ACELC — We Need to Learn from History

seminex-2On February 19, 1974, a little over 40 years ago, most of the faculty and students of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis took a short trip down the driveway leading to a small park. There they gathered in protest to a decision that was made by the board of regents of their institution. It was not a long trip, maybe a couple of hundred yards, nor did it really last all that long. Most will admit that the gesture was at best symbolic. The faculty and students believed that this was the only way that they could be heard by the leadership of the seminary. By not only walking off campus but also placing a moratorium on classes, faculty and students wanted to force the Board of Regents to reinstate the faculty along with Dr. John Tietgen, President of the seminary. Which the Board of Regents later did.I am sure that most have forgotten this event or have never learned about these, supposed, dark days in the history of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Well, I can tell you that these days affected a 17 year old senior in high school who had decided to devote his life to God by becoming a pastor. Which institution should I attend – Concordia Seminary, St. Louis or Seminex? My pastor, who had graduated in 1960 and was trained by many of the men who walked out, was confused, no, torn between love for his Synod and love for a faculty. I remember him telling me that if what the Synod leadership had been saying was true concerning the faculty then he would have to reassess his own theology and practice. Sadly he did not believe that he had been taught falsely.

As I said, those were dark days in our Synod’s history but the fight which ensued was very necessary. The LCMS needed to come to grips with what she believed; she needed to come to grips with what was coming out of our seminary; she needed to come to terms with the preaching that she was hearing. Was the Bible true? Was it inerrant? Did it contain errors? Did it only contain the Word of God, or did it also contain the words and opinions of men? Were all the stories true? Everything seemed to be turned upside down and trust was at a very low level.

Thank God there were bold confessors of the truth who stood up to be counted and placed the issue before the Church so that the entire Synod could finally see what was really going on. JAO Preus, the newly elected president, believed it was in the best interest of our Synod to deal with the direction of the Seminary and its faculty. Commissions were appointed; task forces were organized; and many got down on their knees and prayed peace would be restored. But at what cost? Peace for the sake of peace is no peace at all. Error can never co-exist with truth, for the error will prevail in the hearts of the hearers. The error that existed needed to be eradicated from our beloved Church body. But how?

To this day I remember those who stood up for the truth. I remember JAO Preus; I remember his brother, Robert, who refused to be a part of the walkout. I also remember Dr. Martin Scharlemann who tried, almost single-handedly, to keep what was left of the seminary intact. And there were others. Those men will forever be etched in my mind as great men of faith who stood up for what they knew to be the truth because of the Word they believed – who were willing to stand firm against the error our Synod faced. And they did so, at least in Dr. Scharlemann’s case, to the point of becoming mentally and physically ill.

Dear people of God in the LCMS, the days now before us are not dissimilar to those in the year 1974. Error has become entrenched in our Church body, and it needs to be eradicated. Most assuredly it cannot exist alongside the truth – not if we want to remain an orthodox Synod…if we still are an orthodox Synod. Many would argue the latter.

Former synodical Vice-President Roland Wiederaenders made a statement to our District Presidents and the Seminary faculties on December 2, 1963 which I believe holds true even today. He said, “Despite repeated efforts we have not dealt honestly with our pastors and people. We have refused to state our changing theological position in open, honest, forthright, simple and clear words. Over and over again we have said that nothing was changing when all the while we were aware of changes taking place. Either we should have informed our pastors and people that changes were taking place and, if possible, convinced them from Scripture that these changes were in full harmony with “Thus saith the Lord!” or we should have stopped playing games as we gave assurance that no changes were taking place. With increasing measure the synodical trumpet has been giving an uncertain sound.” (LCMS Public Relations Department news release, January 24, 1974.)

Those words ring true today just as they did in 1963 and, again, in 1974. Our Synod needs to deal with the errors that have made their home in our churches, at our altars and in our pulpits. And they need to be dealt with clarity and truthfulness. Whether it’s  errors associated with pure doctrine, the Lord’s Supper, the Office of the Holy Ministry or the seven other errors which have been pointed out in the ACELC documents, we must honestly, truthfully, take the task that has been laid before us and devote ourselves once again to the truth of God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. For the sake of the Gospel; for the sake of our Synod; for the sake of our orthodoxy; for the sake of all the people in our congregations who gather Sunday after Sunday and hear mixed messages concerning what we believe, teach and confess, we can no longer afford to sit idly by and watch our Synod go the way of the ELCA and other synods which have deserted the truth.

In our Admonition Letter, the ACELC wrote something that bears repeating: “Error is sin, and the very ministry and mission of the Church is to address sin through the public proclamation of repentance and forgiveness in Christ’s name (Luke 24:46-48). Correction of error is at the very core of the Gospel’s proclamation – error against both God’s divine Law and His holy Gospel, the very means through which God saves and applies His salvation to lost sinners” (Admonition Letter, July 15, 2010). We go on to say, “Because of this, in the spirit of Luther, Walther, and other Church fathers and grandfathers, we can “do no other” but stand to correct the errors that undermine the orthodox faith entrusted to us, and through which God has so abundantly blessed our Synod. If we do not, then we too shall be complicit in the doctrinal indifference that has plagued so many church bodies to their ruin” (Admonition Letter, July 15, 2010,

So…..this is a call for our leadership, our pastors, our laity…well, our entire Synod, that the time has come for all of us, together, to say enough is enough. If error exists, which most would agree it does, (we in the ACELC certainly believe it does) then it must be openly and honestly discussed, and debated according to and under God’s Word our Lutheran Confessions so that it can hopefully be removed from our Synod. May God’s will be done for Jesus’ sake.

While the Board of Directors of the ACELC has reviewed and approved the content of this message, it does not necessarily reflect the position of the ACELC member congregations.

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