DISCLAIMER: As the author, I do not place any blame on the men who now serve in the preaching office who went through and alternate route instead of going to the seminary. It’s not your fault!
On the front page of Concordia Theological Seminary‘s website, these words appear on the banner, “Teach the faithful. Reach the lost. Care for all.”
For centuries, the Evangelical Lutheran Church has held four criteria for a man seeking the preaching office. Those four areas are 1) Education, 2) Examination, 3) Call, and 4) Ordination. The Evangelical Lutheran Church has historically used the seminary to accomplish these tasks.
When I was seeking the preaching office, I knew that I had to go to the seminary. Why? Well, everyone knows that if a man wants to learn theology, to become a pastor/priest, he goes to the seminary. It’s the same for doctors; you go to medical school. Lawyers go to law school. Theologians go to the seminary. Period! Is that correct? Is that the only answer? Is there another way?
I say that if you want to study theology in the pursuit of the preaching office, then you go to the seminary. If you want to learn theology to study at home, lead devotions, or to gain a better understanding of the Holy Scriptures, you have other colleges and universities that can aid you in your pursuit of knowledge. However, if you are a man seeking to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in the preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments, then it’s seminary or bust!
Recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church has seen some changes to her history and tradition. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) has tried her hand at Distance Education Leading To Ordination (DELTO). I suppose the idea sounds good and looks good on paper. What was the program lacking? Did they receive the best education available? I dare say, NO!
What about the “lay ministry” programs? Concordia Mequon, now, Concordia University Wisconsin, has been presenting the lay ministry program in a variety of formats. First there was the ten classes format. Later, that program blossomed into a four year degree. Now, there is yet another option which encompasses online learning. (For more information on the “lay ministry program at CUW, contact Dr. Oberdeck (here). Although terrible in its own right, the “lay ministry” program exploded after the 1989 Synodical convention. What happened? Were these programs any better than the seminary or even the DELTO program? What’s missing with this idea? What’s wrong with this idea? First, the concept of “lay ministry” is contrary to the Scriptures and Confessions! If you want to be a pastor and you are seeking the preaching office, go to the SEMINARY!
Then there is the “infamous” Alternate Route” program offered by both seminaries (CTSFW) and (CSL). Why is this program any better than the M.Div. route? Why did the LCMS decide to eliminate the last year of education (the capstone year)? If the Alternate Route is good, then why add the extra costs and stress to the men and their families by bringing them back from vicarage? Better yet, why have a vicarage? Have the men go three straight years and then send them out to work.
Now, that the LCMS doesn’t have enough shortcuts to the preaching office, in 2007, the LCMS passed this new opportunity called Specific Ministry Pastor Program (SMPP)? What is this program all about? Why are men being ordained so quickly in this path? Anything wrong here? Anything new? I’m sorry to inform you that there’s nothing new here either. Just another failed attempt at mankind trying to shortcut the Holy Scriptures by trying to shortcut the instructions of our Lord through St. Paul when He says, ” For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, gnot given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. ” (Titus 1:7-9)
The seminary is about more than classes and tests. The seminary is centered on the worship life of the men studying the Word. In the classroom, you hear the Doctors of the Church bring to light the Word of God. They teach you from the original languages of Greek and Hebrew. They teach history, systematics, and pastoral care. However, the Doctors of the Church also lead prayer services and the Divine Service in the Chapel every day. They feed the men with scholarly knowledge and they also fill the soul with the Word of God.
I must say that learning at home and discussing theology for a couple of hours with your pastor is not the same as being submerged in the doctrine and living it out in worship every day. I believe the LCMS made grave mistakes, not because of theology, but because of politics, when she created these other, subpar programs to train men for the preaching office.
In closing, I cannot see how these other programs can be as good as the training and lifestyle a man experiences at the seminary. I cannot see how these programs can viewed as “superior” to the training a man receives at the seminary. The only thing I can see is that these other programs cost less money.
Martin Luther wrote these words concerning The Gospel when he wrote the Smalcald Articles:
We shall now return to the Gospel, which offers council and help against sin in more than one way, for God is surpassingly rich in his grace: First, through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin (the peculiar function of the Gospel) is preached to the whole world; second,5 through Baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys; and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren. Matt. 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered,” etc. (SA III IV)
The LCMS needs to get back to her confessional roots and return to her rich heritage. She needs to take a stand. IT’S TIME! It’s time to get back to sound teaching of the doctrine given to us by Jesus. It’s time the Church get back to “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.” It’s SEMINARY or Bust!