Seminex: A Debt of Gratitude(?)

I stumbled upon this video a while back. The Reverend John S. Damm was once Academic Dean of Concordia Seminary under John Tietjen’s administration. He was one of the 35 professors who exiled themselves from Concordia Seminary in February of 1974 to begin Concordia Seminary in Exile (Seminex), later Christ Seminary-Seminex. Damm later became Pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in the borough of Manhattan, New York, NY. He is retired, but has been given the honorific title “Pastor Emeritus”.

The video is worth your watching. The one thing Damm rightly points out is the doctrine of Baptism and how it permeates the Christian life. One can hear him speak of the Lord’s Supper as well. Of course, he speaks of being an “evangelical catholic”, a term that has no basic definition and could be used by a confessing Lutheran as it could by a Roman Catholic.

Almost 39 years after the bitter days of the creation of Seminex, we in the Missouri Synod still feel the ripples in the pond of this cataclysmic event. There is much good that has come from the so-called “Exodus from Concordia”. Gone are the days of form criticism, social-scientific criticism, and whatever else kind of higher critical thinking from Synod’s oldest seminary. God’s Word is taken at face value again. The world no longer sets the agenda at “801”.

However, I submit we do owe Seminex a debt of gratitude. Many of these men were liturgically minded men. In spite of all the false teaching that went on in their classrooms, they helped the Missouri Synod understand what it means to be a liturgical church rather than a church with a liturgy. Men like John Damm, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, John Tietjen, John H. Elliott, Robert Bertram, and others were unafraid to preach and teach the fact that Lutherans were liturgical Christians. Yes, we rightly quibble with them over many things they taught that are not in accord with Holy Scripture and the Symbolic Books. Nevertheless, if it weren’t for some of these men, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod could still be a church body that offers the Lord’s Supper once a month with pastors wearing talars. We could be a church body that puts baptismal fonts in closets when not needed instead of putting them in a prominent place in our chancels (or in the narthex, as it is in my congregation). We could be a church body that never encourages pastors to teach their congregations about private confession and absolution, moving their flocks toward recovering this time-honored practice.

While there is much to malign these men who were later removed (or removed themselves) from our fellowship, we should also thank them for planting the seed that has grown today into full bloom. More congregations frequently offer the Lord’s Supper more than once a month, even once a quarter(!). More pastors proclaim the gift of Holy Baptism in sermons and Bible studies. More congregations offer individual confession and absolution, even if occasionally rather than regularly. We have come a long way toward recovering a genuinely Lutheran liturgical-sacramental practice. And we have Seminex for the most part to thank for that recovery.

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