From the Disk of the Pastor June 2010
Dear Friends in Christ,
It has always struck me as odd that so many people don’t know about major events in the church that have happened in our life time. It is understandable that people don’t know about the Predestinarian Controversy, even though it was the thing that divided the LCMS from the ALC and its predecessors, particularly the Iowa Synod, for nearly a century. After all it took place way back in the 1800's. It’s in the days of our great grand parents or even great-great grandparents, in my case. Parish pastors long ago stopped preaching and teaching about it. You’d have to pick up a book and read about it. Knowing about this battle does explain a great deal about our church and its relationship with other churches, but we’ve long since moved on to other issues. But what about events that people have lived through - things that happened in their own life times? Let’s consider for a moment some of the major events of relatively recent LCMS history. These are things that have happened in our life times, which have shaped the church in a very crucial way.
Seminex, 1969-74. In the 1960's, during the presidency of Dr. Oliver Harms, concerns began to raised about what was being taught at our seminaries, particularly at St. Louis. Harms had no interest in addressing the issues. Things began to heat up in 1969, when Harms was replaced by Dr. J.A.O. Preus II. Preus was the son of Minnesota governor J.A.O. Preus I and was serving as president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois. (Now in Fort Wayne, Indiana) Preus along with his brother Robert were transplants to the LCMS from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) also known as the little Norwegian Synod.
What was the issue? Many professors at St. Louis were teaching that the Bible had errors and was not, in its entirety, the Word of God. They taught that Adam and Eve were not real people, the global flood was a myth, Moses didn’t write the first five book of the Bible, and so forth. The name for this was higher criticism or the higher critical method of interpreting the Bible. Some of those trained by these men even claimed that the gospel has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins.
In the 1973 convention of synod, which met in New Orleans, the historical critical method was condemned as false doctrine and the convention ordered that this was not to be taught at our seminaries. In March of 1974, Dr. John Tietjen, the president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis was removed for promoting higher criticism. Forty-five of the fifty faculty members and a majority of the students walked out in support of Dr. Tietjen. The professors were summarily fired for abandoning their post. It should be noted however, that many would have been removed anyway, given time. The dissidents formed a new seminary which they called Seminex, short for seminary in exile. After the walk out a couple professors from Springfield were likewise removed. The Senior College, located at Fort Wayne, was closed because it too was a hot bed of liberal theology. The pre-seminary program was moved to Concordia, Ann Arbor because it was considered the most theologically solid of our colleges at that time.
The effect of this was a radical change in the training of LCMS pastors. This changed how pastors minister to you. The last of those pastors trained by the Seminex professors before the walkout, will reach retirement age in 2013. A few Seminex graduates did manage to come back into the LCMS, but those numbers are small. The other aspect of this is that men became professors at a younger age to fill the void. Thus, a whole generation of pastors was shaped by those young men who became professors at our seminaries in the late 1970's.
The Preus Controversy, 1989-1994. Robert Preus became president of Concordia Theological Seminary in the mid-1970's. He oversaw the move of the seminary from Springfield back to it original home city, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Through the 1980's he brought in many fine confessional theologians. He also tried to emphasize missions in curriculum. This brought in several professors who were influenced by Fullerism. Fullerism (after Fuller Seminary, a non-denominational school in California) basically teaches that missions is so important that anything is permissible in the name of missions. With the backing of synodical president, Dr. Bohlmann, the board of regents for Fort Wayne attempted to fire Dr. Preus. The intent, as far as can be determined, was to turn the seminary over to the Fullerite professors. There were even rumors that the seminary would be relocated to California, to a property adjacent to Fuller Seminary. This resulted in lawsuits and a great deal of legal and political maneuvering. Only two district presidents, Dr. A.L. Barry of Iowa East, and Dr. Robert Kuhn of Central Illinois, rallied to Preus’ defense. Tensions increased on the eve of the synodical convention when 32 students, who supported Preus, were not placed. Rumors circulated that they would never be placed because they had dared to speak in Preus’ defense. The 1992 convention, meeting in Pittsburgh, replaced Dr. Bohlmann with Dr. Barry. Barry immediately moved to reinstate Dr. Preus. All the ministerial candidates were also immediately placed.
However, further maneuvering followed by the board of regents who still opposed Preus. In 1993 Preus retired. Dr. David Schmiel became president of the seminary, further advancing the Fullerite camp. However, the members of the synod refused to financially support the Schmiel administration. There were memorials sent to the synodical convention demanding a formal investigation of the Schmiel administration. Schmiel retired before the convention, thus finally ending the sad affair. Dr. William Weinrich was made interim president of the seminary and immediately acted to remove the Fullerite professors. He also restored the trust of the people of the synod who again financially supported the school. Dr. Dean O. Wenthe was named to the post of president of the seminary by a new board of regents elected at the 1995 convention of synod.
The Death of A.L. Barry, 2001. Dr. Barry had announced his plans to run for one more term as synodical president. He remained extremely popular in spite of the fact that some thought him too cautious in handling some disciplinary matters - particularly Atlantic district president Rev. David Benke who was accused of unionism for participating in leading joint worship services with leaders other denominations. Without warning Dr. Barry died of pneumonia in the spring of 2001. Dr. Kuhn completed his term, but had already announced his retirement. This set off a mad scramble for the presidency. The result was the election of Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, president of the Texas district, in the summer of 2001. This was quickly shown to be unfortunate when Rev. Benke participated in the infamous Yankee Stadium service, not only with other Christians, but with non Christians. Far from disciplining Benke for this clear violation of our teachings and practice, Kieschnick came to his defense. The matter remains unresolved. Although Kieschnick was narrowly re-elected in both 2004 and 2007, he is regarded as the least supported president in the history of the LCMS.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force, 2007-2010. The 2007 convention endorsed the plan for a blue ribbon task force, which had been appointed by Dr. Kieschnick, to propose a new constitution for the LCMS. The proposal greatly centralizes power in the office of the president. It takes a great deal of power away from the grass roots. This will be voted upon at the 2010 convention. Any portion of it that is approved will then have to be approved by two thirds of the congregations. Strong opposition has arisen against the proposal. Also a strong opposition candidate has emerged - Rev. Matthew Harrison, the director of LCMS World Relief. Our convention will again be a battle ground of opposing forces.
These are some events that every member of the LCMS should know about. All but the young have lived through them. So there is no reason not to know of these events. Each of these events have had a profound effect on the local parish, particularly on how our pastors are trained. So these are not trivial matters. May God enlighten our hearts to issues before us.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.