A Reflection on the Commemoration of Martin Luther, Doctor and Reformer, 18 February, 1546, and the Commemoration of the Seminex Walkout, 19 February, 1974

The symbol of Seminex was a Biblical reference (Isaiah 11:1) that out of the dead stump of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod will come a new living branch. A large bas-relief rendering of this logo was in the elevator lobby of the University Club building in which Seminex occupied the top five floors.

This reflection is a comparison between two commemorations.  The first one is the death of Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor, 18 November, 1546 and the second, the walkout at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis on 19 February, 1974.  This reflection was prompted by the second commemoration as I too was in ‘exile’.  As way of reminder about the first commemoration:

Martin Luther, born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany, initially began studies leading toward a degree in law. However, after a close encounter with death, he switched to the study of theology,  entered an Augustinian monastery, was ordained a priest in 1505, and received a doctorate in theology in 1512. As a professor at the newly-established University of Wittenberg, his scriptural studies led him to question many of the church’s teachings and practices, especially the selling of indulgences. His refusal to back down from his convictions resulted in his excommunication in 1521. Following a period of seclusion at the Wartburg castle, Luther returned to Wittenberg, where he spent the rest of his life preaching and teaching, translating the Scriptures, and writing hymns and numerous theological treatises. He is remembered and honored for his lifelong emphasis on the biblical truth that for Christ’s sake God declares us righteous by grace through faith alone. He died on February 18, 1546, while visiting the town of his birth. (from the LCMS website).

The second, February 19, was the walk out by the majority of faculty and seminarians at Concordia Seminary, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), St. Louis, Missouri over the issue of Scriptural interpretation.  The seminary was using liberal Biblical scholarship, while the  LCMS accused the faculty of employing heretical means to deny the veracity of the Bible. Below is a short video of a broadcast about the walkout from that day:


The lead up to the walkout  was in the making for sometime.  This conflict was dubbed, “The Battle of the Bible” in Time magazine.  In 1972, I had started college at Concordia Junior College, Milwaukee in order to prepare for the Ministry in the LCMS.  I agreed with those who walked out. I thought one could interpret the Scriptures according to alien interpretive lenses and still remain faithful.   I no longer do.    The faculty and students formed Concordia Seminary in Exile/Seminex, with the plan, they would return from ‘exile’. They never did. After 30 years in the breakaway denomination from the LCMS, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches,and then as it merged with two other Lutheran denominations to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I, with my family, returned to the LCMS.

I do not have time to give a full reflection on the “exile”, as it was called by the liberals.  I attended and graduated from Seminex.  They walked out and were heralded as heroes to stand up against the conservative majority in the courts of public opinion.   In the video above, the man with the hat, was Dr. Tietjen, president of the seminary.  His reference,  “…as someone else who went out of the camp” is probably to Hebrews 13:12  that our Lord was cast out of the camp. In other words, Dr. Tietjen was saying, We’re Jesus.  I could not see the hubris at  the time in such statements.

The walk out was a walk out, as I found out, on the truth of the Bible.  Luther said, Here I stand and  he said that his conscience  was captive to the Word of God.  Forty years ago, many in the LCMS said, here we go, no longer captive.  Now, forty years later, we see the bitter fruit of  what has happened when we went, no longer captive to the whole Word of God, including the Bible:  acceptance of abortion, divorce and remarriage as serial monogamy, same-sex false marriage, inclusive, feminist Bible translations, liturgy as political tool, etc. I find that history prescient to our day, 40 years after the walkout. The conservatives were right.  Captive to the Word of God, yes!  And at the same time free!  St. John 8:  31-32:  “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Abiding in it:  it has been good to come back to the Word as written in the Scriptures. I think in these days this hymn verse is a needed prayer in our zeitgeist:

“Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide”

1. Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For round us falls the eventide;
Nor let Thy Word, that heavenly light,
For us be ever veiled in night.

2. In these last days of sore distress
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
That pure we keep, till life is spent,
Thy holy Word and Sacrament.

3. Lord Jesus, help, Thy Church uphold,
For we are sluggish, thoughtless, cold.
Oh, prosper well Thy Word of grace
And spread its truth in every place!

4. Oh, keep us in Thy Word, we pray;
The guile and rage of Satan stay!
Oh, may Thy mercy never cease!
Give concord, patience, courage, peace.

5. O God, how sin’s dread works abound!
Throughout the earth no rest is found,
And falsehood’s spirit wide has spread,
And error boldly rears its head.

6. The haughty spirits, Lord, restrain
Who o’er Thy Church with might would reign
And always set forth something new,
Devised to change Thy doctrine true.

7. And since the cause and glory, Lord,
Are Thine, not ours, to us afford
Thy help and strength and constancy.
With all our heart we trust in Thee.

8. A trusty weapon is Thy Word,
Thy Church’s buckler, shield and sword.
Oh, let us in its power confide
That we may seek no other guide!

9. Oh, grant that in Thy holy Word
We here may live and die, dear Lord;
And when our journey endeth here,
Receive us into glory there.

 Nikolaus Selnecker, 1532-1592
Translated by compositeThe Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #292 

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