Another Look at “Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod”

The latest issue of the “Lutheran Clarion” is online and is worth reading and downloading for your files. Click here to obtain your free copy.

In this issue, Dr. Scott Meyer, Chairman of the Board of the Concordia Historical Institute (hereafter CHI), gives a magisterial analysis of James C. Burkee’s book Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011). The title of Meyer’s article is “Theology–the Real Issue of the Preus Era.” Meyer’s headings summarize his points: “Hearsay vs. Eyewitness Evidence,” “Burkee Diatribe Against [JAO] Preus,” “The Issue of Theology,” “Behnken’s Concern and Plea,” “[JAO] Preus vs. Burkee on the Issue of Theology,” and “Christ’s Teachings.” This article is the presentation that Dr. Meyer gave to the January 2012 Lutheran Concerns Conference in Fort Wayne.

The previous issue of the “Lutheran Clarion” published an article with the same title “Theology–the Real Issue of the Preus Era,” written by Mr. Walter Dissen, Esq. for the same conference. If you don’t have that article, you can obtain it here for free.

The credentials of both Dissen and Meyer are significant and very impressive. Walter Dissen was a personal eyewitness to many of the events of the Preus era, serving 12 years on the Board of Regents at Saint Louis, 12 years on synod’s Commission on Appeals, and most recently 12 years on the Board of Regents at Fort Wayne. He is a retired corporate attorney, having served at the highest levels of industry, with matchless experience in service to his church.

Scott Meyer received the Distinguished Service Award from CHI in November 2004. The Award has been given to only a few people in the history of the LCMS, including C.S. Meyer, Theodore Tappert, J.A.O. Preus, Oswald Hoffmann, Gerhardt Kramer, Roy Suelflow, August Suelflow, and Gladys Suelflow-Krause. Scott Meyer has been a faithful and productive member of the Board of Governors of CHI and its various committees since 1986. He is the distinguished author of the award-winning Fifty Years in the Footsteps of Walther: Biography of William C. Kohn. He is a retired corporate patent attorney for Monsanto.

Previous reviews of Burkee’s book include: Ken Schurb, Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly 84 #1 (Spring 2011): 55-57; and two online reviews at Blogia, one by David Ramirez and one by myself.

The accumulated criticism in the above-mentioned reviews leads me to wonder what happened in the writing of Burkee’s book, which was originally his doctoral dissertation. I am not, in any way, questioning Burkee’s competence as a scholar of general American history. That is his scholarly field, after all!

The online description for James Burkee says that he is the “Associate Professor of History” at Concordia University-Wisconsin, specializing in “modern American political history.” He also “teaches courses on the modern Middle East, US national elections, and Wisconsin political history.” “He earned his Ph.D. from Northwestern University” in Evanston, Illinois and “did his undergraduate studies in Business and History at Concordia [University-Wisconsin].” There is nothing here that indicates more than a rudimentary competence in theology, religion, or church history. This is the most charitable explanation for Burkee’s apparent blindness to theological issues in the Preus era.

As a church historian, I am wondering what an American political historian is doing writing his dissertation in my field of church history. It doesn’t make any sense. His doctoral committee should have refused to accept his topic. Although most folks think that historians are equally competent in all fields of history, that belief is hardly true. For example, engineers are not just engineers. They are electrical engineers, civil engineers, software engineers, etc., etc. You risk major damage if you hire one to do the other’s job. The same is true for historians and their work.

I would never venture to write a dissertation, or write a book, in a historical field that I had not studied extensively, in detail, for many years. Why did the doctoral level faculty at Northwestern University encourage and permit this in Burkee’s case? I don’t know, but it is symptomatic of where church history is headed in America.

One of the most talented and respected church historians in the United States, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, was David W. Lotz of Union Theological Seminary–New York. Lotz edited an important book on American church history in the modern era titled Altered Landscapes: Christianity in America, 1935-1985. Essays in Honor of Robert T. Handy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmanns, 1989). For that book, Lotz wrote a historiographical essay titled “A Changing History: From Church History to Religious History” (pp. 312-342). The essay is most significant for how it explains the secularization of church history since 1965.

In his essay, Lotz wrote: Martin E. Marty observed that church history was now being pushed ‘in a secular direction’ . . . For Marty, then, the crisis besetting the discipline [of church history], marked chiefly by a loss of ‘church’, could be offset by a promising new venture: the study of religious history (though this shift, it seems, also confirmed and even compounded the crisis). (p. 330-331; my emphases). In other words, Lotz did not believe that Marty’s “solution” to the problem was helpful in resolving the crisis.

Toward the end of his essay, Lotz wrote: This programmatic turn from theological history to social history-so characteristic of religious history in toto-is partly attributable to the change in the discipline’s primary institutional locus from seminaries to university departments of religion and history. Most of the more recent Ph.D.s in religious studies lack formal, seminary-based theological education. In consequence, as Jaroslav Pelikan has remarked “young scholars have been entering the field of the history of Christianity without adequate preparation in the biblical, ecclesiastical, liturgical, and theological issues with which, after all, much of that history has been preoccupied, and have therefore been compelled to acquire, only after the doctorate (if then), what seminary graduates used to bring as a prerequisite to graduate study and research.” (p. 337; my emphasis).

Both David Lotz and Jaroslav Pelikan explain the problem that faces church history today. It is being overrun by persons schooled in “general religious history” or by persons trained in “social history.” Burkee appears to take the latter approach. Both types are blind to and ignorant of Pelikan’s list of “biblical, ecclesiastical, liturgical, and theological issues” that are the “meat and potatoes” of real church history. Little wonder, then, that Burkee didn’t think that theology was an important issue in the Preus era.

That is why Burkee’s book is a bad book. That is why I can’t recommend it to anyone for any reason. It is why I will continue to use the more reliable books by Fred Danker No Room in the Brotherhood and by John Tietjen Memoirs in Exile to get the liberal’s side of the story of the Preus era. It is why I will continue to use the very reliable books by Kurt Marquart Anatomy of an Explosion, Seminary Board of Control Exodus from Concordia, and Paul Zimmerman Seminary in Crisis to get the facts about the Preus era and its context in American Lutheran church history.


Another Look at “Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod” — 36 Comments

  1. Having earned three college level degrees myself I can talk with some authority on the general nature of most upper level institutions of higher learning today; In a word self aggrandizing. Most times in today’s scholarly works as Samuel Clemens famously stated, you can not find any truth in that work with a divining rod.

    You have taken the high road with your evaluation of the above works of Mr. Burkee’s book and his doctoral dissertation.

    You set about and proved that this man’s works described above are, in my words and in my opinion, tripe.

    It is the larger questions that you have brought up almost as an aside that are more important to LCMS members at all levels. It seems that the educational organs of the synod have to stress and educate the Synod membership in the new realities of materials that are at best false representations of Christianity and the Church at all levels.

    The only answer to this growing institutional problem can only be addressed by our University system’s careful selection of personnel at all levels as well as our publishing house

    “The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

    Happy Reformation Sunday! Today we remember the Reformation and Martin Luther, who posted his 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517. “There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.” — Martin Luther, Luther’s Works”


  2. Rev. Noland,

    Your post is very interesting and helps to put this book into a proper frame of reference. It is advantageous to know the professional and educational background of a writer when considering his writing. The perspective of Dr. Burkee’s book makes more sense when I consider that it is written by a layman who is heavily involved in politics and academics. A secularly trained historian and aspiring politician born a generation after the participants of this event will bring a certain subjective perspective to his writing of the Seminex history. He is more likely to view things through a postmodern lens of power and politics rather than through historic Lutheran(catholic) doctrine. The fact that people belonging to a synod were involved in the battle for the Bible obviously means that power and politics were involved, but the battle wasn’t about power and politics. The battle was obviously about the truth concerning God and His word, i.e. theology. One only need look at the theologic differences between the LCMS and ELCA to see what the battle was about.

  3. Wow, as usal Pr. Noland has even more gold truth than he may realize. He stated there are differenes between electrical, civil and software engineers… I studied Civil Enginnerring, in the engineering college at my university. The college also held electrical, mechanical, industrial… more of the hard sicences. Software engineering was over in the COMPUTER SCIENCES department. While there may be some similar design concepts at the surface level, dig for any depth and you will see a discipline that is very disimilar. Just like a political historian trying to write about church issues without any type of ecclesiasical degree. There is a severe limit to understanding a field you are not part of.

    And oh by the way, Martin Marty was involved with Burkee’s dissertation, judging his work I believe. Probably gave a ‘legitimacy’ the his work in church affairs. By the time you look at the whole situation, how could Burkee write anything but the tome he constructed?

    When you are on a trip, and you take the wrong road (or have a broken down car) how can you possibly arrive at the correct destinaiton?

  4. Watermelons v. cumquats. Burkee’s book is a publication of his dissertation in history, not theology. As I have read the various negative critiques of the book, including this one, they are about arguments that Burkee didn’t make.

    Burkee described events, including the behavior of the principles. And, he did so using information that is in the archives and personal interviews. The critical question is whether Burkee accurately presented the source material that he used for his research.

    In Burkee’s presentation, the principles, especially J.A.O. Preus and Hermann Otten come off very badly. I you disagree with that characterization, the appropriate way to challenge it is to show how Burkee inappropriately used his sources and/or ignored other relevant source material. For some reason, I suspect that Burkee’s critics have not done that because they know that they can’t.

    And, if Burkee’s characterization is correct, then you have to deal with another critical question. If the dispute really was theological, why was it necessary for Preus and Otten to behave in ways that were inconsistent with the theology that they claimed to defend?

  5. @Johan Bergfest #5

    Questionable behavior on the part of anyone involved in the [partial] cleansing of the LCMS does not change the fact that it was about false teaching. “One only need look at the theologic differences between the LCMS and ELCA to see what the battle was about.”

  6. I am grateful that most LCMSers are not aware of Seminex. It is an embarrassing period of church history. I do wish that the LCMS could somehow regain the 250 congregations that were lost during the 1970s. NALC and LCMC congregations should be happy with the ELCA of today. The advocates of Historical/Higher Criticism reap what they have sown.

    I strongly suspect that congregations currently belonging to non-LCMS denominations/associations are turned off not by the theology of the LCMS, but by its dysfunctional structure and function of Synod and especially of districts.

    The main threat to the LCMS is not liberal theology, but the watered-down, non-denominational theology promoted by the Church Growth Movement (Willow Creek, Saddleback, TCN, etc.). Could an LCMS fan of Willow Creek please tell us why young people are “turned off” by the hymnal and by Luthers Small Catechism?

    How do non-denominationals perceive the LCMS?

  7. @Ted Crandall #6

    Whether or not you conclusion is correct, it is irrelevant to the central thesis off Burkee’s book. And, as I noted above, I have read several negative commentaries of the book and none were relevant to his central thesis.

    I will also stand on my second point – Preus’ and Otten’s behavior was in stark contradiction with the theology that they claimed to be defending.

  8. Lumpenkönig :I strongly suspect that congregations currently belonging to non-LCMS denominations/associations are turned off not by the theology of the LCMS, but by its dysfunctional structure and function of Synod and especially of districts.

    I can’t speak for non-LCMS congregations, just the perspective of one person – born and raised LCMS. I am turned off by the dysfunctional structure; and emphasis away from the primacy of the congregation to the primacy of the hierarchy; the notion that sound doctrine can be discerned by votes on the convention floor; dirty politics; and, a migration away from the core doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church to a peculiar form of neo-legalism. I find it very curious the degree to which some folks claim to be confessional Lutherans yet embrace a theology that has been heavily influenced by the Southern Baptists. Perhaps it would be more correct to refer to it as Hasidic Lutheranism, based in a Lutheran equivalent of the Talmud written by Walther et al.

  9. @Johan Bergfest #9
    I find it very curious the degree to which some folks claim to be confessional Lutherans yet embrace a theology that has been heavily influenced by the Southern Baptists.

    The people who are heavily influenced by the Southern Baptists are not “confessional Lutherans”. They may be deceiving themselves and their hearers, (or they are only “confessional Lutherans” for a few months before synodical elections in the case of some bureaucrats I have observed). 🙁
    But that was a redundancy. 😉

  10. @Lumpenkon
    I think that it’s important to remember that observing the structure and growth success of the Saddlebacks and Willow Creeks of the country does not mean that we bring back to our churches their theology or doctrine that does not conform to Lutheranism and Scripture.

    One should not assume that our pastors and lay leaders are so ignorant and weak in their Lutheran foundation that they will be pulled from it by a week-end discussion on Christianity’s role in life, or a seminar on how the youth of today think. These are problems for all Christian churches and joining in discussing them does not automatically lead Lutherans astray. Give us a little credit for intelligence and faith. We’re not stupid!

  11. sue wilson :
    One should not assume that our pastors and lay leaders are so ignorant and weak in their Lutheran foundation that they will be pulled from it by a week-end discussion on Christianity’s role in life, or a seminar on how the youth of today think. These are problems for all Christian churches and joining in discussing them does not automatically lead Lutherans astray. Give us a little credit for intelligence and faith. We’re not stupid!

    Intelligence and faith. Hmmmmm……sorta like the sale of ULC by the MNS district? Which theology influenced that decision? Which theology encouraged certain LCMS church leaders to fire Wally Schulz from The Lutheran Hour and Todd Wilken from KFUO? Which theology demands the total replacement of Lutheran worship and study materials with Evangelical ones? Which theology encourages LCMS district presidents to threaten and harass pastors who resist the latest fads?

    From every book, DVD, or seminar (or in the case of LCMS pastors, an advanced degree from an Evangelical seminary), we do indeed “bring back” a foreign theology and doctrine. For example, have you ever been required by your congregation to study the latest books by Rick Warren, Beth Moore, or Bill Hybels? It is much more serious than replacing hymnals with contemporary praise bands.

    Many LCMS leaders are not very bright.

  12. @Lumpenkönig #13
    Many LCMS leaders are not very bright.

    They may or may not be “bright”. But Lutheran certainly seems to come second to the latest reformed fad in their minds.

    Maybe they aren’t very bright, come to think of it. They, thru TCN, are suggesting that a pastor “move on down the road” if his congregation’s numbers don’t increase in a specified time. But, by that very argument, all of the “upper management” should have turned over years ago.

    Guess it’s easier to prescribe than to take the medicine!

    [Or, like Wall Street, you can lose millions (and keep your own high salary), as long as it’s other people’s money in both cases!]

  13. @lumpenkonig
    My congregation has never been “required” to read anything. We are, however, strongly encouraged to read God’s Word, and God’s word is preached and taught almost every day of the week.
    Sorry to hear that you must be in a different situation.

  14. Do you know why congregations are burdened – whether it be from their own pastors on their own initiative, or from the “suits” in the DO that have the latest answers to all parish ills – with the latest fad, whether it be from Hybels, Warren, TCN, or other non-Lutheran sources?

    The answer is simple … These “leaders” do not trust that the Word of God is powerful in and of itself to bring people to faith, and (by the grace of God) into local congregations to nurture that faith.

    Once pastors are convinced that the Word has the power to do what it says, these extra-curricular programs will fall by the wayside, and we will have God-pleasing growth, inwardly as well as outwardly.

  15. @sue wilson #15
    Did your pastor go to St. Louis? (I can only speak for it since I did not attend Ft. Wayne) There he was likely required to read such books as Velvet Elvis, Simple Church, The Poisonwood Bible, and Purpose Driven Life. Do you think that had any bearing on or shaping of what he believes? Do you think those principles and evangelical way of thinking are passed on to his congregation? You bet.

  16. @Johan Bergfest #5

    Dear Mr. “Bergfest” and BJS Readers,

    Mr. Bergfest, I wrote this particular BJS article mainly because Dr. Scott Meyer addresses the very issues that you make in your comment #5. Did you read his article?

    Everyone who reads my post or this comment, please download Dr. Meyer’s and Mr. Dissen’s articles, linked to in my article, and read them before commenting further!

    Mr. Bergfest, apparently you agree with Mr. Burkee that theology had little or nothing to do with the conflicts of the JAO Preus era. I think you thereby prove my point.

    A person who looks at the world through modern “secular” eyes won’t be able to see how, at least within the confines of the church, that “biblical, ecclesiastical, liturgical, and theological issues” (Pelikan’s list) really DO matter. We are not dealing with secular history here in the story of 1960-70s LCMS, we are dealing with church history.

    Now if Burkee had intended to write a dissertation and/or book about the secular-political, social, and cultural positions of the “liberal” and “conservative” factions in the synod in the 1960s and 1970s, that would have been a worthwhile study in its own right–and very interesting. And he does have some of that material in his book.

    What I hope Burkee does with his obvious talents, in the future, is look at the history of how American Lutherans have identified themselves with particular parties, i.e., either Democrat or Republican. We shouldn’t assume that all Lutherans are Republicans, as many do. The congregation I serve has historically been Democrat. It has supplied four mayors and two Congressmen in its history–all Democrats.

    Here are the obvious questions: When have the Lutherans at various times sided with the Republicans or the Democrats? In what parts of the country have they done this? In what social strata? In which synods? Why have they gone one way or another, or occasionally gone independent? I think this would be an interesting study both for Lutherans and for political analysts of various types–and for Burkee it is “right up his alley” of expertise.

    Besides the fact that Burkee the political historian ventured into church history, without an adequate knowledge of the specific problems attending church history, he also violated the “hearsay rule” ( as Dr. Meyer points out in his article. I suppose this deserves some explanation, for those who don’t understand what Dr. Meyer was saying in his article.

    On page xv of his book, Burkee lets us know about his sources. He admitted there were “so many unwilling to talk, be it for personal or professional reasons.” He should have asked himself, or some historian with more experience, why these people were unwilling to talk. Could it be that they understood the “hearsay rule” and knew that he was asking them for “hearsay”? Could it be that they were good Christian men and women, who try to live in accord with the 8th commandment, and since what they knew could not be substantiated, they did not want to put “hearsay” on the record and be partially responsible for it.

    The three that were more than willing to talk were also listed in page xv in Burkee’s book: Herman Otten, Waldo Werning, and Ralph Bohlmann. They were, apparently, more than willing to provide “hearsay” to Burkee with the knowledge that it would be public record in his dissertation, and possibly in a book someday.

    How should we evaluate what these three men said, since what they told Burkee is now part of the record in his book? You need to ask if they had any enemies they might want to impugn and if they had a tendency for trying to make themselves look good in the public eye.

    Otten’s story is well-known. He was denied certification because he brought accusations of false doctrine against his seminary professors. He spent his career fighting back against them, and anyone who supported them. After JAO Preus became president, Otten sought certification through him, but Preus did not cooperate. Thereafter the two were enemies. Otten did not always cooperate with the later conservative groups, like Balance, and that later led to great animosity between him and the other conservative leaders.

    Werning was involved in Faith Forward-First Concerns and gets lots of credit for that. He was given the post of executive for missions in the Preus era, and later was on the staff at Fort Wayne. There was a great deal of liberal-conservative conflict in the LCMS missions department while Werning was executive there. Then there was the conflict at Fort Wayne when Werning was on staff there. Werning gives his side of these stories in his book “Making the Missouri Synod Functional Again,” in which he expresses animosity toward many, if not most of the conservatives with which he was formerly allied.

    Bohlmann was one of the key faculty members at Saint Louis resisting the liberals there. He gets a whole lot of credit for that, and for his later leadership of the synod into calmer waters. He replaced Richard Jungkuntz on CTCR, and became JAO Preus’ right-hand man in that position. When he became seminary President and later synod president, Otten pressured him for certification. When Bohlmann refused, Otten considered him an enemy. Both Bohlmann and JAO Preus told the Balance men to “shut down” their operations, which led to mutual animosity between them and the conservative leaders associated with Balance.

    The result is that Otten, Werning, and Bohlmann are known to be men with multiple animosities toward each other and a variety of conservatives. This is not a judgment as to whether they were right or wrong at any particular time in any of these enmities. Certainly not! I wouldn’t have wanted to be in their “shoes”! This is simply a statement of fact that we must use to judge their “hearsay” testimony.

    So, for example, when Otten told Burkee that [his enemy] JAO Preus said XYZ, we cannot accept that testimony as reliable. It might be true, but we have no way of confirming it, and we have reasonable doubts about the objectivity of the source. This is why the “hearsay” testimony in Burkee book is objectionable. A historian, if he includes such material, has to inform the readers of how and why the source might be prejudiced. The better course is to not include that material at all.

    I hope this helps explains the significant problems in Burkee’s book and — again — I encourage everyone to read Dr. Meyer’s and Mr. Dissen’s excellent articles in the Lutheran Clarion which I linked to in my article above.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  17. I graduated Sem StL. I was not required to read any of those books.

    Now, after graduating, as a parish pastor I have read Purpose-Driven whatever and other such books. Because some of our members are going to read them, and we must know how to respond to the books and questions thereon. I don’t think I’ve passed on any of “those principles and evangelical way of thinking” as propounded in those books.

    E.g., some of our members read The Shack and Heaven is For Real. I felt it necessary to read those books so that we could discuss the errors in them and the danger of them.

  18. @Pr. Don Kirchner #19
    “I felt it necessary to read those books so that we could discuss the errors in them and the danger of them.”

    I used this same logic to no avail with my wife — she still made be cancel my subscription to Playboy. 🙂

    Seriously, there is a difference between reading critically and buying the lie. For example, my pastor gave me an inspirational booklet after I told him I was tempted to enter the ministry. I devoured it — hook, line, and sinker — absorbing all the encouragement it had to offer. It was only years later that I discovered how that reading had fed me much Pietism that I am still trying to unlearn. In a similar way, when your beloved seminary recommends certain books, you tend to be more open to buying the lies they might contain. On the other hand, what Pastor Kirchner describes is a critical reading, wary not to be misled.

  19. Pastor Noland, is it not true that only the Seminaries
    can certify that a man is qualified for ordination to
    the ministry of Word and Sacrament?

    In the case of Herman Otten, the St. Louis Seminary
    never certified him as qualified for ordination.
    Would this be an area that was out of bounds for
    a Synodical President whether it was Harms, Preus,
    Bohlmann, or Barry? They simply did have the
    authority to certify anyone for ordination.

  20. @sue wilson #15
    Sue: We have been required to use such study materials in our small groups and in the all-church studies. Our pastor writes his Sunday sermons based on the (Willow Creek and Saddleback) books read and/or DVDs watched. My LCMS pastor once did an altar call during a service. His district president is very pleased with him.

    I have always wondered how Lutheranism could be marketed to disaffected Evangelicals and non-denominational types. Does the LCMS really need to imitate the practices of those church bodies in order to attract new members? Why buy a cheap imitation if you could easily get the name brand?

    How many times have you stumbled across someone complaining that they tried a Lutheran church to get away from the non-denominational hucksters, but have discovered the same mess that they thought they were fleeing? People who eventually burn out from the law pounding (example: Charles Stanley) and empty promises (example: Joel Osteen) of the big haired preachers need to see confessional Lutheranism as a viable alternative. But how?

    Rather than show how much the LCMS has in common with those other denominations/associations, LCMS church leaders should highlight the differences. All of the differences — even the silly ones, need to be addressed and celebrated in a “Jonathan Fisk-style” engaging way. Trivial examples of differences: “Why do Lutheran pastors wear Catholic priest uniforms?” or “Why do you have an altar” or “Why is the organ hidden in the back of the church instead of near the front?” or “Why don’t Lutherans bring bibles to the church service?” …….or……or…….?

    I wrote that many LCMS leaders were not very bright. They trade timeless Lutheran doctrines for a mushy bowl of Evangelical oatmeal. Too often, they end up dropping the bowl. Increasing numbers of young people are sick of being manipulated by the latest fads…….

  21. @Rev. Dave Likeness #21
    In the case of Herman Otten, the St. Louis Seminary
    never certified him as qualified for ordination.

    Wasn’t there a “rules change” about this time?
    I don’t think the seminary had to “certify” anyone before 1973.
    [Those more knowledgeable may correct this fuzzy recollection.]

    Herman Otten is serving the congregation in which he vicared,
    and which called him after graduation from CSL.
    If that were not legitimate, the congregation would be out of Synod.
    IMO, Otten was a whistleblower who was badly served, after the crisis,
    by the Synod he sought to inform.

    That he became bitter against Bohlman (who many others also thought a friend, to their sorrow) is no surprise. Bohlman did very nicely, for himself only.

  22. @Martin R. Noland #18
    Otten did not always cooperate with the later conservative groups, like Balance, and that later led to great animosity between him and the other conservative leaders.

    That’s interesting. Pastors I know here in Texas are friends of Otten’s and also members of Balance. I wouldn’t know about either one, except through them.

  23. @helen #23
    This is basically what I heard at the time, although I don’t remember a date for the bylaw. Thus this is hearsay level testimony–I remember reading during the Synodical controversies of the 70’s that a bylaw had been passed by a Synodical convention indicating that only prospective pastors certified by an LCMS seminary could be ordained into an LCMS congregation. I also read that this bylaw was developed by the so-called moderates in order to prevent a future situation similar to that of Pastor Otten, in which an LCMS congregation called a seminary graduate whose seminary did not certify him for a call.

    Ironically, this was the same bylaw used to criticize the district presidents who ordained Seminex graduates–the other side of the coin. I personally heard (this is direct testimony, not hearsay) one of these, Dr. Jacobs, refer to this as ‘one little bylaw’ that should not dominate his decisions. As you may know, he was one of the 8 district presidents to ordain Seminex graduates into LCMS congregations. Something that I personally witnessed that is perhaps not so commonly known is that there was tremendous pressure on congregations in his district to call Seminex graduates as pastors. This was because then it could be said that he was weighing the call of the congregation as having precedence over the bylaw of the Synod passed in convention. Congregations were offered worker priests to serve without pay, sometimes more than one, if they would just extend a call so that these men could be ordained. The Seminex movement was a clergy-heavy one, and when the dust all cleared there were far more pastors than congregations who were involved in and committed to it.

  24. The responsibility for certifying that LCMS seminary graduates are qualified to be pastors in The LCMS is given, exclusively, to the seminary faculties of our two seminaries.

    The responsibility for placing men into their first calls is given, exclusively, to the Council of Presidents.

    This is what The LCMS Bylaws require. This bylaw requirement has been upheld by the CCM several times when there have been demands/requests made to require the seminaries to certify a particular individual. Neither the Synod president nor the Synod in convention can direct the seminary faculties to certify a man for ministry.

    There are no exceptions permitted.

    If the Synod wants to change this, it needs to rewrite the Bylaws.

    It is my opinion that should such decisions be left to a convention or a single man the results would be capricious decisions. For any/all faults in the system presently, I think it serves the Synod better than any other possibility.

    Of course, we could adopt a hierarchical papal structure, but that seems to have a few problems of its own.

    ; )

  25. Thanks Pastor McCain for your By-Laws Reference.
    I was positive that only Seminaries can certify for
    ordination a seminarian. I agree that this is the
    best way to handle it. No Synodical President
    or Synodical Convention should have to deal with
    certification for ordination.

  26. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Thanks for Pastor McCain’s reply in comment #26.

    He is correct about how that system works now and it was the same in 1960. I have a LCMS Handbook from 1960, about the time Pastor Otten was seeking certification. Bylaw 6.163.d. from the 1960 Handbook states that eligibility for calls (what we are calling “certification”) is the responsibility of the faculties responsible for that type of service in the church. Thus pastors were certified only by the seminaries.

    Pastor Otten’s case was a bit different, in that he had appealed to the then existing church courts to rule on his certification. I don’t remember the outcome on that, so I won’t guess here. But that is why Pastor Otten was appealing to the President of the synod–his case was procedurally unique. Some of the bylaws pertaining to THAT adjudicatory procedure may have changed, but the rule about pastoral certification ONLY by seminaries has not changed.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  27. @Martin R. Noland #28

    There was, for all practical purposes, very little to no seminary faculty at CSL after the walkout and very few faithful seminarians.

    It does seem to me that the few should not have been treated as Otten was, and in fact some others weren’t. Letting Seminex rebels back in for ordination was additional salt in the wound!

  28. @Martin R. Noland #28
    I believe one other unique difference was that the LCMS in convention allowed Pastor Otten’s congregation to remain in the LCMS, despite calling a pastor not certified by either seminary. They made it very clear this was an exception not to become the rule.

    BTW, looking around at who does get ordained into the LCMS and who gets to remain on the roster (and even who gets appointed and elected to some very “high” positions), it is asinine to say that Pastor Otten never made the cut.

  29. @Pr. Don Kirchner #19
    What year did you graduate? I may be a much more recent grad. We were told to read most, if not all of those books, in order to find some redeeming theology and qualities in them. We were to ask ourselves what the author got right and how we could use that to teach our parish. Like looking for a diamond in a five acre pig sty. We wasted time doing those things and yet, as I have said before, only one class my entire four years had us read even an exerpt from Herman Sasse. Only one class in four years had us read from any of Walther’s writings. How do we understand our own theology when we’re required to read “Velvet Elvis” instead of good confessional authors from our own synod?

    Systems IV: “Velvet Elvis”
    Pastoral Ministry 101: “Becoming a Contagious Christian” and “The Poisonwood Bible”
    Pastoral Leadership (a fourth year class): “Simple Church”

    I could go on, but you get the idea.

  30. Back to the Burke book.

    Has it actually been taken seriously by any good scholar, or for that matter, anyone who has knowledge of the issues about which Burke was writing?

    It is so evidently a biased hatchet job. It’s surprising it was deemed worth of any kind of academic credit.

  31. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #32
    I have indeed been grateful for such a publishing house! So far I have signed up for the Luther’s Works and the Commentary automatic subscriptions, purchased “The Lonely Way Vol. 1 and 2”, purchased all Chemnitz’s works, and a host of other good books. A retired pastor gave me the whole collection of Walther’s “Essays for the Church” as well! CPH is truly a blessing! Keep up the good work Rev. McCain!

  32. Rev. Paul T. McCain :
    Back to the Burke book.
    Has it actually been taken seriously by any good scholar, or for that matter, anyone who has knowledge of the issues about which Burke was writing?
    It is so evidently a biased hatchet job. It’s surprising it was deemed worth of any kind of academic credit.

    It is so refreshing when we walk together !



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