The modern church history course which I teach at Covenant Christian High School includes a consideration of contemporary religions events. I think that students will verify my asserting that this is one of the most interesting and helpful aspects of the course. Although we ought to know about the past, current history should not slip past unnoticed.
There are two basic difficulties, however, that confront the writer who reports and evaluates contemporary ecclesiastical history. Tile first is that the editor will have such a plethora of material when the article which demands contemporary printing arrives, that the article will not be published until the news or the activities being discussed have long been settled. The other difficulty is one which besets all writers and involves two basic aspects. Either the reader is not interested in the situation being discussed or the reader knows as much or more than the writer concerning the situation under discussion. I will accept the first of these risks, i.e., that my reader knows more than I know concerning the situation in the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, and will also assume that as Reformed Christians we all are concerned with that denomination which is currently troubled greatly because of errors being taught in the seminary.
Although Luther did not personally approve its use, there is a segment of the Protestant church which derives its name from the man who drove a deep wedge between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. It is the denomination which derives its name from the Augustinian monk of the 16th century that today is shaken by doctrines which Luther would have denounced with colorful but stem language.
Every reader of Beacon Lights knows that the church of the late 20th century has fallen upon difficult days. The days in which the church is called to live exalt the doctrines of man and denounce the doctrines which exalt the Sovereignty of God, justification by faith only, and the absolute dominion and authority of the Scriptures.
This is the problem at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Nearly 700 students attend Concordia Seminary, but it has been shut down for several weeks because of a faculty and student boycott. The president of the seminary, Dr. John H. Tietjen, has been ousted on charges of teaching errant doctrines — and he has, if the reports concerning his and the teachings of his colleagues are true. Dr. Tietjen does not deny the factuality of the reports. I am certain that he is willing to defend his doctrinal position.
Since I969 and until January 20, 1974, Dr. John H. Tietjen, 45 years old, has been the president of Concordia Seminary. He has been battling with the Missouri Lutheran majority and Synod president, the Rev. Dr. Jacob A. O. Preus, who is the head of the conservative majority in the Synod. The fight has been a fight concerning doctrinal interpretation and concerning the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Dr. Preus insists, as the spokesman for the conservative segment of the Missouri Lutheran denomination, that the Bible must be literally interpreted. Are Adam and Eve historical individuals? Did Adam and Eve really fall? Is the story of Jonah and the great fish fiction or is it true? These and many other questions are at the heart of the controversy.
Although Beacon Lights and those who write represent the Calvin or Reformed side of the Protestant Reformation, we nevertheless grieve with Christians in the Missouri Lutheran Church who will be misled by those who deny the infallible Scriptures. We grieve because the church or denomination, which is named with the same name that Martin Luther bore, does not really represent the rallying cry of the Reformation and the chief emphasis of Martin Luther in the 16th century. It is the rallying cry of all those who are Reformed and ever Reforming, Sola Scripture.
The controversy concerning the inerrancy of the Scriptures is not an unimportant issue. A denial of such historical realities, as a real Adam and Eve, a real fish to permit survival for Jonah, and a real fall into sin can only lead to a denial of the cardinal truths expressed in the Apostles Creed concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person in the divine Trinity.
This controversy in the Lutheran Church, which we observe, is not some isolated kind of instance. It is the same kind of happening that we see occurring in the Reformed Church world. Those who belong to the Calvinist tradition are also denying the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Sin develops and comes to manifestation in many forms. This is one of the forms. Intellectual sophistication often bears exactly this kind of fruit.
Many have commented on the fracas in the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Dr. Tietjen himself said:
“The members of our synod must become aware of the moral bankruptcy of the actions of the present leaders of our synod and of the seminary’s board of control. Such evil, if allowed to continue, will bring the judgment of God’s wrath on us all.”
That is strong language and sounds almost like some ex cathedra pronouncement by the pope in Rome. It also is an attempt by the accused to take the offensive, but it does not satisfactorily change nor solve the issue for the concerned conservative Christian in the Missouri Lutheran Church. He wants a solution which includes a discontinuation of teachings which destroy the faith of seminary students and distorts the truth of the Word of God.
Dr. Preus has been accused of being tyrannical in his position of power as President of the General Synod of the church. The accusers of Dr. Preus have complained that the church owes allegiance to God, not to Dr. Preus. To this charge, which is also peripheral and flimsy compared to the central importance of the essence of the controversy, Dr. Preus responded:
I agree. This is God’s church, and we ought to be faithful to God’s Word.”
That is the central issue! Obedience to God’s Word! Willingness to bow before the Scriptures is more important than pronouncements about the judgment of God’s wrath on us all. “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”
Dr. Richard Klann, chairman of the Systematics Department of the seminary, said that the charges of teaching false doctrine against 44 of his fellow professors at the school are true and warranted. There are 49 professors on the faculty of the seminary. Dr. Klann was one of the “minority- five” professors who continued teaching when 44 professors boycotted classes. Dr. Klann, who spoke in the Immanuel Lutheran Church of Grand Rapids, cited Biblical passages including the story of Jonah and the great fish, all historic facts in the earthly life of Jesus, the creation of Adam and Eve as real people and their fall into sin, and the doctrine of angels as Biblical issues in the controversy. He went on to say:
“You must believe all the Bible, even if you don’t understand parts of it; not to do this would be to deny the Lutheran confessions.”
Although we have been taught to recognize that there is a certain synergism in the theology and confessions of the Lutheran Church, we nevertheless grieve with one local Grand Rapids Lutheran pastor who deplores the “new theology” that is creeping into the church by means of bad teaching in the seminary. We grieve because every denomination has its “Kuiterts” and “Daanes.”
Protestant Reformed people ought to be very thankful, therefore, that we have a seminary supported by the Protestant Reformed Churches that inseminates according to the Reformed Confessions in the truth of the Word of God. Professor H. C. Hoeksema says it well in his last editorial, “Things I Never Knew,” Standard Bearer, February 15, 1974.
We are about to dedicate a new seminary building. (We have done so, A.L.) We are active in home missions. We are active in Christian education. We are active in all our congregations with sound and edifying preaching; and our people do not have to sit in the pews wondering what new heresy or liturgical oddity they will have to stomach on Sunday. We have no theistic evolutionists and other deniers of the historicity of Genesis among our teachers and preachers. We have no teachers of universal atonement in our Seminary, like Prof. Stek’s colleague, Prof. Harold Dekker. We have none in our midst who publicly admit to signing the Formula of Subscription with mental reservations. We have none among us who publicly express agreement with men like Harry Kuitert, as does the Christian Reformed Church. Thanks be to God’s grace alone, we are Reformed. By that same grace we intend to remain Reformed. And by that same grace, we will continue to develop in the Reformed line.”
During the weekend of February 16 and 17 special meetings were to be held between the members of various boards responsible for the control of Concordia Seminary. The scheduled forum will handle Constitutional problems as well as the primary reasons for the shutdown of the seminary. As in all ecclesiastical conflicts, however, the political aspects of the fracas are beginning to take preeminence and the real doctrinal issues are being forced into the background. Personality clashes and personality issues are being forced to the front, and substantial issues are being shunted to the sidelines. This can only mean compromise, but the instruction of young men for the ministry will be hindered. Sincere instruction in the truths of God’s infallible, inerrant Word, will no longer be possible unless the real issues are solved. I presume we have not heard the end of the matter.
When we observe such events in the ecclesiastical world we ought to be stimulated by God’s grace to be more vigilant in the battle against all that hinders the cause of God.
We also ought to be stimulated to confess with more urgency and fervency than ever the sure promise of Jesus Christ: “The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church” (Matthew 16:I8).
* * * * * *
Post Scriptum: One of the hazards of long range news reporting is the daily round of affairs. The latest news from St. Louis as this article goes to print is that 40 of the faculty members of the Seminary have been relieved of their positions and that a “Seminary in Exile” of the majority of the students will meet while approximately 100 students may return to classes at the resumption of the Spring term in March.