A Tale of Two High Schools, er, um”¦ of Two Synods? By Jonathan Townsend

Ok, here is where I get into big trouble…


In the 1970’s a Lutheran Synod that bears the name of a Midwestern state, that has a unit concept of fellowship and teaches that the pastoral office is only one form of the divinely instituted public ministry, opened a high school in a western suburb of Detroit. There was great pride and happiness that God had blessed the families of the local congregations of this Synod with a Lutheran high school where they could send their children.


At the same time there was another Lutheran high school about 10 miles away within the city of Detroit. This high school was started by another Lutheran Synod, which sees the congregation as “Church” as opposed to the Synod being “Church” and should view the pastoral office as the only divinely instituted form of public ministry – and also bears the name of a Midwestern state. The school was older and was started, if not before, around the time that the two Synods mentioned here broke fellowship with one another. It had a storied and proud history.


In the 1980’s white flight gripped Detroit and the Lutheran high school within its borders on the west side began losing students at an alarming rate. An opportunity came up for the association that ran the high school to purchase land and a building for a new high school outside of the city – and here comes the irony – about 500 feet away from the high school of the other Synod.


Now I am no stranger to Christian high schools existing side by side. I went to a Lutheran high school on the east side of the city and next to it was a Catholic girls school bearing the Latin name for the Queen of Heaven and next to it was a Catholic boys school bearing the French name for Our Lady. All of them are gone from that location now, but 20 years ago there was a waiting list to get in.


Occasionally I turn down the side street where the two Lutheran high schools are and I shake my head. Some might believe that these two schools confess something good about the state of Lutheranism. I don’t. To me it represents a failure that happened in 1961. The seeds of higher criticism and poor fellowship practices were germinating within the LCMS and the WELS/ELS walked away from the Synodical Conference. The LCMS cleaned house several years later, but in many ways it was like a house in which chain smokers lived for 20 years. You can paint the walls, but unless you first put stain kill on them the nicotine and tar bleed through. – I don’t think the house was really totally cleaned, I think folks were still smoking; they were just cracking the window now.


While there were and are “no smoking sections” in the LCMS where one can breath the air free from the second hand smoke of higher criticism and unionism, there are still definite “smoking sections” even after the clean up efforts .WELS/ELS folks can still point to these for justification of their walkout. But one must always look out for that plank in one’s own eye and that plank is this statement from the WELS Q&A: “Wisconsin teaches that the pastor of a local congregation is only one form of the divinely instituted public ministry. Other forms are teachers, professors, called administrators, etc.” www.wels.net


So, in the LCMS you get stuff like “Yankee Stadium”. In the WELS/ELS you get a view of OHM that does not square with Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession. (For further proof that teachers et. al. do not fall under the divine call defined in Article XIV, please see Luther’s explanation of the 4th Commandment in the Large Catechism – he mentions this estate in the responsibilities attached to the 4th Commandment. Luther applies the commandment to parental fathers and “fathers” in vocations serving governmental and educational needs. He differentiates these vocations from “spiritual fathers” For those only are called spiritual fathers who govern and guide us by the Word of God; 159] as St. Paul boasts his fatherhood 1 Cor. 4:15, where he says: In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.) Church Growth has made inroads into both.


Back to high school: Within 500 feet in a western lower middle class suburb of Detroit there are 300 students in Lutheran High Schools, as in Lutheran High Schools, plural. 90 are in one. 210 are in the other. For at least one, it is not going so well financially. When my oldest is ready for high school in 8 years, I do not see it as question of “Which one should we send him to, honey?”, but rather “Will there even be a Lutheran High School to send him to?”


The time will come when Lutheran parents in this area will have to sit down and examine their doctrinal positions and find concord, or there will be no Lutheran High School for our children to attend.


In the same way, on a higher level, the same problem exists between WELS/ELS congregations and the LCMS. In time the spiritual children, the sheep, will suffer because the separation causes waste and at times just looks silly. If you are in a congregation that holds to biblical inerrancy, quia subscription to the Book of Concord, practices closed communion and hasn’t strayed from the historic liturgy – wouldn’t it make sense to sit together and figure out a way to come together on fellowship concepts, church discipline and OHM? Someone has to have the guts to sit down and work out the differences and come to an understanding for the sake of confessional Lutheranism.


The LCMS and WELS/ELS hold keys to fix one another. The WELS/ELS has the will to carry out church discipline on those they see as straying from true doctrine. In the WELS/ELS Rev. Wallace Schulz’s decision on Rev. Benke’s participation in the Yankee Stadium affair would have been upheld and carried out. Confessional congregations in the LCMS have a proper understanding of OHM that the WELS/ELS needs to embrace – namely that the divine call applies primarily to the ministry of Word and Sacrament that is carried out by the pastoral office and that other vocations within the church are auxiliary to this office..


I belong to a WELS congregation because I moved and all of the LCMS congregations nearby are definitely for those who prefer the smoke and mirrors of American Evangelicalism to Law and Gospel Preaching and weekly communion. To those in the LCMS I would give this advice as someone who had to make the decision to not go to one of the three LCMS congregations in my area. Depending on how things go in the next couple of years you have a choice to make. If the ship cannot be turned, maybe it is time to build a new ship with a fellowship that is closer to you in doctrine and practice than some of your current shipmates.


Out of three there wasn’t one that was confessional? You may ask. Sadly, no there wasn’t. The closest LCMS congregation to my home does not even publicly identify itself as Lutheran.


(Jon’s writes regularly for BJS. His posts can be seen on the Regular Columns page under the title of “I Desire Mercy and Not Satire, but a Little Satire is Good for the Soul.”)

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