Disclaimer: Before you read any of this, you should know that, for the record, I believe both Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN and Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis are outstanding schools with outstanding faculties who offer outstanding education and produce outstanding pastors. I thank God for these institutions always.
Not too long ago, a brother pastor in my area resigned from his congregation and removed his name from the roster of ordained ministers of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In other words, he stopped being a pastor in our church body.
He did this because he no longer confessed the doctrine confessed by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Rather, he now confessed the doctrine confessed by the Eastern Orthodox Church. On account of this new confession of faith, he believed he could not stay where he was. He "went East," as we often say.
When this happened, I felt rather sick to my stomach. In part, I felt sick because I believe that this brother pastor was ultimately sacrificing a higher regard for the Gospel in favor of a higher regard for chanting. But even more so, I felt sick because I feared the effect his departure would have on the congregation. I feared that his congregation would see this as an indictment on the school that had trained their now former pastor, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. I feared that his departure for the Eastern Orthodox Church would amplify in their ears the phantasmal rumor that LCMS Lutherans always seem to hear wafting through the air-the rumor that Fort Wayne is the "bad seminary" because they keep producing liturgical wackos who end up leaving for Rome or Constantinople, unlike Fort Wayne's sister seminary in St. Louis.
It would be dishonest of me to pretend as though this is not a problem. Lutheran pastors or seminarians departing our church body for other confessions of faith is a problem. It is bad. It is scandalous. And, as I alluded to before, it is clear that there is something going profoundly wrong when men aspiring to or possessing the office of overseer deliberately choose to sacrifice the doctrine of justification on a heterodox altar simply because it has more candles and smoke.
But let's be honest about something. Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis has the same problem. They're struggling with the same beast. It's just wearing different stripes on the Clayton campus.
The real problem that we are struggling with isn't, at its core, about patriarchs or popes. It's not about smells and bells. At its core, the real problem is that men are graduating from our Lutheran seminaries but are not Lutherans. And while Saint Louis may not have the problem of placing men into Lutheran pulpits who confess the theology of Rome or Constantinople, they do have the problem of placing men into Lutheran pulpits who confess the theology of Geneva or Mars Hill, which may not be a geographical location, but sounds like it. (Side Note: Fort Wayne certainly has this problem too.)
This is, of course, a textbook double standard. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not Lutheran. Neither is
The Purpose Driven Life. But teach one of those to your congregation and you'll get invited to lead outreach workshops at district conventions. Teach the other and you'll get impaled on a makeshift pitchfork fashioned from banner poles and pew pencils during the Prayer of the Church. Can you guess which is which?
Encourage your members to kiss icons of the saints during the Divine Service and you're a nutjob. Encourage them to kiss their children goodbye at the start of the Divine Service as they send them off to "kid's church" and you're a man of the people (well, adult people, at least). Encourage your members to say a quick "Hail Mary" before receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus and you're a rabble rousing, divisive heretic. Invite your members' friends to eat and drink the Body and Blood that they laughingly deny are present and you're a welcoming, inclusive peace maker.
For whatever reason, we can always see right through the sheep's clothing fashioned by pope-ish hands. The wool that covers those on the other side, however, manages to do a much better job of fooling us. And herein lies the self-perpetuating circle of the Fort Wayne/St. Louis double standard. Confess Roman or Eastern doctrine and you must leave. Immediately. Confess Reformed or Evangelical doctrine and you can stay put until the Second Coming. And as long as this is the case, Fort Wayne will always look worse than her Show-Me-State counterpart because it's only the ones forced to exit who end up leaving a dust trail behind them for everyone else to see and lament.
But just because we can't see a track of footprints leading to Geneva doesn't mean that there isn't a whole mess of Lutheran pastors wearing Calvin's shoes. And, truth be told, I have more respect (though equal parts pity) for the guy who leaves because he can't, in good conscience, stand by his ordination vows anymore than I do for the guy who had no problem lying when he made them and continues to have no problem lying every time he gets near a Lutheran altar, font or pulpit.
My name is Pastor Hans Fiene. Thanks for reading.