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Seminex is the widely used abbreviation for Concordia Seminary in Exile (later Christ Seminary-Seminex). An institution for the training of Lutheran ministers, Seminex existed from 1974 to 1987. It was formed after a walk-out by dissident faculty and students of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, an institution of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and at that time the largest Lutheran seminary in the United States.
Prelude to the walkout
In May 1969, John Tietjen had been elected president of Concordia Seminary after sixteen years as a minister in New Jersey and three years heading up the public relations division of the Lutheran Council in the United States of America. Only two months later, Jacob Preus—then the president of the other LCMS seminary, Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois—was elected president of the synod in a surprise upset over incumbent Oliver Harms. Over the previous decade, Concordia Seminary in St. Louis had developed a reputation as a more liberal institution within the Synod because of its teaching of historical-critical methods of biblical interpretation. Though the charges were reformulated in several different reports, they generally held that the faculty (and, particularly, members of the exegetical theology department) were using historical-critical methods for biblical interpretation, and that these professors improperly stressed the importance of the doctrine or teaching of the Gospel (forgiveness of sins in Christ) over the importance of the whole of the Christian Bible. The September 1, 1972, Report of the Synodical President itself states:
- While the issues are many and complex, the St. Louis Seminary faculty and the synodical President at a meeting on May 17, 1972, agreed that the basic issue is the relationship between the Scriptures and the Gospel. To put the matter in other words, the question is whether the Scriptures are the norm of our faith and life or whether the Gospel alone is that norm?
Preus' 1969 campaign for the LCMS presidency was supported by a conservative faction within the church body that opposed moves by the previous president to have altar and pulpit fellowship with the American Lutheran Church, which did not hold the Bible as infallible and inerrant. His supporters wanted to see the LCMS, and especially its colleges and seminaries, adopt more uniform orthodox and confessional theological stances.
Within a year of assuming office, Preus established a Fact Finding Committee to examine the teachings of several professors. The Fact Finding Committee began interviewing Concordia Seminary faculty members on December 11, 1970. The interviews were completed on March 6, 1971. The tape recordings of the 90-minute interviews were transcribed and summaries with observations concerning significant findings were prepared. Finally a summary of the entire report was written to present a picture of what was being taught at the seminary. The committee presented this complete report to President Preus on June 15, 1971. Two weeks later Preus sent the total report to the seminary Board of Control and the seminary president.
The 1971 convention of the LCMS in Milwaukee, in Resolution 2-28, directed the Board of Control of Concordia Seminary to report to the President of the Synod and the Board for Higher Education by the end of one year. The delegates also instructed the synodical President to report to the Synod. That report, dated September 1, 1972, was mailed to all congregations and pastors of the Synod in September 1972. It came to be called the "Blue Book" due to the color of its cover. The report's 160 pages contained a historical introduction as well as an account on all aspects of the controversy, including meetings, formal statements by various entities, and rulings of the Commission on Constitutional Matters. President Preus then gave his evaluation of the findings of the Fact Finding Committee. The main bulk of the report consisted of a large number of quotations from the transcripts of the interviews with the seminary faculty members. The anonymity of the faculty members was protected. The Blue Book had a powerful effect in the Synod. Based upon the Committee's findings the seminary's board of control was instructed "to take appropriate action on the basis of the report, commending or correcting where necessary...That the Board of Control report progress directly to the President of Synod and the Board for Higher Education".
Ultimately the seminary's Board of Control cleared the faculty of all charges of false doctrine, and in February 1973 the Board commended each member as faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran confessions. But the 1973 LCMS convention in New Orleans condemned the seminary's faculty in a resolution that charged them with "abolish[ing] the formal principle, sola Scriptura (i.e. that all doctrines are derived from the Scripture and the Scripture is the sole norm of all doctrine)". A new, more conservative seminary board of control was also elected at the New Orleans convention, and this new board quickly proceeded to suspend Tietjen from the presidency of Concordia Seminary in August 1973. The suspension was initially delayed and then "vacated" while various groups in the LCMS attempted to find a route toward reconciliation, but Tietjen was again suspended on January 20 of the following year.
Formation of Seminex
The day after Tietjen's second suspension, some of the seminary's students and faculty registered their protest. A group of students organized a moratorium on classes, which had been planned in the fall but was delayed because of the death of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, the graduate professor of Systematic Theology, on December 13, causing the Seminary Board of Control to cancel its December 19 board meeting.
259 students barnstormed the nation for over a week as part of "Operation Outreach," meeting with LCMS congregations to explain what was happening in the rapidly evolving situation in St. Louis. Meanwhile, the faculty majority — which comprised 45 of the seminary's 50 faculty members — declared that the charges against Tietjen, which failed to detail which professors were teaching "false doctrine," were by implication charges against the faculty, and that the faculty now considered itself to be suspended along with their president. With the faculty refusing to teach, and the students observing the moratorium, seminary classrooms sat virtually empty as rumors, futile negotiations, and mutual denunciations cascaded through the Synod. Finally, on February 17, 1974, the Board of Control declared that the 45 members of the faculty majority would be "in breach of contract" if they did not announce by noon the next day their intention to return to the classrooms, and that their teaching appointments at the seminary would thus be terminated.
A large majority of the seminary's students voted on the morning of February 19 to continue their education under the terminated faculty at an off-campus site. Immediately after the students passed their resolution, they and the faculty departed Concordia's campus in dramatic fashion. Singing "The Church's One Foundation," they processed first to the main quadrangle, where students planted white crosses bearing their names, and then to the gothic entryway known as the Walther Arch, which they boarded up with wooden frames bearing the word "Exiled." Television crews clustered round as the procession exited the campus, and, in a nearby park on DeMun Avenue, Tietjen preached on the text from Hebrews 13:13-14 which declares that "there is no permanent city for us here on earth; we are looking for the city which is to come." The event attracted a great deal of media attention, although the seminary's Board of Control subsequently accused the students of disingenuous posturing, noting that several had returned to the seminary cafeteria for lunch immediately after their departure into "exile." It is not clear how the news media came to be present.
The next day, classes officially began at Concordia Seminary in Exile (Seminex), which was first located at facilities provided by Eden Seminary and Saint Louis University. Since Seminex was not yet an accredited school, an arrangement was made with the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) whereby the first class of Seminex graduates would officially receive their diplomas from LSTC. The first graduation was held in the neo-gothic quadrangle of Washington University in St. Louis. John Tietjen, who in October 1974 was finally removed as president of Concordia Seminary, was elected president of Seminex in February 1975.
Within a year and a half of its inception, Seminex had acquired its own facilities, making its home in midtown St. Louis (now generally known as the Grand Center area): first at 607 North Grand Boulevard and then, following water damage to that building, at 539 North Grand. No longer acknowledging the legitimacy of Concordia Seminary and its new administration led by Martin Scharlemann, Seminex faculty and students referred to that institution simply as "801," after its address at 801 DeMun Avenue. However, facing legal action from Concordia, the exiled seminary eventually changed its official name from "Concordia Seminary in Exile" to "Christ Seminary-Seminex" in October 1977.
Church fractures and mergers
In the wake of conservative advancements at the 1973 LCMS convention, opponents had convened a conference in Chicago to chart out strategies. The conference's 800 delegates promised moral and financial support for church members who faced pressure due to their opposition to the actions of the LCMS convention. They also formed a new organization, Evangelical Lutherans in Mission (ELIM), which would serve as a network and rallying point for the liberal wing of the LCMS. ELIM provided financial support to Seminex, along with public-relations assistance via its twice-monthly newspaper, Missouri in Perspective.
During the second half of 1975, presidents of eight districts of the LCMS were threatened with removal from office by the Preus administration because they allowed congregations in their districts to ordain Seminex graduates as pastors. Four were removed in April 1976. In the wake of the Seminex controversy and these removals, a movement to leave the Synod took shape among dissident congregations and church officials, most of them members of ELIM. The largest number of departures came from the LCMS' non-geographical English District, which had joined the LCMS in 1911. The leadership and congregations of the English District that left the LCMS immediately reconstituted a version of the pre-1911 English Synod. In the end, approximately 250 congregations left the LCMS.
In December 1976, these 250 congregations formed a new, independent church body, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). The AELC was led first by the Rev. William Kohn, and, beginning in 1984, by the Rev. Will L. Herzfeld. Herzfeld, an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Alabama chapter, was the first African American to lead a U.S. Lutheran church body. AELC proved to be a more socially and theologically liberal church than the LCMS, and shortly after its inception, it departed from LCMS practice on ordination by opening the ministry to women. To ministers and parishioners who remained with the LCMS, this and other moves by the fledgling AELC may have served to validate their earlier concerns about the faculty majority at Concordia Seminary. Then LCMS vice president Roland Wiederanders, for example, wondered why the new members of the AELC had been unwilling to consider the possibility that they were changing the theology of the church, and if that were the case, why they did not just leave the LCMS and form their new organization years earlier.
This new church body garnered far fewer dissident LCMS congregations than its leaders had initially expected. With congregations totaling about 100,000 members, the AELC represented less than 4 percent of the 2.7 million members of the LCMS. In consequence, the break-away organization could not provide nearly enough pastoral positions for all the graduates of Seminex.
However, the AELC did play an important role in efforts toward unifying the liberal arm of the Lutheran church in the United States. In particular, the AELC's leaders, John Tietjen among them, served as the catalyst for merger talks with two other Lutheran church bodies: the American Lutheran Church (with approximately 2.25 million members) and the Lutheran Church in America (with approximately 2.85 million members). In 1982 these three church bodies agreed to unite as one church. The merger took effect on January 1, 1988, thereby creating the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The ELCA today is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States.
The end of Seminex
Due primarily to its difficulties placing graduates in ministerial positions, Seminex suffered a gradually declining enrollment over the course of the late 1970s. In addition, it was torn between positioning itself solely as the seminary for the AELC, which would have made it difficult to continue to solicit donations from supporters in the LCMS who had remained in that synod, and reshaping itself as a "pan-Lutheran" seminary that would serve many different Lutheran church bodies.
In anticipation of the merger that resulted in the formation of the ELCA, Seminex ultimately dispersed its faculty and students to several seminaries of the ALC and LCA around the country, including the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. The last St. Louis commencement was held in May 1983, although Seminex continued to exist as an educational institution on the LSTC campus in Chicago through the end of 1987. Several professorial chairs at LSTC are still named after Christ Seminary-Seminex.
Because Seminex and the related departures of the AELC congregations removed many liberals from the LCMS, the controversy left the synod considerably more conservative by the mid-1970s than it had been a decade earlier. As one example, the LCMS ended a fellowship arrangement with the American Lutheran Church that had been reached in 1969, and in 1977, the synod withdrew from the Lutheran Council in the United States of America, a body that it had helped to create in 1966.
As recently as 2004, the Seminex battle continued to be addressed by the more conservative camp within the LCMS. "The Seminex Empire Strikes Back," warned the grim subtitle of an article in a conservative synod group's newsletter, its authors claiming that a failure to "learn the lessons" of Seminex meant that the synod was "bound to reap the consequences of walking the path toward the ELCA," which they alleged "continues to spiral downward" through more liberal social and theological stances.
Books, articles, and reports
- Adams, James E. Preus of Missouri and the Great Lutheran Civil War. New York: Harper and Row, 1977. ISBN 0-06-060071-3
- Board of Control, Concordia Seminary, Exodus From Concordia: A Report on the 1974 Walkout. Saint Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1977.
- Frederick William Danker. No Room in the Brotherhood: The Preus-Otten Purge of Missouri. Saint Louis: Clayton Publishing House, 1977. ISBN 0-915644-10-X
- Krentz, Edgar. The Historical-critical Method. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975. ISBN 1-57910-903-9 [A Seminex professor's overview of the interpretive methods behind the conflict.]
- Marquart, Kurt E. Anatomy of an Explosion: A Theological Analysis of the Missouri Synod Conflict. Fort Wayne, Indiana: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8010-6049-4
- Tietjen, John. Memoirs in Exile: Confessional Hope and Institutional Conflict. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8006-2462-9 [First-person account of the Seminex controversy]
- Todd, Mary. Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000. ISBN 0-8028-4457-X
- Zimmerman, Paul A. A Seminary in Crisis: The Inside Story of the Preus Fact Finding Committee. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2007. ISBN 0-7586-1102-1 [This book contains two primary source documents in its Appendix: Report of the Fact Finding Committee Concerning Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, to President J.A.O. Preus (June 1971); and Report of the Synodical President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (September 1, 1972).]
- ELCA Archives, Research Collection on the Moderate Movement in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1932-89, assembled by the Rev. Henry L. Lieske.
- Seminex timeline from the website of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 2014.
- John Tietjen obituary from the ELCA News Service, February 2004.
- A 1999 speech by former Seminex professor Ralph Klein entitled Biblical Studies after Seminex.
- A layperson's account of the Seminex controversy's effects within St. Louis's Bethel Lutheran Church: Part I and Part II.
References and notes
- This practice of overemphasis on the Gospel is labeled Gospel Reductionism.
- This report is available in its entirety in the appendix of Seminary in Crisis, Concordia Publishing House, 2007.
- Resolution 2-28, Proceedings , 122
- Proceedings , p. 138