Proud Members of the Religious Left

Addressing the Seminex crowd

We all saw the coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Seminex debacle last month, including a couple of related articles on BJS here, here, and here. What you probably didn’t see was the view from the “other side.” To see what forty years of liberal theology and the Historical-Critical Method get you, here’s a few quotes from those sympathetic to the walkout.

From a University Lutheran Chapel of Berkely post by Rev. Jeff Johnson titled “Seminex turns 40!”:

On February 20, 1974 a group of approximately 500 seminary students, and 45 faculty, and their families walked out of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) because of their commitment to the Gospel. Over the past 40 years, their “exile” has transformed Lutheran communities throughout the United States. We are incredibly grateful for their courage.

They helped form Christ Seminary-Seminex and eventually the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the ELCA. The Chapel was a member of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches before we became a part of the ELCA.

As Pastor Mike Wilker, Senior Pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington DC writes: “Those students, professors, spouses, and congregation leaders changed the church, our communities, and our nation in immensely positive ways. We are indebted to their servant leadership. Thanks be to God for their creativity, compassion, and courage then and throughout their ministries!”

From the Dean of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Rev. Karen L. Bloomquist, in a post titled “Above the Fog”:

…We were impressed that for the sake of the freedom of the Gospel, seminary folks would make such a bold move. The courage and risks this entailed were considerable, including what ministry prospects they would face after seminary.

…Looking now at the overall affect on the ELCA, it is remarkable how many past and present ELCA bishops have been part of or following from the movement that began forty years ago. The ever-changing numbers are far out of proportion to the size of Seminex and the AELC. It also is interesting to note how many of the women who now are ordained pastors in the ELCA have had some roots in the LC-MS, but through the movement that began forty years ago, the call to ordained ministry began to open up for them. Thanks be to God for all that followed from this bold “enter without knocking!”

From a blog post of Rev. Susan M. Strouse, “Proud Member of the Religious Left,” titled “The Pain & Power of Being Exiled”:

Exile can take many forms. None of them is pleasant. However, out of exile can come both individual and group empowerment, as well as a powerful witness.

Consider the story of Concordia Seminary in Exile (Seminex). On February 19, 1974, a large majority of the student body at Concordia Seminary and most of the faculty marched off campus into an unknown future. They did so in response to a crackdown on the president and faculty from the denomination (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) over the teaching of historical-critical method of biblical interpretation. This past week was the 40th anniversary of the walkout and a celebration of the people who risked academic, financial, family relationships in response to injustice. It was also a celebration of their contribution to the church of today. There is a strand of feisty faithfulness that came out of that experience of exile.

And it wasn’t limited to the seminary either. As I listened to the stories of these heroes in the faith, I was reminded of one of my own heroes – also a product of the Missouri Lutheran schism. As the ripples from the seminary reached across the country, Pastor Robert Wendelin began to feel the effects in his own congregation in Buffalo, NY. Eventually, the congregation split, with Pastor W. and about a hundred members walking out into their own exile. Eventually, after about three years of wilderness wandering, they joined together with another church, North Park Lutheran, which had also decided to leave the Missouri fold. Ultimately the congregations that left became part of the newly forming Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

From a sermon of Rev. Matt Day titled “On the Occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the ELCA”:

Many of you might not know this but my dad played a part in the ELCA’s formation. Well, it was more like his seminary, but he did carry the banner during their walk out! My dad was a part of the Concordia Seminary in Exile, also known as Seminex. His classmates and professors decided to walk out and teach on their own because they felt the church was wrong in their decision to fire nearly all of the faculty over a matter of social-historical interpretation of the Bible – a teaching that is standard and widely accepted today.

He and his classmates left the safety of the status quo to go and learn and stand up for their professors who were wronged by the church.

…And the ELCA has had a rough life. Lutheran Churches have had a hard time evangelizing. There have been a number of difficult votes taken which caused people to leave and start other church bodies. Most Lutheran churches have been struggling since 1988. It has not been easy being a Lutheran.

…And love can change this world. Lutherans might be having a hard time growing, but we are really good at serving on the road with love. Lutherans have the largest social network in our country. We are the first on the scene of a natural disaster and we are the last ones to leave. When you give to Lutheran Disaster response, 100% of your donation goes to people in need – not to paying for overhead. No other disaster organization can say that.

We have the best nursing homes. We have an amazing adoption network. We have great seminaries. We do a great deal of work for our world and we are living out the command of Jesus today.

We are changing the world – you are changing the world because you are a part of something bigger. It is why I chose to serve a church like the ELCA – I want to be a part of something bigger than who I am. It is why we continue to share in the ministry of the ELCA – ministry just doesn’t happen in the community, but it happens all over the world and we are able to share in this ministry just by being member of St. Paul’s and Mt. Joy.

…So today, we celebrate unity. We celebrate interconnectedness. We celebrate the leaders like my dad, bishops, presidents, pastors, and members who put their careers on the line to stand up and change the world. Today we give thanks to God for the gift of the church and we ask God to continue to bless the church, to pour out the Holy Spirit on the church, and lead us into another 25 years of faithful partnership.

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
2 Timothy 2:23-26 ESV

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