians and from participating in a unified effort with other denominations to proclaim the Gospel to the world.
Its thirst for pure doctrine also shifted Missouri’s priorities from being totally dedicated to the Holy Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions, to becoming totally dedicated to preserving its own traditions, and its own public doctrine and its own “corporate ego.”
But, as Missouri was nearing its centennial, many of its members saw a need for change in “Old Mother Church.” The spirit of Confessionalism, so evident at the Synod’s beginnings, was again reappearing, as people were taking a fresh and serious look at the Confessions, and discovering, once again, what it meant to be “Lutheran.” New generations were gaining a new appreciation of the Lutheran Confessions, and the centrality of the gospel, and the Church catholic and of Biblical scholarship.
This “renaissance” of the Confessions took place in a number of ways and for a number of reasons: After Dr. Walter A. Maier began “bringing Christ to the Nations” via the Lutheran Hour radio broadcasts, many people “who were not from our (LCMS) background traditionally came into the Lutheran church.” As these new Lutherans joined Missouri, they brought their own traditions, and their own practices and their own “fresh” view of the Confessions and Holy Scriptures.9
The faculties of both Concordia, St. Louis, and Concordia, Springfield, seminaries also contributed to the renewed look at the Lutheran Confessions and the Scriptures when, for the sake of accreditation for the seminaries and in order to earn their doctorates, they attended other theological schools, which held differing traditions and viewpoints than Missouri held. These professors brought back “different traditions” to the seminaries, and began teaching these new insights—these “new traditions”—in synodical classrooms. “They weren’t denying any of the fundamental doctrines…but, they did have a different tradition for explaining how these things might be.”10
Such men as Mayer, Piepkorn, Bouman, Caemmerer, Bretscher, Hoffmann, and Kretzmann had experienced the same renewed respect for the Confessions and the Scriptures that the founders of the Missouri Synod had experienced one hundred years earlier. These men, these teachers of preachers, wanted to share with their students and with their Church their new enthusiasm for the gospel, for the Confessions and for Church unity–and share it, they did. Their desire was that Missouri redefine her priorities, once again, placing the Holy gospel and the Lutheran Confessions over and above human tradition, just as they had done.
The “Statement of the 44,” signed on September 7, 1945, was yet another way of leading Missouri back to her confessing stance of 1839 and 1847.
Many of Missouri’s “sacred cows” of the past century, such as man-made traditions, synodical authority, “man-made walls and barriers and all ecclesiastical traditions which would hinder the free course of the gospel in the world,” organizational loyalty (at all costs), and doctrinal differences having priority over Christian fellowship, were “deplored” in the “Statement of the 44.” The “44” wanted Missouri to come out of her shell of human traditionalism, denominationalism, and isolationism to once again breathe in the fresh air of the Lutheran Confessions, the centrality of the gospel and the whole Body of Christ.11
The goals of the signers of the “Statement of the 44” were to get Missouri back into its original state of confession, to foster and promote Lutheran and Christian unity, to replace human tradition with the gospel and the Confessions as Missouri’s primary item of importance, and so forth.
But, perhaps they and others who were involved in the confessional “reawakening” of the 1940’s and 1950’s were also fearful for Missouri. Perhaps they were also issuing Missouri a word of caution. Perhaps they saw Missouri changing sociologically from a religious institution, which encompasses and chaplains its culture to a religious institution, which makes uncompromising demands in opposition to “world” or culture. Perhaps they saw Missouri changing psychologically from a “church,” which is open to criticism and reform, to a “sect,” which rejects reform of itself.
Only history would—and did—provide the answer.12
But, this Confessional “renaissance” did not go unchallenged. Those who supported Missouri’s traditionalism and denominationalism, those who wanted “pure doctrine” at all costs–even if that meant isolationism, those who believed that Missouri was the “one, holy, Christian and Apostolic Church” would not take the “new” traditions, and the “different” teachings and the “unjust” calls for reform lying down.
There were those in Missouri who believed that basic theological differences, as well as various “new” and “different” traditions, existed in the Synod. As their forefathers had felt in Prussia, they felt that their theology, and their doctrine and their very faith were being threatened by new forms of rationalism (i.e. the historical critical methodology of interpreting the Holy Scripture). They felt that consensus was no longer unanimous within the Missouri Synod. And so, resolutions were passed at the biennial synodical conventions, urging all members to conform to the “pure doctrine” of Missouri. They wanted to ensure “the Synod speak with a unified, single voice to (doctrinal) matters.”13
But, some felt that these precautions on the part of the Missouri Synod’s “traditionalists” didn’t seem to be enough, or go far enough. Different ways of interpreting Holy Scripture, different from that of traditional Missouri, were still being taught at the seminaries. The “corporate ego” of the LCMS was still not completely unified. The “pure doctrine” of Missouri could still be undermined by new and different traditions that were infiltrating the Synod.
Something had to be done. And, something was done.
Disgruntled Missourians who felt that their “pure doctrine” was being tainted by “new” methods of studying Scripture and that the consensus of Missouri’s “corporate ego” was being broken down by fellowship with other Lutherans, who didn’t hold the exact doctrine of practices that Missouri held, found a rallying point in the person of Dr. Jacob A. O. Preus II. These orthodox Lutherans viewed Dr. Preus as a vanguard for all they believed in and held dear. Preus also “had the knack of drawing these people together, which he did.” In 1968, a group of these “loyal Lutherans”, who were concerned that Missouri’s “pure doctrine” and “corporate ego” be kept intact, met at the home of Jacob Preus, then the President of Missouri’s Springfield (Illinois) Seminary, and organized what “for lack of a better term” could be called “a political party which ran Dr. Preus for (synodical) president at the 1969 convention in Denver.”14
The orthodox Lutherans, who saw themselves as the true Confessing Movement of the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod elected Preus as President of the LCMS at that convention. Just one month earlier, Dr. John H. Tietjen, who was to become the standard-bearer for the more progressive Lutherans, who saw themselves as the true Confessing Movement of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, was called to be the President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
With the electing and the calling of these two churchmen, the events of the next six years began to unfold and unravel at a very swift pace. In less than eight years, a church that had prided itself in its consensus in the areas of doctrine, practice and mind-set for the last 122 years, would find itself shaken to its very foundations, as it would be torn apart, with its consensus shattered.
And for the last forty years,—like Cain and Abel; like Isaac and Ishmael; like Jacob and Esau,—both factions, who claimed to be the Confessing Movement of the Missouri Synod; both factions, who had been “cut from the same cloth”, went to war with each other; a war that is still being fought.
Names like “John Tietjen” and “Jack Preus”; “Harlan Harnapp” and “Leonard Beulow”; “Martin Scharlemann” and “Ralph Bohlmann”; documents like, “The Blue Book”, and “Faithful to Our Calling – Faithful to Our Lord” and “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles”; phrases like, “Tietjen must go”, and “not to be tolerated in the Church of God”; “garbage in, garbage out” and “heretic”; “walkout” and “exile”; “Seminex” and “Clayton”; even numbers like “3-09”, and “3-12A” and “60/40” and “801”; even hymns like, “The Church’s One Foundation”,—were all rallying cries and lightning rods for everyone in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; for everyone, who, ultimately, was “cut from the same cloth.” These names, and documents, and phrases, and numbers and hymns don’t have to be explained to those, who were there in those days and, who are still here in these days. These names, and documents, and phrases, and numbers and hymns are more than just history. They are a part of who we are.
During, and since the time these events rocked the Concordia Seminary campus, and the Missouri Synod and the whole of American Lutheranism, a “re-formation” has been taking place,—at first within and then outside,—of the denominational walls of the Missouri Synod: The accused faculty majority of Concordia Seminary confessing their faith, as they issued a protest against what they considered to be the unLutheran and unchristian practices of the LCMS; the formation of Evangelical Lutherans in Mission (ELIM) and Partners in Mission (PIM); the student and faculty majority publicly confessing and protesting, as they entered into exile to continue their theological education and their Divine Calls; and the organization of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) are all visible signs of this “re-formation”;—this Confessing Movement,—that grew out of the fierce family feud within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod that itself began as a Confessing Movement.
This “re-formation” would continue, as the AELC, and the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) would come together in dialogue and, finally, in full merger in 1988 to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
But what prompted this LCMS Confessing Movement to reappear in Missouri? What “resurrected” this Movement?
Speaking on behalf of the LCMS Confessing Movement, Dr. John H. Tietjen15 cited five primary issues that activated the LCMS Confessing Movement: (1) Biblical interpretation, (2) the nature of the authority of the Bible, (3) the nature of the Church’s mission, (4) congregational autonomy versus Synodical centrality, and (5) the unity of the Church.
One more issue could be added to this list, and that is (6) the seemingly legalistic policies that have prevailed over the Missouri Synod since the very beginning of this church controversy.
To all orthodox Missourians, who believed and believe that they were and are the Confessing Movement of the LCMS, the one major issue that precipitated the tragic events and the resulting Confessing Movement that was Seminex was a doctrinal issue. Jack Preus saw the primary issue as this:
…Make no mistake about this, brothers, what is at stake is not only inerrancy (of Holy Scriptures) but the Gospel of Jesus Christ, itself, the authority of Holy Scripture, the quia subscription of the Lutheran Confessions, and perhaps the very continued existence of Lutheranism as a confessional confessing movement in a Christian world.16
The official stance of the Missouri Synod saw the use of the historical critical methodology of interpreting the Bible as denying the facticity and the historicity of all events and sayings in the Bible; as denying the verbal inspiration of Holy Scriptures by God; as placing the Bible on the same level as any other book or piece of literature, thus, denying the unique and distinctive authority of the Bible. They saw the historical critical methodology, as well as the new trails of fellowship with other Lutherans and other Christians, who may have held differing interpretations of doctrine and practice, as attacks on the Bible itself and on their doctrines and their theology and on their very faith in God.
The “corporate ego” of the Missouri Synod was being bruised by the “intrusion” of “new” traditions and “different” teachings. And so, the Synod dealt with “the issues” in the only way it knew how: Corporately.
RESOLVED, that the Synod assert its continuing concern for the ‘conservation and promotion of the unity of the true faith’ in accord with Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions; and be it further
RESOLVED, that the Synod repudiate that attitude toward Holy Scripture, particularly as regards its authority and clarity, which reduces to theological opinion or exegetical questions matters which are in fact clearly taught in Scripture (e.g., facticity of miracle accounts and their details; historicity of Adam and Eve as real persons; the fall of Adam and Eve into sin as a real event, to which original sin and its imputation upon all succeeding generations of mankind must be traced; the historicity of every detail in the life of Jesus as recorded by the evangelists; predictive prophecies in the Old Testament which in fact are Messianic; the doctrine of angels; the Jonah accounts, etc.); and be it further
RESOLVED, that the Synod recognize that the matters referred to in the second resolved are in fact false doctrine running counter to the Holy Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and the synodical stance and for that reason ‘cannot be tolerated in the Church of God, much less be excused and defended. (FC, SD, Preface 9).17
The “corporate ego” of Missouri saw the “new” teachings and “different” traditions that were being imposed upon the seminaries and upon themselves as a severe doctrinal crisis, being in direct conflict with the Holy Scriptures, and the Lutheran Confessions and the Constitution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Those in Missouri’s camp utilize the historical grammatical methodology in their interpretation of Holy Scripture. Since the Bible is the Word of God, and since God does not lie, therefore, all words in Holy Scripture are to be taken as true fact, be it in the area of doctrine, history, or science.
Those in the Confessing Movement utilize the historical critical methodology in interpreting Scripture, which utilizes various literary apparati, including extra-Biblical literature, to find and to study the historic meaning of a text, its literary form, and function and so on. This methodology does not, as its critics claim, “tear the Bible apart.” Instead, it gives helpful insights and understanding to Holy Scripture, all the while not adding or subtracting one thing to the content or meaning of the Bible.
The Nature of the Authority of the Bible
The second issue that served as a catalyst for the Confessing Movement was that of the nature and authority of the Bible.
Those who support the publica doctrina of Missouri find the authority of Holy Scriptures to be grounded in the inerrancy of Scripture:
…We believe, teach, and confess that because the Scriptures have God as their author, they possess both the divine power to make man wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (causative authority), as well as the divine authority to serve as the Church’s sole standard of doctrine and life (normative authority.) We recognize that the authority of Scripture can be accepted only through faith and not merely by rational demonstration. As men of faith, we affirm not only that Holy Scripture is powerful and efficacious, but also that it is “the only judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong.” (FC, Ep., Rule and Norm, 7)18
Those of the Confessing Movement, on the other hand, see the authority of Scriptures as being found in the gospel of Jesus Christ:
…But the Scriptures can only ‘instruct us to salvation’ because it contains the Gospel, the message of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. Without this Gospel, the Scriptures would be either an unintelligible history of religions, or a revelation of the incomprehensible wrath of God. Only the witness of Christ makes a Bible of the Bible. It is for this reason that the doctrine of the sinner’s justification for Christ’s sake is truly the key to the whole Scriptures. Only the person who has grasped this doctrine, and through it has come to an understanding of the Gospel, can comprehend the Scriptures…19
The Nature of the Church’s Mission
A third issue that rests at the heart of the LCMS Confessing Movement is that of the nature of the Church’s mission. “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” defines the issue according to the “consensus” of the Missouri Synod:
…The primary mission of the Church is to make disciples of every nation by bearing witness to Jesus Christ through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. Other necessary activities of the Church, such as ministering to men’s physical needs, are to serve the Church’s primary mission and its goal that men will believe and confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.20
The members of the Confessing Movement would have little or no argument with this aspect of the mission of the Church. However, as Rev. Walter Mayer, former Secretary for North American Missions of the LCMS pointed out, the Missouri Synod seemed to have a “hidden agenda” regarding the nature of the mission of the Church:
…The Board for Missions has engaged in a power struggle so that it can control the decisions and the actions of mission units overseas and at home. The chief issue at stake is the centralization of power. Or, to put in into a theological context, it is an issue of legalism versus evangelical action.21
Judging from Mayer’s remarks, it seemed that the “consensus” of the Missouri Synod was also deeply entrenched in its mission fields. The unwillingness of Missouri to combine their mission efforts with those of other denominations; the unwillingness of Missouri to become involved in the mission and ministry to the whole man, rather, concentrating its efforts on the spiritual aspect of its mission to the world are further evidences of Missouri’s “corporate ego” being its primary concern.
To these, the members of the Confessing Movement felt obliged to protest and to confess. Their beliefs and their actions echoed the Mission Affirmations, which the Synod had adopted with a near unanimous vote in 1965, but, which had also entered into a state of neglect by the Synod since that time:
…We repent of our individual self-centeredness and disobedience, whenever it has caused us to regard our local congregations or our Synod as ends in themselves and moved us to give self-preservation priority over God’s mission…Christians will approach men of other faiths in humility and love. They joyfully acknowledge that God is active in the lives of all men through His creative and providential concern, through the law written in their hearts, and through God’s revelation of Himself in creation and nature. Christians affirm a common humanity with all men. They confess a common sinfulness. They rejoice over a universal redemption won for all in Jesus Chris…The Evangelical Lutheran Church is chiefly a confessional movement within the Body of Christ rather than a denomination emphasizing institutional barriers of separation.22
Congregational Autonomy versus Synodical Centrality
A fourth issue at the center of the LCMS Confessing Movement is that of congregational autonomy versus synodical centrality.
The Constitution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod proclaimed Missouri’s official attitude regarding this issue of ecclesiastical authority:
…the Synod is not an ecclesiastical government exercising legislative or coercive powers, and with respect to the individual congregation’s right or self-government, it is but an advisory body. Accordingly, no resolution of the Synod imposing anything on the individual congregation is of binding force if it is not in accordance with the Word of God or if it appears to be inexpedient as far as the condition of the congregation is concerned.23
Dr. C. F. W. Walther himself spoke of this issue of ecclesiastical authority in his Presidential Address of 1848:
…But what would be the result if such congregations by their entrance into our organization (the LCMS) had obliged themselves to submit to all of our orders? The exercise of our power would have laid the foundation for constant dissatisfaction, for constantly reviving the fear of hierarchical efforts, and thus for endless frictions.24
Those of the Confessing Movement would not and do not hold any disagreement in these views on ecclesiastical authority.
However, at its convention in 1973 the Missouri Synod adopted Resolution 2-12, which gave the synod the power it needed to keep and to control its consensus. At that convention, Jacob A. O. Preus illustrated the official shift of Missouri regarding ecclesiastical authority, which caused protest and confession from the Confessing Movement:
…Someone in this church ought to have the authority to determine how we today interpret and confess our Lutheran faith and the authority to maintain it in our pulpits and classrooms… Please remember what is at stake. We must retain our synodical voice and keep the authority of the Synod to bind its spiritual leaders to the understanding we have of our faith and to empower our officials to act when departures from our biblical and confessional position takes place.25
The Unity of the Church
The fifth issue at stake is the issue of the unity of the Church.
Throughout its history the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has faced a difficult problem: It had desired to cooperate and participate with other Christian denominations in carrying out the work of the Church. But, the synod also wanted to preserve the “purity” of its doctrinal beliefs and views. For Missouri, it was simply not possible—to have both. Missouri opted for the latter. “Pure doctrine” held a greater priority over “fellowship” and, in so doing, over the entire issue of Church unity.
To keep its doctrines “pure,” Missourians would not pray with people of other denominations—not even with other Lutherans. During the First World War, Missouri refused to join other Lutherans in a pan-Lutheran chaplaincy program. Missouri has refused to become a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Altar and pulpit fellowship between Missouri and the old Lutheran Church in America never existed and the altar and pulpit fellowship that existed between Missouri and the old American Lutheran Church was a fellowship conducted “in a state of protest” and was also short-lived,—all due to variations of doctrinal views and practices held by the two synods.26 And, of course, when the AELC and the ALC and the LCA merged in 1988 to form the ELCA, any and all hopes for continuing or renewed altar and pulpit fellowship between the ELCA and the LCMS faded rapidly.
As the ELCA ecumenically reached out to other Christian denominations, the LCMS found it more and more difficult to continue any cooperative ministries between to two Lutheran bodies. That difficulty was clearly expressed in the passage of Resolution 3-21A at the 2001 LCMS convention (held in St. Louis), which stated in part:
Whereas, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is in altar and pulpit fellowship (“full communion”) with Reformed church bodies, the Episcopal Church and the Moravian Church; therefore be it
RESOLVED, The 2001 synodical convention affirms the late President Alvin L. Barry’s judgment that “we cannot consider them (the ELCA) to be an orthodox Lutheran church body” (President’s Report, CW, p. 7);…27
And if there were any lingering doubts as to where the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod stood in relation to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, those doubts were laid to rest in order to rest in peace on February 8th, 2012, at a Committee on Lutheran Cooperation meeting between the then-Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Rev. Mark S. Hanson, the President of the LCMS, Rev. Matthew C. Harrison and other representatives from the two Lutheran Church bodies. The meeting was held at the ELCA’s Lutheran Center in Chicago and was remembered by Bishop Hanson:
In the opening devotions, I read from Mark 8 and Jesus’ prediction of His passion, and then Peter rebuked Jesus, and Jesus rebuked Peter. I opened the meeting by saying I’m afraid the Lutheran witness in this culture and our relationship with each other has become more one of being mutually rebuking of each other than together proclaiming the death and resurrection of Christ. I believe that strongly. We must find a way to get beyond a relationship of mutual rebuking to a shared proclaiming of the crucified and risen Christ.
Then, later in the conversation, President Harrison said, “Our work with this building is over.”
…It’s clear that for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), our cooperative efforts in ministries in Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran Services in America, Lutheran Disaster Response, our work with HIV and AIDS, military chaplaincies and other chaplaincies is over as church-to-church relationships of witness in the world. I expressed my deep, deep disappointment that our God-given, spirit-filled capacity to respond to the suffering of our neighbors should now be diminished because of our theological differences. …President Harrison acknowledged that there will be ways in local communities where LCMS congregations and individuals would work together with ELCA congregations and individuals, but the formal relationships through our shared ministries have come to an end. That is a cause for deep lament.28
A cause for deep lament, indeed.
For all intents and purposes, the Missouri Synod has, and is, isolating herself from many members of the Family of Lutheranism, and from many members of the greater family of Christianity, as well. But, Missouri does not see this issue in terms of isolationism. Instead, she views it as being in the spirit of ecumenism. The words of Franz Pieper continue to speak for Missouri: “…by our doctrinal position we work not to separate but to gather and unite.”29
Those of the Confessing Movement cannot and do not agree with Missouri’s logic concerning the issues of Church unity. Calling on the Mission Affirmations of 1965, that “God is active in the lives of all men through the creative and providential concern, through the law written in their hearts, and through God’s revelation of Himself in creation and nature,” recognizing that all people have a “common sinfulness.” recognizing that all Christians, regardless of denomination, “rejoices over a universal redemption won for all in Christ Jesus,” those of the Confessing Movement wish to “approach men of other faiths in humility and love,” and believe that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s function within the Church catholic should be “a confessional movement within the total Body of Christ rather than a denomination emphasizing institutional barriers of separation.”30
Legalism and Church Politics
The final issue that faced both the LCMS and the LCMS Confessing Movement was the issue of seemingly legalistic ecclesiastical politics.
Throughout the history of the LCMS, the President of the synod and all elected officials were regarded as the synod’s chief pastors, their positions existing for the purpose of advising their fellow pastors, as well as the districts and congregations of the synod. The office of the synodical president as well as all elected offices were not meant to be the means of procuring and securing an end,—that is, the control and the domination of the synod and its members.
But, since the late 1960’s, this has no longer been the case.
It was then that a “political party” was formed to ensure the election of an individual to the presidency, for the expressed purpose of “cleaning house” in Missouri; of ridding the LCMS of any “new” traditions or “different” teachings that threatened the continued existence of its “corporate ego.” Active campaigning occurred before and at conventions to make sure that the “right” people, those, who supported the publica doctrina of Missouri, were elected to commissions, boards, committees and agencies. Those who publicly accused others of “false doctrine” and other offenses were, at times, also the “judge and jury” that convicted the “offenders.” All this was done in the name of preserving Missouri’s purity of doctrine.
Those of the Confessing Movement felt that they were obligated to respond to the political machinery of Missouri, although they knew that they would have little, if any, success in confronting it.
And yet, they did respond. They confronted. They protested. They confessed.
But, their responding, and confronting, and protesting and confessing were directed toward a much greater issue than that of church politics. They responded to the one issue that over-rode and over-shadowed all other issues: That of the gospel of Jesus Christ being silenced by attempts of the Missouri Synod to add “pluses” to that gospel, in hopes of guaranteeing the continuance of Missouri’s “corporate ego.”
The members of the Confessing Movement saw the demands of the synodical administration (and those supporting it) upon all members of the synod to comply completely with Missouri’s traditions and “public doctrine” and all constitutional bylaws and all synodical resolutions passed in convention, as declaring the gospel of Christ and the sacraments satis non est; as being “not enough.” They witnessed the above church usages, normally being adiaphora, being elevated to the same level of authority as Holy Scriptures, the Sacraments and the Lutheran Confessions. Because of this, the Confessing Movement found itself in a “state of confession.”
The members of the LCMS Confessing Movement saw the bylaws, the doctrinal resolutions, the majority votes, and the public doctrine of the Missouri Synod as being variations of Missouri’s “secular authority.” In and of itself, this “secular authority” may seem to be harmless, “fair,” “for the sake of good order and decorum or else to preserve Christian discipline.”31
But those of the Confessing Movement saw Missouri’s “secular authority” as limiting the gospel of Jesus Christ when it was put on the same level as the pure doctrine of the gospel of Christ and the sacraments, thus saying (however indirectly) that this same gospel and sacraments are satis non. Those of the LCMS Confessing Movement saw the “equalization” of Missouri’s “secular authority” (in all its forms and variations) being accomplished by means of “force and coercion (i.e. legalism and church politics), or by surreptitious (or seductive) methods.”32
Thus, in the eyes of the LCMS Confessing Movement, Missouri’s legalism and its binding resolutions, and Missouri’s demands of strict conformity to its publica doctrina and its “corporate ego,” became agents of attempting to stifle and silence the gospel of Jesus Christ, thus threatening its preservation. Missouri’s “secular authority” thus stood in opposition to the Gospel and the sacraments. It had, in effect, became an enemy of the Church of God.33
Missouri’s “secular authority” was also seen as being in direct opposition to Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, which stated:
…It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian Church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian Church that ceremonies (or adiaphora, or the “secular authority”), instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. It is as Paul says in Ephesians 4:4-5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”34
For the last forty years, the Confessing Movement of the LCMS has indeed experienced a very painful and difficult existence, as it strove and still strives to bring its Mother Church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, back to adhering to the true meaning of what it means to be a Church; that the gospel and the sacraments are, indeed, sufficient, and do not need any “plusses” tacked on to them; that all Christians are members of the Body of Christ, and not just a few.
The severe “growing pains” that the Confessing Movement experienced, as it endeavored to find its direction and function within Missouri, and Lutheranism and the Church catholic occurred—and still occur—when the two forms of the Confessing Movement that existed and that exists today in the LCMS, come into conflict and collide with each other. This was seen in the firing of District Presidents in 1976. This was seen in the dismantling of Concordia Senior College. This was seen at Yankee Stadium in the very, very dark days after September 11th, 2001. This was seen at Newtown, Connecticut, in very, very sad days after the Sandy Hook mass murders. This is seen when people gather together to worship and to pray and to receive Christ’s Holy Meal, but when all who gather together to worship and to pray and to receive Christ’s Holy Meal are not all Missouri Synod Lutherans. This is seen when the issues and the concerns of the ordination of women and unionism and syncretism and LGBT recognition and same-sex marriages are even dared to be brought up for discussion.
This was and this is seen at these times and at other times of dedication and commitment, when some truly believe that they must stand up for the sake of the gospel and, when others truly believe that they must stand up for the sake of pure doctrine and the publica doctrina and the “corporate ego” of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
The Confessing Movement is still alive in the Missouri Synod.
And Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau are still squabbling.
We are all still Christians. We are all still Lutherans. We all still stand up for our convictions and for what we believe in,—even if what we believe in seems to be opposed to what our brothers and our sisters believe in.
We are all still “cut from the same cloth.”
We are all still “Family.”
A Family who fought and a Family who is still fighting today.
Which makes all of this that much sadder.
On February 19th, 2014, forty years to the day when the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Confessing Movement went into exile,—I wrote the following with both sadness and hope:
Forty years ago the vast majority of students walked off the campus of Concordia Seminary in Clayton, Missouri, vowing not to return until the Seminary’s Board of Control and the leaders of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod would specifically identify those faculty members whom they had accused of teaching false doctrine and also to identify exactly what heresies were being taught in the classrooms at 801 DeMun.
They never came back.
Instead,—they, and the majority of the faculty who were teaching them and so many students after them continued to walk. They continued to walk into exile. They continued to walk by Faith, because, that’s about all they had left: Faith.
And Seminex was born.
Some say that Seminex is the underlying cause of all that is problematic in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has a severe case of “Seminexitis,” which, when diagnosed, simply means that nobody trusts anybody anymore.
Others say that Seminex was the embryo, that Seminex was the very first piece of the puzzle that would eventually become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Some say that John Tietjen and his faculty were the harbingers of everything heretical.
Others say that John Tietjen and his faculty were faithful to their calling and were faithful to their Lord and were instrumental in the formation of Lutheran and Christian unity.
Some say that the students who were taught at Seminex were simply sheep, being led astray by false shepherds.
Others say that the students and those who taught them were visionary and literally took Faith at its word.
Some say that the moderate faction in the LCMS is dead, or, at the very least, is in very critical condition.
Others say that the moderates in the LCMS are just keeping their heads down and their mouths shut, as they continue to do their best in preaching and living out the gospel.
Some say it was all political.
Others say it was all about theology.
So, who’s right?
Who won the Great Lutheran Civil War?
Those who want to be “right” at all costs say that they have won, because the heretics have been purged from the beloved Synod, but, there is still more work to be done.
Those who want to reach out, not only to other Lutherans, but, also to other Christians with the freedom of sharing the Gospel that transcends denominational fences and barriers say that they have won.
Those who want to preach pure doctrine in the pulpit and to practice it at the Communion Table say that they have won, but there is still more work to be done.
Those who want to include instead of exclude say that they have won.
I went to Seminex. And, if I had to do it all over again, I would.
A lot of my friends and a lot of my Family went to Seminex and supported Seminex. And, if they had to do it all over again, they would.
A lot of my friends went to Concordia, St. Louis, or Concordia, Springfield, or Concordia, Fort Wayne, and supported the Sems. And, if they had to do it all over again, they would.
Everyone stood up for their convictions.
Everyone stood up for their beliefs.
So—who’s right? Who won?
The Eighth Commandment took a beating back in the 1970′s—and it’s still getting thrashed and trashed today.
Matthew 18 was a casualty forty years ago, and it’s often missing in action today.
The wounds are still deep.
The divisions are still wide.
The hurt is still real.
The pain is still raw.
The trust is still absent.
On both sides.
On all sides.
Or——-did we all lose?
If old friends and old enemies could just get it through our heads—that the Church is big enough for all of us; if old combatants and old colleagues could simply realize that sharing the Gospel is so much, much more important than “Who won?” or “Who lost?”; if I could learn how to forgive and if they could learn how, too, then there would be a winner. There would be a definite winner.
I would win. And so would you.
They would win. And so would we.
And all of those people who live in that sick and sad world out there; all of those brothers and all of those sisters of Jesus, even and especially the least of them, just might be the biggest winners of them all.
I don’t think so.
1. Frederick W. Danker, No Room in the Brotherhood (St. Louis: Clayton Publishing House Inc., 1977), 7.
2. E. Clifford Nelson, ed., The Lutherans in North America (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 149-150.
3. Rev. Dr. John H. Tietjen, from a lecture, September 19th, 1977, Christ Seminary- Seminex, St. Louis, Missouri.
4. Rev. Dr. John H. Tietjen, from a lecture, September 19th, 1977, Christ Seminary- Seminex, St. Louis, Missouri.
5. Danker, No Room in the Brotherhood, 10.
6. James E. Adams, Preus of Missouri (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 15-16.
7. Adams, Preus of Missouri, 18.
8. Adams, Preus of Missouri, 19.
9. Rev. Herman Frincke, “Traditions in Harmony, Traditions in Conflict,” For the Sake of the Gospel (St. Louis: Student Coordinating Committee, 1974), 6.
10. Frincke, “Traditions in Harmony, Traditions in Conflict,” 6.
11. Danker, No Room in the Brotherhood, 21-24.
12. Rev. Dr. Walter R. Bouman, from a lecture, October 10th, 1977, Christ Seminary- Seminex, St. Louis, Missouri.
13. Concordia Seminary Board of Control, Exodus from Concordia (St. Louis: Concordia College, 1977), 4, 6.
14. Frincke, “Traditions in Harmony, Traditions in Conflict,” 8.
15. Rev. Dr. John H. Tietjen, from a lecture, September 19th, 1977, Christ Seminary- Seminex, St. Louis, Missouri.
16. Concordia Seminary Board of Control, Exodus from Concordia, 20.
17. “Resolution 3-09,” For the Sake of the Gospel, 80.
18. A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (St. Louis: Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, March, 1972).
19. Rev. Dr. John S. Damm, “I Believe,” Faithful to Our Calling – Faithful to Our Lord” – Part II – “I Believe” (St. Louis: The Faculty of Concordia Seminary, 1972), 9-10.
20. A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles.
21. Rev. Walter Mayer, The Issue in Missouri, unpublished.
22. Danker, No Room in the Brotherhood, 187-188.
23. Danker, No Room in the Brotherhood, 28.
24. “Two Views of Synodical Authority,” Missouri In Perspective, vol. 1, no. 3 (November 19th, 1973), 6.
25. “Two Views of Synodical Authority,” 6.
26. Adams, Preus of Missouri, 18-19.
27. Resolution 3-21A of the 2001 LCMS Convention (St. Louis, Missouri).
28. Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, “Report of the Presiding Bishop to the ELCA Church Council” (Chicago: April 13th-15th, 2012).
29. Adams, Preus of Missouri, 19.
30. Danker, No Room in the Brotherhood, 187-188.
31. FC SD X.1, The Book of Concord, ed. Theodore Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959), 610.
32. FC SD X.3, The Book of Concord, 611.
33. Rev. Dr. Robert W. Bertram, excerpts from “A Time for Confessing or When Is the Church a Confessing Movement?”, an essay delivered at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, October 21st, 1977.
34. AC VII.2-4, The Book of Concord, 32.