Changes in ELCA Seminaries

February 1st, 2013 Post by

“Built on the Rock the Church shall stand/Even when steeples are falling” (#645, LSB: note that in the Lutheran Book of Worship, this is verse is translated: “Built on a rock…”

“Built on the Rock the Church shall stand/Even when steeples are falling” (#645, LSB: note that in the Lutheran Book of Worship, this is verse is translated: “Built on a rock…”

Head of Luther Seminary in St. Paul resigns amid financial woes

Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune

Updated: December 11, 2012 – 9:42 PM

School announces search for new president after losing nearly $4 million last school year.

The president of Luther Seminary in St. Paul has resigned amid rising maintenance costs and declining enrollment.

Considered the country’s largest Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) seminary, the school wants to “take a fresh look going forward” after losing nearly $4 million last school year, Luther’s board chairman Jim Lindus said Tuesday.

The seminary announced Monday that Richard Bliese stepped down from the job he’s held since 2005. Officials plan to name an interim president by January and launch a national search for a successor.

Enrollment is down from 822 nearly five years ago to 764 students this year.

Read full article here.

The reasons cited are the following:

  • lack of support for youth ministry programs
  • in the ELCA, 600 congregations have left since officially ignoring the Bible
  • age of seminary campuses and their financial upkeep
  • fear of large seminary debt and then lack of a position upon graduating

I think there are also the following reasons:

  • Simply too many ELCA Seminaries. Their 2011 stats report 4,059,785 members with 8 seminaries.  The LCMS has two for a denomination with 2,278,586 members. If memory serves, before the merger, this problem was forecasted.
  • The ELCA has overall decrease of membership (also the LCMS)
  •  The plummeting national birth rate

This has stimulated the call for creative thinking and planning in the ELCA. From the article:

Theological schools will need to be more “creative in responding to the market and to the interest of students and the realities of how those students can actually play out their calling to ministry,” Brown said. “And they can do that in so many different venues beyond traditional congregational ministry. … They’re looking at chaplaincies, social work, a variety of venues.

Here are two “creative” actions in response:

Lenoir-Rhyne UniversityLutheran Theological Southern Seminary to merge
     CHICAGO (ELCA) – At a March 26 signing ceremony, representatives of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., celebrated the decision to merge the two institutions, effective July 1. The merger is the first such combination of an EvangelicalLutheranChurch in America (ELCA) seminary and university since the founding of this church in 1987. The ceremony took place at the Martin Luther Statue on ShawPlaza in Hickory…Read full article here.

LSTC News Release

Valparaiso University To Open Campus at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

Posted May 10, 2012

University expands graduate programs for increased flexibility for students

CHICAGO, Ill. – Today, Valparaiso University announced an expansion of its Indiana-based university into Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The University is partnering with the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to open this satellite campus. Valparaiso University of Chicago is planning to offer three graduate programs at the new location, as well as an immigration law clinic.

“Chicago has a sizeable higher education community which we are pleased to be joining,” saidMark A. Heckler, president, Valparaiso University. “After much consideration and deliberation, we identified several graduate programs that we feel will add value and are very relevant to the higher education market in Chicago.”

Classes are scheduled to begin this fall. The three initial graduate programs planned are a Master of Business Administration; Master of Health Administration; and a Master of Ministry Administration, which will be the first of its kind offered in the Chicago region.

 Read full article here.

The reasons cited for the decline in the first article seem to be the “rounding up of the usual suspects”.  Therefore, we see the problem, and then we fix the problem, problem solved.  This seems to be the continuation of the solution which has been around since the sixties, that is,  “creative ministry” in all it’s rainbow colors:  ministry no longer described by the adjective “holy” but “worker priests/bi-vocational”,  “youth”, “hospital”, “tavern”, “gay”, “clown”,  “women’s” etc.  Nevertheless, note the trajectory of such “problem solving”: our plans, our intuitions, our knowledge, etc. that is inward, to our selves.    The trajectory is not out to God and His Word, the Seed of His Word to us for us and our salvation.    The one thing needful, the good portion that will not be taken away.  When we look only to ourselves for solutions then the problem is unbelief.   Unbelief gains a stronger and stronger foothold in proportion to a man’s and a denomination’s disconnect with God’s Word, especially written in the Bible.

Soon after the ELCA began in January 1, 1988, one of the first articles that I saved from “The Lutheran” magazine (the old-fashioned way of hard copy cutting and pasting and  it was the last time I ever saved an article from The Lutheran!) was “Seminary to Test Biblical Illiteracy”.  The article was about Luther Seminary, the same as in the first article.   The writer noted that incoming seminarians did not know the basic Bible stories.  The reported reason for this Biblical illiteracy was,

“ …many students do not come through the church-college system and haven’t been apart of any sustained Bible study. For these students biblical study was a new venture.”

Luther Seminary wrote a “biblical proficiency test” for incoming seminarians.

Jump ahead in time, the ELCA began a 5-year program in 2007 to inculcate “biblical literacy’, The Book of Faith Initiative which would have culminated last year in time for the 25th Anniversary of the ELCA.  They misnamed the Bible as the “Book of Faith”.  It is not.  Calling it such indicates the problem.   It is the Book of the Words of God to point us to Jesus Christ in order to create faith.  “Book of Faith” implies the human-centered spiritual experience of ‘my faith’.  Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel knew the Bible better than liberal prots:  The Bible is not man’s theology but God’s anthropology.  The Bible is God’s Word in God’s words so that faith may grasp and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life in Jesus Chris our Lord (“Grace to receive the Word”, page 308, Lutheran Service Book).  Our Lord’s three responses to the evil one who wanted to rip Him away from the Word began each time:  It is written (St. Matthew 4: 1-11).

The connection between the weakening of the ELCA seminaries with the lack of catechesis is the correct diagnosis, and it goes hand in hand with the erosion of Scriptural authority that has gone apace beginning back probably in 40s and 50s with the acceptance of modern historical criticism. They as a body can no longer say with the Lord on temptations’ mount and plain: It is written.   Why would I want to be “Biblically literate” about the Bible suspect of being a patriarchal, sexist, and a heterosexist document?  I saw this erosion close up and personal first as a seminarian in Seminex, then as an ELCA pastor.  Why would any pastor want to teach the Scriptures except as it affirms our “personhood” or my political opinion or to “empower” my disenfranchised minority?

The problem is not merely Biblical literacy but obviously Biblical authority.  The ELCA has accepted all sorts of alien hermeneutics, that is, interpretative lenses, which are incongruent with the written Word: feminist, LGBT, environmentalist, psychotherapeutic etc. There are many Babylonian captivities of the Bible.

When I went through the colloquy process, for reception as a pastor in the LCMS, all of the pastors and DPs I met knew the horror of the acceptance of pseudogamy in the ELCA.  However, when I told about confirmation becoming in many ELCA congregations a weekend retreat and a few sessions with the pastor, there was new shock.  As one DP said, “Then why would anyone want “…to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from (this confession)”?  I said that is a great quote. He said it is from the confirmation service (LSB, page 273). I was heartened. Catechesis is obviously from womb to tomb. Here in Lexington, Virginia, home of Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, it has been my privilege to meet and minister many students and cadets.  Anecdotally, I can affirm that most of the students who were most faithful were LCMS, many of whom would not commune until I talked with their pastor. This made me glad.

There is a Bodily connection between catechesis and Seminary. The ELCA correctly saw this but were and are blind because of the lack of faith in the perspicuity of Scripture and its authority.  This undermines the Bodily connection with the false catechesis of the works righteousness of “sloppy agape” and “social justice”.

The LCMS has many of the same concerns about its seminaries and our seminarians.  Too many pastors for too few calls and assuming a large debt load upon graduation.  The decline of the ELCA seminaries begs the question for the LCMS:  Is this our destiny as well?  I think there is a connection between catechesis and seminary and so: What is the state of catechesis in the LCMS?

Many of the problems cited in the first article could describe the two Concordia Seminaries.  I am too stupid to answer the questions about aging facilities, seminarian debt etc.  I risk speaking naively.   I do think that as we are true to His Word and the Confessions, we will find solutions to these problems. We have faithful brothers and sisters who know how to deal with these concerns. Taking Scripture literally and seriously, the pastorate is to preach the Word in and out of season in concord(2 Timothy4: 1-5).    If His Word is not “in season”, as it may well be in this zeitgeist, and then surely we will have problems in the world…but of the good fight. There will be conflict in an LCMS parish accustomed to listening to Lutheran Lite preaching and teaching.  Congregations, the Church and her seminaries and pastors, must persist and insist in preaching and teaching as the Apostle admonished and encouraged Pastor Timothy.

When I first read in a letter by Herman Sasse the difference between quia and quatenus, I knew in an instant:  quia.  When any Lutheran pastor can not with full  heart and throat  say “quia”, and goes on to suggest that  parts of the Confessions are suspect (as in the clear teaching on the Mass), then the Confessions themselves become an ‘alien’ hermeneutic for him and next Scripture is interpreted by naked reason unformed by Biblical revelation and Confessional fidelity. This opens us up to the actual false interpretative lenses of the powers and principalities in the heavenly places (Ephesians  6: 10-13).

The actual alien hermeneutics of the ELCA and liberal Protestantism are not simply over there in their denominations, they are the stuff of post-modernity and the deconstruction of the authority of all texts, from the Constitution to the Bible. They affect and infect us in our culture, from school desk, to watching TV, to the corporate boardroom, to the bedroom, to the checkout counter and to the pew.  We want to fit the Bible, the Confessions and the liturgy into our time, into the zeitgeist. Why?  “We have a graying Synod.”  “We are losing members”.  “We got to do something”. (Please not the way that thinking is playing out in our national life).  We need to be more “creative in responding to the market”.  We market the truth.  This has been the approach of both liberals and conservatives for too long, possibly causing a new slaughter of souls. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2: 17) As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from the Birmingham jail: “‘…the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.’  The Scriptures, His Word will not fit into our times and it never did, but His Word makes us fit for our time.

Someone said to me, a few years back ago regarding worship:  “It’s just about packaging the truth in a different form”.  ‘Oh, we have the pure doctrine but we can do with it as we please.’  This cannot be in any Seminary of His Church. When the Confessional teaching, e.g. on the Mass, is not heeded, then we have a Gnostic community, no longer the catholic and evangelical Body of Christ.

I close with this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together who cautions us to be wary and say no to any intrusion of the “best laid plans o’ mice and men” into the Church, the Bible, the Seminary, and the Catechesis:

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are, fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not the God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream, that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

 






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  1. Jason
    February 1st, 2013 at 08:49 | #1

    Two things…

    1) that Valpo is opening a satelite at Chicago. Is there any doubt the Valpo is a de facto ELCA school? They can claim independance, and beg for LCMS students and money, based on nostalgia, but they have totally gone the way of Seminex, and have pretty much abandoned any Missouri principles.

    2) WHAT PASTORAL OVERAGE?? I said elsewhere, New Jersey has 10 vacnacies with 3 more retirementts on the way, and a few others just as old. And we do not have enough retired pastors to serve all these congregations. And also not a single congregation has any dual pastors to loan, either. I think our calling issues are more political than need based.

  2. Dr. Ralph E. Spraker, Jr
    February 1st, 2013 at 10:45 | #2

    Are we really back to the early eighties again when the “inerrancy” problem was supposedly fixed at Concordia (JW Montgomery’s “Crisis in Lutheran Theology”)?

    Old Adam loves to appropriate the zeitgeist because it placates his Modern/Post Modern sensibilities rather well. The zeitgeist appears more “scholarly” than our quaint, old, simpler Biblical mandates.

    “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:2-4).

    When will we learn “Alien Hermeneutics” beget “Alien Faith”?

    In the Lamb

  3. Carl Vehse
    February 1st, 2013 at 13:11 | #3

    @Jason #1: WHAT PASTORAL OVERAGE??

    In general, as shown on the graphs, LCMS membership per LCMS clergy and LCMS congregations per LCMS clergy.

    Of course, variations in trends can exist within specific U.S. locations.

  4. Carl Vehse
    February 1st, 2013 at 13:12 | #4

    BTW, here is a graph showing the LCMS congregational members per 1,000 U.S. population.

  5. PastorJack
    February 1st, 2013 at 14:26 | #5

    I have an idea how the ELCA seminaries can save lots of money. Eliminate all seminary faculty members who reject the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, the Virgin birth, the resurrection, the Real Presence, the atonement, Law and Gospel, and the Theology of the Cross. Then eliminate all seminary profs who reject the traditional Biblical understanding of marriage and human sexuality. Then eliminate all the non-Lutheran faculty from ecumenical “full-communion” partners. This should reduce the seminary faculties by…let’s see…wow! 100%! The ELCA has set a course toward destruction–it was on the course well before the 2009 vote–and it will follow that course until the bitter end. Like the Episcopal Church, which it is hell-bent on imitating for some reason, the ELCA is fast disintegrating. The leftist, revisionist presiding bishop and most of the ELCA bishops along with the leftist non-theological ELCA church council are largely responsible for the death of the ELCA. A unitarian worship, full-communion agreements with those who reject the Real Presence, the acceptance of same-gender “marriage,” health insurance that pays for abortion up to five months of pregnancy, and bishops who care more about K Street lobbying than they do about the souls of the people they are called to shepherd–is it really any wonder that the ELCA is dying when it promotes the culture of the death?

  6. Dave Schumacher
    February 1st, 2013 at 19:17 | #6

    “Steadfast in the ELCA”
    Now there’s an oxymoron.

  7. Lumpenkönig
    February 4th, 2013 at 09:55 | #7

    @Jason #1
    Valpo is indeed a de facto ELCA school. That should be understood by all confessional Lutherans. The LCMS is reluctant to say anything bad about Valpo, as the children of LCMS pastors get to go to school there for free. The ongoing free tuition deal was designed as a “gentlemens agreement” to compensate for the millions of dollars the LCMS donated to build the Valpo campus in the early and mid 20th century. Shhhhhhh!

    With the exception of Bob Jones University and BYU, every single Christian university in the USA eventually becomes secular. This is to be expected. This is why it is better to have a strong campus ministry next to a public university than to support a “Christian” university. For example, how many students are Lutheran or convert to Lutheranism at any of the Concordias? Very few? Yup.

    R.I.P. ELCA! I suppose it is wise to study their mistakes so that the LCMS or any other confessional Lutheran denomination does not repeat them.

  8. Mrs. Hume
    February 4th, 2013 at 10:51 | #8

    “Enrollment is down from 822 nearly five years ago to 764 students this year.”

    How many of them are men? Seriously.

    With the exception of Bob Jones University and BYU, every single Christian university in the USA eventually becomes secular.

    Pensacola Christian (PCC)? They have embraced persecution they have endured:

    For a short period A Beka Book held tax exempt status because its profits were channeled into PCC as a tax exempt religious organization or educational institution. In January 1995 the U.S. Internal Revenue Service ruled that the college’s publishing arm was liable for taxes as a profit-making entity. The IRS further ruled that since the profits of the publishing arm benefited the organization as a whole due to the fact that both A Beka Book and PCC were run under the same organization and that all of the profits of A Beka Book went directly to PCC constituting 60% of the college’s income.[7] The effect of this ruling rendered the publishing company ineligible for future tax exempt status. Although PCC was ultimately cleared of any liability for back taxes, PCC paid the estimated at $44.5 million, and A Beka Book paid another $3.5 million dollars.

    Just in case you missed it:

    Although PCC was ultimately cleared of any liability for back taxes, PCC paid the estimated at $44.5 million, and A Beka Book paid another $3.5 million dollars.

    When they did that, they just as good as said, that no persecution will deter them. No fines, harrassment, lawsuits or any other abuse would sway them. I think that is why you never hear about them. Those that lose to them don’t want to go around announcing that they lost. They much prefer soft targets like the ELCA who conform to the world to avoid persecution and derision yet are nonetheless destroyed by their love of this world’s opinion.

  9. Mrs. Hume
    February 4th, 2013 at 11:02 | #9

    Valpo, as the children of LCMS pastors get to go to school there for free.

    Is that really a good deal? Hey, Valpo will indoctrinate your kids with their false teaching for free!

  10. February 11th, 2013 at 11:30 | #10

    Just being introduced to your website. Not sure what I will find here. First question I have is:
    Is it really biblical to criticize another church body the way this site seems to do? I do love to
    get down to the truth about things in general and my spiritual tradition in particular—that is
    to say—except when it applies to me and my unfaithfulness in fulfilling my vision of mission.
    Hope you all are on the right track. As a great Lutheran once said, the higher the monkey
    climbs up the tree (at the expense of the tree) the more his backside shows.

  11. February 11th, 2013 at 14:41 | #11

    @Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Nibbe, Ph.D. #10
    “Is it really biblical to criticize another church body the way this site seems to do?” Yes:
    1 Timothy: 6: “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

    I agree with your point about being unfaithful. I too have been, am and will be unfaithful but not to “my vision of mission” but to the Lord. So,the other point to criticism is to caution and warn myself and others of the dangers inherent in false doctrine.

    I am glad you have been introduced to BJS. Peace in His Name alone, Pr. Mark Schroeder

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