Changes in ELCA Seminaries

“Built on the Rock the Church shall stand/Even when steeples are falling” (#645, LSB: note that in the Lutheran Book of Worship, this is verse is translated: “Built on a rock…”
“Built on the Rock the Church shall stand/Even when steeples are falling” (#645, LSB: note that in the Lutheran Book of Worship, this is verse is translated: “Built on a rock…”

Head of Luther Seminary in St. Paul resigns amid financial woes

Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune

Updated: December 11, 2012 – 9:42 PM

School announces search for new president after losing nearly $4 million last school year.

The president of Luther Seminary in St. Paul has resigned amid rising maintenance costs and declining enrollment.

Considered the country’s largest Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) seminary, the school wants to “take a fresh look going forward” after losing nearly $4 million last school year, Luther’s board chairman Jim Lindus said Tuesday.

The seminary announced Monday that Richard Bliese stepped down from the job he’s held since 2005. Officials plan to name an interim president by January and launch a national search for a successor.

Enrollment is down from 822 nearly five years ago to 764 students this year.

Read full article here.

The reasons cited are the following:

  • lack of support for youth ministry programs
  • in the ELCA, 600 congregations have left since officially ignoring the Bible
  • age of seminary campuses and their financial upkeep
  • fear of large seminary debt and then lack of a position upon graduating

I think there are also the following reasons:

  • Simply too many ELCA Seminaries. Their 2011 stats report 4,059,785 members with 8 seminaries.  The LCMS has two for a denomination with 2,278,586 members. If memory serves, before the merger, this problem was forecasted.
  • The ELCA has overall decrease of membership (also the LCMS)
  •  The plummeting national birth rate

This has stimulated the call for creative thinking and planning in the ELCA. From the article:

Theological schools will need to be more “creative in responding to the market and to the interest of students and the realities of how those students can actually play out their calling to ministry,” Brown said. “And they can do that in so many different venues beyond traditional congregational ministry. … They’re looking at chaplaincies, social work, a variety of venues.

Here are two “creative” actions in response:

Lenoir-Rhyne UniversityLutheran Theological Southern Seminary to merge
     CHICAGO (ELCA) – At a March 26 signing ceremony, representatives of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., celebrated the decision to merge the two institutions, effective July 1. The merger is the first such combination of an EvangelicalLutheranChurch in America (ELCA) seminary and university since the founding of this church in 1987. The ceremony took place at the Martin Luther Statue on ShawPlaza in Hickory…Read full article here.

LSTC News Release

Valparaiso University To Open Campus at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago

Posted May 10, 2012

University expands graduate programs for increased flexibility for students

CHICAGO, Ill. – Today, Valparaiso University announced an expansion of its Indiana-based university into Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The University is partnering with the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to open this satellite campus. Valparaiso University of Chicago is planning to offer three graduate programs at the new location, as well as an immigration law clinic.

“Chicago has a sizeable higher education community which we are pleased to be joining,” saidMark A. Heckler, president, Valparaiso University. “After much consideration and deliberation, we identified several graduate programs that we feel will add value and are very relevant to the higher education market in Chicago.”

Classes are scheduled to begin this fall. The three initial graduate programs planned are a Master of Business Administration; Master of Health Administration; and a Master of Ministry Administration, which will be the first of its kind offered in the Chicago region.

 Read full article here.

The reasons cited for the decline in the first article seem to be the “rounding up of the usual suspects”.  Therefore, we see the problem, and then we fix the problem, problem solved.  This seems to be the continuation of the solution which has been around since the sixties, that is,  “creative ministry” in all it’s rainbow colors:  ministry no longer described by the adjective “holy” but “worker priests/bi-vocational”,  “youth”, “hospital”, “tavern”, “gay”, “clown”,  “women’s” etc.  Nevertheless, note the trajectory of such “problem solving”: our plans, our intuitions, our knowledge, etc. that is inward, to our selves.    The trajectory is not out to God and His Word, the Seed of His Word to us for us and our salvation.    The one thing needful, the good portion that will not be taken away.  When we look only to ourselves for solutions then the problem is unbelief.   Unbelief gains a stronger and stronger foothold in proportion to a man’s and a denomination’s disconnect with God’s Word, especially written in the Bible.

Soon after the ELCA began in January 1, 1988, one of the first articles that I saved from “The Lutheran” magazine (the old-fashioned way of hard copy cutting and pasting and  it was the last time I ever saved an article from The Lutheran!) was “Seminary to Test Biblical Illiteracy”.  The article was about Luther Seminary, the same as in the first article.   The writer noted that incoming seminarians did not know the basic Bible stories.  The reported reason for this Biblical illiteracy was,

“ …many students do not come through the church-college system and haven’t been apart of any sustained Bible study. For these students biblical study was a new venture.”

Luther Seminary wrote a “biblical proficiency test” for incoming seminarians.

Jump ahead in time, the ELCA began a 5-year program in 2007 to inculcate “biblical literacy’, The Book of Faith Initiative which would have culminated last year in time for the 25th Anniversary of the ELCA.  They misnamed the Bible as the “Book of Faith”.  It is not.  Calling it such indicates the problem.   It is the Book of the Words of God to point us to Jesus Christ in order to create faith.  “Book of Faith” implies the human-centered spiritual experience of ‘my faith’.  Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel knew the Bible better than liberal prots:  The Bible is not man’s theology but God’s anthropology.  The Bible is God’s Word in God’s words so that faith may grasp and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life in Jesus Chris our Lord (“Grace to receive the Word”, page 308, Lutheran Service Book).  Our Lord’s three responses to the evil one who wanted to rip Him away from the Word began each time:  It is written (St. Matthew 4: 1-11).

The connection between the weakening of the ELCA seminaries with the lack of catechesis is the correct diagnosis, and it goes hand in hand with the erosion of Scriptural authority that has gone apace beginning back probably in 40s and 50s with the acceptance of modern historical criticism. They as a body can no longer say with the Lord on temptations’ mount and plain: It is written.   Why would I want to be “Biblically literate” about the Bible suspect of being a patriarchal, sexist, and a heterosexist document?  I saw this erosion close up and personal first as a seminarian in Seminex, then as an ELCA pastor.  Why would any pastor want to teach the Scriptures except as it affirms our “personhood” or my political opinion or to “empower” my disenfranchised minority?

The problem is not merely Biblical literacy but obviously Biblical authority.  The ELCA has accepted all sorts of alien hermeneutics, that is, interpretative lenses, which are incongruent with the written Word: feminist, LGBT, environmentalist, psychotherapeutic etc. There are many Babylonian captivities of the Bible.

When I went through the colloquy process, for reception as a pastor in the LCMS, all of the pastors and DPs I met knew the horror of the acceptance of pseudogamy in the ELCA.  However, when I told about confirmation becoming in many ELCA congregations a weekend retreat and a few sessions with the pastor, there was new shock.  As one DP said, “Then why would anyone want “…to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from (this confession)”?  I said that is a great quote. He said it is from the confirmation service (LSB, page 273). I was heartened. Catechesis is obviously from womb to tomb. Here in Lexington, Virginia, home of Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, it has been my privilege to meet and minister many students and cadets.  Anecdotally, I can affirm that most of the students who were most faithful were LCMS, many of whom would not commune until I talked with their pastor. This made me glad.

There is a Bodily connection between catechesis and Seminary. The ELCA correctly saw this but were and are blind because of the lack of faith in the perspicuity of Scripture and its authority.  This undermines the Bodily connection with the false catechesis of the works righteousness of “sloppy agape” and “social justice”.

The LCMS has many of the same concerns about its seminaries and our seminarians.  Too many pastors for too few calls and assuming a large debt load upon graduation.  The decline of the ELCA seminaries begs the question for the LCMS:  Is this our destiny as well?  I think there is a connection between catechesis and seminary and so: What is the state of catechesis in the LCMS?

Many of the problems cited in the first article could describe the two Concordia Seminaries.  I am too stupid to answer the questions about aging facilities, seminarian debt etc.  I risk speaking naively.   I do think that as we are true to His Word and the Confessions, we will find solutions to these problems. We have faithful brothers and sisters who know how to deal with these concerns. Taking Scripture literally and seriously, the pastorate is to preach the Word in and out of season in concord(2 Timothy4: 1-5).    If His Word is not “in season”, as it may well be in this zeitgeist, and then surely we will have problems in the world…but of the good fight. There will be conflict in an LCMS parish accustomed to listening to Lutheran Lite preaching and teaching.  Congregations, the Church and her seminaries and pastors, must persist and insist in preaching and teaching as the Apostle admonished and encouraged Pastor Timothy.

When I first read in a letter by Herman Sasse the difference between quia and quatenus, I knew in an instant:  quia.  When any Lutheran pastor can not with full  heart and throat  say “quia”, and goes on to suggest that  parts of the Confessions are suspect (as in the clear teaching on the Mass), then the Confessions themselves become an ‘alien’ hermeneutic for him and next Scripture is interpreted by naked reason unformed by Biblical revelation and Confessional fidelity. This opens us up to the actual false interpretative lenses of the powers and principalities in the heavenly places (Ephesians  6: 10-13).

The actual alien hermeneutics of the ELCA and liberal Protestantism are not simply over there in their denominations, they are the stuff of post-modernity and the deconstruction of the authority of all texts, from the Constitution to the Bible. They affect and infect us in our culture, from school desk, to watching TV, to the corporate boardroom, to the bedroom, to the checkout counter and to the pew.  We want to fit the Bible, the Confessions and the liturgy into our time, into the zeitgeist. Why?  “We have a graying Synod.”  “We are losing members”.  “We got to do something”. (Please not the way that thinking is playing out in our national life).  We need to be more “creative in responding to the market”.  We market the truth.  This has been the approach of both liberals and conservatives for too long, possibly causing a new slaughter of souls. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2: 17) As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from the Birmingham jail: “‘…the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.’  The Scriptures, His Word will not fit into our times and it never did, but His Word makes us fit for our time.

Someone said to me, a few years back ago regarding worship:  “It’s just about packaging the truth in a different form”.  ‘Oh, we have the pure doctrine but we can do with it as we please.’  This cannot be in any Seminary of His Church. When the Confessional teaching, e.g. on the Mass, is not heeded, then we have a Gnostic community, no longer the catholic and evangelical Body of Christ.

I close with this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together who cautions us to be wary and say no to any intrusion of the “best laid plans o’ mice and men” into the Church, the Bible, the Seminary, and the Catechesis:

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are, fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not the God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream, that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.


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