Reading and listening to the Seminex generation describe their struggles in the church over what they termed “The New Hermeneutic” (and which their opponents called “Gospel reductionism”) one thing becomes obvious. They considered themselves theological liberators, fighting to throw off the shackles of the old doctrines that were inhibiting the church from impacting the modern world. Oftentimes, they styled themselves as “Lutherans in the Evangelical Catholic Tradition.” The implication was that they had discovered a via media between Lutheran Pietism and Roman Papalism. Evolution was likely true; the Virgin Birth likely was not.
Allies in the American Roman Catholic church, whose leaders were all far more liberal then than today, helped and encouraged them. Names like Martin Marty and Richard John Neuhaus pointed to a bright theological future for Missouri. These were the wunderkinden who would take up the mantle from men like Peipkorn in the centuries old struggle to reunite Wittenberg and Rome, while bringing intellectual respectability to Missouri. Overseeing it was Tietjen, who expected his name to go down in the annals of church history as the great visionary who brought unification first to the Lutherans, and then (perhaps eventually) to the entire church.
Such a thing had not really even been attempted for almost four hundred years. They were pioneers on a new frontier, and in the heady days of the late sixties and early seventies, the future seemed very bright indeed.
But Rome had only been able to hold such contradictory theological opinions (Evolution was true, but so was the Virgin Birth, there could be no women priests, etc.) because of the power of the papacy and tradition in Roman history. Lutheranism, having cut those ties a priori, was not able to hold to sound doctrine in other areas once the authority of scripture was lost. And that was really what the Seminex fight was about; the authority of the scriptures as the norm for faith and life.
How very sad for the crusaders of seventies to wake up at the end of their lives and realize that they had not discovered an Evangelical Catholic Lutheranism, but merely Episcopal Lite. Meanwhile, the good ship “Missoura” found itself neither awakened to the wonders of Evangelical Catholic Lutheranism, nor even stuck in an outdated form of the old Bronze Age Orthodoxy. Bereft of many of its finest minds, and forced to fight against the tide of decreasing respect for the Authority of God’s Word, both in and out of the church, she was, for a time, steering toward the rocks of the Evangelical American Church of Arminianism. The Evangelicals were willing to stand up and say “Yes” to the authority of God’s Word, but at the same time could only give a qualified “Maybe” to its power.
And yet, just as the Seminex crowd was moving toward retirement, there arose young pastors that really are Evangelical Catholics in the Lutheran Tradition. (No women pastors & respect for liturgy, willing to hold ecumenical discussions in matters of doctrine without yielding that doctrine & willing to work together in matters that are not doctrinal, etc) Of course, they do not call themselves Evangelical Catholics. They are proud to stand not only as “Lutherans” but as “Confessional Lutherans” – the modern term for the gnesio-Lutheran movement. Such a man now serves as President of our synod, and was seen in front of a congressional committee with a Roman bishop and a Jewish Rabbi speaking to the issue of religious freedom. And yet, he has stated publicly that theological talks with the ELCA have all but ended. He is the leading edge of that generation, the generation that arose in the early 1990’s and is now seeing it’s men attain positions of respect and authority in District Offices, Seminary Classrooms, and the Boards and Commissions of the Synod.
The young-ish pastors of today ( and they seem to get younger every year…) are Lutheran specifically because of the doctrine. They are dynamic and talented. They love and appreciate the freedom that the Gospel brings them, and have no desire to compromise that. Many of them joined the Lutheran Church as adults. They have no long-standing ties with the institution known as “Missouri.” They are here for the teaching. And they love it. Other young pastors, having been instructed in these teachings for many years as long-time members of the synod, also understand that the synod is good only insofar as it maintains it’s truly distinctive Lutheran identity.
Unlike the Seminex generation, which had a quia subscription to LCMS-inc, but only a quaetanus subscription to her confessions, this new generation insists on the doctrine, while the institution would be for them expendable if it fails to live up to it’s confession.
They appreciate and are reintroducing the rich treasures of the past, not only doctrinally, but liturgically. We live in the midst of a confessional revival. Begun by the Robert Preus generation, and carried forward by men like Marquardt, Scaer, Nagel, Feuerhan, Wenthe, Weinrich, etc. the torch is now being passed to men like Rast, Geischen, and Harrison.
Of course, there are battles to come, some of which we will not anticipate. It is always so in the church. But the idea that the LCMS is bound to end up as ____ (Pick your favorite doomsday scenario) is, I believe, no longer tenable. The seminex generation is now of retirement age. The theology they fought so hard to introduce into the church has faded from history.
They did achieve one thing: They managed to awaken an entire church to a realization of how very precious is God’s Word, and how easily it can be lost. Of course, they themselves were the warning of how that can too easily happen. We now move forward into the next generation: And we pray not that we would revitalize the church with our new teachings, but that the church would continue in that which it has always been given and which is most precious: The powerful and authoritative Word of God.