Happel and Gebauer ““ Steadfast Brothers of the 60’s, by Pr. Walt Otten

(This is another of Pastor Otten’s posts in his regular column: Steadfast Lessons from the Past. The others can be viewed here. This column is a follow up to his column from September 23. We encourage the Brothers to read this column to be encouraged by brothers long since taken to glory who were fighting the good fight years ago.)

Among those who were brothers of John the Steadfast “from the past” one would have to include the name of Pastor A. O. Gebauer, long time pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Chicago’s southside. He “steadfastness” was evident at the 1966 convention of the Northern Illinois District (NID). A most significant and “shocking” event happened at that convention.

In my last article I mentioned “former” District President Erwin Paul as one who had written to the River Forest Board of Control urging the Board to grant tenure to Dr. Walter Bouman. That article said that the adjective “former” had something to do with Dr. Bouman. How President Paul became the “former” president is the point of this article.

The last article reported on the “Debate of the Century” that took place at Valparaiso University. The issue in the “debate” was “Creation and/or Evolution.” Dr. Bouman as a participant in the panel of presenters said among other things “where scientific research confronts us with a fact, then we can manage to find a new way to interpret the Scriptures, even though a man as revered in our own tradition, as I’m sure many of us revere Dr. Pieper, thought otherwise.” The REPORTER in commenting on the conference at Valpo said of Dr. Bouman that he “advanced arguments supporting the thesis that the conflict with the evolution issue is not posed by science…but by a theological opinion about the interpretation of inspiration.”

“Former” President Paul had been elected to the Presidency of the Northern Illinois District in 1963, that’s a story in itself, perhaps for another article. President Paul was clearly aware of the theological position of Dr. Walter Bouman. On the morning of February 21st, l966 District President Paul met for several hours with Dr. Bouman in his Forest Park office at the request of Dr. Bouman. The topic of discussion, Dr. Bouman’s Valparaiso presentation and other papers of Dr. Bouman, which had appeared elsewhere in Synodical publications, and which were consistent with and supportive of what Dr. Bouman had said at the Valpo conference. Also present at that meeting in the office of President Paul was a pastor who clearly showed how what Dr. Bouman had said and had written was contrary to the confession of the Missouri Synod. President Paul’s own district had heard a 30 page doctrinal paper by Dr. Paul Zimmerman at it’s 1961 district convention that clearly affirmed not only what the Scriptures teach regarding creation, but which also set forth the shortcomings of the theory of evolution. Dr. Theodore Nickel was the President of the NID in 1961. DPs do have some input regarding convention essayists. It would be no surprise to discover that Dr. Paul Zimmerman would give such a paper at a district convention whose president was Pastor Theodore Nickel. That’s also a topic for a future article in this column. The 1960’s in LCMS history are a fertile ground to find theological battles and steadfast Lutherans similar to what we face today.

It was after the February 21st, l966 meeting in the office of District President Paul that the names of the committee members he had appointed to serve at the 1966 convention of the NID appeared. He had appointed Dr. Walter Bouman to the committee that would consider doctrinal matters. In view of the Valpo conference, and what Dr. Bouman said at that conference, a congregation of the district submitted a memorial (motion) to the 1966 NID convention in which it asked the district to clearly “resolve” that evolution is contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture. This memorial would be considered by the doctrinal committee. Dr. Bouman was a member of the committee that was being asked to prepare a resolution for the convention that took issue with what he himself had said that was contrary to God’s Word. He was serving on his own jury. The pastor of the congregation that submitted the memorial wrote to President Paul “protesting” the appointment of Dr. Bouman to the doctrinal committee for the convention. He did so under a bylaw which then existed, but is no now longer found in the Handbook regarding convention committees appointed by the President, “every member of Synod shall have the right to object to any appointment made to such committees.” (This bylaw would be helpful in today’s discussions in synod over President Kieschnick’s appointments to synod commissions.)

In his opening presidential address to the 1966 convention President Paul indicated to the delegates that he had received this “protest” of the committee appointment, but President Paul reported that he did not follow through on the request to have Dr. Bouman removed from the committee. Dr. Bouman would remain on the committee.

At the conclusion of the Presidents report to the 1966 convention of the NID, Pastor A.O. Gebauer asked for the “floor.” The minutes of the 1966 NID convention report what happened when Pastor Gebauer asked for the floor. “A protest was voiced from the floor to the appointment on the convention committee referred to in the President’s Report. The chair ruled the protest out of order. An appeal was made from the ruling. A motion to sustain the ruling of the chair was defeated. The parliamentarian advised that the protest was not in order because other business had intervened between the announcement and the protest.”

It was Pastor Gebauer who protested and made the motion that would either support or not support the decision of the chair to disregard the protest. Pastor Gebauer made that motion because he was told by the President that he had no other recourse but to ask the convention if it agreed or disagreed with the decision of the President to disregard the protest. It was a “steadfast” moment. A district pastor publicly challenging the District President’s decision. The convention was just beginning, dare one so early one express his disagreement. Pastor Gebauer made the motion. The parliamentarian intervened as the minutes state. He said other business had intervened. But the parliamentarian was wrong, no other business had intervened. Pastor Gebauer asked for the floor at the conclusion of the President’s report. Was the parliamentarian saying that Pastor Gebauer should have gotten up during the President’s opening address at the very moment he mentioned that someone had asked that Dr. Bouman be removed from the committee, apparently so? What does the convention do now? It did not support the president’s decision to disregard the protest of Dr. Bouman’s appointment to the doctrinal committee. The parliamentarian only “advised” that Pastor Gebauer’s motion was out of order. There was an embarrassed silence. Someone should have asked for a vote on whether the convention would accept the “advice” of the parliamentarian. But no one did. Clearly the will of the convention was being overruled by the “advice” of the parliamentarian. President Paul accepted the advice and the convention continued with Dr. Bouman on the doctrinal committee, even though it was obvious that the convention did not want Dr. Bouman on that committee.

The convention may not have rejected the advice of the parliamentarian, but there was yet to come some steadfast advice of their own that the convention would give. The first order of business in the afternoon session of the first day was the election of the district president. A nominating ballot was circulated. Besides President Paul four men were nominated. Two were district vice presidents, another the district secretary, still another the district’s Stewardship Executive, Pastor E. H. Happel. To the surprise of many, Pastor Happel was elected. His words that followed his election were, “To say that I am in a state of shock at the vote of this convention for the Presidency of the NID is an honest appraisal of my personal feeling at this time.” His election was the “advice” the convention gave.

There were other matters that distressed conservatives in the district in l966 other than the appointment of Dr. Walter Bouman to a convention committee. One of the appointed essayists at the same convention, the theme of which was “The Church In Tension,” was Dr. Richard Jungkuntz. His topic dealt with the doctrinal tensions. He especially addressed “inerrancy.” His convention essay reveals “seminex in embryo.” He would later join the ELCA and serve as President of one of its colleges. The relationship of Dr. J.A.O. Preus and Dr. Jungkuntz, who had been head of the CTCR, is another most interesting story for another article.

What caused “shock” to the newly elected District President was that this all took place long before any printed materials were used in Synodical or district elections. MISSOURI IN PERSPECTIVE and JESUS FIRST, as well as the conservative LAYMEN’S ANAYLSIS of the NID had yet to appear. He did not seek the office, the office sought him. In those day, before Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans (famous for their  “That They May Be One” commentary on  the  Yankee Stadium event), the word “confessional” was still limited to the CONFESSIONAL LUTHERAN (a small periodiocal). The confessional Lutherans in the District did meet periodically at the what was the Holiday Inn in Aurora. They had no publication, but they did want a “confessional” District President. By word of mouth they elected one. This was their “advice.”

An important issue would soon face the Synod. Should the LCMS declare fellowship with the ALC? The 1967 Synod convention sought the advice of the Council of Presidents. When the District President were polled, President Happel was one of the 11 District Presidents that voted against ALC fellowship. With this act he continued his steadfast position.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Happel and Gebauer ““ Steadfast Brothers of the 60’s, by Pr. Walt Otten — 6 Comments

  1. Most interesting! My eye caught the quotation regarding the former bylaw which permitted protesting the appointment of Committee members.

    “every member of Synod shall have the right to object to any appointment made to such committees.”

    Have we have “cleaned up” the bylaws so much that the delegates have no choice by to go along with the rulings of the chair of the convention? Almost! At one time individual pastors were able to submit resolutions to the convention – that was ruled “verboten.” I suppose there was some abuse, but does the “abuse” argument justify the opposite abuse?

    Synod has for a long time been sliding towards becoming a hierarchical church body. We now have a “pope” in power who can do virtually anything he wishes and a “Gebauer” probably wouldn’t even get to the floor to protest.

    Although, “snags” in the plan of the convention are distracting and occasionally disruptive we are the poorer for making it harder to do.

  2. While serving as a parochial school teacher in Northwest Indiana, an annual area-wide Bible Institute was held between Epiphany and Lent. Pastor Gebauer was one of the regular presenters. His were the most enlightening, interesting, and faith-building Bible studies I ever attended. The notes I took are on my bookshelf and are still referred to in my personal study. Pastor Gebauer’s confessional stance was obvious and was lovingly included in his presentations. Thank you, Pastor Otten, for reminding me of these “good old days.”

  3. Only by a fluke did I discover this site and the existence of The Brothers of John the Steadfast. Reading the article “Steadfast Brothers of the 60s” brought tears to my eyes and vivid memories to my mind.

    It was a time of such tumult, and most will never know the incredible efforts of relatively few men that God used to “save” Missouri. My dad (and my mother, by the way) worked tirelessly and at great personal sacrifice in that effort. Most Missourians today have no clue what that struggle was all about. More’s the pity. We could learn many lessons from events of that time.

    My sister and I watch with great sadness what is happening to our beloved synod under current leadership. If the president succeeds in his efforts to restructure LCMS and consolidate power in his office, in all likelihood we will leave. A painful decision when our family has sent 10 men into LCMS ministry and we have prayed for Missouri for so many years.

    My deep gratitude to the writer (whose name I well recall from those days) for acknowledging my Dad. That someone even remembers warms my heart. Thanks also to the gentleman who remembers Dad’s classes; he loved teaching and put his heart into them. We have kept a number of Dad’s writings, among them I believe are his notes on that course.

    Charlotte Gebauer Koelling

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.