Thursday, February 27, 2014

40 Months of Immanuel

     The number "40" symbolizes "a long time" in the Bible. According to the Noah story, "rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights." Moses' life is divided into three "forty-year" periods. When he went up the mountain in Sinai, he stayed there "forty days." Those Israelites he led wandered and camped in that wilderness for "forty years." Jesus spent forty days in the desert, when he faced down the Devil's temptations.

     This week marked the fortieth month that I served as interim pastor to Immanuel Lutheran Church, Michigan City, Ind. This past Sunday was my last. In my farewell sermon I drew attention to the fact that none of us knew back in Oct 2010 that I would be serving them this long. Why so long? It took seven calls to seven different pastors before one of them finally accepted! Seven, too, is a biblical number, a number of completeness and wholeness. Now the congregation has a full-time pastor rather than a full-time professor who filled in as part-time pastor.

     God has a way of upsetting all our best-designed plans. God’s ways are not our ways. God knows the future in a way that we do not. Our time, our days and weeks, months and years, are in God’s hands. God knows what is best for us, even if we might wonder otherwise along the way.

     It is good that Immanuel congregation and I did not know in '10 what God knew. It was good because we have been forced to keep plugging along together, by God’s grace, through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, under the cross of Christ. Not knowing how long we would be working together, serving together, praying together—we focused primarily on the week-to-week. At least I did. My sole goal during all this time has been to make sure that the gospel was proclaimed, the sacraments administered in accord with that gospel, and that God’s love was shared with all, especially with those who are troubled, suffering, grieving, and questioning.

     During those forty months, at times, I felt as if I was in a wilderness, a bit bewildered, confused. There were some desert days. This was especially the case in the days and weeks following the sudden death of Pastor Palmer, whose death was the occasion for my being summoned to serve. His death was not the only one we faced in that first year. There were many others, more than twenty by the time 18 months had passed. 

     God saw us through those dark days. The elders stepped up and were extremely helpful, as were the retired clergy in the congregation. Christ drew us closer together--which often happens when one is facing a crisis or set of crises. That 40-month period was in many ways a kind of extended Lenten spiritual journey. (Lent, too, lasts "forty days.") God used all of those experiences, the good and the bad, the joyful and the sad, to draw us closer to one another and to God. The name "Immanuel" means "God with us." God certainly lived up to that name during these past 40 months! 

     These years together have also taught the congregation and me patience, to be patient with one another, to be patient with God. While God seemed to be answering our prayers for a full-time pastor with the answer, "No!," God really was responding, "Not yet. Just wait." So we have been waiting. And now God has answered those prayers with a "Yes." (Keep in mind that in Christ Jesus God's response is always "Yes!" That's God's grace. God's promise.)

My son, Jacob, on the left, and his friend, James, on the right

     So it is good that we did not know in '10 what God knew. For otherwise I might have said, “No, find someone else to be your part-time pastor,” and then I would not have experienced the great blessing that this congregation has been to me. My wife, Detra, and our son, Jacob, would not have experienced the love that has been shared with them as well. I will always be grateful that I was able to teach and confirm my son in the faith!

     So Immanuel, Michigan City has been a big part of our lives. We are going to miss this congregation! They have been such a blessing to us! And now we pray for God's blessing to rest upon Immanuel's new pastor, Pr. David Solum, and his family! May God be with them in the months and years of their ministry!

The Installation of Pastor David Solum on Sunday, Feb 23

Friday, February 21, 2014

Some Further Notes in Light of the 40th Anniversary of Seminex

In January of 1973 the Board of Control of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, included several members who voted that month "to correct" most of the 48 faculty members (including Martin Scharlemann, Richard Klann, and Robert Preus, three individuals who would later form three-fifths of the faculty minority). Most faculty, including Scharlemann and Klann, received two votes "to correct." Some faculty members received three or four such votes. Four received five such votes.

The faculty majority were later condemned by synod resolution in the summer of that same year (1973), at the synod convention in New Orleans. Later, in August, John Tietjen, president of Concordia Seminary, was suspended from office by a new Board of Control, now populated with "Jacob Preus supporters" who had been elected at the '73 New Orleans convention. (Jacob Preus had been elected synod president in 1969--the same year that John Tietjen took office--and then Preus was re-elected in '71 and '73.) That decision to suspend Tietjen, however, was criticized by the synod's Commission on Constitutional Matters (the BOC acted too hastily), and so the BOC at its next meeting "vacated" its earlier decision and Tietjen was once again no longer under suspension.

The BOC was planning to suspend Tietjen at its Dec meeting (the BOC met every month in those years), but Dr. Piepkorn died just a few days before that meeting, and so the action to suspend Tietjen was postponed until the January meeting.

Prior to these actions on the part of the synod convention and the two Boards of Control (the one pre-'73 and the one in place after the '73 convention), the faculty majority had been publicly condemned by Jacob Preus in his "Report of the Synodical President" to the LCMS (Sep '72), in compliance with Resolution 2-28 of the 1971 Synod convention. The faculty majority had been regularly condemned by Herman Otten in "Lutheran News" (later called "Christian News"). And that faculty majority was condemned by Tom Baker in his April 1973 document, "Watershed at the Rivergate," which was dedicated to "the faithful faculty minority five" (Bohlmann, Klann, Robert Preus, Scharlemann, and Wunderlich) and sent out to who knows how many delegates and others.

Is it any wonder that a majority of the seminary students in the fall of 1973 would want to know (1) what the false doctrine was that they were being taught?; and (2) who was teaching it?

Most of those sem students in the fall of '73 were upset by the forced retirements of seven of their faculty, including A. C. Piepkorn. Paul Goetting's contract was not renewed that year. 450 of those students signed "With One Voice" to support the faculty majority and to call upon the synod to follow due process. Not all seminary students signed the document. A small percentage of students were aligned with "the faculty minority."

As planned by the BOC, Tietjen was suspended from his office at the January 1974 meeting of the BOC. Immediately thereafter, on January 20, a majority of students called for a moratorium in order to try to draw attention to their perception that Dr. Tietjen and the faculty majority were being unfairly treated and condemned without due process. This moratorium began on Jan 20, several hours after Tietjen was officially suspended. It needs to be underscored that the moratorium and decision to fan out across the country (to visit congregations and LCMS clergy) was entirely a student decision. They felt the need to explain to the rank and file among LCMS pastors and congregations why the students had declared a moratorium. 259 students were involved in that activity. None of the students was asked to do this by any faculty member. (Ed Schroeder has relayed to me that seminary students who were Valpo alumni played a significant role in the student organizing in those days and weeks. "From my perspective it was not only the students who did their own thing without our faculty involvement, but in more ways than one they were leading us!")

The BOC appointed minority faculty as replacements in the administration already in January 1974. So Scharlemann was named acting president of the seminary in place of the suspended Tietjen. Preus nevertheless ordered the faculty majority back into the classrooms after Jan 22. This, despite the fact that he and the synod in convention had declared them teachers "not to be tolerated in the church of God."

How could they return to the classroom with that charge hanging over their heads?

What came out in the press after this order from Preus was the fact that Preus had offered a "deal" to Tietjen: resign from the seminary presidency and accept a call to serve as pastor to a synod congregation in return for the dropping of charges. Tietjen did not accept this offer, but he also chose not to take the matter to civil court or to defend himself through the provisions in the bylaws. (Apparently Preus thought it was ok for Tietjen to teach "false doctrine" to a congregation, but not at the seminary.) From Tietjen's perspective: why participate in a process whose outcome was already determined back in 1971 (or even 1969)? Why participate when the principal accusers are those who are also judge and jury in the process?

In response to student concerns about classroom instruction, the faculty voted to resume teaching on Feb 19, 1974, the day after the BOC meeting IF the BOC would reinstate Tietjen and the dept chairs that had been replaced earlier in the month, issue a contract to Goetting, and reverse the decision to force retirement on several senior faculty. The faculty informed the BOC that teaching would resume even if the BOC refused to implement these simple requests, but in a different location and no longer under the auspices of the BOC.

Prior to that BOC meeting in Feb, the chair, E. J. Otto, gave an order that the faculty not be given their next pay checks. On Mon Feb 18, the faculty received a note from Scharlemann to respond to the BOC resolution to resume their responsibilities on Feb 19 or they would be held in breach of contract. In fact Schroeder reported to me that every one of the faculty majority received a note under his office door (hand delivered by Scharlemann?) stating that if they were not back in the classroom by noon the next day, then they would be fired.

After careful deliberation of the ultimatum from Scharlemann, the faculty majority voted "no." They would not accept his leadership. (He, after all, had been the one to ask Preus to conduct a theological investigation of the faculty a few years earlier.) The faculty would not return to their classrooms. As of noon that day, the 19th, they were fired. Every one of the faculty majority received a pink slip. They had only so many days to vacate their offices. Faculty homes had to be vacated in short order as well. That is how the exile began.

To use the language of "The Walkout" already implies a prejudiced perspective on the events of 1971-74, as summarized in the biased report of the Preus-engineered post-1973 Seminary Board of Control, "Exodus from Concordia: A Report on the 1974 Walkout." Yes, there was an exile, but only after Tietjen refused to buy into JAOP's "offer." The students led their moratorium on classroom instruction because they wanted to know the answers to the two questions above, and the faculty  majority refused to teach unless due and Christian process was followed (first with Tietjen himself, who had been unfairly suspended, in their view, and then with "the faculty majority," who stood condemned because of the convention action the previous summer, the actions of Preus since 1970, and the actions of Otten since the 1950s.) The faculty majority was willing to resume teaching, if the BOC would simply reinstate Tietjen and the department chairs who had been deposed, issue a contract to Goetting, and reinstate those senior faculty who had been forced into retirement. The BOC refused to do any of these. It did not help that the faculty majority considered Scharlemann to be a traitor. They were not going to resume teaching under his leadership.

The faculty majority understood themselves to be condemned and forced out by the actions of President Preus, the actions of the '73 convention, and the actions of the post-'73 Board of Control. And forced out especially by the actions of the acting president Scharlemann, whose leadership they could not accept.

Before its publication by Fortress, I read James Burkee's dissertation on the background to these events in 1974. You can read my review of that book online:

It is not an uplifting story.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The 40th Anniversary of Concordia Seminary-in-Exile

On this date in 1974 the majority of students and faculty at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, marched off the 801 DeMun campus to continue their theological education and instruction at other venues.

I recently came across vintage video footage of those momentous days. I share the Youtube links to that material below.

I'm probably one of only a handful that graduated from the "new" Concordia Seminary, formed in the wake of that '74 exile, who also studied with several of the faculty majority who had been fired as a result of their decision to honor the student moratorium and refrain from teaching until the accusations against them had been addressed properly.

After graduating from 801 in '88 I went to the University of Chicago to study for an M.A. in Religious Studies and a Ph.D. in historical and systematic theology. During those years in Chicago, I came into regular contact with Seminex faculty who had been deployed to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, just down the block.

None was more important than Bob Bertram, who appears in the clips below.

I'll never forget my first meeting with him. I had been in the library at LSTC, doing work for one of my Divinity School courses, when I decided to see if I could meet any of those condemned "Seminex faculty." Up on the faculty floor at LSTC I happened to come across Bob's office. His door was slightly ajar. I wasn't sure I should knock, but I decided to take a chance. So I knocked, and he invited me to enter. What I thought would be a three-minute "meet and greet" turned into a 90-min. theological discussion. He inquired about my earlier education at Concordia Portland and "801," about what I was reading and studying, and also about what I was planning to do at the University of Chicago (his alma mater). I told him that I planned to study systematic theology. And from there we went into discussion of Paul Tillich (his Dokotorvater) and how I was hoping to work with David Tracy, who had also been influenced by Tillich, and Brian Gerrish (who had assumed Tillich's chair at Chicago).

Bob wanted me to stay longer but I needed to meet someone for dinner, so he bid me farewell but not before giving me a few books from his office and inviting me to return to his office in a week or two for further conversation.

We kept up those regular bi-weekly meetings, more or less, for more than three years.

Even later we kept in touch via postcards and letters (those were the days before email). I still have a pile of postcards that Bob sent me over the years. I also have the notes he sent me after he kindly read my doctoral dissertation. (Already back in 1992 or '93 I had invited Bob to join a gathering of LCMS seminary graduates who were doing theological study at non-LCMS institutions. That gathering was on the 801 campus. He told me later it was the first time he had participated in theological discussion on those grounds since early 1974.)

As many know, I have had my own share of "trials and tribulations" in the LCMS, of charges and accusations, of attempts to remove me from the clergy roster. Before his death, Bob always was there to give me encouragement and support. He assured me that real evangelical theology does not occur except in trial and tribulation under the cross.  (Some years ago when I had a long phone conversation with John Tietjen, he essentially shared the same encouraging word.)

So tonight I'm grateful for the teaching and witness of Bob Bertram and John Tietjen and Ed Schroeder (who has also taught me a thing or two about the promise of the gospel) and others who bore witness to Christ in a time of conflict.

Here are the links: