Sermons and Papers


THE LUTHERAN CHURCH—MISSOURI SYNOD HOLIDAY FROM HISTORY


The 25th Anniversary of the Walkout


by Rev. Daniel Preus,
Director of the Concordia Historical Institute

I don’t know how much thought Mr. Ed Hinnefeld gave to the title which was assigned to me for my presentation today. But the more I considered the material I studied during my preparation, the more I came to the conclusion that the title is an eminently appropriate one: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Holiday from History: The 25th Anniversary of the Walkout. On a few occasions I have been asked to teach a class at the St. Louis seminary in which I addressed in some detail the subject of the Walkout. I was surprised to discover seminary students who were unacquainted with the events of 1974. This last winter I taught a class at St. Paul Lutheran High School in Concordia, Missouri. With one or two exceptions, none of the students, all Juniors and Seniors, had ever heard of the Walkout, Seminex or the entire controversy which wracked the Missouri Synod back in the early 1970’s. Now I certainly don’t fault any of these people for their lack of knowledge. Some of the seminary students I addressed were only 1 to 4 years old at the time. One or two of them had probably not been born yet. The high school students I talked to would wait another 10 years or so before they would enter this world. But the very fact that they were unaware of the tumultuous events which took place 25 years ago, and which caused our church such anguish would suggest that to a great degree our church has taken a holiday from its history.

I suppose to a degree we can understand why the church would wish to divert its attention from those events. A seminary president had been suspended; ultimatums had been issued; the large majority of both professors and students had left the classrooms of our St. Louis seminary and refused to return; a so-called ‘Seminary in Exile’ had been formed to continue the instruction of students in preparation for the holy ministry; charges of lovelessness, moral bankruptcy, attempted brokering of unethical deals, misappropriation of funds had been made; charges and counter-charges of false doctrine had been leveled; District Presidents had made it known that they would defy the synodical president and the synod itself by ordaining and placing into the ministry in LCMS congregations of their districts graduates who had not been certified by a Missouri Synod seminary; District presidents who persisted in their stubborn stance had then been suspended and finally removed; eventually over 200,00 members would leave the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to form a new denomination known as the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). Families were divided, congregations were split; friendships were ruined. It was a turbulent time. Would it be any wonder if, after all these events had taken place and things seemed to have settled down a bit - would it be any wonder if people on both sides of the issue wanted to have at least a brief vacation from the turmoil which had caused such distress?

Unfortunately, what happened was not just a brief vacation from attention to unpleasant issues, but, in my opinion, an extended holiday from the consideration of a major episode in the life of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod which has far more bearing on the state of our church body today than most would like to believe.

I’m not sure how many times in the last few years I have heard people express a reluctance to talk about the Walkout and the events which surrounded it. It’s still too sensitive an issue, I have been told. After 25 years? If it is too sensitive an issue to discuss 25 years later, I believe two conclusions are inescapable:

    1. Those were indeed tumultuous, distressing times of anguish for many.
    2. We are not learning the lessons history teaches, simply because we are reluctant to look closely at a critical portion of our history to discover its lessons.

Perhaps today, to at least a small degree we can attempt to return from our holiday, focus our attention for the next half hour or 45 minutes on those circumstances surrounding the 1974 Walkout and learn a few lessons that will help us in understanding our church today.

I think it is probable that in view of the tremendous turmoil the Synod went through back in the 70's, focused on the St. Louis seminary, there may very well be a fairly intense desire on the part of many in the Synod today, even among those who are considered more conservative, to avoid the appearance of intolerance over against new or unorthodox ideas. One can certainly understand such a sentiment. But we need to be very careful that in our attempts to be reasonable and to display a civilized tolerance and to permit a certain level of freedom of expression, we do not also fail in our calling to warn God’s flock against false teachings and practices which would harm the church and betray our Lord.

We must be diligent. More and more in recent years I have heard people expressing the opinion that the issues were not really as serious and the supposed false doctrine not nearly as great and widespread as many think. Are they right? Was John Tietjen correct when he used the infamous phrase, "Garbage In, Garbage Out" to describe the proceedings which led finally to the Walkout? How serious were the conditions which led to the Walkout1 in 1974?

Let’s begin with the well-known statement of Synodical Vice-President Roland Wiederaenders made to District Presidents and seminary faculties on December 2, 1963.

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 against 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.2

This same sentiment was expressed very recently by former synodical president Ralph Bohlmann in a talk given to the students and faculty of Concordia Seminary St. Louis on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Walkout. Bohlmann was asked if there was a common thread which could be traced in the five professors who made up the faculty minority in those days. In his response he indicated that the five were all "men who like to tell the truth and tell it like it is, and not tell the church that there are no problems - men who wanted to tell the truth to the church."3

But these observations of Wiederaenders 25 years ago and Bohlmann today, though certainly true, do not go to the real heart of the matter. The battles which took place around the events leading to and following the Walkout were not fought simply because certain seminary professors were not being forthright or honest in telling the church what they were teaching. The issue was far more important than simply the integrity or honesty of certain seminary professors and others in the church. The battles being waged were over doctrine, over the Word of God and over the historical-critical method and whether it could be used by Lutheran theologians in a faithful way to teach God’s Word.

In his memoirs John Tietjen suggests over and over again that the war was primarily a political one. After an evening meeting with Synodical President Jack Preus, Tietjen observes,

As I drove home that night, I reflected that a shift was probably under way in the ideology of the Preus party. Preus had been elected Synod president on a platform that was opposed to fellowship with the ALC. Yet after electing Preus, the Synod had approved fellowship. From my perspective, Preus needed a new issue to consolidate his power. He needed another platform on which to stand in order to unite his followers against something. It looked to me as though false doctrine was going to be the issue and CS (Concordia Seminary) was going to be its focus.4

But Tietjen’s attempt to depict the so-called Preus Party as politically motivated, an attempt frequently made by a number of the faculty majority in those days and since then, is an attempt to avoid the fact that there really were major differences over doctrine. In September of 1972 the results of the investigation which had taken place at the St. Louis seminary were published in the form of a report to the church entitled, The Report of the Synodical President to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod5, popularly called The Blue Book. A cursory reading of The Blue Book, which was 160 8½ by 11 single spaced pages, will reveal that the overwhelming focus of attention was upon the doctrine of Scripture. The Blue Book was a bombshell not just for those whose views it condemned but for the entire complacent crowd of Missouri Synod members who had refused to believe that there were any problems at the St. Louis seminary. The issue at the heart of the entire controversy was to what extent Scripture could be considered and accepted as the Word of God. And it all centered around the historical-critical method and whether or not it could be properly used by Lutheran theologians. According to many of the faculty majority, the method not only could be used properly by Lutheran professors, but no truly academic exegetical pursuit could be undertaken without using the historical-critical method. According to John Tietjen, the St. Louis seminary faculty "… made use of historical criticism with solid Lutheran presuppositions about the Scripture as the Word of God and without the faith-destroying presuppositions of higher criticism."6

Holland Jones, at that time Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology (Old Testament), describes his use of the historical-critical method in the 1972 document prepared by the faculty majority entitled, Faithful To Our Calling; Faithful To Our Lord,7 a document intended to counter the effect of The Blue Book and to convince the church that the faculty was orthodox in spite of the findings of the Fact Finding Committee. Holland Jones says, "I use those aspects of historical-critical method that help me to understand the Bible - to expand my knowledge of God and to be able to use it better as a medium for transmitting such a knowledge of God. Since my interest is to discover the biblical witness to the action of God in history, I don’t use this method in such a way as to reject or deny God’s action in history."8 This description actually sounds fairly pious, but keep listening and listen carefully. "I engage in redaction criticism - to explain the nature of the biblical text and to describe the situations that effected revisions of the ancient material - that had been preserved in written documents, and to comprehend the message these revisions conveyed to people to whom they were addressed. Books in this area have been produced only by Historical-Critical scholarship."9

Edgar Krentz, Professor of Exegetical Theology (New Testament) states in the same document the following in reference to the historical-critical method:

Lutherans use this method with convictions and presuppositions that honor God as the Lord of history and the Savior of lost man…. The historical-critical method aids greatly in understanding the text of the Scriptures in its original (God selected) language and historical situation. The method serves a ministerial function in helping one to hear the Bible carefully and precisely and thus to proclaim God’s law and Gospel with care.10

Krentz’s explanation certainly sounds pious. Once again one needs to look more carefully. In the same document Krentz states, "The Scriptures, when used as God intends them to be used, are infallible…."11 So they are infallible only when used correctly? And who is going to tell us how to use them correctly?

Andrew Weyermann, Associate Professor of Practical Theology, Department Chair sounds the same refrain.

I personally have discovered tremendous new insight into the original intended meaning of the texts of Scripture through the use of textual, historical, form and redaction criticism. I believe these tools for interpretation can be employed without having to accept certain ideological assumptions that some users of the methods have as they come to their conclusions about the meaning of a text.12

This claim that the historical-critical method was essentially neutral and could be used quite well with Lutheran presuppositions was put forth again and again.

Carl S. Meyer, Graduate Professor of Historical Theology and by no means one of the most liberal professors on the faculty had apparently bought into the reasoning of his colleagues on campus who used historical criticism. Says Meyer, "However, it is not proper to make a method of biblical interpretation the criterion of orthodoxy. Luther, for instance, said of the method of interpretation that found four senses of Scripture that he would not disallow it, so long as it would not make Scripture uncertain."13 But what if it does make Scripture uncertain? This was the whole crux of the issue. What if it does make Scripture uncertain? Such a question was studiously avoided by most of the faculty majority professors.

In fact, a tremendous amount of begging the question was taking place in this document meant to convince the church that there were no doctrinal problems at the St. Louis seminary. Erwin Lueker, Professor of Systematic Theology, also not known as one of the more liberal professors, declares, "Though error dare never be condoned, errorists should not be treated as though they were heretics."14 But this statement totally begs the question and therefore completely misses the point. What if they actually are heretics? May they then be treated as heretics? Lueker goes on to say, "There will always be diversity in the church. Such diversity should not always be construed as differences in doctrine."15 But what if there actually are differences in doctrine? May we then say that there are differences in doctrine? And of course there were.

John Tietjen claimed that the faculty used historical criticism with solid Lutheran presuppositions.16 Once again we hear the refrain that the historical-critical method is essentially neutral and that its fruit will be determined by the presuppositions with which one uses it. The point Tietjen and others neglected to reveal was that the method came with its own presuppositions. Kurt Marquart answered Tietjen and company effectively in his book, Anatomy of an Explosion. About the historical-critical method Marquart says,

It is clear even from Krentz’ short book, and more so from standard authorities like the German scholar Hans Joachim Kraus, that the historical-critical method arose out of the rationalistic Enlightenment and differs from traditional biblical scholarship in that it insists on treating the Bible not as an unquestioned authority, but as one ancient book among others. All biblical statements are therefore open to challenge before the court of sovereign human reason…. This means that the critic and his reason are judge and jury, while the Bible, like all other ancient documents, is on trial whether as defendant or as witness; for even as a witness its credibility depends entirely on the findings of the critical court. This situation, of course, represents a complete reversal of the classic roles of reason and Scripture in Lutheran theology. Under the new, critical regime, reason is master and Scripture is servant,, whereas formerly it was the other way round. For this reason alone,… "using the historical-critical method with Lutheran presuppositions is as futile and absurd an undertaking as eating ham with Jewish presuppositions.17

In view of its presuppositions, it is not possible for the historical-critical method to be a neutral tool. Commitment to its use commits the user to a view of Scripture incompatible with that of historic Lutheranism and Christianity. Marquart quotes LCA theologian Leigh Jordahl:

The differences between the doctrines on Scripture of the "Moderates" and the "Conservatives" are absolutely irreconcilable. The classical Lutheran doctrine of verbal inspiration, as so vigorously articulated by Franz Pieper and Missouri’s entire tradition, is utterly antithetical to the historical-critical method. Outside of Missouri I know of no theologian who even tries to hold both views.18

Jordahl had made these comments in the Spring of 1974. That same year and, in the utmost of irony, the very year in which the Walkout occurred, a short but very important book was published by German theologian Gerhard Maier entitled, Das Ende der Historisch-Kritischen Methode. Three years later it appeared in English with the title, The End of the Historical-Critical Method. Maier documents thoroughly, not only the history of the method, its presuppositions and conclusions, but also its demise. Even the proponents of the method could not come to similar conclusions on designated texts, though supposedly operating with the same scientific applications. Although the Missouri Synod liberals, clearly inclined toward Gospel reductionism, had insisted that the Gospel be the determining norm for decisions concerning the authenticity of the scriptural text, Maier demonstrated ably that when one uses such an approach "By isolating the message of justification, one ultimately robs even it of its function and force."19

Robert Preus, in 1974 a member of the faculty minority, agreed, of course, with Marquart and Jordahl. The Spring of 1973 issue of Affirm magazine included an article he wrote entitled, May The Lutheran Theologian Legitimately Use The Historical-Critical Method? Erwin Lueker, a member of the faculty majority, had stated, "Historical critical methodology is a valuable tool also for theologians in the best tradition of Lutheranism. Since it is methodology, no exact rules can be devised for its use (note its use in areas like the following: authorship; text interpretation; textual criticism…)."20 Robert Preus addressed specifically this issue of methodology and rules in the use of a methodology.

A method is a way of doing something (meta hodos), a way of solving problems or answering questions. Every method, whether it be the scientific method used in physics, the Cartesian method in philosophy of analytic geometry, banking methods, etc. has two necessary elements.

    1. Axioms, assumptions, dogmas, presuppositions which underlie the method. These may be a) a priori such as the principles of empiricism and induction which underlie modern scientific method, arithmetic which underlies modern banking, or b) a posteriori such as established laws, e.g., f=ma, or the speed of light for the modern scientist.
    2. Aims and goals such as knowledge in the theoretical sciences (dentistry, banking). A method, if it is to claim any allegiance must have such goal; a method is always teleological, purposeful.

These two elements, presuppositions and goals, are related in every method…. if a Christian theologian wishes to employ a method to understand the meaning, or cognitive content, of divine revelation as presented in Holy Scripture, the nature of the subject will determine his method in respect to both presuppositions and goals. And again a denial of the fact of cognitive divine revelation or of an inscripturated revelation will make his method impossible and absurd.21

Following a thorough treatment of the dangers of using a method which denies the unique nature of Scripture as divine revelation, Preus concludes,

To me the Historical-Critical Method is the great error of our day in Biblical exegesis and Christian theology, for it affects the whole of theology and the Gospel. To me it is shocking that this method, or methodology as some prefer to call it, has gained access and such large uncritical acceptance in the Missouri Synod. I believe that practically all our differences and problems in doctrine within our Synod stem from the use of this methodology. Only if we reject this method in terms of its presuppositions and goals and conclusions will we ever regain doctrinal unity, concord and peace in our church.22

The historical-critical method is not doctrinally neutral. Already more than 10 years before the Walkout, Martin Franzmann, in a brief but incisive analysis of the historical-critical method, had sounded a warning to the Synod.

The historical-critical method cannot be considered as merely a theologically neutral tool or technique of interpretation, comparable to textual criticism, grammar or lexicography. None of these undertakes to pass a value judgment on the historical substance of revelation; the historical-critical method does. The historical method assigns to the interpreter the capacity and the authority to distinguish between "the facts that matter and the facts which don’t."23

The entire letter merits reading. We cannot take the time for it today. Let me simply say that Franzmann demonstrates that ultimately nothing is safe from the critical scrutiny of this method, not even the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Franzmann concludes,

Those who advocate and practice this method are required, therefore, to ask themselves whether such a method is compatible with their ordination vows, which bound them to Scripture in the absolute obedience of faith and pledged them to the Lutheran Confessions. They are called upon to ask themselves in all seriousness: Is an exegetical method which, e.g. questions (or rarefies) step for step the nexus, established by the New Testament itself, between prophecy and fulfillment, between the Old Testament and the New, compatible with the absolute submission to the apostolic work which that word by its nature demands? Are the great twin facts of the Paraclete and the Apostolate being taken seriously Can a method which deals as it does with the facts of the inspired record claim any connection with the absolute submission to the word which characterizes the Lutheran Confessions? It is not a question of coming into conflict with a peculiarly Missourian tradition or idiosyncrasy; the issue raised by the acceptance of this method involves a conflict with the bases of our Lutheran, Christian existence.24

The historical-critical method is not neutral. By insisting on its use the faculty majority had departed from historic Lutheran teaching and thereby from historic Christian teaching. The fruit of this departure gave abundant evidence to the truth of the position held by Robert Preus, Martin Franzmann, Kurt Marquart, the St. Louis Seminary Board of Control majority after the New Orleans Convention in 1973 - that group of stalwarts who refused to give in to positions which they new were contrary to God’s Word, made the very hard decisions to suspend the seminary president, and finally to declare the teaching positions of the faculty majority vacant when they refused to return to the classroom. For their fidelity to the Word and their tenacious insistence to deal honestly with the issues, they paid a high price personally, as did many others of the faithful who refused to back off the issues. Was it worth it? Were the differences really so serious that Jack Preus needed to initiate an investigation, so serious that Harlan Harnapp and Leonard Buelow needed to level charges of false doctrine against John Tietjen, so serious that the St. Louis seminary Board of Control needed in the end to take actions which from a human point of view jeopardized the future of the seminary? Yes! It was that serious. To this day I think few know how serious it was.

Just read the Blue Book and understand that the descriptions given were not careless or vindictive accusations made to achieve political goals. They were correct and honest descriptions of the views expressed by faculty members. If you still doubt, talk to Harlan Harnapp who pressed charge together with Leonard Buelow against John Tietjen. If you are still unsure read the report written by Walter Dissen in March 1975. "As a Board member who participated in all 29 faculty interviews conducted prior to New Orleans by the Board of Control, I tell you that the chief issues are DOCTRINAL, although clever propagandists would lie you to believe otherwise by saying or implying that the issues are personalities or power or politics." He goes on in his report to demonstrate thoroughly that the doctrinal differences were substantial.25 There may be some who are tempted not to take The Blue Book seriously since the names of the professors were withheld when a transcript of their interview with the Fact Finding Committee was published in the Blue Book. I was fascinated to discover in my father’s collection a file which outlines the various unorthodox positions of faculty majority members and identifies them by name. It also cites by page number the sources which provide the evidence from which the descriptions of faculty positions were formed. It is apparently a document created along with the Blue Book to document the false teaching at the seminary but it was never published or disseminated and is marked ‘Confidential’. Anyway, a brief review of various positions held and taught and/or tolerated would be in order. (In my text I indicate the Blue Book page on which the item appears.)

  1. A redefinition of the term "verbal inspiration." p. 32
  2. A rejection or redefinition of the inerrancy of Scripture. p. 42
  3. Gospel reductionism. p. 45
  4. Misunderstanding of the Gospel. p. 52
  5. Approval by the majority and use by many seminary professors of the historical-critical method.
  6. Isaiah 53 is not messianic. p. 81
  7. Theistic evolution including that of homo sapiens. P. 94
  8. Historic events and biblical teachings are frequently minimized or set aside. The following narratives and teachings become uncertain as to their historical facticity:
    1. The existence of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. p. 67
    2. The cursing of the fig tree by Jesus. p. 68
    3. The existence of Adam and Eve. pp. 71, 92, 93
    4. A worldwide flood. p. 72
    5. Jesus walking on the water. pp. 72-73, 75
    6. The raising of Lazarus. pp. 73-74
    7. The virgin birth. p. 74, 98 ff.
    8. Peter walking on the water. p. 75
    9. The coin in the fish’s mouth. p. 75
    10. Sayings of Jesus attributed to Him by the Gospels. p. 77
    11. The existence of angels, both good and evil. p. 85
    12. The fall into sin. Original sin. pp. 92, 93, 95

Much of the theological approach resulting in the above-mentioned positions seems to be the result of a view expressed rather starkly by one of the professors whose comments were included in the Blue Book. "Faith does not depend on the facts, the documentation, the buttressing, the historical accuracy of what you are building your faith on."26 Well, of course all Christians believe that faith is in a person - Jesus Christ, not in isolated facts per se, however, the apparent willingness to see faith as valid even when apart from facts and history, as we understand it, is not consistent with orthodox Christianity.

No wonder the New Orleans Convention in 1973 some months following the release of the Blue Book, adopted resolution 3-09, quoting from the Formula of Concord and referring to many of the views then held by seminary professors as, "Not to be tolerated in the church of God, much less be excused and defended."27 I imagine Resolution 3-09 may well be the most famous resolution ever to be passed by a Missouri Synod convention. In my opinion it truly was a watershed resolution. I think this resolution not only indicated the course which Missouri would follow in dealing with the faculty majority at the seminary. It also indicated that the Church was not willing to follow the precedent that had been set in the case of The Statement of the 44. And what was that precedent?

I cannot take too much time describing the context of The Statement of the 44 but a little background is necessary, not only about what the Statement dealt with, but also the way in which the Statement itself was dealt with. Certainly in the early years of our church’s history when doctrine was judged as unscriptural or heretical, when the practice was seen as contrary to or destructive of Synod’s own practice, the Synod, either in Convention or through its Synodical officials condemned such doctrine and/or practice and required those responsible to retract or be disciplined. When the Statement of the 44 was produced and distributed throughout the synod, this did not happen.

The original A Statement, which came to be known as The Statement of the 44 in view of the number of men who originally signed it, was produced on September 6 & 7, 1945. I cannot take the time to analyze it today. I have made copies available and you can judge for yourself how consistent it is with the historic Lutheran position on fellowship. The Statement of the 44 arrived in the hands of Synodical President Behnken on September 19th who was informed that the 44 intended to mail The Statement to all the pastors in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Behnken’s reaction was immediate. In fact, even before the document reached his desk, he had contacted E. J. Friedrich, the chairman of the signers and asked him to delay the issuance of the document until it could be thoroughly studied. The main issue involved was what Behnken and the LCMS Presidium correctly saw to be a new (to the Missouri Synod) and unscriptural position of fellowship advocated by the ‘44.’ In spite of their protest, Behnken’s request was declined and the document was sent on October 2 to the clergy of the LCMS.28 Dr. Behnken then also sent a letter to the clergy of the synod in which he stated, "We voiced our disagreement with some of the points in A Statement and insisted they be corrected or withdrawn…. There are some points with which we were not then and are not now in agreement. This holds true also for the ‘Deplorations’ and also of the ‘Accompanying Letter.’"29 On more than one occasion members of the presidium requested that A Statement be withdrawn but each time the request was declined. Behnken then approved a procedure whereby ten of the signers of A Statement and ten pastors appointed by him would serve on a committee which came to be known as the ‘Ten & Ten.’ This committee was unsuccessful in providing resolution to the disagreement which existed and the committee eventually reached an impasse. Dr. Behnken had previously promised that if agreement could not be reached and the signers of the ‘Statement of the 44’ would not retract their unscriptural position, they would be placed under discipline according to the constitution of Synod. However, when it became apparent that there would be no resolution agreed to by both parties, Behnken and the presidium chose an approach which brought both parties together to sign an Agreement according to which the ‘Statement of the 44’ was withdrawn from discussion, but nobody was required to retract anything. Nor were the signers of A Statement themselves particularly pleased with the lack of closure. According to Thomas Coates, one of the 44, "Unfortunately the impression was created that A Statement itself was being withdrawn. This was definitely not the case. At any rate, the proposal was accepted and the Signers emerged from the Chicago Convention unscathed, still members in good standing of the Missouri Synod. The whole business was just a bit too Machiavellian."30

This lack of action established a pretty strong precedent. Completely apart from the issues involved, the fact that a statement of faith and conviction which had been made and mailed to all LCMS clergy and was contrary to official church doctrine and practice was simply withdrawn from discussion without retraction was a very bright green light to those who wished to see Missouri embrace a more open fellowship practice. But the implications do not end there. When people were permitted to publish a position statement contrary to our doctrine, and were not disciplined or required to retract, it became apparent that people would be able to publish or set forth other statements contrary to our doctrine. To many who believed Missouri too rigid, the 44 became a heroic example of a new permissiveness which would slowly invade the synod and lead eventually to the deplorable positions held by the St. Louis Seminary faculty majority in the early 1970’s. It is interesting to note that although the major focus of attention in the Blue Book and at the New Orleans Convention and in all the descriptions of the Walkout and the surrounding events, although the major focus of attention was on the doctrine of Scripture, the subject of fellowship was a very significant issue in 1974 and many of the faculty members were taking precisely the same position the 44 had taken almost 30 years earlier. Comments made by A.T. Kretzmann in a 1982 issue of the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly are also very illuminating in this regard.

Three decades later (that is, after The Statement of the 44 appeared) at a most important mass gathering in Chicago at which the groundwork for a new Lutheran church body, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) was being worked out, this document from 1945 received prominent mention. A prominent clergyman who had helped to formulate A Statement and send it to the Missouri Synod clergy called attention again to the teachings it espoused and pointed out that the principles held by this newly emerging church body were closely akin to those found in A Statement.31

I think there really is a close connection between the Statement of the 44 and the faculty majority position on fellowship in 1974. One of the signers of A Statement was a member of the St. Louis Faculty at the time. But this connection is not just between the 44 and the 1974 St. Louis Faculty majority. It is between the 44 and many, many more pastors in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Listen to the thoughts of another signer of A Statement who writes 25 years after the event. "With the years, the things contained in ‘A Statement’ have become part and parcel of the synodical scene. While a few still quarrel with it, and even blame most of the synodical ills upon its issuance, it has served as a powerful leaven for good in our midst."32 The same man enthusiastically states about the reaction in the church to A Statement,

… many letters of approval were forthcoming, expressing a willingness to become cosigners. In a short time and with little or no urging, hundreds of pastors added their signatures to A Statement. We members of the Forty Four did not feel that numbers were important; A Statement could and would stand on its own feet. We did, however, make use of the number of signatures of support when the number of protests was quoted by President Behnken. The supporters far outnumbered the protesters.33

It is very possible that Behnken was afraid of the turmoil that would ensue within the synod if he did discipline the 44. The fact remains that these men were able to flaunt the doctrinal practice of the church body to which they belonged with no significant consequences. To a great degree the fact that things could proceed so far at the St. Louis seminary was due to the lack of attention to church discipline which had begun to appear already years before the specific problems developed at the St. Louis seminary leading to the Walkout. The 44 had "gotten away with it" and the lack of discipline which began to be evident within the synod undoubtedly contributed to the confidence felt by the faculty majority, confidence which led on to arrogance and then finally to exodus. The arrogance exhibited was one that placed these professors above the church and exempt from judgment.34

But the New Orleans Convention took a stand. By passing Resolution 3-09, the members of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod gave notice that God’s people would not put up with the false doctrine of its seminary’s professors and the Missouri Synod gave notice that the spirit with which the Statement of the 44 had been issued would not characterize the witness of the Missouri Synod when it came to the truthfulness, reliability and inerrancy of God’s Word. It is important that we do not permit the stand which they took to go in the end for nothing.

So let’s take a look at a few facts which may be unpleasant to consider but which may also shed light on the state of our church today. Before 1974 hundreds of seminary graduates who had been taught and trained by eventual Seminex professors went out into the congregations of the church as pastors. They did not participate in the Walkout and the vast majority of them remained in the Synod. However, it would be extremely naïve to think that they were in no way influenced by their professors.

I remember in November or December of 1970 I was a student at the Fort Wayne Senior College. I needed to make a decision as to where I would attend seminary. My father was a teacher at the St. Louis seminary, my family was there. It would have been wonderful to be close to my parents and brothers and sisters again after four years at college. While visiting in St. Louis one weekend, I asked my father where he thought I should attend seminary. He said, "Don’t come here - not if you want a good Lutheran education. All you’ll do is fight for your faith and you won’t learn what you need to learn to be a good pastor."

It is simply undeniable that many of the professors teaching at the St. Louis seminary in those days were far to the left of historic Missouri’s doctrine and practice especially in the areas of Scripture and fellowship. As I indicated above, it would be naïve to imagine that none of those who graduated during the critical years before the Walkout absorbed and made their own the views of those who had taught them. This generation of St. Louis graduates, now between the ages of 50 and 65 approximately (not taking into account those who entered the ministry as a second career) - this generation now at its professional prime of life, holds many positions of influence and authority in our church today.

Obviously, many of them graduated from Springfield and many of the St. Louis grads during those years came out quite orthodox. On the other hand, many came out who were not overly influenced by the orthodox, Lutheran positions held by the faculty minority in St. Louis in 1974. One must be honest and say that to a great degree they did not receive a strong Lutheran foundation. Many of these are now leaders in the church today and would undoubtedly be angry to hear such words spoken but I believe my observations are quite fair. The Missouri liberals have been relatively successful over the years in convincing the church that the battles fought over doctrine which led to the Walkout were more intense and destructive than necessary. The opposite is the truth. Because of the way events took place, the critical issues never really were addressed as thoroughly as they should have been. The faculty majority walked out and eventually left the church body. The heresy trials so feared by the vast majority of the Synod for the unquestionably significant distress they would have caused never happened. As a result, healthy - painful, but healthy - closure never took place.

Of course moderates in the synod were only too happy to see further conflict avoided and many were unquestionably relieved to see the whole affair over, hoping they could simply put the embarrassing events behind them and "get on with the work of the church." (The similarities to the recent Clinton scandal are most striking) The conservatives, unfortunately, in vast numbers saw the 1974 turn of events which culminated in the Walkout not only as a victory for the truth of God's Word, which it undoubtedly was, but also as a victory signaling the end of controversy in the Synod, which it undoubtedly was not. As a result they became complacent and along with the moderates were simply relieved to be able to "get on with the work of the church." They, too, were happy to put the conflict behind them. But few were willing to remember and to focus attention on the fact that large numbers of pastors had been trained by the "Walkout Professors" and that many of them held views which they had learned from these professors. These pastors have influenced the members of our congregations for the past 25 years and more. The damage done to our church by the false doctrine which was taught and by the unscriptural practice which was promoted did not come to an end in 1974.

I suspect that since that time there has been an undercurrent of discomfort, a subconscious, nagging fear in the minds of many that our problems really didn’t end in 1974. Of course there were some who never thought they had and there were others who came to the same conclusion as the years passed and they witnessed new battle lines forming in the synod, battle lines focusing on the issues of closed communion, unionism, church growth and so on. How will we fare in these battles? I’m convinced that we will understand today’s issues and be able to deal with them far better if we go back and review again the problems facing our church in the 1970’s. We’ve been on holiday from our history for too long. Let’s go back and learn our lessons.

By Daniel Preus - April 7, 1999 Soli Deo Gloria


ENDNOTES


1. 'The Board of Control, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Exodus from Concordia: A Report on the 1974 Walkout, (St. Louis: Concordia College, 1977), 36.

2. LCMS Public Relations Department news release, January 24, 1974.

3. Concordia Seminary Student Forum, February 10, 1999.

4. John H. Tietjen, Memoirs in Exile: Confessional Hope and Institutional Conflict, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 26.

5. The Report of the Synodical President to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, (St. Louis: The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1972).

6. Memoirs in Exile, 25 (words within parentheses added).

7. Faithful To Our Calling; Faithful to our Lord: An Affirmation in Two Parts by the Faculty of Concordia Seminary St Louis, 1972.

8. Faithful to our Calling, Part II, 78.

9. Ibid., 77.

10. Ibid., 89-90.

11. Ibid., 89.

12. Ibid., 151.

13. Ibid., 102 (emphasis in the original).

14. Ibid., 95.

15. Ibid., 95.

16. Tietjen, 25.

17. Kurt Marquart, Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Lutheran Perspective, (Fort Wayne: IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1977)113-114.

18. Marquart, 116-117.

19. Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977), 40.

20. Faithful To Our Calling, 96.

21.Robert Preus, "May The Lutheran Theologian Legitimately Use the Historical-critical Method?", Affirm Occasional Papers, (Spring 1973) 31.

22.Ibid., 35.

23.Martin Franzmann, The Historical - Critical Method, Robert Preus Collection, Concordia Historical Institute, 1.

24.Ibid., 3.

25.Walter Dissen, Plain Talk by A Plain Layman: A Report by a Member of the St. Louis Seminary Board of Control, Presented at Our Savior Lutheran Church, Mt. Lebanon (Pittsburgh), PA, Sunday, March 16, 1975.

26.The Report of the Synodical President to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 68.

27.Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Convention Proceedings, 1973, p.139.

28.A.T. Kretzmann, "The Statement of the 44," Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, 55 (Summer 1982), 71-72.

29.Ibid., 72.

30.Thomas Coates, "A Statement" - Some Reminiscences, Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, 63 (November, 1970), 163.

31.Kretzmann, 69.

32.Harold H. Engelbrecht, "Concerning 'A Statement'", Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, 170.

33.Ibid., 170.

34.Arthur Carl Piepkom exhibits this belief that no one had the right to judge the faculty majority on the issues at stake. He states in Faithful To Our Calling, "For the term 'authority of the sacred scriptures' as it is commonly used in theological discussion, I should prefer to substitute the term 'normative character of the sacred scriptures' that is, the sacred scriptures are the standard by which all teachings and all teachers are to be evaluated (Formula, Solid Declaration, of the Summary Concept, 3). " But the text of the Solid Declaration itself reads, "We pledge ourselves to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated." (Tappert, 503-504, emphasis added.) Piepkorn is being dishonest in his translation of the Formula here. See Triglotta, pp.503-504 in the German which reads, "zu richten und zu urteilen sind." In English, "To judge and to judge." (Urteilen is less strong than richten, but both are correctly translated 'judge') The Latin 'iudicari' certainly does not support Piepkorn's translation either. Tappert's translation weakens the original German. But Piepkorn renders two verbs meaning to judge with one verb weakly rendered 'evaluated'. He also ignores the heading which introduces this section of the Formula with the declaration that it is a "Comprehensive Summary, Foundation, Rule and Standard whereby all dogmas should be judged according to God's Word, and the controversies that have occurred should be explained and decided in a Christian manner." (Triglotta, 849).

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