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The Seminex logo, circa 1974, depicting new life springing from a dead trunk. Design by Seminex faculty member Robert Werberig.
|Concordia Seminary in Exile|
|Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches|
Seminex is the widely used abbreviation for Concordia Seminary in Exile (later Christ Seminary-Seminex) that existed from 1974 to 1987 after a schism in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS). The seminary in exile was formed due to the ongoing Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy that was dividing Protestant churches in the United States. At issue were foundational disagreements on the authority of Scripture and the role of Christianity. During the 1960s, the LCMS church laity grew concerned about the direction of education at their flagship seminary, Concordia Seminary. Professors at Concordia Seminary had in the 1950s and 1960s begun to utilize the historical-critical method to analyze the Bible rather than the orthodox method that considered scripture to be the inerrant Word of God.
After attempts at compromise failed, the LCMS president, Jacob Preus, moved to suspend the seminary president John Tietjen, leading to a walkout from most faculty and students, and the formation of Seminex. Seminex existed as an institution until its last graduate class of 1983 and was formally dissolved and merged with Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 1987. Concordia Seminary in St Louis quickly rebuilt and by the late 1970s had restored its place as one of the largest Lutheran seminaries in the United States.
The after effects of the controversy were vast. Before the split, the LCMS had both modernist and Evangelical wings. After Seminex, 250 modernist congregations would split from the LCMS to form the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) leaving the LCMS a more conservative body than it had been in 1969. The AELC itself would later merge with other modernist Lutheran churches to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
- 1 Background
- 2 Gathering storm clouds
- 3 Synod in schism
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Further reading
- 6 References and notes
Formation of the LCMS
In the 1820s, a group of Saxon German immigrants migrated to the United States and settled in Perry County, Missouri. These immigrants were fleeing the forced union of German churches by royal fiat. Seizing the opportunity to freely practice their confession these immigrants, eventually led by C. F. W. Walther, established what would eventually become known as the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Reacting against the rise of theologians such as Albrecht Ritschl and Friedrich Schleiermacher, Walther emphasized the inspiration and authority of the Bible as well as a strict adherence to the Lutheran Confessions.
In addition to a strict adherence to the Lutheran Confessions, Walther also sought to ensure that the new synod was decentralized and congregational. No congregation could be compelled to accept any resolution from a synodical convention or presidential decree that was contrary to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. Each congregation is to be properly taught by a pastor who has been certified for the ministry by one of the official seminaries of the Synod. The seminaries themselves are overseen by the synodical president, who could not take any action against any official of the synod unless empowered by a resolution passed by the Synod in Convention. It was this governing structure that was to be sorely tested in the Seminex Crisis.
Rise of theological modernism
Beginning in the middle of the 19th century in Germany, a group of philosophers at the University of Erlangen and the University of Tübingen began applying a new method of interpretation of Biblical texts. Supernatural elements of the Bible, such as miracles and the Virgin Birth, were dismissed or explained away in natural terms. Historical accounts in the Bible such as the Hittite Empire and the United Monarchy were assumed to be unreliable, and figures such as Abraham, Moses, and Noah were held to be entirely fictional.
Not limited to just the Bible, theological liberalism also sought to change the way that the Lutheran Confessions were understood. The Confessions themselves never mention the inspiration, inerrency, and infallibility of Scriptures.
The most defensible strategy, it would seem, would be to refrain from using the term "inerrancy" in our presentations. In contexts where we should normally make a statement on this point, we should instead affirm positively that the Sacred Scriptures have the Holy Spirit as their principal Author, that they are the Word of God, and that they are true and dependable. But what if we are explicitly challenged? Then we should first refuse to reply to loaded questions with "yes" or "no."— Arthur C. Piepkorn, "What Does Inerrancy Mean?", Concordia Theological Monthly (1965)
During the synodical presidency of Franz Pieper, these new theological methods had only limited support within the LCMS. In 1932, Pieper authored the 'Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod'. In that booklet, Piper attacked the new theologies, with his book being circulated widely within the synod. So popular was Pieper's position that well into the 20th century, a majority of LCMS pastors described themselves as Pieperians. Despite Pieper's popularity and several resolutions of the Synod in Convention endorsing the booklet, theological modernism slowly made in-roads in the LCMS.
Gathering storm clouds
Under the presidency of Alfred Fuerbringer (1953-1969), Concordia Seminary in St. Louis had developed a reputation as a more liberal institution within the LCMS due to 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?
Beginning in 1959 and continuing through 1973, the laity in the LCMS reacted to the growing modernism at Concordia Seminary by passing a series of seventeen resolutions either affirming full biblical inerrancy or condemning the spread of "antiscriptural teaching" in the Synod. President Fuerbringer roundly ignored these resolutions as well as the growing discontent in the synod. Many conservatives in the LCMS asked whether the seminary was serving the denomination or the denomination was serving the seminary.
Ascension of John Tietjen
At the end of 1968, Fuerbringer, announced his retirement as president of Concordia Seminary, triggering the selection process for his replacement. Presidents of the LCMS seminaries were elected by a vote of the following four entities, with each entity getting one vote: The president of the LCMS, the president of the district in which the institution is located (in this case, the Missouri District), the seminary Board of Control, and the LCMS Board of Higher Education.. At the time, these positions were all under the control of either supporters of the ecumenical movement or theological modernists.
Among this group, there was increasing concern that the incumbent synodical president, Oliver Harms, was going to lose reelection. Harms was a key supporter of the Lutheran Council in the United States of America and other inter-Lutheran cooperation, and the modernist faction was concerned that confessional insurgents would disrupt the process of selection for presidency of Concordia Seminary; hindering the greater goal of Lutheran unity. In addition, members of the seminary's Board of Control would be elected at the convention. There was great urgency to complete the process of selecting a new seminary president before the upcoming synodical convention could interfere. While the procedure for actually electing the seminary president was normal, the timing was unusual in that It was the first time a new president of the seminary would be elected before the actual retirement of his predecessor.
In May 1969, John Tietjen was selected president of Concordia Seminary after sixteen years as a minister in New Jersey and three years heading the public relations division of the Lutheran Council in the United States of America. Although a virtual unknown among the broader synod, Tietjen was well known in the ecumenical movement. The selection of Tietjen caused great excitement among the faculty of Concordia Seminary and in wider Lutheran circles. In the words of the wife of Bob Bertram (then a professor at the seminary), "Tietjen is the one we wanted".
Election of Jacob Preus
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 an upset over the incumbent Harms. Preus's 1969 campaign for the LCMS presidency was supported by conservatives within the church body who opposed moves by Harms to have altar and pulpit fellowship with the American Lutheran Church, which did not hold the Bible as infallible and inerrant. Preus's 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 forty-five professors. 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 seminary president Tietjen.
That report,, called "The Blue Book" due to its cover, was mailed to all congregations and pastors of the LCMS in September 1972. The main bulk of the report consisted of a large number of quotations from the transcripts of the interviews with the seminary faculty members, whose anonymity was protected. The Blue Book had a powerful effect in the LCMS. 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".
The seminary's board of control however had a 6-5 majority in favor of Tietjen and the faculty, and in February 1973 by a 6-5 vote, 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 that convention, and the 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.
Synod in schism
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.
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 staged a dramatic walkout, inviting the local press for the occation. Singing "The Church's One Foundation", they processed out of the seminary grounds, where students planted white crosses bearing their names. The event attracted a great deal of media attention. However the seminary's Board of Control subsequently accused the students of disingenuous posturing, noting that the students had returned to the seminary cafeteria for lunch immediately after their supposed departure and continued to live in student housing for the remainder of the term. All of this occurred during their supposed "exile."
The next day, classes officially began at Concordia Seminary in Exile (Seminex) in 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 at 607 North Grand Boulevard and then, following water damage to that building, at 539 North Grand. The institution also immediately received provisional accreditation through the Assocaition of Theological Schools. 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.
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.
In an attempt to drum up support for their cause, Seminex students barnstormed the nation as part of "Operation Outreach", meeting with LCMS congregations to explain their perspective of what happening in the rapidly evolving situation in St. Louis. Tietjen and the other suspended faculty would also contact various churches of the Synod to enlist their support. Tietjen expected between a third and half of the congregations of the Synod would leave when given the choice.
As part of the process of ordination in the Missouri Synod, a prospective pastor must be certified for ministry, and per the LCMS constitution, only an official seminary of the Synod could issue those certifications. By 1974, there were two institutions in Saint Louis claiming to be the official seminary, with both of them issuing certifications for the ministry. The expectation of Seminex was that if they could place enough of their graduates in pastoral positions, that the overall synod would be forced to recognize Seminex as an official seminary of the LCMS. Privately, many district presidents gave their support to the Seminex faction, giving Seminex good reason for hope that they would eventually prevail.
Beginning in 1974, presidents of eight districts of the 35 LCMS districts (equivalent of a diocese) began placing graduates of Seminex as pastors of LCMS congregations in violation of the LCMS bylaws and constitution. Outraged, the Synod in Convention passed a resolution asking that those districts cease placing Seminex graduates and granting the synodical president the power to remove a district president if he refused. Four of the districts subsequently ceased, while four defied the Synod in Convention. By 1976, the four dissident District Presidents were expelled from the Synod. After the expulsion, a movement to leave the Synod took shape among dissident congregations and church officials, most of them members of ELIM or congregations that had ordained a Seminex graduate. The largest number of departures came from the LCMS' non-geographical English District, which had been the independent English Synod prior to joining 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. However, By December 1976, it was apparent that the overwhelming majority of the laity in synod agreed with the conservatives. In the end, only about 250 congregations would leave the LCMS, a small fraction of what Tietjen expected.
Separation of the AELC
In December 1976, these 250 congregations formed a new, independent church body, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). The 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 validated their earlier concerns about the faculty majority at Concordia Seminary. For example, Roland Wiederanders, a vice president of the LCMS, 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.
End of Seminex
Due primarily to its difficulties placing graduates in ministerial positions, Seminex enrollment sharply declined over the next decade. By the end of the 1970s, any hope that a large number of LCMS congregations would leave was extinguished, forcing Tietjen (who was now president of Christ Seminary-Seminex) to begin laying off faculty that had walked out. 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. By the beginning of the 1980s, it was clear that there was no possibility of Christ Seminary-Seminex continuing to exist as a stand-alone institution.
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.
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.
- 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
- Bode, Gerhard; Herrmann, Erik (2010), ""03C Waking Up to Modernity?": The Inﬂuence of German Theology Part 3", The LCMS: Controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, Concordia Seminary, retrieved August 2, 2018
- Bode, Gerhard; Herrmann, Erik (2010), ""02a. "What is our Identity and Purpose?": The Americanization of the LCMS", The LCMS: Controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, Concordia Seminary, retrieved August 2, 2018
- Bode, Gerhard; Herrmann, Erik (2010), "06a. "False Doctrine ... 'Cannot be Tolerated in the Church of God ... '": New Orleans, 1973 Part 1", The LCMS: Controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, Concordia Seminary, retrieved August 2, 2018
- Feuerhahn, Ronald (October 27, 2017). "Encore: Confessional Lutheranism and Liberal Lutheranism" (Interview). Interviewed by Todd Wilken. Issues Etc. Retrieved August 3, 2018.
- Piepkorn, Arhur Carl (September 1965). "What Does Inerrancy Mean?". Concordia Theological Monthly. 36 (8): 577–593. Retrieved August 3, 2018.
- Bode, Gerhard; Herrmann, Erik (2010), "02d. "What is our Identity and Purpose?": The Americanization of the LCMS Part 4", The LCMS: Controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, Concordia Seminary, retrieved August 3, 2018
- This practice of overemphasis on the Gospel is labeled Gospel Reductionism.
- Wilson, Donn (2018). "6". The Word-of-God Conflict in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in the 20th Century (masters). Luther Seminary. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
- Bode, Gerhard; Herrmann, Erik (2010), ""06c. "False Doctrine ... 'Cannot be Tolerated in the Church of God ... '": New Orleans, 1973 Part 3"", The LCMS: Controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, Concordia Seminary, retrieved August 7, 2018
- Bode, Gerhard; Herrmann, Erik (2010), ""05a. "A Very Different Understanding of What Lutheran Is": 1969 Part 1", The LCMS: Controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, Concordia Seminary, retrieved August 7, 2018
- Bode, Gerhard; Herrmann, Erik (2010), ""05c. "A Very Different Understanding of What Lutheran Is": 1969 Part 3", The LCMS: Controversy in the 1960s and 1970s, Concordia Seminary, retrieved August 7, 2018
- Zimmerman, Paul A. (2007). A Seminary in Crisis: The Inside Story of the Preus Fact Finding Committee. St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 29–30. ISBN 9-780758-611024.
- 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