Concordia Theological Seminary awards Miles Christe Award to Walter Dissen

June 2nd, 2011 Post by

While attending the recent commencement ceremony Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne I was privileged to see the seminary give Mr. Walter Dissen its Miles Christe Award. Many of you may not know this faithful layman who has served the church for many years. I know of no layman who has had a greater positive impact on the LCMS in its recent history than Walt. Here is a man who joined the St. Louis Seminary board at the time of the walk out and helped lead them back from disaster. He served on the synods Commission on Appeals where among other things he had to deal with Ralph Bohlman’s attempt to throw Robert Preus out of the Ft. Wayne Seminary. He was then elected to a new majority on the Ft. Wayne Seminary board that brought an end to what many called “the dark days” at that institution with the election of Dean Wenthe as president. He has continued to serve in elected positions and behind the scenes offering advice to those who seek to keep our church faithful to her calling.

We often say of someone whom God has called to himself “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In this case it great to see that the seminary has recognized Walt while he is still with us. Below you will see the award statement read by then Dean Larry Rast at the Commencement.

President Wenthe, may I present Mr. Walter Dissen of Chesapeake, Virginia. Born in North Dakota, Mr Dissen describes himself as “a preacher’s kid.” For many years he served as a corporate attorney, first with the New York, Chicago, and Saint Louis Railroad—better known as the Nickel Plate Road—and later with the Norfolk and Western and the Norfolk and Southern railroads. Mr. Dissen’s keen legal mind and his careful reading of synodical resolutions, seminary handbooks, and board minutes is nothing short of legendary.

There is never a question about where you stand with Walter Dissen. He is a man who personifies the biblical adage of both Matthew 5:37 and James 5:12: “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Walter Dissen speaks his mind clearly and with a conviction born of a deep familiarity with the Lutheran Confessions—and refined and steeled in the stormy crucible of synodical conflict.

Mr. Dissen was elected to the Board of Control of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, at LCMS’s Milwaukee convention in 1971, just as our sister institution was moving into a particularly difficult period in its history. Mr. Dissen served with distinction for twelve years on that Board. In 1983 he was elected to the LCMS’s Commission on Appeals, where he served through 1995, providing key leadership during difficult times. In 1995 he was elected to the Board of Regents of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, where he served the Board as secretary and was an important participant in the calling of President Wenthe in 1996. In all of these capacities he has served faithfully and with distinction.

But there is more to Walter Dissen than this. There is no one who knows more about the recent history of LCMS than he. When I have a detail question on a matter of synod history, I check with Walter. I jokingly refer to his home as Concordia Historical Institute “East,” given the documentation that he has gathered. Just yesterday, upon his arrival here at the seminary, he left a photocopy of the Cleveland, Ohio, Plain Dealer at my office, with reports from the synod convention in 1973. Needless to say, I was delighted as always to read what he had to share.

Here I must share a personal story. Mr. Dissen was serving on our Board at the time of my being interviewed for the faculty of this seminary in 1996. He asked, as one would expect, a typically direct question. I, as a young theologian, began to offer a rather marvelously nuanced answer—at least in my opinion. 3 minutes…5 minutes…7 minutes—finally Mr. Dissen could not contain himself. “No!” he stated, “you’re not answering the question!” “Could you restate it?” was my timid reply. “Okay. Are we saved by grace or by works?” “By grace,” I said. “Good!” And that was that.

A long-time friend of this seminary, Walter Dissen is a wonderful example of a Miles Christi, a soldier of Christ. He has honored the Christian commitment to vocation through a lifetime of service. For his leadership in synod and seminary, his support of numerous ecclesiastical institutions, and his commitment to Concordia Theological Seminary, it is my privilege and honor, Dr. Wenthe, to recommend Walter C. Dissen for the Miles Christi award.

Rev. Roger Gallup
Bethlehem Lutheran Church
River Grove, IL






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  1. A Beggar
    June 2nd, 2011 at 19:51 | #1

    I am honored and blessed to personally know this “soldier of Christ”. He is a mentor and a model for all Lutheran laymen. Yes truly, his “yes” is yes and his “no” is no. God has truly blessed the LCMS with Walter Dissen.

  2. Johannes
    June 2nd, 2011 at 20:24 | #2

    I first met Walter (“Mr. Dissen” to most of us) some time after the 2001 convention debacle. He’s told me many stories of the battles on the St. Louis Sem Board of Control, as he and the late Alvin Briel contended with the liberals. He has an almost-photographic memory, and the stories are never never boring, altho filled with minute detail. And as others have said, there’s not a phony bone in his body.

    Walter Dissen is a synod treasure. He is most deserving of this award, and I thank Concordia Theological Seminary for presenting it to him. Thanks also, Rev. Gallup, for bringing this to our attention.

    Johannes

  3. L. Luther Rausch
    June 2nd, 2011 at 20:56 | #3

    Dear Friends,
    I had the distinct pleasure of observing, in person, along with Walter Dissen, the elections at the Synod Convention in Houston. Of course, we were overjoyed at the results, and yet. each of us was thankful at the results without any show of superiority.
    My association with Mr Dissen stems from our common upbringing as preacher’s kids and the history of the early State of the Church meeting of the early 60′s. He has a long history of involvement with such figures as Rev Paul Burgdorf and The Rev Robert Preus.
    Probably no one is more deserving of this award than Mr Walter Dissen!
    Thanks be to God for the likes of my friend, Walter Dissen!

  4. Kari
    June 2nd, 2011 at 22:08 | #4

    We sat at the same table in Houston this past summer, and I was amazed at how great of records he kept on every single vote, and other info. He has so much history on him. Wow!(I’m not a good note keeper) I’m so glad he received this award.

  5. mbw
    June 2nd, 2011 at 22:14 | #5

    I remember reading his words years ago in a decision restoring Robert Preus. It was some of the best churchly prose I have ever read. We need more Walter Dissens. God help us.

  6. Concerned Seminarian
    June 2nd, 2011 at 23:04 | #6

    From everything I’ve read and learned about the Controversy, Mr. Dissen and the other conservatives on the Concordia Seminary Board of Control (particularly pre-1973) deserve our highest praise because they stood strong against the liberal majority despite serious opposition. For that matter, all those involved in the build-up years were true Milites Christi.

    I am curious about a couple of things you mentioned, Rev. Gallup. What is the story behind Dr. Bohlmann attempting to have Dr. Preus expelled from CTS, and what do you mean by the “dark days of CTS”?

  7. J. R. Wheeler
    June 3rd, 2011 at 10:38 | #7

    Mr. Dissen has worked long and hard for our Synod. It is very good and proper to give him this reward. Thank you, Mr. Dissen.

  8. Roger Gallup
    June 3rd, 2011 at 10:47 | #8

    Concerned Seminarian,
    There are others better than I to relate the entire history. Someone really should write a paper on it. Let me give you a sketch.

    In the early 80′s the Ft. Wayne Seminary through papers and memorials sent to the synodical conventions was challenging the direction Bohlmann and others wanted to see the synod follow. I believe it was 1985 when Bohlmann first asked Seminary President Robert Preus to resign. Eventually, after a few years, Bohlmann was able to get the sem. Board of Regents to dismiss Preus even though they did not have the power to do so. Preus went through the appeals process and won with the Commission on Appeals. Ralph Bohlmann defied the commission and refused to recognize their ruling. This led to a constitutional crisis that would be the main reason Dr. Al Barry defeated Bohlmann in the 1992 election. After Bohlmann’s defeat at the convention Robert Preus agreed to step aside for the good of the seminary. The problem was that Bohlmann people still controlled the Board of Regents and the Board for Higher Education. They were able to elect David Schmiel as the new president.

    Others who were on the campus at the time could give you more details about the atmosphere that existed during those years. One would hear that psychological testing and adherence to the new model of ministry became more important than faithfulness to the confessions in being certified for ministry. Morale hit rock bottom. If you are familiar with the Harry Potter books think of Hogwarts under Delores Umbridge and you would not be far off.
    At the 1995 convention we were able to elect a new BOR that stood up to Schmiel and he resigned. Dr, Weinrich was appointed interim president with the election of Dean Wenthe soon to follow.

    @Concerned Seminarian #6

  9. Rev. David Mueller
    June 3rd, 2011 at 11:17 | #9

    @Roger Gallup #8
    A bit more of the story about the 1995 “turnaround”. Schmiel submitted his resignation/announcement of retirement sometime early in ’95, before that synodical convention, while the CTS BoR was still firmly in Bohlmannite hands. One of the 2 conservfessionals spoke up and refused to accept Schmiel’s retirement, and the rest of the BoR, schocked as they were, went along with that, so Schmiel remained until after the convention. That BoR member (Preus-supporter) remembered what had happened in 1969, how Tietjen had become the new St. Louis president in a just-before-the-convention election, and the scenario looked eerily similar. After the ’95 convention, and the new confessional BoR was seated, they promptly accepted Schmiel’s retirement, which went into effect 12-31-95.

    I happened to wind up at Ft. Wayne in the summer of ’96, shortly after Wenthe was installed in April of that year, after Weinrich had served as the Interim Pres. Dissen was on the BoR that cast its vote for Wenthe.

    Dr. Noland or someone else who’d know–Besides the SP and the BoR, who made up the other 2 votes for Sem Pres. at that time? Did the BHES have a vote? I don’t remember.

  10. Rev. David Mueller
    June 3rd, 2011 at 11:26 | #10

    Concerned Seminarian–I’m really glad you asked about “the dark days” of CTS. That’s a warning to all of us who’ve been so involved that we take that history almost for granted that we need to make sure that all this history does get passed along. Just like a lot of the St. Louis guys know practically nothing about the misery of the Walkout and everything that led up to it, it’s sad that so many Ft. Wayne guys know nothing about the fight of 89-95.

    It’s just like any other part of our lives–we like to forget the unpleasantnesses, because it hurts to remember. But if we forget, we don’t learn.

  11. mbw
    June 3rd, 2011 at 11:50 | #11

    @Roger Gallup #8

    @Rev. David Mueller #9

    @Rev. David Mueller #10

    It is urgent to preserve this history. It is told here in brief in a very even-handed and calm way. But this is exactly what the left-wing opponents will say is unforgiving, living in the past, and so on.

    I hope this thread grows as people who lived through this part of history share what happened.

  12. Concerned Seminarian
    June 3rd, 2011 at 12:22 | #12

    @Rev. David Mueller #10

    I heartily agree that our Synodical history needs to be preserved. I actually knew a bit about the Walkout from my dad before entering Seminary (his first year at CSL was 1981, Seminex was still in St. Louis at the time, and the attitudes toward the Walkout at the seminaries had an influence on why he chose CSL). I suspect that the majority of students at CSL know something about the Walkout (mostly that it involved historical criticism), but not nearly as much as they should. I’m sure it’s the same throughout the Synod: those who were close to the events know a lot about it; those who weren’t involved know little or nothing about it. I’ve been told that in some churches, the laymen will stare blankly if you mention “Seminex”!

    Perhaps this is the kind of thing that the Concordia Historical Institute should be working on: Publishing pamphlets/books going through our Synod’s history.

    Maybe on another post you should run a poll question:

    What periods/events in LCMS history are you familiar with?

  13. Johannes
    June 3rd, 2011 at 12:45 | #13

    If you want to read about the “dark days of CSL”, I recommend the following:
    “A Seminary in Crisis” by Paul Zimmerman (CPH). He was there and speaks from first-hand knowledge.

    “Anatomy of an Explosion,” by Kurt Marquart. He was also there, as a student. I think it’s published by the Concordia Theological Seminary Press.

    “The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Holiday From History”. By Rev. Dan Preus. You can find it here: http://www.confessionallutherans.org/papers/dantalk.htm

    That’s just for openers.

    It wasn’t long after he resigned that Robert Preus was dead.

    Johannes

    @Concerned Seminarian #12
    You said, “I’ve been told that in some churches, the laymen will stare blankly if you mention ‘Seminex!’”
    The truth is, that in most churches, most laymen will stare at you blankly if you mention “Seminex.” They simply don’t know about it.

  14. GaiusKurios
    June 3rd, 2011 at 13:52 | #14

    This is interesting about Fort Wayne. I know far less about what went on at Fort Wayne then I did/do about Seminex. In part, becasue when things were going on at Fort Wayne was a time in my life when career/family/etc demanded most of my time and I did not follow what was going on in the LCMS like I did in the Seminex era. All I can recall is that Robert Preus was accused of being a lousy administrator and needed to go. I do recall thinking at the time why was he all of a sudden a lousy administrator when I heard not one word of criticism all the time he was president when the seminary was at Springfield and in the early years at Fort Wayne. But that was what was being peddled to the people in the pew in the mid to late 1980′s. A well reseached and written history of that era at Springfield/Fort Wayne would be welcomed. There is much good history on Seminex but nothing from that era.

  15. Daniel L. Gard
    June 3rd, 2011 at 17:09 | #15

    Mr. Walter Dissen deserves so much more than this simple award – he deserves the gratitude of the entire Synod for a lifetime of dedicated service. Others have rehearsed some of his accomplishments though they have only scraped the surface. The man himself is one of the most unique parts of God’s creation. He cares nothing about personal gain or praise for what he has done. All that matters to him is that orthodox Lutheran teaching and practice be preserved.

    I am honored to call Walter Dissen my friend. Before proceeding into Kramer Chapel at commencement, I announced that I wanted 10 minutes for rebuttal after Mr. Dissen’s citation was read. He seemed all in favor of that. He is living proof that confessionalism and a sense of humor actually go together.

    Mr. Dissen is the model of a faithful Lutheran layman. The son and brother of pastors, he has consistently confessed the faith of our Church even in the face of abuse and mistreatment by those who would take us in a different direction. He is both an accomplished lawyer and one of the most learned lay theologians in our Synod and those two characteristics have been devastating for opponents of confessional Lutheranism.

    If you are a pastor or a parent or a grandparent, pass on your love for the truth to the children around you. One of them may grow up to be the next Walter Dissen and, if so, you have given a tremendous gift to the Church.

  16. Rev. Roger D. Sterle
    June 4th, 2011 at 10:27 | #16

    @Concerned Seminarian #12
    I am not for totally sure but I think Dr. Rast is working on a history of Lutheranism in the USA and will have some things to say about the LCMS–or maybe his book is just about the LCMS which would probably mean he will have something in it about the two seminaries and their presidents.

  17. Rev. David Mueller
    June 4th, 2011 at 12:17 | #17

    @Concerned Seminarian #12
    It’s possible, then, that your dad would have done field work under my dad, at Holy Cross down by CPH. We had *tons* of field workers there in those days–late 75 to June 83.

    @Johannes #13
    “It wasn’t long after he resigned that Robert Preus was dead.”
    After *Schmiel* announced his “retirement”. Yep. Nov. ’95, I think. I’m pretty sure there was a fair gap of time between the announcement and the actual official retirement. Dr. Gard–you were there. Is this correct?
    I was sitting in my parents’ kitchen when my dad got the phone call, can’t remember who from, regarding Dr. Preus. It felt like Dr. Preus felt “free” to Go Home, now that he knew that his beloved CTS was going to be put back on the right track. That school year was a *major* passing of the flame to the next generation.

    @Daniel L. Gard #15
    Walter Dissen has been a true giant of Lutheranism. oughta be, perhaps, included with names like, well, John the Steadfast.
    He could irritate my dad, upon occasion–I’m sure he’s irritated *all* his friends, and done far more than irritation to all his opponents. But my dad considered it an honor to know and work with Dissen, and sincerely loved the man.

  18. Johannes
    June 4th, 2011 at 15:17 | #18

    What it seems has only been alluded to here is the critical necessity of an informed laity. Mr. Dissen is a PK, of course, and brother to a pastor. But many, if not most, who were in the thick of the battle were not privileged to have that background. I am thinking of Mr. Alvin Briel and his wife Velita. Before the 2001 convention, they sat down with my wife and me, and gave us an education. They knew their theology, they understood the issues facing the synod in 1973 and 2001, and made my job as a delegate (first time) much easier, if being a delegate is ever easy. Mr. Briel was a warrior in the best sense of the word. I’m sure that he and Walter Dissen were a formidable duo.

    It was an informed laity working alongside faithful clergy that turned the tide.

    Johannes

  19. Dan
    June 11th, 2011 at 20:24 | #19

    Walt is also the synod’s most eligible bachelor….

  20. September 15th, 2011 at 13:27 | #20

    One of our members Corrine Nielsen (recently called Home) was the recipient of the Miles Christi award and we are try to find out what year she received it. If you can help us with this information we would be so grateful. Thank you.

    Pat Escalambre
    Secretary
    Messiah Lutheran Church
    Danville, CA 94526
    925-736-2270

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