Friday, February 12, 2010

The "Bad Seminary" Double Standard

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.


Amberg said...

I heard that more St. Louis grads have swum the Bosphorus than have Ft. Wayners.

Also, at least the Reformed don't anathematize the Gospel most of the time, at least not officially. There is an excellent paper on this topic at the following link:

L P said...

Thanks for posting.


Roger said...

This is but one facet of the double standard. In undergrad, I constantly urged my brothers in the pre-seminary program that we must always support each other and make informed decisions about which seminary to attend. Now, as a student at Concordia Theological Seminary, I try my best to continue to build up my brothers on the other side of the Mississippi. I think it is important for our synod and its members to continue to uphold both seminaries as our Church's schools.

It is interesting to note now the constant warnings against "going East." On more than one occasion my professors have told us that if we are entertaining such notions we must straiten up now or get out before ordination. It is only my hope that my brothers and I will remain firm in our Lutheran confessions and teach the Scriptures as God gave them to us.

Thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Thanks for pointing out what has concerned me for many years.
Rev. Jonathan C. Watt
Trinity, Creston, IA

Jason Reed said...


You're a gentleman and a scholar. Thank you for your well-written observations.

Rev. Jason Reed
St. John, Mattoon, WI

Stepan said...

Brother, this was a well thought out and written observation. I think you have put your finger on a sickness that is running rampant in the LCMS, and it is so sad that this is happening.

I serve a LCMC congregation in Texas south of Dallas, and it is a good call to serve our Lord. I also participate in the Winkles of the LCMS in the South Dallas Circuit. If all of the LCMS brethren shared the Texas viewpoint of the Divine Office, I would still be a member of the Synod, but the rest of the country does not view the church in this manner. The Lutheran Church in Texas puts Jesus first as we understand Him from the Confessions, and as Holy Scripture is explained through the Book of Concord. This is a real blessing for all who are in His service in Texas.

But, the problem you have identified exists down here too. One of the brothers in our circuit is so unbending Liturgically, that Jesus is not being served, and his congregation is quickly losing members.

How can this be addressed? I don't know, but my pastor as a child was Pastor Acker, who was the Voice of the Lutheran Hour when the original WAM had his heart attack in the middle 50s, and who also was one of the Group of 44 who wrote a letter to the Synod in the late 40s dealing with your same identification of the problem 80 years ago. Yes, there were other problems addressed, but this problem is not new in the church.

As a graduate of Ft. Wayne, I have come to the conclusion that I would have been happier in St. Louis, but I received a good education at the seminary.

Blessings brother, and continue sharing your opinions with us!

Rev. Dr. Steve Dygert, Grace Lutheran, Ennis, Texas